By: Reese Nasser
The Tennessee Titans have added future hall of fame wide receiver Julio Jones to their offense. The dynamic wide receiver has crafted a career that will make him go down as one of the greatest players to ever step on the field. The seven-time Pro Bowler will look to help the Titans make a legitimate push for a super bowl run.
The Titans have built an offense that has three of the most explosive players in the NFL. Running back Derrick Henry can quite literally carry a team to victory. Young wide receiver A.J. Brown is arguably a top-10 player at the position and is just now entering his third season in the NFL. And well, Julio is Julio. His work has spoken for itself up to this point.
But where do the Titans stand in the entirety of the AFC? Where do they measure up to the rest of the teams? Let’s take a look at the competition and breakdown all 16 teams in the AFC.
The Non-Contenders (For Now)
Let’s start with the teams that are near the bottom of the division. Each team here has a distinct issue that causes them to be labeled as a non-contender. Whether that be problems at the quarterback position, a young roster, or gaps at valuable positions, none of these teams are prepared to make the jump to the top of the division just yet.
The Houston Texans have assembled what may be the worst roster in football. This is not at the fault of the players themselves, but instead the fault of the front office.
The team has gone all in at certain positions and left others untouched. There are currently six rostered running backs and each has a legitimate shot at making the final roster.
After adding running back David Johnson in the gigantic Deadre Hopkins trade last season, the Texans have gone on to add even more running backs to this roster. Mark Ingram, Phillip Lindsey, and Rex Burkhead were all added to the team this off-sesaon.
It is looking as if three-time pro bowl quarterback Deshaun Watson will not be suiting up for the Texans this season. As everyone knows, the former Clemson star quarterback currently has 22 active lawsuits against him ranging from sexual assault to inappropriate behavior. Due to these allegations and Watson’s expected absence from the team, we will act as if he is not a Texans player in this scenario.
The QB position in Houston will be a problem this upcoming season. Veteran quarterback Tyrod Taylor is the current QB1 for this team. Taylor may end up being one of the most unlikely players in NFL history. He is clearly talented but freak injuries have led to him losing his job on two different occasions in the last few seasons. Taylor started for the Los Angeles Chargers last season but suffered a punctured lung after receiving a shot to help manage pain. The punctured lung forced him to the bench and rookie QB Justin Herbert came in for relief and the Chargers never looked back.
After not having a selection in the draft until the third round, the Texans chose to draft Stanford quarterback Davis Mills. While Mills could be the future QB for the Texans, they could have addressed positions that lacked depth and could help improve the team now.
All in all, this Texans team is a mess. There seems to be no plan or future for the franchise. Instead, it is a collection of veterain players who may just be looking at an opportunity to improve on their stock and find new teams next season.
New York Jets
The New York Jets are full of hope. The trajectory of the team is going upwards but they are not in win now mode. The roster is full of young players, and if developed properly, could become a top team in the NFL.
The Jets chose to make a change at the quarterback position. They shipped Sam Darnold away and took his replacement with the second overall pick. Zach Wilson, former BYU quarterback, is set to be the future of the Jets.
New York has already surrounded Wilson with more talent than Darnold ever had. They are slowly assembling an offensive line that could become the best in the league. Last year’s first round pick, Mekhi Becton has the size and athleticism to be the best left tackle in football. Alijah Vera-Tucker, who the Jets took with the 14th pick in this year’s draft, is the left guard of the future. Wilsons blind side will be protected and he should flourish sooner rather than later.
The Jets have also put together a nice receiving group. WR1 will be former Titans receiver Corey Davis. Davis had his best season last year and showed that he has what it takes to be a capable target. They also selected Ole Miss Elijah Moore. Moore has been described as a “smaller A.J. Brown”. His athletic play could lead to a nice 1-2 punch for this wide receiver room.
There is also a new head coach in New York. Former San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator will be taking the reins of the Jets. His defensive mind could help this unit develop and be truly great.
The Jets are most likely a few years away from success but the foundation has been placed. The future is bright but it is still far off.
Trevor Lawrence. Urban Meyer. Jacksonville has made moves this off-season. They found a quarterback in Lawrence who is destined to be an all-time great. The excavations will be sky high for Lawrence, who is said to be the best QB coming into the league since the now retired Andrew Luck.
Urban Meyer has had a long career and now has his eyes set on success in the NFL. He has put together a team full of players that he likes. Will this translate to success? Who knows. There is no guarantee that Lawrence will become this hall of fame quarterback. There is also no guarantee that Meyer will be successful in Jacksonville.
This Jaguars team is drastically different from the team that almost made a run at the super bowl just a few seasons ago. Very few players from that squad still remain. Many of the expected playmakers on this team are still very young. This means that they will have time to develop and learn. The Jaguars are in this for the long-term and instant success should not be expected.
The Broncos are a team that could be on the verge of success in the AFC. They have a roster that consists of great veteran players. The defense could be great. They are led by three-time all-pro linebacker Von Miller who will be coming back from a torn Achilles. The offense has strengths all over. A good group of young receivers, a strong running back in Melvin Gordon, and a rising tight end in Noah Fant.
Everything on this team looks good on paper. Everything besides the quarterback position, and that is what is keeping this team as a non-contender.
Young quarterback Drew Lock, while proven to be exciting to watch, has not yet achieved much of anything yet. He was 4-9 in his 13 starts last season and threw 16 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.
Lock’s inconsistent team led the Broncos to trade for veteran quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. While Bridgewater has proven to be a resilient QB, coming back from a devastating knee injury, he has also had poor production at the QB position. He, much like Lock, has looked good at times and at other times, has looked abysmal. But, the job could be jis to take.
Uncertainty at the QB spot hurts this team. A team full of this much talent should be much more of a threat and a new QB might be in the future of the Broncos.
The Cincinnati Bengals may just be the team that makes the leap. They have the foundation to do just such.
Quarterback Joe Burrow was on pace to have a historic rookie season until he suffered a torn ACL. But, Burrow has looked solid in his recovery and will look to make an impact as soon as the season begins. He is proving to be the leader that this team needs.
They have also built a very strong roster in Cincinnati. The wide receiver group may be regarded as a top-five unit by season’s end. Tyler Boyd, Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins are a trio that could explode this season.
The defense has also made improvements since last season. The Bengals brought in Trey Hendrikcson, who recorded 13.5 sacks last season. They also drafted a quality definite end in Joseph Ossai. There are still holes on this defense and that could hurt the development of this team as well.
The offensive line unit could prove to be the team’s true downfall. Burrow was under duress often last season and the Bengals did not make a massive change to this unit. If Burrow is not able to get the ball to his weapons on offense, then there is no point in even having them.
The Bengals, led by Burrow, could soon take over the NFL. They just aren’t there, just yet.
Teams with Potential
The teams in this section have potential. They each could make a jump into the next tier, but for now, they are unproven and haven’t done enough to be placed there yet.
The Miami Dolphins are coming off of one their best seasons in recent years. The team finished with a 10-6 record and overall, looked and played very well.
The Dolphins have made it a point of emphasis to keep their roster together. They also brought in both rookies and free agents that are expected to make an instant impact. They obviously wanted to surround young quarterback Tua Tagovailoa with as many playmakers as they could.
In maybe their best signing of the off-season, Miami brought in wide receiver Will Fuller on a one-year deal. Fuller, who is coming off of a career season, will be forced to miss the first four games of the season due to a suspension. But, upon his return, could be exactly what Tua needs. A strong deep field threat who can be a top-10 reciever in the league.
The Dolphins also added Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle to the team. Waddle, Tua’s former teammate at Bama, will look to make an instant impact and help Tua improve in his second season.
The defense will be the anchor of this team heading into next season. They are a strong unit led by cornerback Xavien Howard who hauled in 10 interceptions last season. They also added defense and Jaelen Phillips in the draft. He will be a day one starter and could help this defense get even better.
The Dolphins could make a legitimate run but it will rely heavily on the shoulders of Tua. If he is able to perform better than he did last year, which he is expected to do, the Dolphins could be on the verge of making it to the top-tier. But that is still yet to happen.
New England Patriots
The New England Patriots are a team that could shock many come the start of the season. They have spent big money on both sides of the ball and have seemingly gone all in on this season.
New England signed big time free agents Matt Judon, Hunter Henry, and Jonnu Smith. The addition of both tight ends can be related directly to Cam Newton being the quarterback. Newton has achieved success when he has two strong tight ends so the Patriots brought that back to him.
The defense, while young in some areas, could still be a top unit in the league. Veteran players are littered throughout the defense and will be ready to go come week one.
An issue that plagued the Patriots last season was opt-outs due to covid. Many of these players have returned and will be ready to make an impact.
Cam Newton has the QB1 job for now but the Patriots did select Alabama quarterback Mac Jones in the first round. All eyes will be on Newton and if he slips up, the job could be lost before he knows it.
The direction that this season goes will be directly dictated by the offense. The offense struggled often last season and was their downfall in multiple games. With a retooled init, they should look different and perform better. But, for how they are only banking on potential. This is why they aren’t seen as a contender just yet.
The Colts are a very interesting team to look at. Newly brought in quarterback, Carson Wentz, will look to prove that he can still perform at a high level. After coming off of his worst season since his rookie year, all eyes will be on him and he will be the reason that their season goes the way that it does.
The offense line, outside of Wentz, may be the most important piece of this offense. Led by guard Quenton Nelson, the line will be expected to perform every snap.
Running back Jonathon Taylor will be expected to expand on his strong rookie year and jis success will be directly related to this offensive line. They will also play a role in how Wentz performs. The blocking and protection for Wentz will allow for him to make plays and help this team.
The defensive unit is one of the best in the league. If young players such as rookie Kwity Paye can make an instant impact, this team could make their way to the top tier of the AFC.
Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders have remained an average team for the past few seasons. They have had moments of real potential where they look as if they can compete for a super bowl, and then they regress again. Their 8-8 record in 2020 is very fitting for how this team performs.
Quarterback Derek Carr is the poster child of how this team has been since he has become the QB1. He has a starting record of 47-63. The mediocrity of Carr hasn’t necessarily even been what has harmed this team. While his record is not great, he has still performed on the field. He has thrown 170 touchdowns to 71 interceptions. The failure and success of the Raiders can’t fall directly onto Carr’s shoulder.
The Raiders have made odd selections in the draft. They have continued to select players much higher than they should be taken and many of them have struggled to make the transition to the NFL.
Even through all of this, the Raiders have continued to be competitive. They have a strong roster that could become great. Led by tight end Darren Waller, this unit has potential. This could be the year where they are able to finally flip the switch and begin to be better than average.
The Pittsurgh Steelers started the 2020 season off with 11 straight wins. They were running on all cylinders and looked to be headed towards a legitimate run at the super bowl.
And then the Steelers lost their final five games. The losing streak extended into the playoffs where the Cleveland Browns dominated Pittsburgh at every level of the game.
Even with such a poor ending to the season, the Steelers could still be a team to watch heading into this upcoming season. They will rely heavily on their skill players on offense, specifically the wide receiver group.
It also can be ignored that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is getting older. He recently turned 39 years old and has shown some signs of slowing down. His arm strength has begun to lack in recent years and the Steelers have had to build around that. While he has made efforts to fix his arm, there is no guarantee that it will help in this upcoming season.
Rookie running back Najee Harris will also look to carry much of the offensive workload. The Steelers brought him in to be a workhorse back and he seems to be up for the challenge.
The Steelers offensive line will be where they struggle. They have one of the worst rated lines in football and have not made any efforts to improve it. If the line is unable to block, the whole season may be lost.
The Pittsburgh defense may be the best part of the team. The defense, led by T.J. Watt, performed extremely well and for much of the season, were the reason that they were winning as many games as they did.
The performance in the last quarter of the season has led to the Steelers no longer being a true contender. The issues on the team are glaring and while the Steelers could perform well, for now they just have potential.
We have finally arrived at the Tennessee Titans. The Titans, while choosing to add Julio Jones, still have issues with this roster.
Yes, the defense has been rebuilt and they will be running a new scheme, but there is guarantee that the defense will be solid. They could look like they did last year and underperform. The Titans will also have to ease this defense in. They have potential but are still very unproven.
The offensive side of the ball is currently the saving grace of this team. The trio of Derrick Henry, A.J. Brown, and Julio Jones could make this offense become one of the best units in the NFL.
Led by quarterback Ryan Tannehill, this offense will be expected to carry this team on their back. A.J. Brown had the best season of his career last year while playing alongside Corey Davis. Now Davis has been swapped with Julio. No knock against Davis, but Julio is an all-time receiver and is an upgrade at the position. This added piece of offense could completely change the layout of this team.
Running back Derrick Henry was able to still surpass 2,000 rushing yards last season. The addition of Julio will give him even more running room as defenses will not be able to key in on Henry.
The Titans could become a top tier team in the AFC but their defense holds the fate of the team in their hands. If the defense performs even just average, this team will have an opportunity. But, there are questions on this defense that still aren’t answered. The reliance on that unit could make this entire season crumble. This is why they aren’t a contender just yet, but instead a middle of the pack AFC team.
The True Contenders
The big ballers of the AFC. These five teams could all be legitimate super bowl contenders. Each could bring a lombardi trophy joke and no one would be particularly shocked. Here is the group with an explanation of why they are deserving of being here.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Los Angeles Chargers may be the most shocking group on this list. They finished with a 7-9 record last season and failed to make the playoffs. But that doesn’t tell the whole story.
When looking deeper at the Chargers, you see a young team that was repeatedly hindered by injuries last season. Star defensive end Joey Bosa appeared in 12 games but dealt with injuries for much of the season. Safety Derwnin James, who could be one of the best secondary players in the NFL, missed the entire season due to a knee injury. Running back Austin Ekeler, who is a prominent player on this offense, missed six games last season and never performed to his normal standard when he was healthy. All three of these players will return to the field, healthy and ready to make an impact.
The Chargers also made moves in free agency by signing both defensive tackle Linval Joseph and center Corey Linsley. Linsley, who is arguably the best center in the NFL, will be an anchor of this offensive line.
Los Angeles also spent their first round pick on left tackle Rashawn Slater. Slater will be a day one starter and will help protect Herbert’s blindside.
The true key factor of the Chargers season will be Justin Herbert. The second year quarterback is an MVP favorite and will lead the Chargers team. The offensive rookie of the year will look to build on a rookie season that saw him throw 31 touchdown passes. He will dictate how this season goes, but he has proven that he should be built for this.
The Chargers have done nearly everything right. A young quarterback on a rookie contract. An offense full of talented skill players and a solid offensive line. And a defense that could be one of the best in the NFL. This team is a true contender and will look to prove that in 2021.
Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills will look to build on a season that saw them go 13-3 in 2020. They have built a solid foundation, led by coach Sean McDermott. There is a new culture in Buffalo and they are quickly becoming a team that many people root for.
The Bills season came to an end in a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC championship. Up until that loss, the Chiefs looked unbeatable. They will look to build on the 2020 season and have a bright 2021.
The dynamic duo of Allen and wide receiver Stefon Diggs will look to pick up right where they left off last season. Diggs finished the season with 127 receptions and 1,535 receiving yards, first in the league in both stats. Diggs and Allen have found a clear connection and will undoubtedly look even better together next season.
At times the defense struggled but is overall a solid group. They will also be even better heading into 2021.
This unit remains very much unchanged since last season. As the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, dont fix it.” This Bills team is far from broken and should be looked at heavily to win the super bowl. A true contender coming out of Buffalo.
The Baltimore Ravens are coming off of a 2020 season where they finished with a record of 11-5 and second in the AFC West. They played well and for much of the season, the offense was firing on all cylinders. They scored more than 30 points in nine games and were explosive when they wanted to be.
Much of this offensive success can be credited towards quarterback Lamar Jacksoj. Just one year removed from his MVP season, Lamar proved to still be capable of performing and performing well. The third year quarterback put up 33 touchdowns last season and still proved to be an effective running threat, surpassing 1,000 rushing yards for the second consecutive season.
While Lamar had less touchdowns in 2020 than he did in 2019, he is still the leader in Baltimore. He is the guy on that tem and no one is taking that title from him. At times he played like a superhero, making plays out of nothing and single handedly moved the team up the field.
The Ravens have also surrounded Lamar with even more weapons. The Ravens address the wide receiver position in this year’s draft, selecting two receivers in the first four rounds: Rashod Bateman out of the University of Minnesota and Tylan Wallace out of Oklahoma State.
Rashod Bateman could fill the role of WR1 for this team, something they have not truly had during Lamar’s tenure with the team. If Bateman can become a high caliber receiver, the Ravens offense can become even better.
First year running back J.K. Dobbins played a pivotal role in the success of the Ravens offense last season. His nine rushing touchdowns helped this offense be one of the highest scoring groups last season.
The defense Baltimore has assembled is also a force to be reckoned with. They have established players at nearly every position and there is no glaring weakness within this unit. The potential of this unit is unmatched and they could arguably make a case for the best defense in the NFL.
The Cleveland Browns were a top team all throughout last season. Quarterback Baker Mayfeld orved to be the real deal. Both the offense and defense performed at a high level and looked good on a consistent basis.
So what did the Browns do this off-season? Well, they went out and got even better. Through both the draft and free agency, the Browns grabbed players that could make an instant impact.
Their 2021 draft was regarded as maybe the best of any team in the NFL. In the first round, the Browns selected cornerback Greg Newsome II out of Northwestern. In the second round, they selected Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah.
The Browns added notable players such as Jadaveon Clowney, John Johnson III, Troy Hill, and Takkarist Mckinley. Clowney, Johnson III, and Hill will all be starters on this defense. Clowney will play alongside star defensive end Myles Garret.
The secondary that is assembled here may be the best in the NFL. Denzel Ward, Troy Hill, John Johson III, and Ronnie Harison Jr are slated to be the starters. This means that Greg Newsome II, Grant Delpit, and Greedy Williams will all be available in backup roles. These players will all play massive roles on this team.
Injuries were an issue for the Browns last season. Many high caliber players were forced to miss time. The already mentioned Grant Delpit and Greedy Williams were both sidelined during last season. Star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr suffered a torn ACL and it is still undetermined when exactly he will be ready to go, but from what has been shown lately, he looks to be on the right path to being 100% again.
This Browns roster may be the most complete unit in the NFL. It is win now time for the Browns and they are set to do just that. There is only one team that can get in their way.
Kansas City Chiefs
The AFC still runs through the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs have made it to the superbowl for two straight seasons and they don’t look to be slowing down. As long as Patrick Mahomes is the quarterback in Kansas City, they will have a chance.
Not much needs to be said regarding the Chiefs. Their high powered offense has returned and ready to show that they haven’t slowed down. Mahomes is healthy again. The team has come back and are ready to run it up again.
They lost to the super bowl largely to a depleted offensive line. A string of injuries and forced out of position play proved to be their downfall. So what did the Chiefs do? They crafted an offensive line that is arguably even better than the one they sent out last season. The Chiefs traded for Orlando Brown Jr., who has proven to be a top-five tackle in the NFL. They signed guard Joe Thuney, one of the best receivers in the NFL, and center Austin Blythe. These are three new starters for this offensive line.
But the Chiefs were not done yet. With their second round selection, they took center Creed Humphrey from the University of Oklahoma. They then pulled retired guard Kyle Long out of retirement.
They chose to also improve their defense through the draft. They selected linebacker Nick Bolton out of Missouri in the second round. Outside of Bolton, much of the defense from last year is returning and will be ready to go.
This Chiefs team will be just as good as they were last season and the AFC will be theirs to lose. A true contender and a team that could find their way to another super bowl sooner rather than later.