AFC Power Rankings Post-Free Agency
16. Houston Texans
The Houston Texans have managed to hit rock bottom after making the playoffs just two years ago. Houston’s front office does not have great history in free agency to say the least. In one of the worst trades the NFL has ever experienced, the Texans sent WR Deandre Hopkins to the Cardinals for some paper towels, toilet paper, and a washed-up David Johnson. Houston has been the laughingstock of the league ever since.
In an effort to “clear the decks” and hit the reset button, Houston shipped QB Deshaun Watson to Cleveland for three first-round picks and plans to stick with QB Davis Mills for the foreseeable future. Any reasonable NFL fan knows the Texans will go nowhere with Mills at QB.
15. New York Jets
Before I completely bash the sorry Jets franchise, it is important to note that they did have several key additions in free agency this offseason. New York added TE C.J. Uzomah (Bengals), G Laken Tomlinson (49ers), CB D.J. Reed (Seahawks), and S Jordan Whitehead (Buccaneers).
Unfortunately for the Jets, you cannot win in the NFL without a QB and not only do they lack a QB but have many other holes to fill on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. Although WR Elijah Moore has shown potential, New York lacks a true #1 receiver to line up on the other side of Moore. Their secondary is also one of the worst in the NFL even after their free agency moves. Ultimately, New York will find themselves with a top 5 pick once again after the 2022 NFL season.
14. Jacksonville Jaguars
After going all-in on offense in free agency to support QB Trevor Lawrence, the Jaguars look more promising than last season. Jacksonville overpaid for WR Christian Kirk (Cardinals) this off-season and signed WR Zay Jones (Raiders) to complete a mediocre receiving core ahead of the season.
Honestly, Trevor Lawrence did not show much promise last year and I do not see him having any significant impact this upcoming season. He may need a better roster around him which is a reasonable complaint, but as of now the Jaguars may be frustrated with many positions aside from quarterback.
13. Pittsburgh Steelers
Mitchell Trubisky. That is all you need to know. Reigning DPOY T.J. Watt will continue to be the face of this downward spiraling franchise that will forever be defense-oriented.
Pittsburgh’s offensive line is still terrible, so running back sensation Najee Harris will likely struggle in terms of yards per game for the years to come. Even worse, the Steelers did not re-sign WR Juju Smith-Schuster and QB Trubisky will be much worse than Big Ben, who played his farewell season with a noodle for an arm. The future is grim for the terrible towels.
12. New England Patriots
Despite breaking the bank in last year’s free agency for weapons like TE Hunter Henry, TE Jonnu Smith, WR Kendrick Bourne, and WR Nelson Agholor, Bill Belichick and the Pats have been very quiet this year. After making the playoffs last year with an average roster, it was expected they would have been more active this offseason. Ultimately, to expect anything better than last year’s result of an embarrassing first-round exit would be delusional to say the least.
11. Baltimore Ravens
Coming off of a season-ending injury, QB Lamar Jackson will be more motivated than ever to prove himself in the postseason. Unfortunately for Lamar, his front office did not do him any favors this offseason on the offensive side of the ball. Baltimore added S Marcus Williams (Saints) on the defensive side, but they really needed a WR to complement Hollywood Brown. The Ravens have potential to make a deep run in the playoffs with their dominant run game, but if their roster does not change come playoffs, they will have a tough time making it out of the high-powered AFC.
10. Cincinnati Bengals
The reigning AFC Champions have done a great job addressing their most glaring need from last season: the offensive line. Cincinnati signed OT La’el Collins (Cowboys), G Alex Cappa (Buccaneers), and C Ted Karras (Patriots) in free agency but lost TE C.J. Uzomah to the Jets.
This is more of a bold prediction than an analytical one, but I do not think the Bengals have the defense to stick with offenses like the Raiders, Chargers, and Bills to make it back to the Super Bowl. Additionally, I believe Cincinnati’s Cinderella story last season was extremely overrated. The Bengals barely squeaked by every round with very below average QB play from Joe Burrow. Cincinnati consistently scored around 20 points and relied on a very average defense to get by, which ultimately cost them in the Super Bowl. I do not see them getting far next season if the offense does not step up.
9. Kansas City Chiefs
Believe it or not, QB Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs are the worst team in the AFC West ahead of the 2022 NFL season despite adding WR Juju Smith-Schuster. That is not necessarily a bad thing considering the AFC West is by far the best division in football, but it should be surprising considering Kansas City won Super Bowl LIV just over two years ago.
In a blockbuster deal during the wildest free agency in NFL history, the Chiefs sent WR Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins I exchange for five draft picks. Hill wanted to be the highest paid WR in the NFL, so for whatever reason Kansas City complied and shipped the star wideout to South Beach for picks that will be nowhere near Hill’s skill level.
With Patrick Mahomes, anything can happen and the Chiefs could do the unexpected and make a run for it all. Unfortunately, for the fans of the “State of Kansas” (insert sarcastic Donald Trump impersonation), the Chiefs’ Super Bowl odds are very slim for the first time in a long time.
8. Denver Broncos
Adding Super Bowl champion QB Russel Wilson was all Denver needed to become a contender in the AFC. The Broncos have some potential at wideout with young stars Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, and Tim Patrick but do not have a true #1 WR yet.
Wilson will have to transition from throwing to Pro Bowlers like Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf to the young, unproven guys listed above. Jeudy in particular has shown spikes of excellence, so Denver expects Wilson will be the one to get as much out of Jeudy as possible.
Denver’s defense remains one of the best in league with CB Patrick Surtain II, S Justin Simmons, DE Bradley Chubb, and DE Randy Gregory (Dallas). The Broncos will likely be a pass-first team next season considering their run game is borderline non-existent.
Denver will go as far as Russel Wilson can take them.
7. Tennessee Titans
The Titans began free agency through a process I like to call “addition by subtraction” by releasing WR Julio Jones. Julio was banged up all of last season so it is tough to see him leave Nashville so soon, but Tennessee’s addition of WR Robert Woods (Rams) definitely makes them better than they were last year with an inconsistent Julio.
The Titans also signed TE Austin Hooper (Browns), but the narrative for the Titans will always be RB Derrick Henry. As long as the King is healthy, the Titans will be in prime position for a Super Bowl run. In my opinion, I do not think they can win in the postseason with QB Ryan Tannehill, so I have them ranked #7 in the AFC currently.
6. Indianapolis Colts
Last season, the Colts were a quarterback away from being Super Bowl contenders. With easily the best offensive line and running game in the NFL, QB Carson Wentz had all he could have ever asked for before losing to the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 18 as Indianapolis missed the playoffs in an embarrassing fashion.
With the addition of QB Matt Ryan, the Colts are in prime position to make a run this year. LB Darius Leonard and DT Deforest Buckner head a respectable defense full of playmakers. Assuming RB Jonathan Taylor picks up right where he left off, the Colts could win the AFC South and even some playoff games with Ryan’s veteran leadership.
5. Miami Dolphins
Ahead of their most recent move, the Dolphins had not done much to compete with Buffalo in the AFC East, but the addition of Tyreek Hill puts them in serious contention to win it all.
Miami’s secondary is one of the most credible in the league with CB Xavien Howard and CB Byron Jones, their defensive line has only improved these past several years, and with their recent additions of RB Raheem Mostert (49ers) and RB Chase Edmonds (Cardinals), Miami will have a solid dual threat backfield next season.
Tua Tagovailoa now has the fastest WR duo in the NFL with Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill, a top five TE with Mike Gesicki, and a stellar defense that bailed him out on numerous occasions last season. Tagovailoa has been injury prone his entire career, including at the collegiate level where he underwent six surgeries during his time at the University of Alabama. If he stays healthy and takes care of the football like he did at Alabama, the Dolphins could be a serious threat in the AFC, but Tua’s inability to throw the deep ball may cause some concern for the Dolphins come playoff time.
4. Cleveland Browns
If QB Deshaun Watson is eligible to play this season, the Cleveland Browns could very well win it all. If he is not, the Browns will miss the playoffs.
I rank Cleveland at #4 in the AFC right now under the assumption that Watson will play this year. With the addition of WR Amari Cooper, Watson finally has a #1 WR to throw to, something he has not had since Bill O’Brien traded Deandre Hopkins to Arizona several years ago.
Furthermore, the Browns have arguably the best backfield duo in the league with RB Nick Chubb and RB Kareem Hunt to pair with a top three offensive line. If things play out as they should, the future is bright in Cleveland.
3.. Buffalo Bills
Oh Buffalo. Please quit crying, just let it go. You were not screwed by the rules or cheated in any way. You lost because you let the opposing team get into field goal range in 13 seconds on a drive that began on their own 25-yard line. If you are still upset, feel free to read my article on the NFL’s overtime rules and why they do not need any change, it won’t make you feel any better but you might as well give it a read.
Anyhow, as much as I despise the pertinacious behavior of the ignorant and more so intolerable Bills’ fans, Buffalo has a great shot to win it all this year. I have always felt that Buffalo’s issue on the defensive side of the ball has been their front seven, so the recent addition of LB Von Miller definitely takes that defensive line to another level. The Bills’ secondary should be fine where it is at with Pro Bowlers like CB Tre'Davious White and S Micah Hyde who are game changers.
QB Josh Allen will only improve as he gains more experience in this league and his connection with WR Stefon Diggs is second to only the connection from 4 to 17 in Las Vegas. Buffalo did release WR Cole Beasley this offseason and to this point have not added a running back to complement Devin Singletary nor a replacement for Beasley in the slot. Buffalo will be in contention to win it all but will need to make at least one more move if they expect to go the distance.
2. Las Angeles Chargers
After missing the playoffs last year, the Chargers went all-in during free agency this offseason. Las Angeles signed CB J.C. Jackson (Patriots) and traded for LB Khalil Mack (Bears) to solidify one of the fiercest defenses in the NFL. The Bolts’ star-studded defense now contains DE Joey Bosa, S Derwin James Jr, LB Khalil Mack, LB Kenneth Murray, CB Asante Samuel Jr, and CB J.C. Jackson.
Las Angeles’ offense is comparable to that overwhelming defense. QB Justin Herbert will be on a mission next season to win it all after going out in cataclysmic fashion to the Raiders last season. He will be throwing to Pro Bowl caliber wideouts Keenan Allen and Mike Williams for the third year in a row and RB Austin Ekeler will return for yet another explosive year out of the backfield as one of the league’s top dual threat backs. 2022 is Super Bowl or bust for the Chargers.
1. Las Vegas Raiders
Finally, Raider Nation has a Super Bowl caliber team once again. QB Derek Carr will be reunited with his college teammate WR Davante Adams (Packers) where they played together at Fresno State University. Adams was an unstoppable force for QB Aaron Rodgers during the first eight seasons he played in Green Bay, where he racked up over 8,000 yards on 669 catches for 73 touchdowns.
In my unerring opinion, Adams is the best WR in football and when paired with WR Hunter Renfroe and TE Darren Waller, the Raiders’ offense will be unstoppable. Last season, opposing teams would double-team both Renfroe and Waller on third down and sometimes throughout the entirety of the game. Now with Adams, both targets will likely see single coverage all year long and star RB Josh Jacobs will have an opportunity to thrive just as RB Aaron Jones (Packers) did these past several years.
The Raiders also signed Pro Bowl DE Chandler Jones to complement Pro Bowl DE Maxx Crosby on what is now a top two defensive line in all of football. However, the defensive side of the ball, specifically the secondary, concerns me. The Raiders have not had a lockdown cornerback since Charles Woodson and I do not think they even have an average cornerback currently. S Jonathan Abram, who plays with an incandescent motor, has some serious potential to be a force in this league but for the Raiders to win it all this year, they need to make at least one more move in regard to their secondary.