The AFC shall be a very interesting conference this season because there isn’t a big gap between the top contenders. Of course, the reigning Super Bowl champion New England Patriots are the favorite by default, but even the Pats have some major question marks, especially in the secondary.
Having said all of that, there’s teams in the AFC that simply need to face reality and set realistic expectations of what would be considered a good season. Obviously, every NFL team wants to win it all, but that’s just not realistic.
We already looked at the NFC, so now without further ado, let’s take a look at realistic good seasons for each team in the AFC.
*The records in parenthesis indicates their best case scenario.*
New England Patriots (12-4) – As long as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are in Foxboro, the expectation will be to hoist the Lombardi trophy very high up in the air during early February. Anything less than that will be considered a disappointment not only for the Pats as an organization, but for the fan base as well.
This franchise has spoiled it’s fans over the years with greatness, which is why it’s difficult to say anything less than a title could be considered a ‘good’ season. At the same time, New England’s young secondary must grow up fast and even if they do, it’s hard to imagine them producing at the same level of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner.
A good season is the Patriots hoisting the Lombardi Trophy for the second straight season.
Miami Dolphins (11-5) – In recent memory, there hasn’t been a lot for Dolphins fans to be excited about until now.
Miami’s defense was already legit, but adding Ndamukong Suh to their vaunted defensive line makes things much scarier for opposing quarterbacks. Although the team’s overall performance against the Redskins in Week One wasn’t the best, they only allowed 10 points.
Winning ugly is something good teams take great pride in, which is exactly what Miami mastered in D.C. However, the Fins don’t plan on winning in that fashion too often because franchise quarterback Ryan Tannehill is expected to only get better.
This proud franchise hasn’t made the playoffs since 2008, so it’s safe to say an appearance this season would be an ideal step in the right direction.
A good season would be earning a trip to the playoffs.
New York Jets (6-10) – During the offseason, most of the chatter around Jets camp was concerning Geno Smith and whether or not he is the answer for the franchise moving forward.
Well, unfortunately, Smith got into an altercation with a former teammate that has sidelined him for several weeks.
To make matters worse, on top of playing everyone in the AFC East twice, the Jets also face Dallas, Philadelphia, Indianapolis and the Giants. While the Jets defense will be good, their lack of quarterback play will comeback to haunt them more often than not.
Realistically, a good season for ‘Gang Green’ would be to find out if Geno is the answer and if not, they’ll have to look elsewhere in the draft.
A good season for the Jets would be .500 or better.
Buffalo Bills (10-6) – Rex Ryan’s time in Buffalo has been very brief, but it’s already easy to see the impact he has within the locker room. Before Ryan, the Bills defense was already a top tier unit, but Rex’s attitude will only bring it out more.
“We want to be the best in history — one of the greatest,” linebacker Nigel Bradham said. “That’s what we’re striving for … the greatest of all time, not just this year or last year.”
If Tyrod Taylor continues to play like he did in Week One, this Buffalo could be the surprise team in the NFL.
A good season for the Bills will be ending their league-longest playoff drought.
Cincinnati Bengals (11-5) – Making the playoffs isn’t the problem for the Bengals, however, winning a playoff game is. Cincinnati hasn’t won a playoff game since 1990.
Assuming Cincy makes the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season, that won’t be enough to satisfy their fans. The only way this season could be considered a success for the Bengals is if they win a playoff game.
The Bengals need to take the next step and win in January.
Baltimore Ravens (9-7) – It still doesn’t look right seeing this Ravens squad without the likes of Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Haloti Ngati. The franchise is now in the palms of Joe Flacco, for better or for worse.
Just like some other teams, Baltimore is right in the middle of the fence because they could tear it down and rebuild or they could ride with what they have and see what happens, which is the more likely solution. Losing Terrell Suggs for the season hurts tremendously because now the Ravens must find other ways to get consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
If Baltimore’s defense takes a major step backwards, it’ll be more pressure on Flacco to perform at an elite level.
In a very crowded AFC North, just making the playoffs would be considered a success at this point in Baltimore.
Cleveland Browns (7-9) – The Browns are in a tough situation because no matter how hard they play, it’s pretty much inevitable for them to finish last in the AFC North. Having said that, the most important thing for Cleveland this year is player development, especially at the quarterback position.
With the status of Josh McCown still uncertain, this is a chance for Cleveland to see what they have in Johnny Manziel. Considering the Browns weren’t going to contend with McCown at quarterback, many people thought Manziel should’ve been starting anyway.
It’s hard to disagree with the notion because why wouldn’t you want to find out what you have in Manziel?
Whatever record Cleveland ends up with is fine, but their season will be successful if they figure out whether or not Manziel is the guy moving forward.
Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) – Winning the AFC North for a second consecutive season won’t be an easy task by any means, but Pittsburgh has the talent to get it done. The offensive unit will become even more scarier when Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant return from suspension.
On the flip side, Pittsburgh’s defense is absolutely atrocious. Despite their anticipated poor play, the Steelers offense is so good that it’ll be able to deflect a lot of their inefficiencies.
Although Pittsburgh’s offense is capable of outscoring teams in the regular season, this isn’t a recipe of success come postseason play. Making the playoffs is always an accomplishment, but at the end of the day, all Steelers fans care about is winning it all and with this defense, I don’t see that being possible.
A good season for Pittsburgh will be winning a playoff game.
Tennessee Titans (6-10) – Rookie sensation Marcus Mariota opened up his NFL career with a bang, after his Titans throttled Tampa Bay, 42-14. Mariota threw for four touchdowns, while not tossing an interception and leaving with a perfect 158.3 passer rating.
Now, Mariota’s performance was exceptional, but let’s not get carried away by thinking the former Heisman Trophy winner will play like that every week. To be quite frank, it was the Bucs.
As far as team success goes, Tennessee isn’t expected to win many games, however, if Mariota is able to show enough signs that he’s a legitimate starter in this league, the Titans front office will be very ecstatic.
A good season for the Titans will be staying out of last place.
Indianapolis Colts (12-4) – Every year Andrew Luck has been in the NFL, he has made the playoffs. With the AFC South being depleted, winning the division for a third straight year shouldn’t be too much of a challenge for the Colts.
With that said, just making the postseason isn’t enough anymore for Indy. The expectation now is to get over the hump and play in the big game. Last year, the Colts could sniff the Super Bowl, but they were manhandled by New England to the tune of 45-7 in the AFC Championship Game.
In order for the Colts to get where they want to be, odds are they’ll have to get through New England in January, which has proven to be a daunting task, but to be the best, you have to beat the best.
A good season for the Colts is to get to Super Bowl 50 in San Francisco.
Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11) – This is a franchise that hasn’t seen postseason action in eight years and they won’t see it anytime in the forseeable future unless Black Bortles lives up to to the hype.
Bortles was selected as the third-overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, but he got off to a rough start last year. The former Central Florida product had a touchdown to interception ratio of 11:17.
It seems like things may be slowing down for Bortles this time around.
“I think last year, (my) head was spinning and this year it feels more normal, feels natural, it feels like this is my job. This is my workplace and I want to come in every day and try and focus on owning this offense and really trying to master this craft,” Bortles said.
Unless Jacksonville surprises everyone in the world and ends up winning eight or more games, the win-loss column won’t necessarily determine a successful season for the Jags, but the maturation process of Bortles will.
A legitimately good season for the Jaguars will be winning six games and playing many others close.
Kansas City Chiefs (10-6) – Chiefs owner Clark Hunt surely believes his team has what it takes.
“We’ve got a coach and a quarterback who can take us to the Super Bowl. And if we keep building the team the right way — and I will go back and mention again, I feel a big part of that is drafting right, [because] you have to do that every year — we’ve got a real shot of getting to the game we all want to get in,” Hunt explained.
The Denver Broncos have won the AFC West four straight years, but if there was any year for the Chiefs to overtake Denver, it would be this season. Although Kansas City hasn’t won a playoff game since 1993, getting over the hump by winning the division would be considered a good season.
The Chiefs need to win a playoff game for 2015 to be considered a good year.
Denver Broncos (12-4) – As mentioned in the Chiefs piece, the Broncos have dominated the division over the past three seasons. Moving forward, the question is for how much longer?
There’s been speculation of this possibly being Peyton Manning’s last season, but who knows?
One thing we do know is that Denver should be the favorite in the division, but that’s not what this franchise is concerning themselves with. Winning a title is the ultimate goal for Denver.
Is it realistic for them win it all?
Sure it is because despite Manning showing signs of slowing down, he’s still one of the premiere quarterbacks this league has to offer and to go along with that, this team has a vaunted defensive unit that will keep that in a lot of games.
A good season for the Broncos will be hoisting the Lombardi.
San Diego Chargers (10-6) – Year in and year out, the Chargers feel like a mystery because they’re so Jekyll and Hyde. While Philip Rivers is looked at as an elite quarterback, there are times when he leaves you scratching your head.
Denver and Kansas City are receiving a lot of hype in regards to competing for the division crown, but don’t forget about San Diego. This team has what it takes to to come out on top in the west if they max out their potential.
Maxing out potential is a problem the Chargers have dealt with for years now, but if they do, winning the west would be a great accomplishment for this organization.
An AFC West title would be a good season for San Diego.
Oakland Raiders (6-10) – The proud and prestigious franchise in the Bay Area hasn’t seen success in over a decade. Oakland hasn’t made the playoffs since 2002, which ironically is the last time they went to the Super Bowl.
On a brighter note, Oakland is filled with a plethora of young talent.
The only thing is will Raiders fans stay patient?
I know, I know, Raiders nation has been hearing the word ‘patient’ for years now, but things seems to honestly be heading in the right direction. Unfortunately, Oakland is in a loaded division, but a successful season for them would entail Derek Carr and the rest of the offensive unit showing progress and developing chemistry throughout the course of the season.
If Oakland can climb out of last place or get to seven wins, 2015 will be a success.
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Source: Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk
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