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Speculation is starting to hit the 2019 NFL season, as free agents have landed and prospects have been selected. With OTA’s underway, we have witnessed controversy with the New York Jets, while we are unsure about what’s in store for the Oakland Raiders under Jon Gruden.
The AFC has been predominantly run by the New England Patriots, but other headlines come into play as well. The Pittsburgh Steelers missed the postseason in 2018 for only the third time in the last ten years, and the Cleveland Browns have become a popular betting option to represent the conference in 2019.
In this segment, I will label three AFC franchises that could make the postseason in 2019 that missed it the year prior. In addition, I will provide three franchises that made the postseason in 2018, but could miss the cut this upcoming season.
Make: Cleveland Browns (2018 Record: 7-8-1)
If you’re a betting option to represent the AFC in 2019, it’s safe to assume you’re a favorite to find a slot in the postseason. With the Pittsburgh Steelers missing WR Antonio Brown and RB Le’Veon Bell, the AFC North title is up for grabs. The reigning division Champions in the Baltimore Ravens are the other barrier, but their defense lost pieces in LB C.J. Mosley, LB Terrell Suggs, S Eric Weddle, and EDGE Za’Darius Smith in free agency.
The Cleveland Browns couldn’t ask for a better offseason, as the front office traded for WR Odell Beckham Jr and are in the running to sign DT Gerald McCoy. The defense ranked near the bottom of the league in almost every available category in 2018, but QB Baker Mayfield and the offense attempted to keep hope alive by ranking in the top 15 in passing and rushing yards.
On paper, the Cleveland Browns are the best team in the AFC North. If it translates onto the field, they could become an immediate threat to the conference. If not, the presumed solution will become a complication.
Miss: Houston Texans (2018 Record: 11-5)
Compared to other teams within the AFC South, the Houston Texans scored less points than the Indianapolis Colts and allowed more than the Tennessee Titans in 2018. With Nick Foles in the mix for the Jacksonville Jaguars for the distant future, there is no telling what the future of this division holds.
Although QB Deshaun Watson put on a solid campaign in which the Texans won 11 games, he finished 7th among AFC quarterbacks when it came to touchdown passes (26). Despite starting all 16 games in 2018, it’s hard to ignore the fact that Watson is still vulnerable to injuries after missing 10 games the year prior.
Finishing outside the top 10 in points per game, as well as passing yards, the Houston Texans are a solid team that is stuck within a slightly more talented division. Even if they manage to sneak in, head coach Bill O’Brien is 1-3 in his last four postseason games.
Make: Tennessee Titans (2018 Record: 9-7)
By trading for QB Ryan Tannehill, the Tennessee Titans established themselves with a solid backup quarterback option. Beyond that, the signings of WR Adam Humphries, G Rodger Saffold, and DE Cameron Wake shows that the Titans front office addressed just about every gap in their roster.
For a team that finished 9-7 last season, their numbers were surprisingly poor. The offense ranked 27th in points, 25th in total yards, and 29th in passing yards per game. However, the efforts by Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis in the backfield carried Tennessee to rank 7th in rushing yards per game.
With a beneficial 2019 NFL Draft under their belt, the Titans have equal odds to at least secure a Wild Card spot in 2019. While the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans have the edge when it comes to the division title, this is a franchise that is often overlooked.
Miss: Baltimore Ravens (2018 Record: 10-6)
After starting the last seven weeks of the regular season in replacement of QB Joe Flacco, Lamar Jackson posted a 6-1 record and totaled 9 touchdowns during that span. However, Jackson also turned the ball over 7 times and his postseason debut was less than stellar.
As previously mentioned, the Ravens defense is somewhat depleted at the linebacker position, and while the addition of S Earl Thomas is beneficial, it doesn’t offset their losses.
This was a franchise that held their own in just about every offensive category, and even finished 2nd in rushing yards per game. By a closer look though, that number was heavily dependent on Jackson’s 695 rushing yards and 5 TD. If defenses plan accordingly, I see a dip for the Baltimore Ravens in 2019.
Make: Pittsburgh Steelers (2018 Record: 9-6-1)
Even without Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, the Pittsburgh Steelers still have a shot. Ben Roethlisberger is far more experienced than Lamar Jackson and Baker Mayfield, and the Cincinnati Bengals are on the outside looking in. In terms of pure potential, James Conner is the best running back in the division, and while Cleveland Browns’ Odell Beckham Jr is the top receiver, Juju Smith-Schuster is still an excellent option.
The Steelers didn’t do much to patch up their losses, but Roethlisberger has a career record of 59-19 against divisional opponents. Even if Pittsburgh goes 3-3 against the AFC North in 2019, they also play 5 non-playoff teams from the 2018 season.
Based on name value alone, the Cleveland Browns are the team to beat in the division. However, Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Tomlin are the best quarterback-head coach duo in the division.
Miss: Indianapolis Colts (2018 Record: 10-6)
After starting the season 1-5, the Indianapolis Colts proceeded to win nine of their last ten games and secure a Wild Card slot. With Andrew Luck starting all 16 games, the Colts are a dangerous regular season franchise.
With a remotely quiet free agency, Indianapolis did add WR Devin Funchess on a one-year deal, and used the NFL Draft to focus on their defensive needs. Even then, how dependable are the Colts?
This was a team that was 2-2 last season against playoff teams in the regular season, and play five playoff teams in 2019. If the Colts suffer “hiccup” losses to divisional opponents, especially the Houston Texans, there may be trouble on the horizon.
Featured Image: New York Post