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Unlocked, and set to go

NFL sheds shaky offseason, kicks off this week

Rejoice, for the NFL lockout is done and gone. No more talk about gross percentages, but plenty of talk about yards, blocks and tackles as we near another autumn full of gridiron Sundays.

Look elsewhere, though, if you’re seeking fantasy-geek stuff. Here we do something novel – look at the teams, what they have and what they need to do in order to make it to the Hoosier Heartland on the night of Feb. 5. Here is the division-by-division breakdown.

AFC East – Leave it to the Jets and Patriots to morph into the Yankees and Red Sox, feuding each other in public, drawing obscene amounts of attention and loathed by everyone outside of their geographic base. Oh, the football part – barring total upheaval, they’ll duel for division honors all season and home-field advantage in January. This leaves Miami wondering if Chad Henne and Reggie Bush can do them any good, and it leaves Buffalo, white helmets and all, grasping for good news to prevent yet another depressing and cold winter in Western New York.

AFC North – Really, it’s similar to the AFC East in the massive gulf that separates the top two from the bottom two. Pittsburgh and Baltimore open with each other and are likely to spend the next four months still at it, though from afar. Yes, the Steelers and Ravens have aging defenses, but there’s enough offensive production to make up for it. Besides, Cleveland, though doing all the right things and hiring a solid coach in Pat Shurmur, is still a year or two from really threatening, and Cincinnati is even worse, so it might as well throw Andy Dalton out there to see what happens.

AFC South – Everything in this division hinges on Peyton Manning’s neck. If it’s healed, and he doesn’t miss any games, Indianapolis still holds every card. If not healed, the Colts will sink fast, and Houston might finally take full advantage and get to the playoffs in its 10th year of existence. Down in Jacksonville, either the Jaguars contend early, or it might prove time to give rookie Blaine Gabbert the keys to the office. Tennessee was wise to hire within (Mike Munchak is a solid guy), but the Chris Johnson holdout is overshadowing a real opportunity to move up.

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