AFC Stock report: Chiefs, Patriots still class of conference

(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images) /

The Chiefs and Patriots are still tops in the AFC through seven weeks of play but things could take a turn in the near future.

With just a single game left from the Week 7 matchups, the NFL is closing in on the halfway mark of the season. Coming into the 2019 season, it was widely believed that the AFC was top-heavy, with the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs leading the charge, while the NFC would be a slugfest with more competition.

It seems those early assertations were correct, for now. As we get closer to the halfway mark in the 2019 season, now is the time that we start to see teams for what they really are. All of the preseason hype that carried over into the first few weeks of the season are out the window.

The overblown reactions from a good or bad start to the season have come and gone. After seven weeks of football, we can finally see who the real contenders are, who the pretenders are, and who is looking to just finish the season and move on to 2020.

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New England and Kansas City remain as the top two seeds in the playoff picture through Week 7, but things could get shaken up with the injury to quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

While the prognosis is that he will only be out for a few weeks or less, the Chiefs will be missing their starting quarterback in back to back tough matchups.

The rest of the AFC playoff picture is very similar to 2018 outside of one team through seven weeks, that being the Buffalo Bills who are sitting at 5-1.

As of right now, the playoff seeding for the AFC has the Patriots sitting on top, followed by the Chiefs, Ravens, Colts, Bills, and Texans rounding out the six spots.

The only difference from 2018 is the Buffalo Bills are replacing the Los Angeles Chargers. Once the NFL preseason darlings of the league, which has been a consistent trend leading up to the last three seasons, the Chargers have fallen apart as they finish Week 7 falling to a 2-5 record. Both the Oakland Raiders (3-3) and Denver Broncos (2-5) have surpassed the Chargers in the AFC West.

Buffalo remains unique from most of the league, relying heavily on an incredible defense. Second-year quarterback Josh Allen is still developing following his rookie season. Allen’s overall accuracy has improved from 2018 — bumping up from 52.8 to 62.6 completion percentage — but his interception numbers have worsened, already throwing seven picks this year with his interception percentage moving from 3.8 to 4.3 percent. However, he’s already matched both his comeback wins and game-winning drives from 2018.

After an offseason where the Bills turned over a tremendous amount of offensive personnel and a good preseason showing from Allen, the young gunslinger has yet to master the most important trait needed to have success, which is knowing when to take what the defense gives you.

Two Teams in AFC South Chiefs Fans Should Watch

In the AFC South, inconsistency is the name of the game but two teams that seem to be the true leaders of the group are the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts. The two faced off in Week 7, with the Colts coming off a bye week, as Indy outlasted the Texans with a 30-23 victory to maintain the leaders in the South.

Despite the retirement of Andrew Luck in the preseason, the Colts and quarterback Jacoby Brissett have continued to remain a competitor in the AFC, sitting at 4-2. Another week of dominating both sides of the trenches for the Colts, not allowing a sack against a top pass-rushing unit as well as keeping pressure on Deshaun Watson for most of the game.

Indianapolis deserves an incredible amount of praise for not only their personnel, but the coaching staff, and general manager Chris Ballard for being able to put together an impressive, young roster. The Indianapolis coaches have kept this team highly motivated despite losing their All-Pro quarterback. Something that would have crushed just about any other team has not affected the Colts.

Brissett put up record numbers against the rival Texans, throwing for 326 yards and four touchdowns without a single interception. Second-year linebacker Darius Leonard returned after missing three weeks to come away with a game-ending interception.

Deshaun Watson and the Texans continue their inconsistent play. After beating the Kansas City Chiefs on the road a week ago, they fell to playing sloppy, undisciplined football against a divisional opponent the following week. Watson threw two interceptions on the day in an ugly loss for Houston.

Tennessee is the team still searching for an identity. Every season it seems the Titans start off with an unexpected victory or two, prompting players to tell the media that everyone needs to quit sleeping on them. Then they will turn right around and lose games they shouldn’t, ultimately remaining a middle of the pack team.

In Week 7, head coach Mike Vrabel made the decision to bench quarterback Marcus Mariota and start Ryan Tannehill who threw for 312 yards and two touchdowns on the day. The defense was able to come up with two consecutive stops on the one-yard line to end the game beating the Chargers 23-20.

AFC North is a Mess

The AFC North looks to only have one legitimate playoff contender through seven weeks, that being the Baltimore Ravens. After facing a setback against the Chiefs, the Ravens were able to put things back together during the past two weeks. The Ravens defense looked improved after underperforming for most of the season, and it would seem the recent trade for cornerback Marcus Peters — who came up with a pick-six in his first game wearing purple — is paying early dividends.

The Cincinnati Bengals remain winless after losing to the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns both were on bye weeks. As the Steelers look to hang on with their backup quarterbacks, they are highly unlikely to make the playoffs in 2019. It’s also unclear what their plan for the future is after trading a first-round pick to the Miami Dolphins for defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick.

Cleveland showed a little promise only to fall flat on their face once again last week, sitting at 2-4 on the season entering the bye week. Another offseason darling who was crowned prematurely, the Browns look nothing like they did at the end of the 2018 season. Now they must travel to New England and Denver in hopes of turning their season around.

What looked like a tough stretch in the second part of the season for the Browns looks much more favorable, with two matchups against Pittsburgh without Ben Roethlisberger, two games against the winless Cincinnati Bengals, and games against the Arizona Cardinals and Miami Dolphins.

Questions Still Linger for Chiefs in Second Half of Season

Overall, the AFC has changed very little from just a season ago. The one major focal point will be on how long Patrick Mahomes is out for the Kansas City Chiefs.

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Will they be able to hold on to the two-seed with tough games the next two weeks and the Colts looking for an opportunity to pass them? What will Andy Reid be able to do with the offense being under Matt Moore and will the defense continue to play with the attitude and aggressiveness they showed on Thursday night? Only time will tell.