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Although the Patriots fell to the Eagles in Super Bowl LII in one of the biggest shootouts in NFL history, they are the odds-on favorite to win the AFC Championship and in fact, win Super Bowl LIII. But which other teams have what it takes to take down the Patriots in much the same way as the Eagles? Here’s a look at the top eight teams in the AFC.
1. New England
Tom Brady says he wants to play until he’s 45 and who is to doubt him. Despite on the losing end in the Super Bowl last season, Brady put up record-breaking numbers against one of the top defenses in the NFL.
New England heads into 2018 with an over/under of 11 wins according to CBSSports.com, tops in the NFL. They are also first on ESPN’s power rankings. Although losing wide receiver Danny Amendola to the Dolphins and trading wide receiver Brandon Cooks, the Patriots made their share of signings this offseason.
Running backs Rex Burkhead and Jeremy Hill, defensive end Adrian Clayborn, linebacker Marquis Flowers, offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle, and wide receivers Jordan Matthews and Matthew Slater.
Another factor in New England’s favor is they play in a relatively weak division, as all other teams in the division have an over/under win total of less than 8. Expect the status quo from the Patriots, another division title and another deep run in the postseason.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers tied the Eagles and Patriots for the best record in the NFL last season at 13-3. They likely have the best shot of overthrowing the Patriots. Ranked second in the power rankings and tied with the Eagles at 10.5 for over/under in wins, the Steelers have been relatively active this offseason.
However, many of their moves are to shore up depth, while keeping their core intact. They had a relatively mediocre draft, grading at a B- according to CBSSports.com, placing in the lower half of the league.
Very good, but not spectacular on both sides of the ball, the Steelers ranked eighth in scoring and seventh in points allowed. With the return of Ben Roethlisberger for his 15th NFL season and top receiver in the game, Antonio Brown, the Steelers are never to be counted out.
While Baltimore and Cincinnati pose some divisional challenge, Pittsburgh should claim another AFC North title with a postseason matchup against the Patriots not out of the question.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
A surprise winner of the AFC South last season, the Jaguars were just a half away from the Super Bowl, before collapsing against the Patriots. Jacksonville is 14th overall in the NFL power rankings and at 9.5 in over/under for wins.
Fifth in points per game offensively and second defensively in 2017, the Jaguars were likely the most underrated and underappreciated team in the league last season. Although playing in a weak division, thanks in large part to injuries which derailed the Texans, Jacksonville should be a strong contender again in 2018.
Quarterback Blake Bortles and running back Leonard Fornette continue to lead the attack. Defensively, the combination of Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue should cause headaches for opposing quarterbacks, leading to more interception chances for the likes of A.J. Bouye, Barry Church and Tashaun Gipson. Jacksonville is out to prove last season wasn’t a fluke and should be a factor again in the postseason.
4. Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs were the best team in the NFL several weeks into 2017 before a midseason collapse. A late four-game winning streak secured the division. They are currently at 8.5 on the over/under for wins but I believe they will be a factor again in the NFC West.
Kansas City was fifth in points scored last season, but just 15th in points allowed. With Alex Smith gone to the Redskins, the Chiefs currently have second-year man Pat Mahomes first on the depth chart at quarterback.
Looking to take the pressure off Mahomes, the Chiefs may have to rely on a run game led by Kareem Hunt. In order for the Chiefs to make a serious run, the defense must improve. Most of their offseason moves have been to bolster the defensive with the signings of cornerback David Amerson, defensive tackle Xavier Williams and defensive end Rakeem Nunez-Roaches, among others.
The Chargers will push the Chiefs in the division and could overtake them if the defensive side of the ball doesn’t click. My bet is for Andy Reid and his staff to have the Chiefs clicking and make another postseason run.
5. Houston Texans
Lose all-pro J.J. Watt for all but three games and quarterback Deshaun Watson for nine games and the results are clear. A 4-12 season and last place finish in the AFC South. Looking for recoveries from both star players, the Texans should make a run up the standings.
The oddsmakers are seeing this as well, as the Texans over/under for wins is at 8.5. The last place schedule will help and the fact that the division was the worst in the league last season in terms of winning percentage.
Houston has been relatively quiet this offseason, signing safety Tyrann Mathieu, tight end Matt Lengel, wide receiver Sammie Coates and offensive tackle Roderick Johnson. A push for the division title with the Jaguars is expected, pending the successful return of Watt and Watson.
6. Los Angeles Chargers
After a terrible start last season, the Chargers played well and finished within a game of the Chiefs in the AFC West. They are currently 11th in ESPN’s power rankings and are actually ahead of the Chiefs at 9 on the over/under for wins.
Defense was a strength last season, ranking 3rd best in points allowed, while ranked just 13th in points scored. Little has been done offensively to bolster the core on either side of the ball. Top guns offensively include quarterback Phillip Rivers, who threw for 4,515 yards, running back Melvin Gordon and wide receiver Keenan Allen.
The division could be tight with all four teams projected at around .500 or better. Nine or ten wins will likely win the division, don’t be surprised if the Chargers come out on top.
Best of the Rest: Baltimore Ravens, Oakland Raiders
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