Season Preview Part 2 – AFC

With the opening game of the NFL season less than a week away, now would seem a good time to write a thoroughly original piece predicting the outcome of all eight divisions come January 2021.

The NFC predictions are complete and already available for your viewing pleasure –  Time to talk about the AFC!

AFC North- Predicted Final Standings

  1. Baltimore Ravens
  2. Pittsburgh Steelers
  3. Cleveland Browns
  4. Cincinnati Bengals

Picking what is probably the best roster in the NFL to win the division seemed a simple decision.  The Ravens are loaded on both sides of the ball, even with the loss of Earl Thomas.  I don’t expect them to win as many games and I do expect the NFL’s defensive coordinators to adapt and stifle that explosive run game.  However, Jackson can also throw the ball and if he continues to improve, particularly with his throws across the middle of the field, the Ravens will be one of the teams to beat in the AFC. 

I think the Steelers are going to have a really good season and will be one of the reasons why the Ravens won’t win as many games.  This Steelers defence is going to be one of the top units in the entire NFL with great players at the key positions.  The offence must surely be better with big Ben back, even if he only plays at 75% he is a major upgrade – if he plays like 2018 Ben then it’s a 200% upgrade!

The Browns failed to live up the hype last year and it’s always disappointing to see a team fail to live up to their potential.  They still have a good roster, particularly on offence.  I like Baker Mayfield – although I hope he doesn’t stay silent all season – they have an excellent duo at running back (check out @Mikeyboy_21 excellent article here) and they still have Beckham Jr and Landry.  Can the defence get the stops needed to keep them in close games?  Can this roster come together and play as a unit?  Still a lot of unanswered questions for this franchise.

The Bengals have a lot to look forward to this season.  Burrow looks good and it’s a really positive sign that he has been their spokesperson on the various social issues plaguing the US and the world.  A.J. Green is back and hopefully will play like, well A.J. Green and Joe Mixon looks like a top-talent running back.  Again, this is a franchise with lots of questions about its defence, which wasn’t great last year but overall I think the Bengals are moving in a positive direction and must be better this year than last.

AFC East- Predicted Final Standings

  1. Buffalo Bills
  2. New England Patriots
  3. Miami Dolphins
  4. New York Jets

I’m all in on the Bills! I really like what coach Sean McDermott and GM Brandon Beane have been slowly building in Western New York State.  This is potentially a top-five defence, with one of the league’s best cornerbacks in Tre’Davious White.  They’ve surrounded Josh Allen with a really good wide receiving core and Singletary has the potential to be a great running back.  The biggest questions are about Allen himself who has proved he is a great runner and that he has a cannon of an arm but can he make accurate throws?  Stefon Diggs will definitely help and if Allen continues to make these improvements, I expect this team to make a deep playoff run.  

Putting the Patriots second in this division feels wrong, even with the loss of Tom Brady, it’s still hard to see anyone else ever winning this division again – certainly as long as Belichick is present.  I’m just not sure they have the talent necessary to win this division, even with the guile and wisdom of Belichick.  Will Cam Newton play like Cam Newton?  Who will he throw to?  The Pats defence was amazing last year but they’ve lost some key pieces in free agency and voluntary opt-outs. Can they maintain their performance?  Lots of questions but what scares me is that Belichick probably has the answers!

The Dolphins surprised both myself and others with some of their performances last season, despite trading away a plethora of talented players.  If the aim was to ‘Tank for Tua’ it worked and they secured what they hope is their cornerstone at quarterback for the next twenty years.  That being said the early reports I saw out of camp were that he wasn’t ready yet and that we would be seeing a good dose more of Fitzmagic yet.  Fitz did an excellent job in difficult circumstances last season and finished as their top rusher! His track history in year two is patchy at best so it will be interesting to see how long he lasts.  Personally I love watching him play, so I wouldn’t mind if it was all 16 games!  

Ah! The New York Jets. It always feels like the Jets are drafting in the top five and I’m fairly sure it will be the same this season.  The offence feels limited and not helped by a public disagreement between Adam Gase and Le’Veon Bell. They need new tackle, Mekhi Becton to slot in and play well straight away.  Gregg Williams did a really good job with this defence last year but have lost a couple of key players this offseason and I think he will struggle to get this unit to repeat past performances.  If it doesn’t go well they could be picking top three this year!

 AFC South- Predicted Final Standings

  1. Indianapolis Colts
  2. Tennessee Titans
  3. Houston Texans
  4. Jacksonville Jaguars

I really love the Colts! So much so that I’ve drafted Rivers in one of my fantasy teams!  I think the O-Line is up there with the best in the league. They have an exciting set of wide receivers and a talented bunch of backs who I imagine will play by committee.  The defence looks solid – improved by the signing of DeForest Buckner – although I am concerned about Xavier Rhodes who had a torrid time in Minnesota last season. Can he recapture some of his old form?

I still have the Titans second in this division, despite what looks like the imminent signing of Jadeveon Clowney.  The Titans are really well coached. They have good players on both sides of the ball and showed in the playoffs last year that they fear nobody. Why don’t they win this division?  I just can’t see Tannehill and Henry reproducing some of the performances last year. At times they were both sensational and we all know that sort of form is really difficult to replicate season on season.  That said I don’t think they need to be at that level to make the playoffs and as they showed last year, they are as dangerous as anyone.  

The Houston Texans signed Watson to a new contract yesterday which looks a really good piece of business.  This must be a relief for fans who are never quite sure what Bill O’Brien is going to do next. I’m sure you were as surprised as me when the Hopkins trade news broke.  Despite this loss, I think the receiving core looks pretty good, especially if Fuller can stay healthy for the majority of the season.  David Johnson is unlikely to recreate his early-career form but is still a solid back and if you asked me to take him or Gurley at this point, I think I’d take Johnson.  The defence is more of a concern – JJ Watt is still a wrecking ball but cannot stay on the field and beyond Watt and Mercilus I’m not really sure what else this unit has.  That being said Bill O’Brien has dominated this division in recent years winning it four times in the last five years.  He is clearly doing something right!

The Jaguars, on paper at least, look the weakest like the weakest roster in the NFL.  They have let some talented players leave and the general vibe is they are looking to create the right culture moving forward.  I hope it works. There is nothing worse for a team’s culture than becoming perpetual losers.  What do they have left?  Offensively, Minshew mania swept through Jacksonville and London last year and the sixth-round draft pick has the opportunity to prove he is worth the starting job.  Unfortunately for him, it looks like he is in for a difficult year.  DJ Chark showed promise last year (I’ve drafted him as well) and hopefully, Shenault came ready to play.  It feels slightly unfair judging Minshew against this backdrop but this is his chance, especially with the Clemson quarterback, Trevor Lawrence waiting in the 2021 draft.  Defensively first-round pick Josh Allen needs to play well in a defence once known as Sacksonville.

AFC West – Predicted Final Standings

  1. Kansas City Chiefs
  2. Denver Broncos
  3. Las Vegas Raiders
  4. Los Angeles Chargers

This is the division I have found the most difficult to try and sort into final standings – after first place!  The Chiefs are a fine football team and they have the best quarterback in the league right now, with one of the top Head Coaches in the league, throwing to arguably the best tight end in the league and a top-five wide receiver. On the defence, they have All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu, Frank Clarke and Chris Jones.  This is a loaded roster and one which we should see in the AFC Championship game – maybe even back to back Super Bowls. 

The next three teams really could finish in any order, I’ve gone for the Broncos based on Fangio and his abilities as a defensive coach.  This was a good defensive unit in 2019 and I expect it to be the same again. Chubb and Von Miller can wreck even the best-laid plans.  I’m not entirely convinced by Drew Lock and the small sample size but the Broncos have done well putting talented players around him, so there is no real excuse not to perform.

I’ve put the raiders above the Chargers really on quarterback continuity.  Love or loath Derek Carr, he performs consistently, he looks after the ball and knows how to win games.  He has some exciting young receivers to throw the ball to and Jacobs was excellent last year at running back.  The defence is a worry, as it was last year and I feel it will cost them games.  Hopefully the players they drafted last year will make some significant improvements in 2020

That leaves the Chargers. On paper, this defence again looks good, particularly the rushing duo of Bosa and Ingram.  However, I think the loss of safety Derwin James will be huge for this team particularly as Chris Harris has to prove his worth this season.  The offence has some good players. Ekeler looks like a dynamic back who can be used in the running and passing game.  Keenan Allen is as good a route runner as you’ll find in the NFL.  The O-Line still looks a weak link and for the first time in a long time, we don’t know what to expect at quarterback. Taylor is fine, a good backup and a good guy but he doesn’t really light the field up and I can’t imagine him selling many tickets for the brand new stadium.  Herbert is who they are betting their future on, but reports from training camp focus on his struggles and he has definitely blown hot and cold on Hard Knocks this year – not helped by the COVID19 situation.  This is why I see them particularly struggling in 2020.  

Right, that’s it. Eight divisions, 32 teams, less than one week to go.  I cannot wait for it to begin, even though it might prove how incorrect my predictions are!

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