AFC Divisional Dark Horses Through Week 3
By Jared Peterman
Despite the recent injuries on the defensive side of the ball, the Pittsburgh Steelers are a real threat to win the AFC North Division. Through Week 3, the Steelers sit 2-1, one game back of the Cincinnati Bengals, and tied with the Baltimore Ravens. Besides the horrible loss to the Ravens, the Steelers have shown flashes of dominance, especially in Week 3 vs the Carolina Panthers. Behind the Steelers’ drive to the divisional title is the effectiveness of WR Antonio Brown and RB Le’Veon Bell, the two have helped the Steelers put up 30 point efforts in Weeks 1 and 3. If the defense can find a way to stay healthy, Pittsburgh has a legitimate shot at winning the AFC North.
Through Week 3, the Buffalo Bills find themselves atop the AFC East division at a 2-1 record, 1-0 in the division. Despite being in first place through three weeks, the Bills are still my dark horse candidate to win the division as everyone expects the New England Patriots to win the division as always. The Bills shocked the Chicago Bears in a Week 1 overtime win and continued the success against the Miami Dolphins, a divisional rival. Buffalo’s defense has been the strong suit throughout three weeks as it’s held their opponents to 52 points, 8th best among the NFL. The defense has been strong, but their legitimacy relies on the offense and their explosive playmakers. Besides QB EJ Manuel, RB CJ Spiller is the key to keeping the Bills’ in contention with the AFC East crown as he can impact the game with a single carry. If the Bills can figure out how to productively feed Spiller, opponent’s defenses can be in trouble, as well as the rest of the AFC East.
After a stunning win at Arrowhead Stadium vs the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 1, the Tennessee Titans have been embarrassed the past two weeks by the Dallas Cowboys and the Cincinnati Bengals, but that isn’t scaring me to pick them as a dark horse in an Indianapolis Colts’ favored AFC South division. At the moment, Tennessee is tied with the Colts at a 1-2 record, and have a pretty manageable schedule in front of them. Ray Horton’s defense has been much better than the points against shows as turnovers have put the defense in tough spots against the Cowboys and the Bengals. QB Jake Locker decides whether the Titans challenge for the AFC South or have another losing season. The run game between Shonn Greene and Bishop Sankey has been sneaky productive from the YPC standpoint and Locker is surrounded by weapons in WRs Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter, along with TE Delanie Walker. Tennessee is a little bit of a long shot to win the division, but if Locker puts it together, beware AFC South.
Flat out, the San Diego Chargers (2-1) are true contenders to win the AFC West division and made their statement clear as they defeated the Seattle Seahawks by scoring 30 points against the Super Bowl Champions. Although I don’t view the Chargers as a true “dark horse,” most people assume the Denver Broncos will win another AFC West title behind Peyton Manning, therefore the Chargers are my dark horse pick. The secondary seems rebuilt with the additions of CBs Brandon Flowers and Jason Verrett (Rookie). The true reason the Chargers can win the divisional title is their offense and the resurgence of Antonio Gates through three weeks. The injuries of RBs Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead hurt their run game, but Donald Brown gives legitimate insurance at the position. The key to the Chargers’ AFC West crown relies on the health and production of the playmakers around QB Philip Rivers.