Every week during the NFL season, Tiebreaker.com presented our conference power rankings. The AFC was on Tuesday, the NFC on Wednesday.
This week in the AFC, the final week of the regular season, finds the Ravens on top, just where the best team in the NFL should be at this point.
1). Baltimore Ravens
The NFL’s best team heads into the playoffs armed with some of the top offensive talent the league has seen in decades. They rushed for 3,296 yards, the most in 41 years. Their point differential (249) is seventh best since 1966 – and five of the six teams ahead of them won the Super Bowl. And they have the MVP in Lamar Jackson. Good luck to anyone who tries to beat them at home in Janaury.
2). Kansas City Chiefs
Admit it. When Patrick Mahomes was injured on that quarterback sneak in Denver, you thought the Chiefs were done. They weren’t. Matt Moore kept them afloat and then Mahomes returned with a flurry reminiscent of his 2018 MVP season. Do they have problems? Sure. The running game isn’t up to speed, even though Damien Williams looks like he has potential. But they’ve won six straight and are playing with swag.
3). New England Patriots
Considering they felt last Sunday’s home game against the Dolphins was a playoff game – they needed it to get a first-round bye – it was strange to see the Patriots fall flat on their face. Now they’ll play in the wild card round for the first time since 2009. Then again, the loss was emblematic of their up-and-down season. Linebacker Kyle Van Noy called the postseason a “revenge tour.” But that could be said for those who might play them, as well.
4). Houston Texans
The Texans didn’t play Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins last week, and the Titans needed the win to make the playoffs, so let’s not read too much into what happened. If the offensive line can keep Watson upright, and Will Fuller can play, it’s hard to see the Bills stopping Houston’s passing attack. And the defense will be pumped up by the promised return of J.J. Watt.
5). Buffalo Bills
This has been one of the greatest seasons in recent Bills history, a major step forward under coach Sean McDermott. But they come into Houston with a number of nagging injuries, the worst of which might prevent cornerback Levi Wallace from playing. We will hope the Bills the best, but expect the worst.
6). Tennessee Titans
The renaissance began 10 games ago with the ascension of Ryan Tannehill. The Titans have won seven of 10 since he arrived, reason No. 1 they will play the Patriots in New England on Saturday night. But let’s not discount the contributions of Derrick Henry, the NFL’s leading rusher, who gained 211 yards and scored three TDs against the Texans last Sunday. Can the Titans knock off the Pats? Well, they are 0-6 at Gillette Stadium since the Oilers moved to Tennessee.
7). Pittsburgh Steelers
The season took an expected spiral when Ben Roethlisberger was lost for the season with an elbow injury. That set the Steelers on a course dependent on backups Mason Rudolph and Devlin “Duck” Hodges. Sometimes it looked good, sometimes it didn’t. And once you added injuries to JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner to the mix, you really couldn’t depend of them from week to week.
8). Denver Broncos
When the season began 0-4, who had to question John Elway’s sanity in replacing Vance Joseph with Vic Fangio. It seemed the team had gone from bad to worse. But they recovered nicely to win seven of their last 12, even after they lost linebacker Bradley Chubb to an ACL injury in Week 4. There is now optimism after seeing the way rookie QB Drew Lock played in his five starts. Elway said Monday it was unrealistic to think Lock would not be his starter in 2020. And that’s the way it should be.
9). Oakland Raiders
After spending the summer watching the team train on HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” you had the feeling the Raiders were on to something. And to be honest, the team did make a three-game improvement from 4-12 during John Gruden’s first season in 2018. Now hope rests in a 2020 draft that will bring the Raiders two more No. 1s to join standout rookies Josh Jacobs and Hunter Renfrow. Regardless, it’s off to Las Vegas.
10). Indianapolis Colts
When Andrew Luck retired two weeks before the start of the season, you wondered what would become of the Colts. But after they started the season 5-2, you figured it was going to be OK. That turned out to be premature. Jacoby Brissett, armed with a two-year, $30 million extension, couldn’t maintain the momentum and dropped almost to the bottom of the league in average passing yards (198.6). They finished the season 7-9. And that was disappointing.
11). New York Jets
The heat was really on coach Adam Gase after the Jets lost seven of their first eight games. But give him credit. The Jets rallied to 7-9, although their schedule down the stretch was the easiest in the league, according to the analytics folks. Still, their offense sucked. Le’Veon Bell’s average of 3.22 yards per carry was the lowest in team history for any back with at least 200 carries. That needs to change and Sam Darnold needs to grow if things are going to improve.
12). Los Angeles Chargers
We mentioned this over and over this season: the Chargers simply could not stop turning over the ball. And no one was less reliable than Philip Rivers, the veteran QB playing in his 16th season. He threw 18 interceptions and lost a bunch of fumbles, which negated his 4,615 yards passing and 34 TDs. Rivers has likely played his last game for the Chargers and the time seems right to say goodbye.
13). Cleveland Browns
What a disastrous season for the preseason’s sexy choice as AFC champion. They finished 6-10, which in turn finished overmatched first-year coach Freddie Kitchens, who was fired immediately after Week 17’s 33-23 loss to the Bengals. Baker Mayfield regressed. Odell Beckham, Jr., under-performed. Imagine what it would have been like had Nick Chubb not gained 1,494 yards. The Browns better get themselves a real coach.
14). Miami Dolphins
This will never happen, but how about a vote for Brian Flores as NFL coach of the year. How the heck did he win five games with that team? All the credit goes to veteran QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. He was so good it looks as if the Dolphins will bring him back for 2020. Now the question is what will the team do with its three first-round draft picks, beginning with No. 5? It will be a long time before they catch the Patriots, but maybe they won’t suck as much.
15). Jacksonville Jaguars
Well, ESPN can’t be right all the time. It reported last week coach Doug Marrone would be fired after the season, but it was announced to Tuesday that he and general manager Dave Caldwell would be retained. We guess that means everyone is blaming Tom Coughlin for the 6-10 finish. He paid too much for Nick Foles and pissed off the players with his stupid rules. Didn’t it seem like kicker Josh Lambo (33 field goals) was the only one who knew how to score?
16). Cincinnati Bengals
Make that 29 seasons without a playoff win for the Bengals. Their 2-14 season did produce one benefit. They will get the chance to take Heisman Trophy winning QB Joe Burrow with the first overall pick in the draft. After that, maybe they can put some players around Joe Mixon and Carlos Dunlap. If not, we’ll be talking about 30 years without a playoff win next season.