PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:
1. New England
2. Miami Dolphins
3. Buffalo BILLS
4. NEW YORK Jets
New England Patriots: The Patriots are once again the defending Super Bowl Champions. They come back again this year with head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady. The Patriots are once again a favorite to win the Super Bowl. With the addition of Mike Gillislee at running back, the Patriots might be even better than last season. That’s a scary thought for the rest of the division. New England has won this thing 14 of the last 16 years and it looks like there is no end in sight. At some point, age will catch up to New England. It could happen this season. And in football, injuries can derail anyone. Plus, there is the Super Bowl hangover to worry about. But the Pats seem to be immune to all of these.
Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins made the playoffs last season, winning 10 of their last 11 games. They discovered a star runner in Jay Ajayi and figured out their defense was pretty good too. The new challenge is going into 2017 knowing that they won’t sneak up on anyone. Other teams have them circled on the schedule now. Can Ryan Tannehill stay healthy? Can he become one of the AFC’s best quarterbacks? If he can, Miami might give the Pats a run for their money.
Buffalo Bills: Tyrod Taylor showed signs of breaking out last season. If he gets better this year, the Bills may have something here. They have a pretty decent team that was really not far from being a playoff contender. The Bills lost some close ones last year that could have gone the other way. Had they won those, they were in the playoffs. They start over with a new head coach this year in Sean McDermott. Can he get the team over the hump? The Bills have a good running game with LeSean McCoy. That will be a great help to Taylor.
New York Jets: The Jets are once again headed nowhere. They need to decide on a starting quarterback first. Will it be journeyman Josh McCown? Will it be Bryce Petty? Will it be Christian Hackenberg? Watch the Jets preseason games to find out. Whoever it is, he’ll be spending a lot of time looking up at the other three teams in the standings. The AFC East is really tough and the Jets are still in rebuilding mode. The Patriots are still the class of the division. They will probably win it for the 15th time in 17 years this year. But Miami is on the rise, so it’s not a sure thing like it normally is. The Bills could be interesting to watch this year with their new coach. They may be a Wild Card contender.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:
1. Kansas City
4. LA Chargers
Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs are the defending champs in this division even though they do not have a top-tier starting quarterback or a wide receiver or running back that scares anyone. In fact, their most dangerous weapon is probably their kick returner, Tyreek Hill. The Chiefs beat you with a bend-don’t-break defense that makes teams kick field goals and a ball control quarterback who doesn’t throw the big interception. They are the football equivalent of a baseball team that beats you with good pitching and defense, but doesn’t have a lot of home run hitters. The Chiefs will win their share of games and stay near the top of the division as long as Alex Smith stays healthy and upright. They need their secondary of Eric Berry and company to stay healthy as well.
Oakland Raiders: Here is another weird situation involving a move. The Raiders have announced they are leaving for Las Vegas…in two years…or maybe three years. How is this going to go over in Oakland? Will this be too much of a distraction for a team with a young quarterback and a lot of young players? Will the home fans cheer for them or boo them? No team in recent memory has announced they are moving and stayed around in their old city. We have no idea how this is going to play out. Making this even more intriguing is that the Raiders have Super Bowl quality talent. How will it play out if they actually win a championship? Stay tuned to this soap opera. It won’t be boring.
Denver Broncos: The Broncos are always a threat in this division. Two seasons removed from a Super Bowl Championship, they could very well be back this year. The defense is always great with Von Miller, Brandon Marshall, and the guys. Who will be the quarterback? Can Paxton Lynch unseat Trevor Siemian? And whoever he is, will he be good enough to put enough points on the board to get the Broncos back on top in this division? Those are the big questions. Last year, they limped down the stretch and missed the playoffs. How patient will John Elway be if the offense struggles again?
Los Angeles Chargers: One may think the Chargers will be distracted after moving to Los Angeles. They are playing their home games in a soccer stadium for two, possibly even three seasons waiting for the new stadium to be built that they will share with the Rams. Interestingly, they didn’t move very far from their old city. Will they get some fan support from San Diego? Or will there be a large contingent of nearby fans constantly rooting against them? Philip Rivers is one of the best in the game at quarterback. But do the Chargers have enough weapons to go with him? And can the defense stop anyone? They haven’t had either for the last two years. The Chargers’ problems could have been blamed on their stadium situation. Now that it has been resolved, maybe they can get back to playing winning football. We’ll see.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:
1. Pittsburgh STEELERS
2. Baltimore RAVENS
3. Cincinnati BENGALS
4. Cleveland BROWNS
Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers are the defending champions is this division. Will they successfully defend? That depends on a few key factors: a. Will Ben Roethlisberger stay healthy? He seems to miss quite a few games each year to injuries and he’s not getting any younger. The older he gets, the more stationary. b. If Landry Jones has to play a lot, will he be able to get the Steelers to the top of the division? He might be the future starter in Pittsburgh, but is he ready now? c. Will Le’Veon Bell stay out of trouble? Last season, he missed the first four games due to a failed drug test. Another one of those and the Steelers are in big trouble. The Steelers will be in contention. They always are. But there a couple of teams that can beat them in this division.
Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens improved by three games a year ago. If they do that again, they are probably going to win the AFC North. They went from 5-11 to 8-8 last year, not good enough to make the playoffs, but not far away. The Ravens are talented, with Super Bowl winning quarterback Joe Flacco and head coach John Harbaugh. If they can stay healthy, they could very well win the division. If they do, they are the one team that is not afraid of the Patriots. They beat them in the AFC Championship game recently, and had it not been for a missed field goal, would have done it twice, both on the road. These three teams are very close. The six games where they play each other will be must watch TV. They do not like one another and they all like to play physical defense. Cincinnati
Bengals: The Bengals certainly have the talent to compete for the division championship in 2017. With Andy Dalton throwing the ball to the likes of A. J. Green and Tyler Eifert, this team can put up some points. But there is a lot of pressure on this team to not only get to the postseason, but to win some games once they get there. They’ve been to the playoffs several times under head coach Marvin Lewis, but have not won a game. Many were surprised to see Lewis back this year, but he’s surely in the “hot seat” going in. Cincinnati had better get off to a good start, or there will be grumbling among the fan base. The seat will get hotter and the Bengals may not be able to play through it. They have some fragile psyches on this team with guys like Burfict and Pacman. Who knows what they’ll do if they have to answer questions each week about the coach’s job security.
Cleveland Browns: Then there are the Browns. They go in with yet another starting quarterback in Brock Osweiler, who failed elsewhere. When you keep getting other teams’ castoffs, you can’t really expect to be good, can you? The Browns had a chance to draft a quarterback, but instead went for defensive end Myles Garrett from Texas A&M. That was probably a smart move, because Mitch Trubisky at number one? That smells a lot like Jared Goff at number one. The Browns will suck yet again and finish last in the North. But at 1-15 a season ago, they just about have to improve over that.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:
1. Tennessee TITANS
2. Houston TEXANS
3. Indianapolis COLTS
4. Jacksonville JAGUARS
Tennessee Titans: The Titans have reason to be excited going into the 2017 season. Had they not laid an egg on Christmas Eve in Jacksonville, and had Marcus Mariota not gotten hurt in that game, the Titans would have gone 10-6 and won the division. They won four of the last five games to finish 9-7, their first winning season in a while. Mariota might be the next big thing in the NFL. He was very good in his first two seasons, and the team has gotten steadily better with him in there. They are going into 2017 with a lot of confidence.
Houston Texans: The Texans are the defending champions in the division. But they go into 2017 with a new starting quarterback. Tom Savage brought them back in the second half to beat the Jaguars and put them into the playoffs a season ago. But that’s the Jaguars. Everyone beats the Jaguars. Can he do it for all 16 games? If he can’t, they have Deshaun Watson waiting to take over. A lot of Houston fans may actually be rooting for that to happen. Watson might be the best quarterback of the 2017 draft. He won a National Championship at Clemson and led them in two straight championship games.
Indianapolis Colts: The Colts have their issues, such as a talent depleted roster. But they do have a good coach and a great starting quarterback. So if somebody unexpected steps up, they could very well win the AFC South this year. The offensive line needs to be better. Andrew Luck spends entirely too much time on his back. Keep Luck protected and the Colts should be good enough to win this division. But if he’s sacked all the time, or worse yet, gets hurt, then the Colts are in big trouble.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Like in the AFC North, West, and East, we already know who will come in last in the South. It’s the same team every year. The Jaguars are a lock. The Jags might have to set their goals small with new Executive VP of Football Operations Tom Coughlin and new coach Doug Marrone. Coughlin will try to do what he did 20 years ago in Jacksonville, make them a tough minded, well-disciplined team. First things first, though, they need to get the quarterback situation straight. It’s time for Blake Bortles to prove he can start in this league. If he doesn’t get off to a good start, it may be time to look in another direction.