Baltimore Ravens - Much has been made of the departure of two future hall of famers. ILBRay Lewis retired after Super Bowl XLVII, and Safety Ed Reed left as a free agent, and will play in Houston this season. In a cost-cutting move, WR Anquan Boldin headed for the west coast, and will now be catching passes for the San Francisco 49ers. TE Dennis Pitta was slated to be a huge part of the offense, but is out for the year with a hip injury. To patch those holes, the Ravens acquired veteran pass-rushing OLB Elvis Dumervil on defense, and on offense, veteran WR Brandon Stokely and TE Dallas Clark. It was feared that QB Joe Flacco's lucrative new contract would create an inescapable salary cap squeeze. They may have felt some pressure, but all in all, have done a great job of revamping.
Cincinnati Bengals - The Bengals have made the postseason for the past two seasons. QB Andy Dalton seems to be developing well, and they may be ready to reach the "next level." RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis anchors the offensive backfield, while A.J. Green heads up an impressive receiving corps. On defense, it is all about DT Geno Atkins. Atkins recently signed a new five-year contract extension, so it seems the organization believes in him as well. Geno had 12.5 sacks and 53 tackles in 2012. Many consider Atkins to be the best defensive lineman in the NFL. The defense will also be aided by ILB James Harrison who left the Steelers after many seasons. It could happen.
Pittsburgh Steelers - The disappointment of last season still lingers. The steeltown team was plagued by "Un-Steeler-like" play, much of the year. Injuries plagued the offensive line, untimely turnovers plagued the offensive playmakers, and untimely injuries and breakdowns plagued the defense. Troy Polamalu seems to have entered a not-to-comfortable twilight of his Hall of fame career. This may be Troy's final ride. Looking back on that improbable playoff loss to the Tim Tebow led Denver Broncos in the divisional round of the 2011-12 season, it may now be viewed as not a fluke, but an ominous precursor. RB Rashard Mendenhall is now with the Arizona Cardinals, ILB James Harrison is in Cincinnati, NT Casey Hampton's 12-year NFL career appears finished. The Steelers have something to prove, and may do it.
Cleveland Browns - Last season, rookie RB Trent Richardson was the bright spot of this rebuilding franchise. It is still not known from which era they are rebuilding. Some say the Bernie Kosar era, some say the Brian Sipe era, there are still others whom will say they never actually rebuilt after the Jim Brown era. Perception is reality.
Predicted division winner - Baltimore Ravens
AFC South :
Houston Texans - Led by dynamic DL JJ Watt (aka, JJ "Swat" because of his penchant for batting down pass attempts) on the defensive line, and energetic Brian Cushing heading up the linebackers, this offseason, they added future Hall of fame FS Ed Reed to the defensive backfield. Reed finally got his first Super Bowl ring this year, but is nearing the end of his career. Reed has been plagued by injuries in recent years, and it is unknown just how much more his body can take. On offense, for some the jury is still out on whether or not QB Matt Schaub truly has what it takes to get his team to SBXLVIII. Health concerns also contininue to plague All-Pro WR Andre Johnson, and All-Pro RB Arion Foster. If the offense can finally match the intensity and consistency of the defense, this could be their year.
Indianapolis Colts - Last season, First year QB Andrew Luck definitely lived up to the hype. The team went from 2-14 in 2011, to 11-5 in 2012. They also went from a point differential of -187 in 2011, to -30 in 2012. They did make the playoffs, but were dispatched 24-9 by the Baltimore Ravens in the First Rd. With Luck, they have found the replacement for departed legend Peyton Manning. This team is not quite ready to be considered amongst the elite, but may very well be headed that way.
Tennessee Titans - Oh, how the mighty have fallen. 2007 saw a 10-6 season, 2008 saw a 13-3 season; they made the playoffs both seasons. 2009 was an 8-8 season, but RB Chris Johnson gained 2006 rushing yds. Johnson was then rewarded with a big money contract and proceeded to become a fairly ordinary running back. He averaged 125 yds per game in 2009, but only avgd 78 ypg last season. The Titans have not made the playoffs since 2008, and having had a point differential of -141 last season (vs +141 when they last made the playoffs, in 2008), it appears the playoff drought will continue. At least Chris Johnson will still get paid.
Jacksonville Jaguars - Rumor has it that Maurice Jones-Drew (aka MJD, or MoJoD) is healthy enough to resume playing professional football again. The team last made the playoffs in 2007, with a record of 11-5. They flip-flopped that to a record of 5-11 in 2008, and have been mired in mediocrity ever since. Last season was an abysmal 2-14. QB Blaine Gabbert's personal numbers did improve from his rookie season of 2011, but it was only incremental. It is also not a good sign, when the battle for starting QB involves Chad Henne. If the Jags win six games this season, consider it a successful campaign.
Predicted division winner - Houston Texans
Denver Broncos - Still the class of the division, Peyton Manning put up his usual gaudy regular season numbers in 2012. This season, he will have the added dimension of slot receiver extraordinaire Wes Welker. The offense should not skip a beat. The defense is another story. Elvis Dumervil is now in Baltimore, and Von Miller has been suspended for the first six games of the season. Champ Bailey has been nursing a sore foot, and will miss at least, the season opener against the Ravens. Las Vegas has Denver as the odds-on favorite to win the Super Bowl this season, but if defense still wins championships, you may want to hold off on mortgaging the house and placing that huge wager.
San Diego Chargers - This may be QB Philip Rivers' last stand. After making the playoffs in his first four seasons under center, his team has missed the playoffs the past three. The team has gone 9-7, 8-8, and 7-9 respectively in the past three seasons. Only Tony Romo can get away with seasons like that, and still be mentioned in the same breath as the game's elite QB's. This is a team game, but Rivers' inability to execute during key moments, is becoming hard to ignore. WR Malcolm Floyd, and TE Antonio Gates will again be Rivers' go-to targets. The defense remains average. The song remains the same.
Oakland Raiders - Simply put, this team is a mess. They have not made the playoffs since 2002, nor have they finished above .500 since that time. Last season they finished 4-12. This season, there was a battle for the job of starting QB between Matt Flynn and Terrelle Pryor. The latter was named starter for week one. The over/under for this season, is 5 wins. Bets up, please.
Kansas City Chiefs - Their is much optimism in KC these days. Longtime Philadelphia Eagles' Head coach Andy Reid is now in charge, RB Jamaal Charles rebounded nicely from an injury-shortened 2011, and rushed for a career high 1509 yards in 2012. The 2012 season overall was a disappointment. The team finished 2-14. Along with Charles, the other bright spot on offense, is WR Dwayne Bowe. We will have to wait and see if Reid can turn things around. The team had a point differential of -214 for the season. Reid may get this team back on the right track, but it is going to take a few seasons to do it.
Predicted division winner - Denver Broncos
New England Patriots - The Pats last losing season was in 2000; Bill Belichick's first season as Head coach. What happened after that, is quite well documented. The next season, Drew Bledsoe was injured; Tom Brady became the starter, and the rest is history. New England has done a nice job of staying competitive year after year. They have owned this division for years. This season may prove quite challenging for "The Brady Bunch". The three-time Super Bowl winning QB will be working with a brand new corps of receivers. Wes Welker is gone, TE Aaron Hernandez was released, and is probably going to spend many years in prison. TE Rob Gronkowski is productive when in the lineup, but has health concerns. He only played in 11 games last season, and this season he is expected to miss at least the first two games. On defense, big Vince Wilfork still plugs the middle as well as any Nose Tackle in the league, but there are a lot of weaknesses behind him. The linebackers may be considered "OK", but the defensive backfield is one of question marks.
Miami Dolphins - The Dolphins' last winning season was in 2008 when they finished 11-5. since then, they've had three 7-9 seasons including last season. Rookie QB Ryan Tannehill did show flashes of brilliance. In the first seven games of the season, the team went 4-3, with two of those losses coming in OT. K Dan Carpenter struggled to kick very routine FG's, and things then fell apart. The team acquired speedy WR Mike Wallace this offseason, and hope that legit deep threat will be a nice complement to steady, sure-handed WR Brian Hartline. The team is also banking that second-year RB Lamar Miller will make everyone forget about the departed Reggie Bush. The Dolphins' defense is still solid. If it all comes together, they could topple the Pats.
New York Jets - This circus deserves a tent. The now infamous "Butt fumble" pretty much sums up the career of QB Mark Sanchez. After both he and Head coach Rex Ryan made it to two straight AFC championship games in their respective rookie and second seasons, it has been all downhill. The team has now missed the playoffs the last two seasons. An ill-advised coaching move in a preseason game has left Sanchez injured, and rookie QB Geno Smith will get the start on opening day. On the defensive side of the ball, CB Darrelle Revis has moved Revis Island to Tampa Bay. The team was 8-8 in 2011, and 6-10 last season. This season looks like a disaster which could see the QB and coach who came in together, also leave together.
Buffalo Bills - Rookie EJ Manuel will be the starting QB on opening day. How desperate was the QB situation in Buffalo ? They actually signed Matt Leinart for a brief stint during the preseason. If EJ Manuel is not up to the task, hopefully Kevin Kolb will have returned from yet another concussion. On the bright side, RB CJ Spiller will be back. The Bills last winning season was 2004. The team's last trip to the playoffs was 1999. Last season they were 6-10 for the second straight season, and third time in the last four seasons. It does not look much better this season.
Predicted division winner - Miami Dolphins
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