NFL: Taking Stock at the Quarter-Mile in the AFC

With four weeks of the 2019 NFL season in the books, it’s time to take stock of how each team stands. For some, they are staring down the barrel of a bleak end to the year. For others, hope remains but the job isn’t done. This is how the AFC looks after one quarter of the season.

AFC East

Buffalo Bills

The Bills began the season well, going undefeated until they faced the New England Patriots. The Bills were competitive against the division leaders thanks to their Defence, but they were almost unable to move the ball through the air. Their Defence will keep them in most games, and give them chances to win, but the Offense still has work to do.

The Bills should be optimistic for the rest of the season, although much rests on Quarterback Josh Allen. Allen suffered a concussion in Week 4. If he misses more time it will endanger the Bills’ season. The Bills are eyeing off the playoffs in January already. But with one of the toughest Defences in the league, Buffalo needs Allen to not only be healthy, but also perform better.

Miami Dolphins

There isn’t much to be said for Miami’s start to the season. They are clearly uninterested in winning in 2019. After trading away most of their assets, they will need to rebuild almost from scratch in 2020. While they may have plenty of picks to use in the draft, a team of rookies doesn’t look to fare much better next year.

Even with their tank job so far on track, they haven’t secured the first overall pick yet. With other AFC teams also at 0-4, the Dolphins need to decide what they want out of this year. They finally made the switch to Josh Rosen at QB after trading for him in the offseason. What they need to do over the remainder of this season is either develop Rosen to trade, or to evaluate if they will build around him. So far, it seems they have little interest in treating Rosen as their franchise QB, and only want him to succeed to recoup value.

New England Patriots

The Patriots have started another season without a hiccup. They remain undefeated, and are 3-0 in one of the worst divisions in the league. The Defence is strong at all levels, and have allowed just one Offensive Touchdown all season.

Despite all this, the Offense still has work to do. Brady and his Wide Receivers are working out the kinks, especially after the failed Antonio Brown experiment. Regardless, it’s been smooth sailing for the Pats, and they look like they’ll cruise to another bye in the playoffs.

New York Jets

The Jets would have to feel frustrated after their QB, Sam Darnold, was sidelined with mono after Week 1. With the setback, it gave them little chance to win games. But they were gifted with a bye in Week 4. While an early bye is rarely a good thing, the Jets benefitted as Darnold only missed two games and is set to return against the Philadelphia Eagles.

However, the Jets shouldn’t come out firing necessarily. They are also winless, and a high draft pick could be a valuable asset in filling some roster holes. Winning too many games now could push Gang Green down the draft list, giving them less chance of turning a first round pick into multiple picks. They aren’t headed for the playoffs, and they should weigh up their situation carefully.

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens came out firing for the first two weeks of the season, although had weak opponents in the Arizona Cardinals and Miami Dolphins. They remained strong in Week 3 against the Kansas City Chiefs, playing an ultra-aggressive style but coming up short. Then, Week 4 revealed some flaws on Defence, as they lost against the Cleveland Browns.

The lack of pass rush and quality Linebackers opened up holes in the Ravens’ Defence. The Offense has been reasonably strong, but needs the Defence to compliment it. While they will most likely sort things out, the Ravens need to reassert themselves as top of the Division. Over the next two weeks they have games against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals to get on track. Otherwise, they’ll rue these missed opportunities in a season that showed promise early on.

Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals are finding their identity in a rebuilding year. New Head Coach Zac Taylor is managing an injured squad deplete of playmakers on both sides of the ball. Without a win to date, the Bengals could be one of the most talked about teams leading into the 2020 Draft.

If QB Andy Dalton doesn’t improve, the Bengals may decide to cut their losses. While Miami might succeed in locking up the first overall pick, the Bengals could finish 2nd overall. With a suite of QBs that are attracting attention for the 2020 Draft, don’t be surprised to see Cincinnati make waves in the trade market this season. Aside from a high draft pick, the Bengals will need extra picks to fix their Offensive Line, above all else.

Cleveland Browns

The Browns have managed to salvage their season, at least for now, after a near-disastrous first three weeks. They were blown out by the Tennessee Titans, then stumbled to a win against the Jets and their third-string QB. Cleveland then had a mediocre loss against the Los Angeles Rams to finish 1-2 after three weeks. They put it all together and went to the top of the division after crushing the Ravens in Week 4.

The big question the Browns need to answer now is if Weeks 1-3 were who they are, or if Week 4 is their true selves. Their OL is inconsistent, and QB Baker Mayfield has made some questionable decisions. WR Odell Beckham Jr has been kept quiet for the most part. But if the wins don’t keep coming, it’s perhaps a matter of time before he becomes vocal. The Browns have a rough eight-game stretch coming up. If they are truly a playoff team, they will need to at least go 5-3 over that stretch to stay in the hunt.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers’ season hangs in the balance after four weeks. They saw starting QB Ben Roethlisberger go down injured in Week 2, and managed to get their first win in Week 4 against the hapless Bengals. Backup and now starting QB Mason Rudolph is far from a finished product, and the Steelers look to be nearing a lost season.

The lack of weapons on Offense is starting to show, and Pittsburgh were relying on gadget plays to move the ball against the Bengals. While the Defence has improved with each week, it isn’t the game winning Defence that teams like the Buffalo Bills possess. A win in Week 5 against the Ravens puts the Steelers firmly in the frame of winning the Division. But it’s hard to see them eking out enough wins currently to make it as a wildcard.

AFC South

Houston Texans

With everything all square in the AFC South at 2-2 apiece, the Texans may regret not closing out their opening loss. The Offense has been a mixed bag, and star WR DeAndre Hopkins hasn’t been his dominant self. The Defence has also been inconsistent, resulting in their point differential being 0.

This has been the Texans’ season over four games: inconsistency and playing to the level of their opponents. Houston need to take control of games and pile on the points. They look like a tough opponent on paper, but the results don’t back it up. With adjustments and a favourable schedule, the Texans control their destiny still at this point.

Indianapolis Colts

Despite the sudden retirement of Andrew Luck at season’s eve, the Colts remain in the hunt. In large part thanks to their Defence and a soft schedule, the Colts have won a few close games. Yet they will regret not hanging on to win in Week 1 in an Overtime game, as well as losing to the Oakland Raiders who are a mediocre team in 2019.

The Colts seem to have a fight on their hands every week so far. Clearly able to hang with most teams, it’s really a matter of being mistake-free to get wins. This team will need to play beyond themselves every week to stay in touch, and as the season progresses it’s likely they continue to linger around .500. Barring some fortune going their way, Indy are currently the team to finish ahead of to make the playoffs.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars are also lucky to still be alive after QB Nick Foles went down in Week 1. Backup Gardner Minshew has drawn plenty of attention, and the Offense has improved from week to week. While there is plenty of room for improvement still, the Defence is giving them chances to win each game.

The Jags have a very winnable schedule ahead, especially if they get backup QBs in Kyle Allen and Teddy Bridgewater in the next two games. While there is the potential that Jacksonville underperform on Offense, they’ve got the tools to go on a run. Although maybe not prepared to win a shootout, the Jaguars could be a tough team to beat in January if things continue the way they have been.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans looked to be the cream of the crop after their Week 1 blowout of the Browns, but never kept it going, landing at 2-2 after Week 4. When they’ve leaned on the running game, the Titans have won. Yet giving QB Marcus Mariota the controls has led to their worse games.

This makes it hard for a team trying to figure out whether Mariota is the future of the franchise. Most of the other pieces to win are in place, but it remains to be seen how far he can take them. With the hardest parts of their schedule to come, it looks as though the Titans will come up short once again.

AFC West

Denver Broncos

Although they sit at 0-4, the Broncos have had chances to win 3 of those games. A dropped TD against the Oakland Raiders, unfortunate refereeing calls against the Bears, and a tight late loss to the Jaguars suggest their record isn’t an accurate reflection. But at some point, the excuses have to stop and performances need to speak for themselves.

The Broncos need to use the rest of the season to plan for their long-term future. With a lack of production from their pass rushers, and an ageing WR in Emmanuel Sanders, the Broncos could be a trade target for several teams. It’s clear that 2019 isn’t their year, and there are too many missing pieces for 2020 to really look good either. Resetting and bringing in young talent will set this team up to compete in a few years’ time.

Kansas City Chiefs

Boasting the league’s best Offense, the Chiefs haven’t even been full-strength yet. Yet with average play across the OL, the Chiefs have been in too many shootouts. Throw in a soft Defence and every opponent playing them as tough as possible, and it’s fair to ask how sustainable this Chiefs’ style of winning is.

If things continue the way they are, there is a good chance the AFC Championship Game is between the Chiefs and Patriots again. While the high-flying Chiefs Offense will put up points, the Patriots perhaps possess the upper hand as the more balanced team. If the Chiefs can make a trade to bolster their Defence, it could mean a major difference in January.

Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers have been hit by injuries again in 2019. Key playmakers in Safety Derwin James, Tight End Hunter Henry and now Defensive End Melvin Ingram have all been sidelined. While they’ve won the games they should have against the Colts and Dolphins, the Chargers need to win the tougher games too.

Few would doubt that the Chargers should be in the conversation to make the playoffs. But without getting the job done consistently, they will be lucky to make the postseason at this rate. With a clock ticking on QB Philip Rivers’ career, this could be one of the last chances they have to get to the Super Bowl.

Oakland Raiders

The Raiders have been wildly inconsistent this season. While they have scraped two wins together, their two losses have been big. Yet, if they can put together a few more wins over the next five games, their second half of the season is much more favourable. There is every chance Oakland are close to the wildcard spots late in the season.

However, the Offense needs to figure out how to get the ball moving through the air. The OL is weak, and QB Derek Carr doesn’t appear capable of shouldering the team. The team can win games with him being a game manager, but it won’t be enough games come January. With an eye on 2020, it’s worth watching Carr’s play as the season unfolds to see if the team wants to move on to someone more dynamic.

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