Who's afraid of the big, bad AFC?

Who's afraid of the big, bad AFC?
December 30, 2013, 9:00 am
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Smith: "We just came up short."

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) reacts in the second half after setting the NFL single season passing yardage record against the Oakland Raiders at O.co Coliseum.

(Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

Any of the teams that just missed the playoffs in the AFC — that’s you, Ravens, Dolphins and Steelers — not only are on the outside looking in for the postseason, but they also can imagine what might have been. That’s because, when you get down to it, is there really any team that made it in the conference that makes you say, as SCTV’s Count Floyd used to, “Oooh, scary”?

Let’s look at each seed and why no one is quivering in his cleats:

6. San Diego Chargers: Just go with how they won the last seed. They eked out a Week 17 victory over a Kansas City Chiefs team that rested a bunch of its starters. The Chargers needed to rally from behind, then go to overtime to beat a Chiefs squad being quarterbacked by Chase Daniel. Unless somebody’s starter gets knocked out, there’s no Chase Daniel in the playoffs.

5. Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs are one of the league’s great turnaround stories under coach Andy Reid. They went undefeated through the first nine games, but after their bye week went 2-5. They rank 14th — third-worst — in the AFC in total defense. The Chiefs give up the big play. Kansas City allowed 63 passing plays of 20-plus yards and 16 of 40-plus yards, which ranked next to most in the conference in both categories.

4. Indianapolis Colts: Everyone loves quarterback Andrew Luck, as well they should. But the Colts are not worrying anyone with their running game. The Trent Richardson deal didn’t pan out at all. The former Cleveland Browns No. 1 pick averaged 2.9 yards per carry. Luck actually was the team’s third-leading rusher, with 377 yards.
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3. Cincinnati Bengals: Do you want Andy Dalton quarterbacking your team in the playoffs? You saw it, Ravens fans, four interceptions on Sunday. Dalton has been inconsistent throughout his three years in the NFL, leaving the Bengals — who are deep and talented at wide receiver and have a swarming defense — very much a question mark.

2. New England Patriots: Tom Brady deserves all the credit in the world. He made a 100-catch receiver of Julian Edelman. With Rob Gronkowski injured, he’s directed an offense devoid of a tight end target. Among teams in the AFC playoffs, only the Chiefs allowed more sacks than the Patriots’ 40. Small receivers and pass-rushing pressure have to catch up to him sooner or later.

1. Denver Broncos: Can we overlook the obvious? No. Peyton Manning is coming off a record-breaking season. He has looked as good as a quarterback could look. But with Manning, there is always the matter of his playoff record. It stands at 9-11. Eight times, he has exited the playoffs after one game. For Broncos fans, now that is scary.