In 10 days the Ravens will head to Tampa Bay and kick off the 2006 season on enemy soil. Both this column and my radio show say I have every confidence the Ravens will rebound from what was a dismal 6-10 mark in 2005.
Continuing to evaluate the talent in the AFC with an eye towards how things should unfold, the winner of the AFC North will represent the AFC in Miami for the Super Bowl. The Lombardi Trophy rests in Pittsburgh and the Steelers won't give it back without a fight, which is just the motivation you want if you wear the purple and black.
The Bengals are lurking, the Colts are smarting, the Broncos are talented enough to make a legitimate run, the Patriots are never down for the count and the Dolphins, Jaguars and Chiefs are all capable of making a serious run at the ring.
Every few weeks throughout the season this column will rank the teams in the AFC. This author thinks he has a pretty good handle on how to evaluate talent and how to judge the strengths and weaknesses of a football team, but "Power Rankings" are never really an exact science.
Some great debate should follow these rankings, so feel free to use to visit the message boards at PressBoxOnline.com or dial the digits and call the "Mark Viviano Show" if you want to talk some smack.
16. New York Jets: New coach Eric Mangini will tear it all down in order to build it all back his way. Without Curtis Martin to shoulder the load, the Jets have no shot. Prediction: 4-12
15. Buffalo Bills: J.P. Losman has been sacked nine times during the preseason. Odds are that both Ralph Wilson and Marv Levy will outlive Losman. Prediction: 5-11
14. Houston Texans: You can slow down a pass rush by putting the ball in the hands of a game-breaking tailback. The Texans took Mario Williams over Reggie Bush. Prediction: 5-11
13. Oakland Raiders: The old slogan "Just win, baby!" has been changed to "Just underachieve and steal Al's money, baby!" Prediction: 6-10
12. Cleveland Browns: Talent is being assembled under coach Romeo Crennel, but the AFC North is stacked right now. Prediction: 6-10
11. Tennessee Titans: The Titans will be a surprise team this season and do more damage than expected. Jeff Fisher is an outstanding coach. Prediction: 7-9
10. Kansas City Chiefs: Veteran corner Ty Law will help but coach Herm Edwards will be good for at least one added value loss. The defense must get better and the offense must find balance. Prediction: 8-8
9. San Diego Chargers: LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates are stellar and the Chargers defense will be improved. Coach Marty Schottenheimer will find a way to muck it up. Prediction: 9-7
8. Jacksonville Jaguars: Life without Jimmy Smith and no cream-puff schedule will bring the Jags back a notch, but this team will gain momentum when it matters. Prediction: 9-7
7. Miami Dolphins: A fast start will put the 'Fins in the playoff picture and Nick Saban is building a team that can win cold weather playoff games. Prediction: 9-7
6. Baltimore Ravens: A very talented team with a lot to prove. The time for another run at glory is now. Prediction: 10-6
5. Pittsburgh Steelers: They are the champs until someone dethrones them and they will be dethroned by an AFC North rival. Prediction: 9-7
4. Denver Broncos: Mike Shanahan has his quarterback and wide receiver of the future in Jay Cutler and Javon Walker. But the team is built to make a run right now. Prediction: 10-6
3. New England Patriots: Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. Enough said! Prediction: 10-6
2. Cincinnati Bengals: With Carson Palmer, this team is playoff bound. Without him, they will be 6-10. It really is that simple. Prediction: 11-5
1. Indianapolis Colts: The next time the Colts are in a position to win the AFC Championship game, new kicker Adam Vinatieri won't miss. Peyton Manning is destined for at least one Super Bowl appearance, but it won't be this season. Prediction: 12-4
Issue 1.19: August 31, 2006