Insane AFC Position Group Battles Part One

July 25, 2022
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With about six weeks to go before the regular season begins, it is time to rank our Patriots and the other AFC teams by position group. The position groups will be quarterback, running back, wide receiver/tight end, offensive line, defensive line, linebackers, cornerbacks/safeties, special teams, and coaches. Today I will be doing the offensive positions.

This will be done a bit differently than other rankings as these will be done by playoffs, so the first four seeds will be the best group at the position in each division, the following three will be wild cards, and the rest will be broken into three tiers.

Those three tiers would be:

Playoff Contender: These are the position groups I considered putting in my top seven but didn’t quite make the cut.

Below Average: Position groups that are not on the level of the top seven but not among the worst in the AFC.

Weakest Links: These are among the worst in the AFC.

After I break them into tiers, I will go in-depth on the Patriots’ position groups while also addressing some major controversies.

AFC Offense

Quarterback

Top Seed: Chiefs

Division Winners: Bills, Ravens, Colts

Wild Cards: Bengals, Chargers, Broncos

Playoff Contender: Raiders

Below Average: Titans, Patriots, Browns, Dolphins, Texans

Weakest Links: Jaguars, Jets, Steelers

Patriots Analysis: Very harsh ranking for Mac Jones and the Patriots to end up in the Below Average tier, and I almost put us in Playoff Contenders. Still, Derek Carr threw for over 4,800 yards and led a game-winning drive to secure a playoff spot despite all the drama in that organization. Jones is a solid QB who could quickly get to 4,000 yards and 25 TDs this season. Brian Hoyer is a decent backup with tons of experience in this system if Jones gets hurt. Bailey Zappe is an intriguing prospect after setting FBS records for single-season yards and touchdowns this year but will likely see no real playing time this year.

Major Controversies:

  • Chiefs over Bills for the top seed: I went Chiefs over Bills for the top seed as Mahomes has been at an elite level for longer than Allen and has gotten to two Super Bowls, winning one. However, I feel that Allen will be the better QB in fantasy and could be better in real life.
  • Ravens over Bengals for the AFC North “title”: I decided to go with the Ravens over the Bengals even though Burrow just took Cincy to the Super Bowl because of Lamar Jackson’s unique ability to run the football and the fact that backup Tyler Huntley is one of the best backups in the NFL for the Ravens.
  • Titans and Patriots in “Below Average”: I don’t think Tannehill and Jones are below-average QBs, but they were not on the level of Derek Carr or the seven “playoff teams.” The AFC is STACKED at QB this year! Malik Willis is an intriguing backup, though, for Tennessee.
  • Ranking the Browns: No matter where I ranked them, this would be a massive controversy. First, there was the issue of when/if Deshaun Watson would play this season and how good he would be when/if he returns, as he has not played in two years. The most likely outcome is that Watson is suspended for eight games. Hence, I decided to combine eight games of Jacoby Brissett with nine games of a very good but not elite Deshaun Watson, and combining them puts them in the “Below Average” tier.

Running Backs

Top Seed: Browns

Division Winners: Colts, Broncos, Patriots

Wild Cards: Titans, Ravens, Steelers

Playoff Contenders: Chargers, Raiders, Bengals

Below Average: Bills, Chiefs, Dolphins. Jets, Jaguars

Weakest Link: Texans

Patriots Analysis: We have the best group of running backs in the AFC East as Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson are both solid players. At the same time, James White should be a receiving threat out of the backfield while Pierre Strong Jr. and Kevin Harris. This balanced position group with upside from nearly everyone could help us return to the playoffs.

Major Controversies:

  • Colts over Titans: This was a tough call as I still believe that Derrick Henry is the best running back in the NFL; however, the combination of Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines gave the Colts the edge as running backs are the most injury-prone position and most teams use multiple backs even when both are healthy.
  • Browns over Colts: Now that I determined the best unit in the AFC South, I had to compare them to the Browns to see if they were the best in the AFC. I went with the Browns as Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt can carry the rushing attack in any particular game.
  • Broncos over Chargers: This was a tough one as the ability to catch the football has become increasingly important for running backs. However, I feel that the combination of Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams is better than Austin Ekeler and the assortment of unproven backs behind him.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

Top Seed: Bengals

Division Winners: Raiders, Bills, Jaguars

Wild Cards: Chargers, Dolphins, Chiefs

Playoff Contenders: Broncos, Patriots, Steelers

Below Average: Ravens, Jets, Browns, Titans

Weakest Links: Colts, Texans

Patriots Analysis: We don’t have the most outstanding group of receivers but exceptional strength in depth. DeVante Parker was a great addition, Kendrick Bourne and Jakobi Meyers are solid options, and Tyquan Thornton could be a deep threat. Nelson Agholor has had several decent seasons in the past Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith could be a solid tight end tandem. I could quickly be putting our group higher at the end of the season.

Major Controversy:

  • Determining the AFC South “champion”: This was hard as there are no elite wideouts in this division, but I made the Jaguars the champion as they have two solid receivers in Christian Kirk and Marvin Jones, as well as the best tight end in the division in Evan Engram.
Offensive line is our best position group

Offensive Line

Top Seed: Bengals

Division Winners: Chiefs, Patriots, Colts

Wild Cards: Browns, Chargers, Jets

Playoff Contender: Ravens

Below Average: Texans, Dolphins, Bills, Titans, Broncos

Weakest Links: Jaguars, Raiders, Steelers

Patriots Analysis: We should have the best offensive line in the division even after trading Shaq Mason to the Bucs and losing Ted Karras in free agency. There could be five above-average starters if Cole Strange quickly adjusts to the NFL, which I think he will do. We don’t have any genuinely elite linemen, but it is much more essential to have no weak links than one elite lineman. Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown are very good tackles who can anchor our offensive line at a Pro Bowl level. Mike Onwenu and David Andrews are positive pieces as well. This may be our best position group.

Major Controversy:

  • Bengals as the best AFC O-Line: Cincy had one of the worst offensive lines last season, but they upgraded dramatically at the position this offseason. 2021 rookie Jackson Carman was the only projected 2022 starter not to have a PFF grade of at least 70, and he should improve in year two, especially with more talent around him. New acquisition La’el Collins had a PFF grade of 82 last season which is an outstanding season. Jonah Williams could improve further in year four, and the Bengals also acquired Alex Cappa and Ted Karras (from New England).

Offensive Takeaways

  • Quarterback and pass catcher rankings do not correlate much: I thought the QB rankings would be relatively similar to the pass catcher rankings, but they didn’t correlate. Buffalo was the only quarterback/pass catcher combination that I felt was both tops of their division. Even more shocking was that I had the Ravens QB group as a “division champ” but were below average for pass catches. The Colts’ pass-catching unit is one of the worst in the AFC and could impact Carson Wentz’s ability to be the top quarterback in the AFC South that I have him listed as.
  • Patriots have offensive talent: Averaging the rankings for each position, the Patriots are tied with the Chargers for the fourth-best offense in the conference, which surprised me as I thought we would be lower. However, that shows we have a lot of talent surrounding Mac, as I put him in the below-average (fifth tier).
  • The Bengals have the best offense in the AFC: They have made so many improvements to the offensive line that they turned one of the worst lines in the AFC to the very best, which allowed them to come out on top of my offensive rankings. But, of course, it also helped that they had no units below the playoff contender tier (tier four).

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