NFC down, AFC to go
The NFL kicked off with the NFC last Thursday as the Washington Redskins took on the New York Jets. Now it is time to turn attention to the AFC with whom to watch and who will go all the way.
The AFC is a much harder conference to decipher than the NFC, but here are my picks: the Miami Dolphins, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Tennessee Titans, the Oakland Raiders, the Buffalo Bills and the Baltimore Ravens.
The Dolphins want to make it to the playoffs after a second half debacle. They signed linebacker Junior Seau and safety Sammy Knight to go with their already talented defense with last year's sack leader Jason Taylor, pro-bowler linebacker Zach Thomas, cornerbacks Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain and safety Brock Marion.
On offense they have the league's 2002 rushing leader, Ricky Williams, receiver Chris Chambers and emerging superstar tight end Randy McMichael.
The Steelers have solidified their quarterback situation with Tommy Maddox, who has an arsenal of weapons in receivers Hines Ward, Plaxico Burress and Antwaan Randle-El. This team needs to defend against the long pass, which they were susceptible to last year. So they drafted safety Troy Polamalu because they have a great set of linebackers and can stuff the run.
The Titans are my pick to make it to the Super Bowl from the AFC. Quarterback Steve McNair and defensive end Jevon Kearse are finally healthy and can lead this team to the promised land after coming up short against the Raiders.
The Oakland Raiders are the most experienced team in the NFL and nothing can stop Jerry Rice. Charlie Garner is extremely productive as a receiver and as a runner. Tight end Doug Jolley and rookie Teyo Johnson have been draft steals. The defense lost two key players in defensive tackle Sam Adams and cornerback Tory James. This can severly hurt their Super Bowl chances.
The Bills are going to be a surprise team as they picked up several new players on defense: defensive tackle Sam Adams and linebackers Jeff Posey and Takeo Spikes. With a renewed defense to go with the solid offense of quarterback Drew Bledsoe, running back Travis Henry and receivers Eric Moulds and Josh Reed, this team is going to shock people.
The Ravens are back with linebacker Ray Lewis healthy, who gets the entire defense motivated. Running back Jamal Lewis will have a breakout season since he's had two years to recover from a serious knee injury. What will stop this team is the quarterback situation. Chris Redman isn't a solid quarterback and if rookie Kyle Boller steps in, he will struggle as any rookie does.
Wild Card Games:
Miami Dolphins (AFC East Champion) vs. Baltimore Ravens (Wild Card)
Pittsburgh Steelers (AFC North Champion) vs. Buffalo Bills (Wild Card)
Tennessee Titans (AFC South Champion) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Oakland Raiders (AFC West Champion) vs. Miami Dolphins
AFC Championship Game: Tennessee Titans vs. Miami Dolphins
AFC Champion: Tennessee Titans
Dark horse: Pittsburgh Steelers
And now the shocking conclusion to my two-part prediction, your Super Bowl XXXVIII matchup:
Tennessee Titans vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Super Bowl Champion: Philadelphia Eagles