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AFC Preview

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Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

2023 AFC Season Preview 

With the conclusion of the NFL preseason, the 2023 regular season has arrived with the the reigning Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs losing to the Detroit Lions 21-20 in Kansas City. With many teams making key offseason additions through the draft, free agency and trades, there’s plenty of excitement surrounding each team’s new opportunity for the coming season. 

In this article, I will rank all four teams within each AFC division. Rankings will be ranked best to worst, predicted how they finish this season.  Within these rankings will be an overview of each team and where I think they’ll finish the year. 

  AFC East   

1.) New York Jets 

Record Prediction: (13-4) 

Offseason Additions: The Jets have some of the most hype surrounding them due to the blockbuster deal that sent them the 10-time Pro Bowl and four-time MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Some of their big free agency signings include four-time Pro Bowl running back Dalvin Cook, who has rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of his last four seasons and both Mecole Hardman and Allen Lazard at wide receiver. 

Returning Players: The Jets have some of the best young talent in the league due to their great draft last year.  This list  includes last year’s Offensive Rookie of the Year Garret Wilson at wide receiver, last year’s Defensive Player of the Year Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner at corner, Breece Hall at running back, who had his season cut short a year ago due to a torn ACL, and 2020 right tackle draft pick Mekhi Becton. 

Why they are ranked here: The additions to the team this offseason with a solid group of players returning could end up making them not only the best in their division, but one of the best teams in the NFL. Second year head coach Robert Saleh plays a key role in their potential success due to his way of coaching defense, which has made the defenses that he’s coached some of the most dominant in the league. 

2.) Buffalo Bills

Record Prediction: (10-7)

Offseason Additions: The Bills didn’t make many huge splashes in the offseason, but the most notable of the bunch would be the ex-Patriots running back Damien Harris and their first-round pick Dalton Kincaid at tight end.

Returning Players: Buffalo has plenty of great returning players on the offensive side that include the superstar duo of Josh Allen at quarterback and Stefon Diggs at wide receiver, Gabe Davis at receiver, and second year running back James Cook. They have plenty of great defensive players that include Pro Bowlers like Vonn Miller at edge rusher, Jordan Poyer at safety, Tre’Davious White at corner, and Matt Milano at linebacker.

Why they are ranked here: The Bills have been one of the best teams in the NFL over the last few years in large, partly because of their duo of Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs. However, they have lost more key players than they gained after the 2022 season which could lead to them losing a couple more games in their already challenging schedule.

 

3.) Miami Dolphins

Record Prediction: (9-8)

Offseason Additions: The biggest deal that the Dolphins made this offseason was trading for superstar cornerback Jalen Ramsey. However, he most likely won’t make much of an impact this year due to a knee injury he suffered in training camp. This might sideline him for most if not the whole season.

Returning Players: Miami is another team that has plenty of returning talent on the offensive side which includes Tua Tagovailoa at quarterback, seven-time Pro Bowl receiver Tyreek Hill, Pro Bowl tackle Terron Armstead, and young superstar receiver Jaylen Waddle. Their highlight players on the defensive side include four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Xavien Howard, Jerome Baker at linebacker, Jevon Holland at safety, and last year’s trade deadline pickup Bradley Chubb at outside linebacker.

Why they are ranked here: The Dolphins are coming back from a solid year, and they would still be on track to be one of the best teams in the league with their high-powered offense led by the offensive genius Mike McDaniel who will be going into his second season as head coach. However, with Tagovailoa being so injury prone, there is a lot of uncertainty about how consistent the team will be.

 

4.) New England Patriots

Record Prediction: (6-11)

Offseason Additions: Some of the best free agent signings that the Patriots made this past offseason have been Mike Gesicki at tight end, JuJu Smith-Schuster as their new wide receiver one, Ezekiel Elliot and James Robinson at running back, and offensive tackles Riley Reiff and Calvin Anderson.

Returning Players: The Patriots offense will be led by Mac Jones at quarterback who was their first-round pick in 2021, and last year’s breakout running back Rhamondre Stevenson. New England’s defense has been consistently good in the past due to the coaching of future Hall of Fame coach Bill Belichick. Their playmakers that will be returning on the defensive side will be Matthew Judon at outside linebacker, Kyle Dugger and Jabrill Peppers as safeties, and Jonathon Jones at cornerback.

Why they are ranked here: The Patriots don’t have enough talent on their team to make them stand out from their competitors. The only contributing factors that are keeping them going are the decent pickups they made this offseason, their solid defense, and the coaching of Bill Belichick. However, if they can decipher the struggles they faced on offense last year, they might be able to steal a couple more wins.

 

 AFC North

 

1.) Cincinnati Bengals

Record Prediction: (12-5)

Offseason Additions: The Bengals made multiple offseason free agency signings with the best of them being Orlando Brown. He is a 27-year-old left tackle that played for the Super Bowl winning Chiefs last year. Cincinnati also signed Nick Scott to replace the hole at safety that Jessie Bates left.

Returning Players: The Bengals have some of the best young returning talent in the NFL, especially on the offensive side with Joe Burrow leading them as their franchise quarterback. Burrow has lots of weapons to throw to with his Louisiana State teammates Ja’Marr Chase at wide receiver one, Tee Higgins at wide receiver two, and the veteran target Tyler Boyd at wide receiver three. Additionally, the Bengals have a talented running back Joe Mixon returning to the team.

Why they are ranked here: The Bengals are one of the most stacked young teams in the NFL and have Joe Burrow, one of the best quarterbacks to lead them. With the amount of weapons they have on the offensive side, they can keep up with any team in the NFL. Burrow will also have better protection in the pocket this year due to the signing of Orlando Brown at left tackle. Cincinnati is also proven to be one of the only teams that can beat Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. This is very rare due to the recent dominance the Chiefs have had over the NFL ever since Mahomes became their starter.

 

2.) Baltimore Ravens

Record Prediction: (11-6)

Offseason Additions: The Ravens had some of the best offseason moves this year that would help their team be able to compete against the other great teams in the AFC. On the offensive side of the ball, they were able to get Lamar Jackson some much needed receiver talent with their signing of Odell Beckham Jr., who is coming back from his ACL tear that happened in the Super Bowl in 2021, and their first-round draft pick Zay Flowers out of Boston College.

Returning Players: Baltimore was able to extend their franchise quarterback to a five-year contract worth 260 million dollars. They also have their lead target Mark Andrews at tight end returning to the team. One other interesting player to watch this year is their young running back J.K. Dobbins who looks completely healthy for the first time in a while. Baltimore was also able to give a five-year, 100-million-dollar contract to the star linebacker Roquan Smith who they traded for in the middle of the season last year.

Why they are ranked here: The Ravens have added some great new targets for Lamar Jackson to throw to this year with Zay Flowers and Odell Beckham Jr. that can help make the offense more capable of competing against the better teams in the league. Additionally, the trade for Roquan Smith in the middle of last year adds a great leader to the defense at the linebacker position which has been need for a while. If the Ravens playmakers are able to stay healthy, they should be able to win a lot of games and compete in the playoffs this year.

 

3.) Pittsburgh Steelers

Record Prediction: (8-9)

Offseason Additions: The Steelers filled a couple important positions in free agency with the signings that include the veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson, Nate Herbig at guard, Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts as linebackers, and Larry Ogunjobi at defensive tackle. These players were solid pickups for the team and may be able to help them along the road. The first-round draft pick Broderick Jones OT can give their second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett some better protection.

Returning Players: Pittsburgh will have quarterback Kenny Pickett to lead the offense with star receiver Diontae Johnson as his lead receiver, the young power back Najee Harris at running back one, the promising young receiver George Pickens at wide receiver two, and Allen Robinson at wide reliever three.

Why they are ranked here: The Steelers have some decent young talent going into this year. However, they lack the amount of talent to keep up with some of the more high-powered teams which could lead to an early exit in the playoffs if they do make it.

 

4.) Cleveland Browns

Record Prediction: (7-10)

Offseason Additions: The Browns made one big move this offseason by trading young receiver from the Jets, Elijah Moore. This was the only improvement that they made from last year’s team. They were unable to make any other huge moves in the draft this year due to their blockbuster trade last year for Deshaun Watson that sent away three first round and second-round picks, and a third and fourth-round pick.

Returning Players: Cleveland has a lot of talent on the offensive side of the ball with Deshaun Watson leading them as their quarterback, Amari Cooper as wide receiver one, Elijah Moore as their wide receiver two, Nick Chubb who is one of the best backs in the NFL at running back one, and David Njoku at tight end. The Browns playmakers on the defensive side of the ball include one of the best pass rushers in the league Myles Garrett, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah at linebacker, star cornerback Denzel Ward, and Grant Delpit at safety.

Why they are ranked here: The Browns have some pretty good talent all around, but they couldn’t make any big offseason additions to the team. They have had many teams in the last few years that have enough talent to win, but never live up to expectations. Overall, they don’t have enough firepower to keep up with some of the better teams in the AFC.

 

AFC West

 

1.) Kansas City Chiefs

Record Prediction: (12-5)

Offseason Additions: There aren’t many big-name players that the Chiefs added to their roster this year, but their biggest move was Rashee Rice, a wide receiver they drafted in the second round who came from South Methodist. This was a solid pickup as it adds yet another weapon for Patrick Mahomes to throw to and it fills the gap Juju Smith-Schuster left when he departed from the team.

Returning Players: Patrick Mahomes is the reason the Chiefs are so feared in the NFL. Going into his sixth season as their franchise quarterback, Mahomes is a five-time Pro Bowler and two-time MVP, Super Bowl MVP, and Super Bowl Champion. Along with Mahomes, the Chiefs have Travis Kelce who is the best tight end in the NFL, and they also have some promising young players with Kadarious Toney at wide receiver and Isiah Pacheco at running back. On the defensive side of the ball, Kansas City has Chris Jones, one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL and even more young talent with Nick Bolton at linebacker, L’Jarius Sneed and Trent McDuffie as cornerbacks, and Justin Reid at safety.

Why they are ranked here: The reigning Super Bowl Champions, Chiefs have been the most successful team in the league since Patrick Mahomes took over as their quarterback. With Mahomes behind the center, you can almost never count the Chiefs out of the game. They have been to every AFC Championship game since Mahomes took over, and have won two of the three Super Bowls he has played in. If no injuries occur, it is very likely that this same trend will keep going for years to come.

 

2.) Los Angeles Chargers

Record Prediction: (10-7)

Offseason Additions: The biggest addition that the Chargers made to the team this offseason was the first-round pick that they used on Quentin Johnson, the 6’3” wide receiver out of Texas Christian. This pick benefited the Los Angeles Chargers as it added another receiver for Justin Herbert, the quarterback. They also drafted Tuli Tuipulotu, an edge rusher out of University of Southern California with their second-round pick.

Returning Players: The Chargers were able to extend their franchise quarterback Justin Herbert with a 262-million-dollar deal that keeps him there until 2029. Herbert will also have a plethora of great targets if they stay healthy with Keenan Allen and Mike Williams at wide receiver one and wide receiver two, Gerald Everett at tide end, and Austin Ekeler at running back one. On the defensive side of the ball, they have a lot of great players with Derwin James at safety, Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack as their edge rushers, and both J.C. Jackson and Asante Samuel Jr. as their cornerbacks.

Why they are ranked here: The Chargers have some of the best players in the league on their team, especially in offense and defense positions. Although, the Chargers are notorious for not being able to make a comeback and win close games. Keeping the players health in check would positively impact the team as they are known for not prioritizing it in past seasons. Overall, the Chargers have enough talent to make a big run if everything comes together how it should.

 

3.) Denver Broncos

Record Prediction: (8-9)

Offseason Additions: The Broncos made some needed pickups for the offensive line as they grabbed Mike McGlinchey for right tackle and Ben Powers for guard who were some of the best offensive linemen in last year’s free agency. However, bringing in the new head coach, Sean Payton, was a huge change made over the offseason. Payton led the Saints to a Super Bowl win and nine playoff appearances in just fifteen years of coaching.

Returning Players: The Denver offense will be led by Russell Wilson, a nine-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion in 2014, as their quarterback. Wilson will have some solid targets around him with Jerry Jeudy at wide receiver one, Courtland Sutton at wide receiver two, and Javonte Williams at running back one. On the defensive side of the ball, their playmakers are Pat Suratin at cornerback, Justin Simmons at safety, and both Randy Gregory and Frank Clark as edge rushers.

Why they are ranked here: After the blockbuster trade for Russell Wilson last offseason, the Broncos have a very promising team and had a lot of popularity around them going into last year. However, Russell Wilson did not play nearly as well as he usually does. On the bright side, Denver’s defense proved to be one of the best in the league. The one thing that can change this team from the results of last year would be Sean Payton getting the offense to play to their full potential. If everything falls into place correctly, the Broncos should end up being one of the most respected teams in the NFL.

 

4.) Las Vegas Raiders

Record Prediction: (6-11)

Offseason Additions: The biggest change that was made for the Raiders this offseason was the signing of the veteran Jimmy Garroppolo as their new quarterback. They also got some promising young talent in the draft with Tyree Wilson as an edge rusher out of Texas Tech and Michael Mayer as a tight end out of Notre Dame.

Returning Players: The Raiders have some really good players on the offensive side of the ball with Davante Adams at wide receiver one and Hunter Renfroe at wide receiver two. They also have Josh Jacobs at running back one who rushed for 1,653 yards last season. On the defensive side of the ball, the Raiders have two of the best pass rushers in the league with Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones. They also have the promising Divine Diablo at linebacker.

Why they are ranked here: There is no question that the Raiders have some really good players with Davante Adams, Hunter Renfroe, Maxx Crosby, and Chandler Jones. However, there is a decrease in skill of the other players on the team. Jimmy Garropolo is a good quarterback, but he cannot be relied on by the entire team to carry a lot of their wins. The Raiders are expected to struggle this season in comparison to other teams in the league.

 

AFC South

 

1.) Jacksonville Jaguars

Record Prediction: (9-8)

Offseason Additions: Two new players that will be playing for the Jaguars this year are Calvin Ridley, who will be coming off his 1-year suspension, and their first-round pick out of Oklahoma that will play left tackle, Anton Harrison. Calvin Ridley will be another great player to add to the Jaguars wide receiver room to go along with the young star Trevor Lawrence at quarterback. Anton Harrison was also a great draft pick because he could add some much-needed protection at the line.

Returning Players: On the offensive side of the ball, the Jaguars have some very promising young talent with Trevor Lawrence at quarterback, Travis Etienne Jr. at running back, Christian Kirk at wide receiver, and Evan Engram at tight end. On the defensive side of the ball, the Jaguars have Josh Allen and Travon Walker as their lead pass rushers and Foyesade Oluokun at linebacker.

Why they are ranked here: The Jaguars had a very good season last year as they made it to the divisional round of the playoffs and were close to knocking down the Chiefs. They were able to add some great players to their already solid offense who should continue to grow as the younger players gain more experience throughout the season. Jacksonville should do very well in their divisional games but are expected to struggle with some of the top tier teams in the league. Overall, the Jaguars should have a good year and have a good chance at making the playoffs.

 

2.) Tennessee Titans

Record Prediction: (8-9)

Offseason Additions: The Titans were able to pick up the veteran wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins has been one of the best receivers in the NFL and has gone for over 1,000 receiving yards in six of his ten seasons that he has played. The Titans were also able to draft the left tackle Peter Skoronski in the first-round of the draft. This was a great pick because they have been in need of a good left tackle for quite some time now. In the second round of the draft, Tennessee picked Will Levis, the quarterback out of Kentucky. This was an interesting pick since they already have Ryan Tannehill, who has been a reliable veteran, and Malik Willis, who they drafted in the third round of last year’s draft.

Returning Players: The playmakers on the offensive side of the ball will be Ryan Tannehill at quarterback, the feared Derrick Henry at running back, the second-year receiver Treylon Burks, and Chigoziem Okonkwo at tight end. On the defensive side of the ball, the playmakers will be Harold Landry and Jeffery Simmons as the lead pass rushers, Sean Murphy-Bunting and Arden Key as cornerbacks, with Kevin Byard and Amani Hooker covering the skies as the safeties.

Why they are ranked here: The Titans have some very good players on their offense with Derrick Henry and DeAndre Hopkins as well as a consistent team over the past few years, but they don’t have the answer yet for quarterback. If the Titans can get some development at quarterback, they will be able to win more games and compete against the top teams in the league.

 

3.) Indianapolis Colts

Record Prediction: (5-12)

Offseason Additions: The most exciting new player that the Colts will have this year will be Anthony Richardson, the rookie quarterback who was the fourth overall pick in this last draft. Standing at 6’4’’ and 245 pounds, he has the physical ability with great speed and a canon of an arm. Richardson still has a lot to prove on how well he can be a game manager in the NFL. With the amount of upside that Richardson has, he has potential to be a feared quarterback by many teams with his throwing and running abilities.

Returning Players: On the offensive side of the ball, the Colts will have a young receiving core with Michael Pittman Jr. at wide receiver one and Alec Pierce at wide receiver two. On the defensive side of the ball, the Colts will have the two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle, Deforest Buckner, and three-time Pro Bowl linebacker, Shaquille Leonard.

Why they are ranked here: The biggest loss to the Colts this year is the broken relationship with the young superstar running back Jonathon Taylor who requested a trade away from the Colts. At the moment, Taylor hasn’t found a new team, but it seems very unlikely that the Colts will be able to convince him to stay. In addition, the Colts simply don’t have enough talent in the rest of the team to pull together a lot of wins. The Colts do have some hope for their future as they try to get the best out of Anthony Richardson’s potential and spend the next couple years rebuilding the team.

 

4.) Houston Texans

Record Prediction: (4-13)

Offseason Additions: The two most exciting new players for the Texans this year came from this year’s draft in which they had the second overall pick and even traded up to get the third overall pick as well. With the second overall pick, the Texans picked who they hope to be their franchise quarterback of the future, C.J. Stroud out of Ohio State. Stroud looks like he can be a very good quarterback in the NFL due to the great decision-making and accuracy on his passes that led Ohio State to a great season last year. With the third overall pick, the Texans selected the dominant edge rusher Will Anderson who played for Alabama. In just 13 games last year with Alabama, Anderson was able to prove his ability to get to the quarterback with 10 sacks. The Texans also hired DeMeco Ryans, the defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers last year that gained a lot of attention for leading the best defense in the league, as their new head coach.

Returning Players: Houston will have the second year running back, Damion Pierce who rushed four touchdowns and almost 1,000 yards in his rookie year. Their receivers will be Nico Collins, Robert Woods, and Noah Brown. On the defensive side of the ball, Houston will have the rising cornerback Derek Stingley, the veteran Jimmie Ward and Jalen Pitre as their safeties.

Why they are ranked here: The Texans had a great offseason this year and it looks like their future could be bright. However, they are still in that process of rebuilding as they need a lot more work on their receiving core and the rest of their defense. As Houston continues to rebuild and get new players, they can drastically turn the team around from what they have been for the past couple of year

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About the Contributor
Josh Giuliacci, Sports Editor
Joshua Giuliacci was born on September 12, 2006, and is currently a junior at Tracy High School. Giuliacci is part of a family of seven that includes his mom, dad, two brothers and two sisters. He is a dedicated student-athlete and has played a variety of sports, which include football, baseball, basketball and soccer. Giuliacci has recently decided to only play baseball exclusively due to his love of the game and dream of one day playing college ball. Sports have always been a huge part of Giuliacci’s life because his dad previously worked for the Golden State Warriors and currently works for the San Francisco Giants. After high school, Giuliacci would like to go to college and study in a field that would help him get a job in baseball, similar to his father. His top career choices in baseball would be coaching, broadcasting or reporting for professional teams.  

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