New Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio, who got his start in Philadelphia in the mid-1980s, is as old-school as a drive-in movie. He’s turned off the loud music at practice, which many teams say is used to simulate the confusion of a full stadium.
“It won’t be music. It will be noise. That’s what it is in the game,” he explained. “Noise by definition sounds annoying. Music sounds nice. So if we have to deal with noise, let’s deal with noise.”
With that, here is a look at the AFC with teams listed in projected order of finish.
— New England Patriots
Last season: 11-5, coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady won their sixth Super Bowl.
Over/under wins: 11.
Most interesting non-divisional game: Week 13 at Houston. Could be a trap game for the Pats, who host Kansas City the following week. Or, just as likely, Tom Brady could put up 50 on former QB coach Bill O’Brien.
Hoping wide receiver Josh Gordon doesn’t screw up his latest chance to restart his career. He’ll be the Patriots top outside option as long as he stays clean. In the nine years tight end Rob Gronkowski was a Patriot, New England won three Super Bowls and lost another. In the nine years prior to Gronk coming into the league, they won three titles and lost one. With Gronkowski retired, Matt Lacosse will be the tight end until Ben Watson comes back from suspension. Center David Andrews is out for the year because of blood clots in his lungs. New England traded for Buffalo veteran Russell Bodine on Saturday. They also have Ted Karras, a great-nephew of late Hall of Famer Alex Karras. Key number: 8. Years since Tom Brady played at Lincoln Financial Field. He’s 2-0 in Philadelphia, winning in 2003 and 2011, with six TDs and no interceptions. The Pats are here in Week 11 (Nov. 17).
— Buffalo Bills
Last season: 6-10, took a predictable step back after handing the offense to first-round pick Josh Allen.
Over/under wins: 6.5
Most interesting non-divisional game: Week 13 at Dallas. First Thanksgiving game for the Bills in 25 years.
Rookie Devin Singletary figures to be the beneficiary of LeSean McCoy’s release on cutdown day. Singletary ran for 32 touchdowns as a sophomore at Florida Atlantic in 2017. He’s 5-9, 200, and nicknamed “Motor.” Cole Beasley should be a fine security blanket for Allen, the second-years QB. Beasley won’t hurt defenses with yards-after-catch, but he should improve on the 65 receptions he had last year in Dallas.Zay Jones, the team’s leading receiver, probably wouldn’t mind his parents staying off Twitter. Mom intimated the Bills were going to cut Jones. Dad got into a snit about Beasley and the fans. This is why kids insist on getting dropped off by their parents a block away from school. Key number: 8. Number of new starters on the offense, which ranked 30th in both yards and points.
— New York Jets
Last season: 4-12, had one of the worst defenses in franchise history.
Over/under wins: 7.
Most interesting non-divisional game: Week 16 vs. Pittsburgh. The Le’Veon Bowl.
Hired Adam Gase to be the head coach two weeks after the Dolphins fired him. So much for the Rooney Rule. Sam Darnold showed promise as a rookie last year and Gase has a reputation of developing quarterbacks (though maybe not Ryan Tannehill in Miami).The Jets went defense with their first two draft picks, but they did add the best running back on the market. If tackle Andre Dillard continues his impressive play with the Eagles, New York might one day regret not trading down and getting Darnold some five-star protection. Key number: 602. Days it will have been since Le’Veon Bell last carried the ball in an NFL game. He sat out all of 2018 in a contract dispute with Pittsburgh and did not play in this preseason.
— Miami Dolphins
Last season: 7-9, with all of their wins decided by one-possession scores.
Over/under wins: 4.5.
Most interesting non-divisional game: Week 16 vs. Cincinnati. Three days before Christmas, there should be dozens of people showing up to Hard Rock Stadium for this one.
Plucked Brian Flores away from New England to try to end a painful drought of 18 seasons since they last won a playoff game. Flores is the ninth coach, counting interims, since Jay Fiedler beat Peyton Manning in a 2000 wildcard game. Ryan Fitzpatrick will be the opening-day starting quarterback as the Dolphins figure out if former Cardinals first-round pick Josh Rosen is salvageable. Former Colts and Lions head coach Jim Caldwell was brought in to coach the quarterbacks and serve as an assistant to Flores. Expectations are low in Miami, but that Week 13 visit from Eagles fans ought to be a hoot. Hear the locals are gonna keep the windows boarded up even if there aren’t any hurricanes nearby. Key number: 3.0. Sacks in two seasons for DE Charles Harris, Miami’s first-round pick in 2017 (No. 22 overall). The Miami Herald, however, said Harris had an excellent training camp.
— Pittsburgh Steelers
Last season: 9-6-1, but gave away a playoff berth with a late three-game losing streak.
Over/under wins: 9.
Most interesting non-divisional game: Week 1 at New England. The Steelers last opened a season in Foxborough in 2015 when head coach Mike Tomlin suggested a headset malfunction was typical New England hijinks. The Steelers are 1-4 at New England under Tomlin.
Antonio Brown did everything but sit-ups in his driveway to get Pittsburgh to deal him to Oakland. In fact, he’s still chirping at quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Pittsburgh received a third-rounder (WR Diontae Johnson) and a fifth-rounder (TE Zach Gentry) for Brown. Neither will be counted on heavily this season. T.J. Watt’s 20 sacks are the most ever by Pittsburgh player over his first two seasons. Reminder that sacks became an official stat in 1982, after the glory years of the “Steel Curtain” defense. Key number: 168. Targets thrown Antonio Brown’s way last year. Veteran Donte Moncrief and second-year pro James Washington figure to gobble up some of those opportunities. How much more can JuJu Smith-Schuster (166 targets) absorb?
— Baltimore Ravens
Last season: 10-6, lost a playoff game at home to the Chargers.
Over/under wins: 8.5.
Most interesting non-divisional game: Week 7 at Seattle. Earl Thomas returns to CenturyLink Field, and will see former coach Pete Carroll for the first time since gesturing with his middle finger that Pete was No. 1 in his heart.
Lost four starters from last year’s top-ranked defense, but brought in former all-Pro Thomas from Seattle. Secondary should be the strength of the unit. Should be 2-0 heading into a Week 3 trip to Kansas City. Took the Chiefs to overtime in Kansas City last December. David Culley, a former Eagles assistant who worked with Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, was brought to coach the wide receivers and coordinate the passing game. Key number: 163.5. Average yards passing for Lamar Jackson in his eight starts last season.
— Cleveland Browns
Last season: 7-8-1, including 5-3 under Freddie Kitchens after Hue Jackson was let go.
Over/under wins: 9.5.
Most interesting non-divisional game: Week 8 at New England. Browns fans say, “We’re going to the Super Bowl!” New England fans say, “Hold our beers.”
Last year’s finish, plus the acquisition of Odell Beckham Jr., have optimism out of control in Cleveland. Good for their fans, though. The Browns haven’t been to the playoffs since 2002.Even the TV networks are on board. Three of the Browns first five games are in prime-time. Anybody who’s followed Cleveland’s sports misery over the decades is just bracing for the inevitable disaster. They already love Baker Mayfield, but his popularity skyrocketed when he shot-gunned a beer at an Indians game in early August. Soon after, the Tribe erupted for five runs and beat the Angels, 7-2.Key number: 8. Games running back Kareem Hunt is suspended for a domestic violence incident. Hunt led the NFL in rushing in 2017 while he was with Kansas City.
— Cincinnati Bengals
Last season: 6-10, enough to finally end the Marvin Lewis era.
Over/under wins: 6.
Most interesting non-divisional game: Week 8 vs. L.A. Rams (London). Cincy coach Zac Taylor goes against his mentor. Wait, Sean McVay has a coaching tree already? Yep. Has a branch in Green Bay (Matt LaFleur), too.
Star WR A.J. Green had ankle surgery shortly after training camp began and will miss a few games. Green, 31, is not signed beyond 2019.First-round pick Jonah Williams was supposed to be the starting left tackle. Instead, he injured himself in spring drills and will probably miss the season. Zac Taylor was the Rams QB coach last season. This is the first head coaching job for Taylor, who turned 36 in May. Key number: 76. Catches for Tyler Boyd last season as Green missed most of the season with a foot injury.
— Houston Texans
Last season: 11-5, lost at home to the Colts in wild-card game.
Over/under wins: 8.5.
Most interesting non-divisional game: Week 6 at Kansas City. The Texans’ first three road games this season are at New Orleans, at the Los Angeles Chargers, and this visit to Arrowhead Stadium.
Lost the contract standoff withe Jadeveon Clowney and were virtually forced to ship him to Seattle. Clowney has 18.5 sacks over the last two seasons. Houston does not play Seattle this season. Texans’ offensive line gave up 62 sacks and 126 QB hits last season, both league highs. Opened 0-3 last year, but made an unlikely playoff run. Their first three this year are at New Orleans, home with Jacksonville, at L.A. Chargers. Looks like another slow start could be possible. Key number: 40. Number of rushing attempts last year by Duke Johnson, who is expected to carry a heavier burden following the injury to starter Lamar Miller.
— Tennessee Titans
Last season: 9-7, missed the playoffs with a loss in the season finale when Blaine Gabbert had to start at quarterback.
Over/under wins: 8.
Most interesting non-divisional game: Week 8 vs. Tampa Bay. Marcus Mariota vs. Jameis Winston meet for the first time since their NFL debuts in 2015. Winston (21-33 career) was the first overall pick in that draft. Mariota (27-28) was second.
Ryan Tannehill looked much better in camp than Mariota, which is a storyline to follow should there be a slow start. Mariota was sacked a career-high 42 times last season, so the Titans brought in free agent guard Rodger Saffold and retooled the offensive line. The return of 35-year-old tight end Delanie Walker will help. He missed just about all of 2018 with a dislocated ankle. From 2014 to 2017, Walker averaged 113 targets per season. Key number: 5. Rushing touchdowns for Marlon Mack in the last four games, which included a pair of 100-yard outings.
— Indianapolis Colts
Last season: 10-6, made the playoffs for the first time since 2014.
Over/under wins: 7.
Most interesting non-divisional game: Week 15 at New Orleans. So much for Andrew Luck vs. Drew Brees on a Monday night in December.
Andrew Luck’s sudden retirement was the biggest shock of the NFL preseason. Turn to Jacoby Brissett, who started 16 games for the Colts in 2017. If Frank Reich gets 10 wins out of this group, he’ll be up for coach of the year. Temple rookie Rock Ya-Sin made a strong push to be one of the starting corners coming out training camp. His first assignment is a tough one: at Philip Rivers and the Chargers. Another second-round rookie, wide receiver Parris Campbell, also will be a regular contributor. This division is up for grabs. Key number: 16.3. Average number of carries for Marlon Mack, a number that figures to grow as the Colts try to figure out ways to move the ball.
— Jacksonville Jaguars
Last season: 5-11, arguably the most disappointing team in 2018.
Over/under wins: 8.
Most interesting non-divisional game: Week 1 vs. Kansas City. Nick Foles’ first start with the Jaguars will be against Andy Reid, who drafted him for the Eagles in 2012. Seems like a lifetime ago.
Foles is wearing No. 7 for Jacksonville, not the number he had when he was here. “No. 9 stays in Philadelphia,” he told NBCSP’s Derrick Gunn. “That number means a lot to me. It pertains to that city.” Another Temple rookie, Ryquell Armstead, will back up Leonard Fournette at running back. His first meeting with Ya-Sin is Week 11 at Indianapolis. Linebacker Telvin Smith, the Jaguars leading tackler the last two seasons,, cryptically walked away from football in the spring “to get my world in order.” Key number: 439. Rushing yards last season for Fournette, who missed half the season with injury and a suspension after losing his cool and getting in a fight in Buffalo. He had 1,040 yards in 2017 as a rookie. “Anything is better than last year, most definitely,” he said.
— Kansas City Chiefs
Last season: 12-4, lost a thriller to New England in the AFC title game.
Over/under wins: 10.5.
Most interesting non-divisional game: Week 14 at New England. Hate to keep picking Patriots games, but their two meetings last season were terrific. They combined to score 151 points! In two games!
Andy Reid, who turned 61 in March, needs five wins to become the eighth coach with 200 regular season wins. With six wins, he’ll pass Marty Schottenheimer for most career wins without a Super Bowl title — among modern coaches, of course. George Halas, and some of his contemporaries are not included. Tyreek Hill avoided suspension after he was cleared of child-abuse allegations. He will be in the lineup for Week 1 where he can expect to see plenty of Jacksonville star cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Cool. Brought in DE Frank Clark, FS Tyrann Mathieu, and coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to try to fix the defense, which was 31st in yards allowed and 24th in points. Gave up 524 yards and 37 points in the overtime loss to New England in the conference championship. Key number: 23. Opening-day age for Patrick Mahomes, who last season became just the third quarterback to throw 50 touchdown passes. Peyton Manning was 37 when he had 55 in 2013. Tom Brady was 30 when he threw for 50 in 2007.
— Los Angeles Chargers
Last season: 12-4, lost the division on a tiebreaker and won a playoff game at Baltimore.
Over/under wins: 9.5.
Most interesting non-divisional game: Week 8 at Chicago. Both teams went 12-4 last year, and each plays in the two toughest divisions.
The Melvin Gordon holdout dominated camp, but losing strong safety Derwin James to a stress fracture in his foot was just as unfortunate. James, All-Pro as a rookie last year, might be out until December. Will play the Chiefs in Week 11 on a Monday night at the same stadium in Mexico that was unplayable last season when the Rams were supposed to play the Chiefs. Delaware product Nasir Adderley, a second-round pick, struggled with a hamstring injury throughout the summer, but was able to play in the final preseason game where he had one interception and could have had two others. Key number: 199. Number of receptions Keenan Allen has over the last two seasons, the first two of his career he has played all 16 games.
— Oakland Raiders
Last season: 4-12, Jon Gruden made more moves than Cardi B on the Ben Franklin Parkway. Some worked, some did not.
Over/under wins: 6.5.
Most interesting non-divisional game: Week 5 vs. Chicago in London. English tabloids paying paparazzi big bucks for a shot of Jon Gruden and Khalil Mack having fish and chips.
New Jersey sports-betting app PointsBet is offering 16-1 odds on Antonio Brown to lead the league in receiving yards and/or TD receptions. They have him at 20-1 to lead the league in receptions. Brown gets a lot of the attention, but the signing of Tyrell Williams from the Chargers gives the Raiders a viable No. 2 receiver. The Raiders aren’t just leaving for Las Vegas after the season, they’re only playing seven home games in Oakland. That Bears game above is one of their home games. Key number: $750 million. Amount taxpayers are on the hook for the Raiders new stadium in Las Vegas. The Eagles are not on the Raiders schedule next season.
— Denver Broncos
Last season: 6-10, dropped the final four games to end the season with a thud.
Over/under wins: 7.
Most interesting non-divisional game: Week 11 at Minnesota. The Broncos come out of their Week 10 bye with four road games in five weeks.
After 11 years in Baltimore, Joe Flacco was traded for a fourth-round pick. “We feel like he’s in his prime,” general manager John Elway said over the summer. “At least we hope he is.” Denver replaced head coach Vance Joseph with Vic Fangio, the former Bears defensive coordinator whose first professional job was with the USFL’s Philadelphia Stars in 1984.Von Miller (14.5) and Bradley Chubb (12.0) are the only returning teammates who had double-digit sacks last season. Key number: 192. Rushing attempts for Phillip Lindsay. Heads-up fantasy fans. That number will come down if new offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello makes good on his pledge to get Royce Freeman more involved in the run game.
Unless noted, odds are via FanDuel on Aug. 31.
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