All off-season long, I’ve been the worst kind of Clint Eastwood. Not Dirty Harry, not The Man With No Name, but Gran Torino, “get off my lawn” Clint Eastwood. I’ve complained about mock drafts, I’ve complained about smokescreens, and I’ve complained about draft grades. So instead of being my normal-cynical sense, I’m gonna take a wild shot in the dark and make some insane predictions for each team (in the AFC) before all the undrafted free agents are even signed.
Crazy Post-Draft Predictions for Each Team (AFC Edition)
The Cleveland Browns Will Live up to Expectations
I really believe in the Cleveland Browns, which even a year ago, would’ve gotten me laughed out of most rooms. But after a strong 2018 showing from Baker Mayfield, and an even stronger off-season, the laughing stock of the NFL is ready to take the North. I have some reservations about Freddie Kitchens, the running backs coach turned offensive coordinator turned head coach, has never held this position at any level before.
But this roster, which features Mayfield, Kareem Hunt, Nick Chubb, Odell Beckham Jr., Antonio Calloway, Jarvis Landry, David Njoku, Denzel Ward, Myles Garrett, Greedy Williams, and more is easily the best in the division, and I’d be really surprised if they did anything but thrive this season.
The Baltimore Ravens Defense Will Be Fine
A lot has been made about the changes on the defensive side of the football for the Ravens this off-season. After finishing number one in the NFL last year, Baltimore’s defense lost C.J. Mosley, Eric Weddle, Brent Urban, Terrell Suggs, and Za’darius Smith. They replaced Weddle with former All-Pro, Earl Thomas, but there are still a lot of question marks on Baltimore’s depth chart.
However, if we’re being completely honest, I’ve always had a feeling that Baltimore’s defensive success had more to do with the scheme than the players on the field. Over the years, the Ravens have lost a number of defensive stars, and no matter what, the squad has remained pretty dominant. Even though they didn’t make a massive splash on that side of the ball this off-season, I bet new stars emerge and they pick up right where they left off.
The Cincinnati Bengals Will Be Surprisingly Okay
Ignoring all of the changes to the roster, the biggest improvement that the Cincinnati Bengals made this off-season was the change at head coach. Marvin Lewis kept the Bengals competitive, but he never got them over the hump. For the decade and a half that he was their head coach, Lewis never won a playoff game with the Bengals.
They have pieces on the roster. Andy Dalton is the picture of adequacy, Joe Mixon is talented, and the receiver duo of A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd can be dangerous when healthy. If John Ross can finally make that jump, and Tyler Eifert can stay healthy, that offense can score enough to be competitive. Meanwhile, the defense will lean on William Jackson III, Geno Atkins, and Carlos Dunlap to keep the score relatively low.
I’m not saying they’ll be contenders this year, just that I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bengals weren’t half as bad as they were last year.
The Pittsburgh Steelers Will Struggle… At First
The Pittsburgh Steelers are a bit of a mess right now. Allegations of a rift in the locker room, accentuated by the departures of Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, coincide with the rise of Baker Mayfield’s Cleveland Browns. JuJu Smith-Schuster has to fill the shoes of a future Hall of Famer, and Mike Tomlin is on a contract year. But that’s not why I think they struggle early.
That will be the narrative, but the Steelers are going to struggle early because the first half of their schedule sucks. They face the New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks, Los Angeles Chargers, Indianapolis Colts, and the Baltimore Ravens during the first half of the season. Throw in teams like the San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals, who struggled last year but should be better in 2019, and they could have a rough start to the year.
If they come out of week eight with more than four wins, they’ll be in homefield advantage conversation, if not, get ready for Mike Tomlin on the hotseat storylines all fall long.
The Jacksonville Jaguars Will Return to 2017 Form
People forget that there was a point last year when the Jacksonville Jaguars were bonafide Super Bowl contenders. They started out 3-1, and were a very trendy pick to win the AFC before things imploded. They lost six games by less than a touchdown, and if they’d had even passable quarterback play, who knows what could’ve happened. They lost five games where they allowed only 20 points or fewer.
I think Nick Foles’ production in Philadelphia was a result of the scheme the team ran more than a reflection of his own impact as a quarterback, but honestly, he’s in a different world than Blake Bortles. They don’t need #BDN to be a MVP candidate, they just need him to, at the very least, refrain from turning the ball over every single game. That sounds like hyperbole, but Bortles had at least one turnover in 11 of his 13 starts last year. No wonder they didn’t make the playoffs.
The Indianapolis Colts Will Take the Division
I think the Jacksonville Jaguars will be very good, but the Indianapolis Colts will be outstanding in 2019. They added depth to a very young, very talented defense with guys like Rock Ya-Sin and Marvell Tell III, and really fleshed out their offense. Devin Funchess gives Andrew Luck a big target opposite the speedy T.Y. Hilton, and they added a dynamic threat in Ohio State’s Parris Campbell in the slot. This team is going to be hard to stop this year, and I don’t see anyone else in the division being better than them.
Ryan Tannehill Will Start More Games Than Marcus Mariota
This might be an unpopular opinion, but Marcus Mariota has been a bust. He’s never sniffed 4,000 yards passing, and with the exception of one season, his touchdown-to-interception ratio, as well as touchdown total in general, have been underwhelming. He doesn’t bring a ton to the table as a rusher either, failing to break 400 yards on the ground in any of his four seasons.
That’s not to say that Ryan Tannehill is some kind of superstar, but at the very least, he’s put up moderately adequate numbers in the league under center. My hot take for the Titans isn’t necessarily a positive one, as I predict that by coaches decision or medical necessity, Tannehill ends up playing more games for Tennessee than the former number two overall pick.
Deshaun Watson Will Take a Step Forward
To this point, Deshaun Watson has been an interesting player to watch. On one hand, he exploded onto the scene with such fervor before getting injured in 2017 that people believed he was the next big thing in America’s game. He followed that up with a very good 2018 season that saw him break 4,000 yards passing, even with a questionable offensive line.
My prediction for the Houston Texans in 2019 is that we’ll get a real look at who Deshaun Watson is. He’s been exceptional so far, but if he takes that next step in 2019, then the AFC South might be in real trouble for a long time. They’ve added some pieces on the offensive line, so I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the year where Watson ends up in the M.V.P. conversation.
The Miami Dolphins Will Struggle
The Miami Dolphins have a lot of talent on defense, and the additions of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen give them some depth at quarterback, but it’s hard to get excited about this team. They just lack playmakers on offense, and in a division that’s about to get more competitive than it has been in a long time, the Dolphins could be in position to “Kyler” Rosen all over again in 2020.
The Buffalo Bills Will Have a Nasty Defense
Last season, the Buffalo Bills had one of the better defenses in football, finishing with the league’s best pass defense (179.2 passing yards per game), and the second best defense overall (294.1 ypg). However, they struggled with sacks, finishing 26th in the NFL with only 36. Then, inexplicably, Ed Oliver fell to them at nine, and if you ask me, things are about to change. I still have a ton of questions about Josh Allen at quarterback, but at least on the defensive side of the ball, the Bills are going to be nasty.
The New York Jets Will Make the Playoffs…
On paper, the New York Jets look pretty good. Hilarious press conference meme at head coach aside, they made some serious moves this off-season. They added Le’Veon Bell and Kelechi Osemele to the offense and bulked up the defense by signing C.J. Mosely and drafting Quinnen Williams. As Sam Darnold continues to develop, this team has taken a big step forward this off-season and I think they could make some real noise next year.
But the New England Patriots Are Still Division Champs
Dread it, run from it, the Patriots winning the AFC East arrives all the same.
The Los Angeles Chargers Will Win the Division
There’s always an excuse for the Los Angeles Chargers. Star players are getting injured, bad coaching, or a tornado of passing touchdowns blowing north from Kansas City. I don’t think that’s the case this year.
They upgraded on defense, everyone’s healthy (knock on wood), and barring a beatdown from Belichick and Brady in the playoffs last year, they never really looked like they weren’t in control for most of last season. I think this is the year where they finally break through and take the AFC West.
Patrick Mahomes Will Take a Step Back
This seems like a dig, but in all honesty, it would be madness for Mahomes to repeat what he did in 2018. He won the league M.V.P. in his first year as a starter, and had he gotten a shot in overtime, may have even gone to the Super Bowl. However, things have changed since then, and not for the better.
It looks like Tyreek Hill, his number one receiver, will be suspended, if not cut soon. Hill’s speed matches perfectly with Mahomes’ ability to extend the play with his legs because nobody could keep up with the speedster down the field. Without that kind of threat, he’ll have to play a game he’s not as comfortable with.
So whether the Chiefs are actually in trouble or not, I don’t envision Mahomes repeating what he did last season. Then again, maybe that’s just wishful thinking.
Joe Flacco Will Start Ten Games
I joked before the draft that Drew Lock was the perfect Broncos quarterback, and it didn’t surprise me at all when John Elway picked him in the second round. However, it is because they took him in the second round that I think they’ll wait before they throw him into the fire. They traded for Joe Flacco this off-season, and I think with him under center, the team can be relatively competitive. The defense should be very good this year, so even if Flacco struggles, the team may remain in the playoff hunt, meaning they won’t make a change at quarterback.
The Oakland Raiders Will Start Slow, Finish Strong
The Oakland Raiders have fallen very, very far since their explosive (if overrated) 2016 season, failing to post a .500 record or better in two straight years. But after a strong free agency period that saw them improve the receiving corps with Tyrell Williams and some guy called Mr. Big Chest, as well as underrated additions like Trent Brown on the offensive line or Lamarcus Joyner in the secondary, the Raiders had a very strong draft.
I’m not ready to throw a party and say the Raiders are back, because I have a lot of questions about this team. What’s the guard situation like? Are they going to add addition pass rushers? Is Derek Carr going to be able to handle Antonio Brown? Not to mention, the Raiders added at least three starters in the draft, but are they going to be ready week one? How long will it take them to acclimate to the speed of pro football? Have you seen the first half of that schedule? All those games on the road, including an international trip, can be brutal for a young team.
But I’m willing to bet that after a slow start, the rookies pick up some steam, Carr gets comfortable, and they finish the 2019 campaign on a high note, setting 2020 up to be the year they (hopefully) return to the playoffs.
If this didn’t scare ya off, check out the NFC version, I say equally wacky stuff.