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:
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.
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.