The NFL is back and already there is plenty to talk about. The reigning champion Kansas City Chiefs were downed in this season’s curtain raiser at home against the Detroit Lions. Four-time MVP and brand new New York Jets franchise quarterback Aaron Rodgers suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into his debut. And the new campaign has barely gotten underway.
During the opening weekend of the season, it wasn’t just Patrick Mahomes’ Lombardi holders that suffered a shock defeat. Both the Cincinnati Bengals and the Buffalo Bills have become powerhouses in the AFC over the last couple of years, however, both of them were on the receiving end of disappointing losses. The former were thumped on enemy territory by their rival Cleveland Browns, while the latter suffered defeat on the road to the aforementioned Jets, even without their superstar new addition.
Heading into the new season, online NFL lines and futures had made that pair two of the favorites for Super Bowl glory this season. However, odds on both sides have drifted somewhat, with the Bengals sliding from around the +800 mark all the way out to +1400 at the time of writing. But with a number of big names already struggling, the door is well and truly open for some surprising divisional winners to make it into the playoffs.
Admittedly, it is still very early days. The league’s behemoths may very well sort their acts out in next to no time and go on to dominate. But, we’re not going to give them the chance to. Here are our predictions to win each division in the AFC this season… and yes, we’re well aware that it’s far too early to make such bold claims.
AFC East – Miami Dolphins
Back in May, ESPN NFL analyst Louis Riddick became somewhat of a laughingstock when he picked the Miami Dolphins to win the AFC East. All we have to say is, you’re not laughing now, are you? The Hard Rock Stadium outfit picked up a hard-fought 36-34 win on the road against Justin Herbert’s Los Angeles Chargers on the opening weekend of the campaign, laying down a marker for what’s to come.
With the New York Jets losing their star man and the Buffalo Bills making a stuttering start, two teams that are in the Dolphins’ division – the opportunity for Miami is certainly there to take the bull by the horns. Had it not been for an injury to quarterback Tua Tagovailoa midway through last season, they may very well have won the division last year. Providing he stays fit, we fancy them to right that wrong this term.
AFC West – Kansas City Chiefs
Even though the Kansas City Chiefs stumbled out of the blocks in their opening-day defeat, it would be foolish to write them off just yet. They have reached the AFC Championship game in each of the last five seasons, converting two of those appearances into Lombardi trophies, and they will be there or thereabouts once more this term. They have proven that they can bounce back before, just as they did back in February.
At Super Bowl LVII, the Chiefs found themselves ten points down to the Philadelphia Eagles and all hope seemed lost. However, quarterback Patrick Mahomes would rally the troops to complete the turnaround, with a last-gasp field goal securing the victory. We aren’t saying that they will retain their crown at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas next February however, we certainly expect them to win their division.
AFC North – Cincinnati Bengals
Now team out of the preseason favourites for the Lombardi made a worse start than the Cincinnati Bengals. The Paycir Stadium side have reached the AFC Championship game in each of the last two seasons. Both times they would come against the champion Chiefs, winning once and losing the other.
As such, many expected that the next phase of their evolution would be a maiden Super Bowl triumph. Those expectations were dashed on week one with their humbling defeat in Cleveland. However, with Joe Burrow – who was made the highest-paid player in NFL history on the eve of the new season – at quarterback, anything is possible.
Despite their defeat, we expect them to shake their cobwebs off and regroup. With Burrow searching out game-winning wide receivers in the form of Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins, surely they will bounce back and top their division once more.
AFC South – Jacksonville Jaguars
The AFC South should be ripe for the picking for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Last season, their first appearance in the playoffs for five years ended in the divisional round. However, it didn’t end before they gave the eventual champion chiefs an almighty scare. With neither the Indianapolis Colts, the Houston Texans nor the Tennessee Titans having remotely impressive rosters, the Jaguars should romp to the divisional title for the second straight season.