Photo: Nick Laham/Getty Images
The 2012 NFL season is set to kick off in less than three weeks.All the offseason hoopla — Peyton Manning to Denver, Tim Tebow to the Jets, Andrew Luck to the Colts — has settled down with training camps coming to a close and the preseason in full swing.
As a preview for the upcoming year we’ve set out to present the best and worst case scenarios for each NFL team.
First up, the AFC.
Note: These aren’t meant as straight up predictions. They are realistic best- and worst-case scenarios for each team. What do we mean by realistic? Yes, the best case scenario for Andrew Luck and the Colts is winning the Super Bowl but that’s not realistic. And no, the Patriots aren’t missing the playoffs.
Best case: New England rides its juggernaut passing game to another Super Bowl, this time winning it all.
Worst case: Glaring holes on defence and in the running game catch up to them. The Pats still make the playoffs, but are knocked out in the divisional round.
Best case: Buffalo's strong start to the 2011 season proves to have been a sign of good things to come. The defence rallies around new addition Mario Williams and the offence/Ryan Fitzpatrick continue to get better. Buffalo squeaks in for the AFC's final playoff spot.
Worst case: Fitzpatrick isn't very good. Mario Williams can't stay healthy. Things fall apart early and the Bills get back to being the Bills. No postseason.
Best case: Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow stay healthy and work beautifully in Tony Sporano's run-heavy offence. The defence reverts to its 2009 version and the Jets nab an AFC wild card spot.
Worst case: The QB nontroversy controversy hangs over the team all season long. Tebow's 'unique' skills never materialise. Rex Ryan starts freaking out at the media as the team goes deeper and deeper into an abyss. Jets miss the playoffs for a second-straight season.
Best case: Ryan Tannehill proves to be the right gamble and the defence keeps this team in games more often than not, leading to eight wins and plenty of optimism for 2013.
Worst case: None of the QBs on the roster play well enough to keep the starting job. Reggie Bush either gets injured or simply doesn't play well as the feature back. The defence regresses. Miami 'battles' for the number one pick in next year's draft.
Best case: Joe Flacco shakes off the overrated label. Ray Rice is still Ray Rice and the defence continues to be top-notch. Baltimore finally gets over the hump wins the Super Bowl.
Worst case: Pittsburgh beats them head-to-head in both regular season games and takes hold of the division. Ravens manage to get a wild card spot but once again fall short of that elusive SB trip.
Best case: Running game improves. Solid pass offence and incredible defence continue to lead this team. Steelers get a first round playoff bye on their way to another Super Bowl win.
Worst case: The loss of Rashard Mendenhall hurts Pittsburgh big time as his replacements don't produce enough to balance out the offence. Steelers make the playoffs, but lose in the first round.
Best case: Last year's playoff appearance proves to be no fluke as Cincy once again battles Pittsburgh and Baltimore for the division lead early in the season before landing one of the AFC's wild card spots.
Worst case: Andy Dalton regresses. The Bengals' average offence becomes below average. They become part of that large NFL bunch stuck in 6-10 land.
Best case: First round picks Trent Richardson (pictured) and Brandon Weeden produce immediately, matching up with their tenth ranked total defence from 2011. Browns surprise people a bit, but ultimately go 7-9 and miss playoffs.
Worst case: Weeden struggles mightily. The defence from a year ago doesn't live up to expectations. Browns end up with another 4-12-ish season.
Best case: No more disappointments. Arian Foster explodes for an MVP season. Matt Schaub comes back at full strength. Texans head to their first Super Bowl in franchise history.
Worst case: Injuries hurt this team once again, but due to a terrible division they head back to the playoffs. Lose in first round.
Best case: Chris Johnson comes back to form, taking tons of pressure off a better-than-expected second year QB in Jake Locker. Kendall Wright becomes a solid NFL receiver in his rookie season. Titans go 4-0 against lowly division foes Jacksonville and Indianapolis and make the playoffs as a wild card.
Worst case: Chris Johnson continues his downward trend, not even breaking 1,000 rushing yards this time. Tennessee's tough opening schedule -- Patriots, Chargers, Lions, Texans, and Steelers all in the first six weeks -- ruins all hopes of a playoff run.
Best case: Blaine Gabbert begins to figure things out and with help from that sixth-ranked total defence from 2011 (who knew?) the Jags get back to some semblance of respectability and win seven games.
Worst case: Justin Blackmon doesn't turn into the kind of wideout the Jags expected him to be. Both Chad Henne and Gabbert's awful play force them to go back and forth as the starting QB. The defence reverts back to its 2010 version (28th overall). Jacksonville fights with Indy for last place in the AFC South.
Best case: Andrew Luck shows flashes of brilliance, making Colts fans slowly forget about Peyton Manning and begin to get excited about their future prospects. The team improves to 5-11.
Worst case: Luck struggles early and often, while the rest of the team looks even worse than anyone anticipated after the massive departures from 2011. Colts get the first pick in the draft for the second-straight year.
Best case: Peyton Manning comes back like the Peyton Manning of old. The whole team rallies around him as fans in Denver go bonkers and the they get all the way to the AFC title game.
Worst case: Peyton isn't able to perform at his usual high level. The average defence doesn't improve enough and the loss of Tebow seriously hampers the run game. Broncos miss the playoffs.
Best case: Matt Cassel and Jamaal Charles come back at nearly full-strength. The pass defence continues to be one of the absolute best in the league. KC wins the AFC west and sneaks into the AFC title game.
Worst case: The Chiefs' injury issues continue into 2012 and they are no better than last season: a middle of the road seven or eight win team.
Best case: Carson Palmer starts playing a bit more like his former self and Darren McFadden enters the upper echelon of NFL running backs. Raiders upset the Broncos for the division title.
Worst case: Palmer and the defence continue to stink. McFadden doesn't return to full health. Oakland ends up in last place in the AFC West.
Best case: Ryan Matthews becomes the amazing running back every fantasy football owner is salivating over. Philip Rivers is still a 4,000-yard passer. defence plays well enough to keep them in games en route to a division title.
Worst case: Chargers downward trend continues (13 wins in 2009, 9 in 2010, 8 in 2011). The lack of significant additions to the defence hurts this team the most as they only win six games and finish in last place.
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