There are only two weeks left in the 2017-2018 NFL Regular Season. It makes sense for me to come out with my AFC Playoffs Preview. Sure, I know that a lot could be decided from now until the final game in NFL Week 17. But, let’s be honest, NFL handicappers and NFL fans know exactly who are the best AFC teams heading into the playoffs.
One thing to note, the rankings below are my rankings. Let’s get to it!
2017 AFC Playoffs Preview
1. New England Patriots
Offense: Based on total yards per game, New England ranks second in the NFL. The Patriots average 397.6 yards per game. New England ranks fourth in points per game with 28.2 points per. The Pats have the number one passing attack in the NFL. It averages 286.9 yards per.
Defense: Based on total yards allowed per game, the Patriots really aren’t that special. New England allows over 377 total yards per game. The Patriots do rank 6th in total points allowed on average per. Opponents only average 19.6 points per game versus the New England Patriots.
Bottom Line: New England’s best assets are quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick. As an organization, the Patriots have an incredible way of ingesting players into their system. Belichick doesn’t necessarily care about your past. If you aren’t a Patriot type player, he’ll bench you in favor of someone who is a Patriot type player. RB Mike Gillislee is a prime example of Coach Belichick’s philosophy. Gillislee rushed for 4 TDs in New England’s first couple of games. Since Week 10, Gillislee hasn’t received a single carry due to ineffectiveness.
Belichick’s and Brady’s focus spreads to the rest of the team. Because of that, New England is a less than 3 to 1 favorite to win Super Bowl 52. It’s hard to argue against the short odds given the Patriots past Super Bowl success.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars
Offense: The Jaguars offense is based on a stellar rushing attack. The Jags rank first in total rushing yards per game. Jacksonville averages an excellent 149 rushing yards per. The Jags only average 219 passing yards per. Still, Jacksonville rushes for so many yards that they rank 6th in the NFL in total yards per game at 368.
Defense: Jacksonville’s D ranks third in yards allowed per. Opponents average 284 total yards per game versus the Jacksonville Jaguars defense. Jacksonville allows opponents to rush for 115.2 yards per game on average. Opponents pass for an average of 169 yards per game versus the Jaguars. Jacksonville ranks first in the NFL in points allowed per game at 14.9.
Bottom Line: Why do I have the Jacksonville Jaguars ranked ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs? QB Blake Bortles. The biggest knock against the Jaguars before the season was the play of their starting quarterback. Bortles got benched during a preseason game. There were rumors that Tom Coughlin might actually cut Bortles.
In the Jags’ first few games this season, it appeared as if Coughlin made a mistake by not cutting Bortles. But, somehow, someway, Blake Bortles has become one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. No, I’m serious. Bortles is hotter than any QB in the NFL, that’s for sure. Not counting Week 16, Blake Bortles has recorded 3 straight triple-digit QB ratings: 119.8 in a 30 to 10 win over Indianapolis, 123.7 in a 30 to 24 win over Seattle, and a 143.8 QB rating in a 45 to 7 win over Houston.
If Blake Bortles has become a great NFL quarterback, Jacksonville has the best shot of upsetting the New England Patriots. When Bortles plays well, the Jags are a complete football team. The Jags already have arguably the best defense in the NFL. The rushing attack is ranked first in the NFL. Bortles is the key.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
Offense: Pittsburgh averages 383.5 total yards per game. That ranks fourth in the NFL. The Steelers only rank twenty-first in rushing yards per game, though. Pitt averages a bit over 102 rushing yards per. The Steelers score an average of 24.6 points per. That ranks ninth in the league.
Defense: Pittsburgh’s defense has had somewhat of a resurgence this season. The Steel Curtain ranks in the Top 10 in yards allowed, passing yards allowed, rushing yards allowed, and points allowed. Pittsburgh is fourth in the league in total yards allowed. Pitt ranks seventh in the NFL in points allowed per game at 19.9.
Bottom Line: On the surface, the Pittsburgh Steelers appears to be one of the few teams that could take down the New England Patriots. Pitt’s ability to move the football through the air and the ground, as well as it’s defense, makes it a Super Bowl contender. There’s also no denying the leadership skills of QB Ben Roethlisberger and coach Mike Tomlin. Those two have already won a Super Bowl together.
But, a deeper dive reveals that Pitt might have a couple substantial issues. The defense is only great in spots. For example, the D allowed the Baltimore Ravens to score 38 points against it. In fact, in Pitt’s 4 games since Nov. 26, teams have scored at least 20 points against the Steel Curtain. Green Bay, with Brett Hundley at QB, scored 28.
There’s also a question about Pittsburgh’s offense. The Steelers top offensive player, WR Antonio Brown, tore a calf muscle in Pittsburgh’s Week 15 home loss to the New England Patriots. Without Brown Pitt can’t run the same offensive plays that they’d usually run. That could give an advantage to any defenses Pittsburgh faces in the playoffs.
These are the main reasons I rank Pittsburgh behind the Jacksonville Jaguars.
4. Kansas City Chiefs
Offense: Kansas City’s offense ranks in the Top 10 in every important offensive category. The Chiefs average 373 yards per game. That’s good enough for a fifth ranking. QB Alex Smith averages 252.4 passing yards per. That ranks KC seventh in the NFL in passing yards per game. The Chiefs rush for 120.7 yards on average each week. That ranks tenth in the league. KC’s 25.6 points per ranks sixth in the NFL.
Defense: As good as KC’s offense is, the Chiefs’ defense is just as bad. KC ranks twenty-eighth in yards allowed per game. Opponents rack up 368.6 total yards per versus KC’s defense. KC isn’t effective at stopping either the run, or the pass. Opponents rush for an average of 122.9 yards per game. Opponents pass for an average of 245.7 yards per game. Opposing teams score 21.6 points per on average against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Bottom Line: After Kansas City’s 31 to 38 Week 13 loss to the New York Jets, I was ready to put a fork into the Chiefs. It made no sense to me how a team like KC could possibly win its division, much less the Super Bowl.
Kansas City looked horrible on defense. The Chiefs didn’t look all that great on offense, either. But, coach Andy Reid has turned around the sinking ship. KC rides a 2 game winning streak into their Week 16 battle against the Miami Dolphins. KC beat Oakland 26 to 15. NFL fans sort of expected that win. NFL fans didn’t expect the Chiefs to dominate the San Diego Chargers 30 to 13 in Week 15. That’s the reason why some believe KC is a real contender to upset the New England Patriots in the AFC.
I’m not one of those people…yet. Kansas City must prove that it can dominate teams that aren’t in its division. There’s a good chance KC makes it to the AFC Divisional Playoffs. I’m not sure if they can get further than that.
Top AFC Wildcard Team
5. Baltimore Ravens
Offense: Baltimore averages 24.6 points per game. That ranks eighth in the NFL. What’s crazy about Baltimore’s offense is that even though the Ravens average that many points, they only average around 304 yards per game. The Ravens rank twenty-ninth in passing yards per. They rank twelfth in rushing yards per.
Defense: The Ravens tenth ranked defense allows an average of 324.7 total yards per game. Opponents only average 18.3 points per.
Bottom Line: There’s a chance the Baltimore Ravens don’t make the AFC Playoffs. I certainly hope they make it because if they do, Baltimore will have as good of a shot as anybody to upset the New England Patriots.
Baltimore has upset the Patriots in the past. The Ravens, for some reason, know the best way to play against Tom Brady. But, that’s not the real reason I like Baltimore. I like Baltimore because their biggest Achilles Heel this season, the passing game, has gotten demonstrably better. Joe Flacco’s TD to INT ratio in Baltimore’s last 3 games is 5 to 1.
Flacco’s improvement definitely has something to do with Alex Collins becoming Baltimore’s lead back. With Collins able to keep defenses honest, Flacco can expand the passing attack.
Baltimore will have a legitimate shot at winning the AFC should they make the postseason.