We are into the heart of the off-season now, with the preseason juuuuust around the corner. Every fanbase outside of Houston, Texas has optimism about this season. Some of it’s justified (like the teams you’ll read about today) and some of it isn’t (like those who support a Green Bay Packers team without Aaron Rodgers). So today, I’ll take my best shot in the dark at predicting the four AFC Division Champions.
Predicting the NFL Division Champions: AFC Edition (2021)
North- Baltimore Ravens
The AFC North has a young up-and-coming team with a lot of potential and a proven, professional squad of hungry veterans… and then there’s the Baltimore Ravens, who are a bit of both. They have some young talent that needs to step up this year, but they also have the proven veterans that give the locker room some structure.
But really, what makes the Ravens the odds-on favorites to take the division is quarterback, Lamar Jackson. Say what you will (and I certainly will) about the holes in his game as a passer, Jackson is a dynamic player that has helped elevate the team and has created wins. People forget that when Lamar replaced Flacco, the Ravens were 4-5 and the team had announced that they were moving on from coach John Harbaugh.
Since then, the Ravens are 31-8, and they’ve made the playoffs every year. The team finally got Lamar some weapons, they had a really strong draft, and I find it hard to bet against them in the North this season.
Dark Horse- Pittsburgh Steelers
I know the Steelers aren’t the darlings of the AFC North, but it’s hard to argue with success. Sure, the Black and Yellow got absolutely spanked in the playoffs last year, and if Big Ben Roethlisberger was ever good, he certainly isn’t anymore, but just look at the track record. They started last season off with a double-digit undefeated streak, got better in the off-season, and Mike Tomlin has never had a losing season as the team’s head coach. The biggest threat to the Steelers repeating as AFC North Champs isn’t Baltimore, it’s Tik Tok.
Conspicuous by their absence are the Cleveland Browns. The Browns are the 2021 Off-Season Champions, and there’s good reason for the hype. They very nearly upset the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round of the playoffs last season, and there’s reason to believe they got better over the Summer. I just don’t necessarily buy the hype, and here’s why.
I bought the hype two years ago. I bought the Freddie Kitchens Browns… and look how that turned out. I still believe the Browns will be good. I even think they have a real shot at the post-season, but I want to see them prove they belong first. I want to see Baker Mayfield take that next step. I want to see a young, potent defense realize their potential. The AFC North features two proven, competitive squads, a young Browns team with a lot of potential… and… well… the Bengals. #FireZacTaylor
South- Tennessee Titans
Acquiring Julio Jones was such an incredibly clutch move for the Titans. The offense isn’t complicated. They absolutely pulverize opposing front sevens with Derrick Henry, and when they least expect it, they pull out the play-action bomb. It worked like a charm last year with AJ Brown and Corey Davis, and now they’ve only gone and gotten a first ballot Hall of Famer to join them. There’s a lot of young talent in the division, but nobody quite ready to compete with Henry’s boys just yet.
Dark Horse- Indianapolis Colts
The Colts kinda live and die on what happens with Carson Wentz, don’t they? Only a few years ago, Wentz was a MVP candidate, and had the Eagles firing on all cylinders. That team eventually upset Tom Brady’s New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. But… he never really came back from that injury, did he? He missed games in 2018, and was good-not-great in 2019. 2020 was an unmitigated disaster. Despite only playing in 12 games, he led the NFL in interceptions. Now, obviously Doug Pederson lost his team, and the Eagles were a dumpster fire last season, but it’s still hard to excuse Wentz’s putrid play.
So now he gets to go to Indy, where he’s reunited with his former offensive coordinator, Frank Reich. Reich was Wentz’s OC during his breakout year, and he did just get this Colts team to the playoffs with a decrepit Philip Rivers under center… So we’ll see. Maybe this reunion will be enough to reinvigorate Wentz and get the Colts over the divisional hump.
East- Buffalo Bills
It’s Josh Allen’s world, we’re just living in it. Despite the fact that the Bills locker room can’t seem to decide where they fall on the only-slightly-horrifying topic of vaccines, they’re still primed and ready to make another run at the AFC in 2021. Allen is coming off a MVP caliber season, Stefon Diggs has cemented himself as one of the best receivers in football, and they’ve got a good-enough defense. If the Bills can just commit to running the ball this year, they can really challenge the Kansas City Chiefs for the AFC throne.
Dark Horse- Miami Dolphins
I think I would pick the Miami Dolphins to win this division if anyone else was the starting quarterback. It’s not fair to dismiss Tua Tagovailoa before he’s even made his 10th career start, but it really felt like he cost the Dolphins a playoff spot last season. This team has a solid bend-don’t-break defense and enough weapons on offense to be interesting, but there’s a direct correlation between his poor play and losses down the stretch. It could really be argued that they might’ve made the playoffs if they stuck with Ryan Fitzpatrick.
I think the Dolphins will be good. They could be a wildcard team, but until Tua proves he’s “the guy” in Miami, this is Buffalo’s division to lose. Unless, of course, it turns out Mac Jones is good…
West- Kansas City Chiefs
I know that the last time we saw the Kansas City Chiefs, they were being handily molly-whopped by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Super Bowl, but let’s be real. They’re still very much the favorites to bring home the Lamar Hunt Trophy. Realistically, they’re the favorites in the AFC as long as the team of Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid are together. As long as they field some kind of defense at all, the Chiefs are violent competition for just about anybody.
Dark Horse- Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers are the 18-time defending Off-Season Champions, so as always, take any and all hype with a grain of salt. But they have a good young quarterback, a new coaching staff, some weapons, and enough talent on defense. I don’t think they’ve got quite enough muscle to push Kansas City, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they made a push for one of the 93 wild card spots.
Naturally, this changes instantly if the Denver Broncos trade for Aaron Rodgers or Deshaun Watson. Even if they have to pay a small fortune, Aaron Rodgers/Deshaun Watson makes the Broncos instant contenders in the AFC. Without that kind of trade, it’s hard to take the Broncos seriously with either Drew Lock or Teddy Bridgewater under center. And as for my Raiders… here’s to probably being the first 8-8-1 team in NFL history.
If you liked this article, check out the NFC version. If you didn’t like this article, check out the NFC version anyway. And feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below!