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Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen drops back to pass in the Miami Dolphins' 31-34 loss to the Bills, Sunday Jan. 15, 2023, at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, New York. (Joe Cavaretta/South Florida Sun Sentinel/Tribune News Service)
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen drops back to pass in the Miami Dolphins' 31-34 loss to the Bills, Sunday Jan. 15, 2023, at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, New York. (Joe Cavaretta/South Florida Sun Sentinel/Tribune News Service)

The Hoosier Network's AFC Preview

Breaking down the storylines and drama throughout a fascinating AFC

This season, Hoosier Network writer Joe Brennan will be providing his thoughts on the NFL. Earlier this week, he previewed the NFC and today he takes a look at the AFC.

AFC East

Projected Winner: Buffalo Bills

All the Drama: New York Jets

The AFC East is absolutely loaded with talent. Miami, New York and Buffalo are in a great position to make the postseason. Additionally, while the New England Patriots aren’t necessarily in the mix for a playoff push this season, they continue to build upward. 

The Buffalo Bills have won the division the past three seasons, and are the favorites to do so once again. The regular season has not been the concern for Josh Allen and company, but the ability to go deep in the playoffs has been. However, this year they will face a gauntlet of a schedule with teams such as the Bengals, Chiefs, Chargers, Eagles and Cowboys to go along with their divisional play. If they can roll through their regular season competition for a fourth consecutive division title, they will be in the mix for a conference title as well. 

The New York Jets have their quarterback. The New York Jets bring in Aaron Rodgers in a blockbuster offseason trade to add to their offensive arsenal. An explosive offense, one of the best defenses in the league, and all sorts of media attention have put the Jets in the spotlight. It’s safe to say this season is playoffs or bust for New York. If the Jets can handle the pressure placed on them for this season, the Bills’ AFC East reign could come to an end.

AFC North 

Projected Winner: Cincinnati Bengals 

Sleeping Giant: Cleveland Browns

Everything is up for grabs in the AFC North. The Bengals look to continue their recent success despite Joe Burrow’s calf injury. The Baltimore Ravens look to bounce back after a season riddled with injuries and quarrels with Lamar Jackson. Deshaun Watson will get an entire season to build chemistry with the Browns. Kenny Pickett looks to take a step with the Steelers and compete in a formidable division. 

The Bengals have proven they have what's needed to compete for a Super Bowl. Ever since their first run two years ago, the Bengals have only improved. Upgrades within the trenches, on both sides of the ball, while maintaining their young flourishing talent, have turned Cinnicinati into a powerhouse. The AFC North will most likely be the toughest division in their conference, but the back-to-back champions certainly have what it takes to repeat. With that being said, the biggest uncertainty with this team is its secondary. If their safeties and corners can keep everything in front of them, they can keep everyone behind them in the standings. 

It isn’t unusual for the Cleveland Browns to go under the radar. Since 2008, the Browns have had one season above .500, but they have a chance to do so this year. The Browns will have a full look at Watson this season to go alongside Nick Chubb and Amari Cooper. While the loss of Kareem Hunt leaves Chubb as a workhorse back, it isn’t much of a concern for one of the best in football. No question the Browns offense will take a leap this season, but their defense needs to as well. Cleveland has a great pass rush and a solidified secondary led by Denzel Ward. However, this defense finished in the middle of the pack last year, largely due to their inability to stop the run. If their defense can clean up the run support, this team will win around nine games. 

AFC South 

Projected Winner: Jacksonville Jaguars 

Clock is Ticking: Tennessee Titans 

Young quarterbacks galore. The AFC South has two of the top four picks from this year’s draft class — CJ Stroud and Anthony Richardson — stepping into a starting role in week one. Trevor Lawrence steps into his third season at the helm in a Jacksonville offense that turned heads last season and adds a shiny new toy in Calvin Ridley. The Tennessee Titans and Derrick Henry added DeAndre Hopkins in an effort to make their offense more explosive. 

Don’t forget the Jaguars took down the Chargers in the Wild Card round and lost by a touchdown to the Chiefs in the Divisional round. Lawrence shined last season, leading the Jaguars to a divisional playoff game. Travis Etienne pairs up rookie running back Tank Bigsby for a great one-two punch in the backfield. Christian Kirk established himself as a WR1 on the Jaguars last season after racking up over 1,000 yards for the first time in his career. But this year, the passing attack becomes a whole new level of dangerous with Ridley added to the mix. In a division that is mostly still trying to figure things out, the Jaguars are certainly a team to bank on for another division title.

While the Colts and Texans are testing out their young stallions, the Titans are sticking with old reliable horses. Ryan Tannehill has proven that he can do what’s needed for Tennessee to get the job done, especially when you have Henry running the ball. But the fact is, the passing attack since losing AJ Brown has been abysmal. Last season, the Titans had the fourth fewest passing yards in the league. This offseason, the Titans tried to recreate the magic by signing an aging Hopkins. Last season, the Titans finished 7-10, on a seven-game losing streak to end the season. The addition of Hopkins can take a lot of pressure off this team, but the time to win is dwindling. Each of the focal points in this offense will be over 30 years old this season. 

AFC West

Projected Winner: Kansas City Chiefs 

New Coach, New Team?: Denver Broncos 

The Kansas City dynasty shows no sign of slowing down and is on the hunt for its eighth consecutive division title. The Chargers offense will look to attack through the air once again, as the main competitor for the division. Sean Payton steps into Denver determined to do a complete 180° turn from last season’s atrocity. The Las Vegas Raiders move to Jimmy Garoppolo to complement Devante Adams and Josh Jacobs but maintain their defensive concerns. 

Last season Kansas City easily proved that its offense could maintain its explosiveness without Tyreek Hill. Travis Kelce approaches 34 but continues to defy Father Time and run through, around, or over anyone who stands in his way. Since Andy Reid took over for the Chiefs in 2013, he has only had one season under 11 wins. Bearing some sort of monumental collapse or catastrophe, the Chiefs should skate through their division once again. 

It feels as though everyone is cautiously optimistic about the Denver Broncos this season. Last year, many predicted that this offense would erupt; instead, they imploded. The Broncos’ offense put the ball in the endzone 29 times last season, the second-fewest amount in the NFL. But Payton calling plays provides a new glimmer of hope for an organization tied to Russell Wilson, an aging quarterback that they went all in on. The Broncos also return Javonte Williams, after tearing his ACL in week four. However, the loss of Bradley Chubb last year at mid-season cut their sack rate in half. The Broncos have hope, but it's dependent on a complete offensive turnaround, and a returning Randy Gregory filling the void of Chubb's pass rush. 

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