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AFC SOUTH

If the Colts (5-3) can’t get healthier _ their receiving corps is particularly depleted _ it won’t matter how well Peyton Manning plays. The defense can rush the passer, but there have been coverage issues and the run D is weak.

Tennessee (5-3) has displayed a strong pass rush (26 sacks), has an AFC-high 13 interceptions and RB Chris Johnson has yet to go off. Big question: Randy Moss’ effect?

Houston (4-4) was a fashionable pick for its first playoff berth, but can’t cover anyone and doesn’t get turnovers. Jacksonville has done well to go 4-4.

Projected Winner: Titans.

AFC NORTH

The race between the Steelers and Ravens, both 6-2, could be the best in the league. Both have powerful, opportunistic defenses that will get stingier the next eight weeks. They have strong QBs and running games, great leadership and the mindset that they own the division. Their meeting Dec. 5 in Baltimore might be the spiciest matchup remaining.

Cleveland (3-5) has impressed with wins over New Orleans and New England, but doesn’t have the skill position guys to climb into contention. Cincinnati (2-6) has been weak on the ground and inconsistent through the air, even with T.O.cho. Coach Marvin Lewis probably will be elsewhere in 2010.

Projected Winner: Ravens.

AFC EAST

Both the Patriots and Jets, at 6-2, have holes. Despite Rex Ryan’s claims, New York’s defense isn’t nearly as dominant as last season, and the Jets can’t win without a strong running game and an effective blitz. New England is asking Tom Brady to carry the offense that is in transition, and the defense is up and down.

Miami (4-4) hasn’t won at home yet. QB Chad Henne and RB Ronnie Brown must improve and the Dolphins need to protect the ball better (minus-7 in turnovers).

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