September 9, 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 6  

Front Page >> Sports > Patriot games in AFC battle


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Patriot games in AFC battle

By Mark Polishuk
Gazette Staff

These teams are so evenly matched (three teams were 9-7 last year) anyone could win. Expect the New England Patriots to come out on top, as newly acquired safety Rodney Harrison should thrive under defensive-minded coach Bill Belichick.

Miami should take second. They're probably the best team on paper, but they always seem to fade during the latter weeks of the season. Still, the likes of Ricky Williams and Zach Thomas make the Dolphins a definite playoff threat.

The Buffalo Bills should improve on their 8-8 record last year, but it hinges on whether Josh Reed can replace Peerless Price as Drew Bledsoe's top receiver.

The New York Jets won the East last year, but that was before they lost four free agents to Washington. Quarterback Chad Pennington is injured and to quote Wyclef Jean, will be gone `til November. That should be long enough to scuttle any playoff hopes for the Jets.

Quarterback Jake Plummer is going from the pitiful Cardinals to John Elway's backyard in Denver. If Plummer can keep it together, the Broncos have enough to take the division.

The Oakland Raiders made the Super Bowl last year thanks to great years from grizzled vets like Jerry Rice and Rich Gannon, but one has to wonder if that was their last hurrah. Oakland's window of opportunity is just about closed.

The Kansas City Chiefs scored more points than any other team last year, but a horrible defense kept them out of the playoffs. The D isn't much improved, so the pressure is on the O to match or even better their 2002 performance.

San Diego is probably a year away from contention, but there's enough talent for the Chargers to cause some upsets.

Pittsburgh was the favourite in the AFC before a few days ago, but then star linebacker Joey Porter was shot in the thigh. Porter should be back by November, but the Steelers will be hurt without one of their team leaders.

With Porter out, Cleveland could sneak into the Central title, but the Browns have their own problems on defense. The Browns seem to have every game come down to the last play, so they'll need some luck on their side to get back to the playoffs.

The Baltimore Ravens were much better than expected last year and are solid at every position except quarterback. If QB-of-the-moment Chris Redman can play well, Baltimore is a playoff team.

Thanks to new coach Marvin Lewis, the Cincinnati Bengals will make the big jump from awful to merely mediocre.

Tennessee is relying on the fragile bodies of quarterback Steve McNair and running back Eddie George. If they have enough left in the tank, the Titans might be in for a Super Bowl run.

Indianapolis, on the other hand, is always exciting, but that's because their games are always 34-33. If the defense can be just average, the Colts have the guns to make the playoffs.

The Jacksonville Jaguars are in a rebuilding phase, but might yet raise a few eyebrows. They may get a boost since their dictatorial coach Tom Coughlin is now unemployed.

The Houston Texans got four wins in their first year, exceeding expectations. No playoffs yet, but the next step is to finish at least 5-11.

WILD CARDS: Cleveland, Miami



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