NFL: AFC early season predictions

The AFC has a number of new faces looking to emerge in the upcoming season. With teams like the New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers and Oakland Raiders looking solid from last season, younger teams are aiming to take a step forward and challenge the best in the conference. There are three categories of teams: the teams that should make the playoffs, the teams that should make the postseason but will fall short, and teams that should make a strong push for playoff football.

Teams that should make the playoffs:
As stated in the beginning of this piece, there are three teams in particular that should make the playoffs. Starting with New England, it should come to no surprise the Patriots will be playing football when it matters most. The Patriots are once again the Super Bowl favorites. In fact, the defending champions may have improved this offseason with the addition of young, speedy receiver Brandin Cooks coming from the New Orleans Saints. With Tom Brady now in his 40’s and the rest of the roster primed for another ring, look for the Pats to get back to the big game.

Pittsburgh will most likely be another contending team. The Steelers should be an offensive juggernaut in 2017. With running back Le’Veon Bell rumored to be coming back from a holdout on September 1st , Antonio Brown at wide receiver and dynamic receiver Martavius Bryant coming back from a year-long suspension, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will have plenty to choose from this year.

It was a tough ending to an otherwise impressive season for Oakland in 2016 when they lost their up-and-coming quarterback Derek Carr to a broken hand, ending any hopes in store prematurely. Once again, the offense is the strength of this Raiders squad. Carr has wide receivers Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper returning, giving him two legitimate threats to go down-field. Carr now has the option to hand the ball off to running back Marshawn Lynch, who has returned after a one-year hiatus from the game.

Teams that should make the playoffs, but will fail to do so:
This is simply because the AFC West is stacked this year, but the Kansas City Chiefs are in this category. There are four potential playoff teams playing in the same division, therefore one or two are going to be left out after beating up on one another. The Chiefs’ defense is getting a little older and with the decision to cut wide receiver Jeremy Maclin this offseason, the team lacks a true number-one threat on the outside.

Another team that could face some issues this season comes from Indianapolis. The Colts are no longer confident quarterback Andrew Luck will start the season opener. In fact, they no longer know when exactly he is going to be back. Even with Luck, I expect this team to take a step back this year. The defense is bad and the offensive line is worse, making life a living H-E- double hockey sticks for Mr. Luck and Colts fans alike.

Teams that should make a strong push for the postseason after missing out in 2016:
The Denver Broncos have the same team coming back from last year. They will sport a top-three defense that is tenacious and loves flying all over the field to create havoc. This secondary is stingy and linebacker Von Miller can rush the quarterback as well as anyone in the league. If the offense puts up 20 points, they will have a great chance at a win.

My breakout team candidate, the Tennessee Titans, look poised to create some noise this year in the AFC. Third-year quarterback Marcus Mariota has an elite offensive line, quality running backs with DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry and better wide receivers with the offseason signing of Eric Decker and the addition of the number-five overall pick in the draft, Corey Davis.

As for the AFC Playoffs, the Baltimore Ravens will sneak in as the sixth seed at 9-7, while the Broncos will be the other wild card team with the fifth seed and a 10-6 record. The Raiders will achieve the fourth seed at 11-5, the Titans are slated for the third seed at 11-5, the Steelers at 11-5 will clinch the second seed, and the Patriots will be sitting atop the AFC with a 16-0 record, becoming the second NFL team in history to go undefeated. The Titans win against the Ravens and the Raiders defeat the Broncos, advancing to the second round. The one and four seeds will be victorious, setting up an NFC Championship involving Oakland and New England. This is the year of the Patriots, (again) as New England will advance to their second-straight Super Bowl against the Packers and come out victorious once more.


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