Pre-Training Camp NFL Power Rankings: AFC Edition

Pre-Training Camp NFL Power Rankings: AFC Edition
Thu 11th July 2019

The upcoming NFL season promises to be one of the most open in recent history, with anywhere between 10 and 15 teams seeming to have legitimate hopes of lifting the Lombardi Trophy at the conclusion of Super Bowl LIV on Feb 2, 2020.

Last year’s winners the Patriots will be around the mark again – as will fellow conference title contenders the Chiefs, Saints and Rams – but it’s at the other end of the league where the real intrigue is occurring. Perennial underachievers the Jets, Browns and Raiders have all made significant steps in the right direction, while the Colts, Bears and Chargers are all recovering from multiple years spent tucked away in the NFL wilderness 

With training camps opening across the league in two weeks’ time, now is the perfect time to take stock of the situation in both conferences. We’ll begin with the AFC, which has produced 5 of the last 7 Super Bowl winners.

16. Miami Dolphins

The rebuild is on in a big way in Miami.After giving him 7 long, wholly-unsuccessful years to prove himself, the Dolphins have finally moved on from QB Ryan Tannehill. In his place they’ve created an intriguing starting-QB battle between much-maligned Ryan Fitzpatrick and 2018 first-round pick Josh Rosen, recently acquired from the Cardinals for the bargain-basement price of a second-round pick.

Former Patriots defensive coordinator Brian Flores is the incumbent head coach. He will have to contend with a roster that went 7-9 last year and – after losing veterans Cameron Wake, Danny Amendola and Frank Gore – is likely to be much worse than that this season. Miami are finally making shrewd decisions, but they’re in for a world of pain in the short term.

Projected 2019 Record:


15. Cincinnati Bengals

Unfortunately for Bengals fans, things are about to get worse before they get better.

After 16 largely-underwhelming years at the helm, head coach Marvin Lewis finally got the boot at the end of the 2018 season. In his place now sits rookie head coach Zac Taylor.

Taylor is not going to have an easy time of it. While last season’s dismal 6-10 record was arguably due to Andy Dalton’s injury issues, Cincinnati have also lost the services of Tyler Kroft, Vontaze Burfict and Adam Jones from their roster. Despite attempts to address their issues in the draft, there are still huge questions over their offensive line, and those will only intensify given the recent injury to highly-rated draftee Jonah Williams.

The loss of Burfict hurts badly as well, given last year’s defense gave up a league-worst 413.6 yards per game. This will be another tough year for the Bengals, even with the talent of Joe Mixon and A.J. Green on offense.

Projected 2019 Record:


14. Denver Broncos

Of all the offseason moves around the league, the Broncos adding an ageing Joe Flacco probably makes the least sense.

Case Keenum wasn’t a great QB, but it’d be hard for even the most fervent Broncos fan to argue that Flacco is that big of an upgrade. While Denver were outwardly extremely happy with their draft haul – tight end Noah Fant, tackle Dalton Risner and QB Drew Lock – they did nothing to fix their glaring weakness at inside linebacker, and a receiving corps led by Emmanuel Sanders looks increasingly shaky.

Adding Flacco indicates they believe their defense is still good enough to get them in a position to compete. We’re not so sure.

Projected 2019 Record:


13. Buffalo Bills

This may seem harsh given the Bills pulled themselves to a 6-10 record last year with rookie QB Josh Allen at the helm, but the AFC is becoming such a battleground it’s impossible to squeeze Buffalo any higher.

The truth is we just can’t trust the Bills. They’ve disappointed us so many times before.

That said, the additions of Cole Beasley, John Brown and Tyler Kroft to the receiving corps and Frank Gore and T.J. Yeldon is likely to see Allen improve even further in his sophomore year. Draftees DT Ed Oliver and OT Cody Ford are also likely to step straight in and contribute, and if everything goes well there’s a chance the Bills could be pushing for a playoff position.

We’ll believe it when we see it.

Projected 2019 Record:


12. Oakland Raiders

Of all our rankings, this is the one we feel least sure about. The free-agent additions Antonio Brown and Trent Brown on offense and Lamarcus Joyner and Johnathan Hankins on defense were fantastic, and draftees Clelin Ferrell (4), tailback Josh Jacobs (24) and safety Johnathan Abram (27) are all potential week 1 starters

Something still just feels a little off in Oakland. It’s hard to shake the malaise that comes with trading away effectively your two best players – Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper – for two mid-first round picks.

In the strong AFC West there’s an argument that the Raiders are the weakest team, and a 4-12 record from last year is tough to swallow. Still, they’ve clearly improved on both sides of the ball, so don’t count out Jon Gruden.

Projected 2019 Record:


11. New York Jets

New uniforms, new Jets?

Well… Maybe. The Jets have certainly improved in recent years (it would’ve been hard to get any worse…), but it’s still tough to see them becoming genuine contenders.

Gang Green have been making moves this offseason. A 4-12 record saw head coach Todd Bowles fired, with the offensively-focussed Adam Gase replacing him. Le’Veon Bell’s addition is obviously the biggest free-agent story, but inside linebacker C.J. Mosley and WR Jamison Crowder are also really nice pick-ups, as is Quinnen Williams with the 3rd overall pick in the draft.

Sam Darnold will certainly improve thanks to the release in pressure Bell brings both on and off the field, but the Jets did fail to do anything about their horrendous dearth in edge-rushing talent apart from adding rookie Jachai Polite from Florida.

Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has to find a way to get this defense humming, and if he can there’s an outside chance the Jets can make a splash.

Projected 2019 Record:


10. Tennessee Titans

It’s officially go-time for Marcus Mariota and his Titans.

Mariota is in the final year of his rookie contract, which puts a lot of pressure on both him and the Titans to perform. The trend in the NFL is to take advantage of team-friendly rookie QB deals before the inevitable blow-out that comes with signing as a free agent.

Last year the Titans narrowly missed the playoffs with a 9-7 record, largely thanks to Mariota’s inability to stay healthy. With Ryan Tannehill now the backup in Tennessee, he has to find a way to stay on the field.

The AFC South has turned in to a minefield of a division, and it’s tough to see the Titans finishing any higher than third despite the continued improvement of Derrick Henry and Corey Davis and addition of rookie receiver AJ Brown.

Projected 2019 Record:


9. Pittsburgh Steelers

Simply put, it’s going to impossible for a team that lost Le’Veon Bell AND Antonio Brown to improve from their 2018 record of 9-6-1.

Sure, the Steelers still have Ben Roethlisberger, James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster, but they still have pronounced holes in their linebacker corps and in the secondary. Michigan linebacker Devin Bush was a fantastic pick in the first round of the draft, but in a suddenly-competitive AFC North it’s weirdly hard to see the Steelers out-performing the Browns and Ravens.

Pittsburgh’s 9 wins last year was their lowest since 2013, and we think they may dip even lower this season.

Projected 2019 Record:


8. Jacksonville Jaguars

One thing is for sure with this Jaguars team; replacing Blake Bortles with Nick Foles is an upgrade.

How much of an upgrade remains to be seen. After making the 2017 AFC Title Game, 2018 was a mess in Jacksonville. The offense sucked, the defense was non-existent and they ended up finishing the year outside the playoff race.

We know this Jaguars team is talented enough to return to the top level; their defense is basically the same as the infamous one of two years ago, and the additions of number 7 pick Josh Allen plus right tackle Jawaan Taylor and tight end Josh Oliver in the draft puts them in good stead to improve.

Again, though, that AFC South is a minefield. Jacksonville has the tools, but it will need to put it all together to sneak past Indianapolis and/or Houston.

Projected 2019 Record:


7. Baltimore Ravens

There are two schools of thoughts with the Ravens; either you’re a believer in Lamar Jackson and this team’s ability to improve from an unlikely postseason berth last year, or you think Jackson’s poor showing in the playoffs shows he’s ready to regress in his sophomore year.

Either way, replacing Terrell Suggs, Za’Darius Smith and C.J. Mosley on defense is going to be no easy feat. Jackson is an enigma on offense, and if teams can figure out the Ravens’ run-heavy scheme it is going to be hard for him to adapt.

However, the addition of the veteran Mark Ingram and two rookie receivers in Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin is likely to make this an even more potent offensive team than what we saw last year. If the Ravens can find a way to pressure opposing quarterbacks, they’re a dark horse to make a run.

Projected 2019 Record:


6. Cleveland Browns

The NFL is just better with the Browns up and about; long may it continue.

Everyone’s favourite second team added superstar Odell Beckham Jr to an already scintillating offense over the offseason, to go along with edge-rusher Olivier Vernon, RB Kareem Hunt, DT Sheldon Richardson,  and draftee CB Greedy Williams.

The Browns went from 0-16 in 2017 to 7-8-1 last year and are inexorably on the up and up. They are talented, enthusiastic and lost nobody from the team that so excited the league last season. Baker Mayfield can only continue to improve, and overall this squad is starting to look like a bona fide favourite to win the AFC North.

Projected 2019 Record:


5. Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs are going to live and die behind the arm of Patrick Mahomes. That’s fine, but it’s hard to see the third-year pro improving on his barnstorming 2018 MVP campaign.

Losing RB Kareem Hunt is a huge blow to Mahomes’ offense, as is the pending NFL disciplinary case against Tyreek Hill. The real question is – did this roster get better from last year?

The answer is likely a no. Safety Tyrann Mathieu, defensive ends Frank Clark and Emmanuel Ogbah and cornerback Bashaud Breeland were nice additions in the offseason, but they’re replacing safety Eric Berry, cornerback Steven Nelson and edge-rushers Dee Ford and Justin Houston. This team was 31st in defense last season, and without Hunt and likely Hill it’s difficult to see the offense continuing to produce at such a high level.

The Chargers are officially the team to beat in the AFC West.

Projected 2019 Record:


4. LA Chargers

Oh to be a sports fan in LA right now; the Rams, Clippers, Lakers and Chargers are all peaking right at this moment.

The Chargers defense did fantastically in the draft, adding DT Jerry Tillery and safety Nasir Adderley. This team went 12-4 and won a playoff game last year, and expectations should be even higher this year.

Tyrell Williams is a loss at WR, but Mike Williams should continue to improve in that position and will likely cover that loss with aplomb. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram make up probably the NFL’s best defensive front, and the 37-year-old Phillip Rivers is showing no signs of slowing down. In case he does, the Chargers also added mercurial Tyrod Taylor as a backup.

Don’t be surprised if both LA teams are battling it out in Super Bowl LIV when it’s all said and done.

Projected 2019 Record:


3. Indianapolis Colts

Whoda thunk we’d be writing this after the Colts went 1-5 to start the 2018 season. Andrew Luck and his team pulled out a remarkable recovery, peeling off 9/10 wins from that point to become just the third team in NFL history to make the postseason after five losses in its first six games.

There’s nothing to suggest this team can’t maintain the rage going in to this year. The Colts lost precisely no one of note in free agency, and added receiver Devin Funchess and edge-rusher Justin Houston to an already championship-calibre team. Despite not having a first round pick in the draft they also managed to snare corner Rock Ya-Sin, linebacker Ben Banogu and wide receiver Parris Campbell in the second round; universally hailed as astute choices.

If their offensive line can continue to play at the level they did last year, Indy are every chance to make it out of the AFC South and in to Super Bowl contention.

Projected 2019 Record:


2. Houston Texans

The AFC South is officially a battleground, but our tip to take it out is the Texans.

Sure, they lost DBs Kareem Jackson and Tyrann Mathieu, but they also added Tashaun Gipson and Bradley Roby in free agency. Houston also has the small advantage that they have one of the league’s best young QBs – Deshaun Watson – and arguably one of the league’s top overall players still in his prime in JJ Watt.

Clearly Houston’s offensive line is a concern, but they tried to shore that up by taking tackles in the first and second rounds, and will also regain Matt Kalil from injury.

The Texans won 9 straight regular season games before falling to the Colts in the playoffs, and if they can avoid last year’s slow start we think they’re a chance to finish right up the top of the AFC.

Projected 2019 Record:


1. New England Patriots

Ugh. Who else.

This Patriots Belichek/Brady dynasty refuses to die, and as the incumbent Super Bowl champions we can’t place them anywhere but the top.

That said, it was far from a flawless offseason in New England. Rob Gronkowski has retired (or has he?…), they lost Brandon Flowers and Trent Brown in free agency and Josh Gordon to suspension.

But, as the Patriots always seem to do, they adapted. Receiver N’Keal Harry with the last pick of the first round was a quality choice, Michael Bennett covers Flowers nicely, Yodny Cajuste is a solid addition at tackle and Ben Watson (TE), Dwayne Allen (TE) and Demariyus Thomas (WR) pad out the receiving corps perfectly.

In a perennially-weak AFC East and until further notice, the Patriots are still the team to beat.

Projected 2019 Record:


Written and produced for by Eddie Dadds

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