AFC Dark Horse Teams
One of the most exciting times of the NFL season is the playoffs. Throughout the year teams work and play hard for a chance to obtain a playoff spot. In the preseason, analysts working across many sporting websites put out their playoff predictions, but when playoffs come around, a surprise team enters the playoffs, that was not on the radars. These teams bring great entertainment for the fans as they become the underdogs, that many fans cheer for. Here are two dark horse teams from the AFC that were not on radars before, but could make the playoffs.
AFC Dark Horse Teams
Last year the Jets finished 3rd in the AFC East with a 7-9 record. The Jets had the worst offense, they were bottom five in passing and rushing. This awful offense was the product of a horrible offensive line and Sam Darnold not playing in three games. The Jets improved their offensive line by adding the likes of George Fant, Connor McGovern, and Mekhi Becton. With a new and improved offensive line, Le’Veon Bell will have more room to run, and his production will greatly improve from the poor year he had last year.
Additionally, the offensive line will better protect the young Sam Darnold. Sam Darnold is very talented and has kept developing over the years. This past season he went 7-6 with the Jets and threw 14 touchdowns in the last 8 games. I expect a breakout season for Darnold, especially with a great receiving group that he has. A group that lost Robby Anderson, but added the likes of Breshad Perriman and the rookie Denzel Mims, who has great size and hands. With great weapons, improved offensive line, and Sam Darnold’s talent, this offense should a top 20 offense.
On the defensive side, the Jets had the seventh-best defense last year which included having the second-best run defense. This year, the run defense should play like last year, as the defensive line had no losses. Another huge part of the run defense success is the linebackers. The linebacking group of the Jets is elite. The two middle linebackers, Avery Williamson and C.J. Mosley, are both great tacklers and great in coverage. On the outside, Jordan Jenkins and rookie Jabari Zuniga will bring much-needed pressure, which will, in turn, improve the pass defense.
Speaking of the pass defense, a key contributor to its low success was the secondary. Specifically, the corners who underperformed. For those reasons, the Jets added a starter in the experienced Pierre Desir and drafted Bryce Hall as depth. These corners will team up with the fantastic safeties on the Jets. They include the free safety Marcus Maye and the best safety in the league, Jamal Adams. Overall this secondary should be very solid this season. If the defense plays like it did last year, and Sam Darnold has a breakout season, don’t be surprised to see the Jets playing by January.
Last year the Broncos finished second in the AFC West with a 7-9 record. The Broncos had the fifth worst offense last year, this included a bottom five passing offense. The Broncos offense was horrible due to a quarterback mess. They started with Joe Flacco who isn’t good anymore, continued onto Brandon Allen, and finished with Drew Lock. Drew Lock will be the starter next year, as last year he played in the last five games, where he went 4-1 while throwing for seven touchdowns and over 1,000 yards. Drew Lock will be the main focus of this Broncos offense in the upcoming year.
I expect Drew Lock to develop and have an exceptionally good season. A great offensive line will help Lock, but also the addition of many offensive weapons. He will still have Courtland Sutton who had a breakout season last year, but he will also have the rookies Jerry Jeudy, the best route runner in college, and a new slot guy, in the fast KJ Hamler. Although, expect the Broncos to run a lot of two-back sets, as they have two pro bowlers in Phillip Lindsay and the newly acquired Melvin Gordon. Everything is set for Drew Lock to succeed. He has a great offensive line, a boatload of great receivers, and a great running back room. This is Drew Lock’s starting job to lose. Ultimately, if Drew Lock develops and has a breakout season, the Broncos offense will have great success and should be a top 20 offense this upcoming year.
Like the Jets, the Broncos defense has a huge impact on their success. They had 12th best defense last year. The Broncos were solid in both stopping the pass and run. The Broncos last year had a solid defensive line, and they improved it by trading for Jurrell Casey which was an absolute steal of a trade. Though pro bowl linebacker Von Miller is aging, he still has an impact and the rest of the linebackers, led by the young and elite Bradley Chubb, are good. With this great of a defensive line and a very good linebacking group, expect the Broncos to win a lot of games, through the defense bringing lots of pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Through the pressure, opposing quarterbacks will throw errant passes to the Broncos’ fantastic secondary. They have a young, elite free safety in Justin Simmons and a solid strong safety in Kareem Jackson. Although the Broncos lost Chris Harris, they got the perfect replacement in the younger and elite, A.J. Bouye. This secondary will be even better than last year, with a more developed Justin Simmons and a younger corner in A.J. Bouye. This Broncos defense should be top 10 next year which will help them win games, but a Drew Lock breakout season along with the improved offense should solidify them a playoff spot.
AFC Dark Horse Recap
I don’t expect both dark horse teams to make it to the playoffs on the AFC side, but both of them have decent chances. The Jets and Broncos both had great offseasons, but they did not receive a lot of playoff attention. They have great defenses that are playoff-caliber but rely on their young quarterbacks to breakout. If Darnold plays great for the Jets and Drew Lock plays great for the Broncos, then these two teams could both be playing in January.
In the upcoming days, an article on two NFC darkhorse playoff teams will come out, so look out for that.
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