Rookies are already reporting to NFL training camps across the country. By this weekend, the veterans will be there too.
Move over, summer. The autumn is fast approaching.
And with it come those wonderful Sundays spent on the couch with untold amounts of unhealthy snacks in front of us, a little piece of us dying every time our teams don’t win.
(Or maybe that was one Cool Ranch Dorito too many. But I digress.)
What can you expect from your favorite NFL squad this season? We’ll start with the AFC, with the NFC to follow in a later column.
1. Denver — Team with Peyton Manning at quarterback rolls through regular season. Team clinches home-field advantage and first-round bye. Team promptly flops in the divisional round. Where have we heard this narrative before?
2. San Diego* — On some level, you should feel bad for Philip Rivers, given that he’s an All-Pro quarterback surrounded by middling-at-best talent. But then you remember that he’s Philip Rivers, and the fact that he gets to live in sunny San Diego earns him no sympathy.
3. Kansas City — Another year of steady, but unspectacular play from Alex Smith (I know, let me have it, Ute fans) leads the Chiefs to another year without a playoff victory. The last Chiefs QB to win a playoff game was Joe Montana, three ex-Niner QBs ago.
4. Oakland — The autumn wind is a Raider, all right. It blows for the first three months of the season and disappears from the radar screen by Christmas. Jack Del Rio and Derek Carr could eventually lead the Raiders back to respectability and the postseason, but they’re at least a year away.
1. Cincinnati — It’s a make-or-break year for the Bengals. Either they break through and finally taste playoff success, or this is the end of the road for Marvin Lewis. There’s something to be said about how Andy Dalton’s hair matches his helmet, but I’m not sure what that is.
2. Baltimore* — Will the real Joe Flacco please stand up? If the Flacco who looked the part of an elite NFL quarterback is the one who lines up under center for the Ravens this year, they’ll be a formidable foe.
3. Pittsburgh — The Steelers have long been a team built on defense. That is not the case this year. Pittsburgh will only go as far as Ben Roethlisberger’s arm and Le’Veon Bell’s legs can take it.
4. Cleveland — Red Right 88. The Drive. The Fumble. Soon to be joined by “I want to wreck this league together” in the pantheon of Browns blunders. Wasting a first-round pick on Johnny Manziel when Cleveland could have picked a more promising prospect like Carr or Teddy Bridgewater could haunt this franchise for years to come.
1. Indianapolis — A trendy, and likely correct, Super Bowl pick. They said it would be impossible for the Colts to replace Manning. That may be true, but Andrew Luck is already writing his own legacy — one that will likely include a Vince Lombardi Trophy or two eventually.
2. Houston — I’ve talked a lot about quarterbacks so far. The Texans are one of those teams that doesn’t really need a superstar QB to be successful. The best defensive player in the league in J.J. Watt kind of takes care of that discussion.
3. Tennessee — Can rookie Marcus Mariota succeed where Zach Mettenberger and Jake Locker have toiled in mediocrity? The Titans have been largely irrelevant since the Music City Miracle. That should continue this year.
4. Jacksonville — Great Britain’s Team hasn’t had a winning season since 2007. That’s almost Raider-esque. This season will be more of the same, though Blake Bortles should continue to develop.
1. New England — Hate to let the air out of the balloons of all of you Patriots haters, but the Pats are going to be right there competing for the Lamar Hunt Trophy yet again this year. Is this the year that Tom Brady finally shows his age? That’d leave Boston-area sports fans feeling downright deflated.
2. Buffalo — New coach Rex Ryan will bring some excitement to a franchise that is marked by two things: spectacular Super Bowl defeats and constant threats of moving to Canada. A merely competent effort from Matt Cassel or E.J. Manuel could have the Bills contending for a playoff spot in the tough AFC.
3. Miami — So, a Harvard study has the Dolphins winning the Super Bowl this year? Dan Marino couldn’t even win one. Ryan Tannehill isn’t anything even approaching Dan Marino. Next…
4. New York Jets — When Ryan Fitzpatrick counts as an upgrade at the QB position, you know you’re in for a long season. He’s a decent signal-caller, but a team with as many holes as the Jets have needs a superstar in order to compete. Fitzpatrick, while better than Geno Smith, is not that.
* — wild-card team
Darren Vaughan is a veteran sports writer from Moab, Utah. A lifelong Broncos fan, he still owns a VHS copy of “John Elway’s Greatest Comebacks” so he can watch The Drive any time he’s feeling down. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.