The AFC this year feels like a stacked conference. There are plenty of regular contenders that look strong this year. The Patriots and the Steelers have retooled their defenses. The Chiefs seem to have fixed some of their ills from last year, and Tyreek Hill’s non-suspension certainly helps. The Texans are (mostly) healthy, and with the talent they have on both sides of the ball, they could contend for a title.
And there are some up-and-coming or rebuilt teams that have positioned themselves to do some damage this year. Everyone knows the Browns story. The Ravens can never be counted out, and if Jackson improves as a passer, they could be dangerous. The Titans always seem to be on the playoff bubble, and perhaps Tannehill eventually starting could get them in. And the Bills and Jets are poised to make strides this season.
But one of the teams most pundits had penciled into one of the final six playoff spots was the Indianapolis Colts. With Luck now gone, what are the Colts chances? Jacoby Brissett is widely considered to be one of the top backups, but there will be drop off. I’m not saying the Colts are now a bum team. But without Luck, they are on the playoff bubble at best in terms of predictions.
The AFC boasts plenty of good teams this year. With Luck gone, the Bills have a much-improved chance of finding that fifth or sixth playoff spot. Here is how I see the playoffs right now:
AFC East: The New England Patriots. Until Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are gone, we must assume this is their division. Sorry, Bills fans.
AFC North: The Pittsburgh Steelers. The defense looks great, and the Steelers behind Big Ben will be motivated to prove that they are still relevant.
AFC South: The Houston Texans. The Texans struggle with health, but with Luck gone, Houston seems like the obvious favorite.
AFC West: Despite some changeover on their roster, the Chiefs are still one of the most talented teams in the league, and Andy Reid will have them ready.
So, let’s call those locks for the playoffs barring injury or some sort of cataclysmic meteor event. That leaves the two wildcard spots. Unfortunately, the AFC is deep, so there are a lot of potential teams who will be fighting for these spots. Here are the candidates:
Los Angeles Chargers: The Chargers are still talented and Rivers hasn’t shown signs of age, but they are dealing with some injuries and the Melvin Gordon contract issue might derail a promising season.
The Cleveland Browns: The Browns are super talented, and they are this year’s darling. Still, they’re the Browns, and who knows how Kitchens will handle all of these diva egomaniacs.
The Baltimore Ravens: Did the Chargers teach the NFL how to beat this Wing T style offense? Will Lamar Jackson get figured out as quickly as the wildcat? Maybe. But this is a very talented roster with good lines and a good secondary.
The New York Jets: Fact is, Sam Darnold looks like he’s a step ahead of Allen in development. The Jets are dealing with some injuries and suspensions, but this is a talented team. Sure, Adam Gase and Gregg Williams act like they should be in padded cells wearing straight jackets, but they have to be an improvement over the Jets’ coaching staff last year, and they’re so crazy … it just might work.
The Tennessee Titans: It’s hard to take the Titans seriously, and so much rides on the improvement of Marcus Mariota. But now, they have a quality backup in Ryan Tannehill. My prediction is that Tannehill wins that job at some point this season. This is a well-rounded and tough team.
The Jacksonville Jaguars: I don’t believe in Nick Foles outside of Philly. But that’s me. Still, this is a great defense and Fournette could bounce back this season.
The Oakland Raiders: Haha! Just kidding.
The Buffalo Bills: That means there are six other realistic wildcard contenders in the AFC. Yes, the Bills are improved, but so is much of the conference. Buffalo has a legitimate chance of vying for the playoffs, but 2019 represents some stiff competition, and while many fans are hoping for 9-7 or 10-6, it wouldn’t be a total surprise for the team to go 5-11 or 6-10.
The loss of Andrew Luck helps the Bills chances of making the playoffs, but it’s still going to be a tough road. And to do so, the Bills will need to fix their special teams units, get to the quarterback more, and play with more discipline than they did in week three of the preseason.
What do you think, Bills Mafia? Who are your predictions to make the playoffs in 2019?