Analysis Around the League

Who’s the team to beat in the AFC for Kansas City?

With the Chiefs favored to three-peat as AFC Champions, who are the biggest threats to Kansas City in 2021?

The Kansas City Chiefs ran it back, winning back-to-back AFC Titles for the first time in their franchise history. But due to the 31-9 loss in the Super Bowl, many think the Chiefs aren’t the top dogs in the AFC anymore. There are plenty of good teams in the AFC the Chiefs will have to play to get back in the AFC Championship Game or even the Super Bowl. These are the seven teams the Chiefs could possibly face to make it to four straight AFC Championship Game appearances and three straight Super Bowl Appearances.

Honorable Mentions

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers were going toe-to-toe with the Chiefs through 11 games of the season last year and then hit a wall of injuries and poor offensive play calls in the last four games. The Steelers are not “running it back” having to cut some key players for cap space to keep their 18-year starter, Ben Roethlisberger. They did bring back most of their players and are have a Hall of Fame coach on their sidelines. Don’t be surprised if Pittsburgh makes a run to the playoffs.

Los Angeles Chargers

For the past decade, every sports pundit would look at the roster of the Chargers and would put them above Kansas City. And for the past decade, Kansas City has decisively won the division or finished above the Chargers. Now the Chargers have an efficient QB at the helm of their offense in Justin Herbert and a lot of offensive fire-power. They played the Chiefs tough when all of the starters played in Los Angeles last season, so don’t be surprised if they create some noise as a wild card this season.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans probably had one of the most fun offenses in the league the past couple of seasons, but they continually have run into problems come January. With the reigning Offensive Player of the Year Derrick Henry, AJ Brown, and the revitalized career of Ryan Tannehill, the Titans have always been good on the offensive side of the ball. The defense hasn’t been all the way there, especially last season. The Titans should be an entertaining team in the AFC and should definitely make the postseason, but they are on the outside of contention until they can stop a good offense.

Contenders

4. Cleveland Browns

The Browns came up short in the Divisional Round in the playoffs against the Mahomes-less Chiefs last season and they seemed to take the loss fairly well. The Browns surprised the afore-mentioned Steelers in the Wild Card Round and they seemed poised to come back again. With one of the best-run games in the NFL last season by Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, and the improved passing attack last season, the Browns should be set.

The physical nature of the Browns offense, showcased by Nick Chubb

The biggest question mark with the Browns is if they can be physical on defense. They have a great front four with Myles Garrett and now Jadeveon Clowney as the pass rushers, but the second and third levels left a lot to be desired. Travis Kelce had a field day against Cleveland and was the best offensive weapon on the field against the Browns. They do have some good pieces in the second and third level but were inconsistent throughout the entire year. 

The Browns might be a mismatch with styles, but they seem to be a fringe contender because they were so inconsistent last year and maybe will get a playoff hangover this season. It’s more of a wait-and-see mentality with Cleveland and their Coach of the Year Kevin Stefanski, but they could be very good and make a run this upcoming season. 

3. Baltimore Ravens

The Lamar-Mahomes comparisons/fights were everywhere in the sports media all of the 2020 offseason. Baltimore was billed as the new power in the AFC last season and seemed to be primed to make the AFC Championship before the season started. But they had a lot of problems, for one they didn’t have a number one receiver so teams crowded the box against Lamar Jackson.

The Chiefs absolutely shredded the Ravens 34-20 on Monday Night Football in Week 3 last season. Even though they had a tough go of it last season, they did win a playoff game against the Titans and lost to the Bills in a game where Lamar Jackson got hurt. 

Mahomes counting his TD’s against the Ravens on MNF

The Ravens are a run-heavy team and are seeming to moving in the right direction in getting another weapon around Lamar. They picked up Sammy Watkins this offseason and it seems like it is a good fit because they need a physical receiver that Lamar can throw to in the Red Zone.

The Ravens should be able to win the division with the upgrades they have and are going to make on the offensive side of the ball. The Ravens should be a threat to Kansas City, but it has yet to be seen if they can play constantly enough to get a win a playoff game against the Chiefs.

The scary explosiveness of Lamar Jackson

2. Indianapolis Colts

Even with an inconsistent offense last season, the Colts were able to go blow for blow with the Buffalo Bills in the Wild Card round. Now Phillip Rivers has retired and the Colts traded to get Carson Wentz from Philadelphia, even though Wentz had a couple of tough years in Philly. He’s now been paired with Frank Riech, who helped him play his most consistent football in his young career in the 2017 season.

Carson Wentz in his new digs

The Colts are hoping this will remedy the frustrations they’ve had since the early retirement of Andrew Luck. They are now primed to get back to AFC Contention and make some noise coming into the 2021 season. Especially with the young backfield rotation of Jonathan Taylor, Nyheim Hines, and Marlon Mack.

Jonathan Taylor is a problem for defenses

They should be stiff competition for the Chiefs, with an incredible defense that was tops last season, they are great at all three levels. The reason they are so high up on this list is that the defense of the Colts was able to keep them in games last season and if their offense can be consistent by scoring at least 24 points a game, they should be able to get close to or at the AFC Championship Game if they don’t run into the Chiefs before that.

The monster that is Darius Leonard

1. Buffalo Bills

The Bills got manhandled by Kansas City in last year’s AFC Championship game where it seemed like the Chiefs were just having good old-fashioned fun on the field. That doesn’t mean the Bills aren’t still a threat to Kansas City, they kept most of their core and added a few pieces to try to get past the Chiefs.

Adding Emmanuel Sanders, Jacob Hollister and Matt Bredia were all solid pickups to a top-rated offense last season. The problem the Bills ran into in the AFC Championship Game was they were easy to beat on the offensive side of the ball, they were one-note and the Chiefs seized on it. 

Stefon is now flanked by Emmanuel Sanders and Gabriel Davis

Adding Emmanuel Sanders to flank Stefon Diggs and Gabriel Davis is a win for the Bills, who need another weapon to balance out their passing game, Josh Allen now has another reliable pass-catcher to go along with Diggs and Cole Beasley. Even adding Matt Breida to the backfield rotation will help them get the run game going with Zack Moss and Devin Singletary returning.

Emmanuel Sanders as a Buffalo Bill

Their defense even kept all of their starters and are probably going to add some defensive pieces in the draft. The Chiefs and Bills should be the marquee matchup of 2021, they do play each other this upcoming season in Arrowhead, probably in a primetime slot. It should be interesting to see if the Bills are at the top of this list after the draft, but for right now the Buffalo Bills are the team to beat in the AFC.

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