The Kansas City Chiefs have dominated the AFC Conference for the past three years and look to be cemented as a force for the next decade. Andy Reid’s men have taken on the mantle from the New England Patriots, who enjoyed 20 years dominating AFC teams and dictating the Conference path to the Super Bowl.
Now with Tom Brady plying his trade in the NFC Conference with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Patriots on the lookout for a new starter, the Chiefs have the opportunity to put a marker down to establish a lengthy run at the top of the AFC Conference with the best quarterback in the league at their disposal.
There will be challengers that could be ready to take the Lamar Hunt Trophy away from Arrowhead Stadium in the near future, although it will require something special to break the stranglehold of Patrick Mahomes and company.
The Bills made a breakthrough in the 2020 season by winning the AFC East and reaching the AFC Championship Game for the first time in 27 years. Sean McDermott’s men won 13 games and were outstanding throughout the campaign. Quarterback Josh Allen took the next step in his development and delivered an MVP-standard season. Allen threw for 37 touchdowns to only 10 interceptions, while recording another eight rushing scores on the ground as well as a receiving touchdown. The 24-year-old proved that he can do it all with the talent around him along with excellent coaching.
The challenge for the Bills will be sustaining their form and then elevating their performances against the elite teams. Buffalo were not overly competitive in the AFC Championship Game once the Chiefs found their stride. They will be a lot richer for the experience and they are likely to be backed by online bookies as contenders behind only the Chiefs for the AFC crown, but there is still a way to go for the franchise before they can think of returning to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1993.
The Ravens looked to be the team on the rise in the 2019 campaign. Lamar Jackson reeled off an MVP campaign in his second season and first as a starting quarterback to lead Baltimore to the top seed in the AFC Conference, and the best overall record in the NFL. However, they were stunned by the Tennessee Titans in the Divisional Round as Jackson failed to fire when playing from behind.
Those issues appeared to weigh on the mind of Jackson in the 2020 campaign, while the rest of the league used the Titans’ blueprint to slow down the 2019 MVP. Despite the slight drop off in his performances, Jackson still guided the Ravens to the post-season and registered his first playoff win over the Titans before losing to the Bills.
Jackson has to develop his passing skills to be able to go throw-for-throw with Mahomes and the leading quarterbacks in the league before the Ravens can be considered true contenders. Baltimore’s defense will be stout once more in 2021 and they’ve retained coordinator Doug Martindale. Unless their offense takes a step forward and can learn to play from behind – they’re not going to be a threat to Kansas City.
The Browns were another side that enjoyed a breakthrough in the 2020 campaign, ending their 18-season playoff drought. Kevin Stefanski became Cleveland’s first head coach since Bill Belichick 25 years ago to win a playoff game. The Browns were exciting on the field propelled by an impressive offense led by Baker Mayfield and Nick Chubb. Even without the presence of Odell Beckham Jr in the second half of the term, the Browns’ offense was the driving force behind a run to the post-season and a victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Wildcard Round.
With the burden of their playoff drought lifted off their shoulders, the Browns have the opportunity to kick on in the 2021 season. Mayfield certainly has the personality to match Mahomes and he looked like he belonged in their duel in the Divisional Round. That experience will be vital for the quarterback and his team-mates. It would be no surprise to see them make another deep run in the post-season and become the perennial challengers to Mahomes and the Chiefs.
There are certainly a number of hungry challengers looking to knock the Chiefs off their perch, but it will take a lot to move this team as they seem to hit another level once they reach the playoffs.
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