Yesterday we took on the NFC power rankings, and today we’ll address the top 10 teams in the AFC before training camp get underway:
10. Kansas City – Despite only winning two games a season ago, the Chiefs crack the top-10 in a not so stellar AFC. Kansas City already has a good defense, and the addition of the offensive minded Andy Reid and a viable quarterback in Alex Smith should be enough to make them a respectable team in 2013. Pushing for a playoff spot isn’t out of the question, but shouldn’t be expected for another year. At the very least, the Chiefs will no longer be the laughing stock of the league.
9. San Diego – The Chargers had a rough season last year, but getting Norv Turner out of San Diego and making Mike McCoy the new head coach should breathe new life into the team. McCoy is an offensive mastermind that has the ability to adjust his scheme around the talent he has, and if he can help make Phillip Rivers return to the form he had a few years ago, the Chargers have a chance to reach the 10-win mark and make the playoffs, but there are still plenty of unanswered questions heading into training camp.
8. Pittsburgh – It’s tough to tell if last year was a down year for the Steelers or a sign of things to come. If healthy, they are talented enough to sneak into the top-5 in the AFC, but there are definitely concerns about their age and if their key veterans will be able to stay on the field for 16 games. They drafted well and have enough talent to make them competitive, but too much uncertainty keeps them from climbing any higher than eighth heading into training camp.
7. Miami – We have to assume Miami is still on the outside looking in with regards to being a playoff team, but they definitely have the potential to be much improved depending on how much Ryan Tannehill develops in his second season. The Dolphins have done their best to surround Tannehill with playmakers, but they may still be a year away from making a move into the top-tier of the conference. However, the potential to do so is there.
6. Indianapolis – The Colts made an incredible turnaround in 2012, largely on the shoulders of quarterback Andrew Luck. Now the Colts need to improve the rest of their team so that they’re not so dependent on Luck winning games for them week after week. The defense was completely revamped in free agency, and Indianapolis even tried to give Luck more support on the offensive side of the ball as well. How it all comes together is tough to predict before we get a glimpse of the team during the season, but if Luck got them to the postseason last year, he should be able to do it again, regardless of what’s around him.
5. Baltimore – It may seem like a long fall from Super Bowl champions to fifth best in the weaker of two conferences, but heading into the playoffs last year the Ravens weren’t much better than fifth in the AFC anyway. After winning Super Bowl MVP, Joe Flacco better be ready to carry the team. The defense got a good infusion of young talent, but there’s a clear lack of leadership and experience, which could create some growing pains and keep Baltimore from being considered one of the top teams in the conference, unless Flacco can take his game to the next level.
4. New England – This is a little low for the Patriots, but outside of the newly acquired Danny Amendola, Tom Brady doesn’t really know whom he’s going to be throwing the ball to until Rob Gronkowski is healthy, and even then New England won’t have a great collection of playmakers. Needless to say, it’s been a rough offseason in New England, and the Patriots may not be able to just shrug off what happened and focus on football. Even if they can, how much longer can Brady carry the team on his back?
3. Houston – The Texans are steady and reliable, and because of some of the questions surrounding teams like the Patriots, Ravens, and Steelers, they move up and rank third in the AFC heading into the season. They still have Matt Schaub, Arian Foster, and Andre Johnson leading the way on offense, they drafted well, and added Ed Reed in free agency, so there’s enough talent on the roster to be considered a top team. With the usual suspects all facing serious questions, this year could be Houston’s opportunity to get to the next level and go deep in the AFC playoffs.
2. Cincinnati – There are high expectations for the Bengals this season, the likes of which that franchise hasn’t seen in quite some time. The entire offense is back, along with rookies Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard, who could help take that unit to the next level. Cincinnati finished the regular season strong last year, and if they can avoid another slow start like they had in 2012, the Bengals are in line to be one of the AFC’s top teams in 2013.
1. Denver – The Broncos were one botched hail Mary away from hosting the AFC Championship Game last season, and they should find themselves in that same position again this year. Peyton Manning proved last year that he’s healthy and just as good as he was before his neck surgeries, and he may have an even better group of playmakers around him with the addition of Wes Welker. There are concerns about the secondary, and the loss of Elvis Dumervil could prove to be an issue, but after the regular season they had last year, there’s no reason not to think that the Broncos are the best team in the AFC.