Tom E. Curran's AFC Power Rankings
There’s been a lot going on since Monday. Lotta signings, lotta trades, lotta big names on the move, lotta high hopes expressed and head shakes about moves not made. So how’s the AFC look now after a week of movement? Kinda unchanged. The AFC Power Rankings are still reflective of who’s got the best quarterback and -- since there’s been barely any movement there -- it’s status quo at the very top. But the teams that spent big to help their developing quarterbacks? They are scaling the heights.
When I started this exercise, I began by writing all the teams down on a post-it off the top of my head. Try it. It’s not as easy as it seems. You get to about No. 8 then have to start picturing the divisions to see who you forgot. I got to 15 and couldn’t think of who I’d forgotten. It was the Bengals. The Bengals.
They had a lame-duck quarterback in Ryan Tannehill (pictured), and now they have no QB at all -- okay, they have Jake Rudock and Luke Falk -- after trading Tannehill to Tennessee. They lost Cameron Wake, Frank Gore, Danny Amendola and Ja’Waun James in free agency. They added Dwayne Allen and Eric Rowe and re-signed DeVante Parker. They are so screwed
Maybe Case Keenum wasn’t the answer for the Broncos. But to think Joe Flacco (pictured) is? If it weren’t for Anquan Boldin and Flacco’s ability to underthrow receivers and pick up pass interference calls seven years ago, Colin Kaepernick wouldn’t be the only quarterback from SB47 without a job. The Broncos lost a bunch of linemen, added RT Ja’Waun James and corner Kareem Jackson and are basically rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
Getting an underneath receiver like Cole Beasley for Josh Allen (pictured) was a solid move and adding John Brown to run under some of Allen’s missiles is as well. They grabbed tight end Tyler Kroft and four linemen -- Mitch Morse, Spencer Long, Ty Neskhe and Jon Feliciano -- and Frank Gore is in at running back. I actually think he’s an upgrade on LeSean McCoy at this point. They also grabbed Andre Roberts as a returner and corner Kevin Johnson. I’d like to put them higher. I just think Josh Allen is going to be an albatross on them.
Busy, busy, busy. They are rolling the dice but, when your team sucks, might as well do so. Lamarcus Joyner and Johnathan Hankins help on defense. Antonio Brown will help us figure out for good whether Derek Carr (pictured) is the problem or a victim of circumstance. Trent Brown is poised to be an all-time free agent disaster, God bless him, but maybe he works out. They still have more draft picks to burn through. I haven’t decided whether I want to see success or utter disaster out there. I think success is winning so far.
Nick Foles (pictured) is good. He is probably the most significant addition of the free agent period because he takes over a team that’s one season removed from the AFC Championship Game and has the potential to take them back to the playoffs. If they have any heart at all down there. They lost Malik Jackson and Tashaun Gipson from their defense but still have a very good crew over there if they can grow up.
I like all of it. Hiring Adam Gase, signing C.J. Mosley, Jamison Crowder and Le’Veon Bell, and retaining Henry Anderson, all of it makes the Jets better around a quarterback (Sam Darnold, pictured) that could be the best non-Brady QB in the AFC East since Chad Pennington. There were some down-roster moves -- letting Jason Myers, Andre Roberts, Terrence Brooks and Mike Pennel out the door -- that raised an eyebrow but the overall was very good.
They got their asses kicked by Antonio Brown, officially said goodbye to Le’Veon Bell, lost under-utilized tight end Jesse James and merely brought aboard corner Steven Nelson and wideout Donte Moncrief. If teams are defined by their quarterback/best player, the Steelers' continued embrace of an entitled, finger-pointing, know-it-all in order to remain just about average means things won’t change until Big Ben (pictured) wraps it up. It feels like things are played out in Pittsburgh.
Earl Thomas has been added at high cost and he’s presumably at least a minor upgrade over Eric Weddle. Baltimore also got a reasonable deal done with Mark Ingram. But losing C.J. Mosley and Za’Darius Smith at the linebacker level is substantial. To a lesser degree, the losses of John Brown (WR) and Terrell Suggs also sting. I have zero faith the Ravens can be better than average unless Lamar Jackson (pictured) gets a lot better with his accuracy and consistency as a thrower.
Adding slot receiver Adam Humphries at a high cost doesn’t do much for me. He’s seems JAG-a-riffic. Same with the addition of Cameron Wake, who’s now 37. They did upgrade on the offensive line with Roger Saffold, the former Ram. All in all, a team that got fat against bad teams down the stretch but went 1-3 against the Texans and Colts is pretty much where it was when 2019 ended.
The inhuman pounding the Chargers took in the playoffs from the Patriots reaffirmed that they are missing something. It probably has more to do with scheme on both sides than anything else -- they are a “do what they do” team on both sides of the ball and that will win them plenty of games because they can out-talent teams but it makes it easy for teams of equal talent to outflank them. Hence, here they are. They’ve lost wideout Tyrell Williams, added the very old linebacker Thomas Davis and backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor while re-signing Brandon Mebane. Shrug.
Freddie Kitchens, man. It’s like he woke up in his shotgun shack one morning and walked out to find a 53-passenger Bugatti in the carport. He’s either going to wreck it or be in the left lane, shades on, arm out the window, goatee rustling in the breeze, driving like he was born to it. How Kitchens reins what is suddenly one of the most talented rosters in the NFL and gets it rowing in unison will be fascinating to watch. But he’s got the quarterback and now he’s got OBJ to go with Jarvis Landry. They also added running back Kareem Hunt, defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and defensive end Olivier Vernon while trading Kevin Zeitler. I’m betting Freddie at least gets the thing pointed in the right direction.
Indy kept corner Pierre Desir, brought in wideout Devin Funchess and lost wideout Donte Moncrief. They also re-signed Margus Hunt. So they’re just standing around being Indy.
The Texans overhauled their secondary bringing in safety Tashaun Gipson and Bradley Roby, losing Tyrann Mathieu, Kevin Johnson and Kareem Jackson. They also lost defensive lineman Christian Covington. You can throw a blanket over the Texans, Chargers and Colts -- three almost interchangeable teams who have very good quarterbacks, top-tier wideouts and shiny pieces on defense but spit the bit when it gets serious.
They watched the Super Bowl because they couldn’t play defense. They addressed that so far by bringing in Tyrann Mathieu and Alex Okafor but those additions don’t trump the subtractions of Justin Houston, Dee Ford, Allen Bailey, Eric Berry and Steven Nelson. They also lost their starting center, Mitch Morse. But, as with the Patriots, I can’t justify putting 2018’s No. 1 seed who lost in overtime of the AFC Championship anyplace but No. 2.
At best, they’ve been treading water. They lost Trey Flowers to the Lions, Trent Brown to the Raiders and Malcom Brown to the Saints. Importing Michael Bennett and Mike Pennel on the defensive line tempers the sting there; the loss of Brown should be mitigated by Isaiah Wynn’s recovery. They are throwing bodies at the wideout and tight end spots -- re-signing Phillip Dorsett while adding Maurice Harris, Bruce Ellington and Matt LaCosse -- and may add Allen Bailey to the defensive line as well. They still need to resolve the Gronk Situation and re-sign Stephen Gostkowski. But after their postseason romp through the NFL, I can’t in good faith, put anybody over them.