Dave's AFC Playoff Predictions
With the NFL season just over 24 hours away, the final predictions for this mini-series will look at who will be in the playoffs from each conference. The AFC is as strong as it has ever been. The AFC West is the best division in the NFL, where every team could make the postseason. It would be an NFL first. The Buffalo Bills will be looking to retain their crown of the AFC East, while there are people very split over who will win the AFC North. It is going to be an exciting season, that is for sure.
AFC NORTH- Cincinnati Bengals
After shocking everybody and reaching the Super Bowl last season, people are anticipating a hangover for the Bengals. However, you can make the case that they are stronger than last season. Joe Burrow, who missed most of the pre-season due to his appendix, has seen his offensive line bolstered. Cincinnati's weakness showed itself in the Super Bowl as they fell apart in the second half. Credit to the Bengals, they addressed it in free agency with the additions of Alex Cappa and La'el Collins. They still have the best wide receiver trio in the NFL with Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd; their production will benefit from a competent offensive line also.
Retaining the AFC North will be difficult for the Bengals. The Ravens have gotten healthier and will be right on their coattails. Looking at the Bengals' schedule, it is tough. They will have to face the Titans, Chiefs, Buccaneers, Patriots, Bills and Ravens after their bye week. That is an incredibly tough close to their season. Cincinnati will have to start strong, that is for sure. However, looking at their close to last season, they won the big games when it mattered. They beat the Raiders, Steelers, Ravens and Chiefs after their bye week in 2021, and that solidified their division title. The Bengals now have the experience of winning the big games, which will be crucial for them this year.
AFC EAST- Buffalo Bills
It is Buffalo's division to lose. They finished with an 11-6 record last season and will likely win more than 11 games this year. Looking at the rest of the AFC East, it is hard to see if anyone could compete with the Bills. The Dolphins, who signed Tyreek Hill, are still an unknown quantity with Mike McDaniel as the first year Head Coach and Tua Tagovailoa at quarterback. The Patriots appear to be in a bit of a shambles going off the off-season reports. The New York Jets need to win more than eight games before they can be taken seriously. Losing Zach Wilson for at least the first three games will not help that.
The Bills are one of the most complete teams in the NFL; for some, they are favourites for the Super Bowl. For the foreseeable future, it appears they will be the team that rules the AFC East.
AFC South- Indianapolis Colts
It looks like the AFC South will be a two-horse race again. The Titans won the division and were the AFC's first seed last season, but their shocking playoff performance and the loss of AJ Brown left a lot of people in doubt about what the Titans will be in 2022. They also lost key defensive lineman Harold Landry for the season due to injury, casting more concern. The Colts trading for Matt Ryan is what could tip the scale in their favour for the division. Ryan would be playing behind the best offensive line he has seen in some time, and after what he was able to do in the sinking ship of Atlanta, his addition in Indy is an exciting prospect. It will be a tight race between the two teams, but the Colts seem more well-rounded.
AFC West - Kansas City Chiefs
The AFC West is the best division in the entire NFL, and you could make a case for all four teams winning the division. However, it is the Chiefs' division until we see otherwise. They have won the AFC West six years in a row, and with Patrick Mahomes under center, it is hard to see that changing. The loss of Tyreek Hill will force Andy Reid and Eric Bienemy to adjust and ultimately change some aspects of the offensive playbook. We could come into the new season seeing a Kansas City we have not seen before. The unknown for the Chiefs offense leaves them feeling more dangerous than casting doubt over what they can do. That happens when you have one of the league's best offensive minds and a once-in-a-generation talent like Mahomes as the quarterback.
However, the Chargers, Broncos and Raiders will all be chasing the Chiefs with aspirations of dethroning the unquestioned ruler of the AFC West for over half a decade. You could argue that this year is the one where we may see change within the division, and it may well happen. However, until we see another team topple Kansas City, you cannot turn your back on them.
LA Chargers- After agonisingly missing out on the playoffs on the final play of the regular season, Brandon Staley and co need to write the wrongs. They lost multiple games last season due to poor game management and taking too many risks on fourth downs. There were many games where had the Chargers taken the field goals instead of risking it on fourth down, they would have won. Perhaps Staley had more faith in his defense than he should have. Presuming he has looked back at where he went wrong last season, the Chargers should be more dominant. Justin Herbert is primed to take another leap forward, and their offensive line should get better. Rashawn Slater dominated in 2021, while 2022 first-rounder Zion Johnson has impressed during training camp and the preseason. The signs are positive for LA, as they should comfortably make the playoffs as a wildcard team.
Denver Broncos- After trading for Russell Wilson in the biggest trade of the offseason, the Broncos are going into win-now mode. Former Green Bay Packers Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett will be working with one of the NFL's best quarterbacks, and they have a strong roster already built around them. The defense has solid pieces with Bradley Chubb, Patrick Surtain, Kareem Jackson and Justin Simmons. Wilson also has a better offensive line than the one he played with in Seattle, plus Denver will provide a great running game with solid receiver options. It will be a slog of a season in the AFC West, but Denver's last-place schedule could be what tips a playoff place in their hands. Games against the New York Jets and Carolina Panthers will be crucial in such a tough schedule.
Baltimore Ravens- The Ravens were hampered by major injuries throughout last season. Gus Edwards, JK Dobbins, Marlon Humphrey, Ronnie Stanley, and Marcus Peters were all lost to injuries either before or during the season. After 11 games, the Ravens were proving that it did not matter as they sat with an 8-3 record. However, their season collapsed after that. They lost their final six games to end the season 8-9 and even lost Lamar Jackson to injury. However, last season only raised the stock of the Ravens. They remained competitive despite losing many crucial starters and were a couple of key moments away from even being in the postseason. With Lamar looking to prove why he deserves a massive extension and multiple key players back, they will be a playoff team.