NFL Season Preview: The AFC 

The AFC is going to be a bloodbath this year. The amount of talent brought in, both in free agency and through the draft, will probably result in at least a few good teams on the outside looking in come playoff time. That said, let’s preview the 16 teams vying for the Lamar Hunt trophy. 

Baltimore Ravens 

The Ravens’ record last year was deceiving, since their 2nd half collapse was mostly due to injuries and John Harbaugh being way too aggressive. Let me put it to you this way. They started the season 8-3 while missing all of their running backs and half their secondary. I expect a strong rebound this year now that everyone is out of the infirmary. If this doesn’t happen and they miss the playoffs again, it might be time to do some soul-searching. 

Cincinnati Bengals 

The amount of disrespect I’ve seen lately towards the Bengals is disturbing. People are more focused on the flashy talents in the AFC West and are overlooking the fact that this team was in the Super Bowl 6 months ago. In fact, I would argue they have gotten better since that game. They had a decent draft and brought in needed reinforcements on their offensive line so that Burrow doesn’t get killed. They have a lot of doubters but should still be in playoff contention barring freak circumstances.  


Cleveland Browns 

Yes, you may gasp in awe at the transcendent talents brought in on both sides of the ball, but the elephant in the room here is Deshaun Watson. The way the Browns structured his contract is disgusting and undermines any sort of moral values they say they care about. On paper, these guys should have a strong shot at the playoffs. However, that 11 game suspension Watson wound up getting will hold them back. Their current backup QB is Josh Rosen. Remember him? He’s the guy that wasn’t even starting caliber on a team whose executives were deliberately tanking. That entire organization deserves to be sunk into Lake Erie. Start with Haslum. 

Pittsburgh Steelers 

The yinzers are coming out of their homes at this very moment to bombastically talk about how their team is going to the Super Bowl. Kenny Pickett is a Steeler, I REPEAT, KENNY PICKETT IS A STEELER. He will probably sit behind Trubisky for the first few games as that formidable defense carries them to any success they may experience. TJ Watt is going to break his own sack record this year too. A lot of people are sleeping on them, but they could play spoiler and/or make some noise in the right circumstances. I’m interested to see how this goes for them. 


Houston Texans 

This entire team looks to be straight out of one of those trash cans the Astros were banging two years ago. They are probably going to be near the bottom of the league again and will be competing for draft position with the Jags and Bears. Davis Mills showed flashes last year and will hopefully continue his development under Lovie Smith’s system this season. Other than that, there is nothing much to look forward to on this front. 

Indianapolis Colts 

The relentless quarterback carousel continues in Indy as Matt Ryan is brought in to replace Carson Wentz. He is an upgrade from Wentz but is on the decline. Unless he falls off a cliff production-wise, the Colts should be in pretty good shape this year, especially with Jonothan Taylor ravaging front-7’s across the country. If everything goes right, these guys could make some serious noise.  


Jacksonville Jaguars 

The clown show has commenced in Duval this year. They replaced the legendary leader of men Urban Meyer with a slightly more accomplished coach in Doug Pederson, which is like recovering from COVID only to find out you’ve contracted monkeypox. They also kept Trent Baalke around, I have no idea why personally, so add Malaria to that list of ailments as well. It’s going to be another long year of tanking. Travon Walker is a beast, though, and Trevor Lawrence still needs time to develop. I’m expecting at least a few more wins out of them this year.  


Tennessee Titans 

Karma was delivered to Tennessee this offseason in exchange for that undeserved #1 seed last year. That karma came in the form of losing their entire core of offensive skill players minus Tannehill and Derrick Henry. Speaking of Tannehill, he’s gone on record saying he isn’t going to help with the development of third-round QB Malik Willis. Infighting and drama will consume the team whole just in time for them to reemerge in January for their traditional first-round beatdown by a real team.  


Buffalo Bills 

The Bills are heavy Eastern Conference favorites, and it’s no surprise why. They are stacked at pretty much every position. Josh Allen might be in the conversation for MVP this year, and that defense will only get better with Von Miller and Kaiir Elam in the fold. However, I am wondering how they’ll blow it and break my heart this year. It’s a Buffalo tradition, after all. Last time, it was 45 yards of offense allowed with 13 seconds left that undid them. Maybe this year they’ll finally realize their potential.  

Miami Dolphins 

The Dolphins, once again, stuck to their traditional offseason strategy of throwing huge amounts of money at everything that moves. The big pickup this year was Tyreek Hill, who they got from the Chiefs and immediately paid a king’s ransom to keep him in Miami for 4 years, 72 million guaranteed. The main focal point this year, though, will be Tua. No excuses for him this time around with all those weapons on offense. Jalen Waddle and Will Fuller are both legit options to throw to.  


New England Patriots 

The reincarnation of the Evil Empire has returned this year with a weaker roster than last time. They lost quite a few of their defensive cornerstones either to free agency or to retirement, and Mac Jones is still very raw and needs more time to develop. If anything screams the Patriot way, it is using their first-round pick to draft a guy out of Chattanooga who wasn’t projected to go until the late 3rd round. Knowing this team, he will somehow turn into a superstar and the next Joe Thomas because Patriots.  


New York Jets 

What else is there that I even have to say on this front? They did their typical buttfumbling of getting their golden goose injured in a preseason game, and are now down to the checkdown sensei Joe Flacco as their week 1 starter. It is looking to be another long year. This team has been in the basement of the league for so long that indentations are starting to form in the foundation. At least they’ll get to see Sauce Gardner work his magic on opposing wide receivers. Until he gets injured, too, thanks to the terrible turf at MetLife.  


Kansas City Chiefs 

They may be the weakest they’ve been in years, but the Chiefs are still a legitimate threat. They’ll always be with #15 under center, and that receiving core is still relatively the same, minus the Cheetah leaving for Miami. Once again, no one outside of Kansas City wants this team to succeed, and if they somehow miss the playoffs or flop in the first 2 rounds, 31 other fanbases will be dancing on their graves.  

Denver Broncos 

Behold everyone, the champions of the offseason! Everyone was saying this offseason that all Denver needed to get back to relevance was a competent QB. Guess what happened. Russell Wilson has arrived from Seattle along with his patented late game bailouts. He’ll have a stronger offensive line in Denver, meaning he won’t be running for his life every play and will actually have time to throw from the pocket. Their defense is still stacked and will probably win them more than a few games against quality teams. Unfortunately, their division is looking to be a bloodbath with all the talent brought in by opposing teams. Speaking of which… 


Los Angeles Chargers 

LA’s other team made some big changes to their porous defense over the summer. They added JC Jackson in the secondary and brought in Khalil Mack. As for that offense, Justin Herbert is no less of a beast than he was last year, and the rest of their offense can be explosive at times. They are the favorites to win their division, but it’s the Chargers, so I merely wait to see how they’ll blow it this time. Either that or I’ll get to watch them play a home playoff game full of the opposing teams’ fans.  


Las Vegas Raiders 

The fourth and final AFC West team in this preview chose Davante Adams as their big acquisition this offseason, reestablishing the Fresno state connection with Derek Carr. Adams should change the face, shape, and look of their already potent offense by his mere presence on the field, and opposing coordinators will have fits trying to cover him. They bolstered the D-line by signing Chandler Jones and extending Maxx Crosby. Unfortunately, their secondary is still a mess, and might be the reason why their season could end early. Maybe a few trade deadline moves can help shore it up before it’s too late.  


Other Remarks 

You may have noticed that I left a certain punter out of my segment on the Bills. That is simple. The situation deserves more than a sentence or two. Matt Araiza, formerly of the Bills, was implicated in allegations of a heinous gang-rape of a 17 year old girl back when he was at San Diego State. The lawsuit alleged, with photographic evidence to back it up, that Araiza and two former Aztec teammates brutally assaulted the young woman at an off-campus party. Araiza himself even admitted to having had intercourse with the girl, which constitutes rape in California. The legal age of consent is 18. After damning evidence of guilt was brought forth by the victim’s lawyer, damage control had to commence. The Bills were quick to cut him loose a couple days after the allegations surfaced. Part of me is glad that Buffalo did the right thing here, but another part is wondering how much of this had to do with the fact that he was their punter instead of a core contributor. If this was Allen, or even one of their first or second round draft picks, they would probably still be on the team. One stark reality has emerged over the past few months, though. The NFL does not care about women. All they care about is money, ratings, and if a guy can play football. Sure, they’ll pretend to show solidarity with social and political trends of the time, but at the end of the day it’s all smoke and mirrors. Look at how they structured the Deshaun Watson suspension. First, Cleveland had clauses in place that would result in Watson losing only $365,000 of his nine-figure megadeal, a drop in the bucket. The NFL knew about this loophole and did next to nothing about it. Sure, they wound up fining him $5 million, but that was more as damage control after the initial outcry. The second part is with the suspension itself. Zeke and Jarren Reed got six games for one alleged assault, while Watson only gets 11 for repeating that action over 30 times? Even more damning is how they factored it into the schedule. The 11-game suspension has him returning, wait for it, in week 13 against the Texans, his former team, in Houston. That timing is about as random as the matchups in pay-to-win video games. Now watch Jim Nantz get the nod to call it, too. The unfortunate thing is that nothing will be done. The NFL is king in the entertainment industry. Regardless of its stances or its actions, people will still watch games, the NFL will still get its massive ratings, and broadcast networks will continue to pay the league hundreds of millions of dollars. With that said, let’s end on a lighter note and look at who I think will make the playoffs this year.

Playoff predictions 

You thought last year’s AFC was crazy? This year is looking to be absolute chaos. The divisions, at least, are pretty cut and dry. I think Baltimore will win the North, the East will go to Buffalo, and the South to the Colts. The AFC West, as mentioned, is a bit closer but I think Kansas City will find a way to win it again. The wild cards, though, are going to be chaos. I’m going to go with the Broncos, Bengals, and Patriots with at least two of those spots being decided in week 18. I look forward to seeing how the AFC shapes up this year. Play ball.  


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