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Saturday, April 19, 2014         

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AFC previews

By Sam Farmer
Los Angeles Times

POSTED:



WEST

Denver Broncos (8-8)

Big question: What type of specialty packages will the Broncos create to get Tim Tebow on the field?

Big move: The addition of defensive tackle Jamal Williams is key to their run defense.

Bottom line: Last year, the Broncos missed the playoffs after starting 6-0. The pressure is on Josh McDaniel to turn his players into finishers.

San Diego Chargers (13-3)

Big question: How will the Chargers adjust to their contract holdouts, left tackle Marcus McNeill and leading receiver Vincent Jackson?

Big moves: Releasing LaDainian Tomlinson was huge. Letting Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jamal Williams go to Denver could haunt the Chargers.

Bottom line: The Chargers still have the upper hand in the division, but that's not enough for a team that is prone to laying eggs in the playoffs.

Kansas City Chiefs (4-12)

Big question: With ex-Patriots Charlie Weis at offensive coordinator, Romeo Crennel at defensive coordinator, Matt Cassel at quarterback, and general manager Scott Pioli, can the Chiefs locate a bit of the success those men enjoyed in New England?

Big move: The Chiefs bolstered their ground game by adding running back Thomas Jones and guard Ryan Lilja.

Bottom line: Even with their celebrated staff and big-money quarterback, the Chiefs remain a team under construction.

Oakland Raiders (5-11)

Big question: Now that the Raiders have finally cut bait with JaMarcus Russell, can they get some consistency with Jason Campbell at quarterback?

Big move: The most notable departure was middle linebacker Kirk Morrison, who led the team in tackles the past five seasons.

Bottom line: The Raiders should break their streak of seven straight years with 11 or more losses.

NORTH

Cincinnati Bengals (10-6)

Big question: Will receivers Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco form a winning combination for Carson Palmer, or merely be a circus sideshow?

Big move: The biggest help to Palmer will be the drafting of first-round tight end Jermaine Gresham.

Bottom line: To get the results they're hoping for, Palmer and those receivers need to come through.

Cleveland Browns (5-11)

Big question: Mike Holmgren took the Packers to two Super Bowls and the Seahawks to one; can he turn around the Browns?

Big move: Jake Delhomme used to be a very good quarterback. Last season he had eight touchdowns and 18 interceptions. Does he have anything left?

Bottom line: The heat is on coach Eric Mangini, who kept his assistants from a team 32nd on offense and 31st on defense.

Baltimore Ravens (9-7)

Big question: Will the addition of receiver Anquan Boldin be enough to boost Joe Flacco and the Ravens to the next level?

Big move: Boldin could turn out to be a phenomenal acquisition. The only starter lost is defensive end Dwan Edwards, who signed with Buffalo.

Bottom line: John Harbaugh is in position to do something no other Ravens coach has done: make the playoffs three years in a row.

Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7)

Big question: What position will the team be in when Ben Roethlisberger returns from his four-game suspension?

Big moves: Drafting center/guard Maurkice Pouncey in the opening round was the first step in rebuilding the offensive line.

Bottom line: Steelers have fallen far from the team that won the Super Bowl two years ago. As outstanding a coach as Mike Tomlin is, this season will be a real test.

SOUTH

Indianapolis Colts (14-2)

Big question: Peyton Manning is still Peyton Manning, but will he be impacted by a shakeup on his offensive line?

Big move: In drafting defensive end Jerry Hughes, the Colts hope they've found a player who can rotate with Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.

Bottom line: As long as Manning stays healthy, the Colts will remain among the NFL's elite teams. Watch that offensive line.

Jacksonville Jaguars (7-9)

Big question: How long can Pro Bowl running back Maurice Jones-Drew hold up, shouldering so much of the offensive load?

Big moves: Upgrading the defensive line was a priority, so the Jaguars drafted Cal's Tyson Alualu, a Saint Louis School grad, 10th, much higher than most pundits predicted.

Bottom line: Coach Jack Del Rio and quarterback David Garrard are on hot seats. Key will be finishing better than last year's team (1-8 down the stretch).

Houston Texans (9-7)

Big question: Can the Texans establish a solid ground game to go with their high-flying passing attack?

Big move: Houston had hoped rookie Ben Tate could push Steve Slaton for the No. 1 running back job, but now Tate's out for the season with an ankle injury.

Bottom line: As promising as last season was, the Texans have a long way to go. They were 1-5 in the division and this year face the tough NFC East.

Tennessee Titans (8-8)

Big question: Can Vince Young pick up where he left off last season, when he directed the Titans to eight victories in the final 10 games?

Big move: With play-making linebacker Keith Bulluck gone to the Giants, veteran Will Witherspoon steps into the middle of Tennessee's defense.

Bottom line: The Titans must establish some offensive balance -- i.e., a better passing attack -- and stabilize a defense that has lost a lot of leaders.

EAST

Buffalo Bills (6-10)

Big question: Instead of drafting a left tackle in the first round, the Bills opted for running back C.J. Spiller, not an area of extreme need. Will that decision come back to haunt them?

Big move: Dwan Edwards, a solid defensive end acquired from Baltimore, should help the Bills transition to the 3-4 and do a better job of stopping the run.

Bottom line: The Bills have missed the playoffs 10 consecutive years. Make it 11.

Miami Dolphins (7-9)

Big question: Can Chad Henne add some stability to a franchise that has gone through seven quarterbacks in the past eight openers?

Big move: Receiver Brandon Marshall, acquired from Denver, should give defenses fits.

Bottom line: If the Dolphins can get a defensive boost from coordinator Mike Nolan, and Marshall pans out, they will be a dangerous team to overlook.

New York Jets (9-7)

Big question: The Jets openly talk about getting to the Super Bowl; will that bluster come back to bite them?

Big moves: A bunch of big-name players have come on board: LaDainian Tomlinson, Jason Taylor, Antonio Cromartie and Santonio Holmes. But the Jets lost standout guard Alan Faneca, and that can really hurt.

Bottom line: Expectations can't get much higher for Rex Ryan's Jets. But they are a great team. Just ask 'em.

New England Patriots (10-6)

Big question: How well can the Patriots patch their offensive line without two of their best, Logan Mankins (holdout) and Nick Kaczur (back)?

Big move: The team said farewell to linebacker Adalius Thomas, who never reached his potential after the Patriots paid him more than any free agent in team history.

Bottom line: The Patriots still have some key pieces but they also have big deficiencies. Could be a long year.





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