Familiar faces should finish atop divisions in competitive AFC

Here is one man's early picks for 2010 AFC division winners:

AFC East

The pick:New York Jets

The case for the Jets: They have what it takes to prove that their appearance in the 2009 AFC Championship Game wasn't a fluke. Their already dominant defense got a little stronger with the addition of cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who should form an exceptional duo with Darrelle Revis. That is, if Revis can work out his contractual differences with the Jets. Mark Sanchez must make strides in his second season at quarterback, as he recovers from knee surgery, but he should be helped by the addition of wide receiver Santonio Holmes. Shonn Greene continues to give the running game muscle, and now LaDainian Tomlinson provides the added dimension of a good pass-catching running back.

The case against the rest of the division: The Jets should hardly expect a nice, smooth ride to the division title. As usual, the New England Patriots will have something to say about who sits at the top. Tom Brady is still one of the best quarterbacks in the game, and is capable of making the Patriots a viable contender. However, he has some potential burdens in an inconsistent running game and a defense that doesn't always look like it can hold up when it needs to. ... The Miami Dolphins have a promising, young quarterback in Chad Henne, who demonstrated last season that he can be a big-play force. And the Dolphins did their part to help get the best out of Henne by acquiring one of the top wide receivers in the NFL, Brandon Marshall. Despite the addition of linebacker Karlos Dansby, their defense just might not allow them to make a serious run. ... The Buffalo Bills have gone through the offseason without naming a starting quarterback, a clear indication that they don't have one from among Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Brohm. Their offensive line still needs work and their defense is undergoing a difficult transition from the 4-3 to the 3-4.

AFC North

The pick:Baltimore Ravens

The case for the Ravens: Quarterback Joe Flacco is a rising, young talent who should make major strides now that the Ravens have added a pair of dynamic wide receivers -- Anquan Boldin and Donte' Stallworth. After getting by with one game-breaking threat, Derrick Mason, the Ravens might very well have one of the deepest receiving corps in the league. They also have one of the NFL's best multipurpose running backs in Ray Rice. Although key components such as linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed are getting older, the defense still can perform at a high level.

The case against the rest of the division: The Cincinnati Bengals might not repeat as division champs, but they should be in the hunt until the very end of the season. Carson Palmer remains effective, provided he is fully healthy. He also needs Chad Ochocinco to act more committed to his role as a No. 1 wide receiver. Questions at running back and linebacker won't help the Bengals' efforts to rebound from their late-season collapse and quick playoff exit. ... Without suspended quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for at least the first four games, the Pittsburgh Steelers could find themselves in an early hole from which they won't be able to escape. Parting ways with another troubled player, receiver Santonio Holmes, also will be hard to overcome for a team with lingering issues on the offensive line and in the secondary. ... Desperate Cleveland Browns owner Randy Lerner has taken the most radical step yet to try and make his team competitive by turning complete control of the franchise over to Mike Holmgren. But the results are at least a couple of seasons away, especially with Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace representing the Browns' best options at quarterback in the near future.

AFC South

The case for the Colts: This one is as obvious as they get. The Colts aren't merely far better than any other team in their division; they're better than most, if not all, of the rest of the teams in the league. As long as the Colts continue to have the game's best quarterback, Peyton Manning, they're going to keep dominating. It also helps that they have tremendous talent and depth at wide receiver in Reggie Wayne, Anthony Gonzalez, Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie, and one of the league's best pass-catching tight ends in Dallas Clark. The Colts also have managed to keep together the majority of their roster from Super Bowl XLIV.

The case against the rest of the division: Sure, the Houston Texans took a major step last year with their first winning season in franchise history. With a prolific quarterback in Matt Schaub and one of the NFL's best receivers in Andre Johnson, they should be competitive. But they still don't have enough talent to overtake the Colts. ... Unless quarterback David Garrard does the unexpected and returns to the impressive form of two seasons ago, the Jacksonville Jaguars are going to keep struggling to score. That just isn't going to cut it against opponents such as the Colts and Texans. ... Where do we start with the Tennessee Titans' problems? They're locked in what looks to be a hopeless contract dispute with their most talented player, running back Chris Johnson. Their quarterback, Vince Young, can't seem to avoid trouble. And their defense has a whole lot of work to do.

AFC West

The case for the Chargers: It's easy to have doubts about their status as a serious Super Bowl contender. They have key restricted free agents on both sides of the ball who aren't happy. One of their most talented pass-catchers, tight end Antonio Gates, is dealing with a foot problem. Yet, the Chargers still seem to have enough talent to again win a division that offers little competition. They certainly have a great deal of it in quarterback Philip Rivers, whose passing arm can make up for plenty of shortcomings elsewhere.

The case against the rest of the division: After the Chargers, there isn't a whole lot to say about the AFC West. The Oakland Raiders made plenty of wise moves in the offseason. The biggest was showing the door to major quarterback bust JaMarcus Russell. They should be solid on both sides of the ball, although it's probably a stretch to see them making the playoffs. ... The Denver Broncos got off to a strong start last season, and then ran out of gas. They made big headlines during the draft by selecting Tim Tebow, but for the immediate future the position is in the shaky hands of Kyle Orton and Brady Quinn. Their offense also is likely to suffer now that Brandon Marshall is in Miami. ... The Kansas City Chiefs' hiring of Charlie Weis as offensive coordinator should help make Matt Cassel a better quarterback, but they have far too many issues to be expected to do anything other than bring up the rear.

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