Number 9: Chicago Bears
With weapons at just about every skilled position, the Chicago Bears can have one of the most explosive offenses in the league. The defense will feature a few new starters which might be a problem early on; however, expect to find the Bears in the mix of things come December.
Number 10: Cincinnati Bengals
Let’s see if Andy Dalton was worth the money he was given. There is enough talent on the offensive side of the ball that should allow Dalton to continue to do what he does best – throw for a lot of yards and touchdowns. However, Dalton needs to cut down the mistakes and become a more consistent signal caller for the Bengals to have any real success in the AFC.
Number 11: San Diego Chargers
On paper, the Chargers have a very favorable schedule throughout the first seven weeks of the season. This gives them a great opportunity to get off to a hot start. A healthy Ryan Matthews, mixed with newly signed running back Donald Brown, gives San Diego a formidable rushing attack.
Number 12: Baltimore Ravens
With a much improved defense and weapons throughout the offense, the Baltimore Ravens could return to 2012 form this season. If Ray Rice can return to the Ray Rice of old, this team will be good. I think we realized that Flacco is not elite, but he is good enough to win (which is all that matters). They’ll see how good they as opposed to the rest of the North. They open up the first three weeks playing each divisional opponent.
Number 13: Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers are coming off a year in which they just missed out on the playoffs. Much like the Chargers, they have a pretty favorable schedule to start the season. Let’s see how “Big Ben” does with an improved running game and one of the best-young wide receivers in the league.
Number 14: Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals are close. They’re not close enough to contend for a Super Bowl, but they have enough talent to stay in contention for a wild card spot. However, in order for Arizona to do so, Carson Palmer needs to shrug off what was a rocky preseason.
Number 15: Carolina Panthers
The Panthers don’t have the hardest schedule, but they don’t have the easiest one. Luckily for them, their defense will be able to keep them close in just about every game. Cam Newton just needs to find a way to work with the lack of offensive weapons and a new offensive line.
Number 16: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Trying to prove that last season was not a fluke, Josh McCown has picked up exactly where he left off. The offense has weapons throughout and Lovie Smith will push the defense to their limits.