Training camp is here (for some teams), so that means the NFL season is getting closer and closer (finally). So like I did for the NBA and MLB, I’ll be going team-by-team and taking a look at what all the AFC squads have the potential to do and whether or not they can fulfill it.
Pittsburgh Steelers- The Steelers have one of the more dynamic offenses in the NFL, with Ben Roethlisberger at the helm of an attack that includes star wideout Antonio Brown and young backfield star Le’Veon Bell. But holding them back is a fairly weak secondary and a linebacking core that includes two first-round picks that have yet to prove themselves. They have the firepower to win another division title, but in order to do so, the defense needs to step up, especially the cornerbacks.
Predicted finish: AFC North title (third AFC)
Cleveland Browns- Cleveland is still looking for the piece that will give them a winning season. The Browns have talent at select positions, such as Joe Haden at corner and Joe Thomas on the line. But if they are going to break out of the funk that has stuck with the snake-bitten organization for years, it’s time that they find a quarterback. No, 36-year old Josh McCown isn’t the answer, and neither is Johnny Manziel. Building through the draft seems like the logical answer, instead of finding washed-up veterans and dynamic college party animals.
Oh, and no, their fancy new uniforms won’t help them win any games, thanks for asking.
Predicted finish: Fourth in the AFC North
Cincinnati Bengals- The Bengals are a team that have found a solid quarterback, Andy Dalton, and consistently enjoy winning seasons. These are things that many teams dream of, but for the Bengals, it’s time to take it one step further: success in the playoffs. Yes, it may seem like a foreign concept to many Bengals, but actually winning in the postseason is a pretty important thing. And this group can do it. A.J. Green is like Abby Wambach in that he wins every aerial battle; running back Giovanni Bernard has potential and he’s ready to show it; and, lest we forget, Geno Atkins happens to be really good. So yeah, more playoffs are on the horizon for Cincy fans.
Predicted finish: Second in the AFC North (sixth AFC)
Baltimore Ravens- In another division, the Ravens would be a playoff team. But in the AFC North, they just miss the cut. Boy, do Baltimore fans wish it was 2008, when it was just them and the Steelers that were good, not the Bengals. The Ravens still have Joe Flacco leading the offense and Justin Forsett and Steve Smith at his side, as well as C.J. Mosley, Terrell Suggs, and Jimmy Smith on the defensive end. But alas, they fall just short of another chance of eliminating their forever-rivals Pittsburgh in the playoffs like they did last year at Heinz Field.
Predicted finish: Third in the AFC North (seventh AFC)
Indianapolis Colts- The Colts will have a predictably easy time in the AFC South, a division that includes three other teams that didn’t make the postseason last year. With Andrew Luck growing into a quarterback that could go down as one of the best in history, Indy has a very, very good chance of becoming a Super Bowl team as well. Luck has made the playoffs each of his three years in the league, every time reaching a higher destination than the year before. By that measure, Super Bowl L is in their sights.
Predicted finish: First in the AFC South (first AFC)
Houston Texans- The Texans just barely missed out on January football last season, missing the playoffs on the last day of the year. This campaign, they will look to improve on their impressive 2014-2015 season with a berth in the postseason. In order to do that, their quarterback play will have to be superb. Either Ryan Mallett or Brian Hoyer will be under center for them this season, but no matter who it is, it will be essential that they play up to par with the other quarterbacks that they will be competing with.
Predicted finish: Second in the AFC South (eighth AFC)
Jacksonville Jaguars- Jacksonville will not make the postseason this season, but in 2016 or 2017? Yeah, sure. They are a growing team that continues to build pieces around quarterback Blake Bortles, who showed promising potential in his rookie year. Star tight end Julius Thomas arrived this offseason from Denver, and it will be interesting to see if he can continue his success in Florida without having a Hall-of-Fame QB throwing to him. Receiver Denard Robinson is another weapon for Bortles, as he is a dynamic threat that brings athleticism and speed to the offense. He joins new draftees T.J. Yeldon and Marquise Lee on offense. These are all players that will help them surprise everyone in the coming years.
Predicted finish: Fourth in the AFC South
Tennessee Titans- The Titans will get more media coverage than they have in a while with quarterback Marcus Mariota arriving courtesy of the NFL Draft. He will have a few receivers to work with (Dorial Green-Beckham, Hakeem Nicks, Kendall Hunter) but Bishop Sankey isn’t the future at running back, and the defense isn’t near an elite level just yet, so no, the playoffs aren’t coming to Tennessee, yet. Mariota will have a pretty good season for what he has, but it won’t be spectacular. The Titans have promise, but they need to gather some pieces around their franchise QB.
Predicted finish: Third in the AFC South
New England Patriots- The defending Super Bowl champions won’t have an easy path to another championship, especially with the AFC East improving considerably. They still have their superstar quarterback Tom Brady in control, but won’t have him, presumably, for the first four games of the season. Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, and Danny Amendola are among the top offensive players. New England should win the division, but it isn’t a guarantee with the Bills and Dolphins in contention.
Predicted finish: First in the AFC East (second AFC)
Miami Dolphins- With quarterback Ryan Tannehill in for the long run and Ndamukong Suh signed to bolster the defense, Miami will look to challenge the Patriots for the AFC East title. They have a chance to, but the defense has to considerably improve in order to do that.
Predicted finish: Third in the AFC East
New York Jets- The Jets will not make the playoffs this season (sorry Jets fans, but you already knew that). Geno Smith, at some point, will be a good quarterback, but he isn’t good enough right now to lead New York to a postseason berth. Darrelle Revis leads a defense that will be better than the offense, but, again, isn’t good enough to stop the Jets from picking up a losing record.
Predicted finish: Fourth in the AFC East
Buffalo Bills- The Bills considerably improved, on paper, from last season. Some of their acquisitions include LeSean McCoy, Percy Harvin, and Charles Clay, and they already had Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus, and Sammy Watkins. Matt Cassel won’t need to do much at quarterback for a team that looks to have a very good shot at a playoff berth.
Predicted finish: Second in the AFC East (fifth AFC)
Denver Broncos- The Broncos will always have a place in the playoffs as long as Peyton Manning is on the team. But that place will be a bit lower this season as Manning is getting older and isn’t playing as well as he used to. He has his favorite target, Demaryius Thomas, back on a contract extension, but will be without tight end Julius Thomas, as he departed to Jacksonville. Denver will be good, but their championship window with Manning is passing.
Predicted finish: First in the AFC West (fourth AFC)
San Diego Chargers- San Diego will enter the season looking for a playoff berth, but with other AFC teams in the same boat, they will be left disappointed. QB Phillip Rivers will put forth another solid season, but the Chargers will fall just short of their widely-shared goal.
Predicted finish: Second in the AFC West
Kansas City Chiefs- The Chiefs, like the Chargers, will have difficulty qualifying for the playoffs due to the amount of good teams in the AFC, similar to FIFA World Cup qualifying in South America for countries like Venezuela and Paraguay. They still have trouble at receiver, but have one of the better tight ends in the league, Travis Kelce, to go along with Jamaal Charles and Alex Smith on offense. They have a strong team and will be in contention all season, but in the end, will fall short.
Predicted finish: Third in the AFC West
Oakland Raiders- The Raiders are still looking for their breakthrough. Derek Carr is a very good quarterback that will play well this season, but the team around him isn’t good enough to have a winning season.
Predicted finish: Fourth in the AFC West
Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : Harrison Hamm