AFC East:

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1) New England Patriots

If you don’t have the Patriots a top the AFC East, you are betting that Tom Brady’s knee blows up again. Otherwise, even on a day like today where something that hadn’t happened in 99 years just occurred (the solar eclipse), New England is winning the division with ease.

Just think about this: the Super Bowl Champion won the offseason. That just doesn’t happen. I keep telling people that the additions of Brandin Cooks and Rex Burkhead (underrated and will fit into the Pats’ scheme perfectly) will make the offense literally indefensible.

Add on top of that, the fact that their defense got even better with the addition of Stephon Gilmore and many others, and it’s really a once or twice in lifetime occurrence. What’s also a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence is 16-0. I am not betting on it, but I wouldn’t rule it out. It’s Super Bowl or bust in New England.

2) Miami Dolphins

Listen, some teams who finish second in their division are weaker than others; i.e. the Miami Dolphins. I don’t think it is a stretch to say that all teams other than the Pats in the AFC East will finish with a losing record. Don’t kid yourself, Jay Cutler will be a downgrade from Ryan Tannehill. Plus, their schedule gets really tough late in the year. Everything about this team screams 7-9.

3) Buffalo Bills

The pivotal word here is new. No seriously, everything is new: new general manager, head coach, offensive coordinator, and defensive coordinator. Those relationships are going to take a year to gel together if they ever do at all.

On the field, the Bills lost their number one cornerback and the aforementioned Stephon Gilmore in free agency while trading the second best cornerback on the 2016 Bills (Ronald Darby) to the Eagles. Reinforcing the word new. In most other divisions, Buffalo would probably be in last, but not in the East.

4) New York Jets

The only reason the Bills are not last is because of the worst team in football: the New York Jets. I want you to really think about what I am going to say because it is truly unbelievable. The Jets don’t have one, not only single player on the defensive side of the ball that ranked within the top 100 at their position last year. Do you realize how hard that is to do? In order to be in the top 100, you don’t have to be great, you just have to be good.

As proven here, the word good shouldn’t be associated in anyway shape of form with the New York Jets. I am not going to say much more because I already wrote an article on the Jets. Here is the bottom line: the Jets are tanking and they will successfully get those results this season.

AFC North

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1) Pittsburgh Steelers

I came awfully close, like really close to not picking the Steelers to win this division. A) Ben Roethlisberger took till April just to announce that he is in fact playing this year. This is the first year in which the Big Ben will start to show cracks in its foundations. B) This Steelers’ defense is putrid. When I say putrid, I mean putrid. I would love to have a Pittsburgh fan tell me which position they feel good about.

What, the defensive line? Who? Camerson Hayward and company? What’s that you say? The linebacker position? Who other than Ryan Shazier is there to rely on? The rookie with the last name Watt you recognize because of his brother? The secondary is a whole bunch of question marks too. Plus, let’s not forget the Steelers have a tough schedule: Patriots, Packers, Texans, and Bengals will all be tough games.

Now with all that said, the Steelers will be a very unimpressive division winner because, well, the rest of the division sucks and they still have Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. It’s really just that simple.

2) Cincinnati Bengals

I was so close to picking the Bengals for this until I remembered their, what they like to call, an offensive line. It isn’t just putrid, it’s literally one of, if not the, worst offensive line in the league. However, other than that, I like what they are building. John Ross and Joe Mixon are both going to come in and make an immediate impact to help out two position groups (wide receiver and running back) that they were lacking in. Now is Andy Dalton great? No, but we have seen that he is good enough to get them to the playoffs…once they get there it is another story.

Defensively, they are young and have major question marks. At the end of the day, I am comfortable enough with their front seven. However, their secondary is a different story.  Who can I rely on? The emotional Adam Jones? Unless William Jackson can pop, they could be in trouble in the backfield.

Yet still, in a weak division, they can give the Steelers a run for their money. If their offensive line and secondary can get it together, than Pittsburgh better be watching their backs.

3) Cleveland Browns

I get it, this pick probably shocked a lot of you, but I really don’t think it is all that crazy. Here is the thing, the Browns have a lot of youth…a TON. That could obviously flip either way, but remember all I am saying is that they will be the third best team in the North.

First and foremost, they added Kenny Britt who will be their number one and go-to wide receiver from day one. They of course added Myles Garrett to a defensive line that already had other young, promising prospects: Emmanuel Ogbah and fellow draft pick Larry Ogunjobi. Look further back and you will see a more experienced and impressive linebacker core: Jamie Collins and Christian Kirksey. And in a smaller move, they added Jason McCourty who will play along side the overrated Joe Haden.

The obvious hole in all of this is the quarterback situation. I have no idea who I am getting with this pick. Brock Osweiler? DeShone Kizer? It is an enormous question mark that will follow them this season. But what I do know, it for young teams — specifically young QBs — a consistent offensive line can be the rock that anchors the team. Again, don’t expect any crazy miracles in Cleveland…just a third place finish.

4) Baltimore Ravens

Yes, the Ravens are going to be this bad. Joe Flacco isn’t going to make it through the entire season healthy. He has already had issues with the body part you don’t want to hear: back. Plus, he has a messy offensive line which isn’t going to help with that. When you then consider that Kenneth Dixon is out for the year, which leaves them with Terrance West, you can’t feel too good about that.

Their defense is ok, but has a ton of second-year guys that didn’t show upside in year one. Plus, they have a tough schedule: Steelers (twice), Raiders, and New England just to name a few. Now this next point it going to get you riled up, but John Harbaugh’s voice could be running out of validity in that locker room after nine seasons and back-to-back years of missing the playoffs. Things could get ugly quick which would led to major change. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the last season of the Flacco-Harbaugh era in Baltimore.

AFC South

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1) Tennessee Titans

Believe the hype, the hype is real with this team. It isn’t just the latest and greatest sexy pick to win the division. This is a team that now has a second-year offensive (Terry Robiskie) and defensive coordinator (Dick LeBeau) which shouldn’t be overlooked. But really, I have already buried the lead: Marcus Mariota. How many times do I need to say it, this kid is the real deal. From year one to year two you saw real, tangible improvement in turnovers: down a total of seven from his rookie season. Year two to three is now going to be all about stretching the field and taking more risks which I think he has shown the clear ability to do. I will remind you, he is only 23.

Let’s not forget that the Titans also have the forgotten DeMarco Murray who is running behind one of the best, upcoming offensive lines in the league including standout tackle Jack Conklin. While I like the Rishard Matthews and Eric Decker combination receiving wise, if Corey Davis can make any kind of noise in his rookie season, Mariota while start to have three legitimate options.

Now I will admit, I don’t love the defense Tennessee has that was a big liability last year. However, they still found a way to win nine games and that was before they went out and added Logan Ryan and Adoree’ Jackson (first-round draft pick) this offseason. This team has double-digit wins written all over them and no other team in this division will top that.

2) Houston Texans

Call me crazy, but I believe in Deshaun Watson. You know, that guy who scored 21 points in a quarter of the National Championship game against the Alabama. Whether he starts or not, doesn’t mean a whole lot because he will start eventually and that kid knows how to win. Mind you, he has Lamar Miller and DeAndre Hopkins as weapons which a lot of QBs in the this league would love to have.

Perhaps even more exciting, is the fact that we might finally get to see JJ Watt and Jadeveon Clowney healthy and performing well. That, combined with their solid linebackers, leads to a very impressive front seven that will win them games. However, I will admit that I am concerned about both their secondary and offensive lines. But when you have a front seven like that, it tends to mask some of the problems in the backfield.

If both their secondary and O line can gel together, Tennessee might have company.

3) Indianapolis Colts

This is a disaster. No seriously, the Colts continue to waste Andrew Luck’s prime and this year will be no different. If you think that he is making it through the season healthy with that shoulder and that offensive line, I would love to drink your coffee. Once you look around, it isn’t anymore impressive. Frank Gore began his decline last year, and past TY Hilton, Indianapolis really just doesn’t have a lot to write home about. Defensively, they don’t have a single player that ranks within the top 200 at their position, something even the New York Jets are better at.

When you are looking at winning games 35-31 with Scott Tolzien, things aren’t looking too good.

4) Jacksonville Jaguars 

Two words: Blake Bortles. With some teams, quarterback play limits them, with Bortles and the Jaguars, it destroys them and any of the mediocre talent they have around.

AFC West:

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1) Oakland Raiders

Can I remind you that Derek Carr would have received MVP votes if he stayed healthy last year. Yes, he is that good and that ready to led a team to being a real contender, not just a playoff team. While I don’t think Marshawn Lynch will be “beast mode,” I think he will come in and be better than anything else they have. I don’t know how people forget, but they do, the Raiders have two elite wide receivers (Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree) that they use in such effective ways. Not to mention that they have a top-ten offensive line as long as no one holds out for unprecedentedly long.

I like their defense except THE secondary which I think could be their ultimate fault once the playoffs role around. Call me crazy, but David Amerson and company just doesn’t sell me. But we aren’t talking about Super Bowl expectations in this article, we are talking about the division and the Raiders are more than good enough to beat everyone else out.

2) Kansas City Chiefs

I know this can be an unpopular opinion, but I am putting them second based on my trust for Andy Reid. Listen, I wouldn’t bet my money on his teams in the playoffs, but for the regular season, this is a guy who has only coached one losing team in the past ten years. This is a typical Andy Reid team, nothing too special, but good enough. Alex Smith in a game manager role is good enough. The running back core, while not top heavy, will be good enough between Spencer Ware, Charcandrick West, and rookie Kareem Hunt. Not to mention their offensive line could be a surprise top-ten pick and they have the second best tight end in the game.

Plus, Eric Berry, Marcus Peters, and Steven Nelson quietly make up a good secondary. Again, not anything special, but good enough.

3) San Diego Chargers

When your star quarterback isn’t happy, good things probably aren’t going to happen. Philip Rivers reportedly has hired a driver for the commute from San Diego every day because he refuses to move his family. Add that factor on top of his declining play, and the end is near.

In case you forgot, they are still the Chargers, (even if they have changed cities) because their top two draft picks are both out with injuries. How many times are we going to say, ‘If they are healthy then…’? With all this instability you need someone who can lead a group of professionals and I am not sold that Anthony Lynn (who was a running back coach in Buffalo just a year ago) can handle it.

4) Denver Broncos

This is simple, I have no faith in Paxton Lynch or Trevor Siemian. Neither are going to be anywhere near a franchise quarterback which you need in Denver because of their average, overrated, and aging offensive weapons.

Plus, this defense isn’t the same defense that carried Peyton Manning off into the sunset. Are they still good? Sure, but not elite. I love Von Miller and I like their secondary, but the front seven is going to be an issue all season long; just a part of what could be an ugly season in mile high.

-Article by Nick Friend

Still to come/already released today: Podcast and video

Tomorrow: The usual podcast, video, and announcements

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