The off-season is long and dark and full of horrors. There’s a long, long wait between the time Mr. Irrelevant hears his name called and the preseason’s first kickoff, and if you didn’t care about the World Cup, it could be a long summer. It’s never too early to start predicting who will be the class of each conference, in this piece, we tackle the AFC’s top five contenders, starting with a team that missed the playoffs altogether in 2017.
Ranking the Top 5 AFC Super Bowl Contenders
Everyone is so quick to laugh off the Oakland Raiders this season, but nobody has a real reason as to why. If analysts spent as much time analyzing the team as they did making remarks about a certain line about late-90’s analytics, they might realize this team has quite a bit of potential. If you name all the talented players on this squad, you really start to get an idea of how disorganized this squad was last season.
This team boasts Derek Carr, Marshawn Lynch, Amari Cooper, Jordy Nelson, Martavis Bryant, Ryan Switzer, Jared Cook, Donald Penn, Kelechi Osemele, Rodney Hudson, Gabe Jackson, Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin, Karl Joseph, Rashaan Melvin, and Tahir Whitehead as proven stars. The offense alone could be dangerous. Sure, Jon Gruden is a psychopath that’s been out of coaching for a decade, but the AFC isn’t as strong as you’d think, and a good offense could make some real noise.
Los Angeles Chargers
On paper, the Los Angeles Chargers are just too talented to be bad this year. Sure, they’re the Chargers, and they’ve never been relevant in the history of the NFL, but when you take a second to check out the roster, this team can do some real damage if they can just stay healthy.
Philip Rivers has been a great quarterback over the years, even when the Chargers haven’t been a great team, Melvin Gordon broke out last year, and when healthy, Keenan Allen has no problem taking over games. They’re waiting for Mike Williams to break out, and while the loss of Hunter Henry hurts, it wouldn’t surprise me if they brought Hall of Fame tight end, Antonio Gates, back into the mix. Not to mention, the pass rushing duo of Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa is potentially horrifying, especially in front of a secondary that boasts Casey Heyward, Jason Verrett, and rookie, Derwin James.
When you’ve got a great offensive line, the NFL’s best running back, and the NFL’s best wide receiver, you’re always going to be competitive. The Steelers have only missed the playoffs five times in the last 17 years, and they haven’t had a losing record since they drafted Ben Roethlisberger. The defense has some pieces, and the AFC North is a joke. It’ll be interesting to see how they do against the next two teams on this list, because they went 0-3 last season, including in the playoffs. In any event, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, and a great offensive line should give the Steelers a real chance.
The Jacksonville Jaguars were the breakout team last season, winning ten games and securing their first playoff berth in a decade. Weirdly enough, they faced two of the same teams, and just like in 2007, they beat Roethlisberger’s Steelers before losing to Tom Brady‘s Patriots. Anyway, they had the best defense in football, Blake Bortles was passable, and Leonard Fournette came in and did exactly what they wanted him to, moving the ball on the ground and keeping the defense off the field. Assuming they come back as the same team they were last year, they’ll be a viable threat in the AFC.
New England Patriots
We all hope that this is the year New England’s run of dominance in the AFC ends, but it feels like we’ve been hoping for quite some time. They’ve won eight of the last sixteen, appearing in the last seven. The elite team of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady just keep dominating, with or without help from the likes of Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, or Chris Hogan. Maybe the locker room issues are real and this team will implode, but if not, get used to the idea of New England dominating again in 2018.
If you enjoyed this article, or you haven’t gotten your football fix, there’s also a NFC version of this article on the site!