All told, eight of the AFC's 16 teams boast a winning record. It's also worth noting that there are only five clubs in the conference with a resume below .500.
The question here is in regards to the top teams in the conference. Which five could make life difficult for the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs?
Did anyone see this coming? Last season, four teams that finished in last place in their respective divisions went on to make a playoff appearance. That includes the AFC South champion Jacksonville Jaguars, who also won a playoff game a year ago. Now Doug Pederson's team is facing a challenge from a team that after 10 games has already doubled its 2022 win total.
The Houston Texans came into this season with an 11-38-1 record the previous three seasons. Led by rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud and a young and talented receiving corps, the former Buckeye has put up impressive numbers. Offseason additions such as running back Devin Singletary and tight end Dalton Schultz have been huge.
DeMeco Ryans's defense has had its moments but lacks consistency, especially against the pass. That is something that needs to be shored up if the team is to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2019.
On Sunday at home, Kevin Stefanski's team outslugged the rival Pittsburgh Steelers, 13-10. Kevin Stefanski's team will play the remainder of the season without quarterback Deshaun Watson, down and out with a shoulder injury. Rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson was the choice and saved his best for a late drive that led to the game-winning field goal.
Thompson-Robinson and P.J. Walker have each made two starts for the team this year. On Sunday night, there was news via NFL Network's Ian Rapoport that Joe Flacco is set to join the Browns' practice squad. It will be interesting to see how it all unfolds.
What can't be overlooked here is the league's top-ranked defense in terms of total yards and passing yards allowed. The team has also excelled against the run, although the Steelers had some success on the ground (172 yards) on Sunday.
What could hold the Browns back? Plenty of mistakes, as in an NFL-high 20 turnovers in 10 games. Then again, there is a relentless front led by defensive player of the year candidate Myles Garrett (13.0 sacks). The offensive line has been solid and a big reason the team has still been able to run the ball without Nick Chubb. If Stefanski's club can count down on the miscues, well…
Despite leading the way in the AFC South, Doug Pederson's club is sometimes hard to figure. That's because the team has looked less-than-ordinary when it has lost games this season. Setbacks to the Chiefs (17-9), Texans (37-17) and 49ers (34-3) all came at home and by a stunning combined score of 88-29. The Jaguars have been among the league leaders in turnovers (17). On the other hand, this opportunistic club has come up with 20 takeaways in 10 outings.
This is a team that finds ways to win. Including last season's playoff split with the Chargers and Chiefs, Jacksonville owns an impressive 13-4 record in its last 17 outings. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence and versatile runner Travis Etienne lead the offense, while wideout Calvin Ridley bears watching.
So, why aren't the talented Jaguars higher on this list? A lot of it has to do with the fact that they have faced the Chiefs three times since '22 and have fallen short each time. That includes that aforementioned eight-point home loss this season in which Jacksonville was limited to three field goals.
For now, the Jaguars' bigger concern may be the up-and-coming Texans. Pederson's team is at Houston this Sunday looking to avoid the season sweep. If this team reaches the postseason, last year's playoff experience could pay off.
You could make a case that they've been the most heavily scrutinized of the four division leaders. The Miami Dolphins got off to a blistering 3-0 start this season before being cooled off by the Buffalo Bills, 48-20, in Week 4 at Orchard Park.
The team's other two losses this year came at Philadelphia and "at" the Chiefs in Frankfurt, Germany. Hence, the narrative is that Mike McDaniel's club has yet to prove it can defeat a team with a winning record. Factually speaking, that is accurate. All seven of Miami's victories this season have come against teams with a .500 winning percentage or less. Meanwhile, the 6-5 Bills, 8-1 Eagles and 7-2 Chiefs own a combined 21-8 record.
There are plenty of positives. McDaniel's club is extremely balanced and can beat you with the run or the pass. The offensive line has been plagued by injuries, but Vic Fangio's defense is making strides.
The fact that quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has remained healthy is huge. Speaking of big numbers, Tyreek Hill is having an MVP-like season in his second year with the club. This team has the potential to be very dangerous. Will the Dolphins hold off the Bills and win their first AFC East title since 2008?
The Ravens have had their share of battles with the Chiefs in recent seasons, although the clubs have not battled since 2021. There still hasn't been a postseason clash between Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes.
John Harbaugh's club has looked like the best team in the league on a few occasions. The Ravens hired Todd Monken as their new offensive coordinator this offseason. A steady ground attack has been complimented by efficient passing. In 11 games this season, Jackson has connected on 69.5 percent of his throws for 2,441 yards and 12 scores, with just five interceptions. He's also totaled 535 yards on the ground and rushed for five touchdowns.
However, there has been a fumbling issue for the six-year pro. Jackson has dropped the ball 10 times and lost six of those miscues. That's something to keep in mind, especially since the talented pro has had these problems in the postseason. Not having tight end Mark Andrews for the foreseeable future hurts.
However, the Ravens are not a one-trick pony. The defense has been solid and the pass rush has already produced 44 sacks in 11 outings.
This has been a playoff team in four of the past five seasons and eyes the postseason in 2023. The Ravens' ability to score points and harass opposing quarterbacks makes them a dangerous entity.2023-11-20T15:09:41Z dg43tfdfdgfd