Oct 27, 2022; Tampa, Florida, USA;  Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) drops back to pass against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the first quarter at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Ravens climbing AFC futures odds board

Futures odds shifts are beginning to spotlight a rising contender in the AFC: the Baltimore Ravens.

The Ravens jumped to +800 to win the conference at 5-3 following the Cincinnati Bengals’ loss to the Cleveland Browns in an AFC North duel on Monday night that capped Week 8 in the NFL. Cincinnati is 4-4 and the Browns are 3-5.

Baltimore had been +1400 in July to win the AFC at FanDuel and BetMGM.

As of Tuesday morning, odds pointed to the Ravens as a near lock to win the division at -320 at FanDuel, -360 at Caesars Sportsbook and -380 at DraftKings. On Aug. 3, the Ravens were +165 to win the North, narrowly ahead of the Bengals (+210) and Browns (+235).

Lamar Jackson has approached his 2019 MVP form and the Ravens upgraded their defense on Monday with the trade deadline acquisition of inside linebacker Roquan Smith from the Chicago Bears.

Baltimore is still well back of the favorites to win the Super Bowl, at +1600 at most books at +1800 at DraftKings.

That second tier with the Ravens at most sportsbooks includes the Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers and Minnesota Vikings.

The top tier includes AFC favorite Buffalo, now at +320 to win the Super Bowl ahead of the Philadelphia Eagles (+500) and Kansas City Chiefs (+700) at Caesars.

BetMGM, Caesars and FanDuel all have elevated the projected win total for the Ravens.

Caesars has the Ravens over-under on wins set at 11 (-110) and FanDuel is at 10.5 (-150). BetMGM and DraftKings adjusted the Ravens up to 11 (-115).

Jackson’s MVP odds are steady. At Caesars, he’s +1300 and a distant fourth behind Bills quarterback Josh Allen (+125), Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (+350) and Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (+375).

FanDuel has Jackson at +950 behind the same three quarterbacks. He’s +1000 at DraftKings.

–Field Level Media

Feb 6, 2022; Paradise, Nevada, USA; AFC tight end Mark Andrews of the Baltimore Ravens (89) runs with the ball against the NFC during the second quarter during the Pro Bowl football game at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

AFC pours on points, beats NFC for fifth straight Pro Bowl win

Justin Herbert threw two touchdown passes, Mac Jones added one more and the AFC held on for a 41-35 win over the NFC in the Pro Bowl on Sunday afternoon in Las Vegas.

Mark Andrews had five catches for 82 yards and two touchdowns to lead the AFC. Hunter Renfrow also had a touchdown catch, and Stefon Diggs notched a rushing touchdown. It marked the AFC’s fifth straight Pro Bowl victory.

Kyler Murray threw three touchdown passes for the NFC, and Kirk Cousins had another touchdown toss. Kyle Juszczyk, Mike Evans, Kyle Pitts and Dalvin Cook each hauled in touchdowns in the loss.

The AFC opened the scoring on a 45-yard interception return for a touchdown by Darius Leonard with 12:17 remaining in the first quarter. Leonard, who had four interceptions to go along with a league-high eight forced fumbles this season, stepped in front of a high pass from Murray.

The NFC pulled even at 7-7 on a 14-yard touchdown pass from Cousins to Juszczyk with 9:57 to go in the first quarter.

Less than a minute later, Andrews grabbed a 15-yard touchdown pass from Herbert to make it 14-7 in favor of the AFC.

The NFC pulled within 14-13 on a pick-six by Antoine Winfield Jr. of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the final play of the first quarter. Winfield faked a pitch and kept the ball for a 63-yard return to the end zone, but a two-point conversion attempt failed moments later.

In the first minute of the second quarter, Myles Garrett had a 22-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown. Jones followed that with a successful two-point conversion, finding Diontae Johnson in the end zone to put the AFC on top 22-13.

Murray fired a 19-yard touchdown to Evans with 10:41 left in the second quarter. Murray then connected with CeeDee Lamb for a two-point conversion that pulled the NFC within 22-21.

A 7-yard touchdown pass from Herbert to Andrews, followed by an unsuccessful two-point attempt, gave the AFC a 28-21 lead with 5:01 left in the second quarter.

Next came a 6-yard touchdown pass from Jones to Renfrow — again followed by an unsuccessful two-point attempt — to make it 34-21 with 7:24 to go in the third quarter.

The AFC’s advantage increased to 41-21 on Diggs’ 4-yard run late in the third quarter.

The NFC cut the deficit to 41-28 on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Murray to Pitts with 10:18 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Murray notched his third touchdown pass on a 5-yard strike to Cook with 2:36 left.

–Field Level Media

Dec 26, 2021; Arlington, Texas, USA; Washington Football Team wide receiver Terry McLaurin (17) and Dallas Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs (7) in action during the game between the Washington Football Team and the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Diggs brothers excited to face off in Pro Bowl

The Pro Bowl is annually a game in which many players opt out and some participate while disinterested.

In the midst of all the roster turmoil, there are at least two players highly eager to play in the Sunday game between the NFC and AFC at Las Vegas: the Diggs brothers.

NFL interception champion Trevon Diggs of the Dallas Cowboys can’t wait for that moment when he is staring across the line of scrimmage and sees older brother Stefon Diggs of the Buffalo Bills just a couple yards away.

“Probably one of my favorite moments of this year, for real, because that’s my brother,” Trevon Diggs recently told reporters. “I love him to death and just being able to go up there (to the Pro Bowl) with him, that’s fire.”

Trevon Diggs, a 23-year-old cornerback, had a breakout campaign in his second NFL season. With his league-best 11 interceptions, he matched Everson Walls (1981) for the Cowboys’ single-season record, and he returned two for touchdowns.

A big reason for his rapid rise is the offseason workouts he conducted with Stefon. The 28-year-old wideout is in his second straight Pro Bowl after catching 103 passes for 1,225 yards and a career-high 10 touchdowns this season.

On the day of the Pro Bowl selections, Stefon and Trevon were on FaceTime with 15 other family members and close friends. Stefon was pleased to earn another berth, but seeing his brother’s face appear on television as a selection was the highlight of the call.

“I was more happy for him than I was for myself,” Stefon Diggs said. “I was just more proud than anything. … I saw his face, and I’m like, ‘Yeah, that’s my little brother.’”

Stefon Diggs’ usual quarterback, Josh Allen, is one of the many star players who won’t be in Las Vegas. Allen initially was an alternate for the game, but he turned down an invitation last week, citing body soreness.

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (ankle) also declined a recent invitation, leading to Mac Jones of the New England Patriots getting the call as the AFC’s third quarterback. Justin Herbert of the Chargers is the AFC’s starting quarterback with Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs in reserve.

The top two candidates for NFL Most Valuable Player aren’t playing for the NFC — Aaron Rodgers (undisclosed injury) of the Green Bay Packers and the now-retired Tom Brady of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The NFC quarterbacks are now-starter Kyler Murray of the Arizona Cardinals and two replacements — Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks and Kirk Cousins of the Minnesota Vikings.

Packers receiver Davante Adams (undisclosed injury) is among the others who pulled out.

Mike Vrabel of the Tennessee Titans is coach of the AFC and Matt LaFleur of the Packers leads the NFC. The Titans and Packers both tied for the best regular-season record in their conference.

There will be no opening kickoff in this year’s game as the league experiments with the “Spot and Choose” method that the Ravens proposed to the Competition Committee last year.

The team that wins the coin toss will be able to spot the ball on any part of the field and choose the direction. The other team will then choose whether to start on offense or defense from the designated spot.

–Field Level Media

Chiefs' Kareem Hunt happy with whatever role in offense

NFL Week 6 Football Props: Chiefs vs. Patriots

The Kansas City Chiefs and New England Patriots have both been playing exceptional football. Following a rocky 1-2 start, the Patriots have bounced back with 2 commanding victories over the Dolphins and Colts. Aided by Josh Gordon and the return of Julian Edelman, New England seems to have found it’s offensive rhythm they lacked in the first three weeks. They Currently sit atop the AFC East. There were many who considered the Jaguars’ defense to be the only thing that could slow down the dynamics Kansas City offense. The week 5 matchup started with the Chiefs taking a 20-0 lead by halftime, with Blake Bortles having thrown a couple of interceptions. Jacksonville managed to get on the board, but there was never really any hope for a second-half comeback as the Chiefs rolled to a 30-14 victory. Sunday night we’ll get to see the Chiefs head to New England to face their potentially toughest challenge of the season, although they will travel to LA to face the Rams in November. Kansas City defeated New England 42-27 in week 1 of last season. Alternate lines are very popular in Europe and allow the sportsbook provide accelerated lines at better odds. The offering of these alternate lines often come with higher bet commission, but they opportunity for big odds on a two-sided bet can be there every game.

Alternate lines are available at Sugar House Sportsbook if you live in the state of New Jersey.


Comparing Team vs Divisional Wins

It’s no secret that the New England Patriots have pretty much owned the AFC East for the past decade. However, did you know that the rest of the AFC East have averaged fewer than 8 wins in the same time frame? If the goal is to make the playoffs, it certainly helps when the rest of your division tends to produce losing records. The flip side of the AFC East is the AFC North. The Bengals, Steelers, and Ravens have had many strong seasons, often sending two of the three teams to the playoffs (in 2011, all three teams advanced to the playoffs).
The graphic below allows you to choose a division and a team, and it displays the wins for the selected team vs. the average wins for the rest of the division.

How Every Team and Division Has Fared in NFC vs. AFC Matchups

In 2018, we’ll get to see Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers battle it out on the field for the second – and possibly final – time. Fans have had to wait 4 years since the last matchup because of the NFL’s division-heavy schedule. Every season, there are 64 regular-season games in which a team from the NFC plays a team from the AFC. Some teams, like the Patriots and Cowboys have fared well in these inter-conference matchups over the past 4 seasons. Some other teams haven’t been so fortunate. This graphic shows the success of teams and divisions over the past four years. Play around with the drop-down lists, and hover over the bars to see the results!

Team preview: Kansas City Chiefs

<p> In 2012, the Kansas City Chiefs finished the regular season with a 2-14 record, good for worst in the National Football League. Under new head coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey in 2013, the Chiefs turned that lackluster effort around and improved to 11-5.</p> <p> Critics will say it was the easy fourth-place schedule that served as the catalyst for Kansas City’s quick turnaround. I disagree. Having known John Dorsey for almost 25 years and having worked with Reid for one year, I know better. Both are outstanding leaders and did what was necessary to bring confidence to an already talented roster.</p> <p> The Chiefs got to the playoffs a year ago, but blew a 28-point lead in the second half of their wild card game at Indianapolis and wound up losing by a point. A loss like that can either demoralize a team or motivate them. I am betting that the loss will motivate the Chiefs to try and equal or surpass what they did a year ago.</p> <p> <strong>Quarterback </strong></p> <p> Alex Smith struggled for a good part of his time in San Francisco. Many labeled him a “bust” as Smith didn’t live up to being the first player picked in the 2005 NFL draft. Be that as it may, Smith still played very good football last year in Kansas City. He has matured as a player and become a good leader. While Smith isn’t in the same category of quarterbacks like Manning, Brees, Brady and Rodgers, he is a solid winning NFL quarterback.</p> <p class="co_image co_image_right inline_right"> <img alt="Alex Smith" src="http://cdn.cloudfiles.mosso.com/c1910342/media_center/images/rendered/blog/wysiwyg/chiefs-4439.jpg" />Smith threw a career-high 23 touchdown passes last season.</p> <p> For the season, Smith completed 308 of 508 passes for over 3,300 yards, 23 touchdowns, with only seven interceptions. With 2014 being Smith’s second year in Reid’s system, I expect him to show improvement in all areas. Being that he is only 30-years-old, his best football is still in front of him.</p> <p> In Chase Daniel, the Chiefs have one of the best backup quarterbacks in the NFL. Daniel is capable of winning any time he steps on the field. In the fifth round, the Chiefs stole Aaron Murray from Georgia. Had it not been for a torn ACL, Murray would have gone much higher in the draft. 2014 will be strictly a developmental year for him.</p> <p> <strong>Running back</strong></p> <p> <a href="http://footballpost.wpengine.com/Chiefs-sign-Jamaal-Charles-to-twoyear-extension.html" target="_self">Armed with a new contract extension</a>, Jamaal Charles is ready to continue as one of the premier running backs in the NFL. While Charles isn’t one of the league’s biggest backs, he is one of the fastest and most explosive players in the game. He is a threat to make a big play any time he touches the ball.</p> <p> Rookie De’Anthony Thomas from Oregon is a smaller version of Charles. He has great breakaway ability and is very reliable catching the ball. Knile Davis and Cyrus Gray are two talented, but unproven backups.</p> <p> Fullback Anthony Sherman doesn’t get much publicity, but he is excellent at what he does. Sherman is a premier run and pass blocker and while he only touches the ball about once a game, Sherman averages almost eight yards per touch.</p> <p> <strong>Receivers and tight ends</strong></p> <p> The Chiefs need more production from their wide receiver unit. Dwayne Bowe had the most receptions among wide receivers last season with 57. Next was Donnie Avery with 40 catches.</p> <p> Bowe has reportedly lost weight and is in excellent shape. He needs to up his production by at least 20 percent and Avery needs to nearly double his production. Former 49ers wideouts Kyle Williams and A.J. Jenkins need to come on as the third and fourth receivers. If Jenkins doesn’t improve, his days in the NFL could be over. Junior Hemingway is a good special teams player and has excellent hands, but needs to develop his route running.</p> <p> At the tight end position, injuries just about wiped out this group in 2013. Anthony Fasano, the top tight end, missed seven games. When healthy, Fasano is a reliable receiver who can also block. Last year’s third-round pick in Travis Kelce missed most of last year with a knee injury. He functions like a big wide receiver and can create mismatches.</p> <p> The blocking tight end, Sean McGrath, retired and the Chiefs will need to find a strong blocker to replace him.</p> <p> <strong>Offensive line</strong></p> <p> The offensive line is a position group that is in transition and line coach Andy Heck has his work cut out for him. The Chiefs lost some players on the O-Line during free agency. That will hurt the depth, but perhaps not the efficiency.</p> <p> Last year’s first overall draft pick in Eric Fisher moves over to left tackle. While Fisher struggled some on the right side as a rookie, he is a natural left tackle and after a year in the league, knows what is expected of him.</p> <p> The right tackle will be Donald Stephenson, who was the third tackle a year ago. This is Stephenson’s third year and he is ready to be a starter. There will be a battle during training camp for the third tackle spot between Ryan Harris and J’Marcus Webb, who have both been starters in the league and have had their moments. The winner will be the one who can play both tackle spots with consistency.</p> <p> The fourth tackle will be rookie Laurent Duvernay-Tardiff, who played his college football in Canada. Laurent has the physical traits, but is raw and will need a year to develop and get used to the speed of the NFL. The Chiefs have to keep him on the 53-man roster because of his talent and upside.</p> <p> At left guard, Jeff Allen returns. While he had some games where he struggled in 2013, he is very talented as well as athletic and will settle down in 2014. Who plays right guard will be determined in training camp. Right now, three players are fighting for the job. Rishaw Johnson started the final game last year and had his moments. Rookie Zach Fulton is strong and looked good during OTA’s and camp to date. Free agent Jeff Linkenbach, who the Chiefs signed away from Indianapolis, can play guard or tackle and will be a valuable reserve if he doesn’t start. The player with the most upside is Fulton.</p> <p> The center position is in good hands with steady Rodney Hudson, the Chiefs’ second-round pick from 2011.</p> <p> <strong>Defensive line</strong></p> <p class="co_image co_image_right inline_right"> <img alt="Justin Houston" src="http://cdn.cloudfiles.mosso.com/c1910342/media_center/images/rendered/blog/wysiwyg/houston-5865.jpg" />Linebacker Justin Houston has notched 21.0 sacks over his last 27 regular season games.</p> <p> People questioned the Chiefs when they selected Dontari Poe in the first round of the 2012 draft. The good news for Kansas City is that they are laughing last, as Poe has turned into the best nose tackle in football. While most nose tackles can only stop the run, Poe can also rush the passer. What the Chiefs need is a solid backup so Poe can come off the field. He played 95 percent of the defensive downs last year.</p> <p> The starting ends should be Vance Walker and Mike DeVito. Walker, who was a free agent signee from the Raiders, has better pass rush skills than last year’s starter Allen Bailey. DeVito also is strong versus the run, but has to get better rushing the passer.</p> <p> To play in the rotation, the Chiefs have Bailey and second-year man Mike Catapano. Catapano ha
s put on 20 solid pounds and is more ready to play and it is hopeful he can provide some pass rush. Two others who figure into the rotation will be Kyle Love and Jaye Howard. Love started 25 games while with New England and could be the guy who gives Poe a break.</p> <p> <strong>Linebackers</strong></p> <p> This is one of the stronger units on the club. Inside is Derrick Johnson, who has been a steady player for ten years. In free agency, the Chiefs signed Joe Mays away from the Texans. While pass coverage is the best element of Mays’s game, he is also a sound run defender. Nico Johnson, a fourth-round pick a year ago, also figures into the equation inside.</p> <p> Outside, the Chiefs are very good. On one side is consistent Tamba Hali, who still is strong in his ninth year, with 11 sacks a year ago. The starter on the other side is Justin Houston, who is also an excellent pass rusher. Houston missed five games yet still notched 11 sacks in 2013.</p> <p> In the first round of May’s draft, Kansas City added Auburn defensive end Dee Ford. Ford will convert to linebacker, but will still be playing down in pass rush situations. He was one of the top pass rushers in college football last year and is easily athletic enough to play on his feet.</p> <p> <strong>Secondary</strong></p> <p> The Chiefs recently decided it was time to part ways with long-time starting corner Brandon Flowers. Flowers signed with San Diego and will be a huge upgrade for the Chargers at the position.</p> <p> With the Chiefs wanting to play a lot of press man coverage, the need is for tall corners. The man who is in good position to replace Flowers is Marcus Cooper, who is in his second year from Rutgers. Cooper is 6’2” and has the press skills that the Chiefs are looking for. The other corner will be veteran Sean Smith, who is also a tall and long athlete. His specialty is press coverage.</p> <p> A rookie who will get a long look will be Phillip Gaines from Rice. Gaines is long and can run and like the others, can play press. Ron Parker will also get a look and played well in OTA’s. Chris Owens, a free agent who was with the Dolphins, can play inside on the slot. This group is young and inexperienced and needs to step up to the plate if the Chiefs are going to be successful.</p> <p> At safety, Eric Berry is one of the best in the business. He can cover like a corner and is excellent in run support. The other safety will be Husain Abdullah, who gets his chance to start after being a backup last year. He replaces Kendrick Lewis, who was not a fit in defensive coordinator Bob Sutton’s scheme. Jerron McMillian and Sanders Commings should be the primary backups.</p> <p> <strong>Outlook</strong></p> <p> With the Chiefs winning 11 games a year ago, a lot is expected entering the fall. Kansas City has some question marks in that the offensive line and the defensive backfield have a lot of new faces and they have to come of age very quickly.</p> <p> Still, Andy Reid is one of the best in the business and he will have his team ready to play come the first week in September. Having worked with Reid for one year and played against him for many, I know you can never sell his team short. They come to play every week.</p> <p> My feeling is the Chiefs may not have enough to beat Denver for the division, but should once again be a wild card team. The key will be how they perform during the season series with rival San Diego.</p> <p> <strong>Follow Greg on Twitter:</strong> @<a href="http://www.twitter.com/greggabe" target="_blank">greggabe</a></p>

Team preview: Tennessee Titans

<p> The Tennessee Titans finished a disappointing 7-9 last year and, as a result, changes were made. Head coach Mike Munchak was let go after he refused to make adjustments to his coaching staff. Now at the helm is former San Diego offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and the hope is that Whiz can get the Titans back to being a consistent playoff contender.</p> <p> Also gone is running back Chris Johnson, who ran for over 1,000 yards in each of his six seasons with the Titans. Over the last few years, Tennessee had over-relied on Johnson to be their main offensive weapon. Whisenhunt will implement a more diversified system.</p> <p> Ray Horton, who worked well with Whisenhunt in Arizona, will be the defensive coordinator. Horton has always coached an attacking style of defense, so don’t expect anything different this year.</p> <p> The main difference on defense will be the scheme. The Titans have been a 4-3 unit for years but now will be more of a 3-4 hybrid scheme. How the players react to the change will have a lot to do with their win/loss record in 2014.</p> <p> <strong>Quarterback</strong></p> <p> Jake Locker was selected during the first round of the 2011 draft to bring stability to the position. Now in his fourth year, the jury is still out as to whether or not Locker is a winning NFL quarterback.</p> <p class="co_image co_image_right inline_right"> <img alt="Jake Locker" src="http://cdn.cloudfiles.mosso.com/c1910342/media_center/images/rendered/blog/wysiwyg/Locker3.jpg" /><span>ICON</span>This season looks like it's now or never for Jake Locker in Tennessee.</p> <p> Locker had problems with accuracy in college and that has carried over to the NFL. The hope is that Whisenhunt, who has a reputation of working well with quarterbacks, can get Locker moving in the right direction.</p> <p> The Titans don’t have much behind Locker. Former Charger Charlie Whitehurst is the veteran backup, but he hasn’t thrown a pass during the regular season in three years. The Titans drafted LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger in the sixth round. I was not a fan of Mettenberger’s in college and I don’t see him becoming more than an adequate backup-type in the NFL. One of Mettenberger’s biggest flaws is he has virtually no mobility and, coming off an ACL injury, may now have even less than before.</p> <p> <strong>Offensive line</strong></p> <p> The key to winning football games is to have a productive quarterback as well as strong offensive and defensive lines. While Tennessee can’t say they have a top quarterback, they do have a very good offensive line.</p> <p> The left tackle spot in Tennessee has been held by the same player for years. Michael Roos, now in his tenth season, has been the epitome of consistency. During free agency the Titans signed Michael Oher away from Baltimore to play right tackle. Oher has trouble with pass protection at times but is an outstanding run blocker.</p> <p> Last year’s first-round pick in Chance Warmack played every snap in 2013 and should come on even strong in his second year. Andy Levitre, a big free agent signing in 2013, did not play as well as anticipated last year, but is still an upgrade. The center is second-year man Brian Schwenke, who is as tenacious as they come.</p> <p> What will be interesting to see is where first-round pick Taylor Lewan lines up. Lewan is a big, athletic and talented guy who will start somewhere. With this being Roos’ final year under contract, could he be traded if Lewan is ready to play right away? I can also see Lewan or Oher moving inside to guard if Levitre doesn’t play any better.</p> <p> <strong>Receivers and tight ends</strong></p> <p> Tennessee’s top three wide receivers are good, but this group lacks depth. Kendall Wright is going into his third year and is the main man, having caught 94 passes a year ago. Veteran Nate Washington holds down the other spot. He finished 2013 with 58 receptions.</p> <p> 2013 second-round pick Justin Hunter is the third receiver. While Hunter is an excellent deep threat, he needs to improve his route-running. He spent much of the off-season trying to get stronger, which will enable him to do a better job of getting off of jams. For depth, there is the well-traveled Brian Robiskie and oft-injured Marc Mariani.</p> <p> At tight end, the lead man is former 49er Delanie Walker. Last year in his first season with the Titans, Walker notched 60 receptions and six touchdowns. Standing 6-1, Walker is better off as a move type tight end. The blocking or “Y” tight end is Craig Stevens, who can be a good receiver, but wasn’t used in that capacity a year ago.</p> <p> <strong>Running back</strong></p> <p class="co_image co_image_right inline_right"> <img alt="Bishop Sankey" src="http://cdn.cloudfiles.mosso.com/c1910342/media_center/images/rendered/blog/wysiwyg/bishop.jpg" /><span>US PRESSWIRE</span>Rookie Bishop Sankey has the chance to win the starting gig during training camp.</p> <p> With Johnson gone, there will be a new lead back in Nashville. Looking at the roster, I can see a rotation featuring second-round draft pick Bishop Sankey from Washington and 2013 free agent signee Shonn Greene. Greene is an inside banger but had injury woes last year. Sankey lacks great size at 5-10 – 210, but he is an excellent all-around back who can run inside and outside as well as catch out of the backfield.</p> <p> The player signed for spot duty is Dexter McCluster, who was with Kansas City last season. McCluster can be used as a running back or a slot receiver, but he lacks the size and durability to get more than 10-12 touches a game. That said, he has the talent to make some big plays with those 10-12 touches.</p> <p> <strong>Defensive line</strong></p> <p> With the scheme being changed from a 4-3 to a 3-4, Ray Horton has to get everyone lined up in the right positions.</p> <p> The leading candidates to play on the nose are Sammie Hill and Antonio Johnson. They have the size and girth to occupy blockers and be disruptive. Another candidate for the position is free agent Al Woods, who comes over from Pittsburgh. While Woods is primarily a nose, he can also play as a 5-technique.</p> <p> The ends should be Jurrell Casey and Ropati Pitoitua. Casey is a natural 4-3 tackle but can play the 5-technique. There are many pro scouts that feel he can be an outstanding player. For depth there is last year’s fifth-round pick in Lavar Edwards, who is very athletic, and this year’s fourth round pick DaQuan Jones. Jones can play inside or outside and moves well for a 320-pound man.</p> <p> <strong>Linebackers</strong></p> <p> With the scheme change, some players who were defensive ends are now outside linebackers meaning their primary job will still be rushing the passer, although they will have to drop into coverage at times.</p> <p> Going into camp the starters look like Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley. Wimbley has experience on his feet. The position will be new to Morgan, but he has the athletic traits and instincts to make the switch.</p> <p> The backups at the outside positions should be Akeem Ayers, who also has experience playing on his feet, and Shaun Phillips, who is a proven pass rusher.</p> <p> Inside, free agent Wesley Woodyard, who was with Denver last year, will be one of the starters. The other could be Zach Brown, who has been inconsistent during his career to date. For depth, there is Moise Fokou and Colin McCarthy. Both have starting experience but may not be perfect fits in t
he new scheme. A player to keep an eye on is second-year man Zavier Gooden. Gooden is a rare athlete, but his instincts are questionable.</p> <p> <strong>Secondary</strong></p> <p> The big loss in the secondary is cornerback Alterraun Verner, who signed with Tampa Bay during free agency. He will most likely be replaced by Coty Sensabaugh, who was the nickel back in 2013. The other corner is steady James McCourty. The nickel corner goes to second-year man Blidi Wreh-Wilson who is very talented, but raw. He should really come on in 2014.</p> <p> The strong safety is Bernard Pollard, who is very physical, and the free is Michael Griffin. Griffin is a rangy player with good ball skills. Rookie Marqueston Huff from Wyoming can play safety or corner. He is a talented kid who will work his way into the lineup.</p> <p> <strong>Outlook</strong></p> <p> The AFC South is without question the weakest division in the AFC. Indianapolis is head and shoulders better than Houston, Tennessee and Jacksonville, who are all in rebuilding mode. The key to Tennessee having a good season will most likely be related to how well Jake Locker plays. With Locker going into the final year of his rookie contract, he has to come on strong or the Titans will be looking for a quarterback in next year’s draft.</p> <p> If Locker plays well, I can see Tennessee improving to 8¬-8, but I doubt they make a run at the playoffs. With a new defensive scheme and players in new positions, this is a tough team to handicap. We will all have a much better feel after the first month of the season.</p> <p> <strong>Follow Greg on Twitter:</strong> @<a href="http://www.twitter.com/greggabe" target="_blank">greggabe</a></p>

Team preview: Cincinnati Bengals

<p> It wasn’t all that long ago when the Cincinnati Bengals were viewed as one of the most poorly run franchises in the NFL. While that may have been the perception, it was never actually true. I have known some of the Brown family for close to 30 years and I have nothing but the utmost respect for them and their organization.</p> <p> The Bengals may do things a little differently than many NFL clubs, but the fact of the matter is that they have been extremely stable for over a decade. Marvin Lewis is going into his 12th year as head coach and while Cincinnati hasn’t been to a Super Bowl, they have become consistent playoff contenders. The Bengals have been in the playoffs in each of the last three seasons as well as four of the last five years. That is consistency.</p> <p> <strong>Quarterback</strong></p> <p> Andy Dalton gets some unnecessary heat from people who don’t really know what they are talking about. In each of his first three seasons as an NFL quarterback, Dalton has led the Bengals to the playoffs. There are not many NFL quarterbacks past or present who can put that on their resume.</p> <p class="co_image co_image_right inline_right"> <img alt="Andy Dalton" src="http://cdn.cloudfiles.mosso.com/c1910342/media_center/images/rendered/blog/wysiwyg/ad-4536.jpg" />Dalton threw for a career-high 4,293 yards and 33 touchdowns last season.</p> <p> Yes, Dalton has failed to win in the postseason, but is that all on him? The last time I looked, it was a team game.</p> <p> Dalton is still a young player with lots of upside. He will keep getting better and as he improves, so will the Bengals.</p> <p> Behind, Dalton reside two interesting players. This spring, the Bengals signed Jason Campbell, who is now in his tenth year. While Campbell hasn’t had great success in the league, he gives the Bengals a veteran presence at the most important position.</p> <p> In the fifth round of the draft, the Bengals selected A.J. McCarron from Alabama. Getting McCarron in the fifth round was an outright steal for Cincinnati, as the former Crimson Tide signal-caller has the talent to be a winning starter in the league. As McCarron develops, it will put pressure on Dalton to play well. Competition makes everyone better.</p> <p> <strong>Running back</strong></p> <p> While the Bengals don’t have a proven “bell-cow” type of back, they have a group of runners that many clubs would love to possess.</p> <p> Last year’s second round pick in Giovani Bernard is the ideal rotation back. He lacks the size to play every down, but he averaged better than four yards a carry running with the ball and caught 56 passes. Bernard has excellent big play ability.</p> <p> BenJarvus Green-Ellis might be nearing the end of his career, but he is still a reliable inside runner who can move the chains. The guy that excites me is rookie Jeremy Hill, who just may have been the most complete running back in the 2014 draft. Hill is a “bell cow&rdquo; type of back and when he gets a little experience, he and Bernard will give the Bengals one of the best running back tandems in the league.</p> <p> <strong>Receivers and tight ends</strong></p> <p> The Bengals’ receiving unit is excellent. They are led by fourth-year pro A.J. Green, who is one of the premier receivers in the game. Green caught 98 passes a year ago.</p> <p> Marvin Jones came on strong in his second year to become a very solid complement to Green. He finished with 51 receptions and 10 touchdowns last season. The third receiver is Mohamed Sanu, who is very talented, but has to become more consistent.</p> <p> The tight end duo is as good as there is in the league. Jermaine Gresham has the size and blocking skills to play at the “Y” position and is athletic enough to split out. Second-year man Tyler Eifert can be a future Pro Bowl-type of player. He has wide receiver speed and athleticism to go along with excellent size and strength.</p> <p> <strong>Offensive line</strong></p> <p> You can’t talk about the Bengals offensive line without first talking about their line coach. Paul Alexander has been with the Bengals for over 20 years and is one of the most highly respected line coaches in the NFL. He does an outstanding job developing players.</p> <p> The line will look a little different in 2014 as Anthony Collins signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent and long-time center Kyle Cook was not brought back.</p> <p> Team leader Andrew Whitworth will replace Collins at left tackle. Whitworth has experience playing on the left side. At right tackle is the big and very consistent Andre Smith.</p> <p> Third-year player and former first-round pick Kevin Zeitler struggled a bit last year, but was suffering from foot problems. The good news is that Zeitler is healthy and should improve. The other guard should be Clint Boling, assuming he is recovered enough from late-season ACL surgery. If he isn’t ready to go, Mike Pollack and rookie Russell Bodine should line up at guard and center. Another player to keep an eye on is free agent signee Marshall Newhouse, who has started games at Green Bay and played with Dalton at TCU.</p> <p> <strong>Defensive line</strong></p> <p> The Bengals have had one of the better defensive lines in the NFL for the last few years. The unit is led by defensive tackle Geno Atkins who, until last year when he suffered a knee injury, had become a Pro Bowl talent. Atkins is still young and will improve, which is not good news for Bengal opponents.</p> <p class="co_image co_image_right inline_right"> <img alt="Geno Atkins" src="http://cdn.cloudfiles.mosso.com/c1910342/media_center/images/rendered/blog/wysiwyg/atkins.jpg" />Geno Atkins anchors a defensive line that lost Michael Johnson during free agency.</p> <p> The other inside player is nine-year vet Domata Peko, who is a consistent run stopper and a team leader. On the outside, the Bengals lost a top player in free agency when Michael Johnson signed with Tampa Bay. However, the Bengals were figuring on his loss and are well stocked at the defensive end position.</p> <p> The two ends who will most likely start the season are Carlos Dunlap and Wallace Gilberry. Dunlap is a solid pass rusher who also does a good job getting his hands up to bat down passes at the line of scrimmage. Gilberry doesn’t have the greatest physical traits, but he plays hard and has the skills to play inside and out.</p> <p> Two young reserves who will challenge for playing time are Margus Hunt and rookie Will Clark. Hunt is in his second year and is an exceptional athlete, but raw. He is expected to show a great amount of improvement. Clark is a natural pass rusher with bend who needs to learn how to play the run a little better. Both young guys have a lot of upside and will see a lot of action in the D-Line rotation.</p> <p> <strong>Linebackers</strong></p> <p> On paper, when you look at the pedigree of the Cincinnati linebackers, they don’t look that impressive. Two of the starters were undrafted college free agents.</p> <p> Vontaze Burfict had character concerns and a slow 40-time coming out of college, which is why he was not drafted. Since coming into the league, Burfict has played with a chip on his shoulder and has become a top outside linebacker. He was invited to the Pro Bowl following last season.</p> <p> Emmanuel Lamur, an undrafted free agent who is a gifted athlete, is the starter at the other outside spot going into camp. He will be challenged by Jason Dimanche, a third former undrafted free agent, and Sean Porter
, who missed his rookie season due to injury.</p> <p> In the middle is veteran Ray Maualuga. Maualuga is a natural Mike linebacker and has very good instincts. His backup will most likely be Ray Vincent, who always plays well when called upon.</p> <p> <strong>Secondary</strong></p> <p> At the corner position, age is beginning to become a concern. Terrence Newman is in his mid-30s and Adam Jones is 31. While they still play solid football, the Bengals have to get younger at the position. To do that, Cincinnati drafted Darqueze Dennard, who is a talented press corner, in the first round. Dennard will challenge to start as a rookie and, worst case scenario, he is the nickel corner.</p> <p> Leon Hall is coming off an Achilles injury and should be ready to go at the beginning of camp. With his return, the Bengals will have four solid corners. Dre Kirkpatrick, who was a first round pick in 2012, has to come on. He has been a disappointment to date and this might be his final chance to prove he is worth keeping.</p> <p> Reggie Nelson is an outstanding free safety who has the knack of coming up with big plays. At strong safety, George Iloka is coming off his best year. He has a physical presence about him and is always around the ball. His main problem is dropping too many potential interceptions. The Bengals signed Danieal Manning during free agency. He can play either strong or free and has very good ball skills. He is also a top kickoff returner.</p> <p> <strong>Outlook</strong></p> <p> The other day <a href="http://footballpost.wpengine.com/Team-preview-Baltimore-Ravens.html" target="_self">when I wrote up Baltimore</a>, I said the Ravens will come on strong after an off year in 2013. While I believe that, the Bengals will give Baltimore all they can handle. The key will be how much better Dalton plays at quarterback.</p> <p> While I feel the Bengals are a lock to be a wild card playoff team, steady improvement by Dalton could give the Bengals the AFC North title. The head-to-head matchups with the Ravens will be the key. If one of those two teams sweeps the series, that team will win the division.</p> <p> <strong>Follow Greg on Twitter:</strong> @<a href="http://www.twitter.com/greggabe" target="_blank">greggabe</a></p>