We tale a quick peek into our crystal ball and find out what the next 12 months has in store for certain AFC teams.
1. Andrew Luck will be the Colts opening day starter at quarterback.
With Peyton Manning’s age (36) and roster bonus of $28 million due on the first day of the league calendar year, the Colts really need to rebuild instead of taking one more shot at a championship with a quarterback who has undergone three neck surgeries in the past two years. Andrew Luck is available and he’s ready to play from Day 1.
2. Colt McCoy will not be the Browns full-time starting quarterback next season.
The results have been calculated and Colt McCoy simply isn’t good enough to win as a starting quarterback. His poor arm strength makes him unable to make all the required throws and the Browns are wasting a solid defense with a quarterback with a very low ceiling. It’s unclear whether Cleveland trades up to get Robert Griffin, III or signs a free agent like Matt Flynn, but the Browns will move in a different direction and probably keep McCoy as a backup, a role that he’s well suited for.
3. Tim Tebow will start all 16 games for the Denver Broncos.
When looking at Tebow’s overall body of work, it’s impossible to feel confident that he’s going to be the guy to take the Broncos to a championship. That said, he won just enough games to keep John Elway from drafting his replacement and they will see through the experiment for one more year at least.
4. The San Diego Chargers will win the AFC West.
Many believe that San Diego is the most talented team in their division. That’s debatable, but what isn’t is that the Chargers have the best quarterback in the West in Philip Rivers. There has been three new division champs in the last three years and A.J. Smith and Norv Turner will find a way to win and keep their jobs again.
5. The Cincinnati Bengals will lose 10 or more games.
Every year there is a young team that takes a giant step forward usually due to a favorable schedule and some good breaks. The next year that team almost always misses the playoffs as the schedule stiffens and higher expectations are placed upon them. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has marginal talent but he flat-lined after a great start. With Cincinnati possibly losing defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer to a head coaching gig, the Bengals will plummet in 2012.
6. Rex Ryan will coach his final season for the Jets in 2012.
Rex Ryan’s antics are great for the media and fans, but the Jets locker room is a complete mess and Mark Sanchez is regressing significantly. Unless Peyton Manning can swoop in and save the day (why would he want to go there?), Ryan will likely proclaim another mythical Super Bowl title and the team will probably finish under .500.
7. Joe Flacco will play his final season for the Ravens in 2012.
There’s a reason why Joe Flacco doesn’t get a ton of credit despite routinely winning games. It’s because he doesn’t play well in big games. The Ravens quarterback has made very slight incremental progress throughout his career, but he’s little more than a game manager. With the Ravens defense aging, it’s likely that Flacco will be asked to do more and he will be exposed.
8. Jason Campbell will lead the Miami Dolphins to the playoffs in 2012.
The Raiders moved on from Campbell for better or worse with Carson Palmer and the Dolphins need an upgrade from Matt Moore. Miami has a solid defense and offensive line, and with slightly better play at quarterback they are a playoff team.
9. The Jacksonville Jaguars will be one of the league’s biggest spenders in free agency.
Winning the free agency spending bonanza rarely results in on-field success but the small market Jaguars have money and holes on the roster. Look for Jacksonville to purchase some help at wide receiver, defensive end and the secondary. The Jaguars have a reputation for being “cheap” but they routinely spend in free agency and usually spend well. They have to upgrade several spots on offense to find out if quarterback Blaine Gabbert can play.
10. The Houston Texans will represent the AFC in Super Bowl XLVII.
If Matt Schaub didn’t go down with a foot injury with six games left in the 2011 season, the Texans may have made it to Indianapolis for this year’s big game. Houston will return all of their key components and they have a talented, young roster. Playing behind perhaps the best offensive line in the game, the Texans will keep Schaub upright with no more quarterback sneaks and they will have an extended playoff run next year.
Charlie Bernstein is the NFL Insider for ESPNFlorida.com and ESPN 1080 and 1040 in Orlando/Tampa and Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie covers the Jacksonville Jaguars for FoxSports and has been featured on the NFL Network and Sirius NFL Radio. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Charlie on Twitter @nflcharlie