Football

Way Too Early AFC Predictions

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The Los Angeles Rams defeated the Cinncinati Bengals on Sunday to win just their second NFL title. With the offseason now in full swing, here’s a look at what may just happen in the AFC in 2022.

AFC North

2021 was an odd year for the North, the Bengals turned their franchise around from going 4-12 in 2020 to being in the Super Bowl, the Ravens missed the playoffs, the Browns did not live up to the hype, and the Steelers, well, they managed to still make the playoffs.

Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger called it a career earlier this year which leaves Pittsburgh with a huge hole to fill offensively, with a dominant defense that kept them in most of the wildcard game against the Chiefs, the offense is what has been holding them back. If Pittsburgh can get stronger on offense, they just might make a serious playoff run.

The Bengals were the most confusing team in the division, from going 4-12 a season ago, no one had the Bengals in the playoffs, let alone the Super Bowl. QB Joe Burrow showed the league that he has what it takes to succeed in the NFL. The Bengals offensive line cost them the Super Bowl, and if Cincy can upgrade the offensive line, they’ll be right back.

Baltimore had a chance to run away with the division, that is until injuries crept in. Baltimore lacked some wideouts this season and it showed. Lamar can’t do it all by himself. The Ravens have a decent defense, but if they can stay healthy, Baltimore has a chance to take back its AFC North throne.

Ah the Browns, much like the Bengals this year, the Browns surprised everyone last season by making the playoffs for the first time since 2002. The Browns entered 2021 as Super Bowl contenders but struggled to remain consistent.

QB Baker Mayfield played a majority of the season with an injured shoulder, and with his contract expiring soon, he might not stick around. Cleveland has lots of eyes on them in 2022 to see if they can return to the playoffs.

All teams are competitive in this division, which makes it tough to declare a winner, however, I’m not entirely sold that the Bengals will live up to the hype next season, and Pittsburgh and Cleveland still have lots of questions on their roster. The Ravens are my pick to take the North.

KANSAS CITY, MO – JANUARY 23: Buffalo Bills wide receiver Gabriel Davis (13) runs the ball during the AFC Divisional Round playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs on January 23rd, 2022 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

AFC East

It was refreshing to see a team other than the Patriots win the AFC East, again. The Buffalo Bills proved that they can reign supreme in the East, but the Patriots were hot on their tail all season. The Dolphins showed promise towards the end, and the Jets, well, they tried.

Buffalo is the strongest team in the East. They thrashed the Patriots in the wildcard round 47-17 but lost to the Chiefs in a controversial division-round game. QB Josh Allen had one of his best seasons yet, and the Bills haven’t lost any key players yet. Can Buffalo make the Super Bowl this year?

New England. A franchise that’s run as the best dynasty in all of football came to an end when Brady left. The Patriots have struggled, missing the playoffs in 2020 then making the playoffs in 2021 just to get blown out by Buffalo.

Are the Patriots bad? Have their opponents figured them out? Was their success all because of Tom Brady? The Patriots hope they can answer these questions in 2022.

The Dolphins started off poorly last season, leading some to speculate that a Tua trade was inevitable, but then the Dolphins rattled off eight wins in their last ten games to just miss the playoffs. Miami fired their head coach Brian Flores but hired Mike McDaniel to take over. The Dolphins showed they can win, but can they stay consistent in 2022?

The Jets…tried to say the least. It was the first season as head coach for Robert Saleh who went 4-13 and had a few bright spots along the way. The Jets did however beat the Bengals and Titans, two of the playoff teams in 2021, to prove that they can hang with the big boys. The Jets seem to be in a rebuilding phase that’s gone on for nearly a decade so, could this be the year they put it together?

The Bills are lined up for another AFC East title, the only team that can possibly knock them off is New England. The Dolphins and Jets still have a ways to go, but the Bills are hungrier than ever for a Super Bowl following back-to-back playoff losses to the Chiefs.

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE – JANUARY 22: Derrick Henry #22 of the Tennessee Titans runs for a touchdown against the Cincinnati Bengals during the AFC Divisional Playoff at Nissan Stadium on January 22, 2022 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

AFC South

The South was interesting last season, the Titans were the front runners with the Colts coming out of nowhere to attempt to win it. The Jaguars were their normal selves even with Trevor Lawerence, and the Texans struggled without Deshaun Watson.

The Titans have held down the AFC South for the last two seasons and it’s clear why: Derrick Henry. Although Henry missed most of 2021 with an injury, the Titans still managed to write off another division title. With Henry back healthy, the Titans will look to seek revenge from the playoffs and hopefully make a run to the Super Bowl.

Indianapolis was right back where they left off, RB Jonathan Taylor was a FORCE on the ground last season, but the rest of his team wasn’t and that’s what cost them the season. The Colts would like to take a step forward and win the South again, but that may be tougher if defenses can stop Taylor. They missed the playoffs in an embarrassing loss to Jacksonville, and they’ll look to not make that mistake again.

Jacksonville failed yet again to make anything happen last season. Rookie QB Trevor Lawerence struggled all season and HC Urban Meyer was fired midseason. The Jaguars much like the Texans, have lots of front office dilemmas holding back their true potential. If they can make the AFC Championship in 2017 with Blake Bortles at QB, why can’t they now?

Houston, came off a disappointing end to the 2020 season just to enter 2021 with even more drama. DE JJ Watt signed with the Cardinals in the offseason, and QB Deshaun Watson held out for the entire year. The Texans struggled under HC David Culley and ended up firing him at the end of the season.

The Texans’ owner Cal McNair proved again that he’s blind to what he’s doing with his franchise as he continues to run it into the ground. Maybe next year Houston?

The Titans are the only serious contenders this season, the Colts will most likely struggle and the Jaguars and Texans will still dwell at the bottom. The real question is, however, can the Titans repeat as the number one seed in the AFC?

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – JANUARY 09: Kicker Dustin Hopkins #6 of the Los Angeles Chargers reacts after a successful field goal during overtime against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on January 09, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Raiders defeated the Chargers 35-32 in overtime. (Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images)

AFC West

The AFC West title (and the AFC Championship) runs through Chiefs Kingdom, the Chargers however shocked everyone (no pun intended) and nearly knocked off the Chiefs. The Raiders made a strong push for the playoffs, but unlike the Chargers, they got in. As for the Broncos, they’re just a QB away.

Kansas City did struggle a little during the season, which isn’t something Patrick Mahomes is used to. Kansas City is the new Patriots in the AFC, and they’ll continue to dominate. The Chiefs ran into some bad luck in the AFC Championship, but they’ll be back.

The Los Angeles Chargers did well last season, even if they missed the playoffs. LA showed potential that they have what it takes to contend with the Chiefs. QB Justin Herbert was amazing and will look to lead a stronger Chargers team into the postseason in 2022.

Las Vegas made the playoffs for the first time since 2016 when they lost to the Texans. Yes, they did lose the first round to the Bengals but, with all the problems Vegas had this season that is a victory alone.

The Raiders had an interim head coach for the majority of the year and had some of their players face jail time, but the Raiders still managed to persevere. Expect the Raiders to be right back.

Denver just hasn’t been good since the retirement of Peyton Manning after Super Bowl 50. Every season they start out with another QB at the helm. The Broncos have a good defense, it’s the offense that’s been awful all these years. Denver could possibly trade for Aaron Rodgers this offseason, but will it be enough to turn this franchise around?

I’m going to throw in a wildcard prediction, I don’t think the Chiefs will repeat as AFC West champs. I feel the Chargers will take this division. They have the offense to do so, they just need a stronger defense.

Agree with my predictions? Let me know in the comments below and be sure to follow me on Twitter @KeganCrawford and @OTH_Football for more of my content.

Also, please be sure to check out the OTH Football Podcast on both Spotify and YouTube!

Main Image Credit

CLEVELAND, OH – DECEMBER 12: Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) looks to pass during the first quarter of the National Football League game between the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns on December 12, 2021, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, OH. (Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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