Marcus Mosher makes his picks and predicts the final regular-season record for each AFC team ahead of the 2021 NFL season. Find out which team will lead the conference in wins, which team will serve as the rest of the league’s punching bag and which teams could make surprise appearances in the 2021 NFL Playoffs.
With Lamar Jackson at quarterback, the Ravens have now won double-digit games in three consecutive seasons. Even with all of the injuries and COVID-19 issues the Ravens had last season, they still finished the year with 11 wins. Baltimore has built a winning culture combined with a talented roster.
The defense lost a few key players on the EDGE, including Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue. But this is still one of the toughest teams in the entire NFL, and their rushing attack is very difficult to stop.
I’m not sure they are a legitimate Super Bowl contender just yet, but this is one of the better teams in the AFC. Look for them to win 11-12 games again this year and likely clinch the AFC North.
- Baltimore Ravens 2021 Record Prediction: 11-6
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On paper, the Bills have one of the best rosters in all of the NFL. Their offense was among the best in the league last season, and the addition of veteran receiver Emmanuel Sanders should only make this unit even more explosive.
On the opposite side of the ball, Buffalo hopes that one of A.J. Epenesa, Gregory Rousseau or Carlos “Boogie” Basham breaks out as a pass rusher and provides this defense with another weapon.
Buffalo’s schedule is very tough, which is why we might see a minor regression in wins. But make no mistake — this is a real Super Bowl contender, and it has all of the right pieces in place to challenge the Kansas City Chiefs for the AFC crown.
- Buffalo Bills 2021 Record Prediction: 11-6
The Bengals are one of the biggest question marks in the AFC heading into the 2021 season. On paper, this team looks as though it could have one of the league’s best offenses after adding Ja’Marr Chase at pick No. 5, but can the offensive line hold up and protect Joe Burrow? It’s still among the worst units in the league, and we don’t know if Zac Taylor will be an effective coach. Combine that with a shaky defense and a tough division, and it’s hard to get too excited about the Bengals this year.
If they can win seven or eight games, they might be primed to make a giant leap in 2022. As of now, expect them to finish in fourth place in the AFC North.
- Cincinnati Bengals 2021 Record Prediction: 5-12
The Cleveland Browns experienced a resurgence in 2020, putting together a winning season for the first time since 2007. Following an 11-win campaign, they defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers to begin the postseason and came just a few plays short of knocking off the Chiefs in the divisional round.
The roster appears to be even better this time around, including new defensive additions such as Jadeveon Clowney and John Johnson. They will also be getting back former All-Pro receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who missed most of last season with a torn ACL.
Despite the improvements to the roster, it wouldn’t be a total surprise if Cleveland’s win total dipped a bit due to their schedule. The AFC North promises to be one of the best divisions in football, and the Browns will also take on the likes of the Chiefs, New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers and Arizona Cardinals this season.
Still, this team will have a shot at the Super Bowl in 2021 if all the pieces click on defense.
- Cleveland Browns 2021 Record Prediction: 10-7
While you can make the case that every team is just a (good) quarterback away from contending for a
Super Bowl, that couldn’t be more true for the Denver Broncos.
Denver boasts one of the best rosters in the NFL, with an abundance of talent at wide receiver, tight end and running back. The Broncos are just as strong on the other side of the ball, led by a defensive genius in Vic Fangio. But with Drew Lock or Teddy Bridgewater under center for the Broncos, this team won’t be a contender in the AFC.
With the Aaron Rodgers situation looming in Green Bay, the Broncos would be smart to make a play. And if he were traded to Denver, we would suddenly be talking about this team competing with the Chiefs and Bills in the AFC.
Until that happens, consider the Broncos a seven- or eight-win team that will likely miss the playoffs once again.
- Denver Broncos 2021 Record Prediction: 7-10
As we inch closer and closer to the season, it appears the Texans will not have quarterback Deshaun Watson under center in 2021. Considering this was only a 4-12 team with him in 2020, his presumed absence doesn’t bode well for Houston’s playoff hopes.
Without Watson, this is a team that is going to struggle to win a single game. Houston is the clear-
cut favorite to earn the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, as this is an old roster devoid of talent. There
are a few blue-chip players on this team, including Laremy Tunsil and Justin Reid, but that’s about it.
Don’t expect the Texans to win more than two or three games this season as they endure a total rebuild.
- Houston Texans 2021 Record Prediction: 3-14
It’s hard to believe, but this will be the sixth-straight year in which the Colts will have a new Week 1
starter at quarterback. Now that Philip Rivers has retired, Carson Wentz will be the man tasked with leading this team back to the playoffs for the second consecutive year.
Fortunately for Wentz (and the Colts), this is an outstanding roster. Indianapolis boasts an elite offensive line and a defense that finished as the No. 10 scoring unit in 2020.
The biggest question surrounding Wentz, however, is whether or not he is still an above-average quarterback. During the 2020 season, Wentz threw 16 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in 12 starts before being benched in favor of Jalen Hurts. If Wentz continues this downward trajectory, the Colts could be searching for another starting quarterback in 2022. However, if he can get back to the level of play we saw in 2017 and 2018, the Colts could compete for a Super Bowl.
This team has one of the highest ceilings and lowest floors in the AFC.
- Indianapolis Colts 2021 Record Prediction: 9-8
One of the most fascinating (and fun) teams to watch in the NFL this season should be the Jacksonville Jaguars. Not only are they bringing in a generational quarterback prospect in Trevor Lawrence, but they also have Urban Meyer leading the charge. We have no idea what to expect from Meyer’s offense, but veteran coach Darrell Bevell isn’t all that exciting of a match with Lawrence.
Still, this team has a ton of talent on offense, including multiple threats at running back and wide
receiver and two intriguing second-year players in James Robinson and Laviska Shenault.
- Jacksonville Jaguars 2021 Record Prediction: 6-11
Kansas City Chiefs
Since Andy Reid arrived in Kansas City in 2013, there has only been one season in which the Chiefs haven’t won at least 10 games. The lone instance occurred in 2014 when Kansas City went 9-7 and finished second in the AFC West.
Since then, the Chiefs have averaged 11.8 wins per season and won at least 12 in each year they’ve had Patrick Mahomes under center. The biggest question surrounding the Chiefs is their offensive line, which they have done well to improve upon this offseason. If that unit can be even average, there is no reason why the Chiefs can’t win at least 12 or 13 games once again.
As things stand right now, Kansas City is the obvious favorite to win the AFC, given the head coach/quarterback combo. Of course, there will inevitably be a few games in which they slip with their first-place schedule, but this is a team that will likely pace the NFL in wins again this season.
- Kansas City Chiefs 2021 Record Prediction: 13-4
Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders are coming off their best season to date during Jon Gruden’s second stint with the team, but they still haven’t been good enough to qualify for the playoffs. Rather than retooling and trying to make a run this year, it feels like the Raiders are in the midst of a total rebuild after trading away three veteran offensive linemen in Rodney Hudson, Gabe Jackson and Trent Brown.
The story remains the defense for this team. Las Vegas finished with the third-most points allowed per game in 2020, and it hasn’t finished inside the top-20 since 2006. However, the Raiders are hoping the additions of veterans Yannick Ngakoue, Casey Hayward Jr. and new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley can get this defense to be passable.
The Raiders should still have an excellent offense as Derek Carr is playing the best football of his career, but the defense is likely to limit this team’s ceiling once again.
- Las Vegas Raiders 2021 Record Prediction: 8-9
Los Angeles Chargers
If there is one team in the AFC that could go from postseason spectators to Super Bowl contenders in
2021, it’s the Los Angeles Chargers.
Justin Herbert was sensational as a rookie, scoring 36 touchdowns in 15 games. Looking to capitalize on his early success, the Chargers made all the right moves this offseason, including signing All-Pro center Corey Linsley and selecting left tackle Rashawn Slater at No. 12. As a result, this should be a much-improved offensive line with playmakers all around him.
This team’s biggest question is new head coach Brandon Staley, who will be tasked with fixing the
defense. The Chargers came in at No. 23 in points allowed per game last season, and that’s far too low considering the talent they have on that side of the ball. Players like Joey Bosa and Derwin
James need to say healthy, but this is a unit that should be among the best defenses in the league with their current personnel.
The Chargers are limited by the fact that they share a division with the Chiefs, and this is still a relatively young team, but don’t be surprised if they approach double-digit wins this season.
- Los Angeles Chargers 2021 Record Prediction: 9-8
After a disappointing 2019 season in which they won just five games, the Dolphins made a massive leap in 2020 under second-year coach Brian Flores. Miami rattled off 10 wins last year, coming just one shy of making the playoffs. The Fins needed to beat Buffalo in Week 17 to earn a Wild Card spot but were blown off the field by the Bills.
Miami is looking to make the playoffs in 2021 for just the third time since the 2002 season. For that
to happen, they will need Tua Tagovailoa to have a big sophomore season. Miami has surrounded their young quarterback with talent this offseason, bringing in speedsters Will Fuller via free agency and Jaylen Waddle through the draft. Even with those new weapons, Tagovailoa will need to show that he is healthy and capable for this team to take the next step as a playoff contender.
The defense should be as good as ever, but the offense will be the story here. Given their difficult schedule and uber-competitive division, don’t be surprised if the Dolphins regress some this year in what should be a very crowded AFC.
- Miami Dolphins 2021 Record Prediction: 9-8
New England Patriots
Like so many of us, just about everything went wrong for the Patriots in 2020. They had several key opt-outs, including star linebacker Dont’a Hightower. Additionally, Cam Newton never quite looked the same after testing positive for COVID-19 after Week 3, and no one in the passing game stepped up.
But heading into the 2021 season, the Patriots appear poised for a bounceback campaign. In addition to filling out their offense with Nelson Agholor, Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, New England also traded for Trent Brown, who played the best football of his career in 2018 as a member of the Patriots. The defense should also improve with the additions of Matt Judon and Kyle Van Noy.
We shall see if Mac Jones becomes the starter at any point in the season, but this team should reach the playoffs.
- New England Patriots 2021 Record Prediction: 10-7
New York Jets
For the first time in what seems like forever, the Jets appear to be executing a proper plan. The team selected quarterback Zach Wilson with the No. 2 pick and have since put a roster around him that should allow him to succeed.
They traded up for the best guard in the draft in Alijah Vera-Tucker from USC, signed veteran offensive tackle Morgan Moses to lock down the right tackle spot, added Corey Davis via free agency and selected Elijah Moore in the second round of the NFL draft.
While this team isn’t ready to compete for a playoff spot just yet under first-year head coach Robert Salah, they could be much more competitive than anything we’ve seen in recent years. New York is still a year away from making a playoff push, but expect the Jets to win around six-to-seven games in what projects to be one of the toughest divisions in football.
- New York Jets 2021 Record Prediction: 6-11
The Steelers started the season off at 11-0 last year before going just 1-5 in their final six games, including the postseason. The Browns blew out Pittsburgh in the first round of the playoffs, but the front office decided to run things back one more year with Ben Roethlisberger under center.
However, this roster certainly doesn’t appear as talented as the one we saw last season now that Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Bud Dupree, Steven Nelson and Mike Hilton have all moved on. Still, this should be one of the best defenses in football, and the offense is talented enough to get them to double-digit wins.
Pittsburgh likely isn’t a Super Bowl contender, but this is still a good team.
- Pittsburgh Steelers 2021 Record Prediction: 10-7
The Titans have had five winning seasons in a row, but their 2020 campaign marked the first time they’ve won the AFC South since 2008. With Ryan Tannehill playing the best football of his career, the Titans look poised to make the playoffs for a third consecutive season.
The addition of Julio Jones makes this one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL, but it’s the defense that is the biggest concern. Last year, Tennessee came in at No. 24 in points allowed per game and No. 28 in yards allowed. The front office did bring in Bud Dupree to help the pass rush, but he is coming off a late-season ACL tear and has never been a big sack producer.
The defense is still likely to be among the worst in the NFL, but the offense should allow this team to reach double-digit wins for the second consecutive year.
- Tennessee Titans 2021 Record Prediction: 10-7
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