With the way-too-early NFC Playoffs predictions out, we’ll now look to see who could come out on top as the champion team of the AFC.
1 Seed- New England Patriots- Record: 13-3
It’s almost comical how much winning one franchise can do. The last time the Patriots weren’t one of the teams playing in the AFC championship game, “Baby” by Justin Bieber had just been released, Johnny Manziel was in his senior year of high-school, and the 2-14 Carolina Panthers were about to select one Cameron Newton of Auburn to be their quarterback of the future. As long as Brady and Belichick are working together, the Patriots aren’t going to stop dominating the already weak AFC East.
2 Seed- Pittsburgh Steelers- Record: 12-4
Big Ben and the Steelers have continued to fall short since their last Super Bowl win in 2009, but again look to have one of the best teams in the AFC. Pittsburgh will be a good team, regardless of the amount of games that LeVeon Bell plays. The Steelers main worry, this year, will be trying to cope with the loss of Ryan Shazier for a full 16 game season. If the defense can hold up, Roethlisberger, Brown, and Smith- Schuster should easy lead the team to yet another AFC North title.
3 Seed- Denver Broncos- Record: 10-6
After an embarrassing 5-11 record in 2017, the Denver Broncos seem to have finally solved their quarterback problem. Case Keenum has been the talk of training camp around the league, as he has impressed many with his play so far. With the Chiefs handing the keys to their franchise over to 2nd year QB Patrick Mahomes, who only has one career NFL start, the Raiders’ defense still being one of the worst in the league, and the Chargers already being hit with the most Charger-like injuries to key players, the Broncos seem to have the best shot of all the unknowns to finish atop the ever- competitive AFC West.
4 Seed- Tennessee Titans- Record: 10-6
The AFC South, which was once highly regarded as the worst division in all of football, has had a complete turnaround, as all four teams have potential to finish above .500. The Colts still have a ways to go, however, as their defense is still the team’s weakness, and their offense isn’t much outside of Andrew Luck. The Titans have put together a much improved defense to match their offense, who will be led by Marcus Mariota, looking for the breakout season that everyone has been anticipating. With arguably the most complete team, the Titans will look to beat out the Jaguars and Texans for the first place spot in the AFC South.
5 Seed- Los Angeles Chargers- Record: 10-6
The Los Angeles Chargers and the word “if” seem to come up a lot together when talking about their playoff hopes. If the Chargers stay healthy, they could easily win the AFC West with 11+ wins. However, the Chargers are already without their starting tight-end and number two corner, Hunter Henry and Jason Verrett, to go along with some other minor injuries already acquired during training camp. As long as the Chargers can keep their core pieces of their team healthy (Rivers, Hayward, Bosa, Ingram, and Allen) they will still be a very good team, and continue to be in the hunt for their first playoff spot in 5 years.
6 Seed- Jacksonville Jaguars- Record: 10-6
Another team that could be flip-flopped as a division leader, the Jacksonville Jaguars have arguably the best defense in the NFL. The only thing that could prevent the Jaguars, as a team, to move from good to great: Blake Bortles. It depends on the Bortles that suits up for the Jags in 2018. If they get the impressively embarrassing turnover machine of the past, they could easily fall all the way to third in the division with 9 or less wins. However, if they get the Bortles that showed signs of great quarterback play in the Playoffs, they could just as easily run away with the division and rack up 12 plus wins plus a bye-week in the first round. For now, we’ll settle with a happy medium of 10 wins, and not predict anything too bold for the 2018 season.
Wild Card Round:
Game 1: (6) Jacksonville Jaguars @ (3) Denver Broncos
It’s the battle of the defenses in what should be a low scoring, hard fought game. This game is extremely hard to predict, as we really don’t know what both Case Keenum or Blake Bortles will look like this late in the season. Expect the Broncos top 5 run defense to at least slow down Leonard Fournette, and force Blake Bortles to beat them. However I don’t expect Bortles to fair well with the dangerous secondary of Chris Harris Jr. and company.
Final Score: 24-17 Broncos
Game 2: (5) Los Angeles Chargers @ (4) Tennessee Titans
Considering that this entire thing is based on “ifs”, if Marcus Mariota has a breakout season, and lead the Titans to a division title, odds are, they won’t have too much trouble with the Chargers who will likely be banged up from their Week 17 matchup against the Broncos. The Chargers will put up a good fight, but in the end, look for the Titans to go back to back with wildcard wins in 2017 and 2018.
Final Score: 27-10 Titans
Game 1: (4) Tennessee Titans @ (1) New England Patriots
A rematch of the 2017 divisional game played in Foxborough, this game will, unsurprisingly, have the same outcome. It won’t be as one sided as the last game, as the Titans will give Brady a run for his money up for as long as they can. Eventually, however, Brady and Belichick will wither away at the defense of the Titans, one James White check-down at a time, and go on to their 8th straight conference title game.
Final Score: 34-21 Patriots
Game 2: (3) Denver Broncos @ (2) Pittsburgh Steelers
The last time these two met in the playoffs, Antonio Brown missed the game with a concussion, and the Broncos went on to defeat the Panthers in the Super Bowl. The 2018 rematch game will have a different outcome for Brown and the Steelers, however, as their high powered offense is just enough to beat the tough Denver defense as the game goes down to the wire.
Final Score: 28-24 Steelers
AFC Championship Game:
(2) Pittsburgh Steelers @ (1) New England Patriots
Jesse James revenge game anyone? The Patriots do play the Steelers in Week 15, but that game won’t have near the pressure that is brought in a game to play in the Super Bowl. In what should be the highest scoring game of the AFC’s playoffs, expect Big Ben to power his team in yet another down to the wire game, throwing for over 400 yards and 3 or 4 touchdowns. Finally, the Steelers get back to the Super Bowl to try and take down Drew Brees and the Saints (which you can read about in our NFC Playoff Article).
Final Score: 42-38 Steelers
Be on the lookout for our Super Bowl prediction article, where we’ll discuss who we think will prevail in the most coveted sporting event in America.