ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton puts together his AFC playoff Q&A (link here) and he begins with this thought:
Only three teams look like playoff teams -- the New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers. You have three teams that look mediocre -- the Broncos, Houston Texans and Cincinnati Bengals.
Here are some of Clayton's quick-hit thoughts:
1. The Patriots have the quarterback edge -- slightly. "Tom Brady has three Super Bowl rings, a 14-5 playoff record and home-field advantage. But don't discount the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger, who is a close second. He's 10-3 and has two championship rings in three trips to the Super Bowl."
2. Home-field advantage not vital. "Since 2005, the lower seeds in the divisional round have a 7-5 record, thus New England and Baltimore can't be complacent about obtaining a bye and home games in the second round."
3. Top offenses vs. top defenses. "The Patriots better hope offense is the key to going to the Super Bowl. If not, they are in big trouble. The Patriots' defense is horrible. It was the second worst in the NFL, giving up 411.1 yards a game, including 293.9 yards through the air. The Green Bay Packers were slightly worse at 411.6 yards allowed."
4. Forecasting a Patriots-Ravens AFC title game. "Injuries to Roethlisberger and [Rashard] Mendenhall clearly give the edge to the Patriots. They are at home and they have Brady. ... That could set up a Ravens-Patriots championship."