We have now reached the slow part of the NFL off-season. The Draft is over, and rookies are starting to report to mini-camp. Most teams have their rosters in the direction they will go for the regular season. With that being said, here is my 2018 AFC Season Preview.
Nick Pekham’s AFC Season Preview
The Buffalo Bills have a gruelling schedule to start the season playing five of their first eight games on the road. If the Bills can get through the first half of their season at 4-4 or better, they will be in shape to make a push for the playoffs with their second-half schedule being a little easier. Buffalo will have five home games in their last eight games to finish out the season. The Bills will need to rely heavily on their defence at the beginning of the season. Despite making the playoffs, Buffalo’s defence ranked seventh to last in the NFL in yards against.
The Bills made the playoffs last season for the first time in the last 17 years ending the longest drought in professional sports history. They would lose that first game to the Jacksonville Jaguars. To coincide with the loss, Bills brass made some offseason changes by bringing in a new offensive coordinator and trading away starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor. They will head into this season with A.J. McCarron, Josh Allen, and Nathan Peterman as their quarterbacks. There will likely be a battle for starting quarterback in training camp and pre-season but McCarron will likely get the nod to start the season after he was given a two year(s)/$ 10 million contract this offseason.
After starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill went down with a torn ACL in training camp, the Miami Dolphins signed Jay Cutler to a one year deal to take over the helm. Miami had the playoffs in their sight before Tannehill went down and their seasoned suffered because of it.
Rather than waiting for the office season, the front office made midseason moves to shake up the scuffling roster. The main move was moving star running back Jay Ajayi to the Philadelphia Eagles. Then in the offseason, Miami traded star receiver Jarvis Landry to the Cleveland Browns. They terminated the contracts of Lawrence Timmons, Julius Thomas, Ndamukong Suh, and Mike Pouncey making them all free agents. This meant a ton of new faces were joining the Dolphins over the offseason. Frank Gore, Brock Osweiler, Danny Amendola, Albert Wilson, and Josh Sitton were signed through free agency as well as the trade acquisition of star pass rusher Robert Quinn from the Los Angeles Rams.
This season looks like a rebuilding season for the Miami Dolphins while adding all of the new pieces and draft picks together. The Dolphins season could come down to the month of December when they play the Patriots, Jaguars, Vikings, and then the Bills twice.
New England Patriots
One of the defining franchises of the decade, the New England Patriots once again made it to the Super Bowl last season before eventually losing to the Eagles. New England has been in the spotlight this offseason more than they usually have been in recent years. There were reports of tension in the organization between owner Robert Kraft, head coach Bill Belichick, and star player Tom Brady. They all have been apparently arguing over who deserves more credit for all of their success.
With that being said, the Patriots have lost some important players from last years team and Brady and star tight end Rob Gronkowski haven’t made decisions about playing next season. However, reports point to them joining the team for training camp and both of them playing next season.
The Patriots may have a down year this season with some tough games on their schedule.
New York Jets
The New York Jets shocked a lot of people last year, having a better season than anyone predicted. Still, in a rebuild, New York hasn’t made the playoffs in eight consecutive seasons.
The Jets had the 3rd pick in the draft this season where they ended up selecting quarterback Sam Darnold out of USC. After searching for their franchise quarterback for a couple of seasons, Darnold was probably the best all-around quarterback in this year’s draft and could wind up being the best quarterback taken in 2018. He had some great years in college and the way his game is played will translate to the NFL very smoothly. Darnold may need to work with the coaching staff at perfecting some things in his mechanics.
The Jets made some nice signings in free agency bringing in Trumaine Johnson, Isaiah Crowell, Josh McCown, Terrelle Pryor, and Avery Williamson. This crop is made of young guys who can grow together while still trying to compete and McCown will be a nice piece to pair with Darnold.
The Jets season will depend on when they let Darnold take over as the starter ultimately showing what their plans are for this season.
The Denver Broncos had a horrible season last year finishing with a record of 5-11. Denver went into the season with a top-three defence in the league and weapons across the board on offence. The only thing they were missing was a starting quarterback. This lead to a rotating cycle of quarterbacks that started for the Broncos including Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler, and Paxton Lynch. None of them could ever grab the starting position and run with it because of the inconsistency and the poor play from the team.
The Broncos know they needed to make some changes because of age. They ended up signing Case Keenum as their immediate quarterback after having a phenomenal year leading the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game.
The Broncos should be a good team next season but in the loaded AFC West, it could be tough for them to make the playoffs.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs had a disappointing end to their season last year blowing a 21-3 halftime lead against the Titans in the first round of the playoffs. The Chiefs knew it was time to make some changes to this team after last years early exit. They ended up trading their starting quarterback Alex Smith to the Washington Redskins and their star corner Marcus Peters to the Rams.
The Chiefs are ready to hand the keys to last years 10th overall pick Patrick Mahomes and second-year running back Kareem Hunt. The offseason pickup of Sammy Watkins will help bolster their offence and linebacker Anthony Hitchens can secure the middle of their defence after losing Derrick Johnson. The Chiefs season will wind up in the hands of Mahomes and how much he progressed over the offseason.
Kansas City starts out the season with four of their first six games on the road against some of the best teams in the league. This could determine their season early.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Los Angeles Chargers started out the season last year 0-4 with a couple of close losses. They then finished out the season winning nine of their last 12 games finishing the season at 9-7. The Chargers are one of the most complete teams in the league on both offence and defence.
The Oakland Raiders had a very disappointing season last year which lead to the firing of head coach Jack Del Rio and the eventual signing of former NFL head coach Jon Gruden to a massive deal 10 year(s)/$100 million deal. Gruden is going to come in with a tough mindset and he will expect a lot out of his players day in and day out.
The Raiders are in a position to have a successful season with Derek Carr looking to bounce back after a poor 2017. One glaring issue the Raiders fixed this offseason was at receiver through the additions of Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant. The two will pair with former all-pro Amari Cooper. Cooper had a disappointing season last year with his five drops being the most notable fault but having Gruden in his ear every day along with a supporting cast should have the fourth-year receiver primed for a big season.
Oakland should be jockeying for a position with the Chargers and the Chiefs in the AFC West all season long.
The Houston Texans got hit with the injury bug last season which ended their season. With the injuries to Deshaun Watson and J.J. Watt, it was too much to overcome for the Texans. Before the injury to Watson, the Texans offence was putting up big numbers and winning some big games.
Houston is primed to make a run in the AFC barring that they stay healthy. With the return of Watt, Whitney Merculis and the new additions to the defence of Aaron Colvin and Tyrann Mathieu, the Texans defence looks very dangerous. Watson coming back at full strength could make this one of the best offences in the league with Lamar Miller, DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, and Braxton Miller. Hopkins has even been recruiting Dez Bryant to come join the Texans which would be a huge piece for them.
The Indianapolis Colts have been a poor team the past couple of seasons. There isn’t really much to say about the Colts other than the question that has been circling the organization since 2015. Is Andrew Luck healthy enough to play? How will his shoulder hold up?
The Colts are obviously going through a rebuilding stage and it’s going to be hard to compete in a division with the Texans, Titans, and Jaguars. If Luck can stay healthy for a full season, then the Colts will have a chance to compete week in and week out. It would also be a huge lift for the organization that your franchise player will play a full season with no setbacks since his shoulder injury three years ago.
The Jaguars were one of the most surprising teams last season. Jacksonville made it to the AFC Championship Game where they ended up losing to the New England Patriots in one of the best games of the year.
The Jaguars had the second-best defence in the league last season. This year, they are returning 12 of the 14 starters to a defence which is young and talented.
If the Jaguars want to compete in the AFC for a Championship, it all comes down to Blake Bortles. Bortles will need to take another step forward this season, much like he did last year. Doug Marrone and Tom Coughlin have this team in a great position for now and for the future. They expect their players to follow their lead to the ultimate goal.
The Tennessee Titans had a very good season last year making it to the second round of the playoffs before losing to the New England Patriots. The Titans should be poised to have another good year.
Tennessee had a lot of contributions from their young players in 2017. They will expect these youngsters to take another leap forward this year. The Titans released veteran running back DeMarco Murray in the offseason. They will now hand over the keys to Derrick Henry after the big year and playoffs he had last year.
The Titans will be competing for the playoffs all year long. The end result could come down to their division record and how they play against the Jaguars and the Texans.
The Baltimore Ravens have been a mediocre team the past couple of seasons. The Ravens are a team who stays in the playoff race all season long and then their fate is decided within the final 2 weeks of the season. Baltimore has one of the most difficult road schedules in the league this season. They will need to dominate at home if they want to stay in the race.
The Ravens are going to need their offence to have some breakout games. They have revamped their whole receiving core this off-season. Baltimore brought in weapons in Michael Crabtree, John Brown, and Willie Snead. This will be the best receiving core that Joe Flacco has had in a couple of seasons. With Lamar Jackson behind Flacco, if their season quickly turns south, it may be time to seriously consider a change at quarterback.
The Cincinnati Bengals are in for a tough year this season just like last year. The Bengals are going to try to incorporate 2 new coordinators. Cincinnati had the worst offence in the league last season. This offseason, they didn’t make any moves to improve the offence. They will depend heavily on Andy Dalton and A.J. Green to carry them in most games. Joe Mixon will have to prove that he can be a consistent back to take some pressure off he rest of their offense. Dalton has been poor the past couple of seasons. With no future in sight in Cincy, this is going to be his year to prove himself.
The Bengals will be missing their leader on defense Vontaze Burfict for the first 4 games of their season as part of an suspension.
The Cleveland Browns have been the laughing stock of the NFL for the past decade. With the offseason moves that they made and with their young talent they are now starting to look upward. The Browns acquired Tyrod Taylor, Jarvis Landry, Carlos Hyde, and Damarious Randall. The Browns also drafted Baker Mayfield and Denzel Ward in the top five of the NFL draft.
The offence has weapons across the board with Landry, Josh Gordon, Corey Coleman, Hyde, Duke Johnson, Nick Chubb, David Njoku, and Darren Fells which is more than Taylor had in his career with the Bills. Their defense is also loaded with talent in Myles Garrett, Jamie Collins, Ward, Jabril Peppers, Randall, and Christian Kirksey.
The Steelers finished tied for 1st place in the AFC last season with the New England Patriots after a controversial call in their head to head meeting. Pittsburgh ended up losing a shoot out to the Jaguars in the second round of the playoffs. The Steelers lost their heart and soul on defense in Ryan Shazier when he went down with a spinal injury.
The front office made some moves in the offseason. The most notable move was firing OC Todd Haley and replacing him with quarterback coach Randy Fichtner. The Steelers also had some low key free agent signings in Morgan Burnett and John Bostic.
Pittsburgh also had a pretty good draft finding some solid, versatile defensive guys to fill multiple positions. They also drafted a new back up QB in Mason Rudolph. After trading away Martavias Bryant to the Raiders, they drafted wide receiver James Washington. The Pittsburgh Steelers are poised for another big season. Big Ben Roethlisberger is fired up and their defense is ready to take that next step together.