1) New England 11-5
The Patriots, when fully assembled, are the best team in the AFC. But the Brady suspension, and now the suspension of Rob Ninkovich on defense will hurt their record. Jimmy Garoppolo will be solid in Brady’s absence, but they will still probably lose a game or two in the first few weeks that they otherwise would not. Expect them to hit their full stride right as the playoffs approach.
2) New York 9-7
There are some sustainability questions for the Jets on offense. The addition of Matt Forte at running back is intriguing, but it gives the offense an overall aging look, so health will be a crucial factor. The defense will be stout again, but it has its older players as well. The Jets, much like last year, will just miss out on the playoffs.
3) Buffalo 7-9
The Bills have a lot of firepower on offense, but their three main players all have injury histories: Tyrod Taylor, LeSean McCoy, and Sammy Watkins. The injury bug has already hit the defense as first and second round picks from this past draft, Shaq Lawson and Reggie Ragland respectively, have already been sidelined, the latter for the entire season. In the competitive AFC, especially in this division, being less than full strength is a death sentence.
4) Miami 7-9
The trade for Kiko Alonso and the signing of Mario Williams suddenly makes the defense look very imposing. There are nice pieces on offense, but with Ryan Tannehill at quarterback it is tough to envision the Dolphins making a strong move up the standings.
1) Cincinnati 10-6
The offense, and by extension quarterback Andy Dalton, flourished under coordinator Hue Jackson who left to take the head coach position with the Browns. Regression may occur on that side of the ball with the loss of Jackson and a couple of receivers. The defense is still very stout, the loss of Reggie Nelson may be offset with the addition of Karlos Dansby. Their record might not be as sterling as last season because it is doubtful that they start off 8-0 again, but this is still the team to beat in the division.
2) Baltimore 9-7
Everything that could have gone wrong last season did for the Ravens, mainly injuries. The luck figures to bounce back positively this year. Health for guys like Joe Flacco, Steve Smith, and Terrell Suggs would go a long way towards regaining a playoff berth.
3) Pittsburgh 9-7
The offense gets a lot of attention, but Martavis Bryant is suspended for the year, LeVeon Bell will miss at least 3 games, and tight end Ladarius Green is starting the year on the PUP list. How many games will Ben Roethlisberger play? No offense can sustain personnel losses like that. The defense is solid, but there are questions in the secondary. No team will look forward to playing the Steelers, but it is difficult to see them stringing an entire season together with enough wins for a playoff appearance.
4) Cleveland 5-11
The offense will be vastly improved. If Robert Griffin III can stay healthy, he will have a nice season. There is breakout potential among the skill players, and the offensive line has always been good. There is not much to be excited about on defense however.
1) Houston 9-7
The offense will have a totally revamped look with additions Brock Osweiler, Lamar Miller, Will Fuller, and Braxton Miller. How the Texans’ talented offense gels will be the key to their season. The defense is obviously talented, but it might not be quite good enough to carry the entire team.
2) Indianapolis 8-8
After a disappointing season, the Colts did not make enough personnel changes to prevent more disappointment. The only new piece on offense is a rookie center, Ryan Kelly. The secondary was overhauled, but is it that much better? Andrew Luck can only carry this team so far.
3) Jacksonville 8-8
A breakout season will come up just short of a playoff bid. The offense is ready to go. The addition of Chris Ivory will provide a nice complement to T.J. Yeldon and the passing game. The defense will be better, but it is still a little green, and has not caught up to the offense yet.
4) Tennessee 6-10
The Titans will be much tougher than their win total will indicate. Their commitment to the run with DeMarco Murray, Derrick Henry, and Marcus Mariota will cause nightmares for opponents. The defense is not quite postseason-caliber, but this team is headed in the right direction.
1) Kansas City 10-6
The Chiefs roster looks a lot like last year’s, and the results will be more of the same. They will have a similar record, although it is doubtful that they will achieve it by winning ten straight games immediately after losing five in a row as they did last season. No reason to believe this team can get over the hump into the AFC championship game, however.
2) San Diego 9-7
The Chargers could surprise many after a nightmarish 2015; they lost nine of their twelve games by one possession, including five in a row at one point. Melvin Gordon should continue to progress and help the offense cash all their yards in for touchdowns, and the defense will be boosted by several upgrades. Philip Rivers has another run in him.
3) Oakland 8-8
The Raiders finally have all the tangibles on paper. The offense is ready to take another step after a promising 2015. On defense, the linebacking corps has gotten very good, and the addition of Reggie Nelson at safety will be huge. Can Derek Carr win games when something is at stake?
4) Denver 7-9
The Broncos have too many ingredients for a Super Bowl hangover year. They are breaking in a new quarterback and there was enough turnover on defense to cause concern. The defense will still be very salty, but last season they played almost unbelievably good, so it is difficult to imagine a repeat performance. Without Peyton Manning they will run more with C.J. Anderson, and the new strategy will pay off at first, but it ultimately will not be enough to keep them in the playoff hunt the entire season.