With the preseason now in the rear view mirror, as well as deflate gate and the seven month circus that it was, we can now shift our focus from courtrooms and un-drafted players, to what really matters. Regular season games, and the road to Santa Clara for Super Bowl 50. Many are under the impression that there is no clear favorite in the AFC right now. There are a few teams that look to be contenders, but not one sure fire team like in years past. Here is my full prediction for each division and playoff matchup.
AFC East: New England Patriots (12-4): Overall I have been underwhelmed by the Patriots this preseason. With the entire team and region ready to run through a brick wall for Tom Brady on Thursday, I believe they will take that game. After that they have two tough games in Buffalo and in Dallas two weeks later. With the secondary and offensive line going through significant changes, don’t be surprised if they get off to another two and two start, like they did last year. Nevertheless, the Patriots under Bill Belichick have always been dominant in the second half of the season, so expect them to bounce back and win the division.
Buffalo Bills (10-6): The Buffalo defense was already stacked as it was, and now add a defensive guru such as Rex Ryan to the mix, they can give any quarterback major headaches. Also, the Buffalo offense is full of offensive fire power and speed. Lesean McCoy in the backfield, Sammy Watkins and Percy Harvin at receiver, and a speedy quarterback like Tyrod Taylor will keep any defense on their heels. However, Rex Ryan has never been a quarterback whisperer and starting an unproven player such as Taylor could be risky.
New York Jets (7-9): On paper, the Jets have an outstandingly talented roster. Their cornerback depth chart headed by Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie may be the best in the league. Brandon Marshall is also a big addition on offense. The Jets have a very similar problem as the Bills, they don’t have a quarterback. Ryan Fitzpatrick has been average to sub par in his career, and Geno Smith put himself out for the first ten weeks by getting himself punched in the face. With a first year head coach in Todd Bowles, the personalities on that roster could take over and not allow the team to capitalize on their potential.
Miami Dolphins (7-9): The Miami Dolphins were not shy in spending money this offseason, giving out mega contracts to Ryan Tannehill and Ndamukong Suh. It is great to sustain and add talent, however when you give out those deals it can leave you vulnerable at other positions. For example, their offensive line has been below average for the past few seasons, and how good is a twenty-million dollar quarterback when you can’t protect him. In addition, Joe Philipin may be on his last leg with the team.
Baltimore Ravens (11-5): If there is one team in the National Football League, besides the Patriots, that you can always count on being in at least the divisional round, it would be the Ravens. Say what you want about John Harbaugh’s personality, he is a great coach and his team fears no opponent. They will continue to have a stout defensive front and a run heavy offense, along with the always postseason reliable Joe Flacco. Count on them playing late in January.
Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7): The Steelers have been a very difficult team to predict the past couple of seasons. It looked as if they finally turned the corner last season when they won the division with a fantastic offensive year. However, they came out flat and lost in the wild card round at home against arch rival Baltimore. This season, they are facing a lot of turnaround on defense with long-time veterans in the secondary, Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu retiring. Also, key pieces on offense Le’veon Bell and Martavius Bryant are suspended early on. It will be a bit of a set back year in Pittsburgh.
Cincinnati Bengals (9-7): Over the past four seasons, the Bengals have been almost identical to the team the year before. They are a tough team up front on defense, with an average offense with a fragile superstar in AJ Green, and an inconsistent quarterback with Andy Dalton. Nevertheless, in the playoffs they never cease to amaze when they upset fans in the wild card round with their lack luster performance. I find it hard to believe that they will make it to the playoffs this season due to the increase in talent around them.
Cleveland Browns (6-10): Last year at this time I was all in on the Browns. Now they are just viewed as a bottom dweller once again. The Johnny Manziel hype has died out very quickly, and besides him there isn’t much on that team that is interesting. The defense has some young talent in Barkevious Mingo and Joe Haden along with others, but it has yet to translate to the field.
Indianapolis Colts (12-4): The Colts have been the talk of the town in the AFC over this past offseason. With the additions of veterans such as Andre Johnson and Frank Gore, many are claiming them as Super Bowl favorites in the AFC. Although, not much has been made about their lack of defense. Their past two seasons have ended in Foxborough in January because they can’t stop the run. They did not address that need this offseason, and one of their best run stoppers, Arthur Jones, is out for the season with a torn ligament in his ankle. The offense will be among the tops in the league, but it will be tough for their defense to hold up in the key situations in the playoffs.
Houston Texans (10-6): The Texans flew under the radar last season going 9-7 and just barely missing the playoffs. This year Bill O’Brien will have them as one of the forces in the AFC, and defensive coordinator Romeo Crenell may have the best unit in the league. JJ Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, Vince Wilfork, and Brian Cushing are just a few names on a defense that will be a force to be reckoned with. They certainly will give Andrew Luck headaches. The quarterback position is a question mark with Brian Hoyer as the starter, but Bill O’Brien is a very good offensive mind and can put things together.
Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11): Blake Bortles is a promising young quarterback, however he does not have much if not anything around him. The team added tight end Julius Thomas in the offseason, but he will be out for the first few weeks of the season due to injury. Also, his numbers may have been inflated because of the offense he was on in Denver. Jacksonville has a good young roster, they might just be a year or two away.
Tennessee Titans (4-12): The Tennessee Titans selected Marcus Mariota with the second pick in the 2015 draft, and they want him to be the quarterback that will take them to the top. Well, they need to begin to add pieces around him before they can truly be a relevant team in the AFC. His character and toughness will be tested early in his career as his team will struggle.
Denver Broncos (11-5): Most media members are counting the Denver Broncos out of the AFC championship race. That is the wrong move. Peyton Manning may be a terrible postseason quarterback, but he is more than likely the best ever when it comes to the regular season. Manning has a plethora of targets that include elite receivers such as Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas. Also, Peyton has help in the running game now with CJ Anderson and Montee Ball. In addition, the defense is stacked and should be in the top five overall. It won’t be like the late 90’s Broncos with Elway, Sharper, and Davis, but it will be enough to get them a home playoff game.
Kansas City Chiefs (9-7): The Chiefs are a sleeper team right now in the AFC. The addition of Jeremy Maclin will compliment the speed of Jamaal Charles very nicely. Their defense is also very good up front lead by Justin Houston and Dontarie Poe. Also, Eric Berry returning will be an emotional lift and on field. He is one of, if not the best safety in the game. The Chiefs also have one of the best coaches in the game with Andy Reid, that can never go unmentioned.
San Diego Chargers (9-7): When you have an elite quarterback such as Philip Rivers as your starter, you will be able to compete for a playoff chance almost every season. The Chargers drafted Melvin Gordon in the first round of this year’s draft and many believe that he can be the next Jamaal Charles. The defense does not have a ton of talent, but they played very hard and physical last season. That will be essential when going up against divisional opponents such as Kansas City and Denver.
Oakland Raiders (6-10): Last season, the Raiders lost their first ten games of the season. They finished with three wins, and fought hard against almost every team they faced in the last half of the season. They now have Jack Del Rio as a head coach. He has always been known to be able to put together a solid defense. The Oakland defense is swimming with young talent. Offensively, the Derek Carr to Amari Cooper connection is one to keep an eye on in the coming years. Again, another team that may be just a year away.
Wild Card Round: 6. Houston over 3. Denver, 4. Baltimore over 5. Buffalo
Divisional Round: 1. New England over 6. Houston, 4. Baltimore over 2. Indianapolis.
AFC Championship: 4. Baltimore over 1. New England
As a diehard New Englander, this pains me to write. The Patriots somehow managed to stay very healthy, (with the exception of Jerod Mayo) last season. No serious injuries were suffered to Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, or a defensive stars such as Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, or Devin McCourty. It is hard to think that nothing will happen to any of those players this upcoming season. Furthermore, the losses of Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, Kyle Arrington, and Vince Wilfork will be greatly missed in the postseason. In addition, the Ravens have no fear going into Gillette, and this rivalry tends to be back and forth. I hope I am wrong, but as of right now I see the Baltimore Ravens representing the AFC in Super Bowl 50.