Yesterday I broke down the NFC, and now that I am inside the Georgia Dome about 90 minutes from kickoff between the Atlanta Falcons and Miami Dolphins, I'll have to be a little faster with my AFC breakdown.
So without any further delay:
The easy path to take with the AFC East is to anoint the New England Patriots as the kings of the division and perhaps even the conference again with Tom Brady back on the saddle. Not so fast my friends. Let's see just how comfortable and mobile Mr. Brady is on that rebuilt knee before we pencil the Pats in for a trip to Miami, especially with the questions on defense now that they got rid of Richard Seymour; people seem to want to forget that the Miami Dolphins are the reigning AFC East champs and return everybody of significance as well as some key additions through the draft, free agency and trades, notably Jason Taylor, Jake Grove, Gibril Wilson, rookie corners Vontae Davis and Sean Smith and rookie receivers Brian Hartline and Patrick Turner; the Buffalo Bills now get to host the Terrell Owens circus and hope the rebirth of the no-huddle offense will rekindle the glory days of Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and Andre Reed and the New York Jets usher in the Mark Sanchez era and wave good-bye to the short-lived No. 4 era, with a new and entertaining head coach in Rex Ryan ramping up the defense.
Over in the AFC North, the Pittsburgh Steelers survived their first test in defense of their Super Bowl crown by squealing past Tennessee on Thursday night but the loss of safety Troy Polamalu could be hard to overcome; Baltimore may have lost Ryan as defensive coordinator, but Joe Flacco has a solid year under his belt and still has Ray Lewis leading that defense so they are primed to challenge for Pittsburgh for the division title; Cleveland will find out a lot about Brady Quinn today as he goes toe-to-toe with ol' No. 4 and the Vikings, but there are too many issues with that team to count and the Cincinnati Bengals put their dysfunctional family on display for all of America to see on HBO's Hard Knocks, but it appears Chad Ochocinco is happy again and Carson Palmer is hoping to to surprise people with a potent offense.
In the AFC South Peyton Manning is adjusting to yet another head coach in Jim Caldwell but he is 100 percent healthy this time around and still has Reggie Wayne and Anthony Gonzalez as weapons in the passing game and is coming off of an MVP season; the Titans did go 13-3 last year and win the division and Kerry Collins looked very strong Thursday night and defensively they are still strong; this could have been the year Houston passed .500 but Matt Schaub's ankle injury might have derailed their chances and the Jacksonville Jaguars are hoping Maurice Jones-Drew can carry them back to the playoffs.
Finally in the AFC West, San Diego clearly is the team to beat with LaDainian Tomlinson not ready to secede his title as the game's best running back and Philip Rivers coming off an MVP-caliber year; while the Denver Broncos has more drama to deal with this offseason beginning with the hiring of young Josh McDaniels as head coach and then following up with the Jay Cutler dumping and Brandon Marshall. They do have a good rookie running back in Georgia;s Knowshon Moreno but there's not enough other pieces to challenge the Chargers; Kansas City is rebuilding under its new head coach, Todd Haley, but should still be better than the woeful Oakland Raiders, who are a ship without a rudder right now.
And so now we can kick this thing off in earnest. Sit back and enjoy the nachos, wings and beer as the 2009 story lines develop in front of your very eyes.
Until next time, stay thirsty my friends.