2017 AFC Outlook

Division Winners

1. New England Patriots– We saw them make the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history and they had by far the best off-season of any other team in the league by adding some pieces on both sides of the football. Tom Brady had by far the best year of his career and still dominated on the field in 12 games and won 11 of them. It’s simply not playoff football without the New England Patriots. Every January is when it all begins. We can expect them to be one of the top seeds within the conference and hosting a playoff game. This is the most consistent franchise in the NFL and I remember when I interviewed former defensive end Andre Carter in 2015, he stated the Patriots are similar to a business with the way they go about things and how attentive they are to detail. It could be an extremely fun season in Foxborough this year. This offense is stacked. Brandin Cooks, a healthy Rob Gronkowski, Chris Hogan, Julian Edelman, Dion Lewis, James White, Dwayne Allen, Rex Burkhead, Mike Gillislee and I forgot some guy named Tom as well. Defenses will have their hands full prepared to try and limit all these offensive pieces. The Patriots will clinch a first-round bye once again for the eighth straight season.

Projected Record: 14-2, first in AFC East

Key Games: Week one vs Kansas City, Week four vs Carolina, Week Seven vs Atlanta, Week ten at Denver, Week 11 at Oakland, Week 13 at Buffalo, Week 15 at Pittsburgh.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers– Last season for the first time, we were able to see the trio of Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown all on the field at one time and finally, we saw them together in the playoffs. When all healthy, this is a dangerous trio. We all know what to expect from Antonio Brown and although he’s getting up there in age, Roethlisberger still continues to get out there and lead the team to victories. Le’Veon Bell showed us just how good he can be when he’s focused and he’s at 100 percent health. The Steelers defense is still one of the best in the league. Defensive coordinator Keith Butler has done a nice job with this unit. This year, the Steelers will benefit greatly from the return of Martavis Bryant who was suspended for 2016 because of a failed drug test. He’s that complementary piece to Antonio Brown and a big time presence in the passing game. If they want people to take them seriously, they need to keep key guys on the field this season.

Projected Record: 12-4, first in AFC North

Key Games: Week Four at Baltimore, Week six at Kansas City, Week Seven vs Cincinnati, Week eight at Detroit, Week 12 vs Green Bay, week 13 at Cincinnati, Week 14 vs Baltimore, Week 15 vs New England, Week 16 at Houston.

3. Oakland Raiders– They got off to such a phenomenal start last year. Derek Carr was holding his own and was the projected favorite to win the league MVP prior to his leg injury that forced him to miss the rest of the season. The Raiders lost their final two games, including a playoff game in Houston and the team just looked completely different without him. This year, after a winning season, the hype surrounding the Raiders is there. Derek Carr got his contract extension making him the highest-paid player in the NFL today and the Raiders also acquired the hometown guy Marshawn Lynch. The offensive core of Derek Carr, Beastmode, Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree could be a group to really watch. The Raiders defense outside of Khalil Mack will also need to step it up and take some pressure off their offense.

Projected Record: 11-5, first in AFC West

Key Games: Week one at Tennessee, week four at Denver, Week Seven vs Kansas City, Week eight at Buffalo, Week nine at Miami, Week 11 vs New England, Week 14 at Kansas City, Week 15 vs Dallas.

4. Tennessee Titans– This is one team that I’m really excited to see play this year. Marcus Mariota was having a great year and led the Titans to some really big wins over the Packers, Broncos, and Chiefs, all playoff teams from the previous season and had the Titans on the verge of making the playoffs before his unfortunate leg injury. This is a football team that wants to win games by playing power football. They want to dominate the line of scrimmage, run the ball and play good defense. I truly feel this is their year to take that next step and win their division for the first time since 2008.

Projected Record: 10-6, first in the AFC South

Key Games: Week one vs Oakland, Week three vs Seattle, Week four at Houston, Week nine vs Baltimore, Week Ten vs Cincinnati, Week 12 at Indianapolis, Week 13 vs Houston, Week 14 at Arizona.

Wild Cards

5. Kansas City Chiefs– They’ve made the playoffs in their past two seasons and three times altogether since Andy Reid took the job back in 2013. I fully expect them to get back here again for the third straight season. What I like about them is they aren’t the flashiest team in the league. They simply just play football. They run the ball, they control the clock, they have a quarterback that takes good care of the ball and they have one of the best defenses in all of the league. They’ve been considered to be a dark horse Super Bowl team, but can’t seem to get over the hump as they’ve been eliminated from the second round of the playoffs two years in a row.

Projected Record: 10-6, second in AFC West

Key Games: Week one at New England, Week five at Houston, Week Six vs Pittsburgh, Week Seven at Oakland, Week Nine at Dallas, Week 11 at NY Giants, Week 14 vs Oakland, Week 17 at Denver.

6. Denver Broncos– After a year of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2010, I expect the Denver Broncos to get back to the postseason. C.J. Anderson will be back and if he can stay healthy, along with the offensive line playing better all-around up front, the Broncos will be back. We saw just how important C.J. was to the Broncos offense when he went down last season with a torn meniscus. For the Broncos to get back to playing January football, Trevor Siemian needs to be on his A-game and we need to see the guy that played good football in the first half of the season in 2016 and not the guy who turned the ball over left and right in the second half of the year.

Projected Record: 9-7, third in AFC West

Key Games: Week two vs Dallas, Week three at Buffalo, Week four vs Oakland, Week six vs NY Giants, Week Eight at Kansas City, Week Ten vs New England, Week 12 at Oakland, Week 13 at Miami, Week 17 vs Denver.

Wild Card Round

(3) Raiders defeat (6) Broncos

(5) Chiefs defeat (4) Titans

Divisional Round

(1) Patriots defeat (5) Chiefs

(2) Steelers defeat (3) Raiders

AFC Championship: For the second straight season and fourth time ever, the AFC Championship will come down to the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots. These two met twice last year. The first time was during the regular season and the Steelers didn’t have Ben Roethlisberger. Brady and company just rolled away to victory and in the AFC Championship game last year, the Patriots once again continued their dominance of the Steelers and advanced to the Super Bowl. This will be the Patriots seventh straight year advancing to the NFL’s version of the final four. The Steelers simply don’t have the secondary to keep up with the Patriots receivers and pass catchers out the backfield and they rely heavily on the front seven to consistently pressure Brady. The Steelers I predict will come into this game 100 percent healthy, but I just don’t see them prevailing. I like the New England Patriots to represent the AFC in Super Bowl 52.