In a stark contrast to our expectations for the NFC, the AFC is filled with turnover. Only one division winner is projected to make the playoffs, while our predicted Super Bowl champion spent last postseason as outsiders, looking in.
The churning of the conference even yields more balanced standings, as only one team is projected with fewer than six wins. The entire AFC is strengthened, as a whole, despite New England, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland all losing key players to suspensions for the first few weeks of the year.
Buffalo Bills – 7-9, 4th in AFC East
In typical Rex Ryan fashion, the Buffalo Bills tout one of the game’s best rushing attacks, and it is further enhanced by the dual threat of quarterback Tyrod Taylor. But such a moniker suggests that Taylor is, indeed, a threat to opposing pass defenses. In 2015, the career-backup-turned-starting-quarterback featured an impressive 20-to-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio and proved to be thoroughly effective running Buffalo’s offense. Still, the team needed to win back-to-back games to close out the season with a non-losing record.
What has changed? Where is the avenue for more wins? Unfortunately for Buffalo, neither answer yields a positive result, as much of the Bills’ positive projections rely on either another improvement level for Taylor or a jump by the defense into the top tier of the league. The latter is somewhat concerning, as head coach Rex Ryan is famously known for the emphasis he places on his defenses. The former is flat-out dangerous, as Taylor has shown nothing to suggest that 2015 won’t be his best season. After all, his emergence was a relative surprise.
If Ryan does nothing else, he motivates his teams to remain competitive throughout the season. As Buffalo struggles through a rocky 2016 campaign, Ryan will prevent the Bills from plummeting to the depths of the conference. He has only had two losing seasons in his seven-year career.
New York Jets – 7-9, 3rd in AFC East
Throughout the entire offseason – and well into training camp – the question marks surrounding the New York Jets all included the quarterback position. This is never a good sign.
Eventually, incumbent starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was re-signed and given the reigns of the team, and projections that carried over from last year’s near-playoff run fell neatly into place.
Of course, we won’t be that foolish.
The debate between Geno Smith and Ryan Fitzpatrick appeared to suggest that one was more suited to result in a deep playoff run while the other would drag the team down. In reality, the amount of wins that each player would influence is likely small, as neither are truly outstanding.
Stepping away from the quarterback position, the Jets would need another repeat of last year’s top-five defense – in yards allowed – as well as the wide receiver duo of Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker finding some way to approach 2015’s record-setting performance to be in the playoff conversation. Returning to Fitzpatrick, the soon to be 34-year-old signal-caller will be tasked with repeating his career year after getting a late start to training camp.
With too many factors needed to deliver a double-digit win campaign, the Jets see a universal decrease in production, and fall under .500 by season’s end.
New England Patriots – 10-6, 2nd in AFC East