Mediocrity rules the day in the wild AFC. From week to week, one cannot tell which of these teams are good and which teams…well, aren’t.
There are two teams in the conference, however, that are easy to identify.
The Kansas City Chiefs are strong on both sides of the ball. Alex Smith is an early season MVP favorite. He is spreading the ball all around and his mobility has made him a complete player. No doubt, his play has been enhanced by the ridiculous talent of Kareem Hunt out of Toledo. Hunt runs with power and speed. Therefore, the Chiefs are averaging well over 30 points per game.
On defense, they have talent across the board. But, it is their linebackers that are the best in football. Yes, the Chiefs are the one outstanding team in the AFC and will be difficult to beat.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are the Cleveland Browns. The Browns have won two of their last 32 games. And while their defense has played hard, they have been beaten easily by Baltimore and Cincinnati while losing at home to the Jets and Steelers. This is a very young team, so one would think they will improve as the season continues, but they will be an absolute non-factor for a playoff spot.
That leaves us with 14 teams that seem to be inches apart. Each of these squads have their positives and their negatives. Who will emerge with the five remaining spots?
We’ll start with the AFC South where Jacksonville has kind of a Jeckyll and Hyde thing going on. They dominated the Ravens in London, picked off Ben Roethlisberger five teams in thwarting the Steelers and had a solid opening day win at Houston albeit verses Tom Savage. But, you sandwich that around a dull effort at the Jets and a sloppy performance at home vs. the Titans and you can’t reserve a spot in the postseason for the Jags just yet.
Houston has been terrific on offense since DeShaun Watson has taken over at starting QB, but they are losing defensive players weekly. This is a completely different Texans’ beast from the Brock Osweiler days of 2016.
The Titans may be the most complete team in the South, but only when Marcus Mariota is in the lineup. And, the Colts are hanging on for dear life until Andrew Luck plays. Their schedule gets more difficult, though.
Realistically, just one team from the South figures to make the playoffs.
Out west, after the Raiders crushed the Jets to go to 2-0, they had the look of the power many of us predicted we would see in Oakland. But, injuries, an underachieving running game and dreadful pass defense has resulted in a three-game losing streak. Like Tennessee and Indianapolis, Oakland needs their starting QB to be a threat to make the playoffs.
Denver seems to be in good shape to be one of the six playoff teams. They have so much talent on defense. Von Miller is a legend. Their cornerback play is outstanding. In fact, I think Chris Harris is the best cover man in the NFL today.
Their concern is on offense. Trevor Siemian was great against Dallas, terrible at Buffalo and average against Oakland. That inconsistency at their most important position could cost them down the stretch as they have tough games vs. Philly, Washington, New England, Oakland and KC.
The Chargers are a long shot. Their routine of blowing games late continues under the new coaching staff. They could have won in Denver, should have beat the Eagles, and would have topped Miami but missed a late kick. There is no question this team is better than their 1-4 record, but they simply do not know how to win. 8-8 is the best they can hope for.
Who will win the AFC North? We have three clubs that have looked excellent certain weeks. Baltimore was awesome on defense when they shut out Cincinnati. But, the Bengals have been much better on offense since they replaced their OC. Pittsburgh stymied the Ravens in Baltimore, but have lost to the Bears and Jaguars.
I still think Pittsburgh is going to the last team standing in the North and here’s why: Their defense is not the problem so far. If the defense maintains what they are doing right now, and the offense picks up where it left off from last season, they will be fine. With talent like Roethlisberger, Leveon Bell and Antonio Brown, it is hard to envision that they will struggle on offense for much longer.
Contrariwise, the Ravens played their best game on offense at Oakland last week. But, it appears that was more because Oakland was so poor covering the deep pass. Teams typically can prevent multiple deep passing plays over the course of a game. The Ravens do not have stud running backs either. In the long run, Baltimore despite their good defense, will succumb to the Steelers.
However, they might be there for a wild card spot. Their wins at Cincinnati and Oakland are solid in terms of tiebreaker scenarios. And the Bengals did themselves no favors by starting 0-3. They have won two straight, but will their success last? Again, it is not likely. Cincinnati is another team destined for 8-8 at best.
Earlier this week, I analyzed the East thoroughly and believe New England will eventually survive with a 10-6 or 11-5 record. I think Miami is a 6-10 team at best unless they figure out what in the world to do on offense. The Bills and Jets have a shot at getting the last wild card spot if they can avoid injury.
So, as of October 12th (my parents’ 49th wedding anniversary!!!), this is what I foresee the playoff picture will look like when the season ends.
1) Kansas City
3) New England
6) No Idea
I’m just being honest! Enjoy the bye week, Bills’ fans!
Brandon Fazzolari (aka Dr. Super Bowl) writes about the Buffalo Bills for Pro Football Spot. @spot_bills