In Part 1 of my 2019 NFL predictions, we took a look at what could transpire in the NFC. Now, let’s dive into how things could shake out in the AFC in 2019.
- New England Patriots: 14–2
- New York Jets: 9–7
- Buffalo Bills: 8–8
- Miami Dolphins: 4–12
- Houston Texans: 12–4
- Indianapolis Colts: 11–5
- Tennessee Titans: 8–8
- Jacksonville Jaguars: 7–9
- Los Angeles Chargers: 12–4
- Kansas City Chiefs: 10–6
- Denver Broncos: 7–9
- Oakland Raiders: 6–10
- Baltimore Ravens: 9–7
- Pittsburgh Steelers: 8–8
- Cleveland Browns: 7–9
- Cincinnati Bengals: 5–11
Week One is not exactly must-win, though getting off to a great start is ideal. However, if there was ever a team that needed a good taste in its mouth to start the year, that team would be the Houston Texans. Despite a fairly quiet free agency period, Houston has had an eventful offseason. There has been a front office shuffle (and not getting Nick Caserio, as the Texans were once again beat by the Patriots) and the Jadeveon Clowney contract situation. So why 12–4?
For starters, head coach/GM Bill O’Brien is on the hot seat and very likely coaching for his job. Of all things O’Brien has done as coach, his best trait is that he performs very well when his back is against the wall. Last year and 2015 are prime examples. Houston started 2–5 in 2015 pre-Watson, won the AFC South, but then got drilled by the Chiefs 30–0 in the wild card round. Last season, a lot of key players, including Deshaun Watson, did not play much in the preseason, and it showed as the Texans came out 0–3. Like 2015, when things seemed bleak and Bill O’Brien was on the hot seat, the Texans turned their season around, winning nine straight games. But the Texans went 2–2 to close the season, giving the New England Patriots the number two seed in the playoffs, and the Texans ended up losing to the rival Colts in embarrassing fashion at home.
Another reason the Texans will win 12 games is Deshaun Watson. Yes, their schedule is brutal, but in years past, the Texans did not have a star at quarterback. Now they do, if they can keep him upright. As long as Watson is healthy, and if the Texans defense can be just as good as they were a season ago (12th in total defense and 4th in scoring), then the Texans certainly have a chance to contend. Their biggest key will be pass protection, as they allowed a league-high 126 quarterback hits and 62 sacks. Some of the hits were a result of Watson holding the ball too long, but the majority were due to poor play up front. If the Texans are going to contend, they need more consistency from their offensive line. Another area where the Texans need to be better, is against the pass (they were 28th in the NFL in passing yards allowed). That’s especially true given their tough schedule, which starts off with the Saints. Though they made some effort to improve the secondary, it is still perceived as a weakness, and if it does not improve in 2019, life for the Texans can become even more difficult.
Each division, including what I perceive to be a weak AFC North, will be determined by the head-to-head matchups. The AFC South looks like it will be extremely competitive, but Nick Foles was not that great the last time he left the Eagles, and Marcus Mariota has been inconsistent so far, both in his health and his play on the field. That’s why I give Houston and the Colts the edge. I believe the Colts and Texans will split like they did in last year’s regular season, so the division will either come down to win-loss record, or whoever holds the edge in other tiebreaker situations.
A major reason I believe the Chargers win the AFC West is the quality of their roster. I give the coaching edge to Andy Reid, and a slight quarterback edge goes to Kansas City because Mahomes is younger than Rivers. Aside from at coach and quarterback, the Chargers have the edge on paper; but the game isn’t played on paper. A year ago, the two split the season series, but the Chiefs finished with a better conference record. As great as Mahomes was last year, now that the rest of the league has a full NFL season of film on him, replicating last season is going to be difficult. The Chiefs weren’t a great defensive team last year, and it cost them a trip to the Super Bowl. For this year, they’ve brought in Steve Spagnuolo to be their defensive coordinator and signed Tyrann Mathieu to help improve that side of the ball. I can see the Chiefs taking a step backwards, but they will still make the playoffs, and they could very well win the AFC West. But the Chargers have more talent, I predict they will use that as fuel to snatch the division.
The AFC East is rebuilding, though Buffalo and the Jets look like two teams with promise, especially if quarterbacks Sam Darnold (Jets) and Josh Allen (Bills) take a step forward in their progression. The AFC North doesn’t have a legit Super Bowl contender, at least not yet. The Ravens’ season hinges squarely on the development of Lamar Jackson, and the Steelers lost two of the league’s best players and have an aging quarterback with no replacement in the wings. The Browns have almost a whole new team, a second-year quarterback, and a first-year head coach. The Bengals have a new head coach and have not made the playoffs in three seasons; they probably won’t make it in 2019 either.
The granddaddy of them all is the New England Patriots. New England has won two of the last three Super Bowls, and they own the AFC. In 2016 Gil Brandt went on Good Morning Football and said the Texans sit at “the kiddie table.” If that is the case, then the rest of the AFC is sitting next to them, because nobody other than Peyton Manning’s Broncos in 2012 and 2015 and Joe Flacco’s Ravens in 2013 have prevented the Patriots from reaching the Super Bowl. New England has reached the AFC Title game every season since 2011. A big reason why is because they give themselves an extra week to prepare, as they have had a first-round bye in each of those eight seasons. The last time the Patriots lost before the AFC Title game was 2010, to the Jets at home.
On the subject of playing in Foxboro, it is nearly impossible to beat the Patriots there, as they have been the AFC’s number one seed four times in those eight years, each resulting in a trip to the Super Bowl. In fact, last year’s win over the Chiefs in the AFC title game was New England’s first AFC title as well as first Super Bowl title as a number two seed since they beat Andy Reid’s Eagles all the way back in 2004.
What is even more impressive is that New England has overcome some turbulence in each season, causing people to believe their run was over. But each year, when the calendar flips to December and January, the Patriots turn up the intensity and return to the Super Bowl.
Last season, the Patriots appeared as vulnerable as ever and seemed ripe for a postseason letdown. Then the Texans handed over the number two seed and allowed New England to gather their bearings. The Patriots had to go into Arrowhead to beat the Chiefs and snatch yet another AFC Title.
Super Bowl Pick
The Patriots appeared vulnerable last season, and I highly doubt they’ll be that vulnerable this year. They’ve already psyched the Texans out in the Nick Caserio battle, but make no mistake about it, Belichick is well aware of the capability the Texans with Watson have of beating them. Belichick is the smartest guy in the room, and he knows if his team can get one of the top two seeds at the end of the season, they are in great shape to win their fourth consecutive AFC Title. Why? Because the Texans, Colts, and Chargers are warm weather/indoor teams and don’t play well in the elements. Only the Chiefs or an AFC North team could handle the cold of Foxboro in January, but none of them are winning in Foxboro either.
So New England will come out with an eye on the number one seed, the road to the Super Bowl will go through Gillette. Because the Patriots are nearly impossible to beat in Gillette, once they have the number one seed, it won’t matter what the rest of the field looks like. We all know who’s coming out on top: the Patriots.
In the NFC, the Saints have had their hearts ripped out these past two postseasons. I see the Saints coming out once again with a vengeance, and this time, without any interference, the Saints will win the NFC by beating the Cowboys in the Superdome to advance to the Super Bowl.
Interestingly, the last time the Super Bowl was in Miami was in 2009, when the Saints beat the Colts. I think Miami will once again be a lucky place for Drew Brees and company; they will edge the Patriots on the same field where they beat the Colts for their first Super Bowl title.
Certain teams may appear better on paper, but people need to keep in mind that the game is played on the field. Once a game starts, who knows how things will unfold? So enjoy the rest of your summer, because training camp has started and so has the hunt for the Lombardi Trophy.