2016 NFL midseason predictions: AFC West race hotly contested

At the midpoint of the 2016 NFL season, our analysts refresh their predictions on the major individual awards, the entire playoff field and Championship Sunday/Super Bowl LI outcomes.

AFC NORTH

Judy Battista: Pittsburgh Steelers. The division seems to be having a down year, which will allow the Steelers to survive Ben Roethlisberger's bruises. If everybody is healthy, Pittsburgh could be the only team with a chance to upset the Patriots in January.

Jeffri Chadiha: Cincinnati Bengals. It's hard to see Pittsburgh sustaining its current lead in this division with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger sidelined (at least, I think) by knee surgery. The Bengals have enough talent to overtake them.

Gil Brandt: Steelers.Big Ben is coming back, joining Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown to restore a QB-RB-WR trio as good as any in the NFL. The defense will get better.

Maurice Jones-Drew: Steelers. Mike Tomlin will demand excellence down the stretch, putting the Steelers back on top in the AFC North.

Brian Billick: Steelers.Still betting on the most explosive team in the NFL.

Gregg Rosenthal: Steelers.Ben Roethlisberger won't win the MVP award because of his injuries, but he could put up MVP-like numbers if he ever plays some games with Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown at the same time.

Willie McGinest: Steelers. I don't think the other three teams in this division are strong enough to knock off the Steelers.

Adam Schein: Steelers. There's no competition and Ben Roethlisberger will be back before you know it.

David Carr: Steelers. If this team leans on its offensive stars, it will maintain the top spot.

Charley Casserly: Steelers. They will overcome the injuries and suspensions to win the division. Baltimore and Cincy are not consistent enough.

Ike Taylor: Steelers. They've had their problems, but Ben Roethlisberger's impeding return will boost the Steelers. They won't give up the No. 1 spot in the AFC North.

Colleen Wolfe: Steelers.Steelers take the division, unless Ben Roethlisberger's injury lingers longer than expected. With 10 wins combined, the AFC North is no powerhouse, but for the Steelers to make it out alive they can't afford to play down to any competition.

Marcas Grant: Steelers. The Steelers' offense is potent when at its best and the defense is good enough to hold off everyone else in the division.

Adam Rank: Steelers. Mostly because somebody needs to win this flawed division. (It's a shame any of them have to win it, though, because San Diego would run away with this.)

Alex Gelhar: Bengals. With the running game looking rejuvenated and Tyler Eifert back, I expect the Bengals to jump the Steelers and stay just ahead of them for the crown.

AFC EAST

Judy Battista: New England Patriots. Does anybody else even play in this division?

Jeffri Chadiha: Patriots. The Pats put another chokehold on this division when they went 3-1 while Tom Brady was suspended. Nobody is going to come close to catching them now.

Gil Brandt: Patriots. Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and a three-game lead at the halfway point? That's too much for anybody to overcome.

Maurice Jones-Drew: Patriots. Give me a reason that the Patriots won't win this division.

Brian Billick: Patriots. I said before that the Pats would be the first team to clinch their division, and I'm sticking to it.

Gregg Rosenthal: Patriots. Bill Belichick is not happy with his defense, which is a relatively small nit to pick with a group that is third in the NFL in points allowed.

Willie McGinest: Patriots. This team went 3-1 withoutTom Brady. With him, the Pats have blown out teams and will continue to do so. No one is going to come close to stealing this division away from them.

Adam Schein: Patriots. Obviously.

David Carr: Patriots.Like I said back in September ... Who is the last quarterback to win this division not named Tom Brady? Chad Pennington in 2008, a year when Brady was injured. I rest my case.

Charley Casserly: Patriots. The only question: Will they lose another game?

Ike Taylor: Patriots. I'm riding with the Patriots as long as Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are partners.

Colleen Wolfe: Patriots.Patriots win for the eighth straight year. Life is good in New England. Waves of jealousy wash over me

Marcas Grant: Patriots. The Patriots will run away with yet another division title. In a related story, water is wet.

Adam Rank: Patriots. Because I'm not a crazy person.

Alex Gelhar: Patriots. I mean, come on.

AFC SOUTH

Judy Battista: Indianapolis Colts. Remember when everybody thought the other quarterbacks in this division were going to catch up to Andrew Luck? It won't be pretty for the Colts, but this is an ugly division anyway.

Jeffri Chadiha: Houston Texans.Brock Osweiler's underwhelming so far, but so is this division. Even with J.J. Watt on injured reserve, the Texans have enough talent to claim a second straight AFC South crown.

Gil Brandt: Texans. I still think Brock Osweiler has the potential to be a good quarterback, and I see him improving every week. Though winning the division proves harder than it was last year, Houston repeats.

Maurice Jones-Drew: Tennessee Titans.Marcus Mariota and the dynamic duo of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry are going to run past the Texans in the second half of the season.

Brian Billick: Titans.I went out on a limb with the Titans before Week 1, and I haven't seen enough from the Texans or Colts to make me change my flier pick.

Gregg Rosenthal: Titans. This is the one AFC playoff team where I'll change my prediction from the preseason. The Jaguars are truly awful and the Titans are set up to soar with Marcus Mariota putting his early slump behind him.

Willie McGinest: Texans. The Texans' defense will lead them -- like last year -- to a division title.

Adam Schein: Texans. Someone has to win the division, right? The defense has been OK without J.J. Watt.

David Carr: Texans. This one is tough, but I have to stick with Houston. The Texans have a good front seven, but the offense still needs to be more consistent.

Charley Casserly: Texans. Consistency on defense will win the division.

Ike Taylor: Titans. With the ups and downs of the Texans, the Titans are quietly inching up the ranks. The Titans will end their playoff drought, which extends back to 2008.

Colleen Wolfe: Titans.Marcus Mariota is improving, DeMarco Murray went all 2014 on us, the offensive line is making great plays -- high five Jack Conklin and Taylor Lewan -- and the pass rush has racked up 22 sacks through eight games. Let's see how exotic Mike Mularkey can get in the second half of the season.

Marcas Grant: Titans. The Titans are coming together at the right time and eventually will overtake the quarterback-poor Texans.

Adam Rank: Titans. Good defense, but a better quarterback than the rival Texans.

Alex Gelhar: Texans. This division is a mess and Brock Osweiler isn't a franchise quarterback, but this defense doesn't lose at home. All the Texans need is one or two road wins to stay on top.

AFC WEST

Judy Battista: Denver Broncos. Their bet on Trevor Siemian and the defense has paid off. The only question is how far they'll go in the playoffs.

Jeffri Chadiha: Broncos. The Broncos' dominant defense makes up for their shortcomings on offense. They're still the team to beat here until somebody else proves otherwise.

Gil Brandt: Broncos. They get to face the Patriots, Raiders and Chiefs in Denver, and the defense gives up fewer than 300 yards per game. That said, figuring out the running game would help ensure the Broncos take the division title again.

Maurice Jones-Drew: Oakland Raiders. The Raiders are 5-0 on the road and steadily climbing up the ranks. This is a playoff team with the way it's are playing right now.

Brian Billick: Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs are just a half-game back and haven't even gotten Jamaal Charles or Justin Houston cranked up yet.

Gregg Rosenthal: Chiefs.Alex Smith and Andy Reid enter Year 4 together. Smith knows this offense down cold and has much-improved weapons around him.

Willie McGinest: Broncos. I'm sticking with the Von Miller-led defending champs. The defense got them to the Super Bowl last year, and I think it will lead them at least back to a division title.

David Carr: Raiders. My brother told me the Raiders are going to win. That's a good enough reason, right?

Charley Casserly: Broncos. Best division in football. Denver's QB play has been just good enough.

Ike Taylor: Raiders. They are playing well and winning close games. They are good enough to be in the playoffs.

Colleen Wolfe: Broncos. If the divisions were my kids, the AFC west would be my favorite. Talented, a little quirky, fun to be around and super humble. Broncos come out on top with a fight to the finish.

Marcas Grant: Raiders. The Raiders' core is too young to realize that it has no business winning a division title. This will be a fun team to watch until the end.

Adam Rank: Raiders. The ability to win on the road gives them a huge advantage.

Alex Gelhar: Raiders. Sticking with my preseason choice here. The defense is playing better, while the offense is among the league's best. I think they edge the Chiefs/Broncos.

AFC WILD CARD 1

Judy Battista: Oakland Raiders. The Raiders! In the playoffs! And it's thanks to high-scoring offense. Al Davis is smiling.

Jeffri Chadiha: Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs are hitting their stride just as their schedule becomes much easier. Don't be surprised if they win their next four games.

Gil Brandt: Raiders. The Raiders have five home games left on their schedule, though they do have to travel to Denver for a Week 17 matchup that might determine who wins the AFC West. Either way, Oakland has the hot QB right now.

Maurice Jones-Drew: Denver Broncos. That defense is a force to be reckoned with.

Brian Billick: Broncos. The Broncos are undefeated in the three games where they've eclipsed 100 yards rushing -- and they will need to continue to produce on the ground without C.J. Anderson. If they can't, it will be a waste of the league's best defense.

Gregg Rosenthal: Cincinnati Bengals. Nothing about the Bengals in the first half of the season screams playoffs, but they still have a deep roster and plenty of offensive talent.

Willie McGinest: Raiders.Derek Carr is playing well, and Jack Del Rio is the right man to get this team to the playoffs.

Adam Schein: Broncos. I question the running back and quarterback, but the defense is simply fantastic.

David Carr: Broncos. This defense is too good not to make the playoffs.

Charley Casserly: Raiders. They can win this division if the defense can just be average.

Ike Taylor: Baltimore Ravens. I'm rolling the dice here. But if they sweep the division, which they could very possibly do, you're almost guaranteed a spot in the playoffs.

Colleen Wolfe: Raiders. I want the Chargers to storm back like the Chiefs of yesteryear, but the Raiders are going to the playoffs for the first time since Cam'ron said, "Hey Ma." Derek Carr was a sixth grader in 2002. It's time the Raiders end this draught.

Marcas Grant: Broncos. TROPE ALERT: Defense wins championships -- and the Broncos will put that to the test as its defense helps it land a playoff spot.

Adam Rank: Broncos. Just as good as last year, but much better at the quarterback position.

Alex Gelhar: Pittsburgh Steelers. They fall just short of the division crown, but land in a perfect spot for a deep playoff run, as always.

AFC WILD CARD 2

Judy Battista: Kansas City Chiefs. A well-balanced team. We haven't even seen much of Jamaal Charles yet. (Hopefully his check-up with Dr. James Andrews goes well.)

Jeffri Chadiha: Oakland Raiders. What makes the Raiders really scary isn't just the rapid maturation of third-year quarterback Derek Carr -- it's their 5-0 record on the road.

Gil Brandt: Chiefs. With five home games remaining on the docket, the Chiefs can control their fate.

Maurice Jones-Drew: Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals have the talent to get back to the playoffs and possibly win a game.

Brian Billick: Raiders. Going with three teams out of one division isn't the safest bet, but Oakland is better than Houston and Buffalo -- simple as that.

Gregg Rosenthal: San Diego Chargers. The best 3-5 team in NFL history. It's not looking great at the moment, but I would not be surprised if the Bolts still make a run to 10 wins.

Willie McGinest: Chiefs. The AFC West will have three teams in the playoffs, more than any other division.

Adam Schein: Chiefs. So well-coached and well-rounded. Staying with a preseason pick.

David Carr: Chargers. I could make a case for the Chargers to have seven wins right now. They aren't that far off. I think they turn Ls into Ws in the second half of 2016.

Charley Casserly: Chiefs. Solid team on offense and defense that knows how to win.

Ike Taylor: Denver Broncos. The defense will get them back in the playoffs, at the very least. Who knows -- maybe the Broncos could surprise us and go deep in the playoffs?

Colleen Wolfe: Bengals. What kind of weird, mixed-up Wild Card Weekend would it be without the Bengals?

Marcas Grant: Chiefs. Is the AFC West the toughest division in the conference? If the Chiefs make it three teams in the party, then there's really no reason to think otherwise.

Adam Rank: Bills. Really a tough call with them and the Chiefs. Seriously, does the AFC North deserve a winner?

Alex Gelhar: Chiefs. This defense is only going to get better while the offense plays safe, efficient football. That's a winning regular-season formula.

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