Scouts Inc. on the Patriots, AFC

On Wednesday we wrote a feature on the long odds the New England Patriots are facing as the Super Bowl runners-up. It's been 39 years since a loser of the Super Bowl bounced back to win it all the following year. That is New England’s task in 2012.

We checked in with Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. to get his take on the Patriots and their biggest competition in the conference.

"I think Pittsburgh is pretty good. I think their defense is clearly better than New England’s. If the offensive line works out like we think it can and lives up to its talent, that’s a benefit the Steelers haven’t had in so long. The Steelers can play with anybody. I think Baltimore took a little step back. I think Houston took a little step back. I look at the West, and I think Kansas City is going to win that division. But the team with the highest ceiling in the West is Denver. If Peyton Manning comes back and looks like the Manning from a couple of years ago and everything goes right, they could be the best team in the league. But that’s unlikely to happen."

Should New England be the clear-cut preseason favorite in the AFC? Using our SportsNation poll, vote on who you think is the best team in the conference.