Every season there are a select few teams from each conference that get a quick jump at the onset of the year and never look back. While it's still a bit early for picking playoff teams, I still believe those select locks do exist, even in June. These teams are the product of consistency and a dash of incompetence from other teams in their divisions.
New England Patriots
At this point in Tom Brady's career, it's fair to assume we know what we're getting with the New England Patriots. They'll probably lose a few midseason games they shouldn't, and at some point in the year the analysts will begin questioning whether Brady and Belichick still have "it." In the end, those questions won't matter. As usual, the Patriots will win the AFC East, and they'll cruise right into the playoffs (and maybe through them).
The Texans are the perfect example of, to a small degree, consistency, and, to a greater degree, incompetence on the part of the other teams in the AFC South. At first glance, the Texans have no competition at all from the AFCS. The Titans could give them a legitimate run, but the Texans roster is just solid all around. I'm not ready to say the Titans or even the Jaguars can't claim a playoff position, but it seems very unlikely that position would be as the AFC South champions. That title is staying in Houston at least one more year.
Great defense? Check. Great quarterback? Check. Underachievers all around them? Also check. The acquisition of Payton Manning may have made the Broncos the most dangerous team in the NFL. Manning never played with a dominant offense in Indianapolis, and that's exactly what the Broncos have. The Chargers aren't nearly as good of a team as so many people think. At some point, you have to wonder whether the Chargers are underachieving or just not a great football team. We reached that point a long time ago. The Chiefs and Raiders could both make strides, but I'll take the Hall of Fame quarterback with the solid defense all day long.
A Note on the AFC North's Omission
I left out the Ravens, Steelers, and the Bengals simply because the AFC North is so competitive. Any of those teams could miss the playoffs in 2012, but I fully expect at least two of those teams to be in the playoffs.
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