NFL season preview: Who are the teams to beat in the AFC, NFC?

Detroit News
By Sam Farmer |  Los Angeles Times

Here’s a quick look at the predicted order of finish for every NFL team this season:

AFC East

►1. Buffalo Bills: Could be season Buffalo hoists the Lombardi Trophy. Josh Allen has arm and receiving weapons to strike fear in the division and league.

►2. Miami Dolphins: Defense is a strong suit for Miami, which led the NFL with 29 takeaways last season. Is Tua Tagovailoa the answer at quarterback? We’ll see.

►3. New England Patriots: Bill Belichick has upgraded his defense, which should be faster and even more stout. Mac Jones is the team’s first rookie to start QB since Drew Bledsoe in 1993.

►4. New York Jets: Robert Saleh has fans excited, but team already has lost defender Carl Lawson for season. Lots of hopes riding on QB Zach Wilson.

AFC North

►1. Pittsburgh Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger is 39, but that’s not a disqualifying age for QBs (See: Brady, Tom). His elbow is healthier and he has a lethal cast of receivers.

►2. Cleveland Browns: This could be the year Cleveland turns the corner … but we’ve heard that before. The Browns unquestionably are loaded with talent on both sides of the ball.

►3. Baltimore Ravens: Baltimore led the league in rushing the last two seasons, but they haven’t been able to throw. Injuries are already an issue.

►4. Cincinnati Bengals: Joe Burrow is back and playing on a reconstructed knee. Will be interesting to see him reestablish a rapport with former LSU teammate Ja’Marr Chase.

AFC South

►1. Tennessee Titans: With Ryan Tannehill, Derrick Henry and now Julio Jones, the Titans check the box on offensive productivity. Now they need the retooled defense to match.

►2. Indianapolis Colts: If Carson Wentz can get/stay healthy, he’ll enjoy the benefit of one of the NFL’s best lines. This defense is improving and plays hard.

►3. Houston Texans: Houston’s running game has improved, and it better. The drop-off at quarterback from Deshaun Watson to Tyrod Taylor warrants others stepping up.

►4. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jacksonville won one game last season, so at least improvement is a low bar for No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence. Last year’s defense was worst in team history.

AFC West

►1. Kansas City Chiefs: Patrick Mahomes is the NFL’s most dynamic quarterback and will be playing behind a retooled offensive line. Secondary could be a problem.

►2. Los Angeles Chargers: Justin Herbert was phenomenal as a rookie and, barring a sophomore slump, should be fun to watch. As in years past, team is still looking to get offensive line right.

►3. Las Vegas Raiders: Derek Carr is coming off an excellent season and has some dangerous targets. Defense needs to step up for first winning season under Jon Gruden 2.0.

►4. Denver Broncos: Denver is still looking to find a quarterback but the team is able to establish the run and has a stout defense. Is that enough for more than two wins in this tough division?

NFC East

►1. Dallas Cowboys: With Dak Prescott leading the offense, Dallas drafted a club-record eight defensive players in hopes of balance.

►2. Washington: With the NFL’s second-ranked defense and the seasoned Ryan Fitzpatrick, this team could surprise some people.

►3. Philadelphia Eagles: Philadelphia rolls the dice with an unproven second-year QB, Jalen Hurts, and a converted rugby player at left tackle.

►4. New York Giants: Saquon Barkley is coming off reconstructive knee surgery, and the Giants once again struggling to get the offensive line right.

NFC North

►1. Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers, the returning league MVP, gave Green Bay heartburn this offseason but he’s back … behind a patchwork offensive line.

►2. Minnesota Vikings: Two playoff wins since 2014 means the pressure is on coach Mike Zimmer and GM Rick Speilman. Running back Dalvin Cook is outstanding.

►3. Chicago Bears: Rookie quarterback Justin Fields is exciting, but the Bears first are going with Andy Dalton’s experience. Defense dropped off sharply last season.

►4. Detroit Lions: No doubt Detroit will miss Matthew Stafford, although Jared Goff could surprise some people. Goff and offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn have something to prove.

NFC South

►1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Tom Brady is in his second year in the Bucs offense, and the team is getting all its starters back. Lots of weapons on this offense.

►2. New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees is retired and the door is open for Jameis Winston to prove himself. Will receiver Michael Thomas come back in top form?

►3. Atlanta Falcons: Trading places: Coach Arthur Smith went from Tennessee to Atlanta, and All-Pro receiver Julio Jones went from Atlanta to Tennessee.

►4. Carolina Panthers: Quarterback Sam Darnold gets a fresh start, and he has one of the league’s most versatile backs in Christian McCaffrey. The offensive line is shaky.

NFC West

►1. Los Angeles Rams: The addition of QB Matthew Stafford is huge for the Rams, but they were hoping to give him a running game at last. With Cam Akers hurt, time for Sony Michel to step up.

►2. San Francisco 49ers: Ravaged by injuries last season, the 49ers are relatively healthy again. Rookie quarterback Trey Lance is waiting in the wings to replace Jimmy Garoppolo.

►3. Seattle Seahawks: Russell Wilson to DK Metcalf is a potent fantasy football connection, and Bobby Wagner is fantastic, but Seahawks need to return to production in playoffs.

►4. Arizona Cardinals: Arizona has some of the league’s most exciting players in Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins. Now, that needs to translate into wins.

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