Sports take: Texans, Chargers look playoff bound; Jets left out

AFC teams adapt to key additions, losses

By Daniel Wallace
Sports Writer

The NFL lockout scared many fans, myself included, into thinking we might not see a season this year.

But after the new agreement was signed and we wiped our tears away, we saw an unprecedented and frantic one-week free agency period that had sports fans everywhere constantly checking their cell phones for updates.

The moves some teams made changed the landscape of the NFL. I think we will see some basement-dwellers rise up and take divisions over, as well as see former great teams hit rock bottom.

That being said, there are some things that never change, and with that, here are my predictions.

AFC East

Don’t expect too much shake-up from last year’s standings here. The Patriots are undeniably still the beasts of the East.

Bill Belichick could be just what Albert Haynesworth needs to return to being one of the most-feared defensive tackles in the league.

Also, look for Ochocinco to revive his career in New England; it ought to be fairly easy with that Brady guy throwing to him.

The Jets will not give the Patriots a serious run for their money until Mark Sanchez can become more consistent.

Rex Ryan’s bombastic predictions every week and their Hollywood defense will only take them so far. And that will be second place.

Miami comes in with a strong defense, but the question marks on the other side of the ball are far too great.

Buffalo will show flashes of being a respectable team, but their offensive line and inconsistency at quarterback (I see a theme here…) will bury them at the bottom of the division.

AFC North

With two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback Ben Roethlisberger under center for all 16 games this season, the Steelers will prove to be division winners once again.

Even if Roethlisberger and receiver Mike Wallace do not have the mega Pro Bowl seasons I predict, the veteran defense will carry them anyway, which is normal for Pittsburgh.

The Ravens will always be the second-best team in this division until proven otherwise. Although their defense is just as intense and physical as Pittsburgh’s, Joe Flacco must transform from a great quarterback to an elite one to knock off the mighty Steelers this year.

The Browns enter the season with lots of promise and hope in young quarterback Colt McCoy, who looks to establish himself this year.

Cleveland has a bright future; it just does not begin this year. With a new head coach, coordinators and a switch to a 4-3 defense, the term “rebuilding” is written all over the Browns this year.

The Cincinnati Bengals have too many rookies at key roles, namely quarterback and wide receiver, to seriously compete this year. The loss of cornerback Jonathan Joseph does not help, either.

AFC South

This is the year for the Texans. They will win the division.

New defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is notorious for drastically improving a team’s defense in his first year as the coordinator. The offense has proved to be one of the best in the NFL and proved last year they can beat the Colts when they play their A-game.

Admittedly, I feel strange not picking a Peyton Manning lead team to win the division. The Colts will still be the Colts and will make the playoffs, but Manning’s neck injury and their aging defense are slight causes for concern, which work in the Texans’ favor.

Quarterback David Garrard will start the season in Jacksonville, but look for rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert to be starting by the end of the season after the team gets off to a slow start.

The Titans have current drama with Chris Johnson’s holdout and Matt Hasselbeck is not the answer at quarterback. Look for more dismal games in Tennessee this year.

AFC West

The Chargers played the majority of the 2010-11 season without superstar receiver Vincent Jackson, Antonio Gates (arguably the best tight end in the NFL) and up-and-coming running back Ryan Matthews.

Yet they still finished 9-7 and were second in the NFL in points per game and total points. With those weapons back, their offense will carry them to the division title.

The defending division champion Chiefs will feel the effects of losing Charlie Weis as the offensive coordinator. They do not have a complement to receiver Dwayne Bowe, either.

The Raiders will make a splash and pull out some surprise wins, but Jason Campbell is still the starter at quarterback. They will not go far with him.

Also, the offseason was not kind to Oakland. They lost their two best players—Zach Miller and Nnamdi Asomugha.

The Broncos will finish last in the division and the Tebow era will officially begin by Week 10 as Kyle Orton will be run out of town by the disgruntled fans in Denver.

Wild Card

As I said, I believe the Texans will win the division, but the Colts will take a Wild Card spot.

I just cannot see Peyton Manning sitting at home watching the game come January. He has proved time and time again that he can carry Indianapolis to the postseason, despite a less than stellar defense.

I also picked the Ravens to win a wild card spot. Even if Joe Flacco does not improve, Ray Rice can still help carry the offense, and that defense remains the most stable in the league.

This leaves the Jets out of the postseason. Poor Rex Ryan. Poor Mark Sanchez.

NFC predictions tomorrow…