State of the AFC: Training Camp Edition
Just a quick note here, these are power rankings, not playoff predictions.
16) CLEVELAND BROWNS
I know that the next team on this list sucks too, but the Browns get the benefit of the doubt as the worst team. They get the benefit of the doubt that people are already debating on who they should take with the first pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Heck, if they won the Super Bowl, I'd still not believe in the Browns for the 2018-19 season because they have been so bad for so long. I just don't buy it.
They do have some positives though, the offensive line looks okay, the defense has good players on it, and the running game isn't a complete disaster. But the negatives still far outweigh the positives. Four quarterbacks have a chance to start (five threw for the Browns last season), nobody knows who the third wide receiver will be (or 4th, 5th, 6th...), and the secondary consists of Joe Haden, rookie Jabril Peppers, and a bunch of unknowns.
15) NEW YORK JETS
I'm actually surprised that this is an NFL offense. If you recognize a name among the skill players besides Matt Forte, and you aren't a Jets fan or avid fantasy player, I give you props. Heck, even if you are a Jets fan, good job. This is also the worst the defense has looked in recent memory as well, but they do have that defensive line trio of Leonard Williams, Muhammed Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson. Both safeties are rookies, both corners are considered busts, and even linebacker isn't as strong as it used to be. This probably really is the worst team, I just can't put the Browns ahead of them yet due to their track record. Todd Bowles deserved better.
14) BUFFALO BILLS
This is the first really hard pick I've had to make here, as the Bills are capable of making the playoffs. They started off 4-2 last season, remember. The passing game is a major red flag here, despite Tyrod Taylor being a good enough QB. The receiving group just isn't up to the task at this point, as it is (too early to really be) bust Sammy Watkins, rookie Zay Jones, and a team of misfits. Shady McCoy is a beast and the O-Line is solid, though.
I'm also extremely concerned about the Bills secondary. Ronald Darby is there, but the other three starting spots are questionable. Tre'Davious White is a rookie, so who knows for sure. Jordan Poyer hasn't had the playing time as a starter yet. And Micah Hyde was the best corner on the Packers (who had an awful pass defense), and gets the other starting safety spot.
13) JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
I refuse to believe in Jacksonville until they prove it to me. Blake Bortles has had decent seasons and has the offense to put it together, but with the depth of the AFC it's harder to see. The running game could be special, or Leonard Fournette could be a colossal bust (likely to be in between). On defense, they have the pieces to be special as well, but knowing how big money Jaguars have performed in the past puts up red flags saying they might underachieve again.
12) INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
No team in the AFC relies on quarterback play masquerading for an awful team more than the Colts, and that's why they have changed regimes. I actually think they are trying to get better on defense, and although it will take a while, it does look better than in years past. The additions of DT Johnathan Hankins, OLB Jabaal Sheard and rookie S Malik Hooker add quality play to all three levels.
On offense, it's all about the passing game. Frank Gore won't be rushing for 1,000 yards forever, and the group after him led by Robert Turbin is, well, led by Robert Turbin. Tight end isn't two-deep anymore either, although the receivers added a solid player in Kamar Aiken. This team just isn't ready to compete yet.
11) LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
In their inaugural L.A. season, the Chargers selected a wide receiver 7th overall only to potentially lose him for the season. That coupled with the injury bug that seems to strike the Chargers more than anybody in the NFL is why they aren't in the top 10. The talent is there at almost every position, they should have a dynamic pass rush and a good group of corners defensively, and receiving depth on offense to overcome the loss of Mike Williams. But they just get hurt too much every season.
10) MIAMI DOLPHINS
This was the next really hard decision to make, and it was so difficult that I actually had to get rid of some of the teams higher on the list so I'd have less to choose from. Miami has the best chance of beating New England in the division, but it's probably not going to happen. In fact, I'd be surprised if the Patriots lost a game in the division. Miami does have some good players spread around, but Ryan Tannehill has underachieved, and I don't quite believe in RB Jay Ayaji yet. Having questions at both QB and RB isn't a recipe for success.
9) TENNESSEE TITANS
Yes, people love picking the Titans for the postseason as a (not-so)-surprise selection, but I'm at the point where I'm going off of past success. Not just last season, but the past few. The Titans defense is improved, but there are still questions. The offensive line got better, but questions remain. Are Eric Decker, Rishard Matthews and Tajae Sharpe a good supporting cast at receiver for rookie Corey Davis? Can the running back duo be unstoppable again? if the answer is yes to all, and the defense is better than the best expected, this team should have no problem winning the South. I still believe they are a year away, though.
8) BALTIMORE RAVENS
I really like how Baltimore always seems to be able to put a quality defense together. Maybe that's because of Terrell Suggs always being there, but this defense is strong throughout. Offense, though, is the question. The receivers are suspect, like usual, but usually somebody sneaks through the cracks to have a good season. Terrance West is not a first-string running back, but the Danny Woodhead addition was genius. This team, based on overall talent, just isn't one of the top six in the AFC.
7) DENVER BRONCOS
This goes back to the passing game, again. It isn't strong enough at the moment, because Paxton Lynch and Trevor Siemian just aren't ready to be a top-tier player. The receiving group is just two deep as well, although the running game looks great. The offensive line is shaky, though. Fortunately, though, the defense still has enough great players (especially the secondary) from that Super Bowl team to keep them in the mix. But that's all they can do right now.
6) CINCINNATI BENGALS
The Bengals are going to bounce back, but Marvin Lewis is on thin ice. I don't know what he has done to stick around this long as a head coach, because he really should give seminars on how to acquire job security. The Bengals have the talent to not only make the playoffs, but to win the AFC. You all do remember picking them to make the Super Bowl last year, right? Did that much change?
5) KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
The defense is getting older, and I'm really concerned about the offense. Outside of that, though, this is almost a lock as a playoff team.
4) HOUSTON TEXANS
As it turns out, the top four teams each represent a different division. I don't understand how DeShaun Watson was the third QB selected in this draft, so please enlighten me. Or how Houston is even thinking of Tom Savage being the starter. The running game should be fine, the receivers need a bounce-back from DeAndre Hopkins. The offensive line is good enough.
The defense gets a huge boost with the return of JJ Watt, though, and that's what could put them over the top. That, and JaDaveon Clowney showed up last season. Beware of Houston this season.
3) PITTSBURGH STEELERS
Chances are, Le'Veon Bell will miss a couple of regular season games, and that will affect the win total this franchise will get this season. It likely could knock them out of a first-round bye. But this team has more offensive firepower than any other team in the AFC, including New England, and the defense keeps trending in the right direction. It really is hard to find a weakness on this team, maybe backup running back?
2) OAKLAND RAIDERS
People are forgetting that Oakland was en route to the top seed in the AFC prior to the Derek Carr injury. The offensive line is the best in the NFL now, and the rest of the offense is stacked. The defense isn't filled with star power outside of DE Khalil Mack, but they have some pretty darn good players there. This team should make the playoffs, but will their fans show up for them?
1) NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
They get talked about enough, that I don't need to add anything here.