It's always a long summer in anticipation of the new NFL season, but "SportsCenter" has come up with a way to keep your attention aimed between the end zones.
Watch "SportsCenter" and check back each day to see the expert picks as well as the results from SportsNation.
Best offense in the AFC?
Eric Allen: San Diego Chargers
The best offense in this conference still belongs to the Chargers, despite the additions the New England Patriots made in the offseason. There is no doubt the Patriots did a great job adding explosive and complementary players to their offense. But the Chargers still have the best running back in football, LaDainian Tomlinson, and with Michael Turner returning, they might have the best running back tandem in the league. They also have the best tight end in the game in Antonio Gates.
Mark Schlereth: Chargers
The Chargers are just a better offensively than any other team in the conference. The reason for that is very simple: LaDainian Tomlinson. In some ways it is very similar to when I was with the Denver Broncos when we had Terrell Davis at running back. It didn't really matter what else we did, as long as we got the ball in Davis' hands.
Merril Hoge: Indianapolis Colts
The Colts are the pick here because of their ability to attack from every level and play explosive or plodding football. It's important for teams to be able to mix it up and do more than one thing. The Colts have one of most versatile offenses in the league. They can drop back with Peyton Manning and fling the ball downfield in a shootout or run all over the place with Joseph Addai. Last year we saw Manning play smarter football in terms of settling for the underneath receiver instead of always attacking downfield. I expect that Manning will continue playing that way coming off a Super Bowl victory.
Joe Theismann: New England Patriots
Tom Brady proved what he could do without playmaking receivers last season. Now we get to see him with the best receiving corps of his career. This is a group that will know its roles by opening day and be able to execute them from the get-go. New England's offense will be the most explosive in the league. Don't expect huge numbers from any particular receiver. Brady, however, could post MVP-type stats.
Best defense in the AFC?
This is a tough call because the Chargers and Patriots are so close. They both are aggressive defenses that can dominate the tempo of opposing teams and win games by themselves. But the Chargers get the nod because although they aren't as versatile as the Patriots, they are far more aggressive. They also could be better that the Pats at all three levels (depending on the contract situation of Patriots' CB Asante Samuel).
The Chargers defense is absolutely fierce and that's why they get the nod. San Diego has a myriad of players who can get pressure on the quarterback from any part of the field. If a team does get a ball in the air, it is dealing with one of the better defensive backfields in the league.
The Dolphins have an aggressive, versatile and passionate defense that has only gotten much better with the addition of former Steelers' linebacker Joey Porter. He plays with the type of motor that you only see on large machinery, as he never gives up or takes a play off. That attitude was infectious in Pittsburgh and it should be in Miami.
The Patriots defense was already a fierce group of guys before the signing of Adalius Thomas, but now it's the best in the conference. I'm excited to see how Bill Belichick utilizes Thomas' ability with his defensive schemes.
Best team in the AFC?
The Chargers get the nod here. They are the most complete team in football and don't have some of the nagging issues that other teams have personnel-wise. Obviously this was a very turbulent offseason for San Diego. The hiring of former offensive coordinator Norv Turner as the head coach, however, should keep some level of normalcy in San Diego and allow this team to continue its ascent.
The Patriots are the pick in a tight race because of their aggressive and smart offseason. This wasn't just a team with some money to burn acquiring a bunch of random big-name players; New England's plan took into account the production that could be expected from each player in its system. That's the way a team should attack free agency and it may payoff with a Super Bowl berth.
The Chargers have more youth, balance and depth than New England, which is why San Diego is my pick. The football season is one in which a team has to be ready for all sorts of unexpected problems and injuries. In spite of some inexperience at the skill positions, the Chargers are capable of handling adverse situations. The way this team handled the loss of Shawne Merriman to a league suspension last season told me a lot about its moxie. The Chargers stuck together at a time when a lot of pundits were declaring their season lost.
The Patriots are not only the best team in the conference, but in the league. This coaching staff has to be salivating at the possibility of utilizing this new receiving corps and Randy Moss in particular. Defensively, Adalius Thomas will give the Pats even more playmaking ability from the linebacker position.