- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Since the Redskins are off today, I’ve put together a quick preview of the AFC. (The NFC comes tomorrow, with a pick on the Dolphins-Steelers game).

The conference is pretty wide open. The Patriots, Dolphins, Bengals, Steelers, Colts, Broncos and Chargers could all reach the Super Bowl. The worst teams in the AFC are the Jets, Bills, Browns, Texans, Titans and Raiders.

I’ve predicted the order of finish (by record), will give a quick line of analysis and, to do something different, have given each club a Team Song, one of the 579 I currently have on my mini iPod.

AFC East

1. New England (13-3)

Team song: “Don’t Panic” (Coldplay). Just because the Patriots continue to lose coordinators and don’t have WR Deion Branch and have let go of some other veterans, coach Bill Belichick always stays the course and doesn’t freak out.

Saw them destroy the Redskins during the preseason and they’re my AFC pick to reach the Super Bowl because Tom Brady is this era’s Joe Montana.

2. Miami (12-4)

Team song: “Even Better Than The Real Thing” (U2). Daunte Culpepper was acquired from Minnesota and after recovering from a knee injury, he might be better than his previous version, which was prone to throwing interceptions and fumbling.

The Dolphins finished last season with six consecutive wins and coach Nick Saban, while a hard you-know-what, has his players believing. The Dolphins have a tough opener Thursday night at Pittsburgh but have the parts to reach the postseason.

3. NY Jets (4-12)

Team song: “Oh No, Not You Again” (Rolling Stones). Just when Jets fans thought they had gotten rid of oft-injured Chad Pennington, he and his rebuilt shoulder are back as the starter.

The Jets aren’t very good. Their quarterback situation is a mess because Pennington hasn’t been able to stay healthy, their running back situation is jumbled because Curtis Martin is finished and their defense is being rebuilt.

4. Buffalo (3-13)

Team song: “Fade Away” (Bruce Springsteen). The Bills have done nothing the last 5 years float further and further into the NFL’s abyss.

Marv Levy, age 982, is back with the Bills, this time as general manager. He hired Dick Jauron, who failed as Chicago’s head coach a few years ago. Former first round pick J.P. Losman gets one last shott to be the starting quarterback.

AFC North

1. Pittsburgh (13-3)

Team song: “Everything will be Alright” (The Killers). No matter what happens to Ben Roethlisberger — bad knee last year, motorcycle accident this summer, appendectomy this week — he always bounces back.

The Steelers don’t have Jerome Bettis or Antwaan Randle El but they do have Roethlisberger (who I still think is a little overrated), Willie Parker and a suffocating defense. That’ll be enough to outlast the pesky Bengals.

2. Cincinnati (12-4)

Team song: “Folsom Prison Blues” (Johnny Cash). Nearly a half dozen Bengals players have been arrested since the end of last season.

The Bengals looked sensational during the preseason. This pick is contingent on quarterback Carson Palmer holding up physically. If he’s healthy, they have one of the top offenses in the league.

3. Baltimore (5-11)

Team song: “The September of My Years” (Frank Sinatra). This is probably Brian Billick’s last chance. His Quarterback of the Future, Kyle Boller, flamed out last year and the team brought in Steve McNair in a move of desperation

Jamal Lewis is overrated. Ray Lewis is getting old. The offensive line is leaky. And McNair is one big hit from heading to the sidelines.

4. Cleveland (3-13)

Team song: “In The Waiting Line” (Zero 7). The Browns have gone through five centers … in training camp alone. Hank Fraley is next up after getting traded from Philadelphia, but they should have another player lined up.

The Browns are relying on quarterback Charlie Frye to start 16 games and lead the offense dsown the field. ‘Nuff said.

AFC South

1. Indianapolis (12-4)

Team song: “We Never Change” (Coldplay). Everything around them in the league changes, but they don’t — Peyton Manning is still the quarterback and Marvin Harrison is still his No. 1 receiver.

The Colts let Edgerrin James walk during the offseason and then lost James Mungro for the season because of an injury. If Messrs. Rhodes and Addai can help the running game, the defense is improving and you know the offense will score points.

2. Jacksonville (7-9)

Team song: “Elevation” (U2). The Jaguars were a wild card team last year and think they can take the next step this year. Wrong.

There isn’t a lot to like about the Jags. And with a brutal opening schedule, they might start the season 0-4.

3. Tennessee (4-12)

Team song: “Fly Away” (Sugarland) This will be owner Bud Adams’ message to coach Jeff Fisher after this season. Adams made the call to draft Vince Young ahead of the Fisher-preferred Matt Leinart.

The Titans are out of salary cap hell; now they’re in a spot called young quarterback hell. Young will play eventually this season but it’ll be a few years before he can even think about leading his team to the playoffs.

4. Houston (3-13)

Team song: “So Cruel” (U2) The Texans’ schedule is cruel and brutal. They could have a better team this year, but start the season 0-9 before beating Buffalo.

When will time be up on David Carr? He survived the firing of Dom Capers last year and now has an offensive-minded coach (Gary Kubiak) as his boss. Look for a big year out of former UVa back Wali Lundy.

AFC West

1. Denver (12-4)

Team song: “The Promised Land” (Bruce Springsteen). The Broncos lost the AFC title game at home last year to Pittsburgh. With most of the pieces back and receiver Javon Walker aboard, Denver has its sights set on the Super Bowl.

But as long as Jake Plummer is the quarterback, the Broncos face an uphill battle in every big game.

2. San Diego (12-4)

Team song: “Real Fine Place To Start” (Sara Evans). Phillip Rivers has waited two years to get his chance to start at quarterback for the Chargers. He gets his chance and has Keenan McCardell, LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates at his disposal.

If they keep their linebackers from getting shot by off duty police officers, the Chargers will be in the playoffs after missing out last year.

3. Kansas City (7-9)

Team song: “Miss You” (Rolling Stones) Early in the season, when the Chiefs are starting 0-2 and 1-4, they’ll be missing Al Saunders.

They have a ton of talent on offense, but if Herm Edwards is the answer, I don’t want to know what the question is.

4. Oakland (3-13)

Team song: “Back in Black” (AC DC) Art Shell is back with the Silver & Black this year as head coach. His offensive coordinator left his job as a mayor in Idaho to come call the plays and their big free agent signing was quarterback Aaron Brooks. Yeah, that sounds like a great plan.

Time it will take Randy Moss to call for the benching of Brooks: Three games.

Playoffs

1. New England

2. Pittsburgh

3. Indianapolis

4. Denver

5. Miami

6. San Diego

First round: Indy over San Diego, Miami over Denver

Second round: NE over Miami, Indy over Pittsburgh

AFC title game: NE over Indy

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