2019 NFL: Previewing The AFC
There really isn’t a reason for excitement yet. However, as someone who watched the entirety of an entirely unwatchable Hall of Game (yes, I’m that guy), it’s hard to contain my glee.
Football is back and life is good.
With the first full week of NFL preseason games set to kick off on Thursday evening, there’s no better time than any to make some predictions. But, Sid! It’s way too early! We don’t even know how each team’s final roster will shake out! What if there are injuries to key players before Week 1! What if someone signs Colin Kaepernick!
It’s never too early. Also, there’s nothing more fun that revisiting my predictions around early November and laughing at the things I wrote. Don’t worry we’ll get there.
Let’s break down the divisions in the AFC and rank the teams from first to last.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
One day this empire will fall. The dark times will turn to light. The name Thomas Edward Brady won’t be a name that haunts our daily lives, but rather an old memory that has faded into the ether. Grandparents will regale young children and speak of the two decades of misery this pox of an organization foisted on an entire nation that cowered at their feet.
But that won’t be this season. Sorry, still not picking against the Patriots. I’m not saying they’re going to win the Super Bowl (yet), but they’re definitely winning this sorry division.
Their offensive line was atrocious last season. Since then, they brought in a former All-Pro guard in Kelechi Osemele, brought Ryan Kalil out of retirement to play center and traded for guard Alex Lewis. Will that fix all their problems? It can’t get any worse.
And while Gang Green hopes their revamped offensive line will keep their young quarterback Sam Darnold off his back, their only offseason addition to their receiving corps was Jamison Crowder, who is a nice player, but has never had more than 67 catches in a season.
The good news is their defense should be a very good unit. Rookie lineman Quinnen Williams looks like a beast and C.J. Mosely was a quality (although expensive) upgrade at linebacker. A good defense plus new running back Le’Veon Bell should be good enough for second place in this division.
Speaking of revamped offensive lines, the distinguished Andy Benoit over at Sports Illustrated is very excited about this team’s new front five. And looking at who they added this offseason (C Mitch Morse, G Quinton Spain, among others), it’s hard not to be impressed. They should be able to pave some paths for the three-headed monster they have at running back: a 31-year-old LeSean McCoy, Devin Singletary and … wait for it … the ageless Frank Gore.
The real issue here is how second-year QB Josh Allen progresses. People were all set to slap the bust label on him, but give him respect, he responded by showing some nice flashes as a rookie. If he takes the next step, this could develop into an entertaining team.
Just not this year.
What a dumpster fire. Do you know they’re still paying a salary cap hit on Ndamukong Suh?
This team made me look stupid last year. I had them pegged as a Super Bowl team, but that was before Le’Veon Bell held out all season. And before Antonio Brown decided to act like a diva before a game with playoff implications. And before Ben Roethlisberger continued to throw teammates under the bus.
But all that has changed. Bell is now wearing green. Brown is busy freezing the skin off his feet in Oakland. And Big Ben has canceled his dumb radio show.
And while the noise has left the building, here’s what is still around: a menacing offensive line, a budding running back in James Conner, a new star receiver in JuJu Smith-Schuster and hopefully a more self-aware quarterback.
Now, this might not be your father’s Steelers defense, they have enough talent on that side of the ball to get off the field on third down. Remember, with all the distractions this team faced in 2018, they still finished 9-6-1 and were in postseason contention until the last minute. Head coach Mike Tomlin has never had a losing season since arriving in Pittsburgh in 2007.
They might not be the sexy pick to win this division, but they were the right one until proven otherwise.
And this brings us to Cleveland. Oh, what an exciting time it is to reside by the Cuyahoga River. The Browns have started to come up at the perfect time, just as the dust left by LeBron James bolting to Los Angeles has drifted away.
Stout defense? Check. Stud young quarterback? Check. Two outstanding receivers? Check and check. All you have to do now is mix the ingredients and voila, serve a delicious meal.
As anyone who has seen me cook can attest, it’s not that easy. Now, I’m not going to go on some Cowherd-esque rant and ramble like an old man about how quarterbacks should be mature beyond their years and too much chatter leads to distractions.
(I mean, he’s kinda right, but still, the urge to tell him to shutup is too much to bear.)
What concerns me is the first half of their schedule. Four of their first five games should be challenging matchups, with just two coming at home. Now, it’s true, maybe all that talent comes together faster than imagined and they steamroll through all five opponents. But, you have to admit, it’s also easy to imagine them ending that stretch with three losses.
And I’m still a little hesitant about the dynamic between Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. Sure, they’re saying all the right things right now, but there’s still only one football to go around.
They finished 7-8-1 last season. They should be better this season, but I’m not picking them to win this division yet.
I have advice for Lamar Jackson. Please, for god’s sakes, gain some weight.
The words coming out of Ravens camp distress me. Coach John Harbaugh said he’d “take the over” when it comes to Jackson running more than Cam Newton’s career high of 139 attempts. That’s completely unadvisable. No, no, no, no, no. Newton is built like a defensive end and blocks out of the sun when he runs.
Jackson has some height, but he’s built like a stick figure, even though he said he added 7-10 pounds of muscle during the offseason. Keep adding weight. And learn how to slide well and get out of bounds. I don’t know what Baltimore’s coaching staff is doing, but it seems like they’re trying to get their quarterback killed.
Andy Dalton is still their starting quarterback. And they have a new head coach in Zac Taylor after firing Marvin Lewis three season too late. Star wideout A.J. Green is going to miss significant time after suffering a training camp injury, but it doesn’t really matter.
With the issues Cincinnati has at offensive line, they wouldn’t be able to block long enough for Dalton to get him the ball.
Their defense still has huge holes, even with Geno Atkins manning the line. The overall unit won’t be as bad as they were last season, but that’s only because they couldn’t really get any worse.
There’s no reason this team shouldn’t take the division crown. Their offensive line is stellar, their defense is young, active and should produce turnovers. Marlon Mack anchors a running back group that head coach Frank Reich has called a “position of strength.”
And yet, there’s a problem. Andrew Luck hasn’t practiced yet. In fact, he’s been out for months with a calf injury that was supposed to heal with rest. So, as Mike Freeman from Bleacher Report aptly said, “Here we go again.”
Remember when Luck missed all of 2017 with a shoulder injury? Things weren’t simple. We were told over and over again that he could be back soon, but as the weeks passed it became obvious that Luck wouldn’t play.
Fast forward to the present day, and it seems like it’s deja vu all over again. Will this injury drag on until it’s Week 17 and we haven’t seen him on the field? Luck told Peter King that he believes he’ll be ready for the opener.
“That’s certainly the goal,” he said.
Sigh, all we can do is wait.
One thing head coach Bill O’Brien has yet to do in Houston is build an offensive line that can keep QB Deshaun Watson from getting smacked around like a pinata.
So, have they fixed that issue? Well, they drafted tackles with their first two picks in the draft, with second-rounder Max Scharping getting some good reviews from the coaching staff in training camp. However, this unit has Matt Kalil currently taking the first-team reps at left tackle. That makes my skin crawl.
This is a group that allowed 62 sacks last season. If they can get that fixed, they should be right there competing for a playoff spot.
Have you lost your patience with Marcus Mariota? The franchise is seemingly getting itchy because they brought in Ryan Tannehill this offseason. It’s now or never. If Mariota looks “meh” like he has over the first few years of his career, don’t be surprised if the Titans make a change.
Because this is a team that is stacked with a solid offensive line and defense. Their confusion at quarterback is what is keeping them from being a viable contender.
I love Nick Foles as much as the next guy, but somebody has to finish last in this division.
If Dee Ford didn’t jump offsides, Kansas City would have been in the Super Bowl last season. But, he did jump and thanks to that, the Patriots would eventually win a championship and bore the entire world while doing so.
Ford is now gone. And in his place, the Chiefs traded for defensive end Frank Clark, who is a pass-rushing terror and is a great addition to play alongside star Chris Jones, who had 15.5 sacks last season. New coordinator Steve Spagnuolo should be able to lift a unit that ranked second-to-last in total defense in 2018.
If the defense can get some stops, the sky’s the limit for this team. Remember, they still have Patrick Mahomes, the reigning MVP who threw 50 touchdown passes last season.
Melvin Gordon has a breakout season in 2018, but isn’t with the team as he’s holding out for new contract. That’s understandable since we all know running backs have a short shelf life and need to make their money before the clocks run out on their legs.
However, if you’ve noticed, the Chargers don’t seem to be all that concerned. They are deep at the position with Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson on the depth chart, both of whom could capably fill in during Gordon’s absence.
This is one of the most complete teams in the league. It wouldn’t surprise me if they win the division and even make it to the Super Bowl. As long as they don’t run into the Patriots.
They were the perfect choice for “Hard Knocks.”
This team excites me. Not just because they have Jon Gruden, or that they’re moving to Las Vegas (I’ve seen the new stadium construction in person and it looks amazing). They do have some interesting talent.
Now, Antonio Brown being out with frostbitten feet is a concern because nobody knows when he’s coming back. And I’m sure Richie Incognito will punch something before training camp ends. And I’m not sure what to make of Derek Carr anymore.
But they’ll win some games.
They have Joe Flacco. His arm in that stadium should be fun during pregame, at least. He’ll be the football equivalent of those long-drive challenges in golf.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR IN PRESEASON WEEK 1
Kyler Murray: Yay! The No. 1 overall pick gets his first taste of NFL action. I can’t wait. I’ve seen him practice and he looks tiny.
The Browns: Will Baker Mayfield and Odell Beckham play? My money says no, but nothing official has been announced yet.
Aaron Rodgers: The star quarterback complained that the Packers had a joint practice with the Texans this week. I wonder if he’ll complain about standing on the sideline on Thursday. Everything seems to upset him this day.
Injuries: Preseason should be eliminated. There’s nothing worse than seeing a key player go down for the season during a meaningless August game. But it’s going to happen, as it does every year.
Fantasy steals: As much I hate the preseason, I enjoy watching the games because I feel I have a sharp eye for fantasy talent. I alone possess the ability to spot some slappy who nobody notices that will push my team to glory. I’ve only been right once, and that was with Maurice Jones-Drew. Most of the time, the guy I grab with a late-round pick ends up falling into the coach’s doghouse by Week 5.
Currently a Mobile Editor at Yahoo, Saraf spent 5.5 years (Oct. 2010 - Feb. 2016) working for FOX Sports as an NFL Editor and Writer. Prior to that, Saraf worked for CBS Interactive for 4.5 years (May 2006 - Oct. 2010) as a Staff Editor.