Last week, the teams that needed to improve the most in the NFC were under the microscope. This week focuses on the other side of the league — the AFC.
AFC North: Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals find themselves on this list after a particularly bad run of luck the past three years. Since quarterback Andy Dalton joined the locker room, the team has seen a fair amount of success but even that had limits, particularly when it came to primetime games or the playoffs. Then last year the team resembled the New York Giants at times by racking up the injury count. This year, everyone is supposed to be back and healthy. Plus, head coach Marvin Lewis is finally gone. There has been a lot of speculation over the past few years as to whether or not the Bengals’ poor past season performances were linked more to Dalton or to Lewis. As it often is in the NFL, Lewis took the brunt of the blame. They still have star players like A.J. Green and Joe Mixon. With the coach gone, the Bengals’ excuses are gone, too. They need to start winning games that matter.
AFC South: Jacksonville Jaguars
Two years ago, the Jaguars made the Conference Championship game in the playoffs. It was an impressive run for the team that had gone 3-13 the season prior. In fact, in the past five years, the Jaguars have not won more than five games in a season with the exception of 2017. What’s particularly odd about their lack of wins is that the losses seem to come in waves despite having one of the more highly ranked defenses in the league. This year, the Jags decided that they would no longer stand behind Blake Bortles as their quarterback and would instead put their faith in veteran Nick Foles. The Jags had firepower on the field with Bortles but they often lost players due to injuries. They have a strong defense and any ground game led by Leonard Fournette is bound to be strong. When you have a highly ranked defense but can’t deliver wins, something is wrong. The old adage is that defense wins games, but that’s simply not the case in Jacksonville.
AFC North: Cleveland Browns
The Browns are on this list for reasons similar to the other AFC North team on this list. From 2016 to 2017, the Browns were universally known and accepted as the worst team in the league, managing only a single win over the course of 32 games. In the past five years, they haven’t won more than seven games in a season. A fair amount of their issues can be linked to the constant changing of quarterbacks, often prematurely. That is supposed to be over now. Baker Mayfield has been by and large the best quarterback to suit up in Cleveland in recent years. 2019 will be his first full season as quarterback and while the Browns have been playing the quarterback shuffle, various stars have emerged on the field and this offseason led to some even bigger names like Odell Beckham, Jr. and Kareem Hunt joining the squad. On paper, the Browns are shaping up to be a threat on the field. Again, resembling the Bengals, they have no more excuses if they don’t do well.
AFC East: New York Jets
In the past five years, there has only been more than one season that ended with a winning record for the Jets (2015, 10-6). Any other season showed the team not winning more than five games. That also means that it has been four years since Ryan Fitzpatrick sprinkled some Fitz-magic in New Jersey, only to flop the following year. The Jets are, like the Browns, known for being bad and are often the butt of jokes among fans. This offseason, the team made a shocking reach for Le’Veon Bell and nabbed him while simultaneously depleting a very large portion of the much-needed salary cap. If you are going to sign a player who basically spent 2018 throwing a temper tantrum about wanting more money, and then you give him said money, it better pay off. Pun intended. The Jets cannot keep having losing seasons.
AFC West: Oakland Raiders
Once upon a time, Derek Carr was supposed to be the quarterback that brought the Raiders to the winner’s bracket … and for one season, he was. With wide receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree at his side, the Raiders did well in 2016 until Carr got injured. It seems after the injury, Carr went back to playing like his old self, not his 2016 self with 12 wins. Excluding 2016, Carr has not won more than seven games in a season in the past five years. The Raiders even tried changing up coaches, bringing Jon Gruden back to the sidelines. There have been some interesting moves in the wide receiver area since Gruden has taken over, first with veteran Jordy Nelson and now with Antonio Brown. Carr had an opportunity to throw to some of the best receivers in the game, and it is time that the Raiders improve or maybe realize that the wide receiver position isn’t the one that needs to change.