Just as we did with the NFC, we now take a look at some of the top teams from the AFC who probably have the best chance at reaching the conference championship game, as well as the Super Bowl.
New England Patriots: This one is obvious. There isn’t much that needs to be said about the dynasty that has been the New England Patriots over the last 20 years. 5 Super Bowl wins in 7 appearances, including the huge 25 point 2nd half comeback against the Atlanta Falcons just 7 months ago. Bill Belichick will go down as the greatest coach in the history of the sport, and Tom Brady is widely regarded as the greatest QB of all time. No matter what obstacle comes in their way, the Patriots always seem to find a way to not only be relevant, but competitive. They won the Super Bowl without star TE Rob Gronkowski last season. They went out and traded for Brandin Cooks this past summer, as well as aquiring Stephon Gilmore and Mike Gillislee from the rival Buffalo Bills. Julian Edelman may have gone down with an ACL injury, but make no mistake, the Patriots will recover from that and the system will allow for someone else to make a huge impact for the team and they will most likely, again, be playing in the AFC championship game for another Super Bowl berth. All because…New England.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger is one of the better QB’s of the past 15 seasons. He has 2 Super Bowl rings in his career, and is always keeping the Steelers competitive with his arm strength and football IQ. The Steelers are not the Patriots in any way, but they seem to be the closest thing as far as consistency and relevancy. With the emergence of Antonio Brown as the best WR in the league today, as well as Leveon Bell as a top 2-3 RB in the league, and the return of Martavis Bryant from his year long suspension, this offense will be back to it’s explosiveness sooner rather than later. The defense is also somewhat of an anomaly, as they spent the first half of last season looking like a bunch of pushovers, but really ramped it up in the last 8 games of last season with a lot more blitzing and pressure on opposing QB’s. The secondary has been questionable in the last few seasons, but earlier this week, they went out and signed Joe Haden just as he was released from the division rival Cleveland Browns. Haden is a pro-bowler who has been wasting away in Cleveland, and though his best days may be behind him, at 30 years old, the belief is he still has enough in the tank to help a defense like Pittsburgh make the ultimate leap to get back to the Super Bowl.
Oakland Raiders: The Oakland Raiders are back in business. After 13 pitiful seasons of bad draft picks, bad signings, zero growth or development, and a revolving door of mediocrity at the QB position, the Raiders finally turned things around in the last two seasons to make a statement as one of the better young teams in the league. 4th year QB Derek Carr has shown steady improvement over his first 3 seasons, last year leading the team to its first playoff appearance in over a decade. A late season injury ruined the teams hopes at advancing far into the playoffs, but just like the Cowboys, the young nucleus of the Raiders showed that they have what it takes to become one of the best teams in the league today. Khalil Mack is the reigning defensive player of the year, and he only looks to get better at his position, and leading a young but improving defense year after year. The Raiders also boast the most expensive offensive line, comparable only to the Cowboys line, which has helped the change in the team growth dramatically. 3rd year WR Amari Cooper also looks to take the leap into stardom, as he has been hyped up since his rookie season, and while has has 2 1000 yard seasons under his belt, people are waiting for him to explode into the top 5 at his position, which he very well can do playing alongside veteran Michael Crabtree. After winning 12 games last season, the Raiders biggest loss was average RB Latavius Murray, but they went out and signed some better than average talent at some key positions, signing TE Jared Cook to make the catches up the middle that Clive Walford just wasn’t making, KR/PR specialist Cordarelle Patterson, and the return of beastmode himself Marshawn Lynch to head their RB trio which is impressive, based on their draft status. With this improved Raiders team still young enough to develop but old enough to compete, the arrow is pointing nowhere but up for a franchise that has looked lost since their last Super Bowl appearance in 2002.
Honorable Mention: Kansas City Chiefs