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Post-lockout snapshot: Sizing up the AFC

07.25.11 at 12:18 pm ET

With the work stoppage coming to a close, here’€™s a quick look at how each AFC team is positioned in the post-lockout era, using current roster, salary cap positioning and continuity of front office and coaching staffs as criteria.

Patriots: With the NFL’€™s longest active relationship between a coach (Bill Belichick) and starting quarterback (Tom Brady) ‘€” as well as no major free agent losses looming ‘€” there should be few concerns about continuity here. Not great cap space, but there are some good targets for them out there at a relatively reasonable price.

Ravens: Even though their defensive stars are starting to get a little long in the tooth, the coach, assistants, quarterback and the rest of their core players are likely to return from a 12-4 season. What, you’€™re going to bet against a team that has Ed Reed and Ray Lewis?

Steelers: Questions remain about how divisive the comments from James Harrison could ultimately be to that locker room, but historically, Pittsburgh has always been one of the steadiest franchises in the league, and there’€™s no reason to think that wouldn’€™t be the case going forward. Bad cap situation ($10 million over, according to ESPN), so the Steelers might not be all that active in free agency.

Colts: Questions about Peyton Manning abound ‘€” the injured neck, the contract ‘€” but as long as they get the quarterback locked down, they appear to be in excellent shape.

Jets: New York has a lot of questions when it comes to free agency (Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes, Antonio Cromartie) and have cap concerns. As long as nothing too crazy happens, the rest of the core is still intact, which means the Jets should again challenge in the AFC.

Chargers: As long as Philip Rivers is healthy and under center, no reason to think the Chargers won’€™t at least challenge in the AFC West. They do have some room to maneuver under the cap ‘€” do they keep disgruntled wide receiver Vince Jackson?

Dolphins: After the way his owner treated him over the offseason, you have to imagine that coach Tony Sparano is on the hot seat. They are roughly $15 million under the cap ‘€” do they make a deal for Donovan McNabb or Vince Young?

Chiefs: Tough team to figure out ‘€” did the Chiefs overachieve last season with 10 wins and a playoff berth? Or was that an aberration, fueled by an underachieving group of Chargers? Matt Cassel needs to take that next step if they are going to be a perennial playoff contender. They do have good room under the cap.

Jaguars: Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio is on the hot seat, which could affect the playing time of rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert, especially if he struggles. The Jags have room to operate under the cap ‘€” and like the other Florida teams, no income tax ‘€” which could make them players in free agency. But in the end, as is usually the case with the Jags, this feels like 8-8.

Texans: Houston has to address a hideous secondary, and despite not having much room under the cap, they figure to be in the mix for all-world cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha.

Broncos: It’€™s tough when you have a new coaching staff. The Broncos have a new coach in John Fox, and will likely cut loose Kyle Orton and cast their lot with Tim Tebow, who got more time as the 2010 season went on. They are getting Elvis Dumervil back from injury and will add Von Miller, so the potential exists for improvement.

Browns: A frisky young team that was really hurt by the fact that a new coach (Pat Shurmur) was unable to work with a young quarterback (Colt McCoy) during the lockout. The Browns are more than $30 million under the cap.

Buffalo: God bless the Bills ‘€” they passed on Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder and Andy Dalton to cast their lot with one of the more underrated quarterbacks in the league in Ryan Fitzpatrick. Just not sure there’€™s much else around him. If they can convince free agents to play in Buffalo, they do have roughly $35 million in cap space.

Raiders: Not a lot of room to work under the cap, but they are coming off an 8-8 season when they showed real improvement on offense. New coach Hue Jackson hasn’€™t had a chance to connect with his team yet, namely quarterback Jason Campbell, which will likely set things back.

Titans: New coach in Mike Munchak and new quarterback (Kerry Collins is retired, Vince Young likely to be dealt) in Jake Locker will mean a rocky start for Tennessee. If Young were traded, that would open up some good room to go after some offensive help for running back Chris Johnson … who also wants a new deal. Sigh.

Cincinnati: New quarterback in Andy Dalton, but no reason to think that these won’€™t be the same old Bengals.



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