Sports

This N That with Tony Mack AFC Preditions 2003

BRISTOL, CONN—Yesterday, we took a look at the contenders and pretenders in the NFC. Today, it's the AFC's turn. It's safe to say that all 4 divisions will be as competitive and as unpredictable as last season. BRISTOL, CONN—Yesterday, we took a look at the contenders and pretenders in the NFC. Today, it's the AFC's turn. It's safe to say that all 4 divisions will be as competitive and as unpredictable as last season. But we're not afraid to stick our necks and we're willing to give it our best shot. Let's go……

EAST
1. Bills
2. Patriots
3. Dolphins
4. Jets

Wednesday's acquisition of S Lawyer Milloy by Buffalo may be the final straw that puts the Bills past the Patriots for a division crown. Buffalo already added DE Sam Adams and Takeo Spikes during the off-season. Add all that to an explosive offense that features QB Drew Bledsoe, RB Travis Henry, and WR Eric Moulds and a Super Bowl isn't out of the question for the Bills. New England will get back into the playoffs, but there are still questions concerning the running game. Ex-Bears NT Ted Washington and LB Roosevelt Colvin will help improve on last year's subpar defense, but it will still be a struggle for the Pats. If the Dolphins can find a way to win an important game after November, then they may sneak in the playoffs. Despite the weapons, Dave Wannstedt may shown the door in Miami. Too many off-season defections already made Herm Edwards' job tough. the loss of QB Chad Pennington just adds to Gang Green's misery.

NORTH
1. Steelers
2. Ravens
3. Bengals
4. Browns

A full season for QB Tommy Maddox should mean that the Steelers won't get off to a slow start like they did in 2002. However, the loss of LB Joey Porter for the early part of the season will give division foes a chance to try and exploit the defense. QB Kyle Boller's impressive preseason gives him the keys to the Ravens' offense, but will it be enough to put Baltimore back in the postseason. Despite his offensive reputation, Brian Billick will be leaning heavily on his defense once again. New coach Marvin Lewis has instilled some much needed pride to the Bengals. It may not translate into many wins this season, but for the first time in years there's an air of optimism in Cincinnati. The Browns let too many good defensive players walk (LBs Earl Holmes and Dwayne Rudd) and it will cost them a return to the playoffs. Despite a very underrated receiving corps (Morgan, Johnson, Northcutt, and Davis), Cleveland will be entertaining but home for the postseason.

SOUTH
1. Titans
2. Colts
3. Texans
4. Jaguars

Tennessee still appears to be the class of this division. But some salary cap moves (releasing DE Randall Godfrey and QB Neil O'Donnell) may leave the Titans a bit vulnerable. Steve McNair played with the heart of champion in 2002, but if he or RB Eddie George goes down, Tennessee's depth will come under question. Until the Colts figure a way to defeat the Titans, Tony Dungy's bunch will always be looking up to Tennessee. TD did help turn Indy's defense around, but it's going to take more for the Horseshoes to turn the corner. Even though he's put up some decent numbers, it's clearly put up or shut up time for Peyton Manning. Houston and Jacksonville are both teams that are a work in progress. I picked the Texans to finish higher only because their future appears to be a bit brighter. They're probably two years away from being a contender. One thing to look out for in Jacksonville: QB Byron Leftwich will be the starter by mid-season (if not sooner) and he coul! d be the NFL's Rookie of the Year.

WEST
1. Chargers
2. Chiefs
3. Raiders
4. Broncos

This was the hardest division for me to pick. I give San Diego the nod only because I like their offensive weapons. The biggest things they have to overcome are an inexperienced defense and the ability to avoid another late-season collapse. The Chiefs are similar to the Charg

September 1, 2003
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