Gridiron Thursdays with Keith Egan: Who Can Beat the Patriots in the AFC?Date: July 13, 2017
By: Keith Egan
The defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots are officially favored to win each of their regular season games as released by sportsbook operator CG Technology. In addition, they are the favorite to not only reach, but also win the Super Bowl, both of which seem all too common in the last decade or so. Because of this, the question poses itself: can anyone in the AFC compete with the New England Patriots?
There in fact, may be some, so let's take a look at them:
The Pittsburgh Steelers are the only other team in the AFC other than the Patriots that are Super Bowl or bust. After falling to New England in the AFC Championship game last season, the Steelers are in the best shape they have been in a while. They will have Martavis Bryant back after a yearlong suspension to add to their already impressive receiving core led by Antonio Brown, and for the first time since 2014, Le'veon Bell will start week one after having suspensions the past two years. The Steelers offense is nothing short of scary, and quite possibly the best in the league. However, in order to beat the Patriots, their defense will need to perform better. They ranked towards the middle of the league in most categories, but dealing with a Patriots offense that added Brandin Cooks will take superb defense to beat. Despite that however, the Steelers still have the best chance of beating the Super Bowl champions.
The Raiders have a great balance of offensive and defensive talent. If Derek Carr can come back from his season-ending injury at full strength, Oakland will have one of the premier offenses in the NFL. Marshawn Lynch will be lined up with him in the backfield after coming out of retirement to play the franchise's final seasons in Oakland, in addition to the receiving core of Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. Khalil Mack leads the way for the Raiders defense, who will certainly need to improve after giving up 375 yards per game, but are moving in the right direction. Their youth is what poses the most questions to beating a team as prominent as New England, but if the Raiders can build off their 2016 season, a Super Bowl appearance is not out of the question.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs fell to the Steelers in the AFC divisional playoff in a game where the Steelers failed to score a touchdown. Clearly, the Chiefs offense is one of their main concerns, however they did not fulfill any needs this offseason, after letting Jeremy Maclin go. Their defense is one of the best in the league, but Kansas City missed their chance at being a serious threat. However, if the Chiefs can make it to the playoffs, their defense still makes them a threat to beat anyone.
The AFC South is up for grabs as much as any other division in the league, and whoever comes out the division winner, is going to be the wild card to take the AFC side of the playoffs by storm. The Texans are defending division champions with one of the worst quarterback situations in the league. Going into 2017, they are the early favorite now that they have a new young Quarterback who is used to winning in Deshaun Watson. What really makes Houston a threat is their defense. After giving up the least amount of yards per game in the league last season without their star, J.J Watt for some of them, the Texans hope to bring their momentum into 2017. It would certainly be a surprise, but if their defense has another superb season and Deshaun Watson has a rookie season similar to Dak Prescott, you could see a competitive game between the Texans and Patriots.
Keith Egan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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