This season in the NFL has been all about the new fresh faces of the league. Robert Griffin III (with help from fellow newcomer, Alfred Morris) has been a revelation in the nation’s capital—keeping the Redskins alive in a helter-skelter NFC East. Meanwhile, in Indianapolis, life after Peyton Manning is coming along just fine, with Andrew Luck positioning the Colts into a playoff race after winning just two games the prior year. Throw in Ryan Tannehill, Russell Wilson and Doug Martin and you have several exciting new players on emerging teams.
But with three weeks remaining in the NFL regular season, it’s the old standard teams and the usual suspects fighting for conference supremacy in the AFC. Denver has the West locked up, New England put the East on freeze after their win on Monday Night and the Texans are likely champs of the South. Still to be decided, though, is the three-team race in the North with Baltimore leading both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.
Two games in particular might go far in determining just which teams actually have a realistic shot at being the conference’s representative at the Super Bowl. Both games involve the four elite teams in the AFC. One is already in the books and the other will be played this Sunday.
Monday night’s game between Houston and New England was billed as a battle of the AFC’s two heavyweights, but it turned into a one-sided fight, won easily by the Patriots. Despite having just two defeats on the season, the loss was cataclysmic for the Texans as the “measuring stick” proved they were coming up more than “a bit short.” Granted it was just one game, but for a team still in need of postseason success to establish league-wide validity, the loss was enormous. Simply put, New England is still a better team than Houston—regardless of venue, the result would probably still be the same.
The Broncos travel to Baltimore this weekend to face the Ravens. Denver has been an improving team throughout the season (having won eight straight) and despite losing early to both the Pats and the Texans, no one in their right mind has ruled them out as a potential AFC contender.
The Ravens, on the other hand, have lost two straight (including one to the Charlie Batch-led Steelers) and boast a mash-unit for a defensive crew. Catching an upward trending Broncos offense might not be the recipe for success as the Ravens attempt to get their wheels back on the rail.
So, if Denver is to come out of M&T Bank Stadium with a convincing win, can we make an assumptive jump?
Would it be too early to just place Denver and New England into the AFC Championship Game?
Obviously, it’s a fool’s line of thought to assume anything with three weeks’ worth of football left to be played. But, with each week, it is tough to ignore that there is some cream rising.
And with so much attention this year on the young crop of rising faces, the familiarity of these potential foes is enticing. Denver and New England. Manning and Tom Brady.
The more things change; the more they stay the same way.