Every season the NFL brings about some wild changes from the previous year. Teams we don’t expect to do anything meaningful somehow capture our attention, be it from players making quotes to the media or just their work ethic putting them in the upper echelon for the current season.
That said, while there are the perennial “favorites” in each conference (those who just absolutely dominate their opponents), it doesn’t garner enough attention for those teams that are “in the hunt” for a playoff spot. Usually, the teams who are considered in this category are those who currently sit in the No. 7-12 seeds, because some usually have a tendency to turn it around in the second half.
In this two-part article, we’re going to look at those teams currently in the AFC who are considered to be “in the hunt”, and also look at the confidence levels for their teams entering the final eight weeks. Keep in mind that, despite where these teams are currently projected, some might have a higher level than others.
And off we go…
Baltimore Ravens (4-4, Projected 7 seed)
Confidence level: 82.5%
The Ravens are a peculiar team currently in the AFC. They currently hold the NFL’s No.1 total defense () and have the league’s most sacks (27.0), yet are currently projected to finish outside the playoff picture. This could be for a multitude of reasons, most likely because the division they play in has an elite-level talent (Ben Roethlisberger), a hot-and-cold franchise guy (Andy Dalton), and a rookie who hasn’t truly been tested yet (Baker Mayfield). Despite this, the Ravens have a better chance than most, and that’s because they’re playing some great football right now. Trusting Joe Flacco over either Dalton or Big Ben is risky, but if one of them had to go, I only need to bring up Dalton’s record in primetime games and playoff record to show he might fold come December.
Miami Dolphins (4-4, Projected 8 seed)
Confidence level: 48%
Miami plays in a division where they are always playing catch-up (at least until the big bad wolves retire, that is). They can’t seem to get anything right, and reports are out that Davante Parker wants out because him and head coach Adam Gase don’t seem to meet eye to eye. Currently, the Dolphins possess the sixth-worst scoring defense, averaging 27.4 points a game. Their offense isn’t much better, at 22nd in the league with an average of 21.8 PPG. The offense has struggled at times, especially with Ryan Tannehill out and the “Brocktoberfest” ending mercifully at the hands of the Texans. But keep an eye out for these guys, because Albert Wilson is going to be a force to be reckoned with in due time.
Tennessee Titans (3-4, Projected 9 seed)
Confidence Level: 55%
The Titans are a peculiar team to get behind, primarily because it just doesn’t seem like anything can go right for the squad. Their division seems to be in Houston’s favor right now, and they don’t have much to compete with for that spot. A positive note is that, unlike Jacksonville, the Titans have more stability and less infighting, which leads to fewer distractions off the field and better play on the field. Marcus Mariota isn’t a terrible quarterback, but he just doesn’t have enough weapons on the outside to truly compete. Maybe Tennessee could make a call to a certain receiver sitting on the sidelines and bring him into the mix. Who knows, he might be the answer.
New York Jets (3-5, Projected 10 seed)
Confidence Level: 60%
I was very sold on Sam Darnold coming out of the draft this year. Heck, I thought he would’ve gone to the other team in New York because they needed a quarterback more than the Jets (and now, even more so). However, his rookie season hasn’t necessarily panned out like everyone hoped it would. Currently, Darnold leads the league with 10 interceptions thrown (to put into perspective, Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston has that many picks, and he’s played in THREE FEWER GAMES), and the Jets are sitting at the 19th scoring offense (24PPG). Their defense isn’t much better, giving up 374.6 yards per contest. The New York media is very detail-oriented, and they’re not about to just let the rookie go without getting some scrutiny. But, Darnold reminds me of Matt Ryan coming out of college: a little turnover-prone, but can be reliable in the right moment. His time is coming; all we have to do is wait.
Indianapolis Colts (3-5, Projected 11 seed)
Confidence Level: 75%
Andrew Luck, how we’ve missed seeing your talented self in a Colts uniform. Sure, the record isn’t exactly where his return season should’ve been, but his team is definitely on the comeback trail. Marlon Mack is proving to be a more than competent running back, which could eliminate the Colts from having to dish out $17 million a year for Le’Veon Bell. T.Y. Hilton is still a great deep threat, and having Luck back in the fold can only benefit him further. However, look at Darius Leonard, their 2nd-round rookie linebacker out of South Carolina State. He’s got 88 tackles on the year (58 solo, 30 assists) with 4.0 sacks and three forced fumbles. Add to that, their secondary play has been good at times, which is critical towards future success in this offensive driven league. Right now, the Colts are third in their division, sitting half a game behind the Titans. However, I’d put my money on the Colts being able to make a run and possibly even win the AFC South. It remains to be seen whether or not the chips will fall in Indy’s favor.
Jacksonville Jaguars (3-5, Projected 12 seed)
Confidence Level: 25%
Boy, did the Jaguars fall off the mountain fast. After that Week Two win over New England, Blake Bortles looked like the king of the world, and the Jaguars basically erased the sting of that January defeat at the hands of #12. But who could’ve predicted that after that win, Jacksonville would then lose a stinker game to the Titans, face the red-hot Chiefs offense and lose, get blown out by the Dallas Cowboys, and then lay an egg across the pond in London? The defense is still balling out, having the second best yards per game average at 313.2, but those losses seem to have damaged the confidence levels of their stars (Jalen Ramsey), and they even just traded Dante Fowler Jr. to the Rams just before the trade deadline. You can’t win games if your offense consistently gives the football back to the opposing team. I’ve given Bortles the benefit of the doubt before, because his work ethic is what one would expect of a franchise quarterback; he’s always trying to improve on what he did poorly. However, it only seems like he’s increasing his problems rather than fixing them, as since 2015, he has resulted in 72 turnovers, worst in the league. Jacksonville needs to fix their problem fast, or else they’re not seeing the playoffs again for a long time.