Five teams to watch out for during the 2013 season


(Reuters) - Five teams to watch out for during the National Football League's (NFL) 2013 season, which starts on Thursday:

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DENVER BRONCOS (2012 Record: 13-3)

The Broncos have been installed as the early favorites to win the Super Bowl after posting the best record in the AFC last season, only to fall to the eventual champion Baltimore Ravens in the playoffs.

With quarterback Peyton Manning leading an offense boosted by the acquisition of wide receiver Wes Welker from the New England Patriots, the Broncos appear to have all the firepower needed to make a deep run.

The offseason has not been kind to the Broncos with several injuries and the suspension of All-Pro linebacker Von Miller but they remain the team to beat in the AFC West.

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NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (2012 Record: 12-4)

The Patriots have made the playoffs in nine of the last 10 seasons and remain the popular pick to win the weak AFC East despite a troubled offseason in which they released tight end Aaron Hernandez after he was arrested then charged with murder.

They also let Welker go and have concerns about the fitness of tight end Rob Gronkowski but added Danny Amendola to the roster in the hope that he can provide quarterback Tom Brady with a new target for seasons to come.

The Patriots reached the Super Bowl two seasons ago but came up short last season when they lost the AFC championship game to the Ravens.

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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (2012 Record: 11-4-1)

Led by brilliant young quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the 49ers went to the Super Bowl last season but came up short after a slow start to the game.

If history is any guide, the 49ers may not get an instant reprieve as only two teams that have lost the Super Bowl have returned to win it the next season. The good omen is that the last franchise who succeeded were the 1972 Miami Dolphins, the only team to go through an entire season undefeated.

The 49ers already boast one of the best defenses in the NFL, led by linebacker Patrick Willis, and a top running back in Frank Gore. They recruited wide receiver Anquan Boldin but will be missing the injured Michael Crabtree for the first part of the season in which they have a tough draw.

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GREEN BAY PACKERS (2012 Record: 11-5)

The Green Bay Packers are always in the discussion for Super Bowl champions and this season is no different.

With quarterback Aaron Rodgers re-signed for five years on a record $110-million contract and receivers Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb all retained, the Packers have a potent offense despite losing Greg Jennings.

The Packers have made the playoffs in each of the past four years and won the Super Bowl in 2011 and look to be the early pick to win the NFC North.

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (2012 Record: 11-5)

The Seahawks have never won the Super Bowl but all the signs are there that suggest they are one of the leading contenders this season.

Despite being in the tough NFC West Division with the San Francisco 49ers, they made the second round of the playoffs last season and should be stronger this year.

They have one of the tightest defenses in the NFL, a dynamic quarterback in Russell Wilson who is coming off a sensational rookie season and Marshawn Lynch, one of the league's top running backs.

(Compiled by Julian Linden in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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