Michael Strahan's 2012 AFC Season Preview
The countdown to the 2012 NFL season is officially on!
We’re a little over a month away from opening kickoff, and what better way to prepare for what promises to be an incredible journey to Super Bowl XLVII than by tackling all of the drama in the AFC?
In case you missed my thoughts on the NFC, you can read Part I of the NFL preview here.
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We’ll begin back east, home of the defending AFC Champs: Tom Brady & Co.
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New England Patriots
The Patriots will still be the cream of the crop in the division. A retooled WR group and a healthy Rob Gronkowski is just what the doctor ordered for Tom Brady. After losing for the second time to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl, they will take out their frustrations on the rest of the AFC.
New York Jets
The Jets always play tough, and if they can keep Sanchez mentally engaged and feeling like it is his team, then they have a good chance to make the playoffs. If not, they will find themselves on the front of the New York newspapers more for the circus surrounding them than for wins.
Doing Hard Knocks for HBO. New coach. New QB. All these things are too much to overcome, compete in the division and rack up wins.
The Bills got off to a hot start last year, so they know they can play, but they have to finish, which is why they signed Mario Williams. I think they will compete and could be the surprise in the division above the Jets, but below the Pats!
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Keeping Ben Roethlisberger upright and establishing a running game has to be in their master plan. Defense wins championships, and this one has shown they know how to get it done. Although a few pieces are aging, they still are the team to beat in the AFC North, and possibly the AFC.
They finally showed they weren't the little brother anymore. Joe Flacco is ready to become elite and will do it this season. They will compete with the Steelers for the division and the AFC overall, but the loss of Terrell Suggs is going to hurt and could be the difference.
They're a young team that played over their heads last year, but because of that, they will not fear the Steelers or Ravens. If there is a quiet storm waiting to erupt in the NFL, this team could be it. No surprise if they're holding off the Steelers and Ravens at some point for the division lead.
The Browns have landed a great new talent in Trent Richardson, but they still have to find a franchise QB and figure out how to win. And this won't be the year that happens.
If they had a healthy QB, this team may have been in AFC Championship Game, and possibly the Super Bowl. If Matt Schaub can stay healthy, with the tough running of Arian Foster and receiving of Andre Johnson, this offense can score and move the ball with the best of them. Defense was stout even without Mario Williams, so they have shown they're a complete team and easily the best in the division.
If Chris Johnson can get back on track after an off year, and with a healthy Hasselback or young Jake Locker, this team will surprise you. The Titans need to step up on the defensive side of the ball, but overall, they have the talent to win in excess of seven games.
The Colts are rebuilding like a '57 Chevy that's been in the backyard rusting. All new parts on and old frame, and it will take a while to put it all together even though the engine and brains (Andrew Luck) are top-notch.
New ownership will breathe some fresh air into this franchise, but right now, Blaine Gabbert isn't the franchise QB that they hope he will be in the future. Maurice Jones-Drew and Marcedes Lewis will only be able to do so much.
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I'm excited to see if Peyton Manning is back, but don't see enough weapons around him to make this team stand out. This is a serious sit-back-and-see-what-happens team.
San Diego Chargers
If they can ever start fast, they would have won a few championships by now. Philip Rivers is in his prime and can challenge any team in the league, but whether they have a late or early collapse has become the reputation of the team. If there is a team that is impossible to predict, it's the Chargers.
Kansas City Chiefs
With new, but experienced coach Romeo Crennel and a wealth of young, talented players, the Chiefs could go from least likely to succeed to head of the class in the AFC West. The addition of Peyton Hillis and the healthy return of a lot of key players, including QB Matt Cassel, could make the Chiefs legitimate contenders to win the division.
The new regime has a proven track record, but it will take a while before that kicks in. They will be competitive in the division and provide some thrills, but the overall state of rebuilding will be too much to make them the team to count on for consistency week in and week out.