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NFL | AFC Preview and Predictions

AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers (Offense 75.48, Defense 69.24, Overall 72.36)Strengths: This team is great. The killer B's combination of Ben, Brown and Bell is still the best trio in the NFL. Juju Smith-Shuster was also excellent last year and their offensive line is ranked fourth in the league according to PFF (Pro Football Focus). With TJ Watt, Cameron Hayward, Stephon Tuitt, and Mike Hamilton in the team, they should be able to generate a pass rush to help their leaky back end. Weaknesses: There aren’t many weaknesses in this team. However, Bu Dupree is an average edge defender, while Sean Davis leaves a bit to be desired at safety. In fact, their secondary as a collect is the biggest weakness of the team, and Lev'on Bell’s hold out could be costly if he decides not to keep his hold out into the regular season. Prediction: It’s time to deliver - no more getting carved open by Blake Bortals in the playoffs, no more throwing leads in your own building against the Patriots. The Steelers have one last shot with the killer B's and - considering they are my highest rated team in the AFC - I'm going to say they are going all the way to the Super Bowl. 12-4.

Cincinnati Bengals (Offence 62.68, Defense 68.86, Overall 65.77)Strengths: They still have AJ Green at wide receiver, and a solid defensive line with Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlop, while William Jackson (corner back) was quietly excellent last year shutting down numerous players. If Andy Dalton can re-produce his form of , they could be a wild-card contender in the play-offs again. Weaknesses: Billy Price at center and Bobby Hart at right tackle leave their offensive line with a lot to be desired. After AJ Green their skill position players lack excitement, as Tyler Eifert is injury prone, John Ross has never really delivered, and Tyler Kroft is a bit of an unknown quantity. Prediction: Nothing has really changed in Cincinnati for the past five years and that may be the main problem, as they are constantly that team that is good but not great. The Marvon Lewis, Andy Dalton tandem is far better than many incoherent teams each year, but why do the Bengals never take chances like the boom and bust of the Eagles with Chip Kelly and then Doug Peterson? They should challenge for the playoff but will probably fall short. 7-9.

Cleveland Browns (Offense 71.24, Defense 63.3, Overall 67.27)Strengths: This team has plenty of good players. Myles Garrett is a good price at 33/1 with Skybet for defensive player of the year, as last year’s first pick of the draft destroyed the Eagles in their preseason game. Apart from that, Christian Kirksey, Denzel Ward, and Derrick Kindred might be the makings of a good back end, even if it is a little young and raw for the moment. Offensively Tyrod Taylor won’t lose you games (even if he won’t win you them either), while they have good depth at their skill positions with Carlos Hyde and Nick Chubb at running back. On paper, Jarvis Landry, David Njoku, Antonio Callaway, and (fingers crossed) Josh Gordon give them a nice looking receiving core. Weaknesses: Hue Jackson! One win in two seasons is unforgivable considering his team’s talent hasn't ever been that bad. In hard knocks he seemed to have no control over the practice as QBs were getting hit, and the coordinators were just arguing about whether it should be allowed or not. Jamie Collins might be the epitome of everything wrong with this team. In his three seasons with the Patriots prior to joining the Browns, PFF ranked him at 72, 85, and 85. Since joining the Browns he has played a 68, and last season an abysmal 42. He should be a candidate for defensive player of the year, but instead he would be dropped if their depth at the position wasn’t so poor. It’s also disappointing not to see Baker Mayfield start. The first pick of the draft has looked great in pre-season and it’s not as if they are playoff contenders, so why not start him? Prediction: The players on the team are have this squad at a similar level to probably ten other AFC teams. With a solid coaching staff I would have them at 8-8. with this staff I will put them at 4-12.

Baltimore Ravens (Offense 66.59, Defense 71.7, Overall 69.14)Strengths: As always this team is strong defensively. Terrelle Suggs, Brandon Williams and CJ Mosely are three standout players in the front seven who can generate a pass rush. Jimmey Smith, Tony Jefferson and Eric Weddle give them a good backend as well. Offensively, Joe Flacco has been poor in recent years, but by picking Lamar Jackson in the first round they have apparently lit a flame under Flacco to step it up a gear. Whether he can do this is another thing. Weaknesses: The offensive line is shaky with James Hurst and Matt Skura being well below average. From a skill position perspective, this team is very uninspiring, considering Micheal Crabtree who has been average all throughout his career is now apparently the focal point of the offence. Prediction: This team is always competitive but unless Flacco can channel his inner playoff self, I don’t think they are going to do much this year. 8-8.

AFC West

Denver Broncos (Offense 70.21, Defence 73.51, Overall 71.86)Strengths: This might be currently the most underrated team in the NFL. Let’s start defensively. With Von Miller, Derek Wolfe, Brandon Marshall, and an unknown quantity in Bradley Chubb, this team’s pass rush should be exceptional. Their back end is also pretty good as it boasts the impressive Chris Harris, while Justin Simmons, Darian Stewart and Bradley Roby are all competent starters, who should be able to feed off the pressure their front 7 get on the QB. Offensively, it is hard to know, but the addition of Jared Veldheer to right tackle should help things, while Ronald Leary and Matt Paradis are also solid starters. Case Keenum proved last year that he is good under pressure, which is something the Broncos have not had since Peyton Manning about 5 years ago. With Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas in the team, it’s not as if they have nothing at their skill positions. Weaknesses: Their running back situation looks thin, with Devontae Booker most likely to be the starter. Connor McGovern is a poor right guard, and one or two injuries to the group could really hurt them. Head Coach Vance Joseph has yet to really do anything of note, and needs to improve things or he could see himself out the door soon. Prediction: Currently their over/under in the bookmakers is 7.5 which I think they have a good chance of beating. The Chargers might be the sexier pick for the division, but I wouldn’t rule them out. A lot will come down to whether we see last season’s Case Keenum or the one we saw in previous years. 9-7.

Oakland Raiders (Offense 73.35, Defence 65.31, Overall 69.33)Strengths: If the Bears fail to ignite this season (which they probably won’t,) they might have a lot of draft ammunition and cap space to go aggressively into rebuilding their team during the next offseason. Derek Carr has been solid and their offensive line is finally good, with Kelechi Osemele, Gabe Jackson, Rodney Hudson, and rookie Kolton Miller. This at least should ensure that they can be competitive on offence, even if their skill position group is uninspired. Weaknesses: John Gruden - who hasn’t coached in over ten years - is a complete wildcard. His commentary has never convinced me that he knows a lot about the modern game, and his tendency to praise a player one day and then cut him the next may cause some irritation for players in the locker room. From a football standpoint, their defence is straight up awful now that Kalil Mack is gone. Expect a lot of very high scoring games with the Raiders this year - and a couple of thrashings - because almost every player is below the NFL average. Prediction: Realistically the Raiders don’t see this as a year where they will contend in the AFC. The fact they have a good QB and O line means they will be at least competitive, but considering they are moving to Las Vegas next year, things could get toxic at home if their fans get angry (which they have every right to as it is highly unfair to move a team with such great fans). On the Kalil Mack trade, I think it could be a good move long term. With the cap space they could probably sign two above average starters for what they would have paid Mack, while getting another two possibly great players with the first round picks from Chicago. While Mack is an exceptional player, if your squad is not good enough overall, it’s not a bad long term plan to improve the talent pool as a whole. But in terms of this season, I just can’t see it going well with that defence and angry crowd. 5-11.

Kansas City Chiefs (Offense 71.2, Defense 70.27, Overall, 70.73)Strengths: Pat Mahomes is very exciting from the flashes we have seen from him so far. His 69 yard TD pass against the Falcons in the pre-season was a thing of beauty. With Kareem Hunt, Travis Kelce, Sammy Watkins, and Tyreek Hill they have an insanely fast skill group. Andy Reid is one of the most creative coaches in the league, so when you put all this together this offence could be must see TV this year. The defence is pretty good as well. Justin Houston and Chris Jones on the D-line should create pressure, while Eric Berry and Kendall Fuller are good players at the back end. Weaknesses: Their offensive line for the most part is solid with the likes of Eric Fisher and Mitch Moore, but center Cam Erving left a lot to be desired last season. This team is possibly lacking a dominant line-backer who can just wreck games. Pat Mahomes may have a lot of raw talent, but he may turn the ball over a lot until he fully gets used to the pace of the game. Prediction: This team might be in transition with a lot of raw talent on offense. If that’s the case they will probably miss out on the playoffs. But if all things click and Mahomes sets the league alight, this team could be a dark horse for the Super Bowl. 10-6.

LA Chargers (Offense 67.8, Defense 75.58, Overall 71.69)Strengths: Overall this is a good team with lots of talent. The defensive line is very good with Joey Bosa, Corey Liuget, and Melvin Ingram, while their back end with Casey Haward, Trevor Williams, and Rayshawn Jenkins is quietly one of the best groups in the league. On offence, they have three very good players in Philip Rivers at QB, Keenan Allen at WR, and Melvin Gordan at running back. Weaknesses: While I just mentioned their three good players on offence, unfortunately the rest of their offence is not very good. The offensive line has some question marks over it, such as Joe Barksdale at right tackle, while center Mike Pouncey has never lived up to his hype. I can’t see a whole lot of weakness on the defence apart from Branden Mebane who really is far too quiet considering the pressure Joey Bosa is getting on the other side of the defensive line. The biggest problem by far for this side in recent years has been the field goal kicking. Last season they easily would have made the play-offs with a more reliable kicker, and signing Roberto Aguayo - who has already flopped at Tampa Bay and Chicago - would not inspire me with confidence that they have fixed the problem. Head Coach Anthony Lynn still needs to prove himself as a head coach and his game management last year was just terrible at times. Against the Jaguars late in the season they had the ball and they lead with four minutes left on the clock, and with only fifty seconds on the clock after they managed a turnover. Yet they still managed to lose it. Prediction: For the last three years no team has lost more one score games than the Chargers. Some might say this is a good sign as their luck has to turn now, but I’m not quite convinced, and think it’s more to do with bad management than anything else. However, this team is - on paper - my third best in the AFC and for that reason I think they will just about make the play-offs, and have the talent to beat anyone if they get there. 10-6. Richard Corbally

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