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JL's Observation Deck - Week 6

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The AFC is a mess. Only two teams are above .500. You heard that right, only two of sixteen football teams in the American Football Conference have a winning record. Just the Texans and Ravens have put themselves in the position that they truly want to be in. Plenty of weaknesses to go around here in the AFC, let’s delve in.

AFC West

What can I say about my lowly Kansas City Chiefs? They haven’t lead for one-single-second during the 2012 NFL season. Their only win vs the Saints, came in a sudden death overtime situation. Obviously, it starts and ends with the Chiefs lack of commitment to developing a franchise quarterback. Scott Pioli has stuck with Matt Cassel with an incredible amount of blind faith, and it likely will and should cost him his job. The Chiefs haven’t drafted a quarterback since taking Brodie Croyle about five years ago. The Chiefs, a team many considered a contender in the AFC West, are now the laughingstock of the NFL, and it all starts at the top with Clark Hunt and Scott Pioli.

The Denver Broncos stormed back Monday Night from a 24-0 deficit to capture a win that vaulted them into first place in this division. They won’t be relinquishing this lead anytime soon, either. Their defense remains vulnerable in the secondary, but they did a much better job of stopping the run than I expected. Which is what ultimately got them back into the game. When the Chargers tried to pound Ryan Mathews in the second half, they were stifled, which led to Philip Rivers making mistake after mistake. Peyton Manning, of course, had a little to do with the comeback as well. His command of the offense has been vital, especially in the no-huddle where Manning has complete control over offensive coordinator Mike McCoy. And trust me when I say, that is a good thing for Broncos' fans after some of the games I saw McCoy call in 2011.

Speaking of the Chargers, it was the tale of two halves on Monday. We saw both the good and the bad San Diego in this one, as we have seen for much of the season. Simply put, the Chargers can’t beat the truly contending teams on a consistent enough basis to put themselves into the contender category. The Chargers wins this season have come against the Chiefs, Titans and Raiders. Their losses? Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Matt Ryan. The good news for the Chargers is after their Week 7 bye, they will have ample opportunities to grab a few wins as they will take on the Browns, Chiefs and Buccaneers, respectively, their first three weeks back after regrouping. Rivers will take a lot of heat over the next couple of weeks, but let’s not forget this is a Pro Bowl caliber player who will keep the team in games single handily at times. If you’re a Chargers' fan, and are starting to think you want to rid yourself of Rivers, just remember things could be a lot worse… you could be a Chiefs' fan.

I must admit, I was mildly impressed with the fight the Raiders showed in their close loss at Atlanta. The Raiders stuck with the running game as long as they possibly could, and besides one poor throw from Carson Palmer, he stood in the pocket and trusted his WR’s to make plays. Denarius Moore and Rod Streater kept the team in the game. It also was the team’s best defensive performance of the young season. It was a coin-flip of a game vs a team many consider one of the five best in the league. Improvement in the win column for the Raiders is definitely on the horizon, but it all starts with getting Darren McFadden into the second level in the running game. Far too many times he has been hit in the backfield as teams are getting penetration through the Raiders' shaky offensive line with their front four.

AFC North

It’s hard to believe but there might not be a collection of defenses worse than those in the AFC North. Crazy, I know, but think about the problems some of these squads are having. None of these problems are more glaring than the Baltimore Ravens' run defense. They have been exposed the last couple weeks on the ground and things are likely to get worse before they get better for a team that just lost Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb for the remainder of the season. The Ravens are fortunate to be sitting at 5-1 right now and the hope is they can figure things out as they move forward. Joe Flacco is going to have to assume more responsibility and be more efficient than ever now with his team likely losing the time of possession battle to teams like the Texans, Chargers, Raiders, Giants and Steelers on tap.

The Steelers are the best team in the league in converting 3rd downs into first downs, and while their defensive mystique has worn off to an extent, they can still do enough to get this team back into the division race. In the fantasy realm, Rashard Mendenhall’s value is at it’s season low right this very minute. Grab him for dirt cheap right now, and stash him until the Steelers start grabbing second half leads and running the football. It is only a matter of time before it happens, and you will be the beneficiary of having the primary RB on an efficient offense that can move the chains. I could make a similar recommendation for WR Antonio Brown, who hasn’t quite lived up to expectations just yet; expect that to change very soon.

The Cleveland Browns are an improving football team on the field and a team of change off of it. It will be interesting to see if new leadership at the top of the organization affects the team’s performance on the field in any manner. It is unlikely anything can be done to improve one of the worst pass defenses in the league though, and that will remain a focus for this team beyond 2012. I have also had my concerns about Brandon Weeden, especially in his abilities to get through his progressions and make the proper reads. People always say a rookie quarterback’s best friend is a running game and a tight end, well, how about a blazing fast deep threat WR with size in fellow rookie Josh Gordon. Look for the Browns to stay competitive in most games from here on out and grab another upset or two within the division.

There is no denying the fantasy success that Andy Dalton is having thus far in the 2012 season. Problem is, he has already thrown 9 INTs and I am just not sold he is the type of player at this point that can put the team on his shoulders and lead them to victories. His rapport with WR AJ Green is incredible and if you are a fantasy owner, you hit the jackpot with Green if you got him in the 3rd or 4th round, as it is very likely he will finish as the best WR in fantasy football when you take into consideration how much the Bengals will have to continue throwing the football. The running game lacks explosiveness and the defense is giving up plenty of big plays. Sitting at 3-3 right now, this is a 7-8 win team in 2012.



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