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NFL midseason predictions: Crowded race for last AFC wild card

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We've reached a midpoint in the 2013 NFL campaign. How will the rest of the season play out? Our analysts provide their predictions, covering the major individual awards, playoff teams for each conference and picks for Championship Sunday/Super Bowl XLVIII.

Click here to glance back at our analysts' preseason predictions.

AFC EAST

Judy Battista: New England Patriots. Shakier than usual, but still the best team in a weak division.

Gil Brandt: Patriots. The Pats will win because of two important factors: 1) Tom Brady and 2) Bill Belichick -- one of the best football coaches of all time.

Albert Breer: Patriots. The Patriots are on track for another season of 12-or-so wins, despite all the change. And as for the quarterback, I'll let Steelers CB Ike Taylor answer for me: "The numbers are down because people are hurt. ... That whole offense runs because of Tom Brady."

Bucky Brooks: Patriots. Tom Brady single-handedly carries the Patriots to another division crown, despite missing key contributors on both sides of the ball.

Jeff Darlington: Patriots. If there's one word to describe the Patriots' first half, it is this: grind. We've heard Tom Brady say it time and time again, but now that he's got Rob Gronkowski back in the mix, the grind will start to look a little more like the good old days.

Elliot Harrison: Patriots. Despite all the issues this team has had, its still two games up with eight to play. The injuries on defense are huge, yet the great elixir will always be Tom Brady (as compared to the other AFC East quarterbacks).

Daniel Jeremiah: Patriots. It hasn't been pretty, but New England always finds a way to win games. There isn't a serious challenger inside this division.

Kimberly Jones: Patriots. The job the defense did against the Saints proves this is about more than just Tom Brady's magic.

Ian Rapoport: Patriots. Injuries up the middle of their defense, lack of skill-position talent on offense, wild inconsistency ... except in the win column.

Adam Schein: Patriots. Print the T-shirts -- it's over. Always has been, even with the first-half struggles in the passing attack. The injuries on defense will hold New England back in the playoffs.

Michael Silver: Patriots. This division was there for the taking. On any given Sunday, it looks like the Bills, Dolphins or Jets might be capable of taking it. They won't.



AFC NORTH

Judy Battista: Cincinnati Bengals. With the ascendency of Andy Dalton, the Bengals now have the offensive firepower to match a smothering defense.

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Gil Brandt: Bengals. The Bengals have a solid defense and two promising rookies in tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Giovani Bernard -- and they also have an ascendant quarterback in Andy Dalton.

Albert Breer: Bengals. Andy Dalton's performance over the last few weeks has turned some heads internally, and dulled some of the doubt that he can elevate those around him. He's not lacking for help, that's for sure -- few rosters are as well-balanced as this one.

Bucky Brooks: Bengals. Marvin Lewis guides a young, talented roster to the top of the division by pushing all the right buttons down the stretch.

Jeff Darlington: Bengals. The Bengals might be the quietest candidate for a legitimate postseason run at this point. While they are the favorite to win a division that's seen some drop-off from the Steelers and Ravens, they can't take the foot off the gas.

Elliot Harrison: Bengals. Cincinnati very well might be the most talented team on paper, and now that Andy Dalton has picked up his play, it's difficult seeing any of the other clubs in the AFC North threatening.

Daniel Jeremiah: Bengals. The Bengals have emerged as the class of this division, and with Andy Dalton's improved play, they could lock this one up soon.

Kimberly Jones: Bengals. Explosive on both sides of the ball. Just ask the Jets.

Ian Rapoport: Bengals. If Andy Dalton's recent play is him finally getting it -- rather than a hot streak -- look out.

Adam Schein: Bengals. The defense is excellent, and Andy Dalton has been great over the last three weeks.

Michael Silver: Bengals. Sometimes, when the whole world can see a falloff coming (Ravens), the whole world isn't wrong.



AFC SOUTH

Judy Battista: Indianapolis Colts. Victories over the Broncos, Seahawks and 49ers -- plus the best young quarterback in the game -- make them a serious contender.

Gil Brandt: Colts. The Colts' bright future comes down to this: They have Andrew Luck.

Albert Breer: Colts. Had a hunch before the season that Andrew Luck was about to go on a run of double-digit win seasons, a la Brady/Manning, and nothing's happened since to dissuade that notion. He's as good a young quarterback as we've seen in a long, long time.

Bucky Brooks: Colts. Chuck Pagano promised to build a bully in Indianapolis when he took over the Colts in 2012. His team delivers on the promise by running roughshod over opponents over final month of the season.

Jeff Darlington: Colts. Being in the same division as the miserable Jaguars, imploding Texans and mediocre-at-best Titans has its perks -- but the Colts seem capable of earning it on their own in Andrew Luck's sophomore season.

Elliot Harrison: Colts. Tennessee could provide a threat, especially with the Colts missing Reggie Wayne. But no other team in the AFC South has comparable talent in the backfield (taking quarterback into account), as well as a defense that can pressure the opposing signal-caller.

Daniel Jeremiah: Colts. The Colts already defeated three of the top teams in the NFL: San Francisco, Seattle and Denver. Despite the loss of Reggie Wayne, they will cruise to this division title.

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Kimberly Jones: Colts. They're the class of the AFC South, but can they overcome the loss of Reggie Wayne?

Ian Rapoport: Colts. Andrew Luck is reaching the level where his play alone can make up for the key injuries Indy has suffered all season long.

Adam Schein: Colts. Despite losing Reggie Wayne, Andrew Luck adroitly guides the Colts to a division title.

Michael Silver: Colts. Oops -- my first switch from the preseason. I picked the Texans. Turns out they're inadequate. Indy is better than people realize.



AFC WEST

Judy Battista: Denver Broncos. They survived Von Miller's suspension, and now that the defense is playing better, some of the pressure will come off the offense.

Gil Brandt: Kansas City Chiefs. Alex Smith isn't flashy, but he gets the job done, and he has a good core around him. Arrowhead Stadium is probably the toughest place to play in football -- and that's including the Seahawks' home field.

Albert Breer: Broncos. Mark it down: John Fox's crew is going to keep winning (and in most spots, winning big) with its intergalactic offense. The bigger questions -- Are they well-balanced enough? Can Von Miller transform the defense? -- likely won't be answered in full until January.

Bucky Brooks: Broncos. Peyton Manning directs the NFL's most explosive offense to the league's best record while helping the Broncos win the most competitive division pro football.

Jeff Darlington: Broncos. Don't let a loss to the Colts and an early deficit to the Redskins blind you from the way Peyton Manning started this season. It will, however, be interesting to see how Manning fares when the cold weather (and postseason pressure) hits.


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Elliot Harrison: Broncos. Denver just outscores everybody else. The Chiefs are in the lead now, but truth be told, they haven't played well the last couple weeks. As good as the Chiefs' defense is ... Peyton Manning > Alex Smith.

Daniel Jeremiah: Broncos. The Broncos' offense will always put up points and their defense should play better down the stretch.

Kimberly Jones: Broncos. Gotta think last year's disappointing (and abrupt) ending is still spurring on John Fox's group.

Ian Rapoport: Broncos. The Chiefs are for real, don't get me wrong, but Denver is a juggernaut. We'll see both in the playoffs.

Adam Schein: Broncos. Peyton Manning is Peyton Manning.

Michael Silver: Broncos. The Chiefs are 8-0 but haven't beaten a team that currently owns a winning record, and they must face Peyton Manning and friends twice.



AFC WILD CARD NO. 1

Judy Battista: Kansas City Chiefs. Powered by a great defense, but the lack of an explosive offense might stall them in the playoffs.

Gil Brandt: Denver Broncos. I don't see how Denver misses out on the playoffs -- not with a quarterback who might be the best to ever play the game. (Not to mention the outstanding supporting cast around him.)

Albert Breer: Chiefs. The defense is for real, and the offense is good enough to where Andy Reid and his staff can manage it into the playoffs. Sound familiar? A little like the last team Alex Smith piloted to the playoffs, the 2011 49ers.

Bucky Brooks: Chiefs. Andy Reid guides the Chiefs back into the playoffs behind the top defense in the NFL.

Jeff Darlington: Chiefs. Look, let's be clear: Just because I believe the Broncos will leapfrog the Chiefs to claim the division title is not to suggest I'm not buying into Kansas City's success. I believe this is a team worthy of its 8-0 start -- but it's also a team in a uniquely strong division right now.

Elliot Harrison: Chiefs. Kansas City isn't even allowing 13 points per game, and has a great home-field advantage. At 8-0, they merely need 2-3 wins to be a wild-card club.

Daniel Jeremiah: Chiefs. There will be tougher games on the horizon for the Chiefs, but they will still find their way to 12 wins. Unfortunately, it won't be enough to win their division.

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Kimberly Jones: Chiefs. With two games left against the Broncos, can the Chiefs relegate Denver to this spot?

Ian Rapoport: Chiefs. They won't stay undefeated, but they do what really good, playoff teams do: play tough, run the ball, don't turn it over, get takeaways. Simple but effective.

Adam Schein: Chiefs. With the defense, Andy Reid and Alex Smith, the Chiefs' upside is to go to the Super Bowl.

Michael Silver: Chiefs. Sometimes, when the whole world embraces a team as a trendy playoff pick, the whole world isn't wrong.



AFC WILD CARD NO. 2

Judy Battista: San Diego Chargers. The Chargers survive a challenging second-half schedule, edging the Ravens (who have a tough second-half slate of their own) for the final spot.

Gil Brandt: Chargers. Philip Rivers is back. The Chargers have impressed in their first year under Mike McCoy.

Albert Breer: Baltimore Ravens. Maybe this is more of a hunch than anything else. Or a belief that John Harbaugh will find a way to figure it out. The remaining schedule's fairly brutal, but looking at the AFC landscape, it's not hard to envision a nine-win team getting in.

Bucky Brooks: New York Jets. The Jets' suffocating defense leads an improbable run to the playoffs, despite the presence of a turnover-prone rookie quarterback.

Jeff Darlington: Jets. Take a bow, Rex Ryan. This would be no small feat under the pressure that you faced before the season started. Geno Smith is maturing into a nice quarterback, and Ryan is getting his team to play with swagger again.

Elliot Harrison: Chargers. San Diego has a tough remaining schedule, with two games against the Broncos and two against the Chiefs. That said, the Chargers will finish 9-7, one game ahead of the Ravens, Dolphins and Titans.

Daniel Jeremiah: Ravens. The Ravens still are searching for an offensive identity, but I believe they will figure things out in time to sneak into the last AFC playoff spot.

Kimberly Jones: Jets. As the second wild card in the AFC, why not?

Ian Rapoport: Tennessee Titans. I believe in Jake Locker being the difference maker for a team that's thisclose to turning the corner. He returns, and the defense keeps ballin'.

Adam Schein: Ravens. Tough call over San Diego, but I can't imagine the Ravens will continue to slide.

Michael Silver: Buffalo Bills. This is the year: EJ Manuel returns from his knee injury and sparks a late-season streak to break the league's longest playoff drought.

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