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One thing each AFC team can do to earn spot in Super Bowl LIII

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Super Bowl LII's nearly upon us, but 30 teams already have begun the effort to reach Atlanta next February for Super Bowl LIII. Here's one thing each AFC team can do to supplant the New England Patriots as conference champions.

Baltimore Ravens: Go back to the free-agent receiver well.

This is a familiar offseason project for general manager Ozzie Newsome, a man great at drafting big uglies but less successful at the skill positions. The best receiver on the Ravens' eyesore of a passing attack in 2017 was Mike Wallace, who is 31 years old and headed for free agency. Jeremy Maclin's roster spot could be at risk after a down season. That leaves Newsome doing his usual shopping in a relatively deep market at the position. It's where he successfully found value with players like Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, Steve Smith and Wallace before.

Buffalo Bills: Find a quarterback they believe in.

The 17-year playoff drought is over. Now comes the hard part. Even Tyrod Taylor has to be tired of the Tyrod Taylor debate in Buffalo. His contributions to the playoff push don't erase the obvious lack of faith this staff and management has in Taylor, shown when they briefly benched him for rookie Nathan Peterman. With a big option bonus due March 16, the Bills have time to go after Alex Smith in a trade -- or pursue other options, such as Kirk Cousins in free agency. The Bills have extra draft picks in the first and second rounds this year, so the team has the ammunition to start a different type of playoff streak with the right moves.

(UPDATE: The Kansas City Chiefs have agreed in principle to a trade that will send QB Alex Smith to the Washington Redskins, per NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport.)

Cincinnati Bengals: Fix the tackle situation.

A Super Bowl trip might be hard for Bengals diehards to imagine after the organization's dispiriting decision to retain coach Marvin Lewis for a 16th season. But this isn't a talent-poor roster, especially if the offensive line can turn around. Cedric Ogbuehi was a problem at left tackle, and right tackle Jake Fisher's career is in peril after heart issues. It's not like the interior of Cincy's line was great, either. The Bengals changed offensive line coaches and now need a reboot of players, not unlike what the Vikings accomplished last offseason.

Cleveland Browns: They know what to do. Everyone knows.

A year ago in this space, I suggested trading for Jimmy Garoppolo as the avenue to quickly turn the franchise around. That didn't happen, one of many setbacks on the way to a winless season. It's almost impossible to imagine a world where the Browns pass on selecting a savior with the first overall pick in a quarterback-rich draft. The only question left is whether Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Baker Mayfield or Josh Allen has the right skills to impress the Browns in ways Carson Wentz did not in 2016. With proven offensive coordinator Todd Haley in place, the team has a better chance of getting this pick right.

Denver Broncos: Get John Elway's groove back.

It was only a few years ago when Elway was being lauded as one of the game's best executives. But his dodgy decisions at quarterback and consistently poor drafts on offense have contributed to the Broncos' roster rotting. From the obvious need for a signal-caller to questions on both lines, and an overall lack of young, homegrown talent, Elway needs to take big swings, hit in free agency and improve his draft track record, or risk getting left behind in a challenging AFC West.

Houston Texans: Find the right protectors for Deshaun Watson.

Last season, I wrote the Texans needed to find a franchise quarterback. That's why Houston's 2017 season was a success despite the 4-12 record. That's the good news. The bad news: The Texans don't have a pick until the third round, and three starters on their offensive line are headed for free agency from a group that already sat at the bottom of Pro Football Focus' rankings. The first goal for the nascent partnership of GM Brian Gaine and coach Bill O'Brien will be to build an offense around Watson's strengths and compensate for what is likely to be a brand-new offensive line. Gaine and O'Brien should be aligned in ways that O'Brien was not with previous GM Rick Smith.

Indianapolis Colts: Pray to the Football Gods for a healthy Andrew Luck.

I could write about the need for the Colts to replenish their receiver group, find a new workhorse running back or upgrade their lackluster pass-rushing talent. But there is only one route back to Super Bowl contention under presumptive new coach Josh McDaniels. There is only one reason why McDaniels wants the job so much in the first place. If Andrew Luck's shoulder gets back to normal, the Colts have a chance in a much-improved division. If his recovery hits more potholes in 2018, the Colts will be just another team that schedule-makers regret placing in prime-time games. Again.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Upgrade their starting quarterback.

The rest of the team is ready. Heck, this Jaguars team was ready and could have won Super Bowl LII with Blake Bortles under center, after he played rock-solid ball against the Steelers and Patriots in successive weeks. But why not try to get better? Flush with salary-cap space and able to offer Florida's income tax-free rich-man's paradise, the Jaguars are the top team to watch for a potential pursuit of Kirk Cousins. If that doesn't work, Jacksonville could consider Tyrod Taylor or choose to draft a quarterback to develop for the future. Bortles' fifth-year option isn't guaranteed until the first day of the league year (March 14), and Jacksonville should examine every potential avenue before then or risk wasting the best years of this rare defensive group.

Kansas City Chiefs: Use draft picks from an Alex Smith trade to toughen up the defense.

For all the blame that coach Andy Reid and Smith received following a devastating playoff defeat, it was the Chiefs' defense that failed the team most. This was true throughout the season, when outside linebacker Justin Houston was a rare bright spot in an underwhelming front seven. Smith's value will never be higher, and he has only one season left on his contract, so this is the perfect time to trade him. (A first-round pick or a pair of mid-round picks sounds fair.) The Chiefs can recoup some of the draft stock they gave up to select Patrick Mahomes last season, then work on giving the second-year quarterback a defense that allows him a fighting change to win each week.

(UPDATE: The Kansas City Chiefs have agreed in principle to a trade that will send QB Alex Smith to the Washington Redskins, per NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport.)

Los Angeles Chargers: Fix the kicking game!

This is easier said than done and probably wasn't accomplished when the team signed former Bucs draft pick Roberto Aguayo to a no-risk future contract. It wasn't only missed field goals that contributed to the Chargers finishing ranked No. 31 in special teams according to Football Outsiders, but the team's league-low field-goal percentage was probably the difference between 9-7 and 11-5. Look throughout this roster and it's difficult to find many gaping holes, but general manager Tom Telesco is running out of time to take advantage of Philip Rivers' golden years.

Miami Dolphins: Find Ryan Tannehill a tight end.

The organization stands solidly behind Tannehill as its quarterback coming off ACL surgery, so Miami needs to do a better job finding him weapons to throw to up the seams, where Tannehill excels. The Dolphins have swung and missed at their attempts to find a pass-catching tight end for years, including Julius Thomas in 2017. The need could be even greater with slot receiver Jarvis Landry a decent bet to leave via free agency. This appears to be a deep draft for tight ends and it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Dolphins select one.

New York Jets: Choose quarterback of the future wisely.

Getting to the Super Bowl next season would be a far bigger upset than Joe Namath once toppling the Colts for the honor of the AFL. But a trip back to true respectability, past the condescension of a 5-11 season getting pats on the back, starts with the right young quarterback to build around. The Jets haven't had one since taking Chad Pennington in 2000 and general manager Mike Maccagnan's first big swing at the position, 2016 second-rounder Christian Hackenberg, may not even be with the team this year. It's safe to say Maccagnan won't get a third chance at drafting the right guy if the Jets don't strike gold with the No. 6 overall pick.

Oakland Raiders: Conduct the most productive Gruden QB Camp ever.

There are plenty of personnel matters for general manager Reggie McKenzie to sift through in Oakland, with questions about Michael Crabtree, Marshawn Lynch and throughout the team's ever-underachieving defense. But that all pales in importance to whether retro Raiders coach Jon Gruden connects with his new charge, Derek Carr. This is the first time in Gruden's career that he's had a young, entrenched franchise quarterback to mold. Gruden must prove he can adapt to 2018 NFL schemes and stay patient building Carr's game back up following a down season.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Find another edge rusher.

It was hard to blame James Harrison for wanting to play more this season, as he sat behind some uninspiring edge players in Bud Dupree and Anthony Chickillo. While the Steelers found a gem in first-round pick T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh's defense was toothless late in the season because it lacked edge pressure. Since the Steelers should spend the salary cap space necessary to retain running back Le'Veon Bell, the team's pass-rush need is likely to be filled through the draft.

Tennessee Titans: Find the right offensive mind to maximize Marcus Mariota.

The Titans' roster is in decent shape, especially at the skill positions. The team's bigger issue, especially on offense, was a lack of cohesion. Tennessee couldn't decide whether to stick with previous coach Mike Mularkey's smashmouth approach or play with more tempo out of the shotgun formation to suit Mariota's strengths. New Titans head coach Mike Vrabel believed he had the perfect choice to build an offense for Mariota in Ohio State co-offensive coordinator Ryan Day, who is a Chip Kelly disciple. But Day chose to stay in college football, leaving Vrabel still searching for the right voice for his quarterback and young playmakers like Derrick Henry, Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor. Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo is one intriguing option who is still available.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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