After an insane week nine in the NFL, one thing is abundantly clear. The AFC is wide open in 2021. There is not one dominant team in this conference. The Bills lost in embarrassing fashion to the lowly Jaguars 9-6 on Sunday. Just two weeks ago, Cincinnati was the top seed in the AFC, now they sit out of the playoffs. The Titans have the best record, but how long can they maintain it without Derrick Henry? Let’s take a look at each AFC contender and see where they are at:
1. Tennessee Titans (7-2):
The Titans have one five in a row, and look like the class of the conference. One problem, they lost perhaps the most important player to any team in the league. Without Derrick Henry, expect some serious regression.
2. Baltimore Ravens (6-2)
The Ravens record may be deceiving. They have had to squeak out wins versus very bad teams like Detroit and Minnesota. Baltimore could very well be 8-2 after the next two weeks however. Games against the Bears and Dolphins with a combined five wins between them lie ahead.
3. Los Angeles Chargers (5-3)
The Chargers are not a very good football team overall. Their defense is a real liability, especially against the run. Tough to see this team going very far in the playoffs with such a poor defense.
4. Buffalo Bills (5-3)
As we mentioned earlier, the Bills had a disastrous performance against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. Scoring only six points against one of the worst teams in the league certainly raises questions. Buffalo might still be the class of this conference. Time will tell if this was a one off versus the Jaguars, or an omen of things to come.
5. Las Vegas Raiders (5-3)
Has any franchise in the league had a worse run of luck than the Las Vegas Raiders the last month or so. First they lose their coach, and now arguably their best wide receiver. No one would be surprised if this team fell completely out of the playoff picture.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3)
What a difference a few weeks makes. At one point the Steelers were 1-3 and seemingly out of any playoff possibilities. The Steelers should be sellers at the NFL trade deadline A four game winning streak later, and now this team is the sixth seed in a very messy AFC playoff race.
Pittsburgh hasn’t exactly blown us away during this win streak however. Monday night’s scare against a very bad Bears team is a perfect example of how this team continues to underachieve. The offense has not been good at all this season. They have yet to score 30 points, a streak that goes back to early last season. The problem boils down to the inconsistencies of Ben Roehtlisberger. He continues to struggle to push the ball down the field, or have any sort of rhythm for more than one drive at a time. Until he can find some consistency, this offense will continue to struggle.
The good news is as bad as this offensive line struggles in pass protection, the run blocking is improving every game. A strong running game with Najee Harris should keep Pittsburgh in most games. That, and having one of the better defenses in the league should be enough to get the Steelers in the playoffs. If Ben Roethlisberger can ever get himself into a groove, this will be a team no one wants to face in the post-season.
7. New England Patriots (5-4):
The New England Patriots somehow landed the best quarterback in the 2020 draft in Mac Jones. Add that to having the best coach in football, along with formidable defense, and you have a legit playoff contender. It’s tough to go very far in the post season with a rookie quarterback, but the Patriots have a very good chance of getting there.
8. Kansas City Chiefs (5-4)
What in the world is going on with the Kansas City Chiefs? This once unstoppable offense suddenly looks very pedestrian. Patrick Mahomes has been unable to shake the turnover bug this season. He is currently second in the NFL with 10 interceptions in only nine games. Having said all that, it would surprise no one if this team figured it all out an ended up winning this conference when all is said and done.
9. Cleveland Browns (5-4)
The Cleveland Browns seem to be a whole lot better team without Odell Beckham Jr. That’s bad news for the rest of the AFC North because the Browns finally decided to cut ties with their diva receiver. https://www.cleveland.com/browns/2021/11/browns-to-release-odell-beckham-jr-friday-as-soon-as-the-financial-deal-is-reached-after-steelers-game-was-the-last-straw-for-his-camp-source-says.html Let’s see if this theory holds true for the rest of the year.
10. Cincinnati Bengals: (5-4)
The Bengals have talent. Nobody can deny that. This is still a very young team however, and inconsistency is their biggest problem. Coaching still seems shaky at best too with this franchise. We may be a year or two away before the Bengals are serious contenders.