BOSTON (CBS) - Training camp is already underway for some teams around the league, and that process for the Patriots begins Wednesday when the veterans report to Gillette.
In 2013 the Broncos set the NFL on fire and broke all sorts of offensive records, finishing as the no. 1 ranked team in the AFC. The Patriots were just a hair behind; finishing second and also earning that first round bye.
After a 2-14 finish in 2012, the Kansas City Chiefs turned some heads in 2013 and finished with a 11-5 record with new coach Andy Reid and new quarterback Alex Smith. The Bengals once again topped the NFC North and Indianapolis with Andrew Luck appear to be a team on the rise.
That was 2013, so to get a glimpse of 2014, 98.5 The Sports Hub's Toucher & Rich show brought in Albert Breer of the NFL Network for an AFC preview.
The AFC West sent three teams to the playoffs last year, with Oakland being the lone team not involved.
For Breer, the big AFC West storyline for 2014 is the vast amount of improvement by the Broncos this offseason, adding to an already stacked team.
"I think the gap is wider than it was last year. I think Denver got better, I think San Diego kind of tread water and Kansas City could be the team that's in for a big step back," said Breer.
Breer points to the low ceiling of Alex Smith, how they finished last season and the contract situation of Jamaal Charles as a reason for regression for the Chiefs.
"Jamaal Charles' contract situation is simmering and if you're him you almost have to hold out. You're an aging running back on the back end of your contract not making a lot of money this year, plus the offense revolves around you. If you take him out of that offense the offense is in trouble. They have all the earmarks of a team that's going to take a step back."
Breer likes the additions of veterans Justin Tuck, Maurice Jones-Drew and LaMarr Woodley in Oakland, but the Raiders are still the Raiders and once again will be a non-factor in the AFC.
Listen below for the full AFC West preview:
AFC West Preview
Click on page 2 for the AFC North!
Cleveland, with the signing of LeBron James and the drafting of Johnny Manziel, has become the marquee sports team dominating the summer headlines. But can the Browns really be a factor in the AFC North?
"I think [Manziel] will start Week 1," Breer said Wednesday morning. "Everybody I've talked to the last few months has said if you draft Manziel you better have a plan for him, because he's not your typical quarterback. They're going to have to put in a system that works for Johnny Manziel."
Breer made reference to the Washington Redskins in Robert Griffin III's first NFL season and how they basically installed the offense he ran at Baylor in college. He believes the Browns must do something similar with Manziel, and we'll start to see clues of that in their first preseason game.
The Ravens have made a lot of headlines this offseason but for all the wrong reasons. Six arrests, with the most notable one being Ray Rice knocking his fiance out-cold.
After Ray Lewis and Ed Reed left the team, Breer believes a gap in leadership occurred and it manifested itself this past spring and summer.
"Guys like Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, Joe Flacco, Dennis Pitta -- some of the veterans on the team at the top of salary structure are going to be asked to take the reigns after Ray Lewis, and that probably should have happened last year," said Breer.
The Steelers finished 8-8 for the second straight season in 2013 and could be headed for a similar direction with their youth movement on defense.
"They're a lot younger on defense. A lot younger. And offensively there are some things to be excited about there. Le'Veon Bell had a great rookie season and (offensive coordinator) Todd Haley thinks he has the next Jamaal Charles in Dri Archer. He's the speedster out of Kent State that ran a 4.2 at the combine. They're going to look a lot different on offense and will be able to run the ball a lot better. They've finally been able to turn over that old core group on defense and are a lot younger. They've finally turned the page. It'll be interesting to see Dick LeBeau work with that young group."
As for the Bengals, Breer says they are loaded with talent but he wonders if quarterback Andy Dalton can get the job done. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer taking the head job in Minnesota is also a huge loss for the Bengals.
Listen below for the full AFC North preview:
AFC North Preview
Click on page 3 for the AFC East!
The New England Patriots reign supreme, but which of the other three teams in the division is poised to make some noise?
Albert Breer of the NFL Network likes the talent in Buffalo.
"The fact that Buffalo has been able to beat the Patriots in recent years and give them scares -- that's not a fluke. I think there's talent there. Look at the defensive side of the ball. That line, if Marcell Dareus gets his head right, could be scary. For me it comes down to two things: how do you replace Kiko Alonso's production, and can E.J. Manuel make it happen? Can Manuel stay healthy? He missed six games last year. He's got some playmakers. They're really deep at the skill positions and have a lot of guys that can make plays."
Breer was just in Rochester for Bills camp and he came away very impressed with rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins, a player he believes can have the same impact in his rookie year as Julio Jones and A.J. Green.
The Dolphins finished 2013 in turmoil with the Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito bullying scandal and 2014 will be a telling year for the Dolphins franchise.
"I think everybody's job is on the line down there," said Breer. "The coaches, the front office people -- everybody is on notice. The owner is in a position to land a big fish, and once again that could be Jim Harbaugh. The Dolphins need to get off to a hot start because it's going to be difficult to keep that thing together."
Besides the Patriots in acquiring Darrelle Revis, you could say the Jets did the most to improve their team in free agency by signing Eric Decker, Chris Johnson and Michael Vick.
"The Jets look like a team that could win the way that Rex Ryan did in 2009 and 2010. What they're going to be looking for is the quarterback who can best manage the game, and Michael Vick has never been able to do that well."
Listen below for the full AFC East preview:
AFC East Preview
Click on page 4 for the AFC South!
Scouts and analysts project Andrew Luck in his third year to be among the league's best and in the top five. Is that realistic? Does the division go through Indy? Albert Breer takes a deeper look with Toucher & Rich.
"The Colts should be ready to take that next step. Everybody who knows what they're looking at is pretty convinced Andrew Luck will a top five quarterback, and I believe that happens this year," said Breer.
"If you look at the weapons they're putting around him now; (tight end) Dwayne Allen is a player they think a lot of. He got hurt in camp last year but he'll be back. You have to imagine they'll get more out of Trent Richardson. And they added Hakeem Nicks to a wide receiver group that should have Reggie Wayne back, plus an emerging star in T.Y. Hilton. So that looks like a pretty loaded group around Luck."
For Bert, the questions with Indy all lie on the defensive side of the ball.
Houston has a new head coach, a new quarterback and a can't-miss talent in Jadeveon Clowney, taken with the first overall pick in May's draft.
"Defensively they should be really good, but the quarterback position looks like a hot mess. The quarterback to watch is Tom Savage. I think he'll get a shot to play by the end of the year."
Who the quarterbacks throw to is in question too, because All Pro wide receiver Andre Johnson may not report to camp.
Listen below for the full AFC South preview:
AFC South Preview
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