The AFC season at the quarter pole

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AFC East

After New England got blown out Monday night by Kansas City, many in the media are starting to write off Tom Brady and the Patriots. Yes, this isn’t your usual New England Patriots team, but I don’t think anyone in Foxboro is ready to put up the white flag.

The offensive line is in disarray, but more because of injuries than anything else. Some in the media are still griping about the Logan Mankins trade, but I haven’t seen Mankins look like a Pro Bowler in Tampa Bay. The biggest loss on the offensive line is not a player, but rather a coach. Dante Scarnecchia retired and he is tough to replace.

Tom BradyBrady and the Pats may be struggling, but they certainly aren't out of it.

Tom Brady’s skills have not eroded, but he doesn’t have the quality receivers he is used to playing with and the depth at the position is weak.

Still, the Pats aren’t even close to being out of the race in the AFC East. The rest of the division is weak and in the end, 9-6 or even 8-8 may be enough to win it.

Buffalo was the only team in the NFL to spend a first-round draft choice on a quarterback in 2013. The quarterback class that year was weak and they may have drafted E.J. Manuel a round too early.

While Manuel has had his moments, he is very inconsistent and lacks top instincts. When the Bills acquired Kyle Orton just before Week 1, I wrote that he would be the starter in 4-5 weeks. Well, we’re going into Week 5 and Orton has been named the starter.

I have been around Orton for a number of years and he easily gives Buffalo the best chance to win. Bills fans can’t expect a miracle though as this team is not close to being a playoff team.

Miami knocked off the Patriots in the opener, but then lost to Buffalo and Kansas City. It looked as if a quarterback switch was in order, but Ryan Tannehill came back last week to play well against Oakland in London.

Miami has a bye this week which they will need as they prepare for an upcoming schedule that includes Green Bay, Chicago and San Diego. We will know for sure what kind of team Miami has at the midway point.

In the offseason, the Jets are often looked at as a legitimate contender to make the playoffs. The truth is, that seldom happens.

The Jets have lost three in a row and the future doesn’t look good as they play San Diego, Denver and New England in their next three games. The Jets defense is physical, but undisciplined and quarterback Geno Smith hasn’t developed any kind of consistency.

AFC North

The Cincinnati Bengals were my pick to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. With today being October 1, I’m still on board.

Marvin LewisIs this the year that Marvin Lewis finally breaks through in the playoffs?

The Bengals have already had their bye week, but are 3-0 and healthy. After getting a huge contract extension, quarterback Andy Dalton is playing great football and the defense continues to play strong. I can see the Bengals posting a 6-0 mark going into their division rivalry game with Baltimore. The two games against the Ravens—the first of which Cincinnati already won—could very well tell us who will win the AFC North.

On the field, Baltimore has survived the Ray Rice scandal. Joe Flacco is playing well and the trio of Justin Forsett, Lorenzo Taliaferro and Bernard Pierce is making up for the loss of Rice. Those three have run for 517 yards.

The defense is still a force and rookie linebacker C.J. Mosley is proving to be the real deal with 34 tackles through four games.

Pittsburgh just can’t put it together. They look good one week and awful the next. Case in point, losing to a winless Tampa Bay team at home last Sunday. Injuries have hurt the usually strong Steeler defense and they don’t have the depth to recover.

Cleveland is a physical football team that just doesn’t have enough talent at this time. If ownership is patient, Mike Pettine and Ray Farmer will get the job done. It is going to take at least one more draft and free agent class for the Browns to be on par with the other teams in the division. Farmer and Pettine have a plan. Let’s hope they get the time needed to implement it.

AFC South

Going into the season, I felt the Indianapolis Colts were the class of the division. Four weeks later, I still feel that way. However, the Colts haven’t been as dominant as I thought they would be. They had a chance to beat Philly in Week 2 but the playcalling on the final drive was questionable.

Following the loss to the Eagles, the Colts have come back with two blowout wins, but against weak division rivals Tennessee and Jacksonville. The Colts host Baltimore this week and we will find out for sure if Indianapolis is a contender or a pretender.

Andrew LuckLuck and the Colts may not be in first, but they're still the best team in the division.

After four weeks, the Houston Texans sit atop the AFC South with a 3-1 record. After having the worst record in the NFL a year ago, that is quite an accomplishment.

The Texans still don’t have the talent to compete with the top teams in the AFC, but they play smart football and don’t beat themselves.

While the Texans have improved, it has to be pointed out that they haven’t played a power team yet. Houston’s wins have come against Washington, Oakland and Buffalo with only the Oakland game being on the road. Three out of their next four games are on the road, with two of those contests coming against very solid teams.

The next four games are against Dallas, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Tennessee. I fully expect the Texans’ record to be 4-4 after eight games.

Tennessee brought in a new coaching staff in the hopes of turning things around, but that hasn’t happened. The Titans opened the season with an impressive win at Kansas City but then got blown out the last three weeks.

Right now, I have Tennessee as one of the weaker clubs in the AFC along with Oakland and Jacksonville. Their next three games are against Cleveland, Jacksonville and Washington. If the Titans don’t win two of those games, they could very well be competing for the top pick in the draft during the second half of the season.

In Jacksonville, the plan was for first-round pick Blake Bortles to sit and learn in 2014 and become the starter in 2015. After losing their first three games this season, that plan was scuttled and Bortles was named the starter a week ago. It remains to be seen if that was a wise move, as Jacksonville lost to San Diego 33-14. I will have a report on Bortles’ first start later this week.

AFC West

The most competitive division in the AFC is the AFC West. I feel it is safe to say that San Diego, Kansas City and Denver are three of the best clubs in the entire conference.

Right now, San Diego is the best team in the division. In Week 2 the Chargers knocked off Super Bowl Champion Seattle and have played strong ever since. With Philip Rivers playing as well as he ever has, San Diego has a chance in every game.

Philip Rivers is your MVP at the quarter pole.

I don’t feel Denver is as strong as they were a year ago and Peyton Manning is starting to show his age. Still, Denver has a decided advantage every time they play at home because of the altitude and crowd noise.

Two out of Denver’s next three games are at home against strong NFC West clubs Arizona and San Francisco. If they win or split those two games, Denver will be in the AFC West race until the end. Lose them both and the Broncos may be on the outside looking in.

As for Kansas City, I can’t get a handle on them. The Chiefs looked horrible in their first two games against Tennessee and Denver. Then they came back to blast Miami and New England. The New England game this past Monday night may have been Kansas City’s best performance under Andy Reid. This week’s game at San Francisco will be telling. A win could mean Kansas City is as strong as San Diego and Denver.

As for the Raiders? Well, they’re the Raiders. This franchise hasn’t been strong in years. Head coach Dennis Allen was fired on Monday night and replaced by offensive line coach Tony Sparano. Sparano has head coaching experience, but that experience won’t get the job done. Talent wise, the Raiders are the weakest team in the NFL. Until they get some players, the Raiders will keep losing.

Follow Greg on Twitter: @greggabe