Hawkeye Sidekick

NFL: AFC Review – Who’s hot, Who’s Not, Who’s outta here!

Thanksgiving: Now or never for playoff teams

Hawkeye Sidekick at one point resided in Boston, Massachusetts just as a little known late draft pick called Tom Brady took over from designated quarter back starter Drew Bledsoe. The rest as they say is history and New England by virtue of a late Adam Vinateri field goal won the Superbowl XXXVI to start their unprecedented run of success in their franchise history.

It is high time then to give NFL a shout out on this blog. I love the sport, the tactical match ups between coaches identifying mismatches in the back field or identifying gaps in the defensive line courtesy of the running game. Hawkeye Sidekick looks at the NFL season thus far in the AFC and sees potential threats to New England Patriots come the playoffs.

Where are we in the AFC?

We are headed into Thanksgiving. The traditional fixtures in Dallas, Detroit tomorrow for me kicks off the playoff push for teams on the cusp, looking for an elusive post season berth. The backdrop has delivered several keynote story lines.

Tom Brady: struggles not all down to him

New England Patriots are 10-1 but their offense has been bailed out in recent weeks because of their excellent defense who lead the league in turnovers (19).

Tom Brady is even getting heat! If you look at the offensive line issues this season and then issues with the wide receiving core (personnel departures) and you start to see the cohesion issues he has faced. New England Patriots will improve with the ball, they should secure the AFC East title in the next two weeks but there are live threats in this conference.

Lamar Jackson: Huge potential

I am liking the performances of Baltimore Ravens in recent weeks. Their home win triumph over New England Patriots a couple of weeks back was a standout and with exciting quarterback Lamar Jackson, this offensive is starting to find its groove.

Their running stats are top of the conference and with Jackson now connecting with his wide receivers (MNF: Chargers rout), optimism abounds for the Ravens. Their defense always plays tough.

The question is whether they can somehow conjure a master-plan to beat Bill Belichick and Tom Brady for a second time in a season. Many have tried and many have failed particularly when faced with the New England Patriots in the Foxboro wintry tundra come playoff time.

Buffalo Bills have impressed me this season. Their running game has being their attacking weapon as their passing game has struggled for consistency.

The defensive side of the ball has come up big at key times but this is where the season starts to crank up.

A tough three game stretch starts with at Dallas (Thanksgiving), host the in form Baltimore Ravens and then on the road to a Pittsburgh Steelers team who by then maybe in a win or bust situation. They could conceivably drop those three games and suddenly be looking over their shoulder for a playoff berth.

Massive weeks to come for the Bills. They then have to go to the New England Patriots which could be their season defining fixture, not where you want to go to get a result.

Houston Texans are in control of the AFC South currently. They were dismantled by Baltimore Ravens a couple of weeks ago but who hasn’t recently?

They face another test of their playoff credentials with the visit of Tom Brady and New England Patriots this weekend. The rush game is good (seventh in the league) but there is concern on the defensive side of the ball. They are conceding 259 yards per game (eighth worse) and with a New England Patriots offensive looking to make a statement this weekend, ominous signs appear in the horizon. Texans will win the AFC South but the question is what they can deliver on the road in the playoffs. The passing game and defensive side of the ball need to be improve significantly.

Kansas City Chiefs. Patrick Mahomes’ knee injury is a reason for the mixed 7-4 record but the offensive issues and the high interception count was there before the injury.

The defensive side of the ball issues again means that the offense have to score big to win fixtures. Andy Reid could be under pressure if the Chiefs do not advance to at least the AFC Championship game. They have failed to evolve this season defensively for me to be a serious conference threat.

Mahomes provides the x-factor with his arm but one player cannot win a game or championship on his own. There needs to be a serious rethink on how the side evolve come season end as I do not see them in the AFC Championship game this season. I could be wrong but the signs do not look good so far.

Pittsburgh Steelers. The quarterback injury to Big Ben has being huge. The switch in quarterback this week to Hodges from Rudolph is significant. The cohesion issues offensively has been a theme this season and Hodges is the final solution to solve this issue.

The minds will be focused for the visit of Cleveland Browns (HelmetGate) . I expect them to win this fixture along with Jets and Cardinals down the stretch which would be nine wins this season; conceivably may need another win so the Bills game could be the clincher.

Any bolters from the pack. AFC South is wide open. The Colts if they can improve their passing game could clinch the divisional title. Titans have to start stringing results together. Inconsistent. Raiders or the much talked about Browns? If other teams choke down the stretch, they could sneak in.

Who’s outta here?

Miami Dolphins are an embarrassment. New direction required across the organisation. New York Jets have summoned some wins but it cannot disguise their abject all round game. I see ghosts quote is apt. They have been invisible in AFC East conference this season.

Cincinnati Bengals. Get that 0-16 parade lined up. Horrendous season. Some key game management issues but there have been blow outs as well.

Broncos. Get Joe Flacco out of there and hire a real QB arm slinger. I am surprised given John Elway is in the organization. Plenty of organisational upheaval in January.