NFL preview: AFC story lines

Posted: September 05, 2014

AFC East

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

2013 record: 12-4

Biggest addition: CB Darrelle Revis

Biggest loss: LG Logan Mankins

What's the story: Tom Brady is the starting quarterback. Bill Belichick is entrenched as head coach. That formula has been consistently successful since Brady took over as a starter more than a decade ago. Incoming cornerback Darrelle Revis adds another key component to a team that is attempting to win the AFC East for the sixth consecutive season.

Prediction: 12-4

NEW YORK JETS

2013 record: 8-8

Biggest addition: WR Eric Decker

Biggest loss: RT Austin Howard

What's the story: Geno Smith is unproven after a shaky rookie campaign, but will start at quarterback. The Jets will rely on former rushing champion Chris Johnson to ease some of Smith's responsibilities. That plan, however, seems unwise, as Johnson, who turns 29 this month, averaged a career-low 3.9 yards per carry last year for the Titans.

Prediction: 6-10

MIAMI DOLPHINS

2013 record: 8-8

Biggest addition: RT Ja'Wuan James

Biggest loss: SS Chris Clemons

What's the story: Former Eagles quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor is new the

offensive coordinator. He will install a Chip Kelly-lite offense in the hopes of revitalizing third-year quarterback

Ryan Tannehill in the vein of Nick Foles last season. Tannehill has Mike Wallace to spread the field vertically.

Prediction: 9-7

BUFFALO BILLS

2013 record: 6-10

Biggest addition:

WR Sammy Watkins

Biggest loss: FS Jairus Byrd

What's the story: As the franchise searches for a buyer following the death of longtime owner Ralph Wilson, the team doesn't appear to be an appealing purchase. Rookie receiver Sammy Watkins is a stud, but uncertainty at quarterback between second-year player E.J. Manuel and free agent Kyle Orton leave doubts about the team's ability to get him the ball.

Prediction: 4-12

AFC North

CINCINNATI BENGALS

2013 record: 11-5

Biggest addition: RB Jeremy Hill

Biggest loss: DE Michael Johnson

What's the story: Quarterback Andy Dalton will get unfair expectations as the $115 million man following an offseason extension, despite the dubious nature of non-guaranteed money in the NFL. Receiver A.J. Green, who caught 195 passes over the last two seasons, is one of the game's best and should ensure that Dalton is productive enough to quiet his doubters.

Prediction: 10-6

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

2013 record: 8-8

Biggest addition: ILB Ryan Shazier

Biggest loss: OLB Lamarr Woodley

What's the story: Antonio Brown totaled 1,499 receiving yards last year and remains Ben Roethlisberger's only viable target, as Markus Wheaton and his six career receptions will start opposite Brown at wide receiver. In a division full of three good yet not nearly great teams, the Steelers still have an opportunity to challenge for an AFC North title.

Prediction: 8-8

BALTIMORE RAVENS

2013 record: 8-8

Biggest addition: ILB C.J. Mosley

Biggest loss: DE Arthur Jones

What's the story: The Ravens' running back situation looks horrid on and off the field, as Ray Rice averaged a putrid 3.1 yards per attempt last year and is suspended for the first two games of the season for his domestic-violence incident. The defense is again playoff-caliber, as rookie linebacker C.J. Mosley has been impressive so far.

Prediction: 8-8

CLEVELAND BROWNS

2013 record: 4-12

Biggest addition: QB Johnny Manziel

Biggest loss: WR Josh Gordon (suspended for use of banned substance)

What's the story: Johnny Manziel is

already the league's most polarizing player. Idolized by millennials and reviled by old-school football types, Johnny Football has already dominated the NFL landscape despite not even being his team's starter. Brian Hoyer will begin Week 1 as Cleveland's quarterback, but Manziel will undoubtedly get his time to either dazzle or disappoint in 2014.

Prediction: 7-9

AFC South

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

2013 record: 11-5

Biggest addition: LG Jack Mewhort

Biggest loss: SS Antoine Bethea

What's the story: Indianapolis lucked into drafting the second coming of Peyton Manning the same season the Colts icon was released, as Andrew Luck is already the next great NFL quarterback. His gunslinging led to the Colts' comeback playoff victory against Kansas City last postseason, but becoming more refined and forcing fewer passes will be the key to him coming closer to Manning's pedigree as a quarterback.

Prediction: 12-4

TENNESSEE TITANS

2013 record: 7-9

Biggest addition: RT Michael Oher

Biggest loss: CB Alterraun Verner

What's the story: New head coach Ken Whisenhut, last season as the Chargers' offensive coordinator, transformed the sometimes erratic, sometimes brilliant Philip Rivers into an efficient machine. Whisenhut will attempt to pull such a transformation on former first-round pick Jake Locker, who completed only 60.7 percent of passes last year.

Prediction: 7-9

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

2013 record: 4-12

Biggest addition: DE Chris Clemons

Biggest loss: RB Maurice Jones-Drew

What's the story: The Jaguars are the NFL equivalent of the 76ers in that they have an analytically inclined front office that is willing to forgo success in the short-term to amass talent with high draft picks. QB Blake Bortles will be the first of these young players evaluated, as he likely will takeover for current starter Chad Henne during the course of the season.

Prediction: 3-13

HOUSTON TEXANS

2013 record: 2-14

Biggest addition:

OLB Jadeveon Clowney

Biggest loss: TE Owen Daniels

What's the story: Houston added the best defensive prospect to come into the league in years in Clowney to join with the premier pass rusher in football, J.J. Watt. Merely competent quarterbacking from Ryan Fitzpatrick could allow Houston to return to the playoff picture after a 1-year absence with this revitalized defensive front.

Prediction: 7-9

AFC West

Denver Broncos

2013 record: 13-3

Biggest addition: SS T.J. Ward

Biggest loss: WR Eric Decker

What's the story: The 2013 Broncos scored more points than any team in NFL history but suffered a humiliating Super Bowl loss to Seattle. With the NFL strictly enforcing defensive holding penalties during the preseason, Peyton Manning and his receivers should benefit if the penalties continue to be called in the regular season.

Prediction: 13-3

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

2013 record: 11-5

Biggest addition: RT Michael Oher

Biggest loss: CB Brandon Flowers

What's the story: The Chiefs look to avoid some of the regression that seems due for a team with a nine-win improvement on a last-place team's schedule. QB Alex Smith recently

received a $68 million extension. Jamaal Charles is the league's most productive running back, with the exception of LeSean McCoy, and that should prevent Kansas City from reverting to its poor 2012 form.

Prediction: 8-8

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS

2013 record: 9-7

Biggest addition:

CB Brandon Flowers

Biggest loss: DT Cam Thomas

What's the story: A Philip Rivers-led offense with the skill players at the Chargers' disposal is talented enough to be the second-best in the conference behind Denver, but defense is the biggest cause for concern, particularly its secondary. No defensive backs who go against Peyton Manning twice per year are going to look good, but first-rounder Jason Verrett and incoming veteran Flowers might slow the bleeding just enough for San Diego to get back to the postseason.

Prediction: 10-6

OAKLAND RAIDERS

2013 record: 4-12

Biggest addition: DE Justin Tuck

Biggest loss: LT Jared Veldheer

What's the story: In stereotypical Raiders fashion, Oakland splurged during free agency, signing big-name yet fading veterans. Maurice Jones-Drew, Justin Tuck, Lamarr Woodley and Carlos Rodgers have all come aboard. Another season of double-digit losses, their third straight, appears likely. Rookie QB Derek Carr will start the opener over Matt Schaub, the only rookie starter in the league for the first week.

Prediction: 5-11


On Twitter: @shamus_clancy

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