The Patriots took the Conference crown last season, the Jets and Broncos have stolen the offseason headlines and the Dolphins have shown the world, thanks to HBO, that they still suck. With the NFL season a meager 4 days away, it is time to provide our NFL Preview starting with the AFC. Today, I have broken down everything you need to know about AFC in 2012, including each team’s record, who will make the playoffs and who will come out on top. Read below to find out how your favorite AFC team will finish this season.
1. New England Patriots (12-4): Let’s be honest, the Patriots get six easy wins in their division alone. Therefore if they can manage a 6-4 record against the rest of their schedule, 12 wins is a lock. Brandon Lloyd will help a WR group that is always enhanced by Tom Brady.
2. Buffalo Bills (9-7): Bills started off hot last year and faded as the season went by. Bringing in Mario Williams to bolster a defense to support Ryan Fitzpatrick, Fred Jackson and Stevie Johnson’s ability to put up points. Look for Bills to knock on the playoff door.
3. New York Jets (7-9): What can I say? As a Jets fan I hope I am wrong. Mark Sanchez is going to struggle and take a lot of heat in the process. The Jets set him up to fail by surrounding him with limited weapons and brining in the most popular backup QB in NFL history to breathe down his neck. Defense has potential to be great but will turn on the O real quick when they struggle. Going to be a long season for Rex and company.
4. Miami Dolphins (2-12): The Miami Dolphins will be the worse team in the NFL. Ryan Tannehill will get a lot of experience and take his lumps, but will probably be better for it down the line. The team does not have much to be desired in any phase of the game.
1. Baltimore Ravens (11-5): In a tough AFC North, I expect the Ravens to come out on top. Ray Rice is as consistent a back as we have in the league and their defense always comes to play. The Ravens were a play away from the Super Bowl last year even with Terrell Suggs injury, they will win this divison.
2. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6): The Bengals were a surprise playoff team last season. This year, Andy Dalton and AJ Green have a year under their belt and look for both players to improve on successful rookie campaigns. I wouldn;t be shocked to see the Bengals beat out Baltimore for the NFC North crown, but still have them pegged as a Wild Card Team.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-9): Every time experts pick the Steelers to have a down year, they usually prove all the doubters wrong. However, Big Ben has an injured shoulder to start the year, Mike Wallace has missed more of camp and they have the awful taste of a playoff loss to Tebow in their mouths. Look for a down year in the Steel City.
4. Cleveland Browns (4-12): The Cleveland Browns are in a rebuilding year with rookies Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson leading their offense. I would say it’s about time the Browns rebuild, though it always feels like they are in that phase. They have new ownership, though their owner is a lifelong Steelers fan. Should be a normal year in Cleveland as the Browns are the usual division doormat.
1. Houston Texans (14-2): Houston finally made the playoffs last year, doing so without their starting QB for most of the season. This year, if Matt Schaub, Arian Foster and Andre Johnson can stay healthy, the Texans are the best team in the AFC. Look for the to win this division with ease and secure home field throughout the playoffs.
2. Tennessee Titans (7-9): The Titans are the second best team in their division, which will help them collect wins against the Colts and Jaguars. Outside of those easy 4 wins, the Titans will struggle. All eyes will be on Jake Locker as he is handed the keys to the franchise, but expect some growing pains. If Chris Johnson can regain his 2010 form, the Titans could find themselves at or slightly above .500.
3. Indianapolis Colts (5-11): The Colts were 3-13 in Peyton Manning’s rookie NFL season. I expect Andrew Luck will take his lumps but have a very solid first year. The QB looks poised in the pocket and is able to make all the throws. Look for Indy to improve on last year and feel very good about themselves looking forward.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-13): The Jaguars will be battling the Dolphins for the first pick in next year’s draft. There only proven player, Maurice Jones Drew has still not shown up to camp. They have no depth at WR and expect Blaine Gabbert to compete with no help. Don’t see a lot of hope at all for the Jags.
1. Denver Broncos (10-6): Tim Tebow lead the Broncos to the division crown last season. Replace him with Peyton Manning and I don’t see how they don’t repeat. The Broncos defense will help bolster Manning and Eric Decker and Demarius Thomas will actually have the chance to play with a QB who can hit them in the chest with a pass.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (10-6): Kansas City had an awful year least year. Jamal Charles was hurt during the season opener, while Matt Cassell and Eric Berry also missed time due to injuries. Kansas City will bounce back this season and make the playoffs. Look for Peyton Hillis to team up with Charles to give KC the best 1-2 RB combo in the NFL.
3. San Diego Chargers (7-9): It’s hard to remember the last time the Chargers weren’t the AFC West favorite heading into a season. Philip Rivers is still an elite QB but he simply doesn’t have the cast around him that he has before. San Diego will still score with the help of Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal but their lack of defense will cause Norv Turner to lose his job by season’s end.
4. Oakland Raiders (5-11): The Raiders have a new coach, a new owner but too many of the same players. Carson Palmer is another year away from being a competitive QB and I’m not sure there is much left in the tank. If the Raiders have any chance of competing in a tough division, they will need Darren McFadden to lead the league in rushing.
Division Winners: New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans and Denver Broncos Wildcard Winners: Cincinnati Bengals, Kansas City Chiefs
AFC Championship Game: Houston Texans over the New England Patriots