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2013 NFL predictions: Bengals, Patriots, Broncos to rise in AFC

  • By NFL.com
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On the cusp of the 2013 NFL season, our analysts provide their predictions, including the winners of individual awards, playoff teams for each conference and picks for Championship Sunday/Super Bowl XLVIII.

AFC EAST

Judy Battista: New England Patriots. More vulnerable than usual? OK -- but vulnerable to what? In a weakened division, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are still the difference.

Gil Brandt: Patriots. The Patriots most likely will fall back after winning 12 games and scoring 557 points in 2012, but that's OK, as 10 wins should be enough to win this division.

Albert Breer: Patriots. In another division, the Patriots might have had to pay for their offseason. Not in this one -- not yet, anyway. Tom Brady looks closer to 26 than 36, and Bill Belichick hasn't lost his fastball.

Bucky Brooks: Patriots. Tom Brady will not allow the Patriots to relinquish their vise grip on the AFC East despite having to work with a cast of no-names on the perimeter.

Jeff Darlington: Patriots. Tired as it might sound, I have to say that Tom Brady is simply still too good to discount.

Elliot Harrison: Patriots. The Miami Dolphins will give New England a run for its money, but the Patriots and MVP Tom Brady pull this thing out on tiebreakers.

Daniel Jeremiah: Patriots. Despite a chaotic offseason, the Patriots are still the class of this division.

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Kimberly Jones: Patriots. As usual. Two reasons: Brady and Belichick.

Ian Rapoport: Patriots. It doesn't matter that you don't know many of the names on offense. You know Tom Brady, and the improving defense should do wonders.

Adam Schein: Patriots. Sure, the Patriots are without Tom Brady's top targets from last season. But they still have Brady and Bill Belichick.

Michael Silver: Patriots. Belichick. Brady. Zzzzzzzzzzzz.



AFC NORTH

Judy Battista: Cincinnati Bengals. The "Bungles" no more. If Andy Dalton can elevate his play, the powerhouse defense should make Cincy a legitimate contender.

Gil Brandt: Bengals. This is a very good young team with an ascending quarterback in Andy Dalton. Cincy should get a bit of a boost from finishing the regular season with two home games.

Albert Breer: Bengals. The most talented team in the AFC needs its quarterback to take a step forward. If that happens, the sky's the limit for this once snake-bitten franchise.

Bucky Brooks: Bengals. Coach Marvin Lewis has assembled a deep and talented collection of players that will make a legitimate run at the AFC crown.

Jeff Darlington: Bengals. If ever the Bengals had a chance to sneak toward the top of the division, even as the parity within the AFC North is strong, this feels like the year.

Elliot Harrison: Bengals. This is the most talented team on paper in the AFC -- yes, even more so than the Denver Broncos.

Daniel Jeremiah: Baltimore Ravens. The improved health of core defenders (Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata and Lardarius Webb) will key another division title for Joe Flacco and John Harbaugh.

Kimberly Jones: Bengals. Love their new offensive weapons, tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Giovani Bernard. And I love "Hard Knocks."

Ian Rapoport: Bengals. Simply put, this is the most talented and hard-nosed team in a division full of skill and grit. The Bengals will get a playoff win this year, too.

Adam Schein: Ravens. No Ray Lewis? No Ed Reed? With Elvis Dumervil and a healthy Terrell Suggs and Lardarius Webb, the champs will be better on D. Second-year running back Bernard Pierce will aid Joe Flacco.

Michael Silver: Bengals. I'm still not convinced Andy Dalton is a legitimate starting QB, but I know this is an insanely talented team.



AFC SOUTH

Judy Battista: Houston Texans. The Texans have one of the most complete rosters in the NFL. The Indianapolis Colts, meanwhile, are still probably a year away in their roster overhaul.

Gil Brandt: Indianapolis Colts. The Colts won 11 games in 2012 despite being outscored by 30 points. They have an outstanding quarterback in Andrew Luck and an improving defense.

Albert Breer: Colts. He might not be getting the kind of hype his contemporaries are at the moment, but Andrew Luck will prove -- again -- why he's been considered a transcendent prospect for years.

Bucky Brooks: Texans. The Texans' ultra-efficient offense garners the headlines, but the J.J. Watt-led defense is what will spark Houston to a third straight division title.

Jeff Darlington: Texans. It's not just about making the playoffs anymore; it's about what the Texans do when they get there.

Elliot Harrison: Texans. Pardon the pun, but the Indianapolis Colts don't have the horses to keep up with Houston in the AFC South, particularly on defense.

Daniel Jeremiah: Texans. I wanted to pick the Indianapolis Colts for this division, but I just couldn't do it. Houston's front seven will lead the Texans to another AFC South title.

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Kimberly Jones: Colts. The defense is better and so is the QB. Coach Chuck Pagano's got a good thing going.

Ian Rapoport: Texans. For the second year in a row, it's tough to find a hole in this sound team -- and Andre Johnson has finally gotten some help.

Adam Schein: Texans. Coach Gary Kubiak has the most complete squad in the AFC.

Michael Silver: Texans. Talented as these guys are, I still can't shake the memory of the Monday night massacre they suffered in Foxborough last December (and wonder if they're lightweights).



AFC WEST

Judy Battista: Denver Broncos. Peyton Manning and an unstoppable trio of receivers? That can make up for a lot of problems on defense.

Gil Brandt: Broncos. The addition of Wes Welker and rookie running back Montee Ball should help overcome the losses on defense.

Albert Breer: Broncos. As is true for New England, Denver's division helps soften the blow of roster tumult. The Broncos should be able to ride out Von Miller's six-game sit-down and roll to first place.

Bucky Brooks: Broncos. The Broncos will survive Von Miller's six-game suspension to stampede through the weak AFC West on the strength of a high-powered offense keyed by the spectacular play of Peyton Manning.

Jeff Darlington: Broncos. Nobody in the division is capable of keeping up with such an experienced Broncos roster.

Elliot Harrison: Broncos. The Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers will not be pushovers, but they ultimately don't have the passing game to score with Denver. Despite missing Von Miller for six games, the Broncos should finish 11-5.

Daniel Jeremiah: Broncos. This is an easy one. Von Miller's suspension will have minimal impact in this division. There is a huge gap between the Broncos and everyone else.

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Kimberly Jones: Broncos. This is the one division that's a lock -- now.

Ian Rapoport: Broncos. The offseason brought its share of negative headlines for the Broncos, but once Peyton Manning and Co. get going, it'll be all positive.

Adam Schein: Broncos. Denver is good enough to get 10 wins and take the division, but I don't view this team as a juggernaut.

Michael Silver: Broncos. I sense that Denver's regular season won't be as charmed as last year's, but with Montee Ball and Wes Welker onboard, the Peyton Manning-led offense can outscore most teams.



AFC WILD CARD 1

Judy Battista: Baltimore Ravens. A revamped defense might actually improve, but if the offense can't rebound from losing injured tight end Dennis Pitta and traded-away receiver Anquan Boldin, the Pittsburgh Steelers could grab this spot instead.

Gil Brandt: Ravens. The defending Super Bowl champs lost a lot of defensive leadership. Joe Flacco needs to keep up what he was doing in the playoffs last season, when he went four straight games without throwing an interception.

Albert Breer: Ravens. On paper, the defense is improved. Whether it all comes together, and whether the offense can find new weapons for the inside pass game, will determine how far this team goes.

Bucky Brooks: Ravens. The defending champs will lose out on the AFC North crown but make another appearance in the tournament, thanks to a ferocious defense that will emerge as one of the top units in the NFL.

Jeff Darlington: Cleveland Browns. Might the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens both miss the playoffs in the same year? It's a long shot, but every season has its special stories, and the Browns have a chance to be one of them.

Elliot Harrison: Miami Dolphins. The overhauled defense and the development of Ryan Tannehill push the Dolphins to a 10-6 finish.

Daniel Jeremiah: Indianapolis Colts. A more efficient Andrew Luck will get the Colts back to the postseason.

Kimberly Jones: Houston Texans. Having rookie receiver DeAndre Hopkins opposite veteran Andre Johnson could be scary.

Ian Rapoport: Kansas City Chiefs. From a 2-14 finish in 2012 to the playoffs in 2013? Yup. Add Andy Reid and a real quarterback in Alex Smith to a talented team with six Pro Bowlers, and that's the result.

Adam Schein: Colts. Andrew Luck is a gamer. Indy will go 5-1 in the AFC South.

Michael Silver: Pittsburgh Steelers. Traditionally, these guys tend to bounce back from down years in a big way. This time, Big Ben buys in -- and puts the team on his back.



AFC WILD CARD 2

Judy Battista: Kansas City Chiefs. New coach Andy Reid and QB Alex Smith are big upgrades, while a soft schedule -- which includes Reid's familiar NFC East foes -- should help the Chiefs edge the Steelers for this spot.

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Gil Brandt: Chiefs. Coming off a season in which they won just two games and had little-to-no offensive presence, the Chiefs have a new quarterback, a new coach and a good schedule. A key game: September's Thursday night matchup against Andy Reid's former Philadelphia Eagles charges on a short week.

Albert Breer: Houston Texans. Buoyed by an improved defense and getting by with an offense going through some transition, Houston fights off the Pittsburgh Steelers for the AFC's final playoff spot.

Bucky Brooks: Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins' lavish offseason shopping spree ultimately won't help Miami overtake New England in the AFC East, but it will get the team back to the postseason for the first time since 2008.

Jeff Darlington: Indianapolis Colts. The addition of Pep Hamilton as the team's offensive coordinator means more West Coast offense for Andrew Luck, and that's going to escalate his play considerably.

Elliot Harrison: Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens finish 10-6 in a very competitive AFC North, earning the sixth and final wild-card spot. Joe Flacco will earn the huge contract he just signed with his best regular season to date.

Daniel Jeremiah: Cincinnati Bengals. Look for rookies Gio Bernard and Tyler Eifert to play key roles in getting the Bengals in the playoffs again.

Kimberly Jones: Ravens. They had to rebuild, but did so wisely. Of course.

Ian Rapoport: Dolphins. All the money they spent in the offseason isn't what finally brings them to the playoffs again; it's the maturity of Ryan Tannehill.

Adam Schein: Chiefs. Newbies Andy Reid and Alex Smith change everything for this previously defunct team. The defense is underrated.

Michael Silver: Chiefs. There's always a surprise team that parlays a soft schedule, key changes (new coach, new QB) and a little luck into a surprising postseason appearance. This year, it's K.C.



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