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.



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