The conclusion of the draft means the conclusion of the NFL offseason, at least the important part.
There will be a few more free agent additions and the occasional injury (Ooof… Ja’Wuan James), but we know what the paper version of each NFL team will be week 1.
How does the AFC stack up now? Let’s examine…
Kansas City Chiefs
KC won a playoff game with a backup quarterback and thumped the Bills in the AFC title game last year. They were already pretty ok. Over the last two months, the Chiefs upgraded their A-1 weakness–offensive line–in a big way. Orlando Brown and Joe Thuney were arguably the best veteran tackle and guard available this offseason. Both are now Chiefs. Andy Reid even grabbed a dependable vet center in Austin Blythe (37 starts last three years with the Rams). If he doesn’t work out, the Chiefs drafted one of the top centers available last weekend in Creed Humphrey. Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce with plenty of time to operate? Good luck AFC.
The Bills are running it back in 2021, but it seems that standing pat only widened the gap between Buffalo and Kansas City. The offense will hit the ground blazing in the fall, so this is still a safe 11-13 win team. Where could the ground be made up on the Chiefs? Buffalo has four pass rushers that were drafted round 1 or 2 the last three years (Ed Oliver, A.J. Epenesa, Greg Rousseau, Carlos Basham). If any two hit in a big way for 2021, Buffalo will have a nasty D-line. Don’t overlook Josh Allen. It doesn’t seem like there’s much more ceiling for him to hit after a near MVP season, but he’s taken big jumps during each of his first two offseasons. Bet against another one at your own risk.
L.A. Chargers, Cleveland Browns
With DeShaun Watson in limbo, the Chargers might have the number three QB in the conference and still room to grow. They have an outstanding pass rusher (Joey Bosa) and were the only team that could challenge KC for the league’s most impressive offensive line rebuild this offseason. There are plenty of weapons and the top of their draft was superb. If Brandon Stokely can coach, this could be the league’s best second place team by a lot.
Cleveland may have the least dynamic quarterback at the top of this list, but they have near everything else. Nick Chubb/Kareem Hunt are the league’s finest 1-2 running back combo. Myles Garrett gets Jadaveon Clowney as a edge rushing running mate, not that he really needs one. Denzel Ward paces a freshly stocked group of talent on the back end of the defense. There’s no team better equipped to force the NFL’s elite offenses into a 20-17 rock fight.
Frank Reich pushed the Bills right to the end with Philip Rivers on his last legs. The o-line is good. The defense is good. Jonathan Taylor is good. If Indy gets MVP Candidate Carson Wentz, you can probably book them for AFC Championship trip to Kansas City. If Indy gets Last Year Carson Wentz, they might spend the year fighting off the Clemson Jaguars.
Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans
Lamar Jackson is still the league’s most electric QB. John Harbaugh… blah, blah… does things the right way… top organization, etc., etc. Sammy Watkins and Rashod Bateman will be the best receiver duo Jackson has ever had. Perhaps it’s enough to make the Ravens the kind of dangerous passing team that contends late into January. Otherwise, Baltimore again looks like the 10-12 win squad NO ONE WANTS TO FACE in the playoffs until the Ravens get down two touchdowns and roll over quietly.
Derrick Henry and A.J. Brown are the Beastmode RB/WR combo of the NFL. Ryan Tannehill can play and Mike Vrabel can coach, so the Titans are gonna win a lot of regular season games. Tennessee’s deep playoff run looked like a fluke while it was happening and it’s still no less difficult to imagine the Titans beating three of the above teams in three consecutive weeks.
Miami Dolphins, Pittsburgh Steelers
If Tua is real good, then the Dolphins are gonna be a pain for a long time. Unfortunately, Tua showed little indication of ‘real good’ last year. Miami is deep and talented at the skill positions (I love Myles Gaskin). They might have the league’s best group of corners. Brian Flores is a superb coach. They can contend with the Bills as long as Tua doesn’t go iceberg on this Titanic rebuild.
This will probably be the last go-round with Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers. Big Ben can still sling it and the only thing more dependable than the Steelers developing quality receivers is Marvel developing quality movies. Pittsburgh is not to be overlooked, but it might be a long time before they are again feared.
New England Patriots
Cam Newton will probably start the year at QB, but does Mac Jones play? And when? New England had the most Covid opt-outs last season. Are they all coming back? How much of an impact will they have? How much will any returning opt-out have? You could sell me on New England having a ’12’ on either side of their record at season’s end.
Denver Broncos, Las Vegas Raiders
Both these teams have good players. The Raiders probably even have a decent to good quarterback. Neither team is talented enough to remotely compete with the rapidly expanding elite class in the AFC. Neither team is bad enough to trigger the thorough overhaul likely required for Super Bowl contention. There’s a reason why both end up on every Aaron Rodgers trade rumor list.
Hope and Believe
Cincinnati Bengals, Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets
The last three first or second overall draft pick QBs will provide each fan base hope during what’s likely to be a playoff-less 2021. The Bengals are at the top of this group with the only proven QB. The Jags have the QB most likely to succeed. And the Jets have a QB. Zach Wilson is gonna have a bear of a time when the easiest division opponent is the one with a six-time Super Bowl winning head coach that usually eats rookie quarterbacks for lunch.
By the way… kinda fun to think that, if Mac Jones becomes the New England starter, every AFC East divisional possession is first round quarterback vs. highly respected former defensive coordinator. Three have already proven to also be high level head coaches.
Godspeed, David Culley. At least he’ll be able to say he was an NFL head coach one day.