Although the start of the NFL season is still almost two months away, itís never to early to speculate as to which teams will emerge as playoff participants in the year ahead. What follows is the first of a two-part look at which teams are likely to still be playing come Winter.
Letís start with the AFCÖ
New England Patriots
You can never bet against the Patriots when it comes to making the playoffs. New England focused heavily on defense in the draft this off-season, and reinforced their offense by re-signing Wes Welker for another year, and adding free agent wideouts Anthony Gonzales, Brandon Lloyd, Donte Stallworth, and Jabar Gaffney to the roster. With all of those targets to work with, Tom Brady should have no trouble leading the Pats back to the postseason.
Although their star linebacker Terrell Suggs suffered a season-ending knee injury this off-season, the Ravens are well prepared to replace him with rookie Courtney Upshaw out of Alabama. With all of their other critical components remaining in place, the Ravens should be able to re-capture their intensity from last season, and survive a difficult division to claim a spot on post-season play.
Although not a team that NFL fans have gotten used to recognizing as a contender, the Houston Texans may have a better chance of making the playoffs then any other team. Part of that is because the AFC South is a struggling division, and the other part is that Houston has a powerful offense, a dynamic defense, and enough star power to lead to big victories throughout the year. Look for the Texans to claim the AFC South this season.
Already a team that has flirted with post-season success in recent seasons, the Denver Broncos certainly helped their resume by adding one of the greatest QBs to ever play the game. Will Peyton be Peyton and lead the Broncos back to the promised land? Or will age and injuries hinder the veteran gunslinger, and leave the AFC West open for another team to steal? Iím banking on the former, but only time will tell.
Once again, it is likely to be a toss up as to whether the Ravens or Steelers claim AFC North supremacy this season. Whichever squad claims the distinction of division winner, the other is likely to be first in on the wild card. My prediction is that the Ravens will win the division, but the Steelers will not be kept out of the playoffs completely.
San Diego Chargers
Because so much of the Broncos success relies on what Peyton will do after a year out of the office, itís only fair to keep the possibility open of another team from the AFC West making some noise in the postseason. The Chargers regularly have one of the most potent offenses in the league, and a defense that is stout enough to win games. Letís hope this is the year that San Diego puts their postseason struggles to rest, and the team finally establishes itself as a perennial contender.
Thatís all for the AFC. Tune back tomorrow to see what I have in mind for the NFC.
Do you agree with my predictions? Which teams do YOU see making the playoffs next season?