The balance of power in the NFL has swung to the AFC. The only question is how far.
It’s a quarterback-driven league, as we all know, and a slew of impactful young quarterbacks have emerged all at once in one particular conference, with the potential for at least a couple of others (Tua Tagovailoa, Joe Burrow and Trevor Lawrence) joining an already robust core of Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, Justin Herbert and Baker Mayfield, to say nothing of the later-career emergence of Ryan Tannehill. Even after losing Tom Brady to the NFC, and with Ben Roethlisberger nearing the end and Philip Rivers already coaching high school ball, there are just more young sure things and sure-enough things at the QB spot in the American Football Conference.
Chance to win Super Bowl LVI: 19.2%
Chance to make the playoffs: 89.4%
They have Patrick Mahomes.
1 - Patrick Mahomes
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS QB
Oh so smooth. Anyone and everyone would pay money to watch Mahomes play, because he’s still the standard-bearer when it comes to modern-day backyard-style quarterbacking.
10. The beginning of a dynasty?
The Chiefs lost in the Super Bowl last year, but we all know they are still one of the best teams in the NFL. Patrick Mahomes will have them right back in the mix again, as he lost just one regular-season game last year, and has gone 43-10 including postseason games since he took over as Kansas City’s full-time quarterback in 2018. What could be different about this year? Well, two things. For one, they made several huge additions. The offensive line was the reason they lost Super Bowl LV, and they beefed up that group in a big way this offseason. They traded for a franchise left tackle in Orlando Brown Jr., and then all of their interior lineman are brand new. They gave the bag to the already-proven Joe Thuney, drafted center Creed Humphrey out of Oklahoma and then landed the steal of the draft in offensive guard Trey Smith — a sixth-round pick out of Tennessee who fell down draft boards due to a medical issue which appeared to have been resolved years earlier. If he turns into the star he appears to be, GMs have only themselves to blame for gifting him to Kansas City.
No. 2: Browns vs. Chiefs, Sunday 4:25 p.m. ET — CBS
I can’t believe the Browns are in one of my most anticipated games of the week, but here we are. Obviously the Chiefs are looking to rebound after their crushing Super Bowl loss, while Cleveland is wanting to make a point that they can challenge in the AFC North.
From mimicking the footwork of his father and uncle (Bills WR Stefon Diggs) to his touchdown dance in the preseason, Aaiden Diggs has stolen the show every step of the way. With the season finale coming up on Tuesday evening, Aaiden has again provided a signature moment, one that loosely involves the Kansas City Chiefs’ star quarterback.
“Imma train for Dak Prescott,” Aaiden said to the cameras. “He’s my favorite quarterback in my whole entire world.”
Little did Aaiden know, moments later he’d get a chance to meet his favorite quarterback. However, when Prescott walked through the door, Aaiden promptly mistook him for Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes and hilarity ensued.
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“I think T.J. should get whatever the heck he wants,” Roethlisberger said. “He’s arguably the best football player in the game right now, not just on defense, just in general.
“One of the reasons I took less money was for guys like him to get paid, and he needs to get paid. He deserves every penny that he wants and asks for. T.J. Watt is that guy that should get whatever he wants.”
New Orleans has a history of turning to former first-round Buckeyes who never quite stuck with their initial NFL teams. The Saints acquired former Giants first-rounder Eli Apple via trade in October of 2018, and Apple stuck with the Saints through the conclusion of the 2019 campaign.
Roby’s tale is similar, having played his first five seasons in Denver but never fully living up to his own first-round hype before moving onto Houston, where he’s played 10 games in each of his last two seasons, recording a combined three interceptions.
Nearly two years after being indicted on fraud charges, former NFL running back Clinton Portis is among three ex-players who have pleaded guilty for their roles in a nationwide scheme targeting a healthcare benefit program for retired NFL veterans. As the U.S. Department of Justice announced this week, the longtime Washington standout faces up to 10 years in prison for the charges, which allege he wrongly obtained nearly $100,000 as part of a ring that sought $2.9 million through false reimbursement claims.
Portis, 40, a two-time Pro Bowler who began his career with the Broncos and spent seven of his 10 seasons in Washington, pleaded guilty alongside former Chiefs return specialist Tamarick Vanover and former linebacker Robert McCune, who allegedly orchestrated the scheme. The NFL’s Gene Upshaw Health Reimbursement Account, established in 2006 to help retired players cover medical expenses, provides up to $350,000 in benefits per player. Court documents, however, indicate Portis submitted false and fraudulent claims for medical equipment that was not actually provided.
In case you missed it on Arrowhead Pride
In his first Chiefs season, Clark had eight sacks, 12 tackles for loss, an interception and three forced fumbles during the regular season. Had he been on a smaller contract, that would have been solid production in the minds of most observers. But he also missed two regular-season games and wasn’t really close to the conversation around the best pass rushers in the league.
Then came the postseason run — and a second nickname for Frank Clark. The Shark became The Closer, seemingly ending each game, and he racked up five sacks, including three in the Divisional Round, one to close out the AFC championship game and one in the Super Bowl.
2020 would be his opportunity to show up healthy and dominate more consistently, or at least we hoped. The Chiefs renewed their commitment by restructuring Clark’s contract to clear cap space and make Clark even more difficult to cut. But Clark again would have somewhat disappointing returns in the regular season, with only six sacks. However, The Closer did make another strong appearance in the playoffs, with three sacks, including two in the AFC championship game.
So what led to the dropoff in production?
We eventually found out that Clark had been battling through several ailments, including a cervical neck strain and some hamstring issues, but also a mysterious stomach ailment that caused him to lose significant weight and play at less than full strength for much of his Chiefs career. Clark displayed tremendous toughness and resolve, playing through whatever he was battling without complaint or excuses.
Still, many media and fans would look forward to the 2022 season when the Chiefs could release Clark, saving nearly $14 million on the cap and cutting off the two biggest years on his backloaded contract.
Then, in 2021, Clark reportedly was arrested not once but twice for weapons-related charges on traffic stops. There was a lot of speculation at the time that Clark would be suspended or that the Chiefs would try to void his contract guarantees to move on as soon as possible.