AFC Powerhouses Misfiring

By Adam Barton

Going into the season, all the talk was about the depth of the AFC. While that may still remain the case, it may not be as top-heavy as we were expecting. The three standout teams in the AFC a year ago are yet to really lay a punch in anger, with a combined record of 2-4. 

One of the three teams is winless, as they were a year ago. The Cincinnati Bengals have lost back-to-back division games, including a home loss to their closest rivals, the Ravens. Now Baltimore sits with a 2.5-game lead midway through September.

The Bengals starting behind the eight-ball

While the Bengals recovered to win the division a year ago, there are definitely concerning signs in 2023. Joe Burrow missed training camp, disrupting the rhythm of the offence. The Bengals are dead last in total offensive yards and have the joint-fewest points so far. It also took them seven quarters to score their first offensive touchdown of the year. While some of that can be put down to a monsoon in Cleveland, the Bengals were thoroughly outplayed in the Ohio derby.

With Joe Burrow leaving the game early, questions remain whether this injury will linger. The Bengals need him playing. They have a reasonably soft schedule offering the opportunity to get back to .500 before their Week 7 bye.

How will the Chiefs start looking in December?

The Chiefs season so far is perhaps tempered by reputation. They are 1-1, having lost at home to an exciting Lions team. Week 2’s win against the Jaguars was ultimately a defeat of a division champion. Perhaps it is clouded by the Jaguars’ years of struggles. Perhaps a 17-9 win in Jacksonville will look a lot better come the end of the year.

Image Credit: USA Today

There are things to tidy up for sure.

The Chiefs have the tenth fewest points and despite being top ten for yards through two weeks. More concerning is the apparent reliance on Travis Kelce. With Kelce, Kansas City’s dynamic receivers can get open and cause havoc. Without Kelce, the Chiefs are desperately lacking an offensive playmaker beyond Patrick Mahomes.

Are the Bills now the AFC favourites?

Buffalo is another team that is tough to peg at the moment.

1-1 with a bad division loss and a tricky win in Las Vegas, having started with a lot of sloppy errors. The Bills have four turnovers so far this season, with Josh Allen largely to blame. Luckily, they also have four takeaways so far to offset them. The Bills are the only team who have been top five in offence and defence so far this year. 

The Bills were at risk of being cut adrift from the Chiefs and Bengals. The peaks that they have shown so far this year show that they can still compete. In fact, this could be the opportunity to get a leg up on the other AFC powerhouses. However, they need to cut out unforced errors. They had the Jets under control and let them back into the game.

Leaving the door open a crack for the chasing pack

The slow-ish start of the AFC favourites could open the door for the chasing pack. The Dolphins and Ravens have gained early division leads with 2-0 starts and could be difficult to catch if, particularly the Dolphins, maintain this level of form. 

The Jaguars and Steelers have displayed imposing defences at times so far this season. The Titans were threatening against the Chargers, even if they lost an ugly game in New Orleans. The team with all the hype and nothing to show for it so far is the Chargers, having lost to the Dolphins and Titans. Bad play management aside, they will surely be a factor, even if it is in the wildcard race.

Adam Barton

NFL Analyst

A veteran NFL fan of 15 years, Adam has followed the Ravens since growing up in Maryland. He puts his loyalties to one side to provide (largely) unbiased content from across the NFL for The Touchdown, as well as appearing on the Ninety-Nine Yards podcast. You can find Adam on Twitter @abarton93.