2nd Place: Baltimore Ravens
2016 Record: 10-6
Explanation: Sometimes, good teams just have bad years. In the case of the Ravens, 2015 could
be widely considered their “mulligan” year. Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. From their leader on the defense to their captain on offense, it seemed like every key player on Baltimore’s roster succumb to injury at some point during the 2015 season.
As if this division wasn’t tough enough with a healthy roster, a rash of injuries could be the difference between contending and pretending status on any given year.
Fortunately for the Ravens, they have a few things going for them. Great front office? Check. Great coaching staff? Check. Franchise QB? Check. Talent at the skill positions? Check. Two dynamic edge rushers? Check. Need I go on?
With the acquisition of Mike Wallace and return of Steve Smith/Breshad Perriman, this receiving core may go down as the most explosive in franchise history. At the Tight End position, the youngster Maxx Williams will be paired with savvy vet Ben Watson to give the Ravens one of the more underrated TE groups in the league.
On defense, Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs will lead the charge with support from guys like Jimmy Smith, CJ Mosley and Eric Weddle to give the Ravens an above average to good attack. Point is, this is one of the best organizations in the NFL and it’s very rare to see them have a losing season, let alone two in a row. I expect this team to bounce back and not only compete for a playoff spot, but be a serious Super Bowl contender.
Division Champs: Pittsburgh Steelers
2016 Record: 12-4
Explanation: Speaking of great organizations, nobody should be looking past the firepower that is
located in the Steel city. As a matter of fact, I think this team WILL BE the #1 seed in the conference. Despite the litany of injuries and Defensive instability in 2015, this team still managed to get into the postseason and get within one scoring drive of the conference championship game.
Quite frankly, when this team is healthy, they are the most dangerous in the AFC. With a high flying offense led by a future Hall of Famer and Defense looking improve on their shortcomings from last year, it’s hard to see many teams getting the best of the Steelers. They have everything they need to be a serious contender in 2016.
The key for this team will be getting significant improvement from their defense. To be fair, their run defense was very good in 2015 (5th in the NFL). It’s their pass defense that needed a facelift. In a league that is starving for pass happy performances, this team can’t afford to let another terrible secondary doom their Super Bowl chances.
Like the Ravens, it’s very rare to see the Steelers have an ongoing problem and they are known to get things right. If this pass defense can make some strides and most of the roster can stay healthy, watch out. This team will be tough to beat and if you ask me, I think they will be the biggest threat to the Broncos’ quest for a repeat in the AFC.