By D.A. Baum
Special Guest Columnist
~WAS â€™04 JUST A FLUKE & CAN SAN DIEGO RETURN TO THE TOP
OF THE AFC?
~HAVE THE RAVENS IMPROVED ENOUGH TO MAKE ANOTHER
RUN FOR THE TROPHY?
~IS THIS THE YEAR THAT PEYTON TAKES TONYâ€™S COLTS TO
DETROIT FOR ALL OF THE MONEY?
~WILL BIG BEN NOT BE A FLUKE & WILL THE STEEL CURTAIN
REIGN IN â€™05?
~CAN THE PATRIOTS RETURN TO THE BIG GAME FOR THE
FOURTH TIME IN FIVE YEARS?
~WILL THE WESTSIDE STADIUM EVER BE BUILT?
Maybe, but thatâ€™s the wrong articleâ€¦
A few weeks ago I was asked by one of the publishers of this site to see where the New York Jets would stand at the end of 2005. The problem with that question is that itâ€™s just too soon to make that type of judgment. After all, the 2004 season ended a little more than 60 days ago, and the 2005 season doesnâ€™t start for over 270 days.
Still, there are variables which on paper give Gang Green an opportunity to make 2005 very special. It is these same variables that will direct the rest of the AFC as well, so at this point, who do I think will win their divisions?
AFC WEST: Kansas City Chiefs
KC was supposed to be the team to beat in â€™04. However, Dick Vermeilâ€™s chance at revitalizing another NFL legend into a winner fell apart due to multiple injuries early last season. I just do not see that happening again in â€™05. Look for the Chiefs to be the hardest team the JETS face in this division.
The Chargers in â€™04 were on fire after their first loss against the JETS. Winning in â€™05 could be more difficult due to the strength of their schedule. Having to play both the AFC & NFCâ€™s Eastern Divisions, as well as Pittsburgh & Indianapolis, the Chargers chances at another electrifying run could be grounded.
The Broncosâ€™ run seems more likely a repeat of â€™04. Even with the early acquisitions of â€™05.
Oaklandâ€™s rehashing older veterans with high-priced free agents may have boosted them in the latter parts of the 90â€™s, however, the Raiders may still wind up grounded by the end of â€™05.
AFC NORTH: Pittsburgh Steelers
I really cannot believe that Ben Roethlisberger was just a rookie fluke in â€™04. With a weak NFC North & a restructuring AFC South to contend with, the boys from steel-town USA may see a return to the playoffs. That is, unless the Ravens can stop them.
As for the boys in Purple & Black, the Ravens picked up some unique free agents earlier this year in CB Samari Rolle & WR Derrick Mason that should fit well into Jim Fasselâ€™s offense for â€™05. Based on the strength of schedule, the Ravens could give the Steelers a run for the money. Still, either team could wind up as either their division champion or the AFC Wild Card.
AFC SOUTH: Indianapolis Colts
Though the Texans & Jaguars showed signs of life in â€™04, they, along with the fire sale in Tennessee, will not be a threat in â€™05. That should make Peyton & Tonyâ€™s Colts the team to watch in the South as they easily retake the division.
AFC EAST: New York Jets
Gang Green last year stood within 15 minutes of facing the eventual 2005 Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots. Still, with a QB that would eventually wind up having surgery to his throwing arm and a replacement at Offensive Coordinator in â€œDinger,â€? as well as the addition of QB Jay Fiedler, the JETS stand their best chance of returning to the post-season. Even with the losses of Ferguson, Jordan, Becht & McKenzie to free agency, the post-seasonâ€™s signings of RB Derrick Blaylock and DL Lance Legree may be putting the JETS in the running for 2005.
With the loss of Romeo Crennel & Charlie Weis to the Browns & Notre Dame respectively, Bill Belichick has decided to take the role of both offensive & defensive coordinator in 2005. The last time he did so was with the former Cleveland Browns in their last year, 1995, the season before they would become the Baltimore Ravens. That team ended their season 5-11, a year after Belichick took the team to the post-season as a wild card berth. History may very well repeat itself.
The Bills, last year, came within one win of going to the playoff in our place. However, because they are still a team in transition, it may take another year before they can truly be a threat to the AFC Eastern Division. Look for the boys from Buffalo to give the Patriots a run this year.
Miami, for the third time in three years, are a team in transition. With Nick Saban at the helm, the Dolphins will need at least two more years to become a threat. Look for them to fight for the bottom of the AFC East.
And as for the 2005 AFC CHAMPION:
IT IS STILL TOO EARLY TO CALL!
Alot can happen between April 23rd and September 8th, especially with free agency & the Draft looming overhead. Iâ€™ll be back in September with who I think may run the table and who may wind up a dud.
And thatâ€™s this BaumerJetâ€™s storyâ€¦