Crowded AFC field looks very different from the beginning of the season

Let's step back and evaluate the state of the AFC as we head into the second half of the season.

Miami Dolphins v Kansas City Chiefs
Miami Dolphins v Kansas City Chiefs / Ralf Ibing - firo sportphoto/GettyImages

We are in the middle of the Kansas City Chiefs' well-earned bye week and to say I'm bored is a bit of an understatement. A beautiful fall Sunday without Patrick Mahomes on my TV screen (while less stressful) is just not as fun. So, while Red Zone filters through the rooms of my house, I thought it might be a good idea to re-evaluate the AFC as we head to the home stretch.

At the beginning of the year, we definitely thought the powerhouses were the Chiefs (obviously), Cincinnati Bengals, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, and maybe the Los Angeles Chargers. Those contenders, though, seem to have changed as we make our way through the season.

First, the Bengals are back. Joe Burrow and his striped teammates had a shaky start. I attributed it to the calf injury that Burrow suffered in the pre-season and it looks like maybe I was right. Even though the Bengals lost to the Texans, I watched Burrow drop a touchdown dime and hit a bow and arrow celebration.

Let's step back and evaluate the state of the AFC as we head into the second half of the season.

Anything can happen in the next few weeks, and I am fully aware of their record, but the Bengals will still be a tough out in any postseason game. They have talent on all levels.

Then we have the Bills. I honestly do not know what to make of this team. At times, they are firing on all cylinders and look almost unstoppable; at other times, they collectively lose their minds. This team really looks like a postseason team that is going to be an early out. Josh Allen's interception problem continues to rear its ugly head and you cannot be a Super Bowl-winning team if you consistently turn the ball over (and yes, that is a critique I have of the Chiefs right now). The Bills-Donkeys matchup is going to speak volumes about the Bills. The Donkeys have been playing better and could put up a fight. If the Bills fall to them, do we see the Bills possibly missing the playoffs?

The Dolphins are a fun team to poke around. They have yet to beat a team with a winning record yet they trounce teams that are losers. I'm not great with math, but usually—usually—teams in the postseason have winning records. This does not bode well for this Dolphins team. Everyone was saying that this was going to be the year—if quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was healthy and he had all his receivers surrounded by a great defense—they were going to be unstoppable. It looks like we were wrong there. The Dolphins might not be that good. But please, feel free to keep talking that trash and handing us touchdowns.

Do we still give the Chargers the time of day? That team... I seriously cannot understand why they aren't better. What is the problem over there? The Chargers are loaded with talent on paper and will not put it together on the field. Is it coaching? Are the players the problem? Do they keep breaking mirrors and spilling salt? What curse has befallen them? I am convinced this is Brandon Staley's last year as head coach, but I'm not convinced that solves the problem. The Chargers are out in my book.

So who did we overlook earlier this year? The Ravens. There is simply no part of me that wants to encounter that team right now. Their defense is playing out of its mind and Lamar Jackson may be right on track to win his second MVP. They are quietly trampling over teams on their way to a collision course for their division. They play a balanced game where their run game complements and supports the passing game. And, yes, I know they lost to the Browns, but divisional games are weird and I don't put a lot of stock in that loss. They are still tops in their division.

Dream divisional round matchup? Ravens-Bengals for a trip to Arrowhead in the Championship. Does not seem too far-fetched and we get that preview Thursday night.

Honorable mentions where the jury is still out: the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Houston Texans. Do I think the Texans are going to make a deep playoff run this year? Potentially, because CJ Stroud is the real deal and they are putting together something special in Houston. The Jaguars will probably win their division and they can be good when they are on, but I do not see them making a deep run. I challenge both to show me during the remainder of the season.

As we head into the final half of the season, I'm looking forward to a more challenging set of tests for the Chiefs and they certainly need to step up. There are some real contenders out there and we'll see if the mid-season heavyweights make it through the winter months.