It may take until we are near the end of pre-season, before we can get a solid feel for how the whole AFC is shaping up. Are the Bengals for real, or is it just pre-season shine before reality sets in? Will the Broncos be without Von Miller for a few games or won't they? Are the Steelers really as old and fragile as they are looking?
But getting a feel for the AFC East is a bit easier. We have the Rex Ryan led Jets, the rebuilding (for the last decade or two) Bills, and the offseason spending champion Dolphins.
1 - New England Patriots - 12-4
There is one real tough run of games (IE - Falcons/Bengals/Saints three solid playoff teams in a row) and the top two AFC contenders (Broncos, Ravens) on the schedule. I'm sure the talking heads will inform us what an easy schedule the Pats have, like they did last year, when the Patriots faced the 49ers, Seahawks, Ravens, and Broncos... that was 'easy'.
2 - Buffalo Bills - 9-7
I don't know much about Doug Marrone or what he will run up there in the frigid lakes region, but he has weapons like CJ Spiller and Marquise Goodwin to work with as well as a solid enough Defense. Their fortunes will be tied to rookie EJ Manuel and how well he performs... I'm not going to say he can't come in and lead them to an even better record than 9-7... but I'm not sure what Wilson, Luck and RG III did last year as rookies is the new "norm"... and that's the type of rookie season Manuel would have to have for the Bills to do much better than .500.
Still, usually a team that is at least somewhat talented, improves when a new coaching staff comes in after the team has spent years being downtrodden, human nature and 'new hope' and all that stuff. The fact that no one in the NFL has a clue what Doug Marrone will run up there, or what EJ Manuel's tendencies are, should actually help them... a quarter of the season will be over before teams in the NFL have enough film to really dissect them.
3 - Miami Dolphins - 8-8
The Dolphins tried to go out and buy themselves a great team, they over-paid for some hyped up players that won't live up to their billing. Wallace won't have the scrambling-till-someone-gets-open Big Ben throwing the ball to him, Ellerbe will be a full time starter rather than the #1 sub for Ray Lewis, and all the player turn-over will create less cohesion and unity on a team that wasn't over-flowing with it before.
Since Joe Philbin took over the team last year, he has replaced his starting Corners, Interior Linebackers, top Tackle, top Back, and a couple other guys as well. And he is grooming a 2nd year QB who is only a few years removed from being a WR in college as his starter.
Just because they spent a ton of money, I wouldn't expect the results to be much different in 2013.
4 - New York Jets - 5-11
Right where they belong, eternally and forever, the doormat team of the NFL. May they never be better than they were last season. May the 'Butt Fumble' become an annual tradition when they play the Patriots no matter who their QB is. And may the coaching of Rex Ryan be looked upon favorably in future years when compared to who they get to replace him.
Rex Ryan quote: "It was brutal" he said about his rookie QB's practice "Geno's worst day." this about the QB they are grooming to replace Mark Sanchez.
Bill Belichick quote: "We'll see how it all plays out" he said about Tebow, adding "Tebow, as well as every player on the roster, has improved since training camp began."
I know its only one small sample, but how many times has Ryan thrown Mark Sanchez under the bus, long before he started playing as poorly as Rex seemed to treat him? How many times has Rex lauded his Defense and complained about his Offense?
Ryan is already on track to tear down another young QB's psyche, Geno has about as much chance of coming through the season unscathed as Sanchez or Tebow did last year.