It’s late March and the Colts have a new starting quarterback in Matt Ryan. I think it’s a solid move that not only gave them at least a couple of seasons of stability at the most important position in sports, but it also didn’t cost anything more than a single third-round pick for it to happen. What was starting to look like a disastrous off-season seems to have been salvaged as Ryan keeps the Colts firmly in the discussion in a very loaded AFC playoff picture. There are still PLENTY of holes that Chris Ballard and the rest of the Colts front office need to address but I thought it would be a good idea to see how the addition of Matt Ryan affects the Colts in the AFC picture. Let me reiterate again, it is only late March. There is still plenty of time in free agency, the trade market, the NFL Draft, etc. that can happen from now until training camps open across the country. So when you’re looking at this list I’ve assembled be mindful, IT’S MARCH!
Without further ado, I’ve assembled a list of all 16 AFC teams from who I think is the worst to who I think is the best. Let’s start with the worst, which should come as no surprise:
16. Houston Texans
I mean, this is a no-brainer, right? The Texans not only were a disaster last season but they fired their head coach, traded Deshaun Watson and have no true stars on their team outside of wide receiver Brandin Cooks. As of this writing, their starting quarterback is Davis Mills, their starting running back is Rex Burkhead and their starting tight end is Brevin Jordan. The Watson trade will help them re-tool their roster but I can’t see anyway they are remotely competitive in 2022.
15. New York Jets
In my life it feels like the Jets have been in the bottom of the AFC more often than than not. Not just because the majority of that time was because they shared a division with the dynasty Patriots but because they are just a horribly run franchise from top to bottom. The thing keeping them ahead of the Texans is they at least have some semblance of a roster with Zach Wilson entering his second season and some solid additions so far in the signings of C.J. Uzomah, Laken Tomlinson and D.J. Reed. I still expect to be near the bottom of the AFC once again but at least they’re attempting to improve.
14. Jacksonville Jaguars
What a complete disaster the 2021 Jaguars were. The Urban Meyer debacle seems to get worse and worse even months after he was fired. Seriously, if you haven’t read the latest on Urban’s time with the Jaguars then stop reading this for a few minutes, read that, then come back to this. Are you back? Crazy, right? Anyway, the Jaguars are hoping to find some sort of good vibes in 2022. They want to see Trevor Lawrence rebound from a less than impressive rookie campaign and they are trying like hell to get their franchise point in the right direction. They’ve definitely thrown plenty of money at trying to solve their many issues. As of this writing they’ve spent $259.5 million on seven players since free agency opened. The crazy money spending signed wide receivers Christian Kirk and Zay Jones, 0ffensive lineman Brandon Schreff, tight end Evan Engram to name a few. Can they finally solve their issues? Time will tell but as of now, I’m going off of history to say they’ll still be near the bottom of the conference.
13. Pittsburgh Steelers
The seems to be a transition year for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The end of the Ben Roethlisberger Era is official. It probably came a year or two too late given his drop off in play. Despite knowing the end was near, Pittsburgh, usually a franchise always thinking ahead, seemingly made no preparation for his inevitable retirement. They signed Mitch Trubisky in free agency, lost JuJu Smith- Schuster to the Chiefs, started overhauling their offensive line with the additions of James Daniels and Chukwuma Okorafor and bolstering their already solid defense with linebacker Myles Jack. Trubisky looks to be the Day 1 starter, but again it’s March. If anyone can get the most out of the 2017 No. 2 overall pick, it’s Mike Tomlin and the Steelers. Najee Harris, Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool are all solid weapons. Add former Bears teammate Anthony Miller to the mix and Trubisky will have plenty of options in the offense and few excuses if he fails. The defense, led by T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Cameron Heyward and now Jack, are ready made to be a top 10 unit in the league. It’ll be up to the offense to keep the Steelers in the hunt in an overhauled AFC North.
12. New England Patriots
The curious case of the New England Patriots. I don’t love anything about them. Yet, they surprised with a 10-7 record last season and Bill Belichick is still at the helm. Can Mac Jones build off of last season’s rookie campaign? His skill position group is definitely not the strongest but it’s reliable when healthy. Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholar, Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith and Damien Harris offer plenty of upside. The defense lost J.C. Jackson and replaced him with Terrence Mitchell. That’s about the extent of their free agency additions. The Patriots are the hardest team to rank in this loaded AFC because I want to rank them lower but they always seem to just be in the mix. It’s a testament to Belichick’s longevity and ability to evolve. I’m still not sold they’ll be this high by the time we reach training camp but for the time being they are going off of reputation.
11. Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens are coming off of a disappointing 8-9 season. Lamar Jackson was injured, yet they were still able able to put together a top-10 offense in the league. Unfortunately for the Ravens, the AFC has vastly improved around them with very minimal improvements on Baltimore’s end to this point. A healthy Jackson will help things but will Baltimore’s defense be able to improve from being ranked in the bottom half of the league last season? I’m not sold at the moment. It’ll be interesting to see how Baltimore attacks the rest of the off-season because at the moment I have a hard time imagining them contending for much.
10. Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins, much like their northwest Florida neighbors, the Jaguars, were also a mess last season. The controversial firing of head coach Brian Flores followed by allegations from Flores that owner Stephen Ross offered him $100,000 for every game they lost is still being investigated by the league. New head coach Mike McDaniel has his work cut out for him to see if Tua Tagovailoa is the real deal at QB, but if he isn’t they have Teddy Bridgewater waiting in the wings. The Dolphins pulled off the blockbuster trade for wide receiver Tyreek Hill and now pair him with Jaylen Waddle, forming one of the best 1-2 wide receiver combos in the entire league. Add to that DeVante Parker, tight end Mike Gesicki, newly signed left tackle Terron Armstead and the overhauled running back room with Chase Edmonds and Raheem Mostert and the Dolphins are clearly giving Tua as much help as they possibly can. They have the pieces but the big questions around Tua put them in the lower tier of the loaded AFC at the moment. If Tua flourishes in Year Three, the Dolphins could be one of the surprise teams in the league. I think he makes those strides.
9. Las Vegas Raiders
The outstanding trade for wide receiver Davante Adams was one of the biggest shockers of the off-season to this point. After the Green Bay Packers re-signed Aaron Rodgers it seemed like almost a formality that they would next sign Adams to a long-term extension but to the shock of the NFL universe he was willing to take less money to be paired with his former college quarterback Derek Carr in Las Vegas. Considering the insane off-season the AFC West has had as a whole, this move was almost required in order for the Raiders to stay relevant. Pairing Adams with Darren Waller, Hunter Renfroe and DeMarcus Robinson gives Carr plenty of options to throw to in addition to running backs Josh Jacobs and Kenyan Drake. Their defense was in the middle of the pack last season but they traded defensive end Yannick Ngakoue to the Colts straight up for Rock Ya-Sin. The loss of Ngakoue could be huge depending on how much Chandler Jones still has left in the tank. If their defense takes a step back then it might not matter how much magic Carr and Adams can find together. On top of that, they are in the toughest division in the league and despite the addition of Adams, I still think they’ll be near the bottom of the AFC West, which tells you how insane the AFC is going to be in 2022.
8. Indianapolis Colts
Hey, there they are! The addition of Matt Ryan did wonders for the Colts when it comes to fan optimism. What looked like a team on the verge of being in no man’s land has all of a sudden kept them in the conversation of AFC contenders. Let’s not get anything twisted though, they have a TON of holes to fill on their roster. Wide receiver(s), tight end, left tackle, offensive line depth, secondary help. It will almost be impossible for GM Chris Ballard to fill all of these issues in one off-season. You may be asking how the hell the Colts are even ranked eighth with so many holes but my reasoning goes back to the division they play in. Despite the overhauled AFC as a whole, the AFC South remains relatively unchanged. It’s down to the the Colts and Titans for the division in my opinion. The Jaguars are attempting to throw money at all of their issues while the Texans are in complete rebuild mode. It’s a two horse race and while I think the Titans are the division favorites for now, the Colts could easily be in the hunt for a Wild Card spot depending on how Ballard addresses the needs this team has. Matt Ryan needs weapons if the offense is going to try and not rely on Jonathan Taylor nearly as much. Who is protecting his blind side? Can the defense improve with Yannick Ngakoue’s pass rush? A ton of questions, but the division they play in is the worst in football, which is why they will be in the thick of it when it comes to the playoffs.
7. Denver Broncos
The Broncos are another team that has had a hell of an off-season. The trade for quarterback Russell Wilson instantly gave them a boost in national attention as well as expectations. Wilson will be dropping back and looking for the likes of Jerry Jeudy, Cortland Sutton and Tim Patrick and handing the ball off to Javonte Williams (and maybe Melvin Gordon, who remains a free agent as of this writing). After trading Von Miller to the Rams last season, the Broncos boosted their defense with the addition of Randy Gregory to go along with Bradley Chubb and Patrick Surtan II. I still think they could add some weapons for Wilson at tight end and depth at wide receiver and offensive line. I also think the addition of Gregory to pair with Chubb will keep Denver a top-10 defense. Once again, the AFC West is loaded and despite the addition of Wilson it still may have the Broncos fighting for a Wild Card spot rather than the division.
6. Tennessee Titans
In my opinion, the Titans pulled off one of the most stunning deals of the off-season when they acquired wide receiver Robert Woods from the Los Angeles Rams for merely a 2023 sixth-round pick. I was absolutely floored that was all it took to get Woods. Yes, he’s coming off of an ACL injury, but to land a wide receiver of his caliber for a future late round pick still blows my mind. When he’s healthy, Woods will line up with A.J. Brown while quarterback Ryan Tannehill will also be looking downfield for tight end Austin Hooper and of course, the always explosive Derrick Henry. They lost right guard Roger Saffold in free agency but remain one of the best overall units in the NFL and despite being without Henry for a huge chunk of 2021, still managed to have the top-seed in the AFC last season. Are the Titans the caliber of some of the other teams in the AFC? No, but they do so many things well that it keeps them in the mix in a lot of games. Mike Vrabel’s team figures to be once again in the thick of the playoffs and with the AFC South being a two-team race, even if they struggle, they’ll have plenty of time to figure it out.
5. Cleveland Browns
This will likely be the most controversial ranking on the list but seeing as it’s late March, I am only going off of what we know right now when it comes to the legal issues involving quarterback Deshaun Watson, which isn’t much. While I expect there to be a suspension handed down before the season kicks off I cannot factor it in due to not knowing the potential length or if there will even be one. From a pure football perspective, the Browns have upgraded significantly in the off-season. What looked like a team on the verge of a re-tooling after releasing both Odell Beckham Jr and Jarvis Landry now looks really promising. Much like the Robert Woods trade that the Titans pulled off, the Browns trading for Amari Cooper and the low price tag that came with it (a 2022 fifth-round pick and swapping sixth-round picks with the Cowboys), was another stunner. The 27-year old Cooper will be paired with Donovan Peoples-Jones and speedster Jakeem Grant to go with running back Nick Chubb and tight end David Njoku. The uncertainty surrounding Watson’s status had the Browns add former Colts QB Jacoby Brissett and when they eventually deal Baker Mayfield they’ll have even more flexibility. Their defense will remain a force as long as Myles Garrett is healthy and if Watson is able to play the majority of the season then the Browns should have relatively high expectations with the on-field product.
4. Los Angeles Chargers
I’ve absolutely loved the Chargers off-season. From the trade that landed them pass rusher Khalil Mack, extending wide receiver Mike Williams, signing cornerback J.C. Jackson and tight end Gerald Everett, it’s all be powder blue skies and sunshine for LA’s AFC team. Justin Herbert should continue his rise as one of the best young quarterbacks in the league. The return of Williams as well as Keenan Allen and versatile running back Austin Ekeler offer not only production but familiarity for Herbert. Pairing Mack with the already dominant Joey Bosa as well as a secondary that boasts Derwin James, Asante Samuel Jr. and now J.C. Jackson makes it one of the most elite secondary units in the league. The Chargers were in the bottom half of the league when it came to total defense last season and I would be stunned if they aren’t a top-10 unit this year. If the defense can make that leap while Herbert and the offense continue to produce then the Chargers are legit contenders in the AFC and will give the Chiefs a run for their money in the battle for a grueling AFC West.
3. Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals are out to prove their run to the Super Bowl was no fluke and they are proving they plan on being contenders with the impressive off-season they’ve put together to this point. The key concerns last season through the Super Bowl was protecting Joe Burrow. Fear not, young man because the Bengals have made protecting their franchise QB the top priority. The signing of highly-coveted tackle La’el Collins to go with the addition of center Ted Karras and guard Alex Cappa. They lost tight end C.J. Uzomah in free agency but replaced him with Hayden Hurst. Defensively, they were middle of the pack last season. Upgrades are needed but even a middle of the pack unit to go along with the high-powered offense should keep them in the heart of the discussion when it comes to AFC contenders.
2. Kansas City Chiefs
They were my number one on this list before they traded Tyreek Hill to the Dolphins. While I like JuJu Smith-Schuster, Hill possessed breakaway speed and route running that every team dreams of in a wide receiver. Now, Patrick Mahomes will have to rely more heavily on tight end Travis Kelce, Schuster and Clyde Edwards-Helaire. They will still be really good offensively, but will they be putting the fear of God in opposing defenses without Hill now? Time will tell. Their defense was near the bottom of the league last season and while I like the signing of safety Justin Reid, I don’t think it will replace the production that Tyrann Mathieu had in the secondary. Defense is definitely the Chiefs’ biggest Achilles heel, but since Mahomes arrived on the scene they’ve been able to largely get by without it due to the explosive nature of the offense. Can they keep rolling the dice defensively or will the loss of Hill have far-reaching impact? Those are questions that will be answered down the line. For now, they get the benefit of the doubt but the gap they had in the AFC West is closing drastically.
1. Buffalo Bills
They were my Super Bowl pick last year and while they fell short of that prediction the Bills seem determined as hell to not let it happen again. The top defense in the league last season has only gotten better with the additions of Von Miller, DaQuan Jones and Shaq Lawson. Josh Allen will still be dropping back to Stefon Diggs but now also has Jamison Crowder and O.J. Howard as additional options down the field. They also shored up the offensive line with guard Roger Saffold. The Bills are coming off an 11-6 season and while their 2022 opponents are pretty formidable, they are the beneficiaries of playing in the AFC East. As stacked as the AFC West is, I think those four teams could cannibalize each other by the time the playoffs arrive. As of right now in late-March, the Buffalo Bills are my team to beat in an absolutely stacked AFC.
There is so much that can and will change from now until the kickoff of the NFL season but this is how I see it right now. What do you think? Let me know and the goal is to update this list after we get through the NFL Draft and get near training camp.
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