#6 Seed - Miami Dolphins - Not a popular sleeper team here this year, but I can't see why they aren't. If you take a look at their depth chart, the team looks very solid. They have a few very good players, Brandon Marshall and Jake Long on offense and Cameron Wake, Karlos Dansby, and Randy Starks on defense, and have surrounded them with a lineup of solid guys at every other position. The roster is full of of veterans with good track records and promising young players. This offseason was also quietly good for them, as they added quality starters Marc Colombo and Kevin Burnett and brought back Jason Taylor to help their pass rush. Chad Henne didn't look great last season, but was one of the least lucky quarterbacks in the whole league, with just one dropped interception (according to Football Outsiders). Fellow AFC East Quarterback Marc Sanchez had 15 dropped interceptions. The Dolphins will surprise many people on their way to the six seed and eleven wins.
#5 Seed - Pittsburgh Steelers - The Steelers' last losing season was in 2003. I don't expect their streak to end this season. Mike Tomlin is still head coach, Ben Roethlisberger is still quarterback, and Dick LeBeau is still coaching that great defense. The develop solid talent through the draft and should be just as good again this season. The Steelers are going to tear through the weak AFC this year on their way to something like twelve wins with the number five seed locked up by week sixteen.
AFC South Winner #4 Seed - Houston Texans - I had the Colts here originally, but with the bad news about Peyton Manning's recovery, the AFC South is now wide open. The Texans are going to fill that opening quickly early this year. The Texans' offense was elite last year, but the defense couldn't stop anyone. Seriously. They only held two opponents to less than 20 points scored all last season, the Rusty Smith Titans and the Jaguars in a meaningless last game of the season. The defense dragged them down to 6-10, but they can easily be a ten win team this season because of two key additions to the defense, Jonathan Joseph at corner and Wade Phillips as the new defensive coordinator.
AFC East Winner #3 Seed - New England Patriots - The Patriots are going to be one of two teams who just blow out their divisions in the AFC. The Jets look shaky to me because of offensive losses and the lack of any upgrade for their pass rush. The Dolphins and Bills have pieces, but they can't compete in the AFC East yet. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are going to walk over this division, only getting into real trouble with out of division games against San Diego and at Pittsburgh and their tour of the NFC East. Twelve wins is the right number.
AFC West Winner #2 Seed - San Diego Chargers - The Chargers had historically horrible special teams play and a multitude of receiver injuries last year and were still close to winning the AFC West at the end of the season. Special teams will be deemphasized this year due to kick offs being moved up to the thirty-five, and all of the Charger receivers look healthy this season. They should dominate a fairly easy schedule and cakewalk over the AFC West. They should cruise to thirteen wins without much of an issue and lock up a bye.
AFC North Winner #1 Seed - Baltimore Ravens - The Ravens are my pick for the best team in the AFC. They have the second best defense in the conference and one of the best all around running backs in the league. Even though it's now a passing league, you still win consistently if you have a great defense and a great running back. Rice is an excellent running back and pass catcher an offense built around that will always be at least somewhat successful. The sneaky addition of Lee Evans should help bring about an Anquan Boldin resurgence and push this offense into the top ten. Joe Flacco is going to be legit, and the Ravens are going to cruise to thirteen wins, including a AFC deciding week fifteen Sunday Night win in San Diego to lock up the one seed.
-Fred "Big Derf" Tobin