Healthy Chiefs dangerous

Dan Pompei

Chicago Tribune

The playoff field in the AFC is going to include a lot of familiar teams from last year — with one notable exception.

The Chiefs could go from worst to first in the AFC West. They were a team that was demolished by injuries last year, and they still won three of their last five games. With some better health this season, the Chiefs could be the NFL's surprise team. The returns of Matt Cassel, Jamaal Charles, Tony Moeaki and Eric Berry should bolster this team, and new coach Romeo Crennel should push the right buttons.

My other projected playoff teams from the AFC are the Patriots, Ravens and Texans as division winners, and the Steelers and Broncos as wild cards. They can't have a postseason without Peyton Manning, can they?

dpompei@tribune.com

Ravens' year to roll

Athan Atsales

Los Angeles Times

It is tempting to go with the Patriots to make it back to the big game, considering they won the AFC with a horrible defense last season and Bill Belichik has been working tirelessly to improve that side of the ball. However, the Patriots have bigger problems on the offensive line.

If Tom Brady doesn't have time to pick defenses apart, New England certainly doesn't have the ground game to offset that weakness. And with the Steelers also having difficulties with the offensive line and ground game, this could be the year Joe Flacco finally leads the Ravens to a Super Bowl berth.

They have a stout defense and a strong running game behind versatile Ray Rice, a must in the cold-weather postseason.

aatsales@tribune.com

Texans' opponents toast

Steve Svekis

Sun Sentinel

The Texans, loaded on offense and rejuvenated on defense, are best-equipped to emerge from the AFC and head to New Orleans for Super Bowl XLVII. With elite performers at quarterback (Matt Schaub), running back (Arian Foster) and wide receiver (Andre Johnson), the Texans are going to have their division clinched by Dec. 1.

New England? Buffalo easily could knock the Patriots off their AFC East perch. Baltimore from the North? The Ravens also have major weapons on offense and should top Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, but their defense is getting creaky. And Denver, with Peyton Manning taking snaps, will battle the Chargers and Chiefs to be a flawed and non-threatening AFC West champ.

ssvekis@tribune.com

Houston is loaded

Aaron Wilson

Baltimore Sun

The late Tex Schramm loved the Cowboys' nickname, but now "America's Team" isn't even the best squad in Texas.

That title belongs to the Houston Texans, my trendy AFC pick to advance to the Super Bowl after getting booted from the divisional round by the Ravens last season.

Despite having to go with rookie QB T.J. Yates, the Texans won the AFC South. The Texans were 7-3 before starter Matt Schaub's foot surgery.

With Schaub back, a punishing running game led by Arian Foster, star wide receiver Andre Johnson and a stout front seven headlined by J.J. Watt and Brian Cushing, the Texans have been built to go the distance by GM Rick Smith.

awilson@tribune.com