The 2013 NFL season is fast approaching and the AFC is primed to offer several teams with playoff aspirations. Where does your AFC team rate? Here is a breakdown of each division; with predicted regular season records and playoff results.
New England Patriots (11-5)
Miami Dolphins (9-7)
Buffalo Bills (7-9)
New York Jets (2-14)
Patriots remain the top dog in tis division. Despite losing the vast majority of their receiving weapons; along with an improving Miami team, New England’s tandem of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady still possess the best talent and coaching in the division. Improving young defense and a stronger commitment to running will offset the production lost through the departure of Wes Welker and release of Aaron Hernandez. Miami was one of the more active teams in the off-season; adding Mike Wallace to provide a top target for second-year signal-caller Ryan Tannehill . The loss of Jake Long on the offensive line and the injury to tight end Dustin Keller (torn knee ligaments) will force the team to rely on an unproven backfield for offensive balance. Buffalo turns to a new quarterback (Kevin Kolb) to run the offense. For the Bills to be successful, the team will need to focus on their running strength; led by the duo of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. Solid production from the high-priced but under-performing defense will be key in determining their ultimate fate. The Jets have a lame-duck head coach (Rex Ryan) and no legitimate quarterback. An assortment of lesser-known rushers and a depleted defense will likely lead to Ryan’s swan song being out of tune.
Baltimore Ravens (11-5)
Cincinnati Bengals (10-6)
Cleveland Browns (8-8)
Pittsburgh Steelers (7-9)
This is the year the Steelers’ slide from last season continues after losing top receiving target Mike Wallace and defensive anchor James Harrison. Defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals have the best shot at advancing out of the playoffs out of this competitive group. The Ravens lost two future Hall of Fame defenders in Ray Lewis and Ed Reed but retain a solid core to work with. Their transition into more of an offensive team will be a must; putting increased pressure on newly minted Joe Flacco to put more points on the board. The real surprise will be the Cleveland Browns. IF (operative word) the team maintains solid health, they have enough depth to present an aggressive defense, good running game (Trent Richardson) and improving passing game; led by second-year quarterback Brandon Weeden .
Houston Texans (12-4)
Indianapolis Colts (10-6)
Tennessee Titans (7-9)
Jacksonville Jaguars (4-12)
While Andrew Luck and the Colts were a darling story in 2012, they will be challenged to repeat last year’s success. Luck will he no trouble surpassing his passing totals from 2012, but the emotional inspiration that helped propel them into the playoffs will not be there in 2013. This division will rest with the Texans; who added to their defense with the signing of Ed Reed. Tennessee is improving but not yet ready to ascend to playoff contender. Chris Johnson will have to be a consistent 100-yard per game producer to take the pressure off the passing game and give the team a shot at the post-season. Jacksonville is still a ways away from playoff consideration.
Denver Broncos (13-3)
Kansas City Chiefs (9-7)
San Diego Chargers (8-8)
Oakland Raiders (6-10)
Wes Welker goes from one elite quarterback (Tom Brady) to another (Peyton Manning); making the Broncos offense very formidable. The defense will take a hit with the six game suspension of Von Miller and departure of Elvis Dumervil . Kansas City already had great pass catchers (Dwayne Bowe) and now have a stable quarterback (Alex Smith) to throw to them. New Head coach Andy Reid has some tools at his disposal; having Jamaal Charles in the backfield will certainly help keep the pressure off of Smith from having to be a play-maker. San Diego will need a great year from Phillip Rivers to propel them past the Oakland Raiders for the division basement. There is ample talent on the Chargers to be in the playoff hunt, while Oakland will have to find a way to put forth a disciplined effort to ascend the standings.
Division Winners: New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans, Denver Broncos
Wild Card: Cincinnati Bengals, Indianapolis Colts
Conference Championship: New England Patriots @ Denver Broncos
AFC Champion: New England Patriots
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