Poll: Who Is Pats’ Top 2019 AFC Challenger?

Another summer featuring the Patriots preparing a title defense will bring PFR’s third version of this poll. The Patriots are only the third team to book Super Bowl berths in three straight years, joining the Dolphins from 1971-73 and Bills from 1990-93, and again Las Vegas tabs Bill Belichick‘s team as the favorite to win a championship.

In the past two AFC title games, the Pats skated to Super Bowls by razor-thin margins. Their 2019 passing attack features more questions than it has in maybe 13 years, dating back to the days before the arrivals of Randy Moss and later Rob Gronkowski. But until they are defeated, this century’s premier team will be the favorite to represent the AFC in Super Bowls.

The top candidate to dethrone them last year may again fill that role, but the Chiefs have gone through a rather complex offseason. After another dismal defensive season, the Chiefs overhauled their pass rush. They ditched anchors Justin Houston and Dee Ford, along with DC Bob Sutton, in moving to Steve Spagnuolo‘s 4-3 defense. But Frank Clark (35 sacks in four seasons), on a $20.8MM-per-year contract in a deal that cost the Chiefs their first-round pick, is Kansas City’s new edge bastion. It is not certain who will fill the role of K.C.’s No. 2 edge rusher, and high-end interior presence Chris Jones skipped minicamp.

This figures to be Patrick Mahomesfinal season on his rookie contract, amplifying the importance of 2019 for the Chiefs. A major AFC variable: the status of the reigning MVP’s top receiver. Tyreek Hill is facing a near-certain suspension, or possibly a Chiefs departure, depending on where the NFL’s investigation goes. So the three-time defending AFC West champions’ status is a bit murky at the moment.

Despite the 2018 Chargers winding up on the wrong end of a divisional-round rout in New England, they still possess one of the NFL’s best rosters. As such, the Bolts were relatively quiet in free agency — beyond their Thomas Davis signing. The Chargers still employ the key players responsible for 2018 top-10 rankings on offense and defense and are in line to have Joey Bosa and Hunter Henry healthy in Week 1. The Bolts still lack a comparable home-field advantage compared to their contender peers but compensated last year by going 8-0 outside of Los Angeles.

In returning nearly every starter from last season, the Colts (who have the fourth-best AFC title odds) carry a similar profile to the Bolts. Chris Ballard again resisted major free agency spending, despite his team holding more than $100MM in cap space entering March. Indianapolis did re-sign multiple starters and have a new T.Y. Hilton supporting cast in Devin Funchess, third-rounder Parris Campbell and 2018 draftee Deon Cain, who missed his rookie season. The Colts were No. 2 in weighted DVOA entering their second-round loss last season.

They of one winning season in the past 16, the Browns loaded up this year and hold Bovada’s third-best odds to win the AFC. Odell Beckham Jr., Olivier Vernon, Sheldon Richardson and Kareem Hunt stand to play pivotal roles in Cleveland’s pursuit of its first playoff berth since 2002, and John Dorsey‘s two-offseason overhaul has this roster in much better shape. The Browns do have some questions on their offensive line, and new HC Freddie Kitchens brings only a half-season’s worth of coordinator experience. But this certainly profiles as one of the most fascinating contenders in years.

Vegas predicts the Texans and Ravens will take steps back, after each underwent sweeping 2019 changes. And for the first time in several years, the Steelers (sixth-best odds in the AFC) hover off the top tier. Are oddsmakers sleeping on the perennial contenders? The Steelers made multiple moves (in adding Devin Bush, Steven Nelson and Mark Barron) to patch up their defense but lost arguably this era’s top receiver, whose $21.12MM dead-money number limited them this offseason.

Lastly, what surprise team will emerge? Will the Raiders’ spending spree translate to 2019 success? Will Nick Foles stabilize the Jaguars’ offense enough? Will the collectively rebuilding AFC East prevent another five- or six-win Patriots divisional stroll (and the likelihood of the Pats earning a bye in every season this decade)?

Click below to vote in PFR’s latest poll (link for app users) and weigh in with your AFC thoughts in the comments section.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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37 comments on “Poll: Who Is Pats’ Top 2019 AFC Challenger?

  1. cybrpete

    With a 20th-ranked defense last year, the Chiefs would’ve won the Super Bowl. Now with their D upgrades, the question is: “Who is the Chiefs’ top AFC challenger?”

  2. jacobsigel1025

    With the Patriots excluded, the Colts are the most complete team who also own arguably the best offensive line in football. Hot take Andrew Luck wins mvp. Funchess and Paris Campbell along with a healthy Deon Cain just add to the weapons. Houston added to Leonard in the front seven is also a nice addition.

    • PeterDipersio

      I don’t think the colts are ready yet. I think the browns have a better shot than the colts. All teams in the AFC west have improved except Denver. I still say it’s the Chiefs !

      • jr.white

        I don’t think the browns have a shot at all. They’ve done an incredible job building a team, but diva receivers historically don’t win championships. I’d also argue Denver improved this offseason but they’re not contenders so who cares

      • eaterofbirds

        based on…?
        Luck isnt getting younger and has had, mostly due to injury, time to allow the game to ‘slow down’ for him.

        If he ca. stay healthy, I can see a Saints/Colts SB.

        if theres any doubt, it’s with the Browns. They look solid on paper—but, there are a lot of moving parts [mainly mouths] including the coach. Hes is more of an unknown in all this than how the team will perform.

        Just a case of people anointing championships before one single game of the new season has been played. I actually see trouble on the horizon for the Browns. One word; Pressure.

        Your hot take on the Chiefs is flawed as well. Mahomes is fun to watch, but—again, their defense was pretty terrible and if Hill is out for an extended time, they have little to replace his numbers. That’s called a ‘wait and see’ team.

        Denver has improved? I beg to differ, and it didnt take much to improve on last years bunch.
        Flacco offers some veteran leadership you werent going to see out of the Lynch and Keenum show and a change of venue might reinvigorate him and his numbers. They have some good young receivers and their defensive is decent.

        They have a good stable of running backs with that kid Lindsay ready to roll.

      • dcahen

        Peter, the Colts aren’t ready yet, but the Browns, who have been ready yet for 20 years, are suddenly more ready. Wow, some fans are so clueless.

    • bradthebluefish

      Colts started off 1-5 and then went on a tear. I can see them going the distance.

    • eaterofbirds

      Rivers is trending down now for a couple of years now, and he looked pretty bad in the playoffs. I want to see him win one, but that window may have closed.

  3. madmanTX

    The Saints would have beaten the Patriots in the Super Bowl and their competition this year is wide open. They aren’t the same team as when Brady was younger. Media likes to look past questions about their age, weak defense and missing offensive weapons this coming season.

      • burtgummer

        If you’re responding to me I never said Saints were AFC I just said they weren’t good enough to get to the Super Bowl
        I have no issues with the team at all so I’m not a hater,I don’t even dislike them
        My team is in the AFC

    • PeterDipersio

      I don’t think the saints would have beaten the patriots! The high powered Rams couldn’t !

    • eaterofbirds

      :The Saints would’ve beat the pats”

      If you live in a world where hypotheticals are real, than it’s still an unknown because by using your logic, they lost to the Rams, who…the Patriots didnt just beat, they shut their switch off completely in the big game. So, again, your logic is not a great way to approach sports in general.

    • crosseyedlemon

      A dynasty yes, but hardly incredible when you have division rivals as badly managed as the Jets and Bills (and to a lesser extent) Miami have been for years.

      • rkmarx

        Do the Patriots routinely lose to other teams in the league and only beat the bad ones? No? Thanks for playing.

        • crosseyedlemon

          The point I’m making is the quality of division rivals you face for half of your games has a huge bearing on how much success you will have. Belichick didn’t exactly dominate when he was in the AFC North where there were no cupcakes to feast on.

          • burtgummer

            I wonder why some people only like to talk about the 6 divisional games but ignore the playoff teams they beat in the regular season and playoffs.don’t worry the Pats run will be over in the next couple years

  4. GMB 883

    Good luck. The Patriots bolstered their defense and added to their running game with drafting a big target for Brady to throw to. They will be better than last year. Unless they have major injuries they will be tough to beat.

  5. echozulu88

    The whole Tyreek Hill situation will be a huge factor in determining this result. If he misses significant time that’ll hurt the Chiefs badly. If it’s nothing or a slap on the wrist then the Chiefs should be the favorite if their defense can somehow get better.

  6. dray16

    I think it’s the Chargers year, KC is the sexy pick and I think the Colts might take a small step back. they’re good, but not SB good, but then again it’s about getting hot at the right time.

  7. 2012orioles

    People are sleeping on the Steelers. They hit a rough stretch of games last year in the middle of drama. They beat NE, would’ve beat NO had Haden not been called for PI, mishap from Boswell, late fumble, etc. nothing went right that last few weeks.

    • Yep it is

      If you think the Steelers and “ bad mouthing Ben” are doing anything is LAUGHABLE. This is the year they really IMPLODE. He is a joke and Tomlin is a puppet. 8-8 if they are lucky. More like 6-10. This year the other players have had enough of the circus and clown act they have to play with.

    • bradthebluefish

      Great points. Steelers will certainly be better next year but competition in their division is getting tougher with the Ravens and Browns improvements.

  8. bradthebluefish

    It’s gotta be the Chiefs. High-octane offense with an improved defense. Chiefs have stopped the Patriots before. We’ll see if they can do it again.

  9. ElMagoN9ne

    Steelers are gonna win the division theres no reason why the Pats should be the overall favorite. They got the best WR in the NFL by far.

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