NFL

NFL AM: More Parity Than Ever In The AFC

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Anyone Can Win

The NFL has falsely been known as the league of parity, as each of the 32 fan-bases have hope every offseason, only to see the usual suspects in the postseason.

2016 figures to be a little different as aside from a few teams- Cleveland, Tennessee, San Francisco and Chicago- you can make a legitimate case for anyone else to make a jump toward the postseason.

We’re going to look at just how wide open the AFC is.

AFC East

New England is the overwhelming division favorites, and that’s tough to argue as they have Tom Brady and they win the AFC East title seemingly every year.

In the offseason, the Patriots saw their best defensive player in Chandler Jones traded away and it’s tough to believe that New England will be better on that side of the ball.

As for the others, the New York Jets finished with 10 wins in 2016, and added Matt Forte to their backfield.  If they come to terms with Ryan Fitzpatrick, they will have an excellent chance to build upon their success.

The Buffalo Bills were more than competitive last season and head coach Rex Ryan has had another offseason to mold his defense.  Buffalo has to have better injury luck this season as they were decimated in 2015, and quarterback Tyrod Taylor has a lot to prove in a contract year.

Finally, the Dolphins upgraded their defense (on paper) and added what some believe was the best player in the NFL Draft in left tackle Laremy Tunsil.

AFC North

As we mentioned above, the AFC North is a legitimate three-headed race.  The Bengals won the division title last season, but they will be replacing some pass catchers, as Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu bolted in free agency.  There are still major questions about Andy Dalton’s ability in big games.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, when healthy, boast one of the most explosive offenses in football.  Le’veon Bell is back in the fold and Markus Wheaton will be given the opportunity to step up in the absence of Martavis Bryant.  The defense should cover better in 2016 and they will play an exciting brand of football.

Baltimore has quarterback Joe Flacco and wide receivers Steve Smith and Breshad Perriman back from injury, along with Terrell Suggs.  Those players alone should make an impact, along with Ozzie Newsome’s draft class which is headlined by former Notre Dame offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley.  With each of their stars back, the Ravens get to push the reset button on an awful 2015 season.

AFC South

This may be the most winnable division in the NFL as each team feels that they have a legitimate shot.  Houston is the defending champs, and all they did was replace their quarterback with former Denver Broncos backup Brock Osweiler. The Texans defense figures to be great again, but they will be without Arian Foster and there are plenty of unknowns on the offensive side of the ball.

The Indianapolis Colts will have a healthy Andrew Luck, and that usually means that they win the division.  With that said, Luck wasn’t particularly good last season as he fought through several injuries, and there’s no Matt Hasselbeck to hold down the fort if Luck goes back down.

The Jacksonville Jaguars are the most improved team (on paper) in the NFL as they fortified their defense with a great free agency period as well as one of the best drafts in recent NFL history.  Still, there are still questions about head coach Gus Bradley’s ability to win games and if the Jaguars explosive offense will duplicate their 2015 efforts.

AFC West

This is another division where you can legitimately make a case for all four teams to win.  The defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos have to replace their quarterbacks, likely with rookie Paxton Lynch, but their stifling defense is mostly still together.

The Kansas City Chiefs managed to re-sign most of their important free agents and have a healthy Jamaal Charles returning to a team which won 11 games last year.  The Chiefs got better on the offensive line though free agency and the draft, and boast one of the fiercest pass rushes in the league.

The San Diego Chargers offseason moves flew mostly under the radar, but they should be back to contention with a fortified defensive line and secondary.  It’s doubtful that Philip Rivers will have another bad season as he has a new toy to throw to in Travis Benjamin.

Finally, the Oakland Raiders went out and spent money in the offseason on offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele, as well as pass rusher Bruce Irvin and cornerback Sean Smith.  The Raiders were finally competitive last year, and they are poised to take the next step in 2016.


About Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein is the managing football editor for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade.  Charlie has hosted drive time radio for NBC and ESPN affiliates in different markets around the country, along with being an NFL correspondent for ESPN Radio and WFAN.  He has been featured on the NFL Network as well as Sirius/XM NFL Radio and has been published on Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, ESPN as well as numerous other publications.