My 2021-2022 AFC Projections

Charles Lachman, Editor

The 2021-2022 NFL season is fast approaching, and while some teams are in the driver’s seat ready to make the playoffs, other teams are struggling to come up with a solid game plan and strategy. Winning their division is probably on most teams’ bucket list for this year, and here is who I think will achieve that goal. In this article, I will cover who I think will win each division in the AFC. In my next article, I will cover who I think will win each division in the NFC.

 

AFC North: Baltimore Ravens

 

Rationale

The Baltimore Ravens are not coming off an unbelievable year as they had in 2019-2020 (when they led the league with a 14-2 record), but they still had a solid year. While quarterback Lamar Jackson did not put up the same numbers he did in his 2019-2020 MVP campaign, he still had a 26 to 9 interception ratio, with a quarterback rating of just below 100. The Ravens seem to be the most solid team in this division, with an above-average tight end in Mark Andrews, standout rookie running back JK Dobbins, a defense containing two of the best cornerbacks in the league (Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters), and a ton of draft capital. 

 

Draft Analysis

Baltimore’s biggest needs are up front on their offensive line and at the wide receiver position. Although Baltimore finally acquired a wide receiver in free agency, Sammy Watkins, the deal he signed was with little commitment. Additionally, there were much better options in free agency that Baltimore simply passed on. Since Baltimore traded away stud right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. to the Kansas City Chiefs for draft capital, Baltimore should use either their first-round pick or Kansas City’s first-round pick on a wide receiver. LSU’s Terrace Marshall Jr. draws my attention, as he would be a great fit for the Baltimore offense. With the Ravens’ offensive line, there are multiple options, at tackle, guard, and center, that would be a good fit for the Baltimore offense. Two of these options are Michigan’s tackle Jalen Mayfield and Alabama’s center Landon Dickerson. If Baltimore can land Marshall and Mayfield or Dickerson, there is no doubt in my mind that the Ravens will earn the title of an AFC North division champion.

 

AFC South: Indianapolis Colts

 

Rationale

The Indianapolis Colts are coming off a year in which many columnists called them “a quarterback away from competing for a Super Bowl.” Although he is not Deshaun Watson or Patrick Mahomes, there are still other teams that would love to have Carson Wentz as their starting quarterback. Wentz was acquired earlier in March from the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for a 2021 third-round draft pick and a conditional 2022 second-round draft pick. Wentz, whose best year by far was in 2017, is looking for a rebirth of his career in Indianapolis. He struggled much of last year and was eventually benched for rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts. However, in 2017, Wentz’s offensive coordinator in Philadelphia was Frank Reich, who is now the head coach of the Colts. With this in mind, along with getting a better running back, receiving core, and offensive line, the transition from Philadelphia to Indianapolis should benefit Wentz. 

 

Indianapolis is poised to win the division because of its running back, offensive line, and defense. Running back Jonathan Taylor had an amazing rookie campaign, as he put up over 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns. The Indianapolis offensive line is a definite top-3 offensive line, with guard Quenton Nelson as the leader. Nelson is easily the best guard in football, as he has only allowed three sacks on 1,946 pass-blocking snaps in his first three seasons. The Colts defense was ranked in the top five in total yards allowed last season. The Colts look like the team to beat in the AFC South, and it is still before the draft. 

 

Draft Analysis

As for their team needs, the wide receiver, tight end, defensive end, and offensive tackle positions can all be addressed later in the draft, as they are not huge needs. I expect Indianapolis to trade down to another team and acquire some good draft capital for this year and next. As long as the Colts stay healthy, I think winning the AFC South will be achievable.

 

AFC East: Buffalo Bills

 

Rationale

The Buffalo Bills are coming off a very promising year in which they made it to the AFC Conference Championship. Quarterback Josh Allen had a breakout year. He threw for over 4,500 yards, 37 touchdowns, and only 10 interceptions. Wide receiver Stefon Diggs also had a breakout year, leading the NFL in receptions (127) and yards (1,535). Their offense was ranked ninth overall in yards gained. Their defense was not great, but it also was not horrible, as it was ranked 15th overall in yards allowed; a solid, yet unspectacular unit. Unlike many other teams during the NFL’s offseason, the Bills did not engage heavily in free agency. They only made two key free agency acquisitions: bringing in wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders from the New Orleans Saints and quarterback Mitchell Trubisky from the Chicago Bears. 

 

Draft Analysis

Overall, the Bills’ biggest needs are at running back, defensive end, and tight end. I do not think Buffalo will target an outstanding tight end in this year’s draft, such as Florida’s Kyle Pitts. I think targeting a defensive end is possible, such as Penn State’s Jayson Oweh, Wake Forest’s Carlos Basham Jr., or Washington’s Joe Tyron. However, I think it is highly likely that the Bills go after a running back first in this year’s draft, such as Alabama’s Najee Harris or North Carolina’s Javonte Williams. If Buffalo can get a great running back, a solid defensive end, and just an above-average and solid tight end in this year’s draft, they will almost certainly win the division next year.

 

AFC West: Kansas City Chiefs

 

Rationale

The Kansas City Chiefs are coming off a year in which they went 14-2 in the regular season and went to the Super Bowl. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes continued his dominance over the rest of the league, throwing for over 4,700 yards, 38 touchdowns, and only six interceptions. Wide receiver Tyreek Hill had an amazing year, catching 87 passes for 1,276 yards and 15 touchdowns. Tight end Travis Kelce also had an amazing year, catching 105 passes for 1,416 yards and 11 touchdowns. Kelce’s amazing year included him finishing 119 yards short of leading the league in receiving, something that no tight end has ever done before.  The Chiefs offense overall was very electric, ranking first in yards per game. The Chiefs defense also performed well, ranking 10th in yards per game and sixth in points allowed per game. Following the Super Bowl, it was very obvious what the Chiefs’ biggest need was – everything on the offensive line, especially at tackle. Kansas City could not contain Tampa Bay defensive ends Jason Piere-Paul and Shaquil Barrett, or for that matter, the rest of the Tampa Bay defensive line. However, the Chiefs have made several key transactions this offseason. They signed a top-five guard from the Patriots, Joe Thuney. They signed a three-time pro bowl guard from the Bears, Kyle Long. They signed a great run blocking center from the Rams, Austin Blythe. They are getting back a great guard, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif this season, as he took this season off to work at a hospital in Canada to take care of COVID patients. And just recently, they made the move to get pro bowl tackle Orlando Brown Jr. from the Ravens, sending a 2021 first-round draft pick, third-round draft pick, fourth-round draft pick, and 2022 fifth-round draft pick to Baltimore and receiving Brown, a 2021 second-round draft pick, and a 2022 sixth-round draft pick. 

 

Draft Analysis

With the offensive line being erased from Kansas City’s team needs board following all these transactions, the Chiefs’ biggest need is now a defensive end. The Chiefs lost defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon to free agency, but the signing of free agent defensive tackle Jarran Reed from the Seahawks will allow pro bowl defensive tackle, Chris Jones, to shift to defensive end in obvious passing situations. While the Chiefs lost wide receiver Sammy Watkins to free agency, the need to draft a wide receiver should be mitigated by DeMarcus Robinson and Byron Pringle taking on larger roles in the Chiefs’ high-powered offense. However, the Chiefs are not in desperate need of anything at the moment, as they can easily settle for a solid to above-average defensive end and wide receiver. Considering the Chiefs have dominated the AFC West for the past five years, and the fact that this year’s team is going to be much better than last year’s team, the Kansas City Chiefs will clinch their sixth straight AFC West division title.