Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The current lull in the NFL calendar makes this is a good time to look back at the offseason activities of each team and figure out the hurdles that stand in front of them as Week 1 of the NFL season grows ever closer.
First, The Sports Network took a look at the NFC and you can read that here: http://tinyurl.com/kgectcb
Now, it's time for the AFC:
Buffalo Bills: The passing of legendary owner Ralph Wilson put the Bills' long- term future in western New York in play and that will remain the biggest story surrounding the franchise. That said, when you talk about Buffalo on the field, continuity is desperately needed. With Mike Pettine moving on to be the head coach in Cleveland, the Bills brought in their fourth defensive coordinator in as many seasons, Jim Schwartz. The former Lions head man will be shifting the team from an attacking 3-4 to a wide-nine 4-3 front, a questionable tactic because Buffalo actually led the AFC in both sacks (57) and interceptions (23) under Pettine. Offensively, it's all about growing with second-year quarterback E.J. Manuel, who will certainly enjoy his new toy, wide receiver Sammy Watkins, the fourth overall pick in May's draft.
Miami Dolphins: New Miami offensive coordinator Bill Lazor will attempt to bring up-tempo football to South Beach after spending last year as Chip Kelly's quarterbacks coach in Philadelphia. Most observers think third-year Dolphins signal caller Ryan Tannehill has the talent to be an upper-echelon starter, but consistency and accuracy issues have been a problem to this point. Tannehill will not only be working with an new OC, he also will be toiling behind a new-look offensive line featuring veteran left tackle Branden Albert and rookie right tackle Ja'Wuan James. Meanwhile, the one constant up front in Miami, star center Mike Pouncey, underwent hip surgery earlier this week and will be on the shelf for three months.
New England Patriots: The Pats remain a significant contender in the AFC and did their best to better match up with Peyton Manning and Denver by bringing in star cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, although Browner will be suspended for the first four games for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy.
New York Jets: So far there has been no true open competition at the quarterback position for the Jets. Second-year man Geno Smith took the vast majority of the first-team snaps in offseason work over veteran pickup Michael Vick even though most independent observers believe Vick, who turned 34 on Thursday, is a far better option for New York, at least in the short-term.
Baltimore Ravens: So much of the offseason in the Charm City has been tied up in Ray Rice and his ugly domestic abuse issues with his now-wife Janay stemming from their violent confrontation on an elevator at an Atlantic City casino. Rice met with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell earlier this month and is surely facing a multi-game suspension. From a purely football standpoint, the loss of Rice for an extended period of time might not be the worst thing in the world for the Ravens. The former All-Pro is clearly on the downside of a brilliant career and averaged a dismal 3.1 yards per rush last season. Of course, his prospective replacement, third-year man Bernard Pierce, was even worse, managing just 2.9 yards per rush.
Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals have made the playoffs in three consecutive years for the first time in franchise history. The architect of that run, quarterback Andy Dalton, has not performed well in the postseason, however, and Cincinnati has yet to win in January behind him, leaving more than a few to question whether Dalton can get the franchise to the next level. It doesn't get any easier in 2014 because the Bengals lost both of their highly-regarded coordinators to head coaching positions (defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer in Minnesota and offensive coordinator Jay Gruden in Washington).
Cleveland Browns: If you don't want the circus in town, you probably shouldn't pitch the big top. The Browns invited additional scrutiny when they decided to get into the "Johnny Football" business. Quarterbacks -- good, bad or indifferent -- are the face of any franchise on the field and it's impossible to hide a nondescript one, never mind one with the star power of a Johnny Manziel, yet that's exactly what Cleveland has tried to do at times, shutting out the national media from rookie camp before closing down the availability of their quarterbacks at mini-camp. During the offseason, Manziel was spotted partying for four straight weekends far away from Cleveland and while he has done nothing wrong, it's unrealistic to ignore the fact that the position he plays demands a strong work ethic and significant leadership-by-example skills, something Manziel never really flashed at Texas A&M.
Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers, who own a record six Super Bowl titles, aren't used to mediocrity but that's exactly what they have been over the past two seasons, posting a 16-16 mark over that span. The expiration date on Ben Roethlisberger's shelf life as a top-tier NFL quarterback is rapidly approaching, so the Steelers and head coach Mike Tomlin must pull out all the stops in order to take advantage of the 32-year-old's remaining prime. Two of Big Ben's main targets -- Emmanuel Sanders (Denver) and Jerricho Cotchery (Carolina) -- moved on, putting more pressure of talented second-year man Markus Wheaton as well as former Drew Brees-favorite Lance Moore. Defensively, Pittsburgh went all in on the front seven, snaring Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier at No. 15 overall in the draft, and following that up with Notre Dame five-technique Stephon Tuitt, a potential value in the second round.
Houston Texans: In a bit of a surprise, new head coach Bill O'Brien handed the keys to his team over to veteran free agent pickup Ryan Fitzpatrick, ending any speculation that strong-armed rookie Tom Savage or popular Texas native Case Keenum could push for the QB job. The Texans probably have enough talent -- especially defensively -- to pull off a worst-to-first scenario if they can get competent play from Fitzpatrick, but five stops in nine years confirms the Harvard product is nothing more than a journeyman. Other big issues in south Texas are the health of No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney, who underwent sports hernia surgery in June, and the contract status of veteran Pro Bowl receiver Andre Johnson, who refused to report in the offseason and is looking to move on to a potential Super Bowl contender.
Indianapolis Colts: The Colts suffered quite a blow when their top pass rusher, Robert Mathis, was suspended four games for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing drugs policy. With emerging superstar Andrew Luck running the offense, Indianapolis should be able to hold down the fort in a bad division until Mathis returns. But to be a true contender, the Colts need something more from disappointing running back Trent Richardson, who was acquired from Cleveland last September for a first-round pick.
Jacksonville Jaguars: The foundation of Jacksonville's rebuilding process has begun to take shape with the headliner being rookie QB Blake Bortles, who was taken with the third overall pick in May's draft. General manager Dave Caldwell also hit free agency hard, bringing in significant contributors at running back (Toby Gerhart), left guard (Zane Beadles) and on the defensive line (Red Bryant, Chris Clemons and Ziggy Hood). Next up is figuring out if rookie receivers Marqise Lee or Allen Robinson can at least alleviate the loss of the very talented Justin Blackmon, who is suspended indefinitely for repeated violations of the league's substance-abuse policy.
Tennessee Titans: Quarterback whisperer Ken Whisenhunt, who did wonders for Kurt Warner in Arizona and Philip Rivers in San Diego, was brought in as the new head coach in an effort to help young quarterback Jake Locker, the No. 8 overall pick from the 2011 draft. Locker has showed signs at times, especially early last season, but he has struggled with injuries and consistency. If Whisenhunt is unable to put Locker on the right path, it might be the end of the road for him in Nashville.
Denver Broncos: Denver was always going to be a serious threat to get back to the Super Bowl as long as Peyton Manning returned, but by "winning" free agency, the Broncos have seemingly lapped an AFC field they were already dominating. John Elway's handiwork in free agency resulted in a haul which not only placed wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders in the Rocky Mountains but also high-profile defensive targets like pass rusher DeMarcus Ware, shutdown cornerback Aqib Talib and ascending young safety T.J. Ward.
Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs made the big leap from two wins to 11 in Andy Reid's first-year as head coach, but a sequel figures to be far tougher. The bigger issues for Kansas City remain contract extensions for underrated quarterback Alex Smith as well as pass-rushing star Justin Houston.
Oakland Raiders: Perhaps no team upgraded its overall talent level more than the Raiders in the offseason. General manger Reggie McKenzie had a ton of money to spend and he brought in a host of veterans who figure to help, headlined by veteran quarterback Matt Schaub, wide receiver James Jones and O- linemen Austin Howard and Kevin Boothe on offense, and defensive linemen Justin Tuck, Antonio Smith and Lamarr Woodley as well as cornerback Carlos Rogers on defense. Add potential rookie linebacking star Khalil Mack to that mix and you can see Oakland is among the most-improved teams in football.
San Diego Chargers: Don't underestimate the loss of Ken Whisenhunt as offensive coordinator. Philip Rivers had quite the resurgence under Whisenhunt's tutelage and it will be interesting to see how things unfold now that Jim Kelly's former backup in Buffalo -- Frank Reich -- was promoted from QB coach to offensive coordinator. One development that will certainly help Rivers is the fact that lengthy, proven receiver Malcom Floyd has been cleared to return from a career-threatening neck injury suffered in Philadelphia early last season.