1. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)
I make this pick fully expecting Le’Veon Bell to come back in time for the start of the season (week 2 the latest). He’s one of those players that has proven he doesn’t need a full camp and preseason reps to get himself going. If he’s out though, that could cost them a few games. Assuming he’s in, the offense will be very dynamic and there’s not enough competition in the division to challenge them for a division title. The Steelers should run away with it.
2. Baltimore Ravens (7-9)
The Ravens can be a sneaky good team next year. They have a solid defense and an underrated run game. But Joe Flacco was so bad last year it’s hard for me to put any trust in them. This team will go as far as Flacco takes them.
3. Cleveland Browns (6-10)
Last year I put myself firmly in the Browns bandwagon, and they went on to go 0-16. Doesn’t mean I’m getting off though. I love what they did this summer. Drafting Baker and Ward in the top 5, trading for Jarvis Landry and Tyrod Taylor, and Josh Gordon is back and ready to go. Myles Garrett can become a DPOY candidate this year as well.
4. Cincinnati Bengals (5-11)
I think Bengals were starting to have a sense of hope early on in the summer, and then it all came crashing down when Marvin Lewis said he wasn’t retiring and returned to the sidelines. Their defense is getting worse, their offensive line is still awful, and Andy Dalton is a below average quarterback at best. A 7-9 record is best case scenario for the Bengals I’m afraid.
1. Houston Texans (10-6) The Texans suffered several key injuries last year, most notably Deshaun Watson and JJ Watt. This year with both of them back at full strength, I fully expect them to take the top spot of the division. If Watson keeps his pace before his injury (which is being extremely optimistic), this offense can be all sorts of dynamic. And with the talent on that defense, they’re always going to be a sleeper to represent the AFC come February.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars (9-7) The Jags were the cinderella team last year thanks to their incredible defense. They should be just as dominant on that side of the ball, but I think they take a step back on offense. Losing both Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns was huge, and I think Marcedes Lewis is a big loss too, especially in the run game. They’re defense might just be too tired to be as dominant if the offense can’t hold their own.
3. Tennessee Titans (6-10) I’ll be honest; I do not like Tennessee this year. Mariota wasn’t very good last year, and he hasn’t taken the next step like everyone’s been expecting. Corey Davis is a promising rookie, but he needs to take his play up big time.
4. Indianapolis Colts (6-10) Andrew Luck is back, and if he’s back to the old Andrew Luck, the Colts can surprise people in a weak AFC, but they’re defense isn’t up to snuff yet, the still could use help on the offensive line, and they might not have much of a run game. Luck might need to carry this team and that won’t get them to the playoffs. He’ll need help.
1. New England Patriots (12-4)
Even with Edelman’s suspension and Gronk weighing retirement, I don’t see any reason the Patriots won’t be the class of the AFC East once again. They could have some o-line troubles with Nate Solder leaving for the Giants, but that’s not enough for me to bet against Brady and Belichick
2. New York Jets (6-10)
The Jets turned some heads last year, even though they only went 5-11. The defense is pretty good, and the team fights like hell for head coach Todd Bowles. I like the decision to start Sam Darnold with McCown as his backup, and although there could be some growing pains, it’s the right decision to make.
3. Miami Dolphins (4-12)
On paper, the Dolphins had a rough off-season. Losing top receiver Jarvis Landry and their best defensive player Ndomukong Suh. They’re hoping that better “locker room guys” and the return of quarterback Ryan Tannehill will be enough, but I don’t think they’re that talented of a roster.
4. Buffalo Bills (3-13)
Bills on paper, look like they could have one of the worst offenses in the league this year. They traded away their starting left tackle when they already had a below offensive line to begin with, LeSean McCoy is on the wrong side of 30 and facing legal trouble, and you have to decide between Nathan Peterman and Josh Allen to start between that? The defense should still be pretty solid, but they’re definitely going to need luck on their side with their quarterback play.
1. Los Angeles Chargers (10-6)
The Chargers probably should have been a playoff team last season, but they lost some brutal finishes because of the kicking game. Their defense should be one of the best in the league featuring Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, and Casey Heyward. And their offense shouldn’t skip a beat either, even with Rivers getting up there in age. As long as Keenan Allen stays healthy, I think the Chargers are the team to beat in the AFC West.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (9-7)
The Chiefs decided to make the expected switch up at QB this summer, trading Alex Smith to Washington and making Pat Mahomes the starter. I think this will help them greatly in the long run and allow them to open up their offense. I think the main reason they take a step back is because of their losses on the defensive side of the ball, along with a learning curve Mahomes will need as the full-time starter.
3. Denver Broncos (7-9)
The Broncos are probably the toughest team for me to predict in the AFC this year. The undoubtedly upgraded at QB with Case Keenum, and they got an absolute steal at the 5th pick of the draft being able to snag Bradley Chubb. But is Case Keenum still good enough to get them into the playoffs behind a weak offensive line and an unproven running game? I’m not too sure.
4. Oakland Raiders (6-10)
I’d like nothing more for the Raiders to come out big time and win the division. And I might have had them there if it were just a few weeks ago. But they’re dumbfounding decision to trade away Khalil Mack and the boneheaded trade (and eventual release) of Martavis Bryant, are we sure Jon Gruden knows what he’s getting himself into?