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THE PLAYOFF HUNT
Jim Trotter
November 16, 2009
Senior writers Jim Trotter and Damon Hack forecast the race to Super Bowl XLIV
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November 16, 2009

The Playoff Hunt

Senior writers Jim Trotter and Damon Hack forecast the race to Super Bowl XLIV

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AFC

1. COLTS (South)

Peyton Manning hasn't missed a beat despite breaking in two young wide receivers and rookie running back Donald Brown, and the defense, even without some key players, is more creative and aggressive under new coordinator Larry Coyer. With a 3½-game lead in the division, Indy's biggest enemy down the stretch could be complacency.

2. STEELERS (North)

The defending Super Bowl champs are in a divisional dogfight with surprising Cincinnati, but as long as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (below) stays healthy and safety Troy Polamalu shows he's fully recovered from that Week 1 knee injury, this battle-tested team will make a run at a seventh Super Bowl title.

3. NEW ENGLAND (East)

The Patriots haven't dominated many teams, but the three-time champions know how to win games at the end. Tom Brady, who's coming back from reconstructive knee surgery, looks more comfortable each week, and the defense is jelling after losing a handful of veteran stalwarts to retirement, trade or release.

4. DENVER (West)

The Broncos have been the surprise of the league under new coach Josh McDaniels. The offense is efficient and largely turnover free with Jay Cutler's replacement, Kyle Orton, at quarterback, and the defense is at or near the top of the league in most significant categories. That's a proven recipe for reaching the playoffs.

5. CHARGERS (Wild card)

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