The class of the AFC Conference is still Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. The Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers will once again pose the greatest threat to the defending AFC champs. The San Diego Chargers’ reign as bully of the AFC West will end this season as the uncertainty of running back Ryan Matthews sends the Bolts reeling.
The Houston Texans are looking to build on last season’s success with a healthy Matt Schaub. And a new era begins in Indianapolis as Andrew Luck goes under center for the Colts.
Tom Brady and Wes Welker have moved past the Super Bowl defeat…
1. New England Patriots (13-3) – The Patriots will be tested early in back to back road games in Baltimore and Buffalo before they close out December with 5 games in 28 days.
2. Buffalo Bills (9-7) - The arrival of Mario Williams makes the Bills a top tier defense. This is the year Freddie Jackson becomes a star.
3. New York Jets (7-9) – The Jets could’ve bolstered their shaky running game. Instead they’ve rattled an already questionable quarterback, while the receiving corps is anything but a strength. The defense will win 3 games this year.
4. Miami Dolphins (5-11) – Joe Philbin gave his veterans a reason not to play for him when his neck is on the line sometime around Thanksgiving.
Steelers wideouts Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown want more than just Pro Bowl appearances
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6) – Isaac Redman is the key to the Steelers balanced attack in the absence of Rashard Mendenhall.
2. Baltimore Ravens (10-6)- The pressure is on Haloti Ngata to handle things up front without Terrell Suggs. How much do Ray Lewis and Ed Reid have left. The Ravens will depend much more on their ground game this season.
3. Cincinnati Bengals (9-7) – The Bengals offense will have to find a way to spread out the nearly 300 carries that were reserved for the departed Cedric Benson. Expectations are high for Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. The defense is as solid as any in the division.
4. Cleveland Browns (3-13) - The Browns have to stay the course with their cornerstones in Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden.
Two -thirds of the Texans triplets…
1. Houston Texans (11-5) - Wade Phillips next trick: Have J.J. Wyatt make people forget about Mario Williams. Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson will hook up as usual but the offense will rely heavily on Arian Foster.
2. Tennessee Titans (7-9) – If Chris Johnson can bounce back to his 2010 form, the Titans could challenge for a wildcard spot. The defense has to get off the field and improve its sack total.
3. Indianapolis Colts (6-10) – I believe that Andrew Luck will hold his own but he will be tested as half of his games are against some of the NFL’s top defenses. Donald Brown will open some eyes as a dual threat this season.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-10) - Justin Blackmon is the real deal. Maurice Jones-Drew will kick into gear around Week 4. Blaine Gabbert has to relax in the pocket and when all else fails, hand it to MJD.
(J. Merick/Getty Images)
Jamaal Charles looks to be back at full strength…
1. Kansas City Chiefs (9-7) – The return of Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry and Tony Moeaki will produce instant dividends. This team will play for Romeo Crennel who could be coaching this year’s Houston Texans.
2. San Diego Chargers (8-8) – The Chargers have fallen back to the pack of the division. Ryan Matthews was a gamble that the team is currently losing. If the defense doesn’t improve they could finish 7-9 or worse.
3. Oakland Raiders (7-9) – If Darren McFadden plays 16 games he will lead the NFL in rushing. The receivers are young and talented and should improve. Terrelle Pryor should see time in 2-3 games this season. The defense needs to create more turnovers.
4. Denver Broncos (7-9) – I just don’t see it for the Broncos this year. I could be wrong but Peyton Manning and Willis McGahee have seen better days. Demaryius Thomas is a stud and Eric Decker can be a great complimentary receiver when used properly. Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil anchor the defense.
Division Winners: Patriots, Steelers, Texans and Chiefs
Wild Cards: Ravens, Bengals
AFC Championship: Texans over Patriots