While every other football analyst is predicting continued dominance and even a repeat by the New England Patriots this year, I will tell you that this is the year the Patriots come back down to earth and the shift in power of the AFC begins.
It’s inevitable; time catches up to everyone and the Patriots have done a little too much tinkering with their roster. The increase in the number of injuries to key people and the increased severity of these injuries add up to more than a couple of losses this year.
If it weren’t for the fact that Jay Cutler will be calling the signals in Miami, this would be the year the run of division titles comes to an end. If Miami had any quarterback besides Jay Cutler, they could the win the divisional title, but the inevitable failure of Cutler means that run of titles will continue. Buffalo has injuries at quarterback and suspensions on defense. They will be improved in a couple years. The New York Jets are playing for the number 1 pick in the draft and might contend in ten years, if they are lucky.
East: Patriots 10-6, Miami 8-8, Matt Moore gets them close, Buffalo 7-9, LeSean McCoy possible MVP, Jets 5-11, Josh McCown might throw for 4000 yards
Now while most people believe the Oakland Raiders are the team to unseat the Patriots, I don’t believe they will get past the Chiefs for the division title. First, the Raiders don’t have the luxury of a last place schedule this year and Derek Carr their young All-pro quarterback, is coming off of a very serious knee injury. The Chiefs on the other hand, have had the best record in football the last 3 seasons outside of New England. The Chargers will be improved as a result of 2 previous seasons at the bottom of the league, and being at the top of the last 2 drafts have improved their defense and wide receiving corps.. Denver will go through a transition with their new head coach and the underrated Trevor Semien at quarterback.
West: Chiefs 12-4, Chargers 10-6, Raiders 9-7 and Denver 8-8
Now the Chiefs are my pick to host the AFC Championship, and I imagine they will be playing the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Steelers are getting one of their biggest weapons back in Martavius Bryant and have been rebuilding their defense over the last 3 drafts. Their overall team speed might be the best in the league, and Ben Roethlisberger would like nothing more than to cap his career with another Super Bowl. Baltimore will do their usual seasonal bob between 9-7 and 7-9, good enough for 2nd place. Cincinnati will continue to plummet due the shaky arm of Andy Dalton and an aging, fading defense. Cleveland enters it’s 5th rebuilding plan in 5 seasons under the steady stewardship of Hue Jackson. With better play-calling and a little luck, the Browns can leap frog the Bengals.
North: Steelers 10-6, Baltimore 8-8, Browns 6-10, Bengals 5-11
In the years to come, the AFC South will be THE division that rises. With Tom Coughlin as the new President of the Jacksonville Jaguars, their improvement will not be far behind. The speed of their improvement will depend on whether or not they can develop Blake Bortles into the franchise quarterback they thought they were getting 2 seasons ago. In Tennessee, it is believed that their franchise quarterback, Marcus Mariotta, will ultimately lead the Titans back to the Super Bowl. Indianapolis has been on the verge with Andrew Luck before and Houston just drafted their insurance policy slash franchise quarterback in Deshaun Watson to backup Tom Savage this year. All of these teams have younger, hungry head coaches from championship programs and up and coming defenses, the exception possibly being Indianapolis. In an aging AFC, I believe that the Super Bowl droughts in Tennessee, Jacksonville and Houston may all come to an end in the next 6 years.
South: Houston 10-6, Tennessee 9-7, Jacksonville 8-8, Indianapolis 7-9
Chiefs over Steelers in AFC Championship game.