Before the season, we’d have said the AFC was better than the NFC — mostly because of its top tier.
The Patriots and Chiefs were known great teams seemingly on a crash course to meet in the AFC Championship Game again. People were excited for the Texans and also the Colts, at least until Andrew Luck retired. Fans were crazy about the Browns making the jump into the playoffs and even put money on them to win the Super Bowl. Hah, oops.
But, after 10 weeks, it appears for now that the NFC is the far better conference. So, what is the AFC heading into Week 11?
The Patriots aren’t finding explosive plays on offense
In New England’s last appearance, we saw the team lose to the Ravens in a game that wasn’t as awful as the 37-20 final score indicated. The Patriots were driving to take the lead in the second half before a Julian Edelman fumble was returned for a Ravens touchdown. Even with how “bad” the Patriots’ defense played, it’s still an elite unit and will continue to carry the team.
The issue is the Patriots’ offense. It’s looked disjointed for most of the season. They are down two offensive linemen with Isaiah Wynn and David Andrews both on injured reserve, and at the moment, don’t have a deep threat at receiver. Tom Brady is looking older by the week and the Patriots aren’t finding big chunk plays to move their offense.
Now, I don’t think it’s all doom and gloom. They should improve after the bye week, especially considering they added Mohamed Sanu a few weeks ago and he’s developed a good rhythm with Brady so far. The Patriots will also get first-round rookie N’Keal Harry off IR this Sunday against the Eagles.
In the end, I’m going to trust the Patriots will figure it out.
Can the Ravens keep running this well in January?
The Ravens have passed the Chiefs as the second best-team in the AFC. I can’t deny that Lamar Jackson has played well, but I don’t trust this offense in the playoffs. I was doing research for my podcast, and “rushing” QBs — I’m lumping in Cam Newton and Russell Wilson, who I wouldn’t always call “rushing” QBs — don’t run the ball that often in the playoffs. Neither of those quarterbacks runs as frequently as Jackson does, but their rushing numbers dropped drastically in the playoffs when defenses tightened up.
We saw this happen last season for Baltimore against the Chargers. Jackson only ran nine times for 54 yards in the postseason loss. And right now, that’s all the evidence we have.
You can argue that it could change this season, and it might, but so far the only QB to run this often to have success in the playoffs is Colin Kaepernick. He benefited from having an elite defense in San Francisco, which is something the Ravens don’t have at the moment.
That’s what worries me about the Ravens. Even with the addition of cornerback Marcus Peters, this defense isn’t what it used to be. The Ravens’ schedule gets much tougher moving forward, so we will see if this defense can hold up.
The Chiefs defense is still a mess
Alright, I have no idea what to make of the Chiefs right now. What a weird-ass game against the Titans.
It was great to see Patrick Mahomes back on the field, who provided a spark to the offense. The Chiefs need to get their offensive linemen healthy, which should happen after their Week 12 bye. The offense will be fine.
The bad news is that the Chiefs’ defense is once again a concern. It’s the reason I didn’t pick them to win the AFC before the season.
I know this is going to sound silly, but having such an amazing offense could be hurting the Chiefs’ defense. While Mahomes was out, the defense was outstanding. When Mahomes comes back, the defense went back to shit. I think mentally the Chiefs defense always knows they can rely on Mahomes to save them. Do I think they purposely play bad? Absolutely not, but I think subconsciously it does matter.
The Chiefs’ defense is a huge negative for their Super Bowl chances.
The Texans aren’t slowing down opposing passers
Houston feels like a dark horse that can be a contender if it continues to improve. The Texans’ offensive line — which has been a concern all season — is starting to jell, but it can still be a problem. However, Deshaun Watson is elite and has the skill position players around him to do damage.
My concern with the Texans is their pass rush and the pass defense as a whole. Their rushing defense, ranked sixth, will keep them in games. We might even see that in a Week 11 matchup against the Ravens. But the 20th-ranked pass defense probably isn’t good enough to win the AFC.
There are likely no other teams that can compete to win the AFC once the playoffs get here, but one team intrigues me anyway. The Steelers have won four in a row and their schedule is a cakewalk after a Thursday Night Football matchup against the Browns this week.
But even though every AFC team has big flaws this year, that’s part of why this conference’s race should be exciting the rest of the season.