As we head into the month of July, training camp is right around the corner. Even though this is somewhat of a dead month when it comes to NFL news, there is still time to speculate. Here is my first edition of my offseason AFC playoff predictions.
1. Denver Broncos
Unlike in the NFC, where I have several changes amongst the six playoff teams, for the AFC, it looks as if parity is not going to be the AFC’s strong suit. The rich got richer in the offseason in the AFC, and it starts with the Broncos. Denver lost Eric Decker, but they added Emmanuel Sanders, to an already stacked receiving core. They will have a much more seasoned Montee Ball at tailback, as well as a trio of new starters on defense including DeMarcus Ware, TJ Ward, and Aquib Talib. While it’s possible the Patriots edge them out of the first seed, the Broncos will still not be playing in the wildcard round.
2. New England Patriots
It seems like one of, if not the only challenger to the Broncos this season in the AFC will be the Patriots. It was this way a season ago, and once again it looks as if there will be no team with any shot of keeping these two teams from facing off against one another in the AFC Title game. The NFL Odds at Bovada currently have the Broncos at +225 to win the conference and the Patriots at +300, making these two valuable picks on your betting card. The next closest team is the Colts at +800. That shows you just how high the gap is. With the Pats’ remade defense and still very potent offense, I expect them to be at least and 11 or 12 win team this season.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
One of my small surprises in the top three is the Steelers, who look healthy and dangerous again heading into 2014. Ben Roethlisberger looks like he is in line for a big season, and now that they have a running game with Le’Veon Bell, the Steelers’ offense is going to have some spark. They lost Emmanuel Sanders to the Broncos in free agency, but they have the hyped second-year receiver, Markus Wheaton to fill his shoes. With the defense looking as good as it did a few off seasons ago, I would not count out the Steelers as potentially the third best team in the AFC this season.
4. Indianapolis Colts
The Colts are currently the third highest priced team in the NFL Future Odds to win the AFC this season, and even though I do expect them to be better than a season ago, the Colts still may not have the defense to advance past one of the big boys in the conference. Indy’s offense is still going to be very potent, and they might actually open things up a little more with very little run game to speak of. However if their secondary is solid along with their running game, they could be in line to be a dark horse. The rehab of Reggie Wayne, along with the health and production of Trent Richardson and newly acquired Hakeem Nicks will be big factors in Indy’s win total this season.
5. Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore being in the playoffs means I don’t have much to say about the Bengals this offseason, and even though Cincinnati will still be solid this season, I see both the Ravens and Steelers making comebacks in 2014. If the Ravens fixed their offensive line problems this summer, they could once again be in contention. Ray Rice’s off the field problems are a concern for this team, but even though he looks to be more like a bad signing for Baltimore, I think he and the rest of the offense can rebound. The defense in Baltimore will still be very good, and 9-7 might be good enough to get into the playoffs in the AFC.
6. New York Jets
This may be wishful thinking, but even though the offense in New York may not be as good as others in the conference, the Jets’ defense might be one of the better units in all of the AFC. Their front seven is going to cause a lot of havoc in that division this season, and if Geno Smith can make the jump to being consistent on a week-to-week basis, the Jets have a chance to get into the wildcard this season. A record of 9-7 or even 8-8 might be enough to get into the 6th seed in the AFC, and with their defense, the Jets are going to be in contention for a playoff spot.