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AFC preview: Broncos look like favorites

Wes Welker  adds a new layer of depth to Peyton Manning’s Broncos offense.

Jack Dempsey/AP

Wes Welker adds a new layer of depth to Peyton Manning’s Broncos offense.

A look at how the teams in the AFC shape up this season (Teams listed in predicted order of finish; new players in bold; *denotes injured players expected to start when healthy):

AFC EAST

1. New England

Coach: Bill Belichick (14th year, 151-57)

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Last year: 12-4, first

Outlook: It has been quite a tumultuous offseason for the Patriots, but with Belichick and Tom Brady there’s little reason to think they won’t win their 11th division title in 13 years. The wide receivers, tight ends, and defensive backs will be under the most scrutiny.

WR impact rank: 25th. Really need Danny Amendola to stay healthy, because there’s not much depth or experience in this unit.

STARTING OFFENSESTARTING DEFENSE
QBTom BradyDERob Ninkovich
RBStevan RidleyDTVince Wilfork
RBShane VereenDTTommy Kelly
WRDanny AmendolaDEChandler Jones
WRJulian EdelmanOLBJerod Mayo
TE*Rob GronkowskiMLBBrandon Spikes
LTNate SolderOLBDont’a Hightower
LGLogan MankinsCBAqib Talib
CRyan WendellCBAlfonzo Dennard
RGDan ConnollySSteve Gregory
RTSebastian VollmerSDevin McCourty
KStephen GostkowskiPRyan Allen

2. Miami

Coach: Joe Philbin (2ndyear, 7-9)

Last year: 7-9, second

Outlook: The Dolphins spent $98 million guaranteed in free agency to surround Ryan Tannehill with better weapons and make the defense younger. TE Dustin Keller’s knee injury is a big blow, but if Tannehill can progress in Year 2, Miami should be in the wild-card hunt.

WR impact rank: 20th. Mike Wallace got big money, but can he be a No. 1 receiver?

STARTING OFFENSESTARTING DEFENSE
QBRyan TannehillDECameron Wake
RBLamar MillerDTRandy Starks
FBTyler CluttsDTPaul Soliai
WRBrian HartlineDEOlivier Vernon
WRMike WallaceOLBPhilip Wheeler
TECharles ClayMLBDannell Ellerbe
LTJonathan MartinOLBKoa Misi
LGRichie IncognitoCBBrent Grimes
CMike PounceyCBDimitri Patterson
RGJohn JerrySChris Clemons
RTTyson ClaboSReshad Jones
KCaleb SturgisPBrandon Fields

3. Buffalo

Coach: Doug Marrone (1st year)

Last year: 6-10, fourth

Outlook: Buffalo is once again making a fresh start under Marrone and first-round pick EJ Manuel, but already disaster has struck with Manuel’s “minor” knee surgery and Kevin Kolb’s concussion. The Bills have decent talent on both sides of the ball, but incompetent QB play could once again hold them back.

WR impact rank: 12th. A lot of young talent and speed here, including rookie Robert Woods.

STARTING OFFENSESTARTING DEFENSE
QBEJ ManuelDEMario Williams
RBC.J. SpillerDTMarcell Dareus
FBFrank SummersDTKyle Williams
WRStevie JohnsonDEAlex Carrington
WRT.J. GrahamOLBManny Lawson
TEScott ChandlerMLBKiko Alonso
LTCordy GlennOLBNigel Bradham
LGColin BrownCBLeodis McKelvin
CEric WoodCBRon Brooks
RGKraig UrbikS*Jairus Byrd
RTErik PearsSAaron Williams
KDustin HopkinsPShawn Powell

4. NY Jets

Coach: Rex Ryan (5th year, 34-30)

Last year: 6-10, third

Outlook: The Jets are a wreck already, with first-year GM John Idzik favoring rookie QB Geno Smith and Ryan preferring Mark Sanchez, who got injured in the third preseason game. With little talent on either side of the ball, the Jets could be playing for the No. 1 pick.

WR impact rank: 32d. Jeremy Kerley has talent, but their No. 2 receiver may be an undrafted rookie.

STARTING OFFENSESTARTING DEFENSE
QBGeno SmithDEMuhammad Wilkerson
RBBilal PowellNTKenrick Ellis
FBTommy BohanonDESheldon Richardson
WRJeremy KerleyOLBGarrett McIntyre
WRStephen HillILBDemario Davis
TEJeff CumberlandILBDavid Harris
LTD. FergusonOLBCalvin Pace
LGVladimir DucasseCBDee Milliner
CNick MangoldCBAntonio Cromartie
RGWillie ColonSAntonio Allen
RTAustin HowardSDawan Landry
KNick FolkPRobert Malone

AFC NORTH

1. Cincinnati

Coach: Marvin Lewis (11th year, 79-80-1)

Last year: 10-6, second

Outlook: The Bengals have made the playoffs and lost immediately in both years with Andy Dalton, but appear ready to take the next step. A.J. Green is a top-five receiver, rookie RB Gio Bernard has tantalizing abilities, and DT Geno Atkins is the best defender nobody knows about.

WR impact rank: 8th. Green is a total stud, and there’s intriguing young talent behind him.

STARTING OFFENSESTARTING DEFENSE
QBAndy DaltonDECarlos Dunlap
RBBenJarvus Green-EllisDTDomata Peko
FBOrson CharlesDTGeno Atkins
WRA.J. GreenDEMichael Johnson
WRMohamed SanuOLBJames Harrison
TEJermaine GreshamMLBRey Maualuga
LTAndrew WhitworthOLBVontaze Burfict
LGClint BolingCBLeon Hall
CKyle CookCBTerence Newman
RGKevin ZeitlerSGeorge Iloka
RTAndre SmithSReggie Nelson
KMike NugentPKevin Huber

2. Baltimore

Coach: John Harbaugh (6th year, 54-26)

Last year: 10-6, first

Outlook: The Ravens certainly got hot at the right time last season, but a drop-off is expected, especially with the heavy turnover of key players. An offense of Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, and Torrey Smith is going to be productive, but the defense has question marks.

WR impact rank: 24th. Smith is a budding (if not already blossomed) star, but there’s little behind him on the depth chart.

STARTING OFFENSESTARTING DEFENSE
QBJoe FlaccoDETerrell Suggs
RBRay RiceDTHaloti Ngata
FBVonta LeachDTArthur Jones
WRTorrey SmithDEChris Canty
WRJacoby JonesOLBJosh Bynes
TEEd DicksonMLBDaryl Smith
LTBryant McKinnieOLBElvis Dumervil
LGKelechi OsemeleCBLardarius Webb
CGino GradkowskiCBCorey Graham
RGMarshal YandaSJames Ihedigbo
RTMichael OherSMichael Huff
KJustin TuckerPSam Koch

3. Pittsburgh

Coach: Mike Tomlin (7th year, 63-33)

Last year: 8-8, third

Outlook: The Steelers will always be competitive with Ben Roethlisberger at the helm, but the offensive line still appears shaky, they did little to replace Mike Wallace, and a once-dominant defense — which no longer has James Harrison — forced just 20 turnovers last year.

WR impact rank: 17th. Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders can be productive, but how will they perform without Wallace?

STARTING OFFENSESTARTING DEFENSE
QBBen RoethlisbergerDEZiggy Hood
RBIsaac RedmanNTSteve McLendon
FBWill JohnsonDEBrett Keisel
WREmmanuel SandersOLBLaMarr Woodley
WRAntonio BrownILBLarry Foote
TE*Heath MillerILBLawrence Timmons
LTMike AdamsOLBJason Worilds
LGRamon FosterCBCortez Allen
CMaurkice PounceyCBIke Taylor
RGDavid DeCastroSRyan Clark
RTMarcus GilbertSTroy Polamalu
KShaun SuishamPZoltan Mesko

4. Cleveland

Coach: Rob Chudzinski (1st year)

Last year: 5-11, fourth

Outlook: There’s actually a lot to like about the Browns, with great offensive coaches in Chudzinski and coordinator Norv Turner and exciting young players such as Trent Richardson, Josh Gordon, Cameron Jordan, and Joe Haden. The Browns are unfortunate to play in a tough division.

WR impact rank: 19th. Young talent in Gordon and Greg Little. Just need a QB to get them the ball.

STARTING OFFENSESTARTING DEFENSE
QBBrandon WeedenDEAhtyba Rubin
RBTrent RichardsonNTPhil Taylor
FBChris OgbonnayaDEDesmond Bryant
WRGreg LittleOLBPaul Kruger
WR*Josh GordonILBD’Qwell Jackson
TEJordan CameronILBCraig Robertson
LTJoe ThomasOLBJabaal Sheard
LGJason PinkstonCBJoe Haden
CAlex MackCBBuster Skrine
RGShawn LauvaoST.J. Ward
RTMitchell SchwartzSTashaun Gipson
KBill CundiffPSpencer Lanning

AFC SOUTH

1. Indianapolis

Coach: Chuck Pagano (2ndyear, 11-5)

Last year: 11-5, second

Outlook: Andrew Luck literally carried the Colts to the playoffs last year as a rookie with a ton of young talent on both sides. Now that talent is a year older, the coach is healthy and ready to lead a nasty defense, and Luck is ready to break out as an elite quarterback.

WR impact rank: 9th. Reggie Wayne is still The Man at 34 and there are young speedsters such as T.Y. Hilton and LaVon Brazill.

STARTING OFFENSESTARTING DEFENSE
QBAndrew LuckDECory Redding
RBVick BallardNTJosh Chapman
FBStanley HaviliDERicky Jean-Francois
WRReggie WayneOLBErik Walden
WRDarrius Heyward-BeyILBPat Angerer
TEDwayne AllenILBJerrell Freeman
LTAnthony CastonzoOLBRobert Mathis
LGDonald ThomasCBGreg Toler
CSamson SateleCBVontae Davis
RGMike McGlynnSAntoine Bethea
RTGosder CherilusSLaRon Landry
KAdam VinatieriPPat McAfee

2. Houston

Coach: Gary Kubiak (8th year, 59-53)

Last year: 12-4, first

Outlook: The Texans will once again have one of the NFL’s most dynamic defenses. But Andre Johnson is a year older, Arian Foster (calf) and Ed Reed (hip) are banged up, and you have to wonder if the Texans’ window with Matt Schaub is starting to close.

WR impact rank: 14th. Johnson scored only four TDs last year and DeAndre Hopkins and DeVier Posey are unproven.

STARTING OFFENSESTARTING DEFENSE
QBMatt SchaubDEJ.J. Watt
RBArian FosterDTEarl Mitchell
FBGreg JonesDETim Jamison
WRAndre JohnsonOLBBrooks Reed
WR*DeAndre HopkinsILBBrian Cushing
TEOwen DanielsILBJoe Mays
LTDuane BrownOLBWhitney Mercilus
LGWade SmithCBKareem Jackson
CChris MyersCBJohnathan Joseph
RGBrandon BrooksSDanieal Manning
RTDerek NewtonS*Ed Reed
KRandy BullockPShane Lechler

3. Tennessee

Coach: Mike Munchak (3rd year, 15-17)

Last year: 6-10, third

Outlook: The offensive line has been bolstered by G Andy Levitre and the drafting of G Chance Warmack, and a defense led by Akeem Ayers and Michael Griffin forced a healthy 24 turnovers last year. But if Jake Locker can’t turn into a competent passer, this team will go nowhere.

WR impact rank: 22d. Kenny Britt is talented when healthy, and their depth is decent but nothing special.

STARTING OFFENSESTARTING DEFENSE
QBJake LockerDEDerrick Morgan
RBChris JohnsonDTSammie Hill
FBQuinn JohnsonDTJurrell Casey
WRNate WashingtonDEKamerion Wimbley
WRKenny BrittOLBAkeem Ayers
TEDelanie WalkerMLBColin McCarthy
LTMichael RoosOLBZach Brown
LGAndy LevitreCBJason McCourty
CRob TurnerCBAlterraun Verner
RGChance WarmackSBernard Pollard
RTDavid StewartSMichael Griffin
KRob BironasPBrett Kern

4. Jacksonville

Coach: Gus Bradley (1st year)

Last year: 2-14, fourth

Outlook: The Jaguars might not win many games, but they could be exciting with young offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch. But the defense can’t get any pass rush, and Blaine Gabbert is one bad month from losing the starting QB job for good.

WR impact rank: 21st. Good young talent here in Justin Blackmon (four-game suspension), Cecil Shorts, and Ace Sanders, but no one to throw them the ball.

STARTING OFFENSESTARTING DEFENSE
QBBlaine GabbertDETyson Alualu
RBMaurice Jones-DrewDTRoy Miller
FBWill Ta’ufo’ouDTSen’Derrick Marks
WRCecil ShortsDEJason Babin
WRAce SandersOLBGeno Hayes
TEMarcedes LewisMLBPaul Posluszny
LTEugene MonroeOLBRussell Allen
LGWill RackleyCBDwayne Gratz
CBrad MeesterCBAlan Ball
RGUche NwaneriSJonathan Cyprien
RTLuke JoeckelSDwight Lowery
KJosh ScobeePBryan Anger

AFC WEST

1. Denver

Coach: John Fox (3rd year, 21-11)

Last year: 13-3, first

Outlook: The Broncos were a fluke play from reaching the AFC Championship game, and enter this year as the AFC favorites after adding Wes Welker to a dynamic offense. But the pass rush, No. 1 in the NFL in sacks last year, could struggle without Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller suspended for six games.

WR impact rank: 1st. They already had Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, and added Wes Welker.

STARTING OFFENSESTARTING DEFENSE
QBPeyton ManningDEDerek Wolfe
RBRonnie HillmanDTKevin Vickerson
WRWes WelkerDTTerrance Knighton
WRDemaryius ThomasDERobert Ayers
WREric DeckerOLBNate Irving
TEJulius ThomasMLBWesley Woodyard
LTRyan CladyOLBDanny Trevathan
LGZane BeadlesCB*Champ Bailey
CManny RamirezCBD. Rodgers-Cromartie
RGLouis VasquezSDuke Ihenacho
RTOrlando FranklinSRahim Moore
KMatt PraterPBritton Colquitt

2. Kansas City

Coach: Andy Reid (1st year)

Last year: 2-14, fourth

Outlook: Last year was a disaster for the Chiefs, but mostly because of terrible quarterback play, shaky coaching, and the Jovan Belcher tragedy. The Chiefs have a lot of talent on both sides, and should be one of the league’s most improved teams with Reid and QB Alex Smith now in tow.

WR impact rank: 26th. Dwayne Bowe is still an elite receiver, but there’s nothing behind him.

STARTING OFFENSESTARTING DEFENSE
QBAlex SmithDETyson Jackson
RBJamaal CharlesDTDontari Poe
FBAnthony ShermanDEMike DeVito
WRDwayne BoweOLBJustin Houston
WRDonnie AveryILBAkeem Jordan
TEAnthony FasanoILBDerrick Johnson
LTBranden AlbertOLBTamba Hail
LGJeff AllenCBBrandon Flowers
CRodney HudsonCBSean Smith
RGJon AsamoahSEric Berry
RTEric FisherSKendrick Lewis
KRyan SuccopPDustin Colquitt

3. San Diego

Coach: Mike McCoy (1st year)

Last year: 7-9, second

Outlook: The Chargers still expect to compete for the playoffs with Philip Rivers’s clock starting to tick (now 32). Only problem is this team is devoid of talent on offense — Antonio Gates is the only legit playmaker. On the plus side, they were stingy against the run last year (3.8 yards per carry).

WR impact rank: 31st. There’s not much talent here to begin with, and the receivers are all banged up.

STARTING OFFENSESTARTING DEFENSE
QBPhilip RiversDECorey Liuget
RBRyan MathewsNTCam Thomas
FBLe’Ron McClainDEKendall Reyes
WR*Malcom FloydOLBDwight Freeney
WREddie RoyalILB*Manti Te’o
TEAntonio GatesILBDonald Butler
LTKing DunlapOLBJarret Johnson
LGChad RinehartCBShareece Wright
CNick HardwickCBDerek Cox
RGJeromey ClarySMarcus Gilchrist
RTD.J. FlukerSEric Weddle
KNick NovakPMike Scifres

4. Oakland

Coach: Dennis Allen (2ndyear, 4-12)

Last year: 4-12, third

Outlook: The Raiders are in perpetual rebuilding mode and may be in for another long season that could cost GM Reggie McKenzie his job. Darren McFadden is the only playmaker on offense, and the defense is a refuge for veteran castoffs. At least QB Terrelle Pryor might be fun to watch.

WR impact rank: 30th. Denarius Moore showed promise last year, but there’s little depth behind him.

STARTING OFFENSESTARTING DEFENSE
QBMatt FlynnDELamarr Houston
RBDarren McFaddenDTVance Walker
FBMarcel ReeceDTPat Sims
WRDenarius MooreDEJason Hunter
WRRod StreaterOLBKevin Burnett
TEDavid AusberryMLBNick Roach
LTJared VeldheerOLBSio Moore
LGLucas NixCBTracy Porter
CStefen WisniewskiCBMike Jenkins
RGMike BrisielSCharles Woodson
RTKhalif BarnesSTyvon Branch
KSebastian JanikowskiPMarquette King

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