- Associated Press - Thursday, December 16, 2010

So many contenders, so many holes.

Not the kind of holes that powerful offensive linemen create for running backs. Nor the gaps blitzing linebackers find to sack quarterbacks.

Massive holes in entire units. Swiss-cheese secondaries. Blockers who can’t pass protect. Not to mention key players on both sides of the ball blanking out in critical situations.

Contenders? Maybe some of the teams chasing playoff berths are more pretenders.

Let’s look.

AFC

INDIANPOLIS COLTS _ If the Colts make a return trip to the Super Bowl, it’s time to put Peyton Manning in the Hall of Fame, premature as that may be. Indy can’t stop the run, can’t run the ball, and has had more problems keeping Manning comfortable in the pocket than ever before.

There no longer is a mystique surrounding the Colts; the fear factor for opponents disappeared this season.

NEW YORK JETS _ The other finalist in the AFC title game last January has severe issues on offense, in part because the Jets get far too cute rather than staying basic. Mark Sanchez has developed well in his second year at quarterback, but his inconsistency shows he’s not ready to carry the team, and the running game has stagnated.

Plus, Rex Ryan’s defense isn’t nearly as formidable as the coach thinks it is. Where’s the pass rush?

BALTIMORE RAVENS _ If Ryan’s defense has been a disappointment in big spots, what about Baltimore’s? The Ravens have looked old and worn late in games, blowing leads in the fourth quarter against New England, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Houston. Baltimore likely will have to meet the Patriots, Steelers or perhaps even the Falcons if it hopes to win the title 10 years after its only Super Bowl.

There also are issues on the offensive line.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS _ One of the league’s biggest surprises, so it’s not right to nitpick too much. But the Jaguars don’t have the passing game or the pass defense to stay with the big boys. However, they do have a sizzling running game that at least can keep them close to the favorites.

Also, Jacksonville is minus-10 in turnover differential, with 27 giveaways. That won’t cut it in January.

Story Continues →