Power ranking the five best teams in the AFC
By Michael Gallagher,2023-06-05
With the 2023 NFL Draft and the first wave of free agency over, teams are getting into the heart of their voluntary offseason workout programs. Most teams will wrap up mandatory minicamp by the second week of June before breaking until training camp starts up at the end of July.
Here are the top five teams in the AFC pre-training camp:
1. Kansas City Chiefs
With few holes to plug, the defending Super Bowl champs added offensive tackle Jawaan Taylor and defensive end Charles Omenihu, plus first-round defensive end Felix Anudike-Uzomah, second-round receiver Rashee Rice and third-round offensive tackle Wanya Morris.
The defense, which ranked 11th last season, is mostly still intact, and Patrick Mahomes is still Patrick Mahomes. Big things are expected from receivers Skyy Moore and Kadarius Toney, whom the team believes can be a No. 1 receiver , and adding Rice with Travis Kelce, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Richie James should make K.C.’s passing game just as strong, if not better, than last year.
After rushing for 830 yards and five touchdowns during the regular season and nearly 200 yards in the postseason, Isiah Pacheco could have a breakout season as the full-time starting running back. If the Chiefs can get a legitimate run game going, this offense could be scary good.
2. Buffalo Bills
It almost feels wrong to put the Bills ahead of the Bengals after their 27-10 home playoff loss to those same Bengals, but I’d argue Buffalo did more to improve this offseason than Cincinnati did.
The Bills kept most of their defense intact after re-signing safety Jordan Poyer, linebacker Matt Milano, defensive tackle Jordan Phillips and defensive end Shaq Lawson, and they’ll get a healthy Von Miller back at some point to pair with Monday’s free-agent signing, Leonard Floyd. While losing linebacker Tremaine Edmunds hurts, they drafted a potential replacement in third-round pick Dorian Williams.
Buffalo also bolstered it offense after adding guard Connor McGovern, running back Damien Harris, and receivers/special teamers Trent Sherfield and Deonte Harty, plus first-round tight end Dalton Kincaid and second-round guard O’Cyrus Torrence. If second-year running back James Cook has the breakout season that Buffalo coaches are expecting, the Bills could be playing in the AFC Championship Game come the end of January.
3. Cincinnati Bengals
Moving the Bengals below the Bills is no knock on them. They’re still one of the AFC’s elite teams. However, there’s simply more to like about Buffalo’s roster as a whole than Cincy’s.
After losing running back Samaje Perine to free agency, the Bengals have little depth behind running back Joe Mixon, who averaged just 58 yards per game and continues to be a distraction away from the field. It could also be argued that the defense, which ranked 16th overall last season, is noticeably worse after losing safety tandem Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell. While I like third-round pick Jordan Battle, he won’t fill Bates’ shoes.
Outside of left tackle Orlando Brown Jr., the Bengals didn’t really do much else in free agency. Joe Burrow, Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins will likely put up monster numbers again, but the defense may not be formidable enough to bend but not break if Cincinnati gets into many shootouts.
4. Baltimore Ravens
Lamar Jackson has a fat new contract, a new pass-friendly offensive coordinator in Todd Monken and some shiny new weapons to play with. After adding Odell Beckham Jr., Zay Flowers and Nelson Agholor to pair with Rashod Bateman, Mark Andrews and Isaiah Likely, Jackson stated he wants to throw for 6,000 yards this season.
Baltimore also fine-tuned its No. 10-ranked defense from a year ago, adding cornerbacks Rock Ya-Sin and Trayvon Mullen, plus defensive end Angelo Blackson and drafting linebackers Trenton Simpson and Tavius Robinson. The Ravens should be right up there behind Cincinnati in the AFC North and pushing for a playoff spot.
5. New York Jets
I nearly flipped a coin between the Jets and Dolphins here, but with as good as New York’s defense is (fourth-best last year), if Aaron Rodgers is even just slightly above-average, the Jets should make some noise in the playoffs. If running back Breece Hall is fully healthy, this offense could be dangerous.
Between Rodgers; receivers Allen Lazard and Mecole Hardman; offensive linemen Duane Brown, Joe Tippmann and Carter Warren; defensive end Will McDonald; defensive tackles Quinton Jefferson and Al Woods; and punter Thomas Morstead, the Jets upgraded at several positions from last year. New York improved from a 4-13 team to a 7-10 team from Year 1 to Year 2 under head coach Robert Saleh, and I would expect double-digit wins for the first time since 2015 in Year 3.
Honorable mention: Miami Dolphins, Pittsburgh Steelers, Los Angeles Chargers