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Ranking the four elite AFC teams by position

The Baltimore Sun

OFFENSE

QUARTERBACK 1. Tom Brady, New England 2. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis 3. Steve McNair, Ravens 4. Philip Rivers, San Diego

Ask any Ravens defensive player and he'll say Brady is the best in the league. When Manning wins two more rings, then there will be an argument. RUNNING BACK 1. LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego 2. Joseph Addai, Indianapolis 3. Laurence Maroney, New England 4. Willis McGahee, Ravens

Tomlinson scored 31 touchdowns last season, 10 more than Addai, Maroney and McGahee combined.

FULLBACK 1. Lorenzo Neal, San Diego 2. Justin Green, Ravens 3. Heath Evans, New England 4. Luke Lawton, Indianapolis

Neal has made a career blocking for 1,000-yard rushers. The rest of these fullbacks are not in his class.

NO. 1 RECEIVER 1. Marvin Harrison, Indianapolis 2. Mark Clayton, Ravens 3. Randy Moss, New England 4. Vincent Jackson, San Diego

When is Harrison going to show his age? Clayton is a more consistent threat than the mercurial Moss.

NO. 2 RECEIVER 1. Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis 2. Donte' Stallworth, New England 3. Derrick Mason, Ravens 4. Malcolm Floyd, San Diego

Wayne could be the go-to receiver on most teams. Mason will have more catches, but Stallworth will have more touchdowns.

TIGHT END 1. Antonio Gates, San Diego 2. Todd Heap, Ravens 3. Ben Watson, New England 4. Dallas Clark, Indianapolis

Gates is the No. 1 receiver for the Chargers and a freak of nature. Heap, though, isn't a distant second.

LEFT TACKLE 1. Jonathan Ogden, Ravens 2. Marcus McNeill, San Diego 3. Matt Light, New England 4. Tony Ugoh, Indianapolis

Ogden is the best of this group when healthy, but McNeill is quickly emerging. Ugoh, who is now starting after the unexpected retirement of Tarik Glenn, is a concern. LEFT GUARD 1. Kris Dielman, San Diego 2. Logan Mankins, New England 3. Jason Brown, Ravens 4. Ryan Lilja, Indianapolis

Dielman probably should have been named to the Pro Bowl last season. Mankins is intelligent and quick.

CENTER 1. Jeff Saturday, Indianapolis 2. Nick Hardwick, San Diego 3. Dan Koppen, New England 4. Mike Flynn, Ravens

Saturday is smart, savvy and experienced. Hardwick, a former wrestler, is athletic and tough.

RIGHT GUARD 1. Stephen Neal, New England 2. Mike Goff, San Diego 3. Chris Chester, Ravens 4. Jake Scott, Indianapolis

Neal isn't big but he is explosive coming off the ball. Goff is big and dependable.

RIGHT TACKLE 1. Ryan Diem, Indianapolis 2. Shane Olivea, San Diego 3. Adam Terry, Ravens 4. Nick Kaczur, New England

Diem has a wide wingspan, which can wall off a side in the running game. Olivea has strong hands and upper-body strength.

SPECIAL TEAMS

KICKER 1. Adam Vinatieri, Indianapolis 2. Matt Stover, Ravens 3. Nate Kaeding, San Diego 4. Stephen Gostkowski, New England

There isn't a more clutch kicker than Vinatieri. Stover is the second-most accurate kicker in NFL history.

PUNTER 1. Hunter Smith, Indianapolis 2. Sam Koch, Ravens 3. Mike Scifres, San Diego 4. Chris Hanson, New England

Smith has a 43.5-yard average and has placed 152 punts inside the 20-yard line over his eight-year career. Koch was tied for second last season for punts inside the 10.

RETURNER 1. B.J. Sams, Ravens 2. Darren Sproles, San Diego 3. Wes Welker, New England 4. T.J. Rushing, Indianapolis

Sams ranked in the top 10 in punt and kickoff returns. Sproles, who broke his leg last season, can break big returns.

DEFENSE LEFT DEFENSIVE TACKLE/END 1. Trevor Pryce, Ravens 2. Luis Castillo, San Diego 3. Ty Warren, New England 4. Robert Mathis, Indianapolis

Pryce re-established himself with 13 sacks and became an unexpected presence against the run. Castillo can control gaps with his bulk and toughness. NOSE TACKLE 1. Jamal Williams, San Diego 2. Kelly Gregg, Ravens 3. Vince Wilfork, New England 4. Raheem Brock, Indianapolis

Williams is a massive cog who can shut down the interior of the line. Gregg is one of the most underrated players in the league. RIGHT DEFENSIVE TACKLE 1. Haloti Ngata, Ravens 2. Igor Olshansky, San Diego 3. Richard Seymour, New England 4. Ed Johnson, Indianapolis

Ngata could become a dominant force. Seymour is perhaps the NFL's best lineman, but he'll miss at least six weeks recovering from knee surgery. LEFT OUTSIDE LINEBACKER 1. Rosevelt Colvin, New England 2. Shaun Phillips, San Diego 3. Jarret Johnson, Ravens 4. Rob Morris, Indianapolis

Colvin is a quality edge rusher who has a good motor. Phillips is a converted end who is at his best when chasing the quarterback. LEFT INSIDE LINEBACKER 1. Ray Lewis, Ravens 2. Tedy Bruschi, New England 3. Gary Brackett, Indianapolis 4. Stephen Cooper, San Diego

Lewis is still the heart of the Ravens' defense and an all-but-certain Hall of Famer. Bruschi suffered a stroke in 2005, but he is a rare talent when healthy. RIGHT INSIDE LINEBACKER 1. Bart Scott, Ravens 2. Mike Vrabel, New England 3. Matt Wilhelm, San Diego 4. Freddy Keiaho, Indianapolis

Scott is one of the hardest hitters in the NFL. Vrabel, who moved to the inside last season, has outstanding instincts. RIGHT OUTSIDE LINEBACKER/RUSH END 1. Dwight Freeney, Indianapolis 2. Shawne Merriman, San Diego 3. Terrell Suggs, Ravens 4. Adalius Thomas, New England

This is the toughest position to call. Any one of them could be the Defensive Player of the Year this season. LEFT CORNERBACK 1. Chris McAlister, Ravens 2. Asante Samuel, New England 3. Quentin Jammer, San Diego 4. Kelvin Hayden, Indianapolis

McAlister is one of the most complete corners in the NFL. Samuel is the second best but a tad overrated. RIGHT CORNERBACK 1. Samari Rolle, Ravens 2. Ellis Hobbs, New England 3. Drayton Florence, San Diego 4. Marlin Jackson, Indianapolis

Rolle is clearly the best of this group because of his coverage skills. Hobbs could have a breakout season. FREE SAFETY 1. Ed Reed, Ravens 2. Eugene Wilson, New England 3. Marlon McCree, San Diego 4. Antoine Bethea, Indianapolis

No one can ball-hawk like Reed, who is clearly the class at this position. STRONG SAFETY 1. Rodney Harrison, New England 2. Bob Sanders, Indianapolis 3. Dawan Landry, Ravens 4. Clinton Hart, San Diego

Harrison, who has been suspended for four games, is an enforcer over the middle. And Sanders might be the most important player on the Colts' defense.

COACHING

1. Bill Belichick, New England 2. Tony Dungy, Indianapolis 3. Brian Billick, Ravens 4. Norv Turner, San Diego

Belichick has won more Super Bowl rings as a head coach than the rest of these coaches combined. Dungy has been to the playoffs nine times in 11 seasons, and Billick has guided the Ravens to the postseason four times in eight seasons.

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