15. Seattle Seahawks (7-9): A very solid defense and potentially strong ground game give Seahawks much to feel good about. Like their division chances. But the big question is at quarterback and especially whether Matt Flynn is ready to lead.
• 16. San Diego Chargers (8-8): Philip Rivers, Ryan Mathews and a healthy Antonio Gates spearhead plenty of offense even with the loss of Vincent Jackson. But Norv Turner saving his job with a playoff berth more likely will depend on much better play from the defense and offensive line.
• 17. Dallas Cowboys (8-8): Jerry Jones’ roster has much talent, but Tony Romo must excel behind a shaky O-line for Dallas to survive a strong division better than it has going 14-18 the past two years. Star defender DeMarcus Ware will have major help at cornerback from top free-agent Brandon Carr and top rookie Morris Claiborne.
• 18. New York Jets (8-8): No Super Bowl guarantee from Rex Ryan this year, and with good reason. NYJ’s defense looks super, but the offense now under Tony Sparano’s guiding hand could struggle to score. Mark Sanchez doesn’t have a lot of dynamic weapons; not sure Shonn Greene is the special runner they need him to be. May see a bunch of Tim Tebow/Wildcat simply because nothing else is working.
• 19. Oakland Raiders (8-8): Erratic though still star-capable Carson Palmer and healthy Darren McFadden give Raiders attack some pop as post-Al Davis era begins, and defensive front is stacked. Teams’ first winning record in 11 years is in reach.
20. Kansas City Chiefs (7-9): RB Jamaal Charles and S Eric Berry are healthy again, and OT Eric Winston and RB Peyton Hillis are nice additions. Chiefs could have a postseason shot if QB Matt Cassel is good enough, a serious question.
• 21. Buffalo Bills (6-10): I’m not all in on the hype out of Buffalo that Bills are poised to make playoffs for first time since 1999. Adding Mario Williams and Mark Anderson give Buffs one of deepest D-lines in league, but I don’t trust inconsistent QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (23 picks in 2011). And Bills are 2-10 vs. AFC East past two years.
• 22. Carolina Panthers (6-10): Cam Newton 2.0: Strides toward superstardom or sophomore slump? Center Ryan Kalil’s full-page ad in the Charlotte Observer promised a Super Bowl, but Cam’s season will tell whether even playoffs are likely. LB Luke Kuechly looks like a rookie of year pick, but myriad other holes on D.
• 23. Washington Redskins (5-11): Skins beat champ Giants twice last year and add a ton of high-cost hope in rookie QB Robert Griffin III, but he doesn’t have a ton of elite talent around him. Defensive front seven is strong but secondary much less so.
24. Arizona Cardinals (8-8): Birds ended last season on a 7-2 run, and wisely drafted WR Michael Floyd to pair with Larry Fitzgerald. But the choice of Kevin Kolb or John Skelton at the most important position serves to dampen enthusiasm.
• 25. MIAMI DOLPHINS (6-10): New head coach. Two new coordinators. New schemes on both sides of scrimmage line. A rookie QB in Ryan Tannehill. This is a lot of “new” not to expect a transitional season with its share of lumps. Run defense should be stout, but not as sure vs. the pass. And Miami has a weak receiving corps for that new uptempo offense. Dolphins seem turned right and building toward something better, but I feel like the playoffs are at least a year away.