Tonight we move our attention to the AFC, where the likely Superbowl champion will emerge—again. Let's just hope it's not that team in Massachusetts.
1) Miami (13-3)
2) New England (11-5)
3) New York Jets (7-9)
4) Buffalo Bills (5-11)
Nick Saban did a lot more last year with the Dolphins than anyone thought he would, and that was without a real quarterback. Now he's got Daunte Culpepper, who should have a HUGE chip on his shoulder and something to prove to the rest of the league. Their defense will be nasty and almost impossible to score on. I like this team a lot this year.
New England is getting old, and they may have shot themselves in the foot with this Deion Branch non-signing problem, but as long as the names "Belichick" and "Brady" are on the top of the letterhead, they're a safe bet to win double digits and compete for a playoff spot.
The Jets will improve on defense thanks to Belichick disciple Eric Mangini, their new head coach, but I won't put any faith into Chad Pennington, and he doesn't have many weapons to go to anyway. Buffalo still thinks it's the mid-1990s with Marv Levy running the football operation. Someone explain to me why Buffalo has a team and Los Angeles doesn't?
1) Indianapolis (14-2)
2) Jacksonville (10-6)
3) Houston (6-10)
4) Tennessee (2-14)
Indianapolis won't flirt with perfection—I have them losing early in the season to Denver—but they will continue to focus on home field advantage throughout the playoffs, and this year Dungy and Manning won't let the game get away from them the way they did against Pittsburgh last year. In fact, I see them following the Steelers' gameplan: lose the playoffs as big favorites, learn your lesson, go out and win it all the next year. Oops, I just gave away my playoff predictions, didn't I?
Jacksonville will continue to serve as the bridesmaid in the south, although I see them falling back a bit due to a tougher schedule than last year. Houston will make some progress with new head coach Gary Kubiak, though I think he would have been better served with Reggie Bush. Tennessee will only win two games because it's just as hard to lose them all as it is to win them all. Jeff Fisher's gonna wish he had taken the job in St. Louis instead, Vince Young or not. By the way, he'll be starting by week seven and getting killed every Sunday. Happy trails!
Tomorrow: AFC North and West