If you think about it, the AFC has been a couple of key plays away from winning the last few superbowls. If Welker would have caught Brady’s pass on the last drive, the Patriots would have most likely won the last Superbowl. Peyton Manning threw a key interception to Tracy Porter. Eli Manning and David Tyree had “The Catch.”
The AFC has simply been this close to winning it all lately.
While there are a lot of “what ifs” in sports, that doesn't take away from the AFC's overall strength. As strong as the NFC has been, the AFC has its fair share of heavy hitters as well. Here is a look at the conference for the upcoming season.
Toughest Division: The AFC North
Much like the NFC North, the AFC North is everything you could want in a division. However, instead of the multi-dimensional pass offenses of the NFC North, the AFC North focuses on defense. The Steelers, Ravens, Bengals, and even the Browns can be a tough outing for offenses. For a while this was a two team race between the Steelers and the Ravens, but the emergence of the Bengals have made this division much more interesting.
Most Underrated Division: The AFC West
Every year, people rag on the AFC West as being the worst division in football. Not this year. The Broncos seem like the clear favorite to win this division with Peyton Manning, but with key players returning from injury, the Chiefs could be a very good team as well. The Chargers and the Raiders are solid teams as well. Is it the best division in football? Not by any means. It certainly isn’t the worst.
The Favorite: New England Patriots
How could they not be? The Patriots might have the best offense in football. If teams didn’t have their hands full with Gronk and Hernandez already, the Patriots went out and added wideout Brandon Lloyd to help their receiving core. The Patriots also got better on the defensive side of the ball with a strong draft that included Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower and Sryacuse defensive end Chandler Jones. This is a very scary team.
The Dark Horse: Denver Broncos
With all the coverage Peyton Manning’s move to the Broncos has gotten, it might seem strange to put the Broncos as a dark horse team. Manning’s benefits are obvious, but what makes this team really threatening is the combination of John Fox and Jack Del Rio. In their first preseason game, Denver’s defense was in control and their offense found a rhythm constantly. While it is preseason, make no doubt that Denver does have the talent to be a serious force in the AFC.
The Most Surprising: Kansas City Chiefs
I’m almost tempted to put the Buffalo Bills here after their great offseason, but too many people are underestimating the Chiefs this year. In 2010, they went 10-6 with a strong running game and an even stronger defense. If much of that can be retained after Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry, Tony Moaeki, and even Matt Cassel could bring the Chiefs back to playoff worthy.
The Most Underrated: Buffalo Bills
Okay, I caved. I had to mention Buffalo somewhere. This team will be solid this year and I don’t think people realize how dangerous this team could be. Ryan Fitzpatrick is the wild card, but the tandem of Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller will be a dangerous running attack. Once Jackson went down, Buffalo finally learned how to use Spiller in the run game that was varied from Jackson. Combine that with the offseason signings of Mario Williams and Marc Andersen and the Bills finally become a respectable team again.
The Most Disappointing: San Diego Chargers
There’s been a lot of buzz about the Chargers this offseason and the improvements they’ve made. While the Melvin Ingram pick was an absolute steal, the new additions at receiver are overrated. Eddie Royal is a great return specialist and could help on Special Teams, but he’s been disappointing since his rookie season. Robert Macheem is a solid receiver. However, is he better than Vincent Jackson?
Phillip Rivers will have a bounce back season and the Chargers might not be awful, but it won’t be enough to save Norv Turner’s job.
Playoff Teams at a Glance:
New England Patriots, Denver Broncos, Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans, Buffalo Bills, and the Kansas City Chiefs.
What do you think of the AFC? Let us know in the comments.