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Ranking the AFC’s teams after the Chiefs

Kansas City remains the class of the conference — but where do the other teams stand?

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The Kansas City Chiefs have made five straight AFC Championship games — and they are heavy favorites to make another. They’re clearly the AFC’s top dog.

But now that rosters are largely finalized, how do the other teams in the conference stack up to the Chiefs? Here’s my current ranking.

Tier 5: The AFC South (and the Raiders)

16. Las Vegas Raiders

The Raiders might’ve had the worst offseason in the NFL. After benching quarterback Derek Carr — thereby ruining his potential trade value — they signed quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, only to renegotiate his contract because he wouldn’t have passed a physical due to a foot injury. There’s a legitimate chance that fourth-round rookie Aidan O’Connell or Brian Hoyer will have to play quarterback. When you combine that with what is arguably the league’s worst defense, it’s hard to see the Raiders winning much this year.

15. Houston Texans

I liked Houston’s offseason, but they’re still far from competing at a high level. The lack of perimeter talent makes it hard for me to believe that newly-drafted quarterback C.J. Stroud can hit the ground running — and the defense still needs an overhaul. They’re improving, but they’re still too far away to win.

14. Indianapolis Colts

I’m a big believer in quarterback Anthony Richardson, but the Colts were a trainwreck on offense last year. And in this offseason, they only changed the quarterback and play-caller. As talented as Richardson is, he needs a long runway to develop. The Colts don’t have enough infrastructure for Richardson to boost their offense.

13. Tennessee Titans

I have a ton of respect for Mike Vrabel — but right now, the Titans arguably have the league’s worst offensive personnel. Without perimeter weapons or a strong offensive line, this team continues to deteriorate from its offensive peak between 2019 and 2021. Vrabel will have the team competing every week, but his offense just isn’t good enough to win games.

Tier 4: Failed quarterback trades

12. Denver Broncos

Hiring Sean Payton will make Denver’s offense credible, but replacing defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero with Vance Joseph was — for me — a questionable move; I see the defense regressing this year. While I expect Russell Wilson to be better this season, there’s been enough deterioration in his mobility that I can no longer see him being a top-10 quarterback again.

11. Cleveland Browns

Deshaun Watson was awful last year. It’s fair to expect him to be better with a full season, but I think he plays with a lot of variance. That doesn’t suit the style of offense head coach Kevin Stefanski wants to run. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz will make the Browns competent on defense, but they’re still not an elite unit. There’s a ton of pressure on the front office and coaching staff, and I’m not sure they’re equipped to handle it.

Tier 3: “How did they win nine games?”

10. Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers had a good draft and improved their offensive line, so I expect them to be good again. But I don’t feel either side of the ball is an above-league-average unit, which will make it difficult to compete with higher-level teams. Still, head coach Mike Tomlin will somehow get this team to nine wins.

9. New England Patriots

Last season, New England was arguably the league’s weirdest team. Even after the stunning decision to let Matt Patricia call offensive plays — which quarterback Mac Jones didn’t like — the offense cratered. But somehow, the Patriots won eight games! Their offensive personnel didn’t improve much, but hiring offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien breathed competency into the offense. Their defense has a chance to be special, but they still lack enough firepower to beat any of the contenders in the AFC.

Tier 2: Wild Card teams

8. Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers are essentially running back the same team that was embarrassed in the playoffs. Their core players are getting older — and that playoff loss will be something that’s hard to get over. There’s an incredible amount of pressure on the coaching staff and front office. I just don’t think they have the roster to overcome that pressure.

7. Jacksonville Jaguars

I thought Jacksonville’s offseason was weird. I was expecting them to go all-in on this roster while Trevor Lawrence is still on his rookie deal. But instead, they’re largely running back the same team that lost to the Chiefs last year. The Jaguars will be able to funnel their passing offense through wide receiver Calvin Ridley, but I don’t think the roster improved enough for them to be considered contenders.

6. New York Jets

With each passing day since the Jets traded for Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, I’ve become higher on the team. Even with the decline we saw in Rodgers last year, he’ll still be an improvement over Zach Wilson. The New York defense is tremendous — and if the offense is competent, they’ll be good. I do think it’ll take time for the team to develop, but the Jets could end the season on the contender list.

5. Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins started 7-2 last year. Now that Miami has hired defensive coordinator Vic Fangio — and brought in cornerback Jalen Ramsey — the defense has a chance to be elite. With the talent of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, I’m not worried about their offense regressing — providing that Tagovailoa can stay on the field. The Dolphins could have a top-10 offense and defense. In the right week, that’s enough to beat any other team.

Tier 1: Super Bowl Contenders

4. Cincinnati Bengals

This will surprise people, but I still think Cincinnati is very good. Their offense grew tremendously throughout the last season — and their defense has always defended elite quarterbacks well. They’re still serious Super Bowl contenders. I just think there are three other teams that will be better.

3. Buffalo Bills

There’s been too much negativity around Buffalo this offseason. Josh Allen was playing at an MVP-level before his UCL injury — and now that he’s healthy, I expect him to return to that level of play. It’s legitimate to criticize Buffalo’s defense for their performances against elite quarterbacks — but if Von Miller can return (and still play well), it’s going to once again be a top-10 defense. Last year, Buffalo’s offseason was nightmarish — but I expect the team to bounce back.

2. Baltimore Ravens

I’m all in on Baltimore. Last season —- with a backup quarterback — the Ravens were one fumble away from beating the Bengals in the Wild Card game. After trading for linebacker Roquan Smith, their defense was one of the best in the league. Replacing wide receivers Demarcus Robinson and Devin Duvernay with Odell Beckham Jr. and Zay Flowers will boost their offense back to elite status. I think the Ravens will have a top-five offense and defense — and they could be the league’s only team to do that.

1. Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs have the league’s best head coach and quarterback. You can nitpick roster flaws, but Kansas City is the AFC’s best team. I believe the defense will be better — and while I do have concerns about the Chiefs’ lack of offensive playmakers, there’s no way I’m picking any other team to beat them in the playoffs.

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