Five Things We’ve Learned About The AFC

Sep 16, 2018; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) passes against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the second quarter at Heinz Field. Kansas City won 42-37. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 16, 2018; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) passes against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the second quarter at Heinz Field. Kansas City won 42-37. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL season is officially in full swings and overreactions are rife among us. However, there are meaningful insights we can take away from the first two weeks of action. Players and teams have exceeded all expectations; players and teams have disappointed. Compared to the NFC, the AFC pales in comparison. There are, though, some AFC teams to truly fear. Let’s dive into five things we’ve learned about the bewildering AFC through two weeks.

1. The Chiefs are the AFC’s team to beat

Forget Tom Brady. Forget the Jaguars’ stalwart defensive unit. The Kansas City Chiefs, led by second-year man Patrick Mahomes, are the team that gives opposing coaches nightmares. Mahomes has had a perfect start to the 2018 season: 10 touchdowns, no picks, 582 yards. The Kansas City offense has been uncontainable; a gunslinging quarterback, a bevy of weapons of mass destruction, and a solid offensive line.

Tyreek Hill might be the most dangerous player in the league; impossible to defend in space with limitless versatility. Sammy Watkins and Travis Kelce add a volatile deep threat and one of the most reliable pass-catching options in the game. Kareem Hunt is just as proficient a pass catcher as he is a runner.

The Chiefs’ defense isn’t anything special but they should be solid enough this season, especially once they get Eric Berry back. The Chiefs play a gauntlet of a schedule over the rest of the season, facing 49ers, Broncos, Jaguars, Patriots, Bengals, Rams, and Chargers again. Keeping up their hot streak will put the league on notice to the new kings of the AFC.

2. The Perplexing AFC North

For most of the recent past, the AFC North shaped up and finished off in the same way. The Steelers dominated the division, the Ravens and Bengals would fight for a playoff spot, and the Browns were laughed at by the entire NFL. Through two weeks, the division has been flipped on its head. The standings sit like this:

Bengals 2-0

Ravens 1-1

Browns 0-1-1

Steelers 0-1-1

The Bengals have looked solid, with a good enough offense and a stingy defense. Baltimore is finally healthy and a team that nobody wants to play. The Browns finally didn’t lose a game in week one and look to boast a fast, fun, and stingy defensive unit. Led by Denzel Ward and Myles Garrett, the Browns defense could be one of the best in the NFL.

The Pittsburgh Steelers appear to be in free fall. Ben Roethlisberger is the same old Big Ben: the model of inconsistency. One week he looks incompetent against the Browns and the next he carves up the Chiefs. His inconsistency and injury concerns do not bode well for the Steelers, especially when playing on the road. The team is marred with drama, from Le’Veon Bell’s holdout to Antonio Brown’s displeasure with the team. To make matters worse, this defense–to put it plainly–stinks. They’re going to get carved up like butter week in and week out.

There looks to be a shift in power in the AFC North, a new hierarchal structure of the long-consistent division. Maybe this is all a fluke and things go back to usual. In reality, I don’t foresee that happening.

3. The Indianapolis Colts–might be–Legit

Among most circles, the Colts were looked at as one of the worst teams in the NFL before the season. They existed at the very bottom of nearly all power rankings from every major media outlet. The AFC South, one of the most competitive divisions in the NFL, looked like a three horse race between the Texans, Titans, and Jaguars. Through two weeks of the season, things have changed.

Despite my predictions, the Jaguars look just as good as many expected. Despite struggling a bit against the Giants, they picked up a dominant win over the Patriots. Their defense looks as good as ever and Blake Bortles is doing enough. The Texans have a lot of star power but lack in consistency, depth, and health. Their lack of an offensive line will hurt them in the future. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Titans lack star power and just don’t have an identity.

The fact that the Colts have a healthy Andrew Luck on the roster means everything. He’s looked a tad rusty but has looked excellent for the most part. He’s making all of the talking heads who counted him out look foolish. Not only this, the defense looks revitalized and rejuvenated. Coming off of a win over Washington where they didn’t allow a touchdown, this Colts defensive unit could be one of the best in years. Indianapolis was an unlucky fumble away from being 2-0. The Colts take on the Eagles next week in Philadelphia. If they can upset the Super Bowl champs, the league will have to take the Colts seriously.

4. Is this finally it for the New England Patriots?

Tom Brady reportedly wanted a “divorce” from Bill Belichick. Following a disappointing 31-20 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars where Blake Bortles outplayed Brady, there definitely is room for concern. Patriots’ fans will tell you to subdue any qualms about the team. “This happens every year,” they say. “The Patriots always start slow and then they make the Super Bowl,” they say. However, there is significant reason to believe that this is the reason the dynasty finally begin to crumble.

This New England roster has quite a few holes. Tom Brady is Tom Brady but his receiving corps is incredibly thin. Even the addition of Josh Gordon may not be enough to cure their offensive woes. New England’s offensive line certainly won’t help Brady stay upright. The Patriots’ defense is a problem, namely the pass rush. When facing good offensive lines, New England just won’t be able to generate pressure and bother opposing quarterbacks. They’re going to struggle against good teams.

Luckily for the Patriots, the AFC East is still a feeble division. The Bills are an absolute laughing stock. The Dolphins’ start is promising but the team is still talent deficient and has played some dysfunctional opponents so far. They shouldn’t be anything near a playoff contender. The Jets certainly have promise with Sam Darnold under center but likely aren’t close to good enough to contend. For now, the AFC East is still New England’s. In all likelihood, the Pats bounce back from this start and become a contender. Maybe they won’t though. The rest of the NFL hopes so.

5. Are the Bills the new Browns?

The Buffalo Bills are a bona fide dumpster fire. Some came into the season with expectations of a repeat playoff appearance, led by their new rookie quarterback and tough defensive unit. Two weeks into the season and any chance of that happening has been chucked out the window. Buffalo’s playoff hopes have been smashed through a table.

One bright spot I will concede is that Josh Allen has looked promising. In his first start against the Chargers, Allen made some great throws. His decision making was sporadic and his throws were occasionally errant but this is to be expected. When it comes to the game of situations, Allen rolled snake eyes. No offensive line, no wide receivers, Allen couldn’t have faced a worse situation in his nightmares.

This Bills offense is going to be terrible, the only reliable playmaker being LeSean McCoy, working without an offensive line. The Ravens allowed Buffalo three points and the next week, they put up 20 garbage points against a beat up Los Angeles defense. After giving up 47 to Baltimore and 31 to the Chargers, there is a real chance that this Bills defense is the worst in the NFL. This is exacerbated by Vontae Davis retiring at halftime. Could the Bills go 0-16? Their first two weeks certainly point that out as a possibility.

Ben Pfeifer is the Managing Editor of the Colts for Full Press Coverage, the AFC South Division Editor, and head NBA editor. Want to continue the discussion? Contact Ben Pfeifer on Twitter @Ben_Pfeifer_, @FPC_NBA and @FPC_Colts.


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