24 total in-division matchups per each one. They make up 35.3% of each team’s yearly NFL schedule with the new 17 game format. Between those numbers, the extremely high volume of injuries throughout the course of the year, and the slim margin for error in a playoff pursuit, it seems impossible for an entire division to be represented in the postseason.
But, with that seventh playoff team added makes it possible. And, the AFC West’s historic offseason, as we never have nor probably never will again see one division add so much star power, filling massive holes in the respective rosters in the process, there may actually be a good chance of it.
Despite the shocking Tyreek Hill trade Wednesday, the Kansas City Chiefs, Denver Broncos, Las Vegas Raiders, and of course, the Los Angeles Chargers, all feel like real, ready-made playoff rosters.
Let’s go through each of the teams that’ll realistically be vying with each for those coveted wild card weekend playoff spots and how each stacks up. By the end, like myself, I think you’ll be saying an all-AFC West 2022-2023 postseason is more likely than not.
The competition to stop the entire AFC West from making the playoffs:
Miami Dolphins | Division winner: Bills
No better place to start as it pertains to AFC West foes. The Miami Dolphins are one of the handful of teams who took advantage of their massive cap space and drastically upgraded on the offensive end in recent weeks.
Just prior to the Hill acquisition, they locked up star tackle Terron Armstead. Adding one of the top tackles in the league and solid guard in Connor Williams gives Miami a huge boost to one of the worst offensive lines in football last year.
Then there’s the weaponry. “The Cheetah”, the most dangerous game-breaking playmaker in the league. A “slow” in comparison 4.3 40 wideout who broke out immediately last year in Jaylen Waddle. They also signed a high-end number three or four receivers from Dallas in Cedrick Wilson. While also franchise tagging their young stud tight end Mike Gesicki.
Even with the limited arm of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and still some suspect pieces on the o-line, he’s accurate enough to win them games with the offensive firepower alone. However, defensively there’s still plenty to be desired upfront. They retained their top player within the front seven in Emmanuel Ogbah, the “Nigerian Nightmare”, coming off back-to-back seasons with nine sacks.
They also have the top cornerback tandem in the league in Xavien Howard and Byron Jones. But outside of them and Ogbah, this Miami defense still has plenty of holes. Couple that with them being led by first-year head coach Mike McDaniel, who yes should be trusted coming from the Kyle Shanahan operation in San Francisco, but is still completely unproven as the lead guy.
Between that and Tua Tagovailoa’s glaring ceiling, and the fact that the likely AFC kings come next year, the Buffalo Bills are in the division, I nor anyone else should feel comfortable putting Miami in the playoff field. Regardless of a wildly successful off-season.
New England Patriots | Division winner: Bills
Despite currently being asleep at the wheel in his general manager seat, a Bill Belichick-led team always has to be on the radar, despite the slew of needs his team has. Reaching the postseason with that roster and a rookie signal-caller this past year can’t be understated.
But ultimately, even Belichick needs the requisite skilled position players and athleticism to compete. And the Patriots are going backward into the stone age. They have a severe need at cornerback after losing JC Jackson to some team called the Los Angeles Chargers. And needs at linebacker, wide receiver, of course, all while losing their best guard up front Shaq Mason for a fifth-rounder.
New England is slipping fast and furiously despite finding the right protege to Tom Brady at quarterback in Mac Jones. A signal-caller who, yes has plenty of upside pre and post-snap, but ultimately can’t overcome the lack of weapons and flaws on defense with his low-end ceiling.
Cleveland Browns | Division Winner: Bengals
Ironically, this is the most capable roster among the contenders in the AFC East, North, or South to keep one of the AFC West juggernauts on the outside looking in. But in typical Cleveland Brown fashion, there’s still much noise and worries of themselves getting in their own way en route to a playoff pursuit.
Obviously, it appears they’ve finally landed the right signal-caller after being in quarterback hell for as long as anyone can remember. Although Watson will in all likelihood suit up for the Browns in short order, he will first likely serve a four, six, or eight-game suspension from the league.
Although Jacoby Brisset, who they signed recently, is a serviceable backup and the Browns have a solid receiving core, great offensive line and running game, they’ll probably be set back by those games Brisset has to start with how loaded the conference is.
But between having no real holes on offense, and Myles Garrett, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, and Denzel Ward on all three levels of the defense, again, the talent is more than necessary. But ultimately the Browns will brown themselves. The culture is still extremely toxic as it is, and they have to deal with this gray cloud of doubt that is the new franchise centerpiece: Deshaun Watson. It'll be difficult to say the least. Like all of my life’s history, they’ll likely get in their own way once again.
Baltimore Ravens | Division winner: Bengals
Lamar Jackson spearheading the show can never be counted out of this discussion. The Ravens would've easily been a playoff team last year you presume, if not so injury-riddled. Still in all though, this team has problematic needs on the offensive and defensive line and they haven't hit on receivers they've recently drafted it appears.
The Greg Roman and Jackson-led run game and ball control capability are scary yes. But at this rate outside of Mark Andrews, it's going to be tough sledding moving the ball through the air. Couple that with having no elite names on defense outside of Marlon Humphrey in 2022, I'm not touching Ravens playoff odds despite John Harbaugh's greatness and Jackson's magic.
Indianapolis Colts | Division Winner: Colts/Titans wash
The free-agent market patience from Colts general manager Chris Ballard, who had a boatload of cap space to play with, paid off as they were able to land the stable force at quarterback they’ve been yearning for in Matt Ryan. However, outside of Michael Pittman Jr he doesn’t have any receiving weapons that really scare defenses. Now, having the best tailback in football in Johnathan Taylor and all-world guard Quenton Nelson makes up for that.
But despite Nelson’s dominance, the Colts were actually 30th in pass protection a year ago. With an aging, immobile Ryan that may cause problems especially if he has no one to throw to. On defense, this front seven led by Darius Leonard and Deforest Buckner is filthy. Rookie cornerback Kenny Moore broke out playing the nickel corner last year.
They too have some capable pieces. But again, with the standards this loaded AFC has set, Indianapolis’ lack of weapons with a suspect offensive line and immobile yet very capable Ryan at the helm, like the others I can’t see it over the worst of the AFC West.
Tennessee Titans | Division Winner: Colts/Titans wash
I said it entering last postseason and actually got some pushback: move on from Ryan Tannehill before I take you seriously. I understand they can't do it this moment as a trade this offseason would result in a major cap hit after his extension last year. There's also no one better on the market at this point, but I stand firm on the bottom line statement.
Low and behold, they were on the doorstep of knocking off the eventual AFC champions in the Cincinnati Bengals in the divisional round at home. But three awful Tannehill turnovers carried the conversation in a loss on a last-second field goal. Derrick Henry and AJ Brown are as deadly and physically imposing of a combo as top two weapons get.
Defensively, the front four is also very dangerous and disruptive. However, just like last year, barring massive improvements in the draft, expect the Titans pass defense to be swiss cheese once again. Which is quite possibly the biggest no bueno when trying to compete in the AFC in 2022. Although it should be mentioned Mike Vrabel has established himself as a fantastic defensive-minded head coach. Rare in 2022.
In the constantly underwhelming AFC South, if the Titans can upgrade at quarterback and their pass defense, I’ll consider them in the playoff field. Until then, I like all of the AFC West over them as well.