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2007 American Football Conference Preview
By Clayton Ruley

AFC East

New England Patriots – The Pats return from their crushing defeat in Indianapolis versus the Colts reloaded and poised for another Super Bowl run. Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli did their jobs this off-season bringing in wideouts Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Donte Stallworth and linebacker Adalius Thomas. Thomas is the outside linebacker Willie McGinest was and even better. Junior Seau is supposed to return which will mean more leadership to a team and defense that already has leaders in Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel and Rodney Harrison.

On offense Corey Dillon was let go and we get to see Laurence Malroney as the fulltime starter plus along with those WR additions there is a certain MVP QB named Tom Brady. Injuries are the only thing that will prevent this team from hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. Conference Championship on the road for the Pats.    


New York Jets – The Jets had a surprise return to the playoffs last season under first year head coach Eric Mangini. This season they look to improve and have added a few pieces that could help including RB Thomas Jones (from Chicago). The teams 3-4 defense is led by Dewayne Robertson on the line and Jonathan Vilma at linebacker. Rookie Darrelle Revis should help at cornerback and Vilma is supported by Victor Hobson and Bryan Thomas at the 'backer spots.

On offense QB Chad Pennington proved he could last a whole season and lead his team to the playoffs. Now he has to prove they can take the next step. Jones should definitely help at running back and Leon Washington is a nice change of pace back too! The receivers are led by speedster Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery. The Jets' offensive line made several changes before the '06 season and still fared well led by then rookie center Nick Mangold. The Jets have a excellent special teams unit led by kicker Mike Nugent, punter Kyle Larson and KR/PR Justin Miller. A borderline season for the Jets.


Miami Dolphins – The Dolphins had a top three defense in the NFL led by defensive player of the year Jason Taylor. This off-season they added Joey Porter, long time of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and things look even more dominant on defense.

That's good because their offense still has question marks despite the addition of quarterback Trent Green (trade with Kansas City). Ronnie Brown is still a mystery at the running back position and the offensive line has been poor to say the least but is improving. The receivers are good in Chris Chambers and Marty Booker and rookie Ted Ginn will look to add some spice to the receiving and return game.

Cam Cameron is the new head coach and he's a offensive genius so look for the Dolphins to improve in the points department. Too many adjustments for the Dolphins to make the playoffs but will look good toward the end.


Buffalo Bills – J.P. Losman took a big step forward at the quarterback position and will look to improve but he's running game took a step in the unknown direction as the team let go of RB Willis McGahee (to Baltimore) in free agency. Losman will hand the ball off to rookie Marshawn Lynch (California) and he will throw to Josh Reed, Lee Evans and Roscoe Parrish, three speedy and tough receivers.

The defense is young and led by DE Aaron Schobel, S Donte Whitner and rookie MLB Paul Posluszny. This team is not built for now but for a couple of years from now.


AFC North

Baltimore Ravens – The offense basically traded Jamal Lewis for Willis McGahee at the running back position and keeps the same personal on offense. On defense the team lost Adalius Thomas at linebacker but returns many players from the league's number one defense including LBs Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs, CBs Samari Rolle and Chris McAlister.

Brian Billick is on the hot seat after years of cushion following their 2001 Super Bowl win so expect the offense to be under a lot of pressure to perform. QB Steve McNair has lost a step but is still a very good QB and he has weapons in TE Tood Heap, WRs Mark Clayton and Derrick Mason. The offensive line is led by future hall of famer tackle Jonathan Ogden. Playoffs for the stingy Ravens but nothing more than a second round defeat.


Cincinnati Bengals - The Marvin Lewis led Bengals have proven they can score with anyone but can they play enough defense in this tough division. The offense is led by Carson Palmer at QB, and he brings weapons to the table in RB Rudi Johnson and WRs Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. The offensive line is led by Willie Anderson and usually gives Palmer enough time to work and Johnson enough holes to run.

The defense is mediocre but not great and is led by Justin Smith at defensive end and Deltha O'Neal at cornerback. Their defense will be the real factor on whether they will make noise. Out of the playoffs and Lewis is on the hot seat.


Pittsburgh Steelers – The legendary Bill Cowher stepped down as head coach after the season and former Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin has stepped in. Tomlin won't change much with the Steelers and still has Dick LeBeau coaching on defense so Blitzburgh is still there. The team lost leader Joey Porter so expect LBs Larry Foote and James Farrior to do more of the talking. The defense also has safety Troy Polamalu and DE Aaron Smith to help out but their secondary is a concern as usual.

On offense, a year removed from his almost tragic motorcycle accident QB Ben Roethlisberger is back and has RB Willie Parker, WRs Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes and TE Heath Miller to help. This team is taking their step backwards before it moves towards another Super Bowl run.


Cleveland Browns – The Browns have their QB of the future in Brady Quinn out of Notre Dame and he will eventually come out on offense with some really productive young guys in WR Braylon Edwards and TE Kellen Winslow II. Jamal Lewis was added and should bring tough running to the team and Rookie Joe Thomas should add some size and protection from the offensive tackle position.

On defense Kameron Wimbley showed some future promise at the linebacker position and Willie McGinest is steady and knows head coach Romeo Crennel's system from A to Z. Ted Washington will stuff the middle at Defensive Tackle and Robaire Smith will help too! Crennel is said to be on the hot seat but this his first team that has a remote chance at a .500 record! Teams need time to develop.


AFC South

Indianapolis Colts – The Colts return as Super Bowl champs losing 5 starters from last year's team. Magically the defense learned how to stop the run towards the end of the season with the late season addition of Anthony McFarland and now he's gone for the season. The offense lost tackle Tarik Glenn to retirement and Brandon Stokley to free agency but the core of Payton Manning, Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne is still there with second year running back (and now full-time starter) Joseph Addai and TE Dallas Clark helping out too!

The defense is the big question with holes at linebacker and cornerback. Marlin Jackson should be alright moving from safety to cornerback and Bob Sanders returns healthy at safety. The defensive line is anchored by Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. Adam Vinatieri is one of the game's all-time greats at kicker and has 4 rings in seven seasons. Playoffs and that's just because they will win the division.


Jacksonville Jaguars – The Jaguars are known for their massive defensive tackles John Henderson and Marcus Stroud on defense and their inconsistencies on offense. The offensive problems begin with QB Bryon Leftwich and his oft-injured career. His weapons are decent with RBs Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew and WRs Matt Jones and Reggie Williams. The wideout all have size of 6-3 and better but lack in game breaking speed.

The defense lost leader Donovin Darius to retirement but has LB Mike Peterson and CB Rashaan Mathis to help out. This team will have to beat Indy to get to the playoffs and Leftwich will have to prove he's the guy to lead this team or they're will be a lot of changes. This is borderline playoff team.


Tennessee Titans – QB Vince Young electrified the league and took over for Mike Vick when it came to scrambling QBs. Young is young leader and he will need to lead by example because he has little to work with besides mediocrity. There are three RBs in Chris Brown, LenDale White and Chris Henry that could all start but who is it going to be? The wideouts are so-so with Brandon Jones and David Givens leading the bunch. Bo Scaife is decent at TE and will look to start this coming season.

On defense Keith Bullock is a elite linebacker in the league but has little help besides DE Kyle Vanden Bosch and safety Chris Hope. The team is solid and not yet a playoff team but one you can't take lightly because head coach Jeff Fisher has them prepared all the time.


Houston Texans – The David Carr era is over in Texas and now it's Matt Schaub's turn to get sacked in Houston. Schaub came over from Atlanta and will work with free agent signee Ahman Green at running back, and All-Pro Andre Johnson at Wideout. The offensive line has long been a problem and the team hopes they can improve although they made no significant additions. The defensive found a gem in DeMeco Ryans at linebacker and still waits to see if Mario Williams will show his 1 st overall pick potential on the field. The team added Amobi Okoye at defensive tackle and Dunta Robinson leads the secondary at the cornerback slot. This team isn't close to a playoff spot but will be more competitive.


AFC West

San Diego Chargers – The Chargers had the best record in football last season and fired their coaching staff and brought in Norv Turner. Turner is a offensive guru and will look to make the tandem of RB LaDainian Tomlinson, QB Philip Rivers and TE Antonio Gates into that prized three that won Super Bowls for the Dallas Cowboys in the 1990's.

The defense features the super exceptional Shawne Merriman at LB and he's flanked by Luis Castillo and Jamal Williams on the line. The secondary is improved but still has question marks and the special teams are exceptional with K Nate Kaeding, P Mike Scifres and PR/KR Darren Sproles. This team should make it to the championship game and is my pick to make the Super Bowl out the AFC.  


Kansas City Chiefs - The Chiefs snuck into the playoffs last season but it will get tougher after losing their starting QB Trent Green to the Miami in a trade. The team will go with Damon Huard and Brodie Croyle at QB with no clear-cut starter and their job will be.hand the ball off to RB Larry Johnson, the workhorse of a running back. Johnson has some help with Tony Gonzalez back at TE but the team has lost another offensive tackle as Will Shields has retired. On defense the team has a decent set of linebackers led by new signee Donnie Edwards (back for his second stint in K.C.), and Napoleon Harris. Ty Law is always a scary proposition for opposing wideouts and Patrick Surtain is a good counterpart. Jared Allen is becoming a regular Pro Bowler at defensive end and is known for his hard-nosed play. This team will likely have to sneak in similar to last year's team to make the playoffs but as head coach Herman Edwards says, "you play to win the game"


Denver Broncos – The Broncos didn't make the playoffs last season and have QB Jay Cutler in his first full year at starter. Cutler has all the tools a QB needs and his success will be the success of the team.

On offense the team plugged in RB Travis Henry via free agency and WR Javon Walker will look to continue the great play he showed last year. Daniel Graham returns to his Rocky Mountain roots (he's a Colorado grad) from the Patriots and looks to provide another weapon for the young QB.

On defense Champ Bailey is the best cornerback in the NFL hands down and he's aided by veteran safety John Lynch, recent add at corner Dre' Bly and LB Ian Gold. The defense lost Ebenezer Ekuban to injury before the regular season began and traded Gerard Warren to the Raiders so there are depth issues. This team will compete for the playoffs but I don't think they will do more than a first round exit.   


Oakland Raiders - This team can't even sign it's 1 st overall pick in QB JaMarcus Russell but still looks to improve because how much farther can you go! The team signed QB Daunte Culpepper in late July and he looks to help while the Raiders and their top overall pick get their act together.

The offense no longer has Randy Moss but still has a decent core of wideouts with former 1 st rounder and USC stud Mike Williams joining Jerry Porter, Ronald Curry and Doug Gabriel. Running back has been a question mark so the team brought in Domenic Rhodes over from Indy and this is Lamont Jordan's last season to prove he was worth the pay given a few years back. The offensive line is still weak and QB Josh McCown will probably start because he can work better with a short passing game compared to his counterparts.

On defense the team actually improved with DT Warren Sapp as an anchor and DE Derrick Burgess coming off the edge for sacks. The young secondary shows promise with S Michael Huff and CB Nnamdi Asomugha showing a lot of Pro Bowl promise. This team won't make the playoffs and will struggle to win more than one game in their division. Oh did I mention their new head coach is former USC assistant Lane Kiffin and at 32 he's the youngest in the NFL?  

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