By: Travis Thayer (@TheTravisThayer)
1. New England Patriots (12-4)
The AFC East isn’t the NFL’s best division, and Tom Brady is arguably the best quarterback in the game. The Patriots should continue dominance in a division that lacks quality competition.
2. Miami Dolphins (7-9)
The Dolphins added standout wide receiver Mike Wallace in the offseason, but that won’t be enough for the Dolphins to make a serious run at the playoffs. This is an up and coming team, but they are at least a year away of competing in the AFC.
3. Buffalo Bills (4-12)
The Bills love rookie quarterback E. J. Manuel, and there is belief he can be a franchise QB. He has shown some flashes in the preseason, but we’ll see how far he can take the Bills when the big boys start playing for real.
4. New York Jets (2-14)
The Jets have gone from an elite team to an absolute disaster. Rex Ryan is on the brink of being fired, and nobody knows what’s going to happen with their quarterbacks. One thing is for certain, the Jets won’t be good and Rex Ryan won’t have a job at seasons end.
1. Cincinnati Bengals (11-5)
The Bengals are loaded with talent, and this is the year many believe they will finally win a playoff game and maybe more. There is no doubt the Bengals will go as far as Andy Dalton’s arm will take them. With a stout defense and a young group of playmakers on offense, the Bengals are primed for an outstanding year. Now we get to see if they can live up to the hype.
2. Baltimore Ravens (10-6)
No Ray Lewis, no Ed Reed, no problem. The Ravens may be replacing a couple Hall of Famers, but they always put a good team on the field. The defending Super Bowl champs are confident Joe Flacco can get them back to the promised land, but the losses of Lewis, Reed, and Boldin will be too much for the champs to repeat.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8)
The Steelers just don’t seem like the Steelers anymore. Their defense is aging and their offense line is unproven. You must be able to play defense and protect the quarterback in the AFC North. The Steelers will need to prove they can do that in order to wins this division.
4. Cleveland Browns (6-10)
Look out for the Browns. Very quietly, the Browns have built a talented roster. Lead by running back Trent Richardson, and a tough defense – the Browns have themselves ready to compete. I wouldn’t be surprised if they challenged the Steelers for third in the North.
1. Houston Texans (13-3)
This could be the year the Texans make the Super Bowl. They are loaded on defense with the likes of J.J. Watt, Brian Cushing, and the newly signed safety Ed Reed. The offense should be good again, but they will need quarterback Matt Schaub to be great when it really counts if this team has an aspirations of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
2. Indianapolis Colts (9-7)
The Colts surprised everyone last year by going 11-5 and making the playoffs after only winning two games the previous year. Andrew Luck will have to avoid the proverbial sophomore slump in order to get the Colts back to the playoffs. This year the Colts won’t be able to sneak up and anyone, and their tougher schedule might keep them from getting back to the playoffs.
3. Tennessee Titans (7-9)
If running back Chris Johnson returns to form, the Titans may be better than 7-9. But even CJ2K won’t be able to save the Titans. Quarterback Jake Locker doesn’t look like a guy who is ever going to lead a team to the playoffs, and in a quarterback driven league, you must have a good one to have a chance to win.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-14)
I’ll bet Jacksonville signs Tim Tebow by week 4. They are a really bad team who has no chance of winning more than three games. At least if they sign Tebow, they will be able to put some butts in the seats.
1. Denver Broncos (12-4)
After a heartbreaking double overtime loss to the Ravens in the playoffs, Peyton Manning in the boys look to exact their revenge when they open the season against the defending Super Bowl champs. The addition of Wes Welker is going to make the Broncos offense very scary, but the suspension of Von Miller may affect their defense for the first few games. In the long run, the Broncos are expected to make a run at the Super Bowl.
2. San Diego Chargers (8-8)
The Chargers have been up and down for the past couple years, and there is no reason to believe they will be anything but up and down this year. They AFC West isn’t a very good division, and somebody has to finish second to the Broncos. Phillip Rivers gets the edge over Alex Smith and Terrelle Pryor, and the Chargers finish second.
3. Kansas City Chiefs (7-9)
New coach, new quarterback, same results. The Chiefs are excited about their new direction, but they are still a year or so away from becoming a top six team in the AFC. I expect the Chiefs to be better, but to say they will challenge the Broncos for the division is just blasphemy.
4. Oakland Raiders (4-12)
Poor Matt Flynn was beaten out for the quarterback job again. This time Terrelle Pryor will take the snaps for the Raiders. Pryor gives them an added dimension with the way he can make plays with his feet. Pryor and running back Darren McFadden could make a lethal run option duo, but there isn’t enough talent around them to make the Raiders relevant. The Raiders will be on the clock early come the 2014 Draft.
Wildcard Round Divisional Round AFC Championship
Broncos over Ravens Texans over Broncos Texans over Patriots
Bengals over Colts Patriots over Bengals