CINCINNATI BENGALS (11-5)
OPEN CAMP: July 24, Cincinnati.
LAST YEAR: Won AFC North and made playoffs for third year in row, only to lose opening game once again. Haven’t won playoff game since 1990 season, streak of futility tied for sixth longest in NFL history. Coach Marvin Lewis got one-year extension through 2015. Andy Dalton had best regular season, becoming only fifth starting QB during Super Bowl era to reach playoffs each of first three seasons.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Hue Jackson promoted to offensive coordinator, Paul Guenther promoted to defensive coordinator; S Danieal Manning; OT Marshall Newhouse; CB Darqueze Dennard; RB Jeremy Hill.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, offensive coordinator Jay Gruden; DE Michael Johnson; OT Anthony Collins; C Kyle Cook.
CAMP NEEDS: Focus will be on several injured players’ recoveries. DT Geno Atkins tore ACL on Oct. 31 and couldn’t participate in June minicamp. CB Leon Hall is ahead of schedule (torn Achilles tendon). Punter Kevin Huber returns from broken jaw and cracked neck vertebra. Hill, second-round pick from LSU, will challenge BenJarvus Green-Ellis for starting job. C Russell Bodine, fourth-round pick, will get chance to take over for Kyle Cook. Jackson is installing more up-tempo approach.
EXPECTATIONS: No mystery here: Bengals have to not only reach playoffs but win at least one game to consider season a success. With two new coordinators, lots of attention on whether either unit drops off. Zimmer known for excellent in-game adjustments; can Guenther do same? Also pivotal year for Dalton, who fell apart in playoff losses.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS (8-8)
OPEN CAMP: July 25, Latrobe, Pennsylvania.
LAST YEAR: Limped to 2-6 start on way to second straight .500 finish. Offensive line took two months to recover from loss of center Maurkice Pouncey (knee) in opener. Defense spent eight games getting pushed around, finishing outside top 10 in yards allowed for first time in more than a decade. RB Le’Veon Bell proved durable after some early injures, Antonio Brown developed elite wide receiver, catching 110 passes.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: WRs Lance Moore and WR Martavis Bryant; DT Cam Thomas; RB LeGarrette Blount; S Mike Mitchell; LB Ryan Shazier; DE Stephon Tulloch; RB/WR Dri Archer; offensive line coach Mike Munchak.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: WRs Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery; RB Jonathan Dwyer; LB Larry Foote; S Ryan Clark; running backs coach Kirby Wilson.
CAMP NEEDS: Youth movement almost over, it’s time to find out if kids can play. Biggest battles figure to be at receiver — 6-foot-4 rookie Bryant will battle second-year wideout Markus Wheaton for No. 2 spot. Questions remain on defensive line. Thomas will try to unseat Steve McLendon. Pittsburgh bet big on OLB Jason Worilds, signing him to transitional tag while cutting LaMarr Woodley. Worilds (hamstring) missed almost all offseason activities and minicamp.
EXPECTATIONS: Steelers haven’t missed playoffs three straight years since 1998-2000. They’ve retooled around quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who believes offense will be as explosive as any in his 10 NFL years. Pittsburgh flourished after coordinator Todd Haley gave Roethlisberger more freedom in no-huddle. Expect those powers to be expanded during camp. Young defense adds Shazier, first-round pick expected to play right away alongside veteran ILB Lawrence Timmons.
BALTIMORE RAVENS (8-8)
OPEN CAMP: July 22, Owings Mills, Maryland.
LAST YEAR: Coming off Super Bowl win, Ravens lost many key players to retirement or free agency. They dropped six of first 10 games before winning four in row. Then they lost final two and missed postseason for first time in six years
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak; WR Steve Smith; TE Owen Daniels; LB C.J. Mosley; C Jeremy Zuttah; S Darian Stewart.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: DL Arthur Jones; OT Michael Oher; CB Corey Graham; S James Ihedigbo.
CAMP NEEDS: Ravens need right tackle after losing inconsistent Oher. Ricky Wagner stands atop depth chart, which might not be good enough for team with playoff aspirations. GM Ozzie Newsome may also be on lookout for secondary help.
EXPECTATIONS: Despite being relatively young, Ravens have high hopes of getting back to postseason. QB Joe Flacco, RB Ray Rice and WRs Smith and Jacoby Jones have plenty of experience. But starting safeties might end up being rookie Terrence Brooks and second-year man Matt Elam. Still, Baltimore fully expects to compete for AFC North crown and intends to play deep into January.
CLEVELAND BROWNS (4-12)
OPEN CAMP: July 26, Berea.
LAST YEAR: Browns dropped 10 of last 11 for sixth straight season of at least 11 losses. Coach Rob Chudzinski was fired immediately, front office was dismissed in February. Cleveland started 3-2, but QB Brian Hoyer’s season-ending knee injury sent team into spiral. Positives were six Pro Bowlers, and WR Josh Gordon led league in yards receiving.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Coach Mike Pettine; offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan; QB Johnny Manziel; RBs Ben Tate and Terrance West; WRs Miles Austin, Nate Burleson and Andrew Hawkins; LB Karlos Dansby; Ss Donte Whitner and Justin Gilbert; OLs Paul McQuistan and Joe Bitonio; TE Jim Dray.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: LBs D’Qwell Jackson and Quentin Groves; S T.J. Ward; WRs Greg Little and Davone Bess; QBs Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell; G Shawn Lauvao.
CAMP NEEDS: Hoyer will try to hold off Manziel, a first-round pick, for starting job. Hoyer left spring minicamp with lead, but Pettine warned his advantage wasn’t “insurmountable” for Johnny Football. Browns still awaiting clarity from league on Gordon, who could be facing one-year ban for substance abuse. Hard to imagine Cleveland’s offense without him.
EXPECTATIONS: Pettine has to prevent first camp from turning into circus. Wildly popular Manziel will draw big crowds and constant questions about QB competition. If Gordon is suspended, Browns have to hope Austin can return to form with Dallas before assorted leg injuries.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (13-5)
OPEN CAMP: July 23, Foxborough, Massachusetts.
LAST YEAR: Despite injuries to key players, mediocre receiving corps and weak run defense, Patriots reached third straight AFC championship game. Lost to Broncos 26-16, allowing 507 yards, most in Bill Belichick’s 14 seasons as coach. Injuries sidelining TE Rob Gronkowski, LB Jerod Mayo and DTs Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly were costly. WR Danny Amendola was disappointment in his first year with team. But WR Julian Edelman, with 69 catches in previous four seasons, had 105.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: CBs Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner; DL Dominique Easley; WR Brandon LaFell; DE Will Smith; LB James Anderson.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: CB Aqib Talib; RB LeGarrette Blount; LBs Brandon Spikes and Dane Fletcher; S Steve Gregory.
CAMP NEEDS: Better pass rush, influx of youth on aging offensive line, productive backup for Gronkowski, whose readiness for is uncertain after knee injury. Also must improve young receiving group. WRs Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce should benefit from last season’s rookie experience. Patriots also must decide if second-round draft pick Jimmy Garoppolo is good enough for them to keep two quarterbacks and release or trade Ryan Mallett.
EXPECTATIONS: Sixth straight AFC East title is likely. As long as Belichick and Tom Brady are running show, expectations are high in weak division. Defense improved with additions of Revis and Browner, which offset loss of Talib to Denver. Departure of Spikes, who clashed with Belichick, could hurt. But Anderson, solid locker room presence who led Bears in tackles last season, provides pass coverage ability Spikes lacked. Patriots still have RBs Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden.
NEW YORK JETS (8-8)
OPEN CAMP: July 23, SUNY Cortland, Cortland, New York.
LAST YEAR: Rookie QB Geno Smith was forced into starting job when Mark Sanchez was lost for season and had roller-coaster year that ended on upswing, Jets winning three of last four to finish .500 and save coach Rex Ryan’s job. Still, Jets missed playoffs for third straight year, longest postseason drought since Woody Johnson bought team in 2000.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: WR Eric Decker; RB Chris Johnson; QB Michael Vick, RT Breno Giacomini; CBs Dimitri Patterson and Dexter McDougle; S Calvin Pryor; TE Jace Amaro; special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: Sanchez; CB Antonio Cromartie; WRs Santonio Holmes and Josh Cribbs; RT Austin Howard; TE Kellen Winslow Jr.; S Ed Reed; ST coordinator Ben Kotwica.
CAMP NEEDS: For Smith to show marked improvement and establish himself as QB of present, and possibly future. If he struggles, Vick will be expected to step in. Jets also will have to sort through mix of veterans and youngsters at WR and in secondary.
EXPECTATIONS: Ryan encouraged by upgrades on offense with Decker, Johnson and Amaro, who should help move ball more consistently, whether it’s Smith or Vick under center. Defense should be solid, as usual, as long as Pryor, McDougle and second-year CB Dee Milliner play well.
MIAMI DOLPHINS (8-8)
OPEN CAMP: July 25, Davie, Florida.
LAST YEAR: Dolphins were wildly inconsistent, their season rocked by bullying scandal that raised questions about locker room leadership. To make postseason for first time in five years, they needed to win one of final two games against Bills or the Jets, both out of playoff chase. Instead, Miami lost by combined 39-7. General manager Jeff Ireland left after six years. Coach Joe Philbin returns for third season, might need to make playoffs to keep job.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: GM Dennis Hickey; offensive coordinator Bill Lazor; OL coach John Benton; LT Branden Albert and RT Ja’Wuan James; DT Earl Mitchell; RB Knowshon Moreno; S Louis Delmas; WR Jarvis Landry; CB Cortland Finnegan; OLs Shelley Smith, Jason Fox, Daryn Colledge and Billy Turner.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: Ireland; offensive coordinator Mike Sherman; OL coach Jim Turner; OTs Jonathan Martin, Tyson Clabo and Bryant McKinnie; G Richie Incognito; DT Paul Soliai; S Chris Clemons; CBs Nolan Carroll and Dimitri Patterson; TE Dustin Keller.
CAMP NEEDS: Offense must adjust to Lazor’s system while finding firepower after Dolphins scored once in final 24 possessions last year. Sort out O-line with five new starters after departures of Martin and Incognito, both involved in bullying scandal. Secondary will have two new starters. Should they keep Koa Misi at MLB after moving him there during offseason drills.
EXPECTATIONS: Dolphins were outgained by 743 yards last year, suggesting they overachieved to go 8-8. Neither offense nor defense appears to be first-place caliber, and unless QB Ryan Tannehill makes dramatic improvement in third NFL season, another Miami coaching search is more likely in January than a playoff game.
BUFFALO BILLS (6-10)
OPEN CAMP: July 20, St. John Fisher College, Pittsford, New York.
LAST YEAR: Top to bottom offseason overhaul, addition of rookie quarterback (EJ Manuel) and series of injuries, Manuel, included, contributed to ninth straight losing record. Team extended NFL’s longest active playoff drought to 14 seasons. Manuel’s development was hampered by three separate knee injuries, missed six regular-season games. Buffalo finished 19th in yards gained and 29th in yards passing. Defense improved under coordinator Mike Pettine’s attacking philosophy, but struggled against run.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: WRs Mike Williams and Sammy Watkins; LBs Brandon Spikes and Keith Rivers; DB Corey Graham; RB Bryce Brown; RT Cyrus Kouandjio; defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and defensive line coach Pepper Johnson.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: Owner Ralph Wilson; S Jairus Byrd; WR Stevie Johnson; defensive coordinator Pettine; LB Kiko Alonso.
CAMP NEEDS: Manuel to stay healthy and show signs of taking command of offense. Find capable replacement for OLB with Alonso expected to miss season (torn ACL). Watkins, Williams and second-year WRs Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin to establish chemistry with Manuel. Da’Norris Searcy or Duke Williams to secure safety spot left open following Byrd’s departure. DT Marcell Dareus to stay out of trouble after facing drug possession and reckless endangerment driving charges.
EXPECTATIONS: Bills are up for sale following Wilson’s death. Could this be year they finally are playoff contenders? GM Doug Whaley emphasized win-now approach at draft by giving up 2015 first-round pick to move and select Watkins at No. 4. Much of defense returns intact, as does Bills’ strength on offense — its running game.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (12-6)
OPEN CAMP: July 22, Anderson, Indiana.
LAST YEAR: Colts won first division title without Peyton Manning in nearly two decades, and Andrew Luck rallied them from 28-point deficit to pull off second-greatest playoff comeback in NFL history against Chiefs. But at New England, Luck threw four interceptions in 43-22 blowout that prevented Indy vs. Manning matchup for AFC championship.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: LBs D’Qwell Jackson and Jonathan Newsome; DT Arthur Jones; OLs Lance Louis and Jack Mewhort; WRs Hakeem Nicks and Donte Moncrief.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: LB Pat Angerer; S Antoine Bethea; RB Donald Brown; DT Aubrayo Franklin; WR Darrius Heyward-Bey; OL Samson Satele.
CAMP NEEDS: Find starting center, improve along offensive line, solidify pass defense, pass rush, and finding replacement for Bethea in secondary.
EXPECTATIONS: In division that lacks standout quarterbacks and Super Bowl contenders, Luck and Colts stand apart. They made playoffs in 2012, won playoff game last year and appear poised to take next logical step. But to win NFL title, need WR Reggie Wayne to be healthy, Luck to be protected better, and improved defense that will be without NFL sacks champion Robert Mathis for first four games.
TENNESSEE TITANS (7-9)
OPEN CAMP: July 25, Nashville, Tennessee.
LAST YEAR: QB Jake Locker missed nine games, including final seven, and Titans missed playoffs for fifth straight season. Owner/founder Bud Adams died in October, and son-in-law Tommy Smith became president/CEO. Smith fired Mike Munchak in January when coach wouldn’t make some staff changes, ending Hall of Fame lineman’s 31-year tenure with this franchise as player and coach.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Coach Ken Whisenhunt; defensive coordinator Ray Horton; RB-WR Dexter McCluster; LBs Shaun Phillips and Wesley Woodyard; OTs Michael Oher and Taylor Lewan; RB Bishop Sankey.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: RB Chris Johnson; Pro Bowl CB Alterraun Verner; QB Ryan Fitzpatrick; RT David Stewart.
CAMP NEEDS: RB Shonn Greene needs to be healthy after two knee surgeries. Lewan can push both veteran LT Michael Roos or Oher for playing time. WR Justin Hunter must keep developing while keeping some of weight he added. Defensively, pick either Blidi Wreh-Wilson or Coty Sensabaugh as Verner’s replacement, settle linebacker starters and rotation transitioning to 3-4 scheme.
EXPECTATIONS: How good Tennessee can be depends on Locker’s health. He appears recovered from season-ending Lisfranc injury in right foot, must avoid further injury so Whisenhunt can squeeze most out of new offense — Locker’s third in his fourth season. Playoffs among goals, but the Titans must fine-tune new offense and defense in August with three of first four regular-season games on road.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (4-12)
OPEN CAMP: July 25, Jacksonville, Florida.
LAST YEAR: Under general manager Dave Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley, rebuilding Jaguars lost first eight games by double digits. They enjoyed slight turnaround, winning three of four at one point, but ended up with fifth losing record in last six years.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: QB Blake Bortles; G Zane Beadles; DEs Red Bryant and Chris Clemons; RB Toby Gerhart; DT Ziggy Hood; WRs Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson; LB Dekoda Watson.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: DE Jason Babin; RB Maurice Jones-Drew; C Brad Meester; G Uche Nwaneri.
CAMP NEEDS: Get WRs Cecil Shorts III, Lee and Robinson back following offseason injuries and keep them healthy. Develop continuity along revamped offensive line. Get newcomers Beadles, Bryant, Clemons, Gerhart and Watson more comfortable in starting roles. Keep grooming Bortles.
EXPECTATIONS: Despite roster overhaul, Jaguars are probably still another year away from competing for playoffs. Bortles is eventual starter and key to franchise’s future success, but might sit out all of 2014 while transitioning from spread offense to pro system.
HOUSTON TEXANS (2-14)
OPEN CAMP: July 25, Houston.
LAST YEAR: Texans entered season with designs on reaching Super Bowl after two straight playoff appearances. They won first two games, but soon quarterback Matt Schaub went through terrible stretch before being benched. Injuries piled up and Houston never won again, tying the worst record in franchise history.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Coach Bill O’Brien; defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel; OLB Jadeveon Clowney; QBs Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tom Savage; S Chris Clemons; G Xavier Su’a-Filo.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips; Schaub; RB Ben Tate; DE Antonio Smith; TE Owen Daniels; S Danieal Manning.
CAMP NEEDS: Clowney missed minicamp after sports hernia surgery and he’ll need camp to work on transition from end to OLB. Team must resolve issues with disgruntled WR Andre Johnson, who skipped minicamp. Fitzpatrick, who O’Brien chose as starter in June, needs to settle into new offense. RB Arian Foster must show he can return to form following back surgery.
EXPECTATIONS: Texans should be better, but aren’t likely playoff contenders. Return of MLB Brian Cushing to play with Clowney and 2012 Defensive Player of Year J.J. Watt could give Houston dominant defense, but some question Fitzpatrick as answer to team’s quarterback problem. If Texans don’t get Johnson on field there will be big hole in offense. WR DeAndre Hopkins will have much more pressure to perform in second season.
DENVER BRONCOS (15-4)
OPEN CAMP: July 23, Englewood, Colorado.
LAST YEAR: Peyton Manning had best season of his unparalleled career, leading offense that was best in NFL history before injury-depleted Broncos were blistered by Seattle in Super Bowl.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: DE-LB DeMarcus Ware; WR Emmanuel Sanders and Cody Latimer; S T.J. Ward; CBs Aqib Talib and Bradley Roby.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: CB Champ Bailey; WR Eric Decker; LB Wesley Woodyard; S Mike Adams; RB Knowshon Moreno.
CAMP NEEDS: Broncos need defensive stalwarts Von Miller (ACL), Chris Harris Jr. (ACL), Kevin Vickerson (hip) and Rahim Moore (leg) to return to form after watching Super Bowl from sideline. With LT Ryan Clady (foot) back and Zane Beadles gone, Broncos juggled O-line, moving Chris Clark to RT and shifting Orlando Franklin inside to LG. That gives them more muscle for ground game led by second-year pro Montee Ball as they strive for better balance in 2014. EXPECTATIONS: As Chris Harris Jr., said, “It’s Super Bowl or bust for us this year.” He meant winning it. Broncos could be even better on offense with Sanders and Latimer replacing Decker, and Ball replacing Moreno. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio is relieved to get back so many injured players and work in bevy of thumpers GM John Elway signed to add nastiness Broncos witnessed — and Manning felt — against Seahawks in Super Bowl.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (11-5)
OPEN CAMP: July 24, Missouri Western, St. Joseph, Missouri.
LAST YEAR: After going 2-14 two years ago, Chiefs overhauled roster under new GM John Dorsey and rebounded to win first nine games. They scuffled down the stretch but earned wild card before blowing 28-point lead in 45-44 loss at Indianapolis.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: OL Jeff Linkenbach; LBs Dee Ford and Joe Mays; DT Vance Walker; CBs Chris Owens and Phillip Gaines; RB De’Anthony Thomas.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: OLs Branden Albert, Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz; WR Dexter McCluster; FS Kendrick Lewis; CB Brandon Flowers; LB Akeem Jordan; DE Tyson Jackson.
CAMP NEEDS: Chiefs need to settle on starting offensive line, particularly RG, where Rokevious Watkins has been suspended four games for violating league’s substance abuse policy. Competition at WR figures to be stiff behind Dwayne Bowe, and jobs at FS and CB will be up for grabs. Watch for contract negotiations involving QB Alex Smith and LB Justin Houston; both can become free agents after season. Houston skipped all voluntary and mandatory offseason workouts.
EXPECTATIONS: Chiefs lost three Pro Bowl players, three starting offensive linemen and several veterans who provided valuable depth. They made modest moves in free agency due to salary cap situation. Second-year coach Andy Reid believes everyone having a year in his system will help. But with more difficult schedule, many believe a .500 record will be successful.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (9-7)
OPEN CAMP: July 24, San Diego.
LAST YEAR: Under new coach Mike McCoy, Chargers recovered from midseason slump to win final four games to end three-year playoff drought. Bolts lost at Denver in divisional round after beating Bengals in wild-card game. QB Philip Rivers had big bounce-back season to win Comeback Player award, RB Ryan Mathews had career year.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: CBs Brandon Flowers, Jason Verrett and Brandon Ghee; RB Donald Brown.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: QB Charlie Whitehurst.
CAMP NEEDS: Improving pass defense, among worst in NFL in 2013. Biggest competition should be at cornerback, where free agents Flowers and Ghee will compete with Shareece Wright and top draft pick Verrett. Bolts also looking to sort out depth chart at OLB, where Dwight Freeney returns from injury-shortened season and Jerry Attaochu joins team as second-round draft pick. Chargers eager to see how rookie NT Ryan Carethers does. At RB, Brown and rookie Marion Grice join mix with Mathews and Danny Woodhead.
EXPECTATIONS: Chargers should return to playoffs, although they’ll again be chasing Peyton Manning and Denver in division. That’s why they loaded up on defensive players in draft. Plus, they play the tough NFC West.
OAKLAND RAIDERS (4-12)
OPEN CAMP: July 25, Napa, California.
LAST YEAR: Raiders posted second straight four-win season under coach Dennis Allen and GM Reggie McKenzie as team lacked playmakers and depth. Defense allowed second-most points per game (28.3) in franchise history. Offense was plagued by porous line and inconsistent play at quarterback from Terrelle Pryor, Matt McGloin and Matt Flynn. Added up to 11th straight season without winning record or playoff berth.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: QBs Matt Schaub and Derek Carr; LB Khalil Mack; DEs Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley; DT Antonio Smith; WR James Jones; RB Maurice Jones-Drew; CBs Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers; OLs Donald Penn and Austin Howard.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: OT Jared Veldheer; DE Lamarr Houston; QB Terrelle Pryor; RB Rashad Jennings; CBs Tracy Porter and CB Mike Jenkins; DT Vance Walker.
CAMP NEEDS: Raiders are hoping Schaub can solidify quarterback after being run out of Houston following rough 2013. If he struggles at all, second-round pick Carr could push for playing time. Offensive line needs to mesh with only C Stefen Wisniewski expected to return to spot he played last season. Defense must integrate at least six new starters led by No. 5 overall pick Mack.
EXPECTATIONS: With McKenzie finally having money to spend, he made significant upgrades to weak roster. While many newcomers such as Tuck, Woodley and Jones come with Super Bowl pedigrees, most of them are also at least 29 years old, likely on downside of careers. Oakland also has difficult schedule — five games against last season’s conference title participants, four more against playoff teams. But owner Mark Davis is getting impatient.