As father and son the two of us are accustomed to arguing, and seldom as heatedly as we make our annual preseason picks for NFL supremacy. Last week we deconstructed the NFC, this week the newer conference.
One of us roots for the Cincinnati Bengals, the other for the Giants and Jets, but this year we're both New Orleans fans. However, in the AFC divisional listings below, ordered from first to last, sentiment is checked at the door.
New England Patriots: A few key losses here, a few signings there - it doesn't matter. Go with the Pats. Lost in the constant praise given to Brady for his "intangibles" is the fact that he throws the best deep ball in the league. Look for Corey Dillon to have another solid year. They may struggle to hold off the Jets in the division race but nobody comes into Foxboro and wins once the snow starts coming down.
New York Jets: They ended their season with a bad taste in their mouths but they became a playoff-caliber defensive team ... and behind a line that now can stop the run, Ty Law's presence will make an impact. A new offensive coordinator will see to it that the tight ends catch three passes a game and prodigal son Laveranues Coles will go over the middle, which the scrawny Santana Moss would not do. Chad Pennington seems restored to health. Curtis Martin? Just wind him up and write in 1,400 yards.
Buffalo Bills: This team is certainly on the rise, and a lucky injury scenario within the division might be enough to give the forlorn Bills a wild-card spot. Without Travis Henry (and the headache over how to split time at running back), Willis McGahee will need to carry more of a load. Lee Evans will have a breakout year, and Takeo Spikes will continue to develop as an elite linebacker. But can quarterback J.P. Losman rein in the wild and reckless style he displayed at Tulane?
Miami Dolphins: This team isn't going anywhere until Ricky Williams comes back from his Rastaman Suspension and then gets traded. The Dolphin defenders will play stoutly as always, and watch as the horrible offense comes up with new and unexpected ways to lose. It is hard to argue that it's wiser to have a protracted QB battle between a has-been and a never-was than to sign Vinny Testaverde and let him run the show. Too late now. Potential star receiver Chris Chambers is gnashing his teeth.
Cincinnati Bengals: Chad Johnson put it best when he said he should be called "7-11" because he's always open. And he's happy because Carson Palmer is the real deal - no more wounded-duck passes like Jon Kitna's in years past. This offensive unit, with receivers TJ Houshmanzadeh and Kelley Washington, is going to blow a lot of teams out. The defense, while still prone to lapses, will do enough for Marvin Lewis to get this team into the playoffs for the first time since the days of Ickey Woods.
Baltimore Ravens: On paper, they're stacked. In Madden, they'll be really tough to score on. In real life, Kyle Boller's painstakingly slow development will continue to be a drag on the Ravens. Jamal Lewis, a healthy Todd Heap, and that sick defense will get these guys into the playoffs, but Boller will make sure they don't stay there long.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger's luck will run cold this year, and the banged-up Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis will run less effectively. This team had a lot of fortunate breaks in close games last year. They were like the NFL's Washington Nationals. Although Plaxico Burress didn't get a lot of balls thrown his way, his departure will enable teams to focus more on Hines Ward and Antwaan Randle El. Like the Chargers, this team performed over its head last year, and payback will be hell.
Cleveland Browns: Charlie Frye should be the QB. Trent Dilfer's a nice guy and all, but this team is going nowhere, so building chemistry between Braylon Edwards and the guy who will be there in the future makes more sense. Reuben Droughns will have an Olandis Gary-in-Detroit type of year, reinforcing the idea that running backs all rush for 1,000 yards if they play in Denver. Kellen Winslow ... doh. Wherefore art thou, Romeo Crennel? In the crapper.
Indianapolis Colts: Same old. No matter how gaudy the offense, this defensive unit isn't going to make it to the Super Bowl. Corey Simon isn't going to be enough to put this team over the top, and chemistry issues may arise with Edgerrin James before it's all said and done.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Byron Leftwich will likely put together another solid year. If this team can pry Ricky Williams from the Dolphins in the narrow window between the end of his suspension and the trading deadline, the Jags could be way steadier than they will be when Fred Taylor suffers his yearly serious injury.
Houston Texans: This team mirrors Jacksonville, in that they're on the rise. Andre Johnson is going to be a stat stuffer for years to come. But QB David Carr needs a more dynamic secondary receiver than Jabar Gaffney. At best an 8-8 team.
Tennessee Titans: If only Kevin Dyson been able to Go-Go Gadget that pigskin another yard ... wake up, Jeff Fisher. This is 2005. Since Super Bowl XXXIV Steve McNair has been steadily rubbed into the ground. Pacman Jones's on- and off-field issues weren't what this team was looking to add in the draft.
Kansas City Chiefs: The defensive improvements here - Patrick Surtain, Kendrell Bell - will be enough to propel them back into the playoffs. The backfield combination of Larry Johnson and Priest Holmes is going to put up bigger numbers than some of your friends' fantasy backs.
Denver Broncos: This will be the year Jake Plummer pulls it all together. Rod Smith will have another solid campaign, and the other receivers are good enough that Jerry Rice couldn't play. This team could contend for the top spot.
Oakland Raiders: While the additions of Randy Moss and Lamont Jordan will make this team interesting to watch at times, Kerry Collins won't get it done. The defense is lackluster, and Norv Turner will be playing kindergarten kop as much as head coach. Much as we love the Al Davis and Sid Gillman vertical approach to the passing game, "Frankenteam" won't work.
San Diego Chargers: Drew Brees is talented, but Eric Parker and the aged Keenan McCardell aren't exactly top-notch receivers. Antonio Gates is a distraction, but the real killer is the schedule, not the cakewalk of last year. Visits to New England, Philadelphia, and Indianapolis will break this team's back, no matter how great LaDainian Tomlinson is.
WILD CARD: BENGALS over JETS, RAVENS over CHIEFS
DIVISIONAL: BENGALS over COLTS, PATRIOTS over RAVENS
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP: PATRIOTS over BENGALS
WILD CARD: COWBOYS over EAGLES, SAINTS over VIKINGS
DIVISIONAL: SEAHAWKS over COWBOYS, PANTHERS over SAINTS
NFC CHAMPIONSIP: SEAHAWKS over PANTHERS
SUPERBOWL: SEAHAWKS over PATRIOTS ++