The AFC is undoubtedly the conference that has the most young quarterback talent. Will the likes of Allen, Mahomes, Herbert and Burrow shine once again in 2022, or will signal callers such as Carr, Tannehill, Jackson and Ryan shock everyone and take THEIR teams to the final four?
The Wild West
In the offseason, The AFC West became undoubtedly the best division in football, after the NFC West had held that title for a few seasons. The Raiders adding five-time Pro Bowl wideout Devante Adams, pairing him with his long-time close friend Derek Carr in Las Vegas will bolster the offense on an exceptional level. The Chargers had a disappointing end to the 2021 season, barely missing the postseason, finishing with just nine wins. General manager Tom Telesco went out and acquired Kahlil Mack from Chicago, as well as star cornerback J.C. Jackson from New England in hopes to revamp and strengthen the team’s biggest weakness from a season ago.
The Chiefs, although losing Tyreek Hill to Miami, will always be a force to be reckoned with. Denver is being looked at completely differently, after the acquisition of Super Bowl champion Russell Wilson. It is needless to say that everyone will have their eyes on the AFC West throughout the season, and who makes the playoffs and who does not will be very intriguing.
Looking Down South…
Ever since Derrick Henry and Jonathan Taylor entered the league, the AFC South has been dominated by those two elite running backs. The Titans and Colts seem to always make noise; however, it is seldom because of quarterback play, and much more because of Henry, Taylor, and the strong offensive lines these teams have constructed to block for them. Colts’ defensive players such as Darius Leonard, Rock Ya-Sin and Deforest Buckner have held down the fort in Indianapolis as well, and head coach Frank Reich has preached running the football and defense ever since he was hired.
Could we see the debut of QB Malik Willis in 2022? Willis, who was drafted by Tennessee in this years’ draft was electric in his first preseason game. If Tannehill struggles a bit without his top two targets from a year ago in AJ Brown and Julio Jones, HC Mike Vrabel may make the switch to the rookie out of Liberty.
While the Jaguars and Texans have some promise for the future, this is an article about the postseason and those teams are just not at that point with their respective rosters and coaching staffs. It will be interesting as always to see who comes out of the South, between Indy and Tennessee.
Upward and …Northward?
I don’t think there was a single person that believed the Cincinnati Bengals had a chance to play in the big game at the start of last season, but Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, Joe Mixon and some fantastic defensive performances in the postseason headed by DC Lou Anarumo and emerging stars such as Trey Hendrickson and Jessie Bates III had Cincy playing in Los Angeles with a chance to bring home a title in just Burrow’s second full season.
Lamar Jackson and Baltimore, who seem to always be riddled by an abundance of injuries, will be back in the mix this season, as additions of safety Marcus Williams and cornerback Kyle Fuller will bolster the defense, and there is never a doubt on offense with the electrifying Jackson running up and down the field every Sunday, creating havoc for opposing defenses.
As for Cleveland, acquiring Deshaun Watson was a positive step forward yes, but having to deal with all the baggage he brings with him is something 31 other organizations were just not willing to do. Watson will most likely not see the field until mid-season if not ALL season, and while elite runners Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt still strike fear into defenses everywhere, the quarterback play will not hold up in a stingy division that has teams like Cincinnati and Baltimore.
Finally, the Pittsburgh Steelers have finally turned the page, after eighteen seasons of ups and downs with future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger, as Big Ben has finally decided to hang up his cleats. Pittsburgh will now try and succeed with former second overall pick Mitchell Trubisky, who backed up Josh Allen in Buffalo a season ago.
The emergence of sophomore running back Najee Harris will be vital to this teams’ success and losing a player like JuJu Smith-Schuster to Kansas City won’t help either. Although head coach Mike Tomlin has literally never had a losing season in his career with the Steelers, I unfortunately see 2022-23 as his first. Watching rookie George Pickens will no doubt be a treat all season however. Pickens was an absolute steal for Pittsburgh, as he will be a serious threat on the outside for years to come.
Who Will Reign Supreme As The Beasts Of The East?
The Miami Dolphins trading five first round draft picks to acquire star wide receiver Tyreek Hill will always be remembered in the sunshine state, but I believe it will be remembered even more in Kansas City. Pairing Hill with an unproven commodity such as Tua Tagovailoa had most of the football world shocked, and while many believe the ‘cheetah’ will help the young southpaw QB succeed, there are still many questions as to whether he can make the third year leap or be another signal caller failure by the Miami Dolphins.
And even though the Jets had a strong draft, even native New Yorkers know their team is still a few years away from seriously competing in the East. Questions centered around second year QB Zach Wilson will continue to linger throughout the season, and additions such as Sauce Gardner and Jermaine Johnson will help the defense, but rookie production, especially on an inexperienced roster can only go so far.
As far as the top two seeds of the division from a season ago, New England and Buffalo will be likely duking it out yet again in 2022 for the division crown. I know many have Miami finishing above the Patriots this year, but I believe in consistency and building through the draft more than anything else, and that is what Bill Belichick and the Pats have been doing ever since losing Tom Brady in 2020. There is a certain standard in Foxborough that will not be broken completely just yet.
Finally, the Bills, who are undoubtedly heavy favorites to win their third straight division title, come off a terrorizing and brutalizing loss in their season’s final game in Arrowhead Stadium back in January, where the toss of a coin ended Josh Allen’s perfect postseason and sent the mighty Bills home packing, even if they did deserve a chance in overtime to possess the ball. However, the acquisitions of two-time Super Bowl champion Von Miller, receiver Jamison Crowder and newly drafted cornerback Kaiir Elam will certainly help the team get right back to where they ultimately want to be.
1. Buffalo Bills (13-4)
I really didn’t want to seem like a homer and put Buffalo at number one, but I don’t realistically see any other AFC team beating them out for that top spot, barring injuries. (knock on wood) Many analysts have touted the Bills roster as the best in all of football, and NBC’s Chris Simms says Josh Allen is the best quarterback the league has to offer.
With everything in mind, and Stefon Diggs being who he is, Gabriel Davis coming off that legendary four touchdown performance in the playoffs, along with Von Miller being on the number one defense from a season ago, as well as Tre’Davious White coming back from injury, I would be remiss if I wrote down anyone BUT Buffalo for this number one spot.
2. Tennessee Titans (11-6)
Tennessee to me is a ‘regular season’ team. Losing in the divisional round of the playoffs last season at home, with Derrick Henry back in the mix, with a first-round bye, told me everything I needed to know about this team’s makeup. However, this is not an article predicting who will win in the playoffs, this is just who will get there. And I firmly believe the Titans are an excellent team during the season. As long as everyone stays generally healthy, there is no reason why they shouldn’t win ten-twelve games, win the South and clinch the second spot in the conference come January.
3. Kansas City Chiefs (11-6)
It wasn’t easy putting the Chiefs here two slots down from number one, but I really do think the loss of Tyreek Hill will make a difference in how explosive this offense is, even with Mahomes, Kelce, and now newly acquired JuJu Smith-Schuster in the fold. After seeing their defense unable to stop much of anything for the majority of last season, I don’t believe the Chiefs will be as dominant as they have been for the last few seasons in 2022. However, this doesn’t mean they can’t reach big games late in the year, because I will never be the one to doubt the greatness of Patrick Mahomes with the time ticking against him.
4. Cincinnati Bengals (10-7)
Last year’s runner ups slot here at four, as Ja’Marr Chase easily eclipses over a thousand yards receiving, and Joe Burrow will be in MVP discussions throughout the season. I do believe they have a bit of fall from grace early in the year, however after finding themselves, sort of similarly to KC from a year ago, they will be a very tough out come the postseason. I also believe Jessie Bates will have an All-Pro caliber season with eight or more takeaways.
5. Baltimore Ravens (10-7)
After a disappointing 2021 campaign for Baltimore, John Harbaugh’s side will finish with ten wins in 2022, and the fifth seed, setting up their third matchup of the season with the Bengals, this time in a win or go home situation. With the injuries that the Ravens had to endure last season, I thought it was commendable how they were still able to finish with eight wins.
They were in close games with Green Bay, Pittsburgh and Cleveland with backup Tyler Hundley taking the snaps. With Lamar Jackson fully back and geared up for a comeback-type season, I couldn’t see a scenario where Harbaugh and his Ravens were not back in the dance.
6. Los Angeles Chargers (10-7)
Finally, the Chargers will make the playoffs. Yes, even with how stacked the AFC West now is, they will in fact beat out Las Vegas and Denver, and make their way to a showdown in Arrowhead, where 2022-23 MVP candidate Justin Herbert and former Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes will battle for rights to play in the divisional round. The additions that LA made-on defense, along with signing back playmaker Mike Williams, the Chargers are finally slated to break their small curse they have been going through, and will find their way in the postseason in 2023.
7. Indianapolis Colts (9-7-1)
Crazily, I do not have Las Vegas on this list of playoff teams. I was surprised at myself a little as well, but I actually have more faith in Matt Ryan with his new set of weapons in Indianapolis, and I don’t think there is anyone who wouldn’t want to see Jonathan Taylor and Derrick Henry battle in the postseason with everything to play for. It was impressive enough that the Colts made the playoffs in 2020 with a 38-year-old Philip Rivers, and in my opinion even more impressive that they were even in contention with Carson Wentz a season ago.
Taylor will surpass twelve hundred yards on the ground, and Michael Pittman along with Parris Campbell will make strides to help Matt Ryan as much as possible. I believe that with a seasoned vet like Ryan, who, like Matthew Stafford, has been trying to get out of his previous situation for a while now, the Colts will just barely sneak in the postseason with a 9-7-1 record.