2017 AFC playoff predictions: Texans, Titans to battle for South

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With the 2017 NFL season just around the corner, our analysts provide their predictions, including the winners of individual awards, playoff teams for each conference and Championship Sunday/Super Bowl forecasts.

AFC EAST

Judy Battista: New England Patriots. The only real question is whether the New England Patriots go undefeated, but they will win the division for the ninth straight year.

Steve Wyche: Patriots. Miami was initially the only true threat, but Jay Cutler? No. Pats are stacked and deep.

Ike Taylor: Patriots. Two words: Tom Brady.

Maurice Jones-Drew: Patriots. Next question.

Jeffri Chadiha: Patriots. Another easy road to the division crown awaits the defending Super Bowl champs.

Heath Evans: Patriots. Duh.

Gregg Rosenthal: Patriots. Of all the insane Patriots stats, this one gets overlooked: No team in the division has had a better record for 16 straight seasons.

Adam Schein: Patriots. Behind Tom Brady and an improved roster, the Patriots will win a minimum of 14 games this year.

Dan Hanzus: Patriots. They might win the division by nine games.

Gil Brandt: Patriots. They have the best QB-head coach combo maybe in NFL history.

Reggie Wayne: Patriots. Come on.

Charley Casserly: Patriots. I guess if you go undefeated, you win the division.

Adam Rank: Patriots. I'm sorry, I'm not allowed to pick anybody else. I kid, but seriously.

Marc Sessler: Patriots. Yawn.

Dave Dameshek: Patriots. No need to explain this one.

AFC NORTH

Judy Battista: Pittsburgh Steelers. It's not a question of whether the Pittsburgh Steelers' explosive offense will lead them to the division title; it's whether their defense has figured out a way to slow the Patriots in the playoffs.

Steve Wyche: Steelers. If they don't win with Baltimore banged up, the Bengals trending down and the Browns being the Browns, then something went SERIOUSLY wrong.

Ike Taylor: Steelers. They have the four Bs: Ben. Brown. Bell. Bryant.

Maurice Jones-Drew: Steelers. Getting Martavis Bryant back, along with an improved defense, primes this team to make a splash.

Jeffri Chadiha: Steelers. If receiver Martavis Bryant contributes, this could be the best offense in football.

Gregg Rosenthal: Steelers. It's not all about Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant being together in their primes -- Mike Tomlin finally has his defense, too.

Heath Evans: Steelers. An improved defense and high-powered offense carries this team to the top of the division.

Dan Hanzus: Steelers. Who's going to stop the Steelers from scoring 30 points a game if that incredible core stays on the field?

Gil Brandt: Steelers. They have a very good offense to go with an improving defense.

Reggie Wayne: Steelers. This offense is tough and the defense is improved.

Charley Casserly: Steelers. They have too much fire power for the rest of the division to catch them.

Adam Rank: Baltimore Ravens. There are a few injury concerns early, but this team will be humming by season's end.

Marc Sessler: Steelers. Far from a creative pick, but Pittsburgh has more proven talent than any team in the division.

Adam Schein: Steelers. Finally ... Ben, Bell, Brown, Bryant all at once! The Steelers' offense sizzles and Pittsburgh wins the division by multiple games.

Dave Dameshek: Steelers. If each of the four teams plays up to its absolute full potential, the Steelers will run away with the North. (Don't @ me, Bengals fans -- Roethlisberger is vastly superior to Dalton.)

AFC SOUTH

Judy Battista: Houston Texans. No matter who they start at quarterback, it is the Texans' top defense that will power Houston to win the division again.

Steve Wyche: Tennessee Titans. I'm on the bandwagon. Quarterback Marcus Mariota seems set to fully deliver on his potential, and he has some receiver help.

Ike Taylor: Texans. This team has a scary defense, and just imagine if Deshaun Watson catches fire.

Maurice Jones-Drew: Titans. They continue to get better.

Jeffri Chadiha: Titans. The Titans have enough good elements -- strong run game, improving defense and a rising star at QB -- to become a contender.

Heath Evans: Texans. This defense dominates opponents.

Gregg Rosenthal: Titans. The depth of offensive talent around Marcus Mariota went from eh to excellent in short order.

Dan Hanzus: Texans. Someone has to win it. I'll go with the team that has Watt and Clowney.

Gil Brandt: Titans. They won nine games in 2016, then improved in the draft and free agency. Marcus Mariota is ready to emerge as a star.

Reggie Wayne: Texans. This is a toss-up between Houston and Tennessee, but the Texans' defense gives them the edge.

Charley Casserly: Texans. Their defense is too dominant for the rest of the division.

Adam Rank: Titans. Great young quarterback with a great offensive line and pretty good weapons, too.

Marc Sessler: Titans. The Colts once stood in the way, but Indy looks like one of the worst teams around. Time for the Titans to fly.

Adam Schein: Texans. With J.J. Watt back, the Texans' defense will be elite.

Dave Dameshek: Texans. They've got a tough stretch to open the season, but the defense will be mighty and the offense will be capable in either "smashmouth" or "electric" mode (especially once Deshaun Watson takes over in late Sept./early Oct.).

AFC WEST

Judy Battista: Oakland Raiders. With Marshawn Lynch to complement Derek Carr, the Raiders are poised for a division title and, perhaps, a lot more.

Steve Wyche: Raiders. Shaky defense is a major concern, but all the toys on offense are too much to handle.

Ike Taylor: Raiders. A healthy Derek Carr carries Raider Nation back to the playoffs.

Dave Dameshek: Los Angeles Chargers. Yeah, yeah ... I know the injury bug has already proven to be unrelenting in spite of the move north, but that defense is plum loaded: Casey Hayward and Jason Verrett might be an even better CB duo than the one the division rival Broncos boast, while Ingram and Bosa will devastate up front in the same manner Ware and Von did during Denver's Super Bowl run. The offense has the pieces to keep up with Oakland's attack -- IF the O-line can just give Philip Rivers some time.

Maurice Jones-Drew: Raiders. Their only concern is Kansas City.

Jeffri Chadiha: Raiders. They would've won this division last year if QB Derek Carr didn't get hurt.

Heath Evans: Kansas City Chiefs. This is process of elimination. Derek Carr hasn't done anything against the Chiefs' defense. The Chargers keep getting hit with injuries. And Denver's offense is questionable.

Gregg Rosenthal: Chargers. With a little help from his teammates, Philip Rivers is set to have the season that Tony Romo should have enjoyed last year.

Dan Hanzus: Chiefs. The team that can't get any respect is going to win another 11 or 12 games.

Gil Brandt: Raiders. Oakland has good, young players on both sides of the ball. The Raiders won six road games last season, and Marshawn Lynch will help both offense and defense with time of possession.

Reggie Wayne: Raiders. Jack Del Rio has this team rolling come January.

Charley Casserly: Raiders. This will be the closest race in the NFL. Derek Carr is the difference.

Adam Rank: Chiefs. Well, it is Andy Reid. I don't have any doubts he'll have his team back in the playoffs again.

Marc Sessler: Chiefs. In a rugged division, the block-and-tackle Chiefs loom as the West's most balanced operation.

Adam Schein: Raiders. Derek Carr and the Raiders' offense will sizzle, leading Oakland to an 11-win season.

AFC WILD CARD 1

Judy Battista: Kansas City Chiefs. Patrick Mahomes may not see the field this year, but no matter. K.C.'s a wild-card team.

Steve Wyche: Denver Broncos. An improved O-line and run game will take the pressure off Trevor Siemian, who is better than what folks think. That defense keeps them in contention.

Ike Taylor: Cincinnati Bengals. Rookies Joe Mixon and John Ross gives the Bengals a boost.

Maurice Jones-Drew: Chiefs. They need more firepower at receiver, but they always win 10 or 11 games.

Jeffri Chadiha: Chiefs. They need Tyreek Hill to star as a full-time wide receiver and the defense to stop the run more consistently.

Heath Evans: Oakland Raiders. This is a talented roster, but I'm not ready to name them a "given" to win the division.

Dan Hanzus: Bengals. The offensive line is a concern, but there's a lot to like about this team in all the major areas.

Gil Brandt: Bengals. This team is coming off a down season, yet with a better offensive line and run game, the Bengals could get back to the postseason.

Gregg Rosenthal: Raiders. The continuity on offensive, especially on the line, should make up for a defense with major questions in the back end.

Reggie Wayne: Broncos. Two AFC West teams get to the postseason and Kansas City gets the short stick this time.

Marc Sessler: Raiders. Anyone else freaked out by Oakland's suspect defense? Derek Carr and the offense, though, will pick up the slack.

Charley Casserly: Chiefs. This is a solid, well-coached Andy Reid team.

Adam Rank: Miami Dolphins. Adam Gase has started to build something special. I'm really happy the Bears hired John Fox and not this guy.

Adam Schein: Tennessee Titans. I love Marcus Mariota. And the Tennessee power run game. The Titans are incredibly balanced.

Dave Dameshek: Raiders. The defense is upgraded and the running game adds Marshawn Lynch.

AFC WILD CARD 2

Judy Battista: Tennessee Titans. The Titans look like they are building an offensive monster that will propel them to break their playoff drought.

Steve Wyche: Houston Texans. Rookie QB Deshaun Watson provides security in case Tom Savage gets hurt. J.J. Watt rejoins a scary defensive front.

Ike Taylor: Miami Dolphins. The Jay Cutler-Adam Gase connection is fire.

Gregg Rosenthal: Cincinnati Bengals. A year after bad injury luck and a lot of close losses snapped Cincy's five-year playoff streak, the Bengals' rookie playmakers should help them get back to Wild Card Weekend.

Maurice Jones-Drew: Texans. Quarterback play determines everything here.

Jeffri Chadiha: Texans. If they can just be solid at quarterback, they'll win at least nine games.

Heath Evans: Titans. The offense has made enough strides this offseason and Mike Mularkey has this team focused on the right things.

Dan Hanzus: Oakland Raiders. I fear a fall-off this season, but there is enough talent here to win 10 games even if some things go sideways.

Gil Brandt: Kansas City Chiefs. They have a very good roster coming off a 12-win season, but need a top performance in the run game to improve.

Reggie Wayne: Titans. This team is trending up and squeaks into the playoffs.

Charley Casserly: Bengals. They have a solid defense, and rookies Joe Mixon and John Ross give them the edge over Tennessee.

Adam Rank: Raiders. The defense still needs a little bit of help, but the offense should be really good.

Dave Dameshek: Chiefs. I won't be stunned if Alex Smith gets replaced -- again -- by a younger, more dynamic passer at some point this season to better take advantage of Tyreke Hill and Co., but even if he doesn't, Andy Reid just plain gets his teams to January. (Three losing seasons in 18 years; 12 playoff appearances.)

Marc Sessler: Los Angeles Chargers. It promises to be a wild ride as the Bolts sneak into the playoffs with a fascinating late-season stretch sure to delight the hordes at StubHub.

Adam Schein: Chiefs. Andy Reid teams win. And the Chiefs will win games with defense and special teams.

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