Here is the breakdown of the AFC this season, with the Philadelphia Eagles preview coming later this week:
AFC North: The division will come down to one game: Baltimore at Steelers, Dec 27th.
1. Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens surprised the league last year, advancing all the way to the championship game behind the play of rookie quarterback Joe Flacco, and rookie head coach Jon Harbaugh. If it was not for the 3 losses to the Steelers, it might be the Ravens who would be defending Super Bowl champions. The Ravens boast a strong running game behind the play of second year player Ray Rice and veteran Willis McGahee. I think Joe Flacco is ready to take the step into league star this season. And the defense? There ok.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers: Its a hard to repeat. Since Super Bowl 1, only 8 teams have managed to win back to back championships. The Steelers return virtually everyone from last years team. Head Coach Mike Tomlin is one of the best in the league, and this is a team that has experience in being defending champions, having won the Super Bowl in 2006. At the end of the day, its hard to continue to dominate a team like the Steelers did to the Ravens last year, and I the Ravens will beat the Steelers this season in the key games.
3. Cincinnati Bengals: With Carson Palmer back under center, the Bengals hope to rebound from a dissapointing 2008 campaign, where they didn't get their first win until week 9. The combination of Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco should be a dominant one, but the connection has yet to result in wins for this team. This season should be a better one for the Bengals, but at the end of it, Marvin Lewis could be looking for a new job.
4. Cleveland Browns: I can't remember the last time I saw a team go from so promising to such a mess so quickly. Last season the Browns were a trendy Super Bowl pick. Now? Its days before their first game, and they havn't even named a starter. Reports are that Brady Quinn will get the nod, and I think he will be decent. But there is to little talent on this roster to compete. And with lame duck Eric Mangini at the helm, this should be another dissapointing season for the Browns.
AFC South: After running away with this division last season, the Titans show their age at QB, and Manning shows why he is MVP.
1. Indianapolis Colts: There are a lot of reasons to think this season could be a disapointing one in new Lucas Oil Stadium. After a year of learning the ropes under Tony Dungy, rookie head coach Jim Caldwell will take over. I think rookie running back Donald Brown will be a bust. Saftey Bob Sanders is injured again. So why will the Colts win this division? Peyton Manning is still under center. The real coach of the team, Manning will make a star this year out of Anthony Gonzalez, and should be able to put enough points on the board to lead this team to a division title.
2. Tennessee Titans: Even though last season ended on a dissapointing note, losing their first playoff game to the Ravens, the Titans surprised everyone last year, rolling all the way to the best record in the AFC. The running back combination of Chris Johnson and Lendale White is one of the best, if not the best, in the league. But this is the season I think Kerry Collins falters. The Titans are paper thing at receiver, and Collins will show his age this year as the Titans miss the playoffs.
3. Houston Texans: Everyones favorite team this season, the Texans finished up 5-1 to end last years campaign. Rookie running back Steve Slaton showed enough promise to push him up to the top of everyones fantasy football draft board. Wideout Andre Johnson is the best receiver in the game no one knows about. But I am not ready to say Matt Schaub is good enough to lead this team to the playoffs.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jags upgraded their wideouts this off season, adding Tory Holt to try to help out quarterback David Garrard. Garrard threw an uncharacteristically high amount of interceptions last season, totaling 13 picks to only 15 touchdowns. Maurice Jones Drew is now the feature back with Fred Taylor in New England. The Jags should be better then last season, but this division is to strong for the record to indicate it.
AFC West: Anyway the Chargers don't go 6-0 in their division? Anybody?
1. San Diego Chargers: This one should be a cake walk for the Chargers. After stunning the Denver Broncos last season to capture the division, their should be little fight from any of the other 3 teams this year. The Chargers boast one of the quickest backfields in the league with Ladanian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles, last seasons playoff hero. Quarterback Phillip River's pockets are a lot heavier this year, fresh off 36 million dollers in his new contract. Its Super Bowl or bust this year for the Chargers.
2. Denver Broncos: It could be one and done for new coach Josh McDaniels. Since his hire, whether you can blame it on him or not, its been nothing but bad news for the Broncos. Franchise quarterback Jay Cutler is in Chicago, leaving the once high powered Bronco offense in the hands of Kyle Orton. The defense was a mess last season, and even more pressure will be on them this year. With that being said, there is enough talent on this team if Brandon Marshall plays to at least finish 2nd. But no playoffs once again. Poor Dawkins.
3. Oakland Raiders: This season is a big one for JaMarcus Russell, as the Raiders will look for the former number 1 pick to finally flash some of the talent he showed at LSU. The Raiders cut Jeff Garcia to make no doubt in Russell's mind that he was their guy. I think Russell, along with Darren McFadden and Micheal Bush, will show enough promise this season to get the group of fans in the Black Hole excited for next year.
4. Kansas City Chiefs: Matt Cassell will be eager to prove that he is not a product of the New England Patriots system. Simply put? He won't. Long year in KC.
AFC East: Tom Brady shows he's human, and the Jets surprise everyone.
1. New York Jets: If theirs one team that isn't afraid of Bill Belichick, its Rex Ryan and the New York Jets. And if theirs one sports writer that isnt afraid to go out on a limb, its me. Alot has to go right for the Jets to win this division. Mark Sanchez has to play like someone who has more then just 14 starts in him- all on the college level. Leon Washington and Thomas Jones have to take enough pressure off Sanchez to give him time to grow. Rex Ryan has to back up all his talk. The defense has to be great. I think all of that will happen.
2. New England Patriots: Even though they didn't make the playoffs last year, the Patriots enter this season in a familar role- Super Bowl favorites. This is all because of the return of Tom Brady. Brady, who tore his knee up so bad last year there were some rumors he might never play again, is expected to step back in and be the same player who led his team to 18-1 the year before. Why does everyone just assume he is going to be ok? It took Donovan McNabb and Carson Palmer a full season playing before they were the same. Daunte Culpepper never recovered. Is Brady Culpepper? No. But he also isn't superman.
3. Miami Dolphins: Can the Dolphins ride the wildcat to another playoff berth? Even with the Wildcats wetdream Pat White on the team, the Dolphins still have Chad Pennington under center. Pennington had a solid year last season, but he has not been able to put it together in consecutive seasons his whole career. The division was strong last year, and is even stronger now. The Dolphins are the odd team out.
4. Buffalo Bills: Its going to be a cold winter in Buffalo. With the off season addition of Terrell Owens, the Bills feel they are ready to win now. Marshawn Lynch and Trent Edwards, along with Owens, do form a nice core of talent, but does anyone believe Owens is going to be quite as he catches from the worst quarterback hes had his whole career? Things could get ugly quick, as the Bills limp to a last place finish.
1. San Diego Chargers
2. Baltimore Ravens
3. Indianapolis Colts
4. New York Jets
5. Pittsburgh Steelers
6. New England Patriots
Round 1: Colts over Patriots; Steelers over Jets
Round 2: Ravens over Colts; Chargers over Steelers
Round 3: Ravens over Chargers
AFC Champion: Ravens