We’re continuing on with part 2 of our postmortem fanbase check-in with the AFC teams heading into the offseason and beyond. 

Don’t forget to check out Part 1: The NFC, here!

The  “We Have a Hulk” Tier- Kansas City Chiefs

The iconic line-delivery from Iron Man, responding to Loki claiming he has an entire army merely wit

h “We have a HULK” could never be more applicable to the state of the Kansas City Chiefs with Patrick Mahomes after winning back-to-back Super Bowls and at least making the AFC Championship every single season he started. Even with a roster as bare bones as this one- a skill position group that led the league in dropped passes and looked as vulnerable as they’ve ever been, you were still terrified to bet against Kansas City. You couldn’t justify betting on them on paper when they played better teams aside from, “Well, yeah, but the Chiefs have Patrick Mahomes, and he just does stuff!” and as long as he is there and healthy, that’s going to be the case for a long time. They may very well lose one or both of two pivotal pieces on the defensive side that took them over the top in L’Jarius Snead and Chris Jones to free agency, but that would mean building the roster in a different way and possibly repairing the skill position group instead. With Super Bowl rosters that have all looked very different, it’s going to be fascinating to see how many variations of the Chiefs the inevitable constant Mahomes can win with.

The Tobias Funke “But it Might Work for Us” Tier- Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Miami Dolphins

“Well, did it work for those people?”

“No, it never does, I mean these people somehow delude themselves into thinking it might but… but it might work for us!”

Is the meme-d dialogue from Arrested Development that is the unfortunate state of these franchises. All have the likes of Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, Joe Burrow, and a Tua-led Mike McDaniel offense that put up historic offensive statistics, but are playing in the same conference as Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. Every single season they could easily talk themselves into making the Super Bowl title, but after this season, where Mahomes put the pelts of the Dolphins, the Chiefs, and the Ravens in order with the Bengals the prior year, it might be more of the same until proven otherwise. It’s the unfortunate circumstance of playing in the same era.

The Growth Spurt Tier- Houston Texans, Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts

All of these teams outplayed their expectations last year and have significant reasons to be optimistic going into next season and getting a growth spurt of some sort! The Houston Texans had been one of the most moribund, embarrassing franchises of the past half-decade, not being able to put a winning roster around the peaks of JJ Watt and Deshaun Watson whilst having a dysfunctional front office, and now have the runner-up Coach of the Year in Demeco Ryans that you’d run through a wall for, the Defensive Rookie of the Year in Will Anderson, and the Offensive Rookie of the Year in CJ Stroud who led them to a playoff win in year one instantly; it’s insane how quickly the future flipped on a dime.The Browns, meanwhile, may be paying Deshaun Watson an absurd amount of money for the very few appearances he’s impressed this year, but they have a defensive core that’s one of the best in football, Nick Chubb will hopefully be back, and they made the postseason using FIVE quarterbacks last year. Some consistency could take Cleveland over the top for the first time. Indy, meanwhile, had a season full of revolving doors last season, from playing their backup Gardner Minshew in 15 games and being in a contract dispute with Jonathon Taylor, but they still were in the thick of the AFC South race until the end of the year at 9-8, had a promising first year offensive scheme from Shane Steichen, and in the games where their top quarterback Anthony Richardson DID play before getting injured, he looked like an alien amongst men. An unlocked and healthy Richardson who is just learning his capabilities is exciting to think about with Steichen at the helm. 

The “Putting Lipstick on a Pig” Tier- Jacksonville Jaguars, Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Jets

Sometimes a small, pretty change doesn’t always mean a thing in the long run, and yes, while inevitable positive changes might be coming here, what is it all for? The New York Jets are going to get Aaron Rodgers coming off of a season-ending Achilles recovery at age 40. The likelihood that he’s better than Zach Wilson is STRONG after their 7-10 season, but what’s the likelihood that he plays like the back-to-back MVP in a division with the Dolphins and the Bills and a loaded AFC? Sure, the Steelers can hang their hat on Mike Tomlin never having a record below .500 and making the postseason last year, but the Steelers have consistently been one of the most unwatchable 16-10 come-from-behind victory teams for the past couple of years. There’s talk of bringing in a veteran quarterback, but the excitement around the franchise needs some sort of young spark. The Jaguars, meanwhile, may have suffered the most whiplash in terms of their future outlook from one year to the next- 2022 had the come from behind playoff victory where Trevor Lawrence was finally the prince that was promised away from Urban Meyer, 2023 with a collapse that left them out of the playoffs now has the skeptics bringing up that he has almost identical career stats to Daniel Jones with 66 touchdowns, 53 turnovers, and a 20-28 record. It could be considered a “sophomore slump” after two years with Doug Pederson, but the Texans may have just passed them by in the moribund AFC South, the Colts will have Anthony Richardson back from injuries, and the Jags haven’t exactly been the model of consistency as a winning franchise. 

The “Just Woke Up from a Nightmare Sweating” Tier- Los Angeles Chargers, Denver Broncos

Last year may have been the most “year from Hell” scenario for these two AFC West franchises, not even including being in the same division as the Kansas City Chiefs as their rivals won another Super Bowl. The Chargers once again “Charger-ed,” as in they went all-in with an expensive roster around rocket-armed young talent Justin Herbert only to crumble with bad luck, embarrassing

Photo: Jon Heath / Broncoswire.com via USA TODAY

losses, and underperforming expectations as Brandon Staley was promptly fired right after their 63-21 loss to the Raiders in their 5-12 season. Meanwhile, in the first year of the Sean Payton dictatorship after he alienated and roasted the quarterback practically day one of training camp, the Broncos’ shortcomings with Russell Wilson right after they signed him to a 5-year $245 million extension became too much as he’ll likely be released and finish his Denver tenure with more bathrooms in his Colorado mansion up for sale than wins.

However, everything that went wrong did go wrong, so it can’t be worse, right? The Chargers hired reigning National Championship-winning head coach Jim Harbaugh to pair with Justin Herbert and the Broncos are allowing Payton to now get his quarterback du jour and run it back with a defense that improved tremendously (you know, after they gave up 70 points to the Dolphins in week 3).

The Chip & Joanna Gaines “Fixer-Upper” Tier- Las Vegas Raiders, New England Patriots, Tennessee Titans

There’s a lot of “fixing” to do with these franchises that are undergoing rebuilding, remodeling, a “soft rebuild,” however the fans want to phrase it. It’s going to change and likely get ugly before it gets better. 

The Raiders at least appear to have found “the guy” finally in Antonio Pierce after firing Jon Gruden and Josh McDaniels in embarrassing fashion; they removed the interim tag from him after going 5-4 as the former player that the players seemed to rally around with Maxx Crosby claiming to “quit the team” if they didn’t keep him around. The issue is that Davante Adams wants nothing to do with the team after they traded Derek Carr, Jimmy Garoppolo was their quarterback who just recently got suspended for PEDs despite playing just 6 games last year, and they have one of the most bare bones roster in a division with Patrick Mahomes. Pierce will have a lot of time to figure things out and try and find their franchise quarterback within the coming years after coaching up a defense that limited the Chiefs to 14 points on Christmas despite their 8-9 record.

The Belichick era is officially over in New England; as is the Mac Jones era (at least hopefully, for the sake of the safety of defensive players’ groins). They’ll have the third overall pick in a draft where the top 3 quarterbacks are considered to be a tier above everyone else, and first-year coach Mayo said they’re going to be drafting “a very important position,” so the evil empire is building from the ground-up for the first time in 25 years.

Finally, the Titans fired Mike Vrabel despite Mike Vrabel pretty much being the ideal coach for the Titans with this roster. Derrick Henry and Tannehill are likely on the way out and Brian Callahan is being tasked with getting production out of Will Levis after being able to make life look easy for the Bengals’ backup Jake Browning without Joe Burrow last year. However, after being the model of consistency with Vrabel, always gutting out wins as an underdog, they’re looking at being in an AFC South where everyone else now has an upward long-term trajectory with Stroud, Lawrence, and Richardson. They’ll have money to spend and the 7th overall pick, but a ton of holes to fill with a new coach. The times they are a changin’.

Comments are closed.

Check Also

Top 10 Most LGBTQIA+ Inclusive NFL Teams

There’s no denying that the current cultural climate is far from friendly for member…