AFC Season Preview

The NFL season is less than a month away and there are a lot storylines for the upcoming season. As usual, there are many interesting divisional races because there are not many great teams in the league. The Broncos were able to win the conference and the Super Bowl last season, but they lost many key players including starting quarterback Peyton Manning and backup quarterback Brock Osweiler, which should open the door for other teams.

AFC East:

Winner: New England Patriots

Record: 11-5

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Photo credits

The Patriots will obviously be without Tom Brady for the first four games of the season because of the deflategate situation. The Patriots will have to rely on Jimmy Garoppolo to start at quarterback. During the first two games of the preseason, Garoppolo has been solid and should be able to steady the tide for the Pats. The Pats start with the Cardinals, Dolphins, Texans, and Bills. It is plausible that the Pats can go 2-2 with Garoppolo under center and hand the baton to Brady down the stretch. Outside of Brady, the Pats have a very good offense with a solid offensive line, Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, and Dion Lewis. The combination of Gronk and Brady has been the best tandem in the league over the last half decade. Unless Gronkowski is injured, defenses cannot simply deal with his size and speed. Gronk has averaged nearly a touchdown per game and there is no reason to believe that he will slow down as long as Brady the quarterback. On defense, the Patriots will be led by Malcolm Butler, Jamie Collins, and Dont’a Hightower. The Pats’ pass rush will be hinder due to the loss of Chandler Jones, but Head Coach Bill Belichick is a defensive mastermind and the team will prepared week one to thrive.

The Patriots could face tough competition from the other teams in the AFC East. The Jets were a very good team last season, but their schedule is very difficult and it is unknown if they will be able to replicate their success. They will be led by Fitzpatrick, Marshall, Decker, and an incredible defense. The Dolphins have  very good team with Suh and Foster, but Ryan Tannehill has not been a consistent quarterback, which will be the demise of the team. The Bills are similar to the other teams because their defense is very good under Rex Ryan. The Bills have similar questions to the Dolphins because Tyrod Taylor leaves Bills’ fans with many questions and fear.

AFC North:

Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers

Record: 11-5

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Photo credits Post-Gazette

Last season, the Steelers were a common pick to win the Super Bowl and they are a favorite again this season. The Steelers’ strength is their incredible offense, which is led by Brown, Bell, and Roethlisberger. Even though Bell is likely to be suspended for the first few games and returning from an injury, Brown, Bell, Roethlisberger represent the best WR/RB/QB combination. In addition, the Steelers have a talented offensive line and a quality tight end in Ladarius Green. The Steelers have some questions on offense because Ben Roethlisberger has been injured in the past, they are without Martavius Bryant, and Bell needs to prove that he can be effective once again. On defense, the Steelers are not as good as their usual defenses. They have quality linebackers in Dupree, Shazier, Simmons, and Jones, but they are very young and they need to demonstrate an ability to stay healthy and be effective. The Steelers are very suspect in the secondary, which could ultimately lead to their demise in the playoffs or divisional race.

As it seems like every year, the Steelers will have a difficult road to winning the AFC North. The main competitor for the Steelers will be the Bengals, who have won the division in years path. The Bengals have an incredible amount of talent and have been able to succeed during the regular season. Along with the Bengals, the Steelers will have to hold off the Ravens. Even though the Ravens were not very good last season, they always play tough versus the Steelers and they should continue to compete for a playoff berth. The Browns have been torched by the Steelers for over a decade and the dominance should continue.

AFC South:

Winner: Colts

Record: 9-7

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Photo credits Fox Sports

Last season was a disaster for the Colts as Andrew Luck was not effective and they did not reach the playoffs. However, they should be able to bounce back and establish themselves as the class of the AFC South division. With the return of Andrew Luck, the Colts’ offense should return to being once of the most dominant units in the league. Luck is one of the best quarterbacks when healthy, even though he does not have many weapons. The Colts will rely on Ty Hilton, Dwayne Allen, and Donte Moncreif in the passing game. The Colts should be more versatile because Frank Gore is one of the most steady running backs in NFL history and still provides solid production. The offensive line has been a problem for the Colts since Luck has entered the league. If the O-Line does not improve, Luck will either be forced into turnovers or worse be injured once again and the team will have no chance at winning the division. A major question for the Colts this season will be the play of their defense. The best part of their defense is their secondary, which includes, Vontae Davis, Patrick Robinson, and Mike Adams. The Colts need to prove that they can rush the passer so that they can force turnovers and stop opposing offenses. Although they are past their primes, the Colts will need to rely on Erik Walden, Robert Mathis, and Trent Cole.

The Colts are in one of the worst divisions in the league, which would allow them to make the playoffs, if they only win nine games. The biggest challenger for the Colts will be the Texans. The Texans should have an excellence defense led by JJ Watt, even though he is returning from injury and may miss time. The biggest question for the Texans will be the quarterback play of Brock Osweiler, even though he has many options like DeAndre Hopkins and Lamar Miller. The Jags and Titans should be improving, especially due to the improvements of the respective quarterbacks, but they do not have enough talent to compete with the Texans or Colts.

AFC West:

Winner: Kansas City Chiefs

Record: 11-5

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Photo Credits ESPN

After starting the season 1-5, the Chiefs won their next 11 games including a 30-0 over the Texans in the AFC Wild Card round. The Chiefs are not a great or explosive team, but they know how to win games. Alex Smith has become one of the most consistent quarterbacks in the league and has learned how to totally mitigate turnovers. The Chiefs were able to take a step forward and become a very good offensive team because of the emergence of Jeremy Maclin, Albert Wilson, and Travis Kelce. In addition, the Chiefs will return Jamaal Charles from injury and one of the better offensive lines in the league. While the offense is above average, the defense is nothing short of elite. The Chiefs have talent at all levels of the defense, which makes them so successful. The defensive line is led by Dontari Poe, while the linebacking core and secondary is led by Pro Bowlers Eric Berry, Tamba Hali, Juston Houson, Marcus Peters, and Derrick Johnson. The Chiefs’ linebackers have been able to provide constant pressure on quarterbacks, which has allowed Peters and Berry to become ball hawks in the secondary.

The race between the Chiefs and the Denver Broncos will be one of the best races in the entire NFL. The Broncos lost starting quarterback Peyton Manning, but their defense and offensive weapons are still elite. Outside of the Broncos, the Raiders and Chargers should compete for the West crown. The Raiders have significantly improved due to the emergence of Carr, Cooper, and Mack, while the Chargers still have Rivers at quarterback.

Wild Card Teams

Denver Broncos

Record: 10-6

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Photo Credits Chicago Tribune

The defending Super Bowl champions have one of the biggest quarterback questions in the entire league because Sanchez, Lynch, and Semien are not the answers at the position. However, the Broncos still have one of the better offensive lines in the league along with a solid running back in CJ Anderson and very good receivers in Sanders, Thomas, and Green. However, the team will make the playoffs again because their fantastic defense. Like the Chiefs, the Broncos have studs at every level of the defense. Whether it be Derek Wolfe, DeMarcus Ware, Von Miller, Brandon Marshall, Aqib Talib, Chris Harris, or TJ Ward, the Broncos have so many players that can make big plays and force turnovers. Teams will have issues scoring on the Broncos so it is imperative that quarterbacks do not make bad decisions.

New York Jets

Record: 10-6

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Photo Credits New York Jets

The Jets will be fighting with the Bengals and Texans for the final spot in the AFC playoffs. Last season, the Jets nearly made the playoffs, but lost to the Bills during the final week of the season. The Jets have a solid offense weapons with Decker, Forte, Marshall, and Amaro, but it will depend on Fitzpatrick not to cause turnovers. On defense, the Jets should be very good due to their talented defensive line, which consists of Muhammed Wilkerson, Leonard Williams, and Sheldon Richardson. The trio should be able to provide consistent pass rush along with Lorenzo Mauldin, Darren Lee, and Jordan Jenkins. The secondary has questions, but the possibility to be very good with All-Pro Darrelle Revis, Calvin Pryor, Michael Gilchrist, and Buster Skrine.



The Future Looks Bright in the Bronx

The Yankees are mired in their worst season in a quarter century. In addition to their mediocre season, two of their biggest stars, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, announced that this would be their last season as professionals. A-Rod and Tex’s retirement marks the end of an era for the Pinstripes, which saw them win their only title in the past 15 years. Although the Yankees only won one title after their spending spree before the 2009 season, they were perennial contenders through the 2012 season.

Unlike past Yankee teams, Brian Cashman and the Steinbrenners realized their current position and assets and decided to make the decision to look toward the future. The Yankees were blessed with possessing the two best assets at the trading deadline, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman, and many of the current contenders had a dire need for a devastating relief pitcher with experience. In addition, the Yankees were willing to deal one of the best bats available and were undoubtedly able to net such a high return for Beltran because of his past postseason success. Before the trade deadline, the Yankees had four prospects ranked inside the top 100 and were considered to have an average farm system. However, after the three major deals, many experts surmise that the Yankees now possess one of the top three farm systems in baseball.

In exchange for Chapman, Miller, and Beltran, the Yankees were able to net Clint Frazier (22nd overall prospect), Gleyber Torres (24th overall prospect), Justus Sheffield (93 overall prospect), Dillon Tate (4th overall selection in 2015), Billy McKinney (former first round pick), and other lower level, but high upside prospects. Although Frazier, Judge, Sanchez, Severino, and Bird may be able to help the Yankees next season, the Yankees will have to wait for probably three years to see benefits from the players. With the infusion of these players and the Yankees’ deep pockets, they should be able to develop a core that could win multiple titles. The Yankees best hope for a title will likely be after the 2018 offseason when there is set to be one of the greatest free agent classes of all-time.

Potential 2019 Roster:

Catcher: Gary Sanchez

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Credits to

Over the past several years, Sanchez has received hype from around baseball as one of the best catching prospects in baseball. Sanchez seems ready to finally reach the big leagues and play regularly behind the plate. This season, Sanchez is batting .285 with 10 home runs, 50 RBIs, 39 runs, and 21 doubles. Sanchez has the talent and hitting potential to become an All-Star, one of the top hitting catchers in the entire league, and a middle of the order run producer. Sanchez does not have excellent catching ability, but he has an incredible arm and should be able to shut down opposing running games.

First Base: Greg Bird

Last season, the Yankees were able to see Bird play regularly in the Bronx and nearly every fan was impressed with his skills. While replacing Teixeira, Bird hit .261 and accumulated 11 home runs, 31 RBIs, 26 runs, and 9 doubles in only 46 games. Bird does not have the same power as Teixeira, but he should be able to average 25 home runs per season and hit for a .280 average. Bird has a compact, line drive swing that should enable him to become a solid contributor and a run producing machine. The short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium should allow some of his line drives to clear the yard and increase his power numbers. Like Sanchez, Bird should be able to bat in the middle of the order and collect over 40 doubles during his prime. Along with Bird’s bat, he has an above average glove, even though he will not be collecting multiple gold gloves like Teixeira.

Second Base: Jorge Mateo

The Yankees will have numerous options up the middle over the next few seasons because the only young players on their current roster are Castro and Gregorious. In addition, the Yankees have two top prospects that could play anywhere in the infield. The Yankees have Starlin Castro signed to a reasonable contract through the 2019 season. During the 2019 season, Castro will be only 29 and in the middle of his prime. This season, Castro has been a consistent .260-.270 hitter with decent power and solid defense. The Yankees could keep Castro, but they would hope that Jorge Mateo will grab the job from the veteran. Mateo is currently 21 years old and may be the fastest player in the minors. Last season, Mateo stole 82 bases while batting .321 in the A+ league. This season, Mateo has taken a step back and has batted only .255, but still produced 28 steals, 39 RBIs, 50 runs, 6 home runs, 8 triples, and 11 doubles. Currently Mateo is playing shortstop, but he will likely move to second due to their depth and free agent options.

Shortstop: Didi Gregorious

The Yankees will have a very difficult decision at shortstop in the future because of the emergence of Didi Gregorious this season. This season, Gregorious has been the Yankees’ best and most consistent hitter after Carlos Beltran. This year, he is batting .292 with 11 home runs and 44 runs while playing excellent defense. Gregorious is under team control until 2020, which gives the Yankees the option to either keep him at shortstop or deal him for a pitcher or an outfield. If the Yankees decide to look externally for a shortstop, they will look to sign Manny Machado when he becomes available in 2019. Machado is easily one of the five best players in the game because he can hit for average and power while playing gold glove caliber defense at either third base or shortstop. This season, Machado is having his best season by batting .302 with 22 home runs, 58 RBIs, and 71 runs. Machado will be difficult to sign because he will only be 26 and will likely command a contract around 8-10 years and $250 million. The Yankees should be able to afford the contract, especially if they are cost conscious over the next few seasons. However, the Orioles will not easily lose their best player and will do everything in their power to re-sign their franchise player.

Third Base: Gleyber Torres

Torres was the first prospect acquired by the Yankees, when they dealt Chapman to the Chicago Cubs. Torres was the Cubs’ best prospects and currently ranks second in the Yankees’ farm system. Torres currently mans the shortstop position, but the team is determined to move him to either second or third depending on the development of their other prospects. Torres will only be 22 in 2019, but he has the tools to develop into a potential MLB All-Star. Torres will not hit for huge power, but he should connect for 20 home runs in his prime, a very good average, above average speed, and an elite run scorer. If the Yankees opt to acquire Machado or deal Mateo for a starting pitcher, Torres will likely move to second base.

Left Field: Clint Frazier

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Credits to New York Daily News

The most MLB ready prospect that the Yankees received during the trade deadline was Clint Frazier. Frazier, 21-year old outfielder, was the former 5th overall pick in the 2013 MLB draft and rated as the 22nd overall prospect. Frazier has all the skills to succeed and should become a future multiple time All-Star. Fraizer’s skills have been compared to Mike Trout, even though it will be very difficult for Frazier to match Trout’s dominance. This season, Frazier is batting .276 with 13 home runs, 48 RBIs, 56 runs, and 13 steals in only 89 games in Double-A. After the trade to the Yankees, Frazier was elevated to Triple-A and should be able to play in the Bronx during the 2017 season, especially if Gardner is traded. Frazier has the power and potential to become a right handed power bat in the middle of the order. Frazier could move over to center field, but it seems likely that he will remain on the corners.

Center Field: Jacoby Ellsbury

The only Yankee starter that will be over 30 is Jacoby Ellsbury as he will be 35 in 2019. Jacoby has been one of Brian Cashman’s worst signings because he is not worth anywhere near the $20+ million he is paid per season. Ellsbury is already struggling and he is still in the relative prime of his career. Since signing with New York in 2014, Ellsbury has not batted over .275 nor hit over 20 home runs nor scored 75 runs. By 2019, the Yankees will try to rid themselves of Ellsbury, but it is unlikely that they will find a suitor for the former star. The Yankees have a center field prospect in Blake Rutherford, their first round selection this season, but he will not be ready for the 2019 season.

Right Field: Bryce Harper

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Credits to Bleacher Report

The rumors of Bryce Harper to the Yankees are already extremely hot and there is still two years until he is  a free agent. Harper would be a great free agent signing for the Yankees because he would be entering the prime of his career and would draw major attention again to the Bronx. Last season, Harper had one of the greatest seasons in the last 50 as he hit .330/.460/.649 with 42 home runs and 118 runs. However, this season, his average has significantly decreased, .238, but the rest of his stats are solid and he remains one of the best players in the league. Harper would fit right into the middle of the Yankees’ lineup and would be able to hit over 50 home runs due to the short porch in right. The Yankees will have a great chance at signing Harper because he has always dreamed of being a Yankee and the Yankees should be able to offer him a huge contract to lure him from the Nationals.

Starting Pitchers:

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Credits to USAToday

Jose Fernandez

Masahiro Tanaka

Luis Severino

Justus Sheffield

James Kaprielian

The Yankees currently have a young starting staff, but many of their starters, Eovaldi, Green, and Pineda, are not realistic long term options for a championship team. In the same offseason as Harper, Jose Fernandez is set to become a free agent at age 26. Fernandez has been one of the best pitchers in the entire league because of his array of nasty pitches. Fernandez would be the true ace that the Yankees have been looking for since signing CC Sabathia. After Fernandez, Tanaka would be a fantastic number two for the team. Tanaka has been very consistent throughout his career with the Yankees, even though he has been battling elbow injuries. Tanaka has not been able to duplicate his performances from before his elbow tear, but he will continue to pitch to an ERA in the low 3s. Tanaka will only be 30 during the 2019 season so he should continue to be a workhouse for the team in the middle of his prime. Behind Tanaka, the Yankees will be relying on young, unproven starters with tons of talents. The only young Yankee with experience is Luis Severino and he has displayed success in the Bronx. This season, Severino has been terrible as a starter, but he seems to be turning around his season in the bullpen and he was exceptional during the second half of last season. Severino is a former top prospect with high 90s fastball, nasty slider, and good changeup. The Yankees have two very good prospects in the minors that seem ready to take a place in the rotation. Sheffield and Kaprielian do not have the best stuff in the minor leagues, but they have been very successful and possess enough firepower to become successful middle of rotation starters. Kaprielian is a developed starter that should be able to contribute for the Yankees in the near future while Sheffield will need a couple more years before he enters the pros. If these prospects do not develop quickly, the Yankees could look to trade for a star, like Sale, attempt to develop another prospect, like Tate, or sign another free agent, like Harvey.


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Credits of New York Daily News

Dillon Tate

Jacob Lindgren

Ian Clarkin

Domingo Acevedo

Ben Heller

Dellin Betances

Aroldis Chapman

The Yankees had one of the best bullpens in MLB history before they decided to trade both Chapman and Miller for prospects at the deadline. Unlike Miller, the Yankees will have a great chance at re-signing Chapman at the end of the season. Chapman is one of the best closers in the league because of his 100+ mph fastball and solid slider. Due to Betances’ financial situation and desire to win, Betances would be more than willing to cede his current closer position back to Chapman if he is re-signed in the winter. In order to reach Chapman at the end of the bullpen, the Yankees will need a significantly better bullpen than they currently possess. Along with Chapman, the Yankees should be able to keep Betances, who has developed into one of the best relievers in the league. Betances is the only active reliever to be selected to three straight All-Star appearances. Betances has the tendency to be wild, but he has a high 90s fastball and a nasty curveball, which makes him unhittable at times. Fortunately, the Yanks have many live arms that could become shut down options for the team if they remain on the team. In the deals at the deadline, the Yankees acquired Dillon Tate and Ben Heller. Although Tate has significant talent and they hope that he will become a starter, he has not impressed as a starter in the minors and he was only a starter during one season in college. In the bullpen, Tate will be able to use his fastball and slider to overpower hitters, if he only has to pitch one inning. Like Tate, Heller has a live arm and should be able to pitch in the middle innings before Betances and Chapman. The Yankees have a few lefty options in the farm that could dominant important lefty hitters in the middle of the order. Lindgren has years of experience in the bullpen, which is the reason why he pitched in the Bronx last season. Clarkin was drafted in the first round as a starter, but he has dealt with numerous options and it seems unlikely that he will be able to withstand the pressure and physicality of a long MLB season. If used as a reliever, Clarkin should be able to remain on the field and become a useful piece.