Playoff Predictions: 3 New Teams from the AFC

Dec 10, 2020; Inglewood, California, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton (middle) looks on from the sidelines with head coach Bill Belichick (right) after being replaced in the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Continuing from my article where I predicted which new teams would make the playoffs from the NFC. It’s now time to focus on the AFC, where it seems like the top teams are more set in stone. It would be a surprise if any of the Chiefs, Ravens, Browns, or Bills didn’t make the playoffs again. There is room for 2 or 3 new teams to get in, but I can’t see any coming from the North or South divisions. These are the teams I believe are most likely to break into the postseason party.

New England Patriots

I previously wrote in detail on the Patriots and predicted them to bounce back and win their division. I’m sticking to my guns on this one. The Patriots are a wounded animal after last season, and everything they’ve done this offseason shows determination to fight back. The phrase that has been repeated numerous times is still true. Never write off the Patriots. 

Ultimately, success this season hinges on Cam Newton playing at a higher level than he has done for a while. New England has worked hard to surround him with a team, to help him achieve that. It’s unlikely we see a return to the form of his MVP season in 2015 when he had a passer rating of 84.1. If he can find a little bit of that swagger, he can have his best season since then. If the current rumors of a trade for Julio Jones come to fruition, then the Patriots will be serious contenders. Even if they don’t they still have enough to make the playoffs.

The division looks stronger than it has done in a long time, and in what could turn out to be a real dog fight. I’m backing Bill Belichick to come out on top. After a first losing season since the year 2000, it’s no surprise to see Belichick being so aggressive this offseason.

Miami Dolphins

Miami came close last season, missing out on the playoffs despite winning 10 games. Obviously, with my prediction of the Patriots winning the division. A route to the playoffs for the Dolphins doesn’t seem easy. Even if they can’t overtake the Buffalo Bills, the AFC North proved, 3 qualifying teams from the same division a possibility last season.

For that to happen the Dolphins need a leap forward from second-year Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. The days of Tank for Tua seem a distant memory. Injury in his final year of college saw his status as the expected number one pick dropped, he went to the Dolphins with the 5th pick. He started the season as back up to Ryan Fitzpatrick, before finally getting the starting job in week 8. The hype and expectation seem to have greatly diminished, but Tua’s rookie season wasn’t shabby. A 6-3 record in 9 starts, just shy of 2000 yards and 11 touchdowns passes with a PFF rating of 65.4.

Miami’s defense was amongst the league’s best last season, conceding the 6th fewest points against. Head Coach Brian Flores will have that Dolphins defense formidable once again. They added 2 niece pieces in the draft in Jaelen Phillips and Jevon Holland, as well as veteran Cornerback Jason McCourty in free agency. They will be hoping 6th overall pick Alabama Wide Receiver Jaylen Waddle and Will Fuller can be the weapons Tua needs to get the offense up closer to the defense’s level.

Denver Broncos

It seems strange to say for a team that only won 5 games last season, but a lot of people are saying the Denver Broncos are “only a Quarterback away”. Things are rarely that simple, but if the Broncos could make a trade for want away Aaron Rodgers work. They’d instantly become Super Bowl contenders. Assuming that doesn’t happen, can they make the playoffs with Drew Lock and/or Teddy Bridgewater? I believe they can.

This most likely happens with a leap forward from Drew Lock, who hasn’t fully grasped his opportunity at Denver. He should get the chance to start again, and he needs to do better than his 63.4 passer rating from last season. A league-high 15 interceptions, and a league-low 57.3% completion percentage the 2 areas that need vast improvement. Lock has enough weapons around him to be a success, this year he has to take advantage.

Statistically, the Broncos defense didn’t look great last year, conceding the 25th most points in the league. With Von Miller back from injury, and 1st round Cornerback Patrick Surtain II added to the talented defensive unit. I expect Vic Fangio’s defender to be the driving force of a playoff push if the offense can click.