It is hard to accurately foretell the NFL. In the 2015-16 season we saw a Carolina Panthers squad jump from a 7-8-1 record to 15-1 and earn a spot in the Super Bowl. Just last year, Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and the Atlanta Falcons offense shocked the football world. Teams like the New England Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers are almost always guaranteed playoff spots, but there are always underdog teams that take the NFL by surprise.
Here is who I believe will make the AFC playoffs in 2017-18.
East: New England Patriots
This is by far the easiest prediction in the NFL. 39-year-old Tom Brady should be reaching the end of his career, but his 2016-17 performance showed that he is far from retirement. After sitting the first four games last year Brady came back to throw for 3,554 yards, 28 touchdowns, and only two interceptions. The scary thing is the Patriots don’t even need Brady to win. New England went 3-1 with Brady on the Bench last season. Expect nothing different in 2017-18.
North: Pittsburgh Steelers
Big Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell make for the most dynamic offense in the AFC North and maybe in all of the NFL. The Bengals are falling off, the Ravens have been slowly dwindling since their Championship in 2013 and the Browns are just the Browns. For the first time in years, this division will be towards the bottom of the NFL. The Steelers may even be the only team above .500 in the North. Look for Pittsburgh to take advantage of this declining division and catapult themselves to the playoffs.
South: Indianapolis Colts
The South is the hardest division to predict in the AFC. There has not been a clear-cut favorite since Peyton Manning left the Colts after the 2011 season. The Texans have won the division four of the last six years, but have seen little success in the playoffs and are falling back to mediocrity. Marcus Mariota and the Titans are making strides to dominate the division in the future, but they aren’t there yet. So in 2017-18 I have Indianapolis at the top. Andrew Luck is the best player in the entire division. If he can stay healthy he will be enough for the Colts to slide their way into the playoffs. However, I have no confidence that any team in this division will get past the first round.
West: Oakland Raiders
2016-17 marked the first time Oakland was good in a long time. I believe Derek Carr will solidify their dominance for years to come. The Raiders must think so too because he is now the highest paid player in all of football. In the off-season Oakland picked up ex-Seahawk running back Marshawn Lynch. He will give them the extra edge they need on offense. Defensively, the Raiders have no shortage of playmakers. Khalil Mack may be the best linebacker in this whole division and will lead this powerful Oakland defense.
Wild Card: Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City has recently been a consistently good regular-season team. Unlucky for them, the Chiefs play in a hard division and can’t seem to matchup with the league’s best in the playoffs. Alex Smith is a solid quarterback that will lead this squad to a decent regular season record, but they won’t make it past the Wild Card round. If Kansas city want to make a deep playoff run they need to bring in defensive playmakers and surround Smith with weapons.
Wild Card: Tennessee Titans
Marcus Mariota is developing into one of the NFL’s top-tier quarterbacks. The Titans are continuing to make moves to boost their potential. Tennessee has even brought in veteran offensive weapons like DeMarco Murray and Delanie Walker to support Mariota. I could see the Titans making it past the Wild Card round in 2017-18. However, it will take at least one more year before Tennessee becomes a top team in the NFL.