Now that most of free agency is done, depth charts are starting to fall into place. The NFL draft is still a month away, but it’s time to start looking to the 2017 NFL season. Here are three contenders and pretenders for the AFC in 2017. Also, don’t forget to check out the 2016 version of this piece.
AFC Contenders and Pretenders
The Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs are a good team. There’s no disputing that Travis Kelce and company are a talented unit. However, that’s their biggest problem. They’re just a good team, not a great team.
They spent a ton of money keeping Eric Berry around, but in the process, Kansas City staples like Jamaal Charles and Dontari Poe left. They’ve had a relatively quiet off-season, but the other teams in the division have steadily improved. They were able to steal the division in 2016, but they haven’t really improved.
There’s an old saying in this business, and it’s as true now as it’s ever been. Evolve or perish. The rest of the AFC West has evolved, but the Kansas City Chiefs are hoping they can repeat the success from last season in 2017.
The Houston Texans
The Houston Texans were able to free up a ton of cap space and cut some dead weight by trading Brock Osweiler to the Cleveland Browns. However, as it stands, their starting quarterback is Tom Savage. Considering that the other three teams in the AFC South made some serious noise this off-season, it’s hard to imagine the Texans repeating as division champions.
The Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins are in a weird place. They made the playoffs in 2016, but they didn’t stay there for very long. They haven’t really made any dramatic improvements, unlike another team in their division. With an absolutely brutal schedule ahead of them, it’s hard to imagine a world where the Dolphins make the playoffs, let alone a serious championship push.
The Pittsburgh Steelers
At the end of the day, there’s only one team that can prevent the Pittsburgh Steelers from being good, and it isn’t the Baltimore Ravens or the Cincinnati Bengals. It’s the Cleveland Browns!
In all seriousness, the only team that can prevent the Steelers from being great is the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown make up the NFL’s best offensive trio when healthy and unsuspended. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to happen very often.
However, with the rest of the division in shambles, the Steelers should make the playoffs yet again, and they’ll get their shot in the post-season. Throw in another NFL draft, and who knows how good the black and yellow can be next year.
The Oakland Raiders
Over the last three seasons, the Oakland Raiders have improved slowly but surely. They went from 4-12 to 7-9 to 12-4, and who knows what they could have done if Derek Carr hadn’t gotten hurt. With a decent off-season that saw the Raiders bolster the offense with role players like Jared Cook and Cordarrelle Patterson, the silver and black could be making a huge leap in 2017.
The only thing that can prevent the Oakland Raiders from breaking through to the next level is the looming move to Las Vegas. The Raiders will be staying in Oakland until the Vegas stadium is ready, and there’s no doubt that Jack Del Rio and company will hear about the move after every game over the next two or three years.
The New England Patriots
Would any list of contenders really be complete without the defending Super Bowl champions? The New England Patriots pulled off a miracle in the Super Bowl, and have only gotten stronger so far this off-season. The acquisitions of Stephon Gilmore and Brandin Cooks should only strengthen the defending Super Bowl champions, and it seems likely that they’ll be in the AFC Championship again next year. Especially when you consider that they’ve played in the last six, and seven of the last ten.
What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comment section below.