Identifying Relevant Teams in the AFC

Just a few days ago, New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton said that every year there are about 10 to 11 teams that are considered relevant going into training camps. After the 2020 NFL Draft and the recent free agency period, many fans see their teams as contenders for the playoffs. However, Payton believes that only a third of the NFL is relevant. Let us decipher which teams are relevant and which are pretenders going into the new football season. 

New York Jets: Pretenders

The Jets have increased their talent on the roster since the end of the 2019 season. They revamped the offensive line to help keep their franchise quarterback Sam Darnold safe. However, a single injury to Darnold could easily derail their season again. 

Miami Dolphins: Pretenders

The Dolphins added many new faces through free agency and the draft. But without a reliable quarterback in 2020, the team will seemingly fall out of relevancy. They could see a jump soon as Tua Tagovailoa will be their answer for 2021.

New England Patriots: Pretenders 

Replacing Tom Brady is impossible. It was bound to happen soon for New England. Jarrett Stidham will start for the team, leading them into a new era of Patriots football. The team is still without any reliable and healthy weapons on offense, making the team irrelevant for this upcoming season. 

Buffalo Bills: Relevant 

Josh Allen should lead the Buffalo Bills to an AFC East divisional title. He has the best offense in the division and arguably the best defense in the whole conference. With the Patriots taking a year to find their quarterback of the future, the Bills now have the talent to make a run. 

Pittsburgh Steelers: Pretenders

The Steelers have talent; there is no question about that. However, can that talent play together? Can they stay healthy? Will the team move on from important pieces? Unfortunately, this team has way too many important questions lingering over them to be considered one of the relevant teams going into the 2020 season. They can still fight for a playoff spot but are not real contenders. 

Cincinnati Bengals: Pretenders

Everyone understands why the Bengals are not relevant. They have an unproven rookie leading their team and last year struggled with injuries. They are also in the toughest division in the AFC, having to face the Steelers, Ravens, and Browns twice. 

Baltimore Ravens: Relevant

Lamar Jackson was the 2019 MVP and is now the new Madden cover athlete. The Ravens excelled in both offense and defense and can now boast the best secondary in the whole league. They added more players to their defensive line to fill in some missing holes. This team is ready to take on Kansas City for the title of the AFC crown. 

Cleveland Browns: Relevant

Although the Browns made big splashes last year, the team struggled under former head coach Freddie Kitchens. Now, the Browns have Kevin Stefanski and a better offensive line. The team kept adding depth to the roster, and this should be the year where the Browns not only make the playoffs but also contend for the AFC crown. 

Houston Texans: Pretenders

The Texans may have a great quarterback in DeShaun Watson. However, without a No. 1 receiver and a reliable running back, the team will struggle throughout the season. From the outside, the Texans may have closed their championship window under head coach Bill O’Brien. 

Indianapolis Colts: Pretenders 

Phillip Rivers was not the clear answer for the Colts as they drafted Jacob Eason. Rivers was a talented quarterback who could lead his team to the playoffs. The talent around him is increible, and everything he needs to succeed is with him. Rivers did show regression with the Chargers last season, and it will be hard for an immobile quarterback at his age to have a comeback season that would help his team be considered relevant. 

Jacksonville Jaguars: Pretenders

The Jaguars have said that Gardner Minshew will be their starting quarterback for 2020. They did not sign or draft any notable quarterbacks to make anyone believe that they were lying. The team is ready for a rebuild and could see key players such as running back Leonard Fournette traded by the trade deadline. 

Tennessee Titans: Pretenders

The team is built for another 9-7 record. They could have another Cinderella run like they did in 2019, but with the aging talent and uncertainty of some players’ futures after 2020, the Titans could crumble easily this upcoming season. 

Kansas City Chiefs: Relevant

For as long as Patrick Mahomes has a receiver in Tyreek Hill and a tight end in Travis Kelce, the Chiefs will be relevant. For the following three years, the Chiefs should be amongst the best teams in the AFC. 

Los Angeles Chargers: Relevant

This will shock many as the team underperformed last season. Although Tyrod Taylor is not a franchise quarterback, he is a very reliable and underappreciated player. In a sense of turnovers, he mimics Aaron Rodgers. The talent around Taylor should be enough for him to succeed into the playoffs and make a run. 

Las Vegas Raiders: Pretenders

This team is interesting. They have a quarterback who is in the middle of his prime but besides a few positions filled with talent, the team is still not ready to push more than eight wins. Las Vegas is a few years away from being relevant, barring a drastic change or upcoming players developing quicker than expected. 

Denver Broncos: Pretenders

Let’s see if Drew Lock is actually the franchise quarterback that many believe he is. He came in late last season and showed promise to the fans in Denver. The team also added Melvin Gordon to an already established run game. This allows Lock to not be pressured to carry the team throughout the game as he can rely on both Gordon and Phillip Lindsay. If Lock succeeds, this team could be relevant by 2021.

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