AFC Playoff Contenders – Steelers and Colts Set for Bounce-Back Years

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Ben Roethlisberger is back fit and can help Pittsburgh Steelers be one of the seven AFC teams to reach the playoffs.

Pittsburgh Steelers quarter back Ben Roethlisberger

The AFC often has a top-heavy look to it and this year is no exception with the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens the standout teams. Those two would appear on course for an AFC Championship showdown but the question of who might join them in the playoffs this season is a lot harder to answer.

Here are our latest NFL playoff predictions as we try to decide which seven teams will represent the AFC in the post-season

1) Kansas City Chiefs

Let’s start off with an easy one. The reigning Super Bowl champions and 13/2 favourites to retain the Vince Lombardi trophy, Kansas City look pencilled in for a playoff spot for the next decade to come.

With superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes signing a 10-year contract this off-season, the ground work has been laid for a new dynasty. The Chiefs return the majority of the offensive pieces from last year which will be key given their lack of practice time, while they have added exciting running-back Clyde Edwards-Helaire via the draft.

With the rest of their AFC West rivals at some stage of a rebuild, the Chiefs can run away with the division title once more at 4/1.

2) Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens enjoyed their best regular season in franchise history in 2019, going 14-2 before shockingly crashing out in the playoffs against the Tennessee Titans.

That loss probably still stings and there is likely to be some regression this season, with Lamar Jackson up against it to repeat his incredible year which saw him throw for 3,127 yards and rush for a further 1,206 yards.

Baltimore will remain a run first offense having set an NFL record with 3,296 yards on the ground and, like the Chiefs, most of their best weapons on offense and defence are back.

They look the most well-rounded team in the AFC and are 1/2 to win the AFC North, which could be a highly competitive division.

3) Buffalo Bills

The king is dead, long live the king. This looks like it could finally be the season New England’s 11-year AFC East title-winning streak comes to an end with Buffalo ready to usurp them. Although where have we heard that before?

The Bills are 1/1 to win the division as they seek to build on a 2019 season which caught many by surprise. As a defensive-minded head coach, it is perhaps no surprise Sean McDermott has built an excellent defence, one with very few vulnerabilities.

Quarterback Josh Allen is still a little unpredictable and the offence lacks a certain star quality but it is still good. The Bills face a tough schedule but have shown an ability to spring a surprise so should never be counted out.

4) New England Patriots

Although the Bills are fancied to win the AFC East, it is going to be an incredibly tight race with the post-Brady era Patriots. New England might have lost their greatest-ever quarterback in Tom Brady but they haven’t found a bad replacement in Cam Newton.

The 2016 regular season MVP has a point to prove after being cut by Carolina due to injury concerns, and a fit and healthy Newton is a fearsome prospect. He’ll have to raise an average offense which could be very run-heavy and the Patriots defence will likely have to carry the team again. With the best head coach in football, Bill Belichick, still in the chair, expect the Pats to make the playoffs at 5/11, while they are 1/1 to win over nine regular season games.

5) Indianapolis Colts

The Colts were hit hard by injuries last season, most notably when quarterback Andrew Luck retired due to medical concerns on the eve of the campaign. With no time to find an adequate replacement, they struggled to 7-9 but should do much better this year. They will have former LA Charger Phillip Rivers under centre this year and once again have a well-balanced squad.

They packed the offense, via the draft, with weapons for Rivers and bolstered an already sound defence by trading for defensive end DeForest Buckner. In a wide open AFC South, the Colts look the class act and are 6/5 to claim the division.

6) Pittsburgh Steelers

Sticking with the theme of teams looking to bounce back from injury-hit seasons, the Pittsburgh Steelers are primed for a much better 2020 now they have Ben Roethlisberger back fit. ‘Big Ben’ missed nearly all of last season with an elbow injury and the offense fell off a cliff as a result. However, thanks to the efforts of arguably the best defence in the AFC, they still nearly snuck into the playoffs at 8-8.

The defence is stacked, top to bottom, and when Roethlisberger is fit, he’s still one of the league’s top quarterbacks. Even though they have to play in a very competitive AFC North, the Steelers’ soft schedule should mean they make the playoffs at 21/20.

7) Houston Texans

Several teams could lay claim to the last wildcard spot, none more so than the team that made the AFC Championship game last season, the Tennessee Titans. However, it seems highly unlikely Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry can both have another monster year and they could be pipped to the line by AFC South rivals Houston.

The Texans might have lost their best wide receiver, DeAndre Hopkins, this off-season but the offense still has plenty of potential and is lead by the best quarterback in the division, DeShaun Watson. The defence still has J.J. Watt and some talent elsewhere, and this is a team that has won the division four of the last five years.

They should have beaten the Kansas City Chiefs in the play-offs and given their recent track record, at 29/20 offer some value to make the playoffs this year.

*All odds correct at time of writing

Chris is broadcast and written journalist with a wealth of experience, across a number of different sports. As well covering football on the radio, he is a regular online and print contributor on the likes of rugby union, American Football and Formula One.
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