NFL Preview: Best, Worst-Case Scenarios for AFC Teams

AFC East

New England Patriots

Best-Case Scenario: 14-2. Backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo steadies the ship while Tom Brady serves a suspension, Brady’s weapons stay healthy and the offensive line builds consistency.

Worst-Case Scenario: 10-6. In Brady’s absence, the Patriots tumble out of the gate and some combination of tight end Rob Gronkowski, running back Dion Lewis, and receiver Julian Edelman catch the injury bug.

Projection: 12-4. For the fifth straight year, the Patriots finish at 12-4,

 

New York Jets

Best-Case Scenario: 11-5. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is once again a revelation but this time finishes the job, aided by one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL.

Worst-Case Scenario: 6-10. Fitz comes back down to Earth and a huge quarterback controversy between Fitzpatrick, Geno Smith, and Bryce Petty ensues.

Projection: 7-9. The Jets start off slow with five losses in their first seven as the quarterback play declines, but behind a beastly running attack and strong defense New York finishes in the playoff mix.

 

Buffalo Bills

Best-Case Scenario: 10-6. Tyrod Taylor is the answer at quarterback and a pass rush that deteriorated in 2015 returns to form.

Worst-Case Scenario: 5-11. Taylor is injured/ineffective, meaning EJ Manuel is forced into the starting spot. The defense continues its downward trend.

Projection: 6-10. The quarterback position is a major question mark again and the Rex Ryan era takes another turn downhill.

 

Miami Dolphins

Best-Case Scenario: 9-7. New coach Adam Gase works his magic on quarterback Ryan Tannehill, while defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh works his way into the Defensive Player of the Year conversation.

Worst-Case Scenario: 3-13. As was the case the last couple seasons, there isn’t a fix to the quarterback problem and the lack of depth across the board is exposed.

Projection: 5-11. The Dolphins start off hot behind a shocking opening month from Ryan Tannehill but lose nine of their last 11 to finish near the bottom of the AFC.

 

AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers

Best-Case Scenario: 13-3. The defense lives up to its potential and the trio of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le’Veon Bell, and receiver Antonio Brown stay on the field.

Worst-Case Scenario: 7-9. Roethlisberger goes out and the offense goes down with him, while the defense stays in the middle of the pack.

Projection: 13-3. The Steelers have a season for the ages. Antonio Brown finishes with close to 2,000 yards while Big Ben picks up his first MVP award. The defense also takes another leap towards respectability.

 

Baltimore Ravens

Best-Case Scenario: 11-5. The Ravens rebound from an injury-plagued 2015, with quarterback Joe Flacco, linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, and receiver Steve Smith not only returning but excelling. A running game is also built.

Worst-Case Scenario: 6-10. Flacco doesn’t return to the top of his game and the Ravens are again decimated by injury.

Projection: 10-6. The Ravens shock with a 5-2 start and do just enough to snag a Wild Card berth.

 

Cincinnati Bengals

Best-Case Scenario: 13-3. Andy Dalton officially joins the ranks of the elite and the defense shuts down the rest of the division.

Worst-Case Scenario: 7-9. The departure of offensive coordinator Hue Jackson sends the Bengals offense into a frenzy and Dalton regresses.

Projection: 10-6. The Bengals have enough talent to reach the playoffs for the sixth straight season. Andy Dalton regresses, but Jeremy Hill rushes for 1,200 yards and double digit touchdowns.

 

Cleveland Browns

Best-Case Scenario: 5-11. The offense is somewhat respectable, with strong seasons by rookie receiver Corey Coleman and running back Duke Johnson. Robert Griffin III becomes a starting-caliber quarterback.

Worst-Case Scenario: 1-15. The Browns suffer one of the worst seasons in NFL history, with no established starter at quarterback and a total defensive collapse.

Projection: 2-14. As expected, Griffin isn’t the answer and the Browns get roasted by a competitive division.

 

AFC South

Indianapolis Colts

Best-Case Scenario: 12-4. Quarterback Andrew Luck returns to full strength behind a rebuilt and revitalized offensive line and reenters the MVP conversation.

Worst-Case Scenario: 7-9. Luck struggles again in the offense, and Indy’s defense continues to be a weak spot in an up-and-coming division.

Projection: 11-5. Luck has an MVP-type campaign as the offense ranks as one of the top three in the NFL. Indy starts 6-0 and holds off Houston for the division title.

 

Houston Texans

Best-Case Scenario: 12-4. Houston finds its man in free agent acquisition Brock Osweiler and the combination of defensive linemen Jadeveon Clowney and J.J. Watt wreak havoc on offensive lines across the league.

Worst-Case Scenario: 7-9. Injuries take over the Texans’ season and Osweiler isn’t effective as a full-time starter.

Projection: 9-7. Osweiler has growing pains and the Texans miss Watt, but Houston almost steals the division title and finish just short of the playoffs.

 

Jacksonville Jaguars

Best-Case Scenario: 11-5. A roster loaded with young talent and potential blossoms, as Blake Bortles and co. win the division and reach the

Worst-Case Scenario: 4-12. The Jags churn out another lackluster season and coach Gus Bradley gets the boot.

Projection: 7-9. Jacksonville doesn’t live up to the hype, finishing at .500 or under for the tenth straight year. The Jags can’t protect Bortles and the rushing attack doesn’t provide much help either.

 

Tennessee Titans

Best-Case Scenario: 9-7. Quarterback Marcus Mariota, running back DeMarco Murray and rookie Derrick Henry power the Titans into the playoff conversation and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s defense takes a big leap.

Worst-Case Scenario: 2-14. Mariota can’t stay healthy and a roster with a ton of holes is exposed over and over.

Projection: 4-12. Mariota has flashes of greatness, but Tennessee shows that it is still a couple years from contention.

 

AFC West

Denver Broncos

Best-Case Scenario: 13-3. One of the quarterbacks fits into the game manager role while the defense continues to annihilate defenses.

Worst-Case Scenario: 6-10. The defense doesn’t return to Super Bowl form after multiple departures while none of the starters establishes himself.

Projection: 10-6. Denver starts 2-4, but the promotion of rookie Paxton Lynch to the starting quarterback spot jumpstarts the Broncos’ offense and the defense remains dominant.

 

Kansas City Chiefs

Best-Case Scenario: 13-3. The offense takes another step forward, as the backfield trio of Jamaal Charles, Charcandrick West, and Spencer Ware ranks among the league’s best. The defense stays healthy.

Worst-Case Scenario: 7-9. Alex Smith’s offense goes stagnant and the team is again ravaged with injury, on both sides of the field.

Projection: 8-8. Injuries take their toll on the Chiefs and Alex Smith can’t carry the offense on his back.

 

Oakland Raiders

Best-Case Scenario: 11-5. The Raiders take the next step and win the division for the first time in over a decade. Linebacker/defensive end Khalil Mack contends for Defensive Player of the Year and Derek Carr becomes a franchise quarterback.

Worst-Case Scenario: 5-11. Same old Oakland. A roster full of young, talented players disappoints and the defense doesn’t transform into an elite unit.

Projection: 7-9. The Raiders show playoff potential but can’t beat the best, losing to the Colts, Chiefs, Panthers, Ravens, and Broncos twice.

 

San Diego Chargers

Best-Case Scenario: 9-7. Receiver Keenan Allen stays healthy and has a monster year, while second year runner Melvin Gordon lives up to his potential. A talented defense led by rookie Joey Bosa and corner Jason Verrett makes a huge improvement.

Worst-Case Scenario: 5-11. Philip Rivers is the lone ranger in San Diego, as the running game stalls and the receivers can’t stay healthy.

Projection: 7-9. The Chargers make a modest improvement thanks to huge numbers from Philip Rivers, but the defense isn’t strong enough for the Bolts to be true contenders.

big ben

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