RAMS EXTRAS

AFC at a glance

2013-09-07T00:00:00Z 2013-09-19T21:05:48Z AFC at a glanceBy Joe Lyons jlyons@post-dispatch.com 636-493-9675 stltoday.com
September 07, 2013 12:00 am  • 

(Teams listed in projected order of finish)

AFC EAST

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Last year’s record •12-4

Coach • Bill Belichick, 19th season as a head coach in the NFL and 14th with New England.

Breakout youngster • Shane Vereen. A third-year pro, Vereen missed much of his rookie year with hamstring problems and had just 251 rushing yards a year ago. But the versatile back should be much more a factor this year.

Notable newcomers • Free agent WR Danny Amendola,

RB LeGarrette Blount (trade),

S Adrian Wilson, DT Tommy Kelly; rookie LB Jamie Collins, WR Aaron Dobson.

Top weapons • QB Tom Brady, RB Stevan Ridley, TE Rob Gronkowski, G Logan Mankins, DT Vince Wilfork, DE Chandler Jones, LB Jerod Mayo, CB Aqib Talib, S Devin McCourty.

Outlook • Following a crazy offseason that included the free agent loss of wideout Wes Welker and bizarre developments in the the murder case involving ex-TE Aaron Hernandez, the Patriots are probably just happy to deal with football. Brady must adjust to a new cast of receivers that includes ex-Ram Danny Amendola, but New England is the clear-cut favorite to capture its 11th division title in 13 years.

MIAMI DOLPHINS

Last year’s record • 7-9

Coach • Joe Philbin, second season in the NFL and at Miami.

Breakout youngster • Lamar Miller. A fourth-round pick from the University of Miami in 2011, Miller averaged 4.9 yards a carry as a rookie and looks ready to take over with Reggie Bush making the move to Detroit.

Notable newcomers • Free agent WR Mike Wallace, LB Dannell Ellerbe, LB Phillip Wheeler, WR Brandon Gibson, CB Brent Grimes, T Tyson Clabo; rookie DE Dion Jordan, CB Jamar Taylor.

Top weapons • QB Ryan Tannehill, WR Brian Hartline, DE Cameron Wake, CB Richard Marshall.

Outlook • The Dolphins, who ranked 27th in total offense a year ago, attempted to change that by adding high-priced speedster Wallace at receiver and Dustin Keller at tight end. Unfortunately, Keller is done for the season with a knee injury. The Dolphins also made some key changes on defense and feel like they’re ready to challenge for a playoff spot.

NEW YORK JETS

Last year’s record • 6-10

Coach • Rex Ryan, fifth season in the NFL and at New York.

Breakout youngster • Sheldon Richardson. The Jets lack playmakers, and the DT from Gateway Tech and Mizzou seems to fill the bill. His quickness and athletic ability set him apart in college, but now he’s up against the bigger, stronger and smarter linemen of the NFL.

Notable newcomers • Free agent RB Mike Goodson, G Willie Colon, RB Chris Ivory (trade); rookie DT Sheldon Richardson, CB Dee Milliner, QB Geno Smith.

Top weapons • WR-PR Jeremy Kerley, WR Stephen Hill, WR Santonio Holmes, QB Mark Sanchez, CB Antonio Cromartie, DE Quinton Coples.

Outlook • Coming off 8-8 and 6-10 seasons, the Jets have gone through a major overhaul on both sides of the ball. But will it make any difference? The quarterback situation is a mess, with Sanchez nursing a sore shoulder and rookie Geno Smith struggling to adjust to the NFL. There’s just not a lot to like about this team.

BUFFALO BILLS

Last year’s record • 6-10

Coach • Doug Marrone, first season in the NFL.

Breakout youngster • E.J. Manuel. Buffalo’s QB of the future — and perhaps the present — showed well early in the preseason before suffering a minor knee injury. It’s just a matter of time before the Florida State product, taken with the 16th overall pick in April, gets a chance to show what he can do.

Notable newcomers • Free agent QB Kevin Kolb, DT Alan Branch, LB Manny Lawson; rookie QB E.J. Manuel, WR Robert Woods, LB Kiko Alonso.

Top weapons • RB C.J. Spiller, WR Stevie Johnson, T Cordy Glenn, DT Kyle Williams, NT Marcell Dareus, LB Mario Williams, S Jairus Byrd (Clayton), DB Stephon Gilmore.

Outlook • The only NFL team that hasn’t made the playoffs this century, the Bills, under the direction of new coach Marrone, preached competitiveness throughout camp. Buffalo has some talent (Spiller, Johnson, Williams, Gilmore, Byrd) but needs a quarterback. The sooner Manuel gets a shot, the better.

* * *

AFC NORTH

CINCINNATI BENGALS

Last year’s record • 10-6

Coach • Marvin Lewis, 11th season in the NFL and at Cincinnati.

Breakout youngster • Giovani Bernard. At 5-9 and 202 pounds, he will be a versatile change-of-pace back. At North Carolina, Bernard led the ACC last year in rushing, scoring, all-purpose yards, touchdowns and punt-return average.

Notable newcomers • Free agent LB James Harrison; rookie TE Tyler Eifert, RB Giovani Bernard, DE Margus Hunt.

Top weapons • QB Andy Dalton, RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, WR A.J. Green, TE Jermaine Gresham, T Andrew Whitworth, G Kevin Zeitler, DT Geno Atkins, DE Michael Johnson, LB Rey Maualuga, LB Vontaze Burfict, CB Leon Hall.

Outlook • The Bengals, who look to make three consecutive playoff appearances for the first time in franchise history, seem to be ready to join the league’s elite, with quality players all over the field. Harrison is a winner with an attitude. The offense, which revolves around the Dalton-to-Green connection, has a few more weapons now.

BALTIMORE RAVENS

Last year’s record • 10-6

Coach • John Harbaugh, sixth season in the NFL and at Baltimore.

Breakout youngster • Matt Elam. A rookie safety from the University of Florida, Elam isn’t real big (5-10, 206), but he has speed (4.54 in the 40) and a hard-hitting style that should mesh well with this club.

Notable newcomers • Free agent LB Elvis Dumervil, DE Chris Canty, S Michael Huff; rookie S Matt Elam, LB Arthur Brown, DT Brandon Williams (Summit).

Top weapons • QB Joe Flacco, RB Ray Rice, WR Torrey Smith, WR Jacoby Jones, G Marshall Yanda, NG Haloti Ngata, LB Terrell Suggs, CB Ladarius Webb.

Outlook • The defending Super Bowl champion Ravens are the only team in the NFL to reach the playoffs in each of the last five seasons. Some of the team’s stars — Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Anquan Boldin — have moved on, but GM Ozzie Newsome has filled the holes quickly. If the defending champs are going down, they’ll go down fighting.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Last year’s record • 8-8

Coach • Mike Tomlin, seventh season in the NFL and at Pittsburgh.

Breakout youngster • Jarvis Jones. Drafted 17th overall in April, Jones is being touted as the Steelers’ next great linebacker. At Georgia last year, he had 14½ sacks and forced seven fumbles.

Notable newcomers • Free agent CB William Gay, RB Felix Jones (trade); rookie LB Jarvis Jones, RB Le’Veon Bell, DB Shamarko Thomas.

Top weapons • QB Ben Roethlisberger, WR Antonio Brown, WR Emmanuel Sanders, TE Heath Miller, C Maurkice Pouncey, DE Ziggy Hood (Missouri), LB LaMarr Woodley, S Troy Polamalu, S Ryan Clark.

Outlook • With a young offensive line that struggles at times in pass protection, the Steelers were leaning toward a run-heavy plan. Then Le’Veon Bell, their projected workhorse back, went down with a foot injury that could cost him a month or so. Look for a healthy Big Ben to again take charge as Pittsburgh attempts to forget last year’s mediocrity.

CLEVELAND BROWNS

Last year’s record • 5-11

Coach • Rob Chudzinski, first season in the NFL.

Breakout youngster • Trent Richardson. Playing through a painful rib injury that limited his ability to fight through tackles, the Browns’ top draft choice in 2011 still managed to rush for 950 yards and score 11 times.

Notable newcomers • Free agent LB Paul Kruger, DT Desmond Bryant; rookie DE Barkevious Mingo, CB Leon McFadden.

Top weapons • T Joe Thomas, TE Jordan Cameron, WR Josh Gordon, WR Greg Little, C Alex Mack, CB Joe Haden.

Outlook • Adding Norv Turner and Ray Horton as coordinators should help, but second-year QB Brandon Weeden will turn 30 during the season and his supporting cast, with the exception of Richardson, isn’t overwhelming. Look for the Browns to try to slug it out and win some close games.

* * *

AFC SOUTH

HOUSTON TEXANS

Last year’s record • 12-4

Coach • Gary Kubiak, eighth season in the NFL and at Houston.

Breakout youngster • DeAndre Hopkins. With future Hall of Famer Andre Johnson drawing most of the defensive attention, Hopkins will have an opportunity to make an immediate impact at receiver. The Clemson product scored 18 touchdowns a year ago.

Notable newcomers • Free agent S Ed Reed, P Shane Lechler; rookie WR DeAndre Hopkins, S D.J. Swearinger.

Top weapons • QB Matt Schaub, WR Andre Johnson, RB Arian Foster, TE Owen Daniels, T Duane Brown, G Wade Smith, C Chris Myers, DE J.J. Watt, LB Brian Cushing, CB Johnathan Joseph.

Outlook • The Texans are one of those teams that always seems to fall short of expectations. To remedy that, Houston signed nine-time Pro Bowler Ed Reed but now must get him healthy. The return of pass-rushing LB Cushing should also bolster the Texans’ chances of taking that next big step in 2013.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

Last year’s record • 11-5

Coach • Chuck Pagano, second season in the NFL and at Indianapolis.

Breakout youngster • Anthony Castonzo. The Colts’ No. 1 pick in 2011, the 6-foot, 315-pound left tackle out of Boston College has become a force as both a pass-protector and run-blocker.

Notable newcomers • Free agent RB Ahmad Bradshaw, WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, T Gosder Cherilus, G Donald Thomas, DT Ricky Jean Francois, LB Erik Walden, S LaRon Landry; rookie DE Bjoern Werner, G Hugh Thornton (Illinois).

Top weapons • QB Andrew Luck, WR Reggie Wayne, WR T.Y. Hilton, TE Coby Fleener, LB Robert Mathis.

Outlook • The NFL’s feel-good story of 2013 now must come up with an encore. Led by rookie QB Luck and inspired by first-year coach Chuck Pagano’s battle with leukemia, the Colts went from 2-14 to 11-5 and made the playoffs. This year, in addition to improving a defense that ranked 26th in the league, Indianapolis must also contend with heightened expectations.

TENNESSEE TITANS

Last year’s record • 6-10

Coach • Mike Munchak, third season in the NFL and at Tennessee.

Breakout youngster • Chance Warmack. With RB Chris Johnson expected to again carry the load, the Titans focused on upgrading the O-line in the offseason and Warmack, an Alabama product who went No. 10 overall in the draft, has a chance to be special.

Notable newcomers • Free agent G Andy Levitre, RB Shonn Greene, TE Delanie Walker, S Bernard Pollard; rookie G Chance Warmack, WR Justin Hunter, LB Zaviar Gooden (Missouri).

Top weapons • RB Chris Johnson, QB Jake Locker, WR Kenny Britt, DE Derrick Morgan, LB Akeem Ayers.

Outlook • The Titans have bolstered their offensive line, which will allow both RB Chris Johnson and QB Jake Locker more opportunities to make plays. The defense, which allowed a league-worst 29.4 points a game, will have Gregg Williams on board as a senior assistant. Williams was hired as Rams’ defensive coordinator last year but sat out while serving a suspension for his role in the Saints’ bounty scandal.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

Last year’s record • 2-14

Coach • Gus Bradley, first season in the NFL.

Breakout youngster • Luke Joeckel. The No. 2 overall pick in April, the 6-6, 306-pound right tackle from Texas A&M was brought in to help shore up an offensive line that has allowed the league’s second-most sacks over the last two seasons.

Notable newcomers • Free agent LB Geno Hayes, CB Alan Ball; rookie T Luke Joeckel, S Johnathan Cyprien.

Top weapons • QB Blaine Gabbert (Parkway West, Missouri), RB Maurice Jones-Drew, WR Cecil Shorts, WR Justin Blackmon, TE Marcedes Lewis, T Eugene Monroe, DE Tyson Alualu, DE Jason Babin, LB Paul Posluszny.

Outlook • Time is running short for Gabbert, the No. 10 overall pick in 2011, to establish himself as the Jags’ answer at QB. A healthy Drew — he was limited to just 86 carries in six games last year with a foot injury — could do wonders for the Jags, who will be without WR Justin Blackmon for the first four games because of a suspension for abusing the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.

* * *

AFC WEST

DENVER BRONCOS

Last year’s record • 13-3

Coach • John Fox, 12th season in the NFL, third at Denver.

Breakout youngster • Montee Ball. The Timberland High and University of Wisconsin back may be just what Peyton Manning needs to get over the hump in the AFC. Ball set an NCAA record with 83 career TDs for the Badgers.

Notable newcomers • Free agent WR Wes Welker, G Louis Vasquez, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie; rookie DT Sylvester Williams, RB Montee Ball.

Top weapons • QB Peyton Manning, WR Demaryius Thomas, WR Eric Decker, T Ryan Clady, LB Von Miller, DB Champ Bailey, PR-KR Trindon Holliday.

Outlook • Still reeling a bit from last year’s double-overtime loss to eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore in the playoffs, Denver is hungry to make another championship push with Manning at the helm. The offense, with Welker and Ball added to the mix, may have to carry the load early, thanks to the losses of DE Elvis Dumervil (free agent to Baltimore) and LB Miller (suspension).

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

Last year’s record • 2-14

Coach: Andy Reid, 15th season in the NFL, first at Kansas City.

Breakout youngster • Dontari Poe. The team’s No. 1 pick in 2012, Poe is just starting to live up to expectations. The 6-3, 346-pound defensive tackle from Memphis was nearly unstoppable during the preseason.

Notable newcomers • Free agent TE Anthony Fasano, WR Donnie Avery, CB Dunta Robinson, QB Chase Daniel (Missouri), QB Alex Smith (trade), WR A.J. Jenkins (Illinois, trade); rookie RT Eric Fisher, TE Travis Kelce, RB Knile Davis.

Top weapons • RB Jamaal Charles, WR Dwayne Bowe, LT Branden Albert, LB Tamba Hali, LB Justin Houston, LB Derrick Johnson, S Eric Berry, CB Brandon Flowers.

Outlook • Despite the 2-14 record and the overhaul of the front office, Reid inherits a team with more talent than one might imagine. The defense features a trio of Pro Bowl linebackers and there’s no questioning the talent of Charles and Bowe. Smith, acquired in a trade from the 49ers, is extremely comfortable in Reid’s version of the West Coast attack.

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS

Last year’s record • 7-9

Coach • Mike McCoy, first season in the NFL.

Breakout youngster • Ryan Matthews. It’s make-or-break time for the former Fresno State star. Since the Chargers traded up to grab him 12th overall in 2010, Matthews has played in just 38 games because of a high ankle sprain in 2010, a groin strain in 2011 and two broken collarbones a year ago.

Notable newcomers • Free agent LB Dwight Freeney, CB Derek Cox, RB Danny Woodhead; rookie T D.J. Fluker, LB Manti Te’o, WR Keenan Allen.

Top weapons • QB Philip Rivers, RB Ryan Matthews, WR Malcolm Floyd, TE Antonio Gates, DE Corey Liuget (Illinois), S Eric Weddle.

Outlook • The Chargers were in need of a change after going 24-24 while missing the playoffs in three consecutive seasons. McCoy spent the last three seasons in Denver and brought in ex-Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt to run the offense. Rivers is still a quality passer, but he needs time to throw.

OAKLAND RAIDERS

Last year’s record • 4-12

Coach • Dennis Allen, second season in the NFL and at Oakland.

Breakout youngster • D.J. Hayden. Hayden, who suffered a life-threatening heart injury in a fluke collision with a teammate at the University of Houston, was taken 12th overall in April. The Raiders, who desperately need talent, simply couldn’t pass on the speedy and skillful cornerback.

Notable newcomers • Free agent CB Charles Woodson, QB Matt Flynn (trade), LB Nick Roach, LB Kevin Burnett; rookie CB D.J. Hayden.

Top weapons • RB Darren McFadden, QB Matt Flynn, K Sebastian Janikowski, S Tyvon Branch.

Outlook • Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie is in the second year of what looks to be a lengthy rebuilding effort. The choice at QB is Matt Flynn or Terrelle Pryor — enough said. Bringing back Woodson, who enjoyed great success in his earlier Raiders days, could be a positive influence.

Joe is a St. Louis Post-Dispatch sportswriter.

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