This Thursday night, Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills kick off the highly anticipated NFL season at SoFi Stadium, facing defending champions: the Los Angeles Rams.
With an endless number of off-season moves, the league projects to have more competition and a scrambling of the standings from previous years. These are my predictions for how the AFC standings will pan out.
Starting in a division that could potentially have every team reach the postseason this year, we have the AFC West.
My pick to finish in first place heavily relies on staying healthy. The Los Angeles Chargers proved last season that their high-powered offense can compete with the best of them. The Chargers averaged 28 points per game, the fifth best in the league. However, they also were third worst in the league in points allowed, giving up 27 points per game. The Chargers bolstered their defense by bringing in ballhawk J.C. Jackson and dominant yet injury-prone linebacker Khalil Mack. If Mack and wide receiver breakout Mike Williams can stay on the field, this team has enough pieces to claim first place.
The Las Vegas Raiders will finish second in this division. I am a huge believer in Derek Carr. Last season, Carr carried the Raiders to a playoff berth despite the endless stream of drama and negativity looming over this team. Darren Waller looks to be pursuing a new contract with the team, but it does not look like it will affect his availability. The addition of the best wide receiver in the league, Davante Adams, and last year’s breakout Hunter Renfrow gives Carr more weapons than he has ever had to work with.
The Kansas City Chiefs will finish third as JuJu Smith-Schuster, Mecole Hardman and Marquez Vales-Scantling will not be enough to fill the void that Tyreek Hill has left. It’s hard to doubt Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce’s connection, but a 2000-yard receiving season will be necessary for the soon to be 33-year-old if they want to compensate for a vulnerable defense who lost its best weapon, Tyrann Mathieu.
That means the Denver Broncos, led by Russell Wilson, will finish last. I believe the Broncos will still finish above .500, but their youth will hold them back from overcoming the other teams in this division. Wilson has proved throughout his tenure in Seattle that he can support multiple wide receivers at the highest level, but I need to see Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton out there with him before I can be a true believer, especially with Tim Patrick out for the season with an ACL tear.
The Indianapolis Colts should dominate the AFC South with veteran quarterback Matt Ryan at the helm. With a defense that forced 33 turnovers, the second most in the league last season, the best running-back in the league, Jonathan Taylor, and one of the weaker divisions in the league as their competition, it should be a cake walk.
The Tennessee Titans won’t be able to rely on workhorse Derrick Henry as much as they have in past years as injuries are already starting to affect the 28-year-old’s availability. The Titans have been forced to overwork Henry with their limited passing game that became even more limited after the loss of AJ Brown.
The Urban Meyer reign of tyranny is over in Jacksonville, and the new regime has begun with the addition of many new pieces, including Christian Kirk, Brandon Scherff, Evan Engram, and Shaquill Griffin, setting the ever-struggling Jaguars in the right direction. The return of second-year quarterback, Trevor Lawrence’s backfield mate Travis Etienne, should also assist in seeing improvement in Jacksonville this year. It should be enough to claim third place in the division.
The Houston Texans’ highest hopes for this season are not to finish with the worst record in the entire league.
From the AFC East, the Buffalo Bills are my pick to win the AFC Conference this season with Josh Allen claiming the MVP award. A fast-paced, high-powered offense backed by an explosive defense with the addition of Von Miller will make them hard to stop.
The Miami Dolphins put it all on the line this offseason in snagging Tyreek Hill, giving them one of the quickest receiving corps in the league. If Tua Tagovailoa can make the throws necessary to Hill and Waddle, Miami should have no problem taking second place in this division.
The New England Patriots look to have no direction as they seemed to have gotten worse this offseason, projecting their worst finish this season since 2000.
The abysmal New York Jets have some exciting talents in Elijah Moore, Breece Hall and Sauce Gardner, but their second-overall pick from last season Zach Wilson continues to get injured. New York just doesn’t have enough pieces to be competitive yet.
Finally, in the North division, The Cincinnati Bengals should defend their division title this season. Coming off a Superbowl loss which many believe they were lucky to reach, the Bengals made few changes to a team that should only finish with a better record this season.
The Baltimore Ravens have no passing game whatsoever. But former MVP Lamar Jackson always finds a way to get it done with his legs, which should be enough to claim second place in the division.
Mitchell Trubisky is not the answer. Mike Tomlin has an impressive track record of making competitors out of any team he leads in Pittsburgh, but, as long as Trubisky is the starter, the Steelers are a third-place team at best.
The loss of Deshaun Watson for 11 games was expected. It’s fortunate that it wasn’t a longer suspension for a Cleveland Browns team that gave up on the quarterback who led them to their first playoff appearance in 18 years back in 2020. While the addition of Amari Cooper is exciting, Jacoby Brissett won’t be able to keep this team afloat while awaiting Watson’s return.
With an NFC team being crowned the champion the previous two years, will the firepower the AFC has gained this offseason be enough to bring back the Lombardi to the AFC? We are all ready to see.