If you’re anything like me, you relish the opportunity to make bold and slightly outlandish proclamations about the future that might, or might not, work out. So here, without further ado are some things that could happen, some that should happen, and a few that absolutely, positively won’t happen, AFC edition. Feel free to make fun of me later on when your team makes me look like a fool.
Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers. While the Ravens have returned to their defense-first blueprint and have added some nice pieces, the uncertainty at QB is a big problem, and that doesn’t change if their number one guy starts. Joe Flacco is elite in salary only. His decision making and errant long balls will cost them at least two games this year. This is a black and blue division, with four teams that all act like rivals, so there will be some attrition, but with Ben Rothlisberger under center for the Steelers, it’s their division to lose.
Hot Seat: I’d say it’s Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, but that cat has nine lives. By any standard, he’s proven that he can’t take this team over the hump and Cincinnati’s ownership seems cool with that. Instead I’m going to guess that if rookie DeShone Kizer doesn’t develop into the QB they expect, both Head Coach Hue Jackson and QB’s Coach David Lee will be in danger. The Browns have gone an eternity without a field general to build a team around. They simply can’t let that continue.
Winner: Houston Texans. Some folks will predict that the Titans are the premier team in this division. It’s not a bad call. If Marcus Mariotta continues to grow into his role, they could be a contender for years going forward. The Colts are too soft on the defensive side of the ball, and their entire offense is predicated on Andrew Luck getting back to full strength. That’s a big if… The Texans, however, have a fully recharged J.J. Watt and Jadaveon Clowney to terrify opposing QB’s and something tells me that they will have a chip on their shoulder, even with Tom Savage (best name alert) under center. IF they can sweep the Titans, I think they can win a mediocre division at 9-7 or maybe 10-6.
Hot Seat: Chuck Pagano, while well liked in Indy, has overseen the collapse of the team around Andrew Luck, who should have been riding a wave of division titles without end. The fact that the team has underperformed, coupled with the questions about Luck’s return could lead to a very dicey year in Indy.
Winner: New England Patriots. After the offseason reload the champs did, it would be hard to not put them at the top of the AFC pile. Even with Julian Edelman out, 40-year-old QB Tom Brady will have plenty of targets. The questions about this team are few and far between, and no one looks ready to challenge them. The best hope for a break in their armor is a Miami team that just lured Jay Cutler from the broadcast booth to replace Ryan Tannehill. Barring catastrophic injury to Brady AND backup Jimmy Garoppolo, the Pats win the division with a few games to spare.
Hot Seat: Todd Bowles. I don’t know where to start, but if I’m trying to fix the free-falling mess that is the J-E-T-S, I’m starting at the top. If they win 5-6 games, I’d be surprised. I can’t see how Bowles can keep his gig. It’s just not possible.
Winner: Kansas City Chiefs. This division is loaded, and I know, people in Oakland are FREAKING OUT right now. But here’s the deal. Derek Carr played fantastic last year until his injury. Really, really well. So well, in fact, that I think injury, or no, he’s coming back down to earth a bit this year. He might be a little trigger happy, or a little happy footed in the pocket, but whatever the reason, I see him throwing a few more INT’s this year. This opens the door for a strong and steady Chief’s team, headed by a motivated Alex Smith, to win the division at the finish line. I see the Raiders as a 10 or 11-win wildcard team, with the Chiefs atop the division at 12-4.
Hot Seat: Tricky. I don’t really think there is one here. Denver and San Diego each have first year head coaches and modest expectations that are within reach. Oakland just re-upped Jack Del Rio, and Andy Reid just doesn’t change jobs that frequently. The only way I see any of these guys losing a job is if Kansas City somehow falls apart and doesn’t contend. That’s unlikely at best in my book.
Tom Capo writes about sports, parenting, food, wine and travel; but seldom all at once. He’s currently working on his first novel and collection of shorter fiction. He lives in the Bay Area with all of his girls; wife Allison, daughter Liliana and dog Artemis.