Ranking the AFC

JagNation is going to take a look at which teams we believe will be the true contenders in the AFC. The main purpose of this set of "rankings" is purely for entertainment. It will be fun to look back at this at the end of the season and see how wrong we were.

Wait until next year...or the year after

16. Miami Dolphins- The Fish will be a better team than the nightmare 2007 club that nearly pulled off the imperfect season (thank Brian Billick for that one) that their true fans endured last season (all 30,000 or so that actually showed up past October). That said, the Dolphins still have major holes all over the field, and if they quadruple their win total of a year ago they'll still finish in last place.

15. Kansas City Chiefs- Kansas City is in the beginning phases of a complete rebuilding effort, and nobody is completely sure if former third-round pick Brodie Croyle will work out. Despite having a good draft, expect the Chiefs to supplant the Raiders as the last place team in the AFC West.

14. Baltimore Ravens- Baltimore has issues all over their offense, a new head coach, and they had a full scale brawl during the opening weekend of mini-camp. Their secondary is aging, and Ray Lewis is a shell of his former self (despite continuing to be seen in Hawaii at the Pro Bowl). With the Ravens having to play the AFC South and NFC East, the schedule is not going to help Baltimore with anything other than securing a high draft pick in 2009.

Immediate turnaround not likely

13. New York Jets- The Jets spent some money in the offseason to fix their offensive line, but they still have a major question mark at quarterback. We expect Chad Pennington to win the job initially, then get benched shortly thereafter like last year. Unstable quarterback situations never breed winning.

12. Oakland Raiders- The Raiders spent big on their defense, and they now have Darren McFadden in their backfield. Their offensive line shouldn't be much improved and there will be growing pains with an inexperienced JaMarcus Russell behind center. We expect Oakland to finally get out of last place.

Some talent, but not a playoff team

11. Denver Broncos- Denver has been a solid team at home in the past, but there are some fundamental problems on that team. The Broncos will be depending on the underachieving former Jet, Dewayne Robertson to fix their run defense, and their linebackers are still not even average as a unit. Jay Cutler has shown flashes, but must improve greatly to take this team to a playoff level.

10. Cincinnati Bengals-
Same old story with the Bengals, good offensive weapons, no defense, add in an unhappy Chad Johnson and a front office that cut their nose to spite their face by "teaching him a lesson" and keeping him around, and the Bengals will be less than the sum of their parts.

9. Tennessee Titans- The Titans should take a small step back this year, as they lost Antwan Odom and Travis LaBoy in free agency. Tennessee still has no proven weapons in their prime on the outside for Vince Young to throw to, and Young himself regressed in a major way in 2007. Great coaching and solid run defense will keep them in games, but don't start printing those playoff tickets in Nashville.

Could be playoff contenders

8. Buffalo Bills- Buffalo made the most of the talent they had in 2007, as Dick Jauron did a fantastic job of coaching. They hope that Marcus Stroud will help the run defense, and Trent Edwards can improve into a solid starting quarterback. If Buffalo can win four games inside their division, they will have a shot to sneak in the back of a wildcard, but it's not likely.

7. Cleveland Browns- Seemingly everyone is jumping on the Browns as AFC North champions in 2008. We're not so convinced. Cleveland is very thin in the secondary, and I'm not convinced that Derek Anderson is anything more than a one-year wonder (who was declining at the end of 2007). The Browns have old Jamal Lewis in the backfield, and he may not hold up for the entire season. Cleveland has a much tougher schedule this season, and they still have just the third-best quarterback in their division, and a city that's split over the starter and good-looking backup.

6. Houston Texans- The Texans seem to be taking steps forward, as they have solid depth at quarterback (Schaub, Rosenfels, and Gray), a premiere pass rusher in Mario Williams, and a great middle linebacker in DeMeco Ryans. Houston could hover around .500, and their season will likely depend on how they do against the AFC North, and if they can beat the Tennessee Titans.

Playoff locks

5. Pittsburgh Steelers- Steel City has problems on both their offensive and defensive lines, but they have a special quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger, and that erases a lot of deficiencies. Rashard Mendenhall and Willie Parker will keep the Steelers running toward another division title. That said, Pittsburgh is facing the toughest schedule in the history of the league, and they will struggle at times.

4. San Diego Chargers- San Diego has a great defense, even better running back, and a very good offensive line. Couple that with the fact their division has been down for a few years, and the Bolts should cruise to a division title. The only thing that keeps the Chargers from being a legitimate title contender is their quarterback position, in which Phillip Rivers hasn't shown the ability to win the big game yet.

Legit title contenders

3. Jacksonville Jaguars- On paper the Jaguars have no major deficiencies, and if they stay healthy there is absolutely no reason why they can't appear in the AFC Championship game. That said, the road to a home playoff game comes by knocking Indianapolis out, and the Jaguars haven't been able to do that. This could be the year that it all changes, but we'll believe it when we see it.

2. Indianapolis Colts- Indy didn't get any better in free agency, and their draft didn't yield any players that will help right away. There is a major question mark at wide receiver with Marvin Harrison's legal situation, and the Colts had another early playoff exit. That said, Indianapolis have been fantastic in the regular season, and they've won most of their big games from September through December in the last five years. There's no reason to believe that will change.

1. New England Patriots*- The Pats have the world's best quarterback, and last season they set new NFL records for scoring, en route to winning 18 straight games before their Super Bowl flop. New England lost Asante Samuel and Donte Stallworth in free agency, so it's not likely that we'll witness another undefeated season. That said, they are still the kings of the AFC, and with a relatively soft division, they should coast into the playoffs, likely with a first-round bye.

* asterisk does not denote cheating, which the Patriots were "convicted" of, but the possibility that head coach Bill Belichik could be suspended which would severely affect their 2008 season. Tapes have reportedly showed the Pats have cheated by taping team's signals for the past six years, and Belichik may be suspended for a significant amount of time.

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