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AFC wide open for Indianapolis Colts Super Bowl run

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The AFC is there for the Colts' taking this year.

Weakened by the departure of All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis in March, the Patriots are now set to play the first quarter of the season without Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady. Already shrouded in mystery due to their own legendary quarterback's inability to throw with authority down the stretch last season, the Broncos are suddenly scrambling on the offensive line after losing Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady for the season.

Whereas the conference's lone two superpowers spent last offseason escalating an arms race, neither team is guaranteed a postseason berth this time around.

While New England and Denver are reeling, Indianapolis is feeling its oats.

Colts coach Chuck Pagano can't hide his effervescent optimism over a team that is further ahead at this point in the offseason than any since he assumed head-coach duties in 2011.

"Excited about this football team," Pagano said, via ESPN.com. "We've got great energy out there. Participation has been outstanding. We're making great progress. ... Love the young guys, love the additions, free agency, draftees, CFAs (college free agents). We've got a bunch of smart guys, guys that are picking up."

Accomplished veterans Andre Johnson and Frank Gore have brought a toughness and singularity of focus to a team that has lacked both qualities in recent showdowns with the Patriots.

When the former University of Miami teammates reached free agency in March, they huddled together to figure out their best chance at glory before walking off into the sunset.

"I think we can win the Super Bowl if we go to Indy," Gore told Johnson, per The Indianapolis Star.

"That's funny you say that," Johnson replied. "Because I was thinking the same thing."

Here's what else we learned from Friday's OTAs:

1. The Colts are armed with the advantage of a precocious young quarterback who already understands defenses like an NFL coach, according to offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton. Johnson and Gore both cite the presence of Andrew Luck as the primary reason for choosing Indianapolis.

2. Preparing for the possibility that Brady will miss September, the Patriots have begun mixing Jimmy Garoppolo in with the first-team offenses. The two quarterbacks split reps in Friday's practice.

3. Brady's appeal to reduce his suspension is set to begin on June 23, NFL Media's Albert Breer reported Friday.

4. The Falcons waived linebacker Prince Shembo on Friday following news of an aggravated animal cruelty charge. Shembo allegedly kicked his girlfriend's Yorkshire terrier, resulting in death by blunt force trauma, according to a police statement.

5. Still seeking a new team after having his commitment questioned last year with the Jets, free agent Michael Vick is in full damage-control mode. In an interview with the Virginian-Pilot this week, Vick ticked off key buzz phrases such as "being a mentor first and foremost," "play some smart football" and "come off the bench if necessary." It might take a training-camp injury for Vick to get another shot.

6. Pro Bowl center Travis Frederick has a message for those who declare the Cowboys' offensive line as the greatest in NFL history: "We're not even close."

7. From the minor injury department: Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans and rookie guard Ali Marpet are both dealing with tweaked hamstrings. As long as the injuries aren't aggravated, both players should return to the field without missing much time.

8. From the major injury department: The Broncos placed Ryan Clady on injured reserve, ending his season two days after the star left tackle suffered a torn ACL in practice.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast discusses the latest news including Adrian Peterson's contract situation, Ryan Clady's injury and Chip Kelly's response to LeSean McCoy. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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