The early favorites in the AFC? The Bills, Chiefs and perhaps a bunch of Alabama rookies.
Coach: Sean McDermott (fifth season, 38-26)
2020 record: 13-3 (first in AFC East, reached AFC title game)
Notable departure: DT Quinton Jefferson (signed as free agent with Raiders)
Key acquisition: WR Emmanuel Sanders (signed as free agent from Saints)
Impact rookie: DE Greg Rousseau (Miami). On his first NFL series, power rushed past Lions first-rounder Penei Sewell for a sack of Jared Goff
1. Can a solid run game be established to complement quarterback Josh Allen?
2. Can Rousseau and second-round pick Boogie Basham fortify a modest Bills pass rush?
3. Can defensive tackle Ed Oliver, a former No. 9 overall pick, finally break out in Year Three?
Coach: Brian Flores (third season, 15-17)
2020 record: 10-6 (second in AFC East)
Notable departure: DT Davon Godchaux (signed as free agent with Patriots)
Key acquisition: WR Will Fuller (signed as free agent from Texans)
Key re-signing: LB Jerome Baker
Impact rookie: WR Jaylen Waddle (Alabama). The 2019 SEC Special Teams Player of the Year reunites with his Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa
1. Can Tagovailoa perform like a potential franchise quarterback?
2. Can Fuller, a former first-round pick, remain healthy?
3. Will an offensive coordinator tandem (Eric Studesville and Jesuit High alumnus George Godsey) work?
Coach: Robert Saleh (first season)
2020 record: 2-14 (fourth in AFC East)
Most notable departure: QB Sam Darnold (traded to Panthers)
Key acquisition: DE Carl Lawson (signed as free agent from Bengals)
Key re-signing: FS Marcus Maye
Impact rookie: QB Zach Wilson (BYU). Organization’s latest projected franchise QB likely faces steep learning curve
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1. How will No. 2 overall pick Wilson handle the fishbowl existence of a quarterback in New York?
2. Could former USF quarterback Mike White actually win the backup job?
3. How will the defense handle the devastating loss of Lawson (torn Achilles) for the season?
Coach: Bill Belichick (22nd season with Patriots, 244-92; 27th season overall, 280-136)
2020 record: 7-9 (third in AFC East)
Notable departure: WR Julian Edelman (retired)
Key acquisition: OLB Matthew Judon (signed as free agent from Ravens)
Key re-signing: C David Andrews
Impact rookie: QB Mac Jones (Alabama). Training camp performance of this first-round draftee led to release of Cam Newton earlier this week.
1. How will Jones hold up against a stern early-season slate (Dolphins, Saints, Bucs in first four weeks)?
2. Will disgruntled all-pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore suit up for the Patriots this season?
3. Just how high will ticket prices go for Tom Brady’s return to Foxborough on Oct. 3?
Coach: Zac Taylor (third season, 6-25-1)
2020 record: 4-11-1 (fourth in AFC North)
Notable departure: DE Carl Lawson (signed as free agent with Jets)
Key acquisition: DE Trey Hendrickson (signed as free agent from Saints)
Key re-signing: DE Sam Hubbard
Impact rookie: WR Ja’Marr Chase (LSU). The 2019 Biletnikoff Award winner is reunited with Joe Burrow in Cincy
1. How will Burrow’s surgically repaired knee hold up?
2. Have adequate upgrades been made to an offensive line that allowed Burrow to be sacked 32 times in 11 games in 2020?
3. Now that Giovani Bernard is with the Bucs, who is Burrow’s pass-catching safety valve out of the backfield?
Coach: Kevin Stefanski (second season, 11-5)
2020 record: 11-5 (third in AFC North, reached AFC division playoffs)
Notable departure: CB Terrance Mitchell (signed as free agent with Texans)
Key acquisition: S John Johnson (signed as free agent from Rams)
Key re-signing: RB Nick Chubb
Impact rookie: CB Greg Newsome II (Northwestern). On 15 downfield targets last season, allowed one reception, according to Pro Football Focus
1. What should fans reasonably expect from receiver Odell Beckham Jr., back from a torn ACL?
2. Can edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney forge a career resurgence and regain the QB-harassing form of his Texans days?
3. With an assortment of skill players (and egos), can Stefanski keep everyone content?
Coach: John Harbaugh (14th season, 129-79)
2020 record: 11-5 (second in AFC North, reached AFC division playoffs)
Notable departure: OLB Matthew Judon (signed with Patriots)
Key acquisition: OG Kevin Zeitler (signed as free agent from Giants)
Key re-signing: OLB Tyus Bowser
Impact rookie: OL Ben Cleveland (Georgia). Third-round behemoth known as “Big Country” (6-foot-6, 357 pounds) might contend for left guard job
1. 1. Can fourth-year tailback Gus Edwards fill the void created by the recent loss of J.K. Dobbins (torn ACL)?
2. Will this be the season the NFL cracks the code on dual-threat extraordinaire Lamar Jackson?
3. With Judon and Pro Bowl defensive end Yannick Ngakoue (Raiders) gone, who will get to the quarterback?
Coach: Mike Tomlin (15th season, 145-78-1)
2020 record: 12-4 (first in AFC North, reached wild-card game)
Notable departure: LB Bud Dupree (signed as free agent with Titans)
Key acquisition: OLB Melvin Ingram (signed as free agent from Chargers)
Key re-signing: WR JuJu Smith-Schuster
Impact rookie: RB Najee Harris (Alabama). At 230-plus pounds, this former Crimson Tide star is the quintessential bellcow-type back Tomlin loves
1. How much does torque does 39-year-old quarterback Ben Roethlisberger have remaining in his right arm?
2. Can the revamped offensive line adequately protect Big Ben?
3. Can the defense compensate for the loss of some significant pieces, including Dupree?
Coach: Frank Reich (fourth season, 28-20)
2020 record: 11-5 (second in AFC South, reached wild-card game)
Notable departure: QB Philip Rivers (retired)
Key acquisition: QB Carson Wentz (acquired via trade from Eagles)
Key re-signing: WR T.Y. Hilton
Impact rookie: DE Kwity Paye (Michigan). Born in refugee camp in Guinea, this pass-rush force may be NFL’s most intriguing rookie
1. What’s the long-term health status of Wentz, who injured his foot in training camp?
2. With Jonathan Taylor the lead back, what will former USF workhorse Marlon Mack’s role be?
3. How effectively will new left tackle Eric Fisher (acquired from Chiefs) perform following an Achilles injury?
Coach: Urban Meyer (first season)
2020 record: 1-15 (fourth in AFC South)
Notable departure: WR Keelan Cole (signed as free agent with Jets)
Key acquisition: CB Shaquill Griffin (signed as free agent from Seahawks)
Key re-signing: LT Cam Robinson
Impact rookie: QB Trevor Lawrence (Clemson). Meyer and Co. will build their brand around this No. 1 overall draft pick
1. How will Meyer, hit with health issues while losing rarely in college, handle losing regularly?
2. How substantial will Lawrence’s growing pains be?
3. How successfully will the Jags transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4 base defense?
Coach: David Culley (first season)
2020 record: 4-12 (third in AFC South)
Notable departure: DE J.J. Watt (signed as free agent with Cardinals)
Key acquisition: LB Kevin Pierre-Louis (signed as free agent from Washington)
Key re-signing: TE Pharaoh Brown
Impact rookie: WR Nico Collins (Michigan). Rangy 2020 opt-out totaled 75 catches his final two seasons at Michigan
1. How much will the unsightly quarterback situation (see Watson, Deshaun) set back this franchise?
2. Who emerges as the defensive anchor in the wake of Watt’s departure?
3. How will the congested running back depth chart sort itself out?
Coach: Mike Vrabel (fourth season, 29-19)
2020 record: 11-5 (first in AFC South, reached wild-card game)
Notable departure: WR Corey Davis (signed with Jets)
Key acquisition: WR Julio Jones (acquired via trade from Falcons)
Key re-signing: LB Jayon Brown
Impact rookie: OT Dillon Radunz (North Dakota State). Second-round pick from Division I-AA juggernaut just might earn starting right tackle spot
1. Can the organization mitigate the COVID-19 issues that plagued it in the preseason?
2. How will former tight ends coach Todd Downing transition to the offensive coordinator role?
3. At 32, how much does Jones (a two-time, first-team All-Pro) have remaining in the tank?
Coach: Vic Fangio (third season, 12-20)
2020 record: 5-11 (fourth in AFC West)
Notable departure: OLB Jeremiah Attaochu (signed as free agent with Bears)
Key acquisition: QB Teddy Bridgewater (acquired via trade with Panthers)
Key re-signing: OLB Bradley Chubb (team exercised fifth-year option on rookie deal)
Impact rookie: CB Patrick Surtain II (Alabama). No. 9 overall draft choice had a pick-six in his preseason debut
1. Will Bridgewater be the answer behind center in Denver?
2. How many wins does Fangio need to keep his job?
3. With so many new offensive skills guys, can a chemistry be forged in short order?
Coach: Brandon Staley (first season)
2020 record: 7-9 (third in AFC West)
Notable departure: TE Hunter Henry (signed as free agent with Patriots)
Key acquisition: C Corey Linsley (signed as free agent from Packers)
Key re-signing: FS Derwin James (exercised fifth-year option on rookie deal)
Impact rookie: OT Rashawn Slater (Northwestern). No. 13 overall pick allowed zero pressures in 12 pass-blocking snaps in preseason debut
1. After being sacked 32 times in 2020, will QB Justin Herbert get better protection from a rebuilt line?
2. Speaking of Herbert, can he make significant strides in Year Two?
3. What’s the learning curve for Staley, the league’s latest under-40 coach?
Coach: Andy Reid (ninth season with Chiefs, 91-37; 23rd season overall, 221-130)
2020 record: 14-2 (first in AFC West, reached Super Bowl 55)
Notable departure: LT Eric Fisher (signed as free agent with Colts)
Key acquisition: OG Joe Thuney (signed as free agent from Patriots)
Key re-signing: RT Mike Remmers
Impact rookie: C Creed Humphrey (Oklahoma). Southpaw snapper allowed zero pressures on seven pass-block attempts in preseason debut
1. How effectively will the rebuilt offensive line protect Patrick Mahomes, who ran for his life in the Super Bowl?
2. With Sammy Watkins having departed (to Ravens), who emerges as the No. 2 receiver behind Tyreek Hill?
3. How will the situation involving defensive end Frank Clark (two offseason arrests) play out?
Coach: Jon Gruden (eighth season with Raiders, 57-55; 15th season overall, 114-110)
2020 record: 8-8 (second in AFC West)
Notable departure: WR Nelson Agholor (signed as free agent with Patriots)
Key acquisition: RB Kenyan Drake (signed as free agent from Cardinals)
Key re-signing: DT Johnathan Hankins
Impact rookie: OT Alex Leatherwood (Alabama). Fundamentally stout first-round pick projects as opening-day starter at right tackle
1. Will the defense, ranked in the NFL’s bottom 10 in rushing and passing yards allowed, make a substantial stride?
2. With 1,000-yard rusher Josh Jacobs still around, how will Drake (a 900-yard rusher in 2020) be employed?
3. Can 33-year-old defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (signed on Aug. 4) enjoy a career resurgence in Vegas?
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