AFC

EAST New York Jets - This team is probably better than the one that upset Baltimore in Super Bowl III. Basically all the ingredients are here, and the Jets will not lose a step with new coach Joe Walton, promoted from offensive coordinator to replace Walt Michaels.

Miami - Winning is a habit with Don Shula-coached teams. Good thing, too, because the defense has been hit with some unexpected vacancies. An even bigger concern may be at quarterback, where David Woodley doesn't always fill the bill, Don Strock is a contract holdout, and rookie Dan Marino will probably need time to develop.

Buffalo - The Bills are one of those teams that walks a tightrope between making real headway and just missing the playoffs, as happened last year. The key is QB Joe Ferguson, who can be very good sometimes.

New England - Coach Ron Meyer and his players didn't always get along last year, yet mystery of mysteries, the Patriots made the playoffs. Now, even with better relations, a repeat performance is unlikely unless the offense perks up.

Baltimore - A return to a 16-game season gives the Colts, 0-8-1 last year, more opportunities to catch opponents napping. And snoozing rivals are about the only kind Baltimore can reasonably expect to beat. CENTRAL

Cincinnati - By a whisker, if that. The defense has to buckle against the pass to take pressure off an offense which depends heavily on Ken Anderson's masterful throwing arm.

Pittsburgh - Chuck Noll has been grooming a raft of young players. Though still a year or two away, they're coming. Now if QB Terry Bradshaw can only conjure up some of his old passing magic, the Steelers could be in business.

Cleveland - The defense is getting better in spots, particularly linebacker, but the offense is too erratic to raise the Browns much above mediocrity.

Houston - The team's motto ''Luv ya blue'' should be traded in for ''Got da blues.'' Statistically they were the worst team in the league last year, even with Earl Campbell. WEST

San Diego - Given the Chargers' loaded offense, you've got to pencil these guys in at the top. The defense obviously is the Achilles' heel, but the team may be through paying lip service to improving this area. Several promising rookies could help in a hurry, just as they did at San Francisco in '81.

Los Angeles - Here's one team you can never count out. In Marcus Allen the Raiders have a brilliant young running back, and the defense comes up with the big plays.

Seattle - The Seahawks have needed a Grade-A ballcarrier. Now that they've got one in rookie Curt Warner, upward mobility is possible.

Kansas City - The loss of nifty running back Joe Delaney, who drowned early this summer in a heroic attempt to rescue three young boys in a pond, is a real blow. New coach John Mackovic, an offensive specialist, has his work cut out for him revamping the attack.

Denver - Putting heralded rookie John Elway at the controls can't cover up a multitude of problems.

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