2018 AFC Preview
New England Patriots (Predicted Record:12-4) Belichick and Brady. The duo have dominated this division and the entire NFL for the past 2 decades… and 2018 should not be any different. Despite the usual difficult schedule and a four game suspension to Julian Edelman, New England is sound at all positions. As long as Tom Brady is healthy, the offense will put up points, and this receiving core is sneaky good despite some criticisms. While there are still some kinks to work out on the defensive side of the ball with new player and coaching personnel, the chemistry should progress as the season goes on, as it usually does.
Miami Dolphins (8-8)
While the Dolphins did deal away game changers in wide receiver Jarvis Landry and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, they added veteran presence they desperately needed. Adding Danny Amendola from New England and Frank Gore from Indianapolis should help add to a more disciplined culture in Miami, as they were the most penalized team in the NFL last season. Most importantly, they have a healthy quarterback in Ryan Tannehill who missed all of last season with a knee injury. If Tannehill performs the way he did in the last season he played (where he led them to a playoff berth), the Dolphins should see steady improvement from a dreadful 2017 season.
Buffalo Bills (7-9) The Bills are coming off their first playoff appearance since 1999, but one dynamic has changed since last season; their quarterback. With Tyrod Taylor now in Cleveland, the keys will most likely be handed to rookie Josh Allen out of Wyoming. While I am extremely high on Allen’s athleticism and ability to throw the ball down field, it is not uncommon for a young quarterback to experience some struggles in year one. Another aspect that could hinder Buffalo is their schedule, which is especially tough in the first 6 weeks.
New York Jets (5-11) The Jets are in a rebuilding phase, which will still be in effect in the 2018 season. This offense struggled mightily last season, finishing 28th in the league in total yards. While they do have a budding star in 25-year-old wide receiver Robby Anderson, there is not much depth at the position. Rookie sensation Sam Darnold has been named the week one starter, but could encounter struggles early on, especially with this supporting cast.
Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) Just like the Patriots are the class of the AFC East, the same rings true for the Steelers in this division. Their trio of quarterback, running back, and #1 wide receiver is completely unmatched by any team in the NFL, and will make their offense a nightmare for defenses to match up with once again. Their defense did hold them back last season, as they allowed 30 or more points against the Jaguars in both meetings as well as 27 against the Patriots. Those are the type of teams this Pittsburgh defense will need to lock down if this group has hopes of reaching the Super Bowl. Even with an average defense however, this skill position core is explosive enough to win games in what appears to be a weak AFC North division.
Baltimore Ravens (8-8) The Ravens have been in the middle of the pack for the past couple of years, and there is no reason for that trend to not continue in the 2018 season. They still are lacking at the skill positions, with pedestrian wide receiver and running back groups. And as much as Baltimore fans want to believe it, Joe Flacco is not an elite quarterback. At age 33 and entering his 11th season, what you saw last season is what you will most likely what you will be seeing again with Flacco. The defense should be strong once again, ranking sixth in points allowed per game last season. But, unless this offense can consistently score points and move the ball downfield, it will be more mediocrity in Baltimore this season.
Cincinnati Bengals (6-10) The Bengals simply have not done anything this past off-season to suggest they will be any better than last season. AJ Green is an elite wide receiver, but there is not much else to get excited about for the Bengals. Moving on from cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones will help them get rid of an undisciplined culture that has plagued them in years past, but the personnel is just not there right now for Cincinnati.
Cleveland Browns (4-12) The Browns loaded up on talent this offseason, but it will take time for those pieces to gel. For those who watch Hard Knocks, you would agree with me when I say this team looks very dysfunctional, starting with their head coach Hugh Jackson. Sure, they have a more well-rounded roster than last season, but I will not believe in the Browns until they show they can play as a collective unit.
Oakland Raiders (10-6) The Raiders are coming off of a season where they finished 6-10, which is not impressive by any means. But, let’s not forget that this team was 12-4 in the 2016 season, due in large part to quarterback Derek Carr. Carr missed just one game in 2017, but the back injury he suffered in week 4 impacted his performance greatly in the past season, and even he admitted it. They have made the moves to make a turnaround possible by acquiring wide receiver Jordy Nelson from the Green Bay Packers, who will give the locker room a veteran presence and line up across from another star in Amari Cooper. In the secondary, where the team struggled heavily last season, they added Rashaan Melvin to play alongside a former first rounder in Gareon Conley at cornerback.
San Diego Chargers (9-7) The Chargers finished last season on a tear, going 6-1 in the last 7 weeks. That momentum should carry into 2018, as this could be one of the most talented rosters in the NFL. Two elite pass rushers in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, a potential hall of fame quarterback in Phillip Rivers, and a running back in Melvin Gordon who hit the 1,000 rushing yards mark last season allow the Chargers to go toe-to-toe with any team in the AFC, but the depth of this division will make it difficult for them to rack up wins.
Kansas City Chiefs (8-8) The reigning AFC West champions will be solid once again, but will have to adapt to a new quarterback in Patrick Mahomes with Alex Smith now in Washington. Mahomes has no shortage of arm talent, which he will be able put on display by airing it out to home-run hitting wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce. The loss of cornerback Marcus Peters will be felt in Kansas City, considering he has been top 5 in interceptions since entering the league in 2015.
Denver Broncos (6-10) Just a few years ago, it was the best defense in football, and it could get back to that level in 2018. The Broncos already have one of the best pass rushers in the NFL in Von Miller, and drafted North Carolina State’s all-time sack leader Bradley Chubb at fourth overall to take some of the pressure off of Miller. Offensively, the Broncos could struggle. While quarterback Case Keenum had a storybook year in Minnesota last year, he will not have as many weapons to get the ball to in Denver, like he did with Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs while with the Vikings.
Houston Texans (11-5) Houston has always been a talented team on defense and in their skill positions, but have never solidified the quarterback position…until now. Second year quarterback Deshaun Watson is poised for a breakout year, throwing for 19 touchdowns and 1,699 yards last season before going down with a season ending ACL injury in week 8. The defense will also be in a much better spot in 2018 with the return of pass rusher JJ Watt, who has set the tone for Houston since he entered the league. At full health, this team will compete with anyone in the AFC.
Jacksonville Jaguars (9-7) The Jags are coming off of an AFC championship appearance in 2017, mainly because of a stellar defense. While I am not at all suggesting last season was a fluke, it will be difficult to replicate what “Sacksonville” was able to in 2017. Quarterback Blake Bortles was bailed out by the defense on multiple occasions last season, and will have to rely on them even more in 2018 without main pass catchers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns.
Indianapolis Colts (7-9) It is difficult to win games in the NFL without a reliable quarterback, and the Colts have found that out first hand. The best ability is availability, and it has been lacking in Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck for the past several years. With Luck finally healthy, expectations are high for Indy, but there is a new gunslinger in Deshaun Watson who could take over in this division.
Tennessee Titans (6-10) Despite making the playoffs last season, the Titans are not the same team from a year ago. With Demarco Murray now retired from the NFL, former backup running back Derrick Henry will get the majority of the carries, behind an offensive line that struggled last season. Marcus Mariota has not asserted himself as a game-changing quarterback since entering the league in 2015, and could have trouble once again with not many weapons to throw to.