We all know how dominant of a franchise the New England Patriots are. With Tom Brady and Bill Belichick at the helm, the organization is destined to succeed, or so it seems.
It can be argued that the Patriots have only gotten better since winning historically in Super Bowl 51. They have added pieces such as Brandin Cooks, who will most likely flourish with the superb receiving core of him, Amendola, and Edelman. They replaced tight end Martellus Bennett with former Colt Dwayne Allen. They signed the top corner available on the market in Stephon Gilmore, and they resigned LB Dont’a Hightower while adding versatility like David Harris.
So the Patriots are pretty much in line for another ring this year, right? Well…not so fast.
The AFC hasn’t been too outstanding in a while, with the exception of the Pats. It’s comparative to the NBA, where it seems as though the Western Conference is almost always better than the East. Similarly, the NFC has been more dominant than the AFC as of late, but we might be heading towards a shift.
Some AFC teams are looking improved, and might be on their way to giving the Patriots a run for their money. Here’s who we have in mind:
- The Oakland Raiders
It seems like it was just yesterday that the Oakland Raiders were the laughing stock of the NFL (excluding the Browns), and now we are talking about them being one of the best teams in the league.
The addition of Marshawn should be interesting. He’s up there in age, but he still sure does look incredibly in shape. The Raiders adding him as not only their new lead back, but as a veteran with super bowl experience, should boost uptick in the locker-room. And if there’s any team he wants to beat upon , it’s most definitely New England.
We cannot forget about the young superstars that Oakland has developed as well. From Derek Carr to Amari Cooper, and Khalil Mack, the Raiders are built on potential that’s just waiting to explode. This nearly happened last season before Carr’s unfortunate injury, however 2017 could easily be their redemption year.
2. The Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers only have so many years left with Big Ben running the show, and I think the organization recognizes that. However, with that being said, Pittsburgh does not want to waste any time and would prefer to utilize the Hall-Of-Fame quarterback as much as possible before his exit.
And they are in the right position to do just that. Getting Martavis Bryant back from suspension will deepen Ben’s receiving core, while taking some pressure off of Antonio Brown. Le’veon Bell will still be holding down the lead back position, and should hopefully be available for the entire season (barring setbacks similar to last year, such as suspension and injury). The Steelers also had a pretty solid draft, adding TJ Watt to buff up their defense.
We’ll see if the Steelers are to stay healthy for once and compete head-to-head against the Patriots.
3. The Denver Broncos
The Broncos haven’t gotten much better this offseason in fairness. No big name moves have been made, and their quarterback situation is still fragile.
However, this will not stop them from giving the Patriots some trouble.
The Broncos tend to make the Patriots lose focus in the playoffs and occasionally during the regular season. Watch for them to continue that same dominance this season, even if they don’t look to be a huge threat on paper.
4. The New England Patriots
The New England…what?
Yes, the Patriots might be their own biggest threat this season. While the AFC East is looking to be a breeze yet again, the Patriots should not take that for granted.
They are getting older all over the field. And yes, they do still have a few young and talented players, but the thought that they may not have to compete as hard against other teams may backfire if that is the direction they take.
For example, the Jets could very easily be the new Browns of the NFL this season, but as a young group looking to rebuild, they could very well give the Patriots some trouble.
Now not to say that the Jets are going to win those games, but as a team with a new face, you can expect them to play tough, something the Patriots might assume they do themselves already without a thought. It could be a long shot, but the Patriots should not let their past get in the way of their future, if you know what I mean.
Kyle Hirshkind is the managing editor for Full Press Coverage's New York Jets channel. Originally from Long Island, New York, Kyle has been an avid Jets fan for 20+ years.