Mainland’s AFC Division Picks
We are now three weeks into the NFL season, and usually, we start to see some clarity about who the better teams are. This season, however, has raised more questions than it has given answers. We have seen all kinds of weird results that have left us wondering, “Who the hell is actually good?” Here at Mainland, we make sense of chaos. Our writers have broken down every division. Today we will give you the AFC, and tomorrow the NFC. Let’s begin.
Charley Collier: Week 3 was a bad week for the AFC North. Cleveland lost again, the Bengals fell short in their upset bid over the Packers, the Ravens got boat raced, and the Steelers were upended by the Bears in overtime. This looks like a two team race, and the Steelers are more talented than the Ravens. However, this whole anthem thing looks like it may have caused some internal strife within the Steelers locker room. Add in the fact that Big Ben will probably get hurt at some point this season, and things look better for the Ravens. Baltimore takes the North in 2017 as the only team from the division to make the playoffs.
Daulton Sauls: Like the AFC East, the North looks like a two-team race with the Steelers and Ravens. Baltimore and Pittsburgh both had their weaknesses exposed this past week and they will now play each other week 4. This will tell us who the better team really is. Pittsburgh has struggled to get that high octane offense going but we can count on Antonio Brown and Laveon Bell to produce. Baltimore has the better defense, but the offense has been average at best. Joe Flacco has received no help in the run game, and hasn’t looked like his elite self. Personally, I’ll side with the better offense as the Steelers will once again win the AFC North.
Austin Kohls: The Steelers are going to win the North again this year, but look for the Ravens to bounce back and push them late as Flacco gets back to who he is and the defense continues to be one of the best in the league. The Pittsburgh offense is dangerous, and even though Le’Veon Bell struggled a little early, both he and the Steelers offense will find their groove soon and live up to the lofty expectations they were given in the pre-season.
Wyatt Harnage: This is easily the most diverse division in the whole league — with two of the top teams battling for the top spot in the division, and the two worst teams battling for the bottom spot in the whole league. It will take until week 16–17 to claim, but the Steelers just have way too much talent on both sides of the ball to not win this division, although, my mind could very easily change this Sunday when Pittsburgh and Baltimore meet for the first time of the year this Sunday.
AJ Morreale: When the Jags travel to London, Blake Bortles turns into Peyton Manning. Maybe something is in the tea, who knows, but I’m not going to fall low on the Ravens. While the Ravens looked awful this weekend, I’m going to consider this past game as a huge outlier. The defense is one of the top 10 in the league, and the offense is serviceable. Hue Jackson still has no idea how to properly call plays for his young QB, and the Bengals still look very lackluster. Although they had a close game with the Packers, I do not see Marvin Jones being able to overcome the offensive threats that Pittsburgh presents. The Steelers look decent right now, but I think in a couple weeks, we’re going to be talking about the yearly struggles that Big Ben is having. This is Baltimore’s year to capitalize.
Charley: They may be 2–1, but the Patriots don’t really look like the Patriots. They were completely outplayed week 1, and narrowly escaped the Texans week 3. Their week 2 win over the Saints looked good on the box score, but if you actually watched that game, you probably noticed that they didn’t look as fluid as they have in years past. The Bills are 2–1 as well, and played a great game of football in a win over the Broncos. They don’t have what it takes to win the division, but they might actually come close. The Patriots will win their 9th straight AFC East crown, but it will take longer than it has in years past.
Daulton: Buffalo is currently tied atop the division with the 2–1 Patriots. The Dolphins and Jets sit in the basement of this division, and don’t appear to be leaving anytime soon. This means that Buffalo is the Patriots biggest threat and well, the Bills haven’t won the division since 1995. While Buffalo is indeed a strong contender, we all know the Patriots will catch fire midseason as they always seem to do. For that reason, I’m going with the Patriots to win the division.
Austin: This one is pretty much a no-brainer. The Patriots are going to win this division by a couple games, regardless of current records or whether or not their defense struggles the rest of the way. The Dolphins appeared to be the best bet if you had to guess who would dethrone the Patriots, but don’t hold your breath. The Bills are pretenders even with a win over Denver, and the Jets are so bad, I don’t even want to talk about them.
Wyatt: Given that the Patriots have won 8 straight AFC East titles with Tom Brady at the throne, it would be ridiculous to not pick the Patriots to win this division. Is it possible that the Bills take their first division crown in almost a decade? MAYBE. Is it possible the Dolphins do instead? Not likely at all. Is it possible the Jets steak this division? Absolutely no chance.
AJ: Hey, the Jets won a game! This division may be the least talented division in the entire league. With bottom feeding teams like New York and Buffalo, I have no reason to doubt that the Patriots will win once again. Although Miami looked pretty flat this weekend, I see them as the only team that has a chance to contend with the Patriots for the title, and that’s only if they stay healthy. But, until Tom Brady retires or falls apart on the field, New England will continue their dominance in the AFC East.
Charley: What many experts claimed to be the worst division in football does not appear to look so bad after all. The Colts aren’t very good, but they will at least be competitive with Brissett at quarterback as they patiently await the return of Andrew Luck. The Jaguars finally have an offensive identity to complement an above average defense. While they beat down the Ravens Sunday, that should be chalked up as a fluke as the Jags always play well in London. They are not capable of consistently winning big games with Bortles under center. Deshaun Watson’s career is off to a promising start; he just has an innate ability to win. The Texans have a great defense, but there aren’t enough weapons on offense to help out their rookie quarterback. That leaves us with the Tennessee Titans, and their 2–1 start should have the league on notice. Despite a shaky first three games from Marcus Mariota-coupled with some health issues in the receiving core- the Titans offense has still managed to look exceptional through three games. They have one of the best offensive lines in football, and when they are able to run the ball effectively, it opens up one of the most creative playbooks in the league. The defense has been much improved from a year ago, and when Mariota begins to play like he was at the end of last season, the Titans will be a headache for any team to stop. Tennessee wins the division and should be taken seriously as contenders to win the AFC.
Daulton: The AFC south is a toss up. The Texans and Colts are at the bottom of the division while Jacksonville and Tennessee are sitting atop at 2–1. The Titans look strong and with Marcus Mariota at the helm. The Jags are not legit, as we are only three weeks in and they won’t hold up. This is the Titans division to lose and there is no team that can compete with them for the South title.
Austin: Don’t buy the hype of any team in the AFC South- except the Titans. Marcus Mariota is becoming a very good quarterback, Henry and Murray at running back is a nasty combination, and they have a sneaky good group of pass catchers led by Delanie Walker. The defensive back seven is improving as well, so look for the Titans to not only win the division, but run away with it.
Wyatt: I could not tell you any other conference with more inconsistent play than the AFC South. Can any football expert explain to me how the Jaguars can blow out the Ravens, and get blown out by the Titans? While you explain that, can you also think of how the Colts can lose 46–9 to the Rams opening week, and defeat 2 more promising teams in the Browns and Cardinals? Lastly, most absurd of all, how can the Texans lose by 22 to the Jags, and lose to the Patriots only by 3 on a last second touchdown? All of this makes it too difficult to pick any mentioned team to win a conference, regardless of team talent. Oh, did you notice the only team not mentioned in the inconsistent mess? The Tennessee Titans — and that’s why they have my pick to win the AFC South. Although losing to a top 5 team opening week vs. the Raiders, they have proven they are no joke after beating the Jaguars and Seahawks both weeks following. NFL.com seems to agree with me as well, placing the Titans at #5 for power rankings this week.
AJ: In the past few years, this division has been dominated by the Colts. Last year, the Texans snuck away with it. So far this year, neither of these teams looks ready. The Colts are essentially the Cleveland Browns with Andrew Luck, and Andrew Luck is currently nursing a shoulder injury. After a blowout loss to the Rams, and two close games with the Arizona Cardinals and Browns, it’s a safe bet to say that the Colts are a lower tier team this year. While we are talking about lower tier teams, let’s quickly talk about the Jags. While they may be 2–1 right now, they simply are not a good team. Blake Bortles will never allow the Jags to go beyond 7–9. The running story has been that the Houston Texans are only a quarterback away from competing for a Super Bowl. Well, Deshaun Watson is that guy, and they still look like they have in years past. An elite defense combined with an awful offense has been the Houston recipe for almost 5 years. The most complete team in the division this year is the Tennessee Titans, who have been a media darling all off season. After drastically improving through two drafts and new coaching, it’s hard to see a huge flaw in the Titans. The run game is the best in the NFL, and secondary finally isn’t completely awful. Look for the Titans to go 6–2 in division play and clinch a spot in the playoffs.
Charley: Once again, this looks like the best division in football. The Chiefs look better than ever with their new focus on a downfield passing game alongside the emerging stardom of Kareem Hunt. The Broncos defense continues to be elite, and Trevor Simien appears to be a quarterback very capable of being successful in the NFL. While the Raiders defensive concerns finally came into play in primetime against the Redskins, they are still an elite team capable of winning a Superbowl. Also the Chargers exist, though somebody should probably tell the fans in LA. I think the three top teams in the division will all make the playoffs, but the Chiefs are the most complete team and will take the division crown.
Daulton: This division will be tightly contested right up until the final seconds of the 2017 season. The Chiefs have started off HOT, the Broncos defense is as stellar as ever, and even with the primetime goose egg this past Sunday, the Raiders have the best quarterback in the division. The division games will ultimately decide the winner, and none of these teams can afford a loss to the Chargers.The Raiders will take the division this year now because Derek Carr is healthy and that defense looks much improved from a year ago.
Austin: No divisions can boast a three team race for the top spot, but that is certainly the case for the AFC West. The Chiefs look like the real deal, Denver’s defense will always keep them in the game, and Derek Carr is becoming a top 7 quarterback in the league. The Chiefs are going to win it, though, behind their stingy defense and the talents of Kareem Hunt and Tyreek Hill. This division very well could send two teams to wild card spots, as Denver and Oakland are too good to not make the playoffs.
Wyatt: One of the very few sentences I can say about the year thus far in the NFL is as follows: the Chiefs are the best team in the NFL. Why? Alex Smith is aging, but appears to be peaking now more than ever, averaging 258 passing yards a game, throwing a total of 7 touchdowns and picking up 0 turnovers. The 86th pick in this years NFL draft, Rookie Kareem Hunt is averaging 179.3 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns a game. On the other side of the ball, Justin Houston leads the defense in sacks (4.0) and is 3rd in tackles (16), while DB Terrance Mitchell leads the team in tackles (18). All these stats seem way too convincing to not pick the Chiefs to take the AFC West crown. That being said, I wouldn’t be shocked if 3 teams from this conference made it to the Playoffs, with both the Broncos and Raiders picking up WildCard bids.
AJ: Much different than their eastern counterparts, the teams of the AFC West are about as equally talented as one another, with Denver, Oakland, and Kansas City all likely to make a postseason run. This offseason, people were questioning the Chiefs roster, saying it may be one of the least talented in the league. After destroying the former Super Bowl champs, the narrative has changed a whole lot. Alex Smith is out here playing pissed off, and rookie Kareem Hunt is showing people why he should have been a first round pick. Sadly, nothing has changed for the Chargers other than the awful stadium they are playing in. Up until Monday night, I would have said that Derek Carr and stacked offense around him would narrowly become divison champs. But this year, I’m going with the Broncos. Their defense hasn’t lost a step, and the offense looks newly improved. CJ Anderson looks like the running back he did in 2015, and the much troubled offensive line looks significantly better. Denver is the most complete roster in this division, so watch for them to compete in a tough year long battle.
Read tomorrow for our NFC picks!