2015 AFC Preview

The AFC has some of the NFL's best quarterbacks in Luck, Manning, Roethlisberger, and of course Brady.
The AFC has some of the NFL’s best quarterbacks in Luck, Manning, Roethlisberger, and of course Brady.

While the NFC was a tough conference to predict, the AFC has some pure automatics that you can count on year in and year out.  Unfortunately, only one of these outstanding teams will be able to represent the AFC in Super Bowl 50.   

Note 1: I apologize for the lack of spacing near the end of the paragraph, I have no idea why the post did not format correctly.

Note 2: In case you missed it, Overtime’s NFC Preview can be found at the following link:

https://overtimetkro.wordpress.com/2015/08/30/2015-nfc-preview/

AFC East:

1. New England Patriots

A 4-game suspension to star quarterback Tom Brady will not keep the Patriots from winning this easy division.  Jimmy Garoppolo can hold down the fort for 4 games while Brady is gone, and once he returns, this team will be the same old Patriots.  New England lost key corners Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, as well as shifty running back Shane Vereen to the Giants and mainstay Vince Wilfork to the Texans.  But this team is still the class of the AFC East and a true Super Bowl contender.

2. Buffalo Bills

It is beginning to come together for the Buffalo Bills after years of suffering.  They boast one of the NFL’s top defenses to go with a revamped offense.  Rex Ryan is a defensive specialist, and his key defensive players Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus, and Preston Brown should love playing under his system.  Tyrod Taylor is the surprising week 1 starter at QB, which is why I don’t think the Bills are playoff-ready yet.  LeSean McCoy, Sammy Watkins, and Percy Harvin are big names, but if there’s no quarterback, there’s no postseason.

3. Miami Dolphins

Is this the year that Joe Philbin’s Dolphins buck the 8-8 trend?  It very well could be.  Ryan Tannehill looks to be ready in his most important year yet, and Lamar Miller is an underrated running back.  Miami has the offensive weapons, but the real question is on defense.  Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh spearhead the pass rush, but the lack of playmakers at linebacker and in the secondary could doom the Dolphins again.

4. New York Jets

While the Jets will be better than last year’s 4-12 showing, there is still way too much going wrong for this squad to be a contender yet.  Ryan Fitzpatrick and the injured Geno Smith are not very good quarterbacks, and while the Jets have a deep running back rotation, none of these guys screams “1,000 yard rusher”.  Overrated wideouts Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker can’t catch if Fitzy or Geno can’t throw accurately.  Defensively, the Jets are stout.  They have one of football’s best defenses with playmakers abound, but the offense is too weak to save the Jets.

AFC North:

1. Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh made it back into the playoffs in 2014 by the way of the AFC’s best offense.  Ben Roethlisberger, the suspended Le’Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown are the league’s very best trio, and no one else is even close.  The offensive talent is there in spades.  On the defensive side of the ball, the Steelers’ only main weakness is their average pass rush.  The linebackers make for one of the NFL’s best groups, and the secondary is young and getting even better.  A tough schedule could hurt most teams, but the Steelers should have no problems in 2015.

2. Cincinnati Bengals

When will the Cincy Bengals ever win a playoff game?  It is a very pivotal question that has no clear answer.  Jeremy Hill and A.J. Green are trusted playmakers, but Andy Dalton could still use improvement.  The defense has gotten younger, but is still merely average.  The Bengals do not have a tremendous pass rush or secondary, but have sure tackling linebackers.  If the kids progress on offense and defense, the Bengals could challenge Pittsburgh for the division title.

3. Baltimore Ravens

I never have confidence in the Ravens, but they always prove me wrong.  Armed with a younger team after letting veterans Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones, and Haloti Ngata go, Baltimore will need Joe Flacco at the top of his game for the whole season, something the Ravens rarely get.  Justin Forsett is an old running back, and Steve Smith is even older in his final season.  The defense still has Terrell Suggs, Courtney Upshaw, and Elvis Dumervil at linebacker as well as a plus safety combination in Matt Elam and Will Hill.  The Ravens will need some injury luck, but could be a bubble playoff team.

4. Cleveland Browns

I feel bad for the Browns, I really do.  After teasing their fans with a 7-4 record through week 12, they dropped 5 in a row and finished 7-9.  Johnny Manziel is as raw as they come, and their running backs are virtually unknown outside of Cleveland.  The defense was the league’s worst versus the run.  Veterans Paul Kruger, Donte Whitner, Tramon Williams, and Karlos Dansby have some game left, but are dwindling.  Joe Haden is one of the NFL’s best corners, and young Barkevious Mingo has potential as well.  But until they have a QB and can stop the run, the Browns will be a losing franchise.

AFC South:

1. Indianapolis Colts
Indy has the league’s easiest division to win in the AFC South, but needs the postseason success.  I have always thought the Colts are a Super Bowl team, and they are ready in 2015.  Andrew Luck will team up with Frank Gore, Andre Johnson, and T.Y. Hilton to make for one heck of an offense.  The defense isn’t bad either. Vontae Davis is a great shutdown corner, and linebackers Trent Cole, Robert Mathis, and D’Qwell Jackson are among the best at what they do.  This is a veteran team, and one that’s ready for a ring.
2. Houston Texans
The Texans have the defense, but are missing too many offensive pieces.  It all revolves around DE J.J. Watt.  Watt is the best defensive player in the NFL, and is the face of the Texans.  He’s joined by Jadeveon Clowney and Brian Cushing at linebacker, as well as DT Vince Wilfork and safety Rahim Moore.  But the offense is lagging immensely.  With Arian Foster out for the foreseeable future with a groin injury, Brian Hoyer could have a tough time leading the Texans’ offense to some wins.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
Jacksonville has endured many hardships in their hopes to find a good football team.  But the Jags are starting to come together in this their 21st season.  Blake Bortles has the ability to become a franchise QB, and rookie running back T.J. Yeldon was highly thought of at Alabama.  A sneaky combination of receivers solidifies the Jags on offense.  But defensively, the club is still a flop.  Paul Posluszny can’t tackle everyone by himself!  The secondary is a weakness, but the pass rush is solid.  The Jags could improve to 6 or 7 wins this year.
4. Tennessee Titans
The Titans are anything but titanic right now.  Marcus Mariota is their new quarterback, and will be good in time.  But as a rookie with limited receiving options, he could struggle.  Bishop Sankey was not great at running back as a rookie, but could still have a future.  Kendall Wright and Delanie Walker are good receivers, but are wasted in Tennessee.  The defense is shell of its former self.  The secondary is alright, but the subpar pass rush and linebacker units are nothing to write home about.  The Titans will struggle in 2015, 5 years removed from their last postseason appearance.
AFC West:
1. Denver Broncos
Peyton Manning’s Broncos are ready to come back with a vengeance after a disappointing playoff exit.  Manning is still one of the NFL’s premiere QBs, and C.J. Anderson is a fantastic rags-to-riches story at running back.  Star wideouts Damaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are each at the top of their games.  The defense was the AFC’s finest last year.  Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware are a tantalizing pass rush combo, and rookie Shane Ray can only help.  The secondary is also well defended thanks to Chris Harris and Aqib Talib.  The Broncos are one of the AFC’s most complete squads.
2. Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs barely missed the playoffs last season, but are primed for a run this year.  Alex Smith isn’t a top 10 QB, but has Jeremy Maclin and Travis Kelce to throw to when he’s not busy handing the ball off to Jamaal Charles.  Charles is still a lock for 1,000 yards and a 5.0 average.  The defense is boosted by pass rusher Justin Houston and fantastic tacklers Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson, and Josh Mauga.  Combined with safety Eric Berry’s return from cancer,  the Chiefs are a good bet to return to the playoffs.
3. San Diego Chargers
The Chargers have actually only made the playoffs once in the last 5 seasons and have not won 10 games since 2009.  Philip Rivers could be shopped in the offseason, but is still a safe bet for 4,000 yards and a good TD/INT ratio.  Running back Melvin Gordon will be asked to step in as a rookie big time with veterans Donald Brown and Danny Woodhead as backup options.  The defense is great against the pass (4th best in the NFL), but porous versus the run (26th).  Eric Weddle at safety is a playmaker in its truest definition.  The Chargers look better than last year, but not enough for the playoffs.
4. Oakland Raiders
The Raiders finally have a sense of direction after years of aimless losing.  Derek Carr is a young quarterback that could become something special, and first round pick Amari Cooper is going to be his number 1 target.  The lack of a running game hurts this team offensively though.  The defense is led by young Khalil Mack and veterans Justin Tuck, Curtis Lofton, and Charles Woodson.  With a likely move back to Los Angeles in the cards, the Raiders are slowly righting the ship.
Projected Playoff Seeding:
1. Denver Broncos
2. Indianapolis Colts
3. New England Patriots
4. Pittsburgh Steelers
5. Cincinnati Bengals
6. Kansas City Chiefs
Just Missed: Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, San Diego Chargers
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