NFL Offseason Report: Grading The AFC

Teams are listed by expected divisional finish (last year’s finish in parentheses), and include notable additions and subtractions from trades, free agency, and the draft.  “+” denotes a team looks to be improved, whereas “=” shows a team didn’t sufficiently address significant weakness(es).   Since this is the time of endless optimism, we’ll hold off on “-“ signs for now. Please also see the earlier NFL offseason report for the NFC.


+ New England Patriots (13-3, Lost to Giants in Super Bowl)
Lloyd will provide QB Tom Brady with his most dynamic downfield threat since Randy Moss, and that alone will give opposing teams enough to worry about.  Will they win the Super Bowl this year?  That depends on the defense… And Eli Manning.

Added: OG Robert Gallery (Seahawks), RB Joseph Addai (Colts), TE Bo Scaife (Bengals), WR Brandon Lloyd (Rams), DE Chandler Jones (Syracuse). ILB Dont’a Hightower (Alabama). S Tavon Wilson (Illinois)
RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis (Bengals)

+ Buffalo Bills (6-10)
Don’t look now, but the Bills convinced a blue-chip free agent to join their ranks, a sign that at least one NFL star sees the team moving in the right direction.  We’ll find out whether Buffalo is one player away from having a decent defense.

Added: DE/LB Mario Williams (Texans), QB Vince Young (Eagles), CB Stephon Gilmore (South Carolina), OT Cordy Glenn (Georgia), WR T.J. Graham (NC State)
OT Demetress Bell (Eagles)

= New York Jets (8-8)
So the Jets added a new no. 2 quarterback this season, which nobody would have noticed if his name wasn’t Tebow.  Shrewd move or act of desperation?  Was it a thinly veiled message to starting QB Mark Sanchez or nothing more than NY taking an opportunity to add a good football player and an undeniable locker room asset?  Something tells me there’ll be a sufficient amount of media coverage to help us decide.

Added: QB Tim Tebow (Broncos), S LaRon Landry (Redskins), DE Quinton Coples (North Carolina) WR Stephen Hill (Georgia Tech), OLB Demario Davis (Arkansas)
Lost: N/A

= Miami Dolphins (6-10)
After starting last season 0-7, the Dolphins finished strong and have plenty of optimism to go around with a new coaching staff and starting quarterback, whoever it ends up being.  Miami surprised by drafting Tannehill at eighth overall, betting that the converted wide receiver showed enough in just 19 college starts that he can develop into the team’s first franchise quarterback since Dan Marino.  The rookie will have to fare without the team’s only established receiving threat from a year ago in Marshall, and it’s not clear who will step up into that role.

Added: LB E.J. Henderson (Vikings), QB David Garrard (Jaguars), CB Richard Marshall (Cardinals), QB Ryan Tannehill (Texas A&M), OT Jonathan Martin (Stanford). DE Oliver Vernon (Miami, FL)
WR Brandon Marshall (Bears), QB Chad Henne (Jaguars), DE Kendall Langford (Rams)



 = Baltimore Ravens (12-4, Lost to Patriots in AFC Championship)
Agonizingly close to playing in the Super Bowl, the Ravens know their fate this year will be decided based primarily on internal improvement, not wholesale changes.  Perhaps to that end, they have yet to extend QB Joe Flacco’s contract, which could serve to motivate him.  Unlike the mild-mannered Flacco, however, franchise RB Ray Rice may not have taken so kindly to such a maneuver, and they smartly locked him in long-term.

Added: OG Bobbie Williams (Ravens), DE Courtney Upshaw (Alabama), OG Kelechi Osemele (Iowa State)
OG Ben Grubbs (Saints), LB Jarret Johnson (Chargers)

= Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4, lost to Broncos in Wild Card)
The Steelers never seemed to be healthy last year, and yet they rolled to the playoffs only to be derailed by the Tebow Train.   The defense will have to improve, and without any serious additions.  But a healthy Ben Roethlisberger under center makes that less of a gamble.

Added: OG David DeCastro (Stanford), OT Mike Adams (Ohio State)
Lost: N/A

= Cincinnati Bengals (9-7, Lost to Texans in Wild Card)
Simpson provided a crucial downfield threat to rookie quarterback Andy Dalton a year ago, and took some pressure off another rookie, WR A.J. Green.  And while the still-unsigned RB Cedric Benson seemed to wear down as the year went on, it remains to be seen if Green-Ellis proves to be an upgrade, especially without Tom Brady orchestrating his offense.

Added: CB Terence Newman (Cowboys), RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis (Patriots), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (Alabama), OG Kevin Zeitler (Wisconsin), DT Devon Still (Penn State)
LB Keith Rivers (Giants), WR Jerome Simpson (Vikings), OG Bobbie Williams (Ravens), TE Bo Scaife (Patriots)

= Cleveland Browns (4-12)
Richardson should make Browns fans forget Hillis, as long as he doesn’t end up on a Madden cover.  Weeden is the wild card, although at age 28 he may be in better position to contribute right away than most rookie quarterbacks.  Still, there’s not much evidence here that the future is any brighter than the present.

Added: RB Trent Richardson (Alabama), QB Brandon Weeden (Oklahoma State), OT Mitchell Swartz (California)
RB Peyton Hillis (Chiefs)


= Houston Texans (10-6, Lost to Ravens in Divisional)
Mercilus isn’t going to make anyone forget Mario Williams, and it’ll be on the rest of the team to pick up the slack.  The Texans made huge strides last year as a team. However, making the playoffs for the first time and beating the Bengals in the first round.  That should make for a more confident team, possibly making up for a lack of improvement in personnel.

Added: LB Bradie James (Cowboys), P Donnie Jones (Rams), DE Whitney Mercilus (Illinois), WR DeVier Posey (Ohio State)
ILB DeMeco Ryans (Eagles), LB/DE Mario Williams (Bills), OT Eric Winston (Chiefs), K Neil Rackers (Redskins)

= Tennessee Titans (9-7)
In a rebuilding year of sorts, the Titans had some surprising success—even in spite of the startlingly slow start (and lackluster finish) of franchise RB Chris Johnson. QB Matt Hasselbeck showed he still has something left in the tank, which gives the Titans the luxury of not having to thrust Jake Locker into action before he’s capable.  One has to wonder, however, what the team’s supposed courting of Peyton Manning says about its confidence in Locker as a long-term solution.  The team certainly stands to get younger, but will it get better?

Added: OG Steve Hutchinson (Vikings), LB Kamerion Wimbley (Raiders), WR Kendall Wright (Baylor), OLB Zach Brown (North Carolina)
CB Cortland Finnegan (Rams), DT Jason Jones (Seahawks), LB Barrett Ruud (Seahawks)

+ Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11)
Significant improvement here in the receiving corps, so the pressure is on second-year QB Blaine Gabbert to show himself worthy of a top-10 selection.  Henne has performed well when healthy, so he’ll be waiting in the wings if Gabbert’s development falters.  Also of note here will be the ongoing attendance issue and the franchise’s continued flirtation with Los Angeles.  Stay tuned.

Added: WR Laurent Robinson (Cowboys), CB Aaron Ross (Giants), QB Chad Henne (Dolphins), WR Justin Blackmon (Oklahoma State), DE Andre Branch (Clemson), P Bryan Anger (California)
QB David Garrard (Dolphins)

= Indianapolis Colts (2-14)
Lots of subtractions here, and it will be interesting to see whether Luck has enough (any?) weapons around him to allow for positive development.  They can’t possibly be as bad as last year, but it will certainly be some time before this team is competitive, making patience the highly relevant virtue in this case.

Added: QB Andrew Luck (Stanford), TE Coby Fleener (Stanford), TE Dwayne Allen (Clemson)
QB Peyton Manning (Broncos), TE Dallas Clark (Buccaneers), C Jeff Saturday (Packers), WR Pierre Garcon (Redskins), RB Joseph Addai (Patriots), TE Jacob Tamme (Broncos)


 + Denver Broncos (8-8, lost to Patriots in Divisional)
The Broncos’ defense was spectacular at times, as was the running game.  That being said, it’s hard to imagine a team that was in better position to improve by adding a Hall of Fame quarterback.  So sorry Tim Tebow, but the Broncos should be markedly better.  That being said, it will be an interesting football experiment to see just how much Denver misses Tebow’s “intangibles”… and how much the Jets benefit.

Added: QB Peyton Manning (Colts) CB Tracy Porter (Saints), TE Jacob Tamme (Colts), DT Derek Wolfe (Cincinnati) QB Brock Osweiler (ASU), RB Ronnie Hillman (San Diego State)
QB Tim Tebow (Jets), DT Broderick Bunkley (Saints)

= San Diego Chargers (8-8)
Meachem is no Vincent Jackson, but he has considerable talent and comes without the baggage, so this might be an addition-by-subtraction (and addition…) scenario.  This is a team which has underachieved year after year, and it’s very possible that a culture change is more important here than adding significant talent.

Added: DT Aubrayo Franklin (Saints), LB Jarret Johnson (Ravens), RB Le’Ron McClain (Chiefs), WR Robert Meachem (Saints), DE Melvin Ingram (South Carolina), DT Kendall Reyes (Connecticut), S Brandon Taylor (LSU)
WR Vincent Jackson (Buccaneers)

+ Kansas City Chiefs (7-9)
The Chiefs should be far better just by getting healthy ACLs out of RB Jamaal Charles and S Eric Berry.  Coach Romeo Crennel seemed to bring a breath of fresh air at the end of last season, and if QB Matt Cassel can bring some stability to the position, the Chiefs should be poised to make some noise.

Added: OT Eric Winston (Texans), RB Peyton Hillis (Browns), S Abram Elam (Cowboys), DT Dontari Poe (Memphis), OG Jeff Allen (Illinois), OT Donald Stephenson (Oklahoma)
RB Le’Ron McClain (Chargers), QB Kyle Orton (Cowboys), CB Brandon Carr (Cowboys)

= Oakland Raiders (8-8)
The Raiders handcuffed their draft class by trading for QB Carson Palmer after Campbell was injured.  Also noteworthy was the loss of Bush, who provided valuable insurance for RB Darren McFadden in case of injury.   Palmer isn’t getting any younger, and given the Raiders’ disappointing (yet predictable) end to last season, the argument can be made that they’d be better off with Campbell.

Added: CB Shawntae Spencer (49ers), CB Ron Bartell (Rams), DE Courtney Upshaw (Alabama), OG Kelechi Osemele (Iowa State)
QB Jason Campbell (Bears), LB Kamerion Wimbley (Titans), RB Michael Bush (Bears)