I actually think the NFC is the stronger Conference of the two and I wouldn't be surprised if they pick up their fourth straight SuperBowl win and their fifth in the last six seasons. There are a number of teams that look capable of going all the way in the NFC, but that just makes it harder to pick a potential winner before the season starts.
Below I will have a brief look at all the teams in the AFC Conference and how I think their prospects are for the new season. Of course things are always likely to change with injuries being a major part of the sport and, depending on who is unfortunate to miss time, that can change the prospects of teams dramatically.
My forecast for how teams do is obviously based on how the teams look at this stage. For example, I think New England are going to win a bunch of games, but that would not be the case if Tom Brady was injured for the season as he was in 2008. So any forecast I have made for teams have to be taken with that pinch of salt in mind.
My preview of the teams in the NFC Conference can be found here.
The Buffalo Bills haven't made the Play Offs since 1999, but they do look a team on the rise and may be in contention for a Wild Card spot with a bit of fortune and better health this season.
My problem is the Quarter Back and the Receivers as I don't particularly rate them highly, but the Offensive Line should be improved and Fitzpatrick may get a little more time to make the right decisions. Stevie Johnson and David Nelson don't exactly get the blood rushing in the receiving areas, but they do seem to have some sort of chemistry with the QB and that can be enough to keep things ticking over.
New York Jets (8-8)
The New York Jets fell apart from inside the dressing room last year and that saw them fail to make the Play Offs after getting to the AFC Championship Game in each of the previous two seasons.
Bringing in Tim Tebow to the mix looks like a move that will either bring these players together or one that will see the Jets fall apart and end the Rex Ryan era in New York.
Mark Sanchez is the current starting Quarter Back and Tebow is expected to run certain packages for the Offense. Sanchez has struggled for consistency in his three seasons in the NFL and it will be interesting to see how long the crowd give him before they start calling for Tebow to start.
The Offense struggled altogether last season and I don't see enough improvements to them this season. The Wide Receiver position looks weak, while Shonn Greene is inconsistent running the ball.
Last year the Defense struggled against the run, but they do look better equipped to deal with that this year, while the Secondary remains one of the better ones in the NFL. There will be hope that Quinton Coples can help generate a more effective pass rush from the Defensive Ends this season and I do expect the Jets to have one of the higher ranked Defenses in the League.
I don't particularly like their schedule, especially in the early weeks of the season, and it may be tough for them to make a return to the Play Offs. Personally I think they may end with the same record as last season and finish 8-8, but it could get worse if they have the same infighting as last season as I don't see them being better than 4-4 at their bye week.
On the other hand, if the Jets surpass expectations, their two games against Buffalo may decide which of these AFC East teams, if either, gets into the Play Offs as a Wild Card team.
Miami Dolphins (6-10)
It hasn't been the best few years to be a Miami Dolphins fan and I don't foresee too much changing in 2012 with plenty more questions than answers about their team.
In the off-season, Miami missed out on picking up Peyton Manning and then decided to deal Brandon Marshall just before the Draft. Ryan Tannehill was the Number 1 Draft Choice, but he looks like being kept out for the year to get up to speed with the NFL.
Miami look like a team that is going to have a hard time on Offense as they just don't have the receiving playmakers needed to be competitive in this tough Division. The Wide Receivers are Brian Hartline and Davone Bess with Anthony Fasano at Tight End, while there are serious questions over whether Matt Moore or David Garrard start behind the Offensive Line, which should be stronger than last year.
There is some hope that Reggie Bush can continue running the ball effectively and he will be joined by Daniel Thomas in the backfield.
The Defense remains the strength of the team and they were very effective against the run last season and I expect they will be the same again this year. However, there is a lack of depth in the Defensive Line and the loss of Jason Taylor will still be an issue. The Dolphins have a solid set of Linebackers, but they will want to get more pressure on the opposition Quarter Back and not just rely on Cameron Wake to get the job done.
Miami's Secondary could have been upgraded with the signing of Richard Marshall who will likely be the starter opposite Vontae Davis with Sean Smith backing them up.
The team have had just one winning record in the past six seasons and I don't think they are ready to have one this season as they are still rebuilding the Offense. The new Head Coach is Joe Philbin, who was the Offensive Co-Ordinator at Green Bay last season, so he should be able to get something out of the team, but they are limited in terms of talent on the Offensive side of the ball as far as I am concerned.
I initially thought Miami could at least get up to 6 wins in the Division, but moves since I first wrote this has changed my expectations completely, while they will be starting the rookie Ryan Tannehill at Quarter Back... There is every chance that the Fins may finish with the worst record in the NFL, but my heart is looking at a 4-12 record with a bit of luck.
It won't be a surprise to anyone that I am projecting the Houston Texans to win the AFC South for a second season in succession as they return some familiar players to the starting line up, although losing a couple of key pieces.
The Quarter Back play is pretty good, but is aided by playmakers like Andre Johnson, Arian Foster (as long as both can stay healthy) and Owen Daniels. The Offensive Line has lost Eric Winston this season and that leaves some question marks on them on that side of the ball, but there is too much talent to prevent them averaging more than the 23.4 points per game they managed last season.
Wade Phillips came in as Defensive Co-Ordinator last season and he worked wonders in helping them to the Number 2 defence in terms of yards per game and Number 4 in terms of points per game allowed.
He changed the formation into a 3-4 defence, although some may be concerned by losing Mario Williams in Free Agency. However, Brook Reeds managed 6 sacks as a rookie in place of an injured Williams last season and he will now be a starter opposite Connor Barwin, who had 11.5 sacks last season, at the outside linebacker positions.
Bradie James has been brought in to replace DeMeco Ryans as an inside linebacker and should fit in to the system having played for Phillips in Dallas and the defence looks capable of being one of the better ones again in the NFL as they continue to have the ability to rush the Quarter Back with their front 7.
The Texans are in a weak Division and look capable of reaching double-digit wins again as they are given a schedule that is similar in strength to the one they faced in 2011. They would have finished with more than 10 wins in 2011 if they hadn't started looking ahead to the Play Offs (losing their last 3 games), but I have them getting back to that total this time and hosting a Wild Card game in the Play Offs.
Tennessee Titans (9-7)
The Tennessee Titans were a surprise team to me last season as I didn't expect them to finish with a winning record, but it could be tough for them to repeat that in 2012 despite being in a Division with Jacksonville and Indianapolis.
I expect Chris Johnson to have a much better season after he just cracked 1000 yards for the season at an average of 4 yards per carry in 2011 a year after going for 1364 yards at 4.3 yards per carry and then being rewarded with a big contract extension.
A lot of the offense will go through Johnson with Matt Hasselbeck likely to keep his starting job despite the Titans making a big effort to bring in Peyton Manning in Free Agency. There is a chance that Jake Locker will take over as the starter at some point in the season, especially if the Titans are struggling.
Kendall Wright (WR) may be a bigger part of the offense in his rookie season than he might have expected with Kenny Britt once again in trouble with the law and likely to miss some time through suspension and he is also coming off a ACL tear that prematurely ended his 2011 season.
The defence was the real strength of this team, although they did struggle to get to the Quarter Back in 2011 and they have brought in Kamerion Wimbley from Oakland with that in mind. Cortland Finnegan CB) has moved on so they have got younger in that position, although they could have a tough time if there is not enough pressure from the front 7.
Tennessee face a really tough schedule on slate in 2012 and I can't see how they get back to a winning record- in fact, they may just struggle to even get back up to 8 wins and I foresee them having a losing record for only the second time in the last seven seasons.
Indianapolis Colts (2-14)
The Indianapolis Colts 'won' the chance to pick Andrew Luck in the NFL Draft and that means it is the end of the Peyton Manning era here as he was allowed to move on. There has been a total in-house clearance in Indianapolis as Jim Irsay got set to move onto this new era in the Colts history.
Chuck Pegano, Baltimore's former Defensive Co-Ordinator, has taken over as the Head Coach and the vast majority of the Coaches are in their first year at the Colts. This means a change in systems and getting new ideas across that will surely lead to a rebuilding year.
Andrew Luck will get Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie and Donny Avery as potential receivers and he also has Coby Fleener at Tight End, his team-mate and safety blanket at Stanford last year. However, the Offensive Line is being rebuilt, while Indianapolis will look to their running backs to keep the pressure off their rookie Quarter Back.
The defence will now have to learn a new system as they move to a 3-4 formation, a situation that can only lead to more struggles following last season when they finished 29th in yards per game allowed and 28th in points per game allowed.
There have been a lot of goings from the roster, but the schedule will provide them an opportunity to maybe double the wins from last season as they get to play Jacksonville (twice), Tennessee (twice), Cleveland, Miami and Minnesota (all at home). That schedule may also see them finish above Jacksonville in the Division if they can get to 4 wins.
Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11)
Shahid Khan took over as the new owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars last season and has promised to keep the franchise here and not move to Los Angeles, although he will be hoping they can attract fans to the stadium to support the team.
That won't be easy considering how bad they looked last season, despite the 5 wins, and the team with the worst offensive yards per game in the NFL are unlikely to have improved much this season. Maurice Jones-Drew is their main, and some would say only, weapon in this offense, but he has been holding out in the off-season as he wants a new contract and that may have set him back... How much will depend when he returns.
The Jaguars did try to increase their production by bringing in Laurent Robinson and Justin Blackmon as receivers for Blaine Gabbert, but the Quarter Back will really need to have upped his game in the off-season after a terrible rookie season when he looked lost at times.
Jacksonville do have a decent defence that can keep them in games and the signing of Aaron Ross (CB) in Free Agency will make their Secondary that little bit tougher. They are tough to run on having held teams to 3.8 yards per carry last season, but the pressure on the Jaguars will be in keeping games as close as they can and that will mean the offense at least finding a way to move the chains with consistency and giving the defence a chance to rest.
The schedule looks a tough one to negotiate and I think they will fall short of the 5 wins they managed last year and, if things fall a little badly, they may have their worst season since joining the NFL (4-12 record).
AFC Play Off Team Prediction: New England, Pittsburgh, Houston, San Diego, Baltimore and Buffalo