NFL Standings Predictions: AFC Edition

Super Bowl

The 2020 NFL season is fast approaching. It’ll be one like no other in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic. There are obviously teams who are expected to be legitimate contenders for the playoffs and a Super Bowl appearance. And there are those whose expectations aren’t very high for various reasons. Let’s take a look at the AFC and make a prediction for each team’s final regular-season record.

NFL Standing Predictions: AFC Edition

AFC East

 1st. Buffalo Bills: 8-8

Despite their mediocre offense, the Bills managed to go 10-6 and snag a wild card spot in 2019. A lot of this was a result of a really weak schedule and plenty of luck. However, they traded for star receiver Stefon Diggs to help young quarterback Josh AllenAllen was bad last year, especially in terms of deep accuracy. But if he can work on his accuracy and play well with Diggs, the Bills should be good enough to win the division.

 2nd. New England Patriots: 7-9

The Patriots offense in 2019 was an unmitigated disaster. After receivers Josh Gordon and Antonio Brown left the team, the offense came to a dead stop. From Week 7 on, Tom Brady ranked dead last in the NFL in yards per attempt. He did not even play particularly poorly, ranking 12th in the league in Pro Football Focus passing grade during that span. The receivers were just that bad. Other than Devin Asiasi, the Patriots did absolutely nothing to address their pass-catching in the off-season. Even if Cam Newton performs exceptionally well for the Patriots, it is tough to envision their offense performing well enough to contend.

3rd. New York Jets: 6-10

The Jets played quite well down the stretch last year, going 6-2 and providing legitimate hope to Jets fans everywhere. They didn’t overreact to this stretch as they continued to follow along with their rebuild, trading away superstar safety Jamal Adams to the Seattle Seahawks for a bevy of high draft picks. If Sam Darnold manages to realize his potential, the Jets will win the division. He probably won’t, unfortunately, so the Jets will not be very good this year.

4th. Miami Dolphins: 6-10

The Dolphins were expected to have the league’s worst record in 2019. After starting 0-7, they rattled off five wins in their final nine games to finish with a more respectable record. This was mainly a result of incredible overachieving from legendary quarterback Ryan FitzpatrickFitzmagic was on their side in 2019, but it is tough to expect that to continue in 2020. Despite some solid upgrades on defense via free agency, the Dolphins will still struggle pretty heavily in 2020.

AFC North

1st. Baltimore Ravens: 13-3

Led by Lamar Jackson, the Ravens offense was historically good in 2019. They had the highest offensive EPA per play since the 2013 Broncos, who broke the all-time NFL points record. Their defense was also incredible down the stretch, as pickups like Marcus Peters helped create a dominant unit that harassed offenses. They disappointed heavily in their playoff game against the Titans, but that game was simply just an anomaly. Heading into this season, the Ravens are the team to beat in the NFL. The things Lamar can do to do a defense are irreplaceable.

2nd. Cleveland Browns: 10-6

The Browns were one of the most hyped teams heading into 2019, and they fell on their face. A disappointing sophomore season from Baker Mayfield was accompanied by a career-worst season from star receiver Odell Beckham JrThe Browns were also incredibly unlucky in terms of their turnovers, as they dealt with a lot of tipped interceptions. Mayfield and Beckham performing relatively well will bring the Browns back to the playoffs. If 2018 Baker Mayfield was any indication, they will be one of the most exciting offenses in the NFL. If not, however, then the playoff drought for Cleveland will likely continue.

3rd. Pittsburgh Steelers: 9-7

The Steelers offense was terrible in 2019. They were second last in the NFL in both DVOA and EPA/play, only being bested by the Jets. Magically, they still managed to go 8-8. This was the result of an incredible defense that led the league in turnovers, ranking first in fumbles and second in interceptions. Their defense is still fantastic. The absurd turnover output from 2019 will not be repeated, but the defense should still continue to be one of the best in the league. The issue with the Steelers is the health of quarterback Ben RoethlisbergerIf Roethlisberger can stay healthy, the Steelers will be great. If Mason Rudolph and Duck Hodges start getting snaps, then the Steelers season could veer off the rails in a heartbeat.

4th. Cincinnati Bengals: 6-10

The Bengals weren’t as bad as their record in 2019. They weren’t good by any stretch of the imagination, but they were more like a 4-12 team than a 2-14 team. By drafting Joe Burrow with the first overall pick, a small improvement should be attainable. With the potential return of A.J. Green and the selection of Tee Higgins with the 33rd pick in the draft, the Bengals are set at receiver. Their offensive line and their defense overall are still well below average. The future is bright for Cincinnati, but they are still a few years away from contending.

AFC South

1st. Indianapolis Colts: 10-6

The Colts were a slightly below-average team in 2019. They went 7-9 and ranked 20th in the NFL in DVOA and were league average in both offensive and defensive EPA. This was despite Jacoby Brissettwho didn’t lose them many games, but he definitely didn’t win too many either. Adding Philip Rivers in the off-season makes this Colts team very interesting. They have an elite offensive line led by Quenton Nelsonwho is one of the best players in all of football. They have a solid receiver core starring T.Y. Hilton and Michael PittmanTheir outlook is great despite wasting a pick on a running back in the second round. On the defensive side of the football, defensive line stud Deforest Buckner joins Darius Leonard in a very solid defensive unit.

2nd. Tennesse Titans: 9-7

The Titans went 9-7 in 2019, but they were a lot better than their record. When Ryan Tannehill was on the field, they ranked third in the entire NFL in offensive EPA per play. He was PFF’s highest-graded quarterback that season, and he is probably a little underrated by the general public. If Tannehill regresses back to his career performance, they will struggle to score points and will end up giving the ball to Derrick Henry way too many times. If Tannehill manages to not repeat but generally showcase the skills that he utilized so effectively last season, the Titans will be just as dangerous as they were last year when they made the AFC championship game.

3rd. Houston Texans: 8-8

Despite going 11-5, the Texans were not particularly good in 2019. All of their statistics showed that they were league average and that they were just lucky in close games. Were they lucky? I am not a big believer in clutch, but Watson always seems to perform well enough with the game on the line to the point where he might actually be clutch. This is the reason why the Texans aren’t predicted to be worse. They traded away superstar wideout DeAndre Hopkins and acquired running back David Johnson in return. This likely would indicate that Bill O’Brien is a fan of Johnson. That leads me to believe that Johnson will get a lot of carries, which will severely handicap the Texans offense.

4th. Jacksonville Jaguars: 3-13

At this point, the Jaguars have basically traded anyone of value, at least on defense. Almost all of the studs from the playoff run in 2017 are gone. Gardner Minshew had an underrated rookie season, but aside from that, there is little to say about this team.

AFC West

1st. Kansas City Chiefs: 13-3

The Chiefs have a legitimate chance to become the first repeat Super Bowl champions since the Patriots teams of 2003 and 2004. They locked up their superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes to the most lucrative deal in NFL history. Their potent offense remained relatively intact with few losses via free agency in the off-season. And running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire is being tapped as a Rookie of the Year candidate. Among the weapons Mahomes can go to downfield is arguably the best tight end in football, Travis Kelce, and a scary deep threat in Tyreek Hill who possesses blazing speed after the catch. This is a team that looks like it will be a championship contender for years to come.

2nd. Denver Broncos: 8-8

The entire Broncos defense depends on Drew Lock. The young quarterback showed flashes of potential in 2019, but he is far from being an established stud. Fortunately for him, he is surrounded by talent. Courtland Sutton is one of the best outside receivers in the league, and the Broncos went and drafted Jerry Jeudya future superstar, in the first round. Considering that they also have the speedy K.J. Hamler and an inconsistent but incredibly athletic tight end in Noah Fantthe Broncos will be difficult to cover.

3rd. Los Angeles Chargers: 7-9

The Chargers defense is loaded with talent. Despite another tragic injury to Derwin Jamestheir secondary still contains the likes of Casey Hayward, Chris Harrisand Desmond KingTheir secondary is incredible, and it will be even more effective considering that they will have Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingramand Linval Joseph rushing the passer. Defensive performance is unstable. Despite the talent, the Chargers could still be a below-average defense production-wise. However, if there were a team to make the playoffs on the back of their defense, it would be the Chargers.

4th. Las Vegas Raiders: 5-11

The Raiders went 7-9 in 2019, but they were 27th in the NFL in Pro Football Reference’s Simple Rating System, which basically takes point differential and adjusts for opponent. They have some decent talent on offense, including tight end Darren Waller, Henry Ruggsand Josh JacobsUnfortunately, Jacobs is a running back and running backs don’t matter. Derek Carr was very uninspiring in 2019, but he actually performed surprisingly well statistically, ranking top 10 in DVOA and having a very good CPOE. This goes for most NFL teams, but if the Raiders click this year, they could easily make the playoffs.

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