End of Season Review: The AFC part 1

End of Season Review: The AFC part 1
Reading Time: 10 minutes.

As we fly through the playoffs and the number of games starts to dry up, it’s about time we look back at the season. It’s been a crazy year. Rewind 6 months and there was still questions if the NFL season would happen. But here we are. It, mostly, went to plan.

You want to win the Superbowl? To be in with a chance you have to make the playoffs. 18 teams failed to do so. Today we’ll look at each of those teams and discuss how the 2020 season went for them. Starting with the AFC.

Failing to make the playoffs isn’t great, but all may not be lost…

Jacksonville Jaguars 1-15 AFC cellar dwellers C-

This was probably the best case scenario for a Jaguars team that wasn’t particularly hopeful coming into 2020. A 1-15 record and 4th place in the AFC South secured them the number one pick in the 2021 draft, and most likely superstar prospect Trevor Lawrence.

Minshew mania looks like it’s over in Jacksonville. Image from NBCSports.com

However, even with the Clemson quarterback under centre next season, Jacksonville has a lot of work to do before they’ll be competitive. Their defence ranked 31st in opponent’s points per game (30.8), opponent’s yards per game (417.7), and takeaways (1.1). To put it in other words: it was an abysmal unit this season. Obviously they weren’t helped by a bunch of injuries which crippled an already depleted side. DE Josh Allen, CB C.J. Henderson, CB Sidney Jones as well as their two safeties Josh Jones and Jarrod Wilson all missed time. As well as having question marks on their roster, there’s also some gaps to fill  in their staff. They’re on the hunt for a new head coach and general manager to replace the recently dismissed Dave Caldwell and Doug Marrone.

On the plus side, Jacksonville does have plenty of breathing room as they look toward next season. If they can pick a head coach who’s willing to work with and develop Trevor Lawrence, they may be able to hit the ground running in 2021.  Rookie running back James Robinson looked like a great pick as he finished the season with 1,070 rushing yards – placing him 5th in the league and 2nd amongst rookies. They also have the most cap space in the NFL heading into 2021 with $75 million to play with. It’s an intriguing destination for prospective head coaches and should be a prosperous off season for them. The only way is up from here, right? -Owen Widdowson

New York Jets 2-14 D-

Somehow, as only the Jets could, they managed to win 2 games down the stretch and move themselves out if the Trevor Lawrence Sweep stakes. Honestly, there isn’t much to discuss here in terms of their season for this AFC East team. It was very poor in terms of results, performances, coaching, everything. They beat a Browns team with no WRs and actually had a pretty good win against the Rams, which was a massive shock to everyone but that was pretty much it. I think the key for the Jets is what comes next, and that’s pretty interesting.

Gase is out, Greg Williams is out. They have a really promising GM in Joe Douglas and plenty of elite coaching options on the market. It would appear they need a culture guy, someone who can come in and change the attitude of the franchise from losing badly, to winning. The latest reports say both Matt Campbell from iowa state and Dan Mullen from the Florida Gators are getting interviews, both of which would provide a good culture change.

The next question is, what do you do with Darnold? A new coach may want a total reset and moving Darnold would be job number 1 to make that happen. There’s certainly a market out there for him and the jets could get probably a couple of 2nd round picks for him, which added to the haul they got for Jamal Adams, might not be a terrible option. The only issue is, there’s not many ‘sure things’ at QB in this draft outside of Trevor Lawrence but whoever QB2 is for Douglas might be an option to buy them some time and cap space for a big rebuild.

Whichever way they decide to go, it can’t really be much worse than this season and it’ll be an exciting journey to follow. – Jamie Edwards

Cincinnati Bengals 4-11-1 C+

2020 started and ended with Joe Burrow as far as the Cincinnati Bengals organisation were concerned. In the games he played, Burrow was everything the Bengals expected him to be when they turned in their card back in April. The LSU Heisman trophy winner gives the Bengals hope for the future.

The Bengals were much more competitive than they were last year, and did start to show some life as the season progressed. Particularly pleasing to see was the chemistry Burrow had started to develop with fellow rookie Tee Higgins.

Burrow made a great start to the season, but needs protecting. He was sacked 32 times before his season ending knee injury. Investment in the O-line is a must. Image from usatoday.com

With the number 5 pick in 2021, and talent on the offense (Burrow, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, Joe Mixon) and the defence (Jessie Bates, Germaine Pratt, Sam Hubbard) there are some foundational pieces for Cininnati to build on moving forward. And they will need to keep building in the ultra competitive AFC North. – Stuart Taylor

Houston Texans 4-12 D-

“We wasted one of your years.” JJ Watt could not have put it better. Not only that, but they also now risk losing their disillusioned franchise QB Deshaun Watson. The rebuilding process, certainly in terms of the roster, doesn’t even start here. The Texans don’t have a pick until round three. In fact, they are the last team to make a selection. That’s not ideal when you need premier positions like edge rushers and cornerbacks.

After winning three out of four in midseason, the Texans lost out from week 13 onwards. It’s worth noting that they can’t even claim they were tanking – why would you without top end draft capital? Half of Houston’s wins were against the Jaguars – who were tanking.

There are crumbs of comfort thought. Eight of the Texans losses were by one score, including four of the last five. Despite Derrick Henry running for 250 yards, the playoff-bound Titans needed a last second field goal to win at NRG. Deshaun Watson had his best season, with his highest completion percentage (70.2%), and by far his most touchdowns (33) and yards (4,823). In fact, Watson led the league in passing yards. Alongside that he added 444 yards rushing and three touchdowns on the ground. He has undoubtedly proven that he is more than just a scrambler.

It will be interesting to see who they hire – and indeed how they restructure the front office. Options are likely to be limited given the limited draft capital. Job number one will be reassuring Deshaun Watson that his future lies in Texas. Ironically that job could start with shoring up a defence that allowed the third most yards in 2020. Oh, and drafting a genuine number one receiver to replace DeAndre Hopkins, who knew that trade would come back to bite them? -Adam Barton

Denver Broncos 5-11 D

Lose three games at the start. Lose three games at the end. If you take the middle ten weeks of the season, the Broncos are a solid 5-5 – and includes a loss to the Saints with no quarterbacks and passing for 13 yards.

During the draft, it looked as though the Broncos were going all out on becoming a powerful offence full of skill position talent to rival the Chiefs. Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler, Albert Okweugbunam, Tyrie Cleveland. In the end, Denver had the tenth fewest yards per game. Who to blame? Young skill position players without a true leader, OC Pat Shurmur or Drew Lock? You would have to assume that Shurmur and Lock will take the brunt of the blame. Lock’s completion percentage was down seven points to 57% in year two. 16 TDs were matched with 15 picks. And in the end, the sophomore only passed for 225 yards per game.

The fact that Vic Fangio survived Black Monday implies that there are changes coming lower down the pecking order. Given Fangio’s background, it is a surprise to see the Broncos on the fringes of the bottom ten for defence. Even without Von Miller, they had the tenth most sacks in 2020 with 42.

And what of the front office? John Elway has already said that he will take a step back. How will that impact the team? Especially heading into the draft. And how tempted will the new GM be to replace Lock with the ninth overall pick. There are a lot of questions to be answered in Mile High. -Adam Barton

New England Patriots 7-9 D

`Oh what a tangled web we weave, when we practice to deceive’. Attributed to Sir Walter Scott in 1808, this could have been written about Bill Belichick and his belief that Cam Newton and Jarrett Stidham could provided the answers at Quarterback in 2020. This wasn’t the case.

Losing 6 time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady was always going to be a difficult scenario for the Patriots this season. We knew this traditional AFC powerhouse would have to adapt. Coupling this with high profile opt outs Patrick Chung, D’onate Hightower and Marcus Cannon, they were always starting this year on the back foot.

Despite a promising opening, the Patriots finished 7-9 and 3rd in the AFC East. THis will be the first time since 2008 that they won’t feature in the offseason. Despite their quarterback woes, explosive and dynamic play in the skills positions was sorely lacking. Their historical good 2019 defence was still decent in 2020 but didn’t hit the same heights.

A big off season looms for Coach Belichick. With a lot of holes in their roster, the Patriots have reasonable draft capital and cap space to overhaul this team. Can the master strategist solve potentially his largest conundrums in 2021? -Stuart Taylor

Chargers 7-9 B-

Even a four-game winning streak to end the season couldn’t save Anthony Lynn’s job. Having started 21-11 in LA, Lynn’s record in LA finished at 33-31. And while he was a likeable coach with clear potential – as exhibited in his first two seasons, Lynn’s game management just wasn’t there.

That being said, it’s rare that you can get so excited about a team that was 3-9 after a 45-0 drubbing at home to the 7-9 Patriots. And the four-game winning streak has little to do with it. Justin Herbert does. Herbert was a revelation with 4300 yards, 31 TDs and just 10 interceptions as a rookie. Herbert took the rookie records for touchdowns and yards per game. The AFC West appears to have another star QB on its hands.

Justin Herbert was 6th in the league with 4336 yards, leading all rookie (and sophomores for that matter) Quarterbacks. Image from latimes.com

Seven of the Chargers nine losses were by a single score. In fact, 12 of their games in total were decided by a single score. That perhaps underlines how much the Chargers have been hurt by game management – and why Lynn was shown the door. What’s more, the Chargers had to fight on despite losing Mike Pouncey, Virgil Green, Melvin Ingram and Casey Hayward and most importantly Derwin James.

Now they must build around Herbert, giving him a scheme that will see him thrive. The priority with the 13th pick will be to protect him with a top offensive lineman. Herbert was sacked 32 times. Then they can look to the outside and see who is available at edge rusher and cornerback.

Don’t be shocked if this is an AFC wildcard team a year from now. -Adam Barton

Las Vegas Raiders 8-8 D

Off the field it was clear preseason that the Raiders weren’t in for their dream first year in Vegas. With no fans allowed in to christen their new home plans of wild Vegas nights were put on hold while the world attempted to deal with a Pandemic. But hopes were still high on the field.

The Raiders opened their new, albeit empty, stadium with a win against the Saints and started the season strong. Going into week 11 they were in the AFC mix at 6-3 and the only team yet to stop the red hot Chiefs – a feat only repeated this year by the Chargers, in week 17 with half of the Chiefs rested. They finished out 2-5 and waved goodbye to a shot at the postseason long before week 17.

Offensively they’ll be happy with their output this term. Finishing 8th in yards (383.8/game) and 10th in points (27.1/game). Ultimately the main reason the Raiders struggled this year was their defence. They allowed 29.9 points/game, only the Jags and Lions gave up more. Giving up 33.9 points/game in the final 7 games of the season a big reason why they finished 2-5.

Darren Waller continues to be a star for the Raiders. Leading the teams in touchdowns (9) and receptions (107). The latter leads the league for tight ends. Image from draftkings.com.

The Raiders are suck with Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs in their division, so making the playoffs isn’t going to be easy. But the Raiders need to be doing better than 8-8. That’ll be their plan for attaking the AFC in 2021. -Bryan Dickie

Miami Dolphins 10-6 just missed AFC Playoffs B+

Having experience numerous years of heartache following the Scotland national football team and their tournament qualification woes, watching this season’s AFC East runner-up Miami Dolphins was eerily familiar. A rollercoaster of emotions, with an air of promise, ultimately to be let down at the vital moment.

Coach Brian Flores deserves all the credit in the world for the job he has done in Miami during his 2 years at the helm. From possibly the worst defence in the league in 2019, the Dolphins now boast one of, if not the, top defences in the NFL in all categories.

Offensively, there are still concerns with a lack of star names at the skill positions, and Tua Tagovailoa’s well documented struggles under centre. However, a young but promising O-line, a full offseason for Tua and a significant number of prime draft picks should see them right.

A 10-6 season is not to be sniffed at and ultimately Dolphins fans should not let a final day capitulation to a rampant Buffalo Bills cloud what has been another season of progress in Miami. 2021 should be a fun ride!-Stuart Taylor

Keep an eye out for our review of the NFC teams, plus those lucky enough to make the playoffs, as they drop out from the AFC race

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