Folks, let’s get right to it. The NFL's back, and you want to know if your team's going to win it all. And I have the answer for you: probably not. But maybe. You never know.
Now, your “traditional” previews like to do things like give “specific predictions” with “actual win-loss records” and “definitive answers on who's going to win the Super Bowl.” But I'm not going that direction. No, like Patrick Mahomes when a play breaks down, I'm spreading the field and giving myself every possible means of escape. Therefore: scenarios! Vast, wide-ranging scenarios!
Today, let's run through the best- and worst-case possibilities for every AFC team. We'll come back on Monday and do the NFC.
Note that we're not factoring in injuries, because they're impossible to predict. If Tom Brady goes down, the Patriots might only win the AFC East by seven games. Cool? Cool. Let's roll.
Best case: Josh Allen becomes one of the next great quarterbacks, and the young Bills defense holds on while the offense doesn't completely detonate. Wild-card berth.
Worst case: Buffalo remembers it's Buffalo, and struggles to get to six wins. LeSean McCoy collapses in a pile of old-man dust. Catastrophe.
Best case: Miami gets two wins and snares Tua Tagovailoa in the 2020 draft. Yes, two wins is the best-case scenario.
Worst case: New QB Josh Rosen plays well enough to get Miami to seven wins, missing out on a chance to dig into the QB-rich 2020 draft. We're not saying Miami is looking to tank in 2019, but we're not notsaying that, either.
New England Patriots
Best case: Super Bowl champions. We've seen no evidence that Brady is in decline, and even though the Patriots have rotated through most of their roster, they do that with regularity anyway. Nobody's going to beat them in the East, and with a break or two they could roll right on through February.
Worst case: Brady's deal with some Elder God comes due and he starts playing like a post-40 quarterback. Or, he keeps rolling, but he's got nobody to throw to, nobody to run, and nobody to defend. They'll still win the division.
New York Jets
Best case: Sam Darnold steps up and delivers on all the promise, and Adam Gase proves that he still had a bit of offensive juice left in the tank after all. Wild-card berth.
Worst case: Darnold flails, Gase has no answers, Le'Veon Bell has nothing left, and the team settles into its familiar, comfortable four-win slot.
Best case: Lamar Jackson is one of the more electrifying players to come into the game in quite some time. If he puts the Ravens on his back and manages to run in the right direction, this is a team that could reach the AFC championship.
Worst case: Jackson is an offensive machine, but also a turnover-prone one, and if he doesn't make The Leap this year, Baltimore's in a world of trouble. The Ravens ought to compete for a wild-card berth regardless, but could end up on the outside looking in.
Best case: New coach and McVay-in-training Zac Taylor puts a charge into the franchise, and AJ Green returns from a preseason injury to once again dominate at WR. Wild-card berth.
Worst case: Green doesn't come back strong, Andy Dalton continues his slide to mediocrity, and Taylor is overmatched as the Bengals scramble to get five wins.
Best case: Baker Mayfield is one of the most fascinating and fun players to join the league in a long time, and if he delivers on even a third of his talk, this could be a hell of a team. It'll be must-watch either way. Cleveland ain't getting past KC or New England, but it could well claw its way into the AFC championship.
Worst case: We won't say Cleveland gonna Cleveland, but, well ... you know. If Mayfield isn't the truth, or if he loses the locker room, this could be an ugly season. Think the days of low single-digit wins are behind you, Cleveland? Think again.
Best case: Addition by subtraction could be the rule here, with both Bell and Antonio Brown out the door. A Pittsburgh team that's pulling in the same direction? Folks, that's a team that's good enough to reach the Super Bowl.
Worst case: What if it turns out that Bell and Brown weren't the problem, but Ben Roethlisberger and/or Mike Tomlin are? In that case, you're looking at a Pittsburgh team that misses the playoffs and heads into the 2020 season one head coach lighter.
Best case: The Texans might be one of those out-of-nowhere teams that surprises everyone and steamrolls right through to the AFC title game. Deshaun Watson has the look of a star, and J.J. Watt has the branding of one. Pro football ought to be a lot of fun this fall in Texas, one way or another.
Worst case: The knock on Houston is that while it's got some of the most famous faces in the NFL leading its roster, it's got a bunch of no-namers behind them. If Watson, Watt, et. al., can't outswim the mediocrity around them, this team is a wild-card and no more.
Best case: The Colts are a sneaky-good team, sneaky in that anybody this side of Kansas City and New England is sneaky. But with a few breaks, like, say, avoiding facing both of them in the AFC playoffs, Indianapolis could go the distance. A dark-horse/blue-horse Super Bowl champion right here.
Worst case: There's always the chance that quarterback Andrew Luck has been doing what he's been doing with smoke and mirrors; his stats across the board aren't as good in recent years as his trendline suggested. This is a Sharpie playoff team, but a light-pencil championship one if Luck regresses.
Best case: We've all pretty much forgotten that the Jags were just a few breaks away from a Super Bowl not all that long ago. But with Nick Foles now under center, those days don't seem so foreign anymore. Jax ain't going to the Big Dance, but playoffs are in the picture.
Worst case: The defense should be clutch all year, but without a standout year from Foles and the rest of the offense, this is yet another sub-.500 team out of Florida, which has a whole pack of 'em.
Best case: Marcus Mariota stays healthy and finally comes through the way Titans fans have been expecting for half a decade. This team still doesn't have the juice to compete with the big dogs, but winning one playoff game isn't out of the question.
Worst case: I know we took injuries off the table earlier, but with Mariota, injuries are the table, chairs, and full dining-room set. If he looks unspectacular, this could be a stressful offseason as Tennessee decides whether to throw good money after bad.
Best case: What if Joe Flacco pulls a Peyton Manning and suddenly rediscovers his game in the Mile High city? We're not saying it could happen, but if it did, this is maybe a wild-card team? Maybe...?
Worst case: This is the most anonymous Bronco team we can remember. They inspire nothing, not rage, not hope, not envy or scorn. They're just ... there, a stop on the schedule for the rest of the AFC West. The worst case for Denver is that Flacco flames out and the Broncos are stuck yet again looking for a new QB. Not that the rest of the NFL will notice.
Kansas City Chiefs
Best case: Super Bowl champions in a walk. Yes, they're lacking Kareem Hunt and still might lose Tyreek Hill, both to the kinds of off-field incidents that absolutely warrant the boot. But with Mahomes under center, this team is always, always a threat to win, and might just be the team to end New England's AFC dictatorship.
Worst case: Things would have to go very, very wrong, but if Mahomes regresses, the Chiefs could end up with a wild card. This team's too talented to fall out of the playoffs, but we've seen teams light up the sky and then vanish quickly in the recent past.
Los Angeles Chargers
Best case: Super Bowl Champion Chargers. Roll it around in your head a bit, because it's entirely a possibility. The only reason Los Angeles isn't getting more Super Bowl love is because the Chargers have a tendency to self-immolate. But if Philip Rivers plays at his customary better-than-everyone-around-him level and Melvin Gordon ends his holdout soon, this could be a special season for 25,000 devoted LA Chargers fans.
Worst case: Gordon's holdout stretches to the point it affects the team's record. Rivers solidifies his case as the best quarterback never to really do much of anything. And everyone forgets about the Chargers once again.
Best case: This is a gray-and-black trash fire. The best-case scenario of this mess is that the team wins a couple games it shouldn't and doesn't completely embarrass itself on its way out of town. Six wins feels like the ceiling here.
Worst case: Antonio Brown demands every ball, even on runs, and the team tears itself apart trying to accommodate a generational talent with a sub-Pac 12 talent base around him. They'll draw notice, but will the Raiders draw anything more than laughs?
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