AFC

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Bal­ti­more Ravens: Is the fu­ture near? Af­ter a promis­ing 3-1 start, they sit at 4-4 with the divi­sion-lead­ing Steel­ers com­ing to town. We know gen­eral man­ager Ozzie New­some is wind­ing down, so it seems un­likely that rookie QB La­mar Jack­son would re­place Joe Flacco un­til the post­sea­son pos­si­bil­i­ties are of­fi­cially ex­hausted. Right?

Buf­falo Bills: How do they help Josh Allen? An un­pol­ished prospect car­ry­ing a fran­chise’s hopes on his how­itzer arm de­serves bet­ter. Be­fore suf­fer­ing a Week 6 el­bow in­jury, Allen was reg­u­larly run­ning for his life while re­ly­ing on a 30year-old run­ning back (LeSean McCoy) as his pri­mary weapon. Allen’s de­vel­op­ment could be in se­ri­ous jeop­ardy with­out a ma­jor course cor­rec­tion.

Cincin­nati Ben­gals: What if they don’t take care of busi­ness? Same old Stripes? It’s a tal­ented bunch sit­ting at 5-3, good for the AFC’s sec­ond wild-card spot at present, and which will fin­ish with at least 10 wins by beat­ing the re­main­ing teams on its sched­ule with records at .500 or worse. But Cincy has a ten­dency to come up small. Will there be no­table reper­cus­sions if the ros­ter’s nu­cleus again proves ra­dioac­tive to suc­cess?

Cleveland Browns: Who’s the next coach? With Hue Jack­son out, they can be­gin search­ing in earnest for his suc­ces­sor. GM John Dorsey surely has to find an of­fen­sive spe­cial­ist who can bond with Baker May­field, while hop­ing the quar­ter­back’s rookie sea­son doesn’t de­volve into a wasted ex­pe­ri­ence.

Den­ver Bron­cos: Do they have the right lead­er­ship? It’s a sen­si­tive ques­tion given the pan­de­mo­nium at the ex­ec­u­tive/own­er­ship level amid Pat Bowlen’s fail­ing health and his fam­ily’s le­gal ma­neu­ver­ings. But on the foot­ball level, GM John El­way’s in­abil­ity to ac­quire an ef­fec­tive quar­ter­back not named Pey­ton con­tin­ues, and sec­ond-year coach Vance Joseph is on the verge of lead­ing this team to suc­ces­sive los­ing sea­sons for the first time since 1972.

Hous­ton Tex­ans: Can they ab­sorb Will Fuller’s ab­sence? QB De­shaun Wat­son and WR De­An­dre Hop­kins are the of­fense’s right­ful stars. But wide re­ceiver Fuller, who tore an ACL in Week 8, is a vi­tal com­po­nent as his deep speed max­i­mizes Wat­son’s arm and, more im­por­tant, opens the field for Hop­kins and the run­ning game. De­mary­ius Thomas’ ar­rival hardly off­sets Fuller’s loss.

In­di­anapo­lis Colts: Should they con­sider shut­ting An­drew Luck down? Maybe it sounds like a silly thought for a team re­build­ing around its resur­gent star, who clearly needs reps with so many rel­a­tively un­fa­mil­iar team­mates. Yet con­sid­er­ing Luck’s re­built shoul­der has logged a league-high 342 passes, is it worth rest­ing him at some point — as­sum­ing Indy’s play­off vi­a­bil­ity evap­o­rates — to po­ten­tially show­case backup Ja­coby Bris­sett as off­sea­son trade bait?

Jack­sonville Jaguars: Time to face the Blake Bor­tles facts? In fair­ness to the quar­ter­back, the of­fense’s short­com­ings go be­yond his is­sues. But there’s no sug­ar­coat­ing the fact the Jags have to an­swer some hard ques­tions, namely whether Bor­tles re­ally is the an­swer. Even if the front of­fice still be­lieves the an­swer is yes, does the locker room?

Kansas City Chiefs: Is this Andy Reid’s year? He’s one of the bet­ter coaches in league his­tory, full stop — and bet­ter still when a team win­ning by nearly 13 points a week doesn’t stir crit­i­cism of Reid’s clock man­age­ment. These Chiefs could be some­thing spe­cial now that Reid has mas­ter­fully wo­ven Patrick Ma­homes’ tal­ents into this play­book. Are they spe­cial enough to fi­nally cap­ture the Lom­bardi Tro­phy that’s eluded their coach for so long?

Los An­ge­les Charg­ers: When will Joey Bosa play? This dude is re­ally good — 23 sacks in 28 NFL games, or 0.82 per. (J.J. Watt’s ca­reer per-game av­er­age is 0.88.) But the mys­te­ri­ous foot in­jury that has dogged Bosa for three months con­tin­ues to side­line him. Bosa’s pres­ence could be the dif­fer­ence be­tween le­git­i­mate and laugh­able Su­per Bowl as­pi­ra­tions.

Mi­ami Dol­phins: Whither Ryan Tan­nehill? The sup­posed fran­chise quar­ter­back is hurt, again, and the Fins are left to tread water. Tan­nehill has two years left on his con­tract with sig­nif­i­cant cap hits at­tached to both. But this or­ga­ni­za­tion can’t con­tinue oper­at­ing in limbo and should prob­a­bly start con­sid­er­ing po­ten­tial al­ter­na­tives such as Teddy Bridge­wa­ter or even Jameis Win­ston — if not the 2019 draft — to clear some sec­ondary path that al­lows the team to ef­fec­tively move for­ward with­out Tan­nehill.

New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots: Can they buck his­tory? Did you know the Pats have never reached a Su­per Bowl the sea­son af­ter los­ing it? They’re on track for an­other AFC East ti­tle — yawn — but the con­fer­ence com­pe­ti­tion looks a lot stronger than last year, and there has to be some worry about the abil­ity of Rob Gronkowski, Sony Michel and oth­ers to make it to the fin­ish line.

New York Jets: What’s our iden­tity? GM Mike Maccagnan has done a nice job min­ing the sec­ondary free agent mar­ket in re­cent years for play­ers such as CB Mor­ris Clai­borne and G James Car­pen­ter. But with more than $200 mil­lion in cap space avail­able over the next two years, Maccagnan and his staff must take a hard look at their foun­da­tion to de­ter­mine how to al­lo­cate re­sources to a re­build that needs to ac­cel­er­ate around Sam Darnold.

Oak­land Raiders: Where will they play in 2019? Amid all the up­roar over Khalil Mack, Amari Cooper and Derek Carr’s phan­tom tears, not much hand­wring­ing — yet — given this team has no sta­dium lease for next year. So ... Oak­land? Las Ve­gas? Santa Clara? San Diego? Peo­ria? High risk for a shiner that might ne­ces­si­tate a sec­ond eye­patch for Mr. Raider.

Pitts­burgh Steel­ers: How to love Le’Veon? All-pro RB Le’Veon Bell will surely be re­port­ing for duty by Nov. 13 if he wants to ac­crue the prized sea­son to­ward free agent sta­tus he des­per­ately cov­ets. But how do the Steel­ers blend him back into the fam­ily, not to men­tion the of­fense, with­out up­set­ting the ap­ple cart for a group cur­rently atop the AFC North? These play­ers, many miffed when Bell didn’t show up for Week 1, have done just fine with James Con­ner as­sum­ing the bell­cow man­tle.

Ten­nessee Ti­tans: Is Mar­cus Mar­i­ota the guy? The fourth-year quar­ter­back’s in­tan­gi­bles and, ap­par­ently, in­ter­nal sup­port re­main off the charts — par­tic­u­larly as he fights through an el­bow in­jury. But is he re­gress­ing fur­ther be­tween the lines while try­ing to lead an of­fense that ranks as the league’s third worst? The fran­chise can de­fer the de­ci­sion on Mar­i­ota’s next con­tract ... but not for long.

NFC

Ari­zona Car­di­nals: Is this the proper en­vi­ron­ment for Josh Rosen? The Cards un­ex­pect­edly man­aged to draft the quar­ter­back they think will take them to the promised land. Yet Rosen is try­ing to learn the ropes un­der a rookie head coach and, now, a rookie of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor — to say noth­ing of per­son­nel is­sues, namely the O-line.

At­lanta Fal­cons: Do they have time to re­bound? They’d ob­vi­ously like to be the first team to play a Su­per Bowl on its home field. At­lanta has never reached the play­offs af­ter a 1-4 start and must play six of its fi­nal nine games on the road. But the Fal­cons have won their last two, Matt Ryan’s play is near his 2016 MVP level, and LB Deion Jones and RB Devonta Free­man could re­turn from IR if their team­mates pro­vide a rea­son­able op­por­tu­nity.

Carolina Pan­thers: Can they win on the road? The Cats are 5-2, but 1-2 away from Char­lotte. Five of their fi­nal nine games are road­ies. Big­ger pic­ture, in the Cam New­ton era, this club is 3-1 at home dur­ing the play­offs and 0-3 away from it. And, un­less they can over­take the scorch­ing Saints in the NFC South, the Pan­thers won’t be at home if they’re still alive in Jan­uary.

Chicago Bears: Can they stay healthy enough to con­tend? It’s a concern that ap­plies to any team. But a young one like this, try­ing to re­main afloat in a bru­tal divi­sion, can ill af­ford to be with­out vet­er­ans such as Khalil Mack, Allen Robin­son or Kyle Long — he’s def­i­nitely out for a pro­tracted pe­riod with a foot in­jury.

Dal­las Cow­boys: Have we seen the best of Dak Prescott? Yes, an­other quar­ter­back ques­tion. But this is espe­cially com­pelling given Prescott, slated to make $720,000 in base salary next year, will be el­i­gi­ble for his first ex­ten­sion. Jerry Jones has given him a new No. 1 re­ceiver in Amari Cooper and new O-line coach. Now it’s up to Prescott to prove his ca­reer didn’t plateau im­me­di­ately, a la Bor­tles, Jay Cut­ler, Robert Grif­fin III and Colin Kaeper­nick.

Min­nesota Vik­ings: Will they put it all to­gether? One week, Kirk Cousins and the pass­ing game have a $28 mil­lion lus­ter, the next he and Ste­fon Diggs are team­ing up on a fa­tal pick-six. One week, the Vikes get plowed by Buf­falo, then they’re go­ing toe-to-toe with the Rams. What will Dalvin Cook con­trib­ute? How about Ever­son Grif­fen? Oops, that turned into sev­eral ques­tions.

Philadel­phia Ea­gles: Can they over­take Wash­ing­ton? This is set­ting up as the eighth time in nine years that the NFC East will send just one team to the play­offs. If it’s go­ing to be the reign­ing champs, cur­rently 4-4, they’ll need to get healthy, stop turn­ing the ball over and — per­haps most im­por­tant — might have to sweep both up­com­ing games against the first-place Red­skins (5-2).

San Fran­cisco 49ers: Can Kyle Shana­han keep them com­pet­i­tive? Their sea­son ended in Week 3 when Jimmy Garop­polo’s left knee buck­led. But the Nin­ers have been al­most un­fail­ingly com­pet­i­tive since, a for­giv­able blowout to the Rams in Week 7 not­with­stand­ing, and broke through for their sec­ond win Thurs­day night by thrashing Oak­land. With more beat­able op­po­nents ahead, Shana­han and Co. can con­tinue cul­ti­vat­ing win­ning DNA for 2019.

Seat­tle Sea­hawks: Have they suc­cess­fully re­booted, or is this a smoke­screen? They’re run­ning the ball at Beast Mode lev­els. Rus­sell Wil­son is play­ing some of the most ef­fi­cient ball of his seven-year ca­reer. An al­most en­tirely over­hauled de­fense ranks in the top five. Are the ’Hawks back? Or are they liv­ing right given they haven’t beaten a team with a win­ning record and should have three more free­bies against Ari­zona and San Fran­cisco?

Tampa Bay Buc­ca­neers: What hap­pens to Jameis Win­ston? The No. 1 pick of the 2015 draft, who be­gan this sea­son on the sus­pended list, now sits on the bench for his foot­ball fail­ures. The Bucs face a fran­chise-defin­ing de­ci­sion in the off­sea­son, when they’ll likely have to de­cide whether to keep Win­ston in 2019 or let him go and face the sub­se­quent hur­dles that will arise.

Wash­ing­ton Red­skins: Can Adrian Peter­son keep it up? A liv­ing leg­end is hav­ing a re­nais­sance sea­son as the league’s fifth-lead­ing rusher de­spite join­ing his new team in late Au­gust. But as much as he tries to defy age, “AD” is still 33 and has bro­ken down in each of the past two sea­sons. This lim­ited of­fense sim­ply can’t af­ford to lose him.

TROY TAORMINA/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Cow­boys quar­ter­back Dak Prescott is slated to make $720,000 in base salary next year and will be el­i­gi­ble for his first ex­ten­sion.

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