- New England Patriots
You can make the argument that the presence of head coach Bill Belichick and starting quarterback Tom Brady, even with the latter at the age of 42, is enough to put the team at No. 1. Another fact of the matter is that this team arguably got better this offseason. Though losing defensive end Trey Flowers in free agency to the Lions hurt initially, a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles brought his replacement: defensive end Michael Bennett. It will be interesting to see if 2018 first round pick, offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn, will be able to slide right into the left tackle spot left void by the offseason departure of Trent Brown who signed a record contract with Oakland. Though long time tight end Rob Gronkowski retired this past offseason, the replenished Patriots’ receiving core of wide receivers Josh Gordon and Antonio Brown should lessen the blow of the loss of Gronkowski’s offensive production. In addition, the hope is that 38-year-old Benjamin Watson will be able to take on a similar role to Gronkowski when he returns from his suspension in Week five.
Projected Finish: First in the AFC East
- Kansas City Chiefs
One concern about quarterbacks going into their second year as starters is opposing coaches who have an entire offseason worth of film to plan against them. When it comes to the talent Patrick Mahomes brings to the field, that should be less of a concern for Chiefs fans, and an even larger concern for opposing defensive coordinators. In year one, Mahomes has proven to be a generational talent and will likely be the Chiefs signal caller for the next decade. Their defense, which essentially kept them from a Super Bowl appearance last year, returns with few improvements outside of the additional of defensive end Frank Clark, who can hopefully recuperate some of the production lost in the departures of linebackers Dee Ford and Justin Houston in the offseason.
Projected Finish: 1st AFC West
- Los Angeles Chargers
It will be another hard battle for the AFC West, with Kansas City and their MVP signal caller looming on the horizon for Philip Rivers and his Chargers. Although Los Angeles’ offense does not have quite the deep passing threat that the Chiefs’ offense does with receiver Tyreek Hill, they are a more complete team on both sides of the football. Assuming they don’t fall behind the divisional rankings like they did earlier in the 2018 season, due in part to some bad kicking, this team has the potential to win the AFC West, which would mark their first divisional title since 2009. Whether or not the team is willing to pay running back Melvin Gordon, who is holding out for a new contract heading into the season, it is worth noting the Chargers were 4-0 in games Gordon was inactive last season, with quite the backup in second-year running back Austin Ekeler.
Projected Finish: Second AFC West – Wildcard team
- Houston Texans
The Texans had a disappointing end to last season at the hands of divisional rival Indianapolis and their signal caller Andrew Luck. However, following Luck’s shocking retirement announcement on Aug. 25, the AFC South should be wide open for Houston. With arguably one of the top offensive combinations in the league, with quarterback Deshaun Watson throwing it up to All-Pro wideout DeAndre Hopkins, in addition to a top five defense from last season, the Texans should be able to light up the scoreboard while keeping their opponents under 20 points per game. The team finally made a move to improve an offensive line that was responsible for Watson taking a beating, being sacked 65 times last season, the most in the league. The team acquired left tackle Laremy Tunsil and wide receiver Kenny Stills in a trade with the Dolphins, giving up their first round draft pick in each of the next two drafts. With Watson not getting any younger, Houston’s front office decided to get their maturing signal caller better protection on his blindside, which should make this team all the more competitive come January.
Projected Finish: 1st AFC South
- Cleveland Browns
Cleveland finished with a 7-9 record after going a combined 1-31 in the previous two seasons, riding on the shoulders and gusto of the first overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, quarterback Baker Mayfield. One of the things that makes Mayfield special is how much he wanted to take on the challenge of playing quarterback for Cleveland, despite his predecessors dreading that opportunity, making the city a graveyard for quarterbacks the past couple decades. Mayfield’s offense is loaded with talent, with wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry on the outside, and tight end David Njoku clearing the middle of the field. Running backs Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb should find themselves in a harmonious backfield once Hunt returns from suspension in week nine. Cleveland should be favored to win their first division title since 1989, after Pittsburgh suffered the departures of wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell.
Projected Finish: 1st AFC North
- Pittsburgh Steelers
2019 will be a “prove it” year for veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and head coach Mike Tomlin, whose leadership and abilities are both being heavily questioned after the aforementioned Brown and Bell left during the offseason with bitter endings. A third round draft pick from the 2017 NFL Draft, running back James Connor, emerged as a true primary back with Bell holding out all of 2018, giving Pittsburgh enough tape and confidence in Connor to allow Bell to walk in free agency. Additionally, another pick from the same draft as Connor, wide receiver JuJu Smith Schuster, showed Pittsburgh his skills, including besting former teammate Antonio Brown in yards for the season. Tomlin and Roethlisberger will be crowned if Smith Schuster and Connor are able to fill the roles of Brown and Bell, and decimated if not. Pittsburgh’s top ranked offensive line should be able to protect Big Ben in his golden years, and create enough holes for Connor to punch through.
Project Finish: Second AFC North – wildcard
- Jacksonville Jaguars
Arguably the most overlooked team going into the 2019 season, this Jaguars squad is still loaded with talent on the defensive side of the ball. A unit that led that squad to an AFC Championship appearance that was merely minutes away from taking down Brady and the Patriots in New England. The Jaguars have finally added a proven winning former Super Bowl MVP quarterback Nick Foles, who had defeated New England for his ring. Jacksonville will hope to have a bounce back year from running back Leonard Fournette, and have a surge from the thin depth they have at receiver. Do not be surprised if this team is playing football in January.
Projected Finish: Second AFC South
- New York Jets
The Jets added major improvements to the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, landing major free agents in running back Le’Veon Bell and middle linebacker CJ Mosely. Bell will take a load off third-year signal caller Sam Darnold’s shoulders and give him a superstar to work with for years to come. A once barren defense now looks solid, with safety Jamal Adams already playing at a top five level at his position going into his third season. With Adams at the high end, Mosely protecting the center of the field and defensive tackle Leonard Williams attacking the line of scrimmage, this defense will cause headaches this season. If the pieces fall in place, in head coach Adam Gase’s first year, the Jets could be a sneaky wildcard team in the AFC.
Projected Finish: Second AFC East
- Baltimore Ravens
This team lost some major defensive pieces in free agency and was able to recover a little bit with the signing of veteran safety Earl Thomas. The team elected to move forward with Lamar Jackson as their starting quarterback, who won the division after replacing incumbent quarterback Joe Flacco. Jackson will have to take a step forward with his passing and have better control with the ball in his hands after fumbling the ball a league high 15 times last season. If Jackson is not able to elevate his game, will John Harbough’s experience and coaching ability be enough for this team to earn a playoff berth?
Projected Finish: Third AFC North
- Denver Broncos
Denver seems to be a middle-of-the-pack team all the way. It’s hard to picture starting quarterback Joe Flacco having a resurgence of playing at an elite level. Flacco has only played in one postseason game since winning his first and only Super Bowl in 2012. Denver has failed to qualify for the postseason at all since winning the Super Bowl in 2015 and has only dropped in their level of talent across the roster. With a weak offensive line protecting Flacco, hopefully veteran pass rusher Von Miller can create stops for the Broncos when they need them.
Projected Finish: Third in the AFC West
- Buffalo Bills
Quarterback Josh Allen looked impressive in his first NFL season. The Bills don’t have a lot of talent surrounding Allen on the offensive side of the football, especially with the recent release of running back LeSean McCoy, though there is enough there to help Allen improve in year two. The Bills’ defense looks rock solid and can expect a big impact from the team’s first round draft pick, defensive tackle Ed Oliver.
Projected Finish: Third AFC East
- Tennessee Titans
Once again on the topic of make or break years, quarterback Marcus Marriota, selected No. 1 pick after Jameis Winston in the 2015 NFL Draft, has not been able to transfer his run first style of play into becoming a star in the NFL. The Titans were able to muster a playoff appearance in 2017 and knock off the Kansas City Chiefs, before traveling north to be defeated by the kings of the AFC East, the New England Patriots. The defense looks very good and should give fans reason for excitement, but unless Marriota can elevate his game, it is unlikely that this team will be doing much come January.
Projected Finish: Third in the AFC South
- Indianapolis Colts
After the shocking retirement of signal caller Andrew Luck, the Colts will once again take a step back before they can step a step forward. But, there is still talent on both sides of the ball. Promoted from the backup position to the starting role, quarterback Jacoby Brissett will once again be taking snaps under center in place of Luck. Brissett has had some impressive drives in his career, but he’s not the guy you trust to carry your defense on a bad week. The Colts still have a great young core and a massive amount of cap space, so the future is not so dark for this squad, but it is unlikely they will win anything significant this year.
Projected Finish: Fourth in the AFC South
- Oakland Raiders
After an absolute roller coaster of an offseason, with wide receiver Antonio Brown causing much more trouble than he’s worth, the Raiders fans will not even get the satisfaction of Brown stepping on the field once in an Oakland uniform. The team has announced that they have cut the superstar wide receiver, as Brown cost himself $30 million of guaranteed money with his antics and requested for the franchise to cut him. As for the Raiders, they had to put up with all the nonsense that came along with Browns and have nothing to show for it. If only the “Hard Knocks” crew was around for one more week.
Projected Finish: Fourth in the AFC West
- Cincinnati Bengals
There is little to be excited about with this team. Quarterback Andy Dalton has only thrown for over 4000 yards twice in his eight years as a starter, and has only thrown for 30 touchdowns in a season once. Dalton has not necessarily been bad as the Bengals starter, but he has not been very good. It also doesn’t help his case that he is 0-4 in his playoff career, totaling one touchdown to six interceptions and a gaudy 57.8 quarterback rating. With such a mess at the helm of the offense, look for stud running back Joe Mixon to shoulder the majority of the load after an excellent second year campaign.
Projected Finish: Fourth in AFC North
- Miami Dolphins
The general thought is that the Miami Dolphins are going to “Tank For Tua Tagovailoa.”. Tua Tagovailoa, the current starting quarterback for Alabama’s Crimson Tide. Tagovailoa currently has the highest odds to win the 2019 Heisman award, while also being the projected first overall pick of the 2020 NFL draft. The team moved left tackle Laremy Tunsil and wide receiver Kenny Stills to Houston for a pair of first round picks to add some assets going forward, even if it means they will be in the basement of the league. Aside from that, the franchise should be in good hands with first-year head coach Brian Flores.
Projected Finish: Fourth in AFC East