It’s incredibly early to begin considering the playoffs following the 2012 season, but it’s never too early to consider which teams are positioning themselves for a solid campaign. The NFL, at this time of year, is generally composed of teams that are expected to be very good and teams that no one expects to do much in the upcoming season. That’s how this time of year generally works, but not so this year in the AFC.
The AFC is a wide open race. There is no single run-away favorite. The Patriots, Ravens, Steelers, and to some extent, the Broncos are all expected to put together very good campaigns. That being the case, there’s a whole pack of teams in hot pursuit. The Texans, Chargers, Bengals, Jets, and the Titans are all vying for position as contenders.
This shouldn’t surprise anyone. The NFL prides itself on the close competition between any two teams in the league. Sure, there are always a few teams that turn out to be above and beyond most of the field, and there’s a few more teams that tend to put together sub-par rosters year after year, but by and large, the NFL can match up any two teams against each other, and you’ll have a competitive game.
The NFC is playing by a whole different set of expectations. The Packers are once again favored to make a deep playoff run next January and, dare I say, February. The Falcons fell flat in the playoffs last season, but they’re expected to be in the Super Bowl discussion, and you can’t count out the Saints despite missing their head coach for the duration of the upcoming season. Outside of those teams, and with apologies to the Super Bowl champion Giants, I don’t expect a different team to be making a Super Bowl run from that conference.
The AFC is made up of three very competitive divisions and the AFC East. Yes, I’m saying it. The Patriots will win their division — again. The AFC North has 3 teams that could win the division, the AFC West has at least 2 (the Raiders and Chiefs could always surprise us), and the AFC South has 2 (the Jaguars could be in the discussion as well).
Of the AFC competitors, the Patriots will be favored, if for no other reason, because they still have Tom Brady as their starting quarterback and Bill Belichick as their head coach. The Steelers are a quickly aging team, and the Ravens find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory when it matters most. Let’s face it. The AFC appears to be as wide open as I can ever remember, and that my friends, is a very, very good thing.