Published On: Thu, May 17th, 2018

Biggest remaining question for every AFC team

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The NFL is winding down for the summer. Free-agent cash has been spent, draft classes selected, and while rosters around the league are far from set, we now have a firm grasp of how each team is set up for the upcoming season.

No team is perfect, though. Every franchise in the league still has major issues to address before the gridiron violence resumes. From front-office power struggles to how their stars will bounce back from injuries, here are the biggest questions to answer for all 16 AFC teams:

NFC I AFC

Baltimore Ravens

How will Joe Flacco respond to the presence of Lamar Jackson? – Flacco has been one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the league as of late. His supporting cast has deteriorated around him, but few can blame the Ravens for taking the dynamic Jackson at 32nd overall. While Flacco’s job likely isn’t in danger this season, he will have to step up his game considerably now that Ravens fans have a legitimate alternative option to call for if his struggles continue.

Buffalo Bills

Who will step up on offense to help LeSean McCoy? The Bills have McCoy and little other established talent on offense. Seriously, look at this wasteland of a depth chart. The star running back is arguably the only real game-changer in the unit, but he turns 30 before Week 1 and has over 2,500 career touches. Buffalo can’t expect him to carry the entire offensive workload, yet outside of perhaps Kelvin Benjamin, who has the capability of scaring defenses?

Cincinnati Bengals

Will Joe Mixon and John Ross bounce back from disappointing rookie years? – Mixon and Ross were supposed to reinvigorate a stagnating Bengals offense and lessen A.J. Green’s workload last campaign, but the then-rookies failed to live up to expectations – especially Ross, who didn’t catch a single pass. Much of the Bengals’ workouts and camp will focus on how much further along the two dynamic weapons look. Cincinnati might not need Ross to be a star in 2018, but it does need Mixon to catch up to the NFL level and use his outstanding skill set to boost the team’s 31st-ranked rushing attack.

Cleveland Browns


Can Hue Jackson handle the quarterback situation? – Jackson utterly botched things under center for Cleveland last season. He threw a clearly unprepared DeShone Kizer to the wolves by failing to build a rookie-friendly offense around him, while simultaneously eroding the young passer’s confidence by periodically pulling him from games during poor performances, despite having bad secondary options. Baker Mayfield and Tyrod Taylor are both far superior players, but their success hinges on Jackson handling their potential battle with far more patience and forward-thinking while allowing OC Todd Haley to be the offense’s main voice.

Denver Broncos

Can the running game return to its Super Bowl-winning form? – Denver won Super Bowl 50 in large part due to its dominating defense, but a solid and dependable rushing attack was an invaluable supporting player. That hasn’t been the case in recent seasons. The Broncos’ defense-first formula requires an intimidating ground game, and Case Keenum excelled in Minnesota when he could lean on a strong backfield. Royce Freeman is the man tasked with breathing new life into the offense and returning the team’s championship balance. No pressure, rook.

Houston Texans

Can J.J. Watt rediscover his Hall of Fame-level play after injuries? – We haven’t seen the real Watt, the unstoppable force of nature capable of winning games single-handedly, since the 2015 regular season finale. Back issues have limited him to just eight games and 1.5 sacks over the past two seasons, and those types of injuries can be career killers for linemen. Watt looks on track to be healthy for Week 1, but the Texans still don’t know if they can rely on him ever being an elite-level player again. They do need him to be, though, after giving up the most points in the league in 2017.

Indianapolis Colts

Will Andrew Luck ever be himself again? – Luck’s health is the only question that matters in Indy, such is his importance to the Colts. Frank Reich and Chris Ballard have expressed their confidence that the quarterback will resume throwing in training camp, so it seems likely he’ll be back under center in Week 1. What’s far less certain is which version of Luck the Colts will be getting back and if he’ll ever be able to recapture his early-career form and more.

Jacksonville Jaguars


Can Blake Bortles maximize his new weapons? – The Jaguars have little room to improve on defense, but the same can’t be said for the Blake Bortles-led offense. As in 2017, Jacksonville will likely pound the rock with Leonard Fournette and not ask too much from its passing attack. Still, the Jaguars didn’t add Donte Moncrief, D.J. Chark, and Austin Seferian-Jenkins for nothing. Bortles will be expected to help diversify the offense by getting the ball into the hands of his new playmakers and easing the defense’s and running game’s burdens. But can the newly paid quarterback reach the level he needs to make his team true Super Bowl contenders?

Kansas City Chiefs

Can Patrick Mahomes live up to the hype? Mahomes rode the bench behind Alex Smith in 2017, but the 2018 starting job was always going to be his. The rocket-armed pivot will need to perform quickly, though, as the vulnerability of the 28th-ranked defense will likely require the offense to put up big points weekly. Kareem Hunt should be the unit’s focal point, but every defensive coordinator around the league knows it. Mahomes may be an instant star, or his inexperience could hold back the offense and the team overall.

Los Angeles Chargers

How do the Chargers avoid another slow start? – The talented Chargers fell just short of the postseason in 2017, unable to overcome a 0-4 start. But L.A. lost three of those four games by a combined seven points, with special teams miscues being the team’s Achilles heel. The Chargers could be contenders after a strong offseason if they get some injury luck and Philip Rivers has another Pro Bowl year in him, but Anthony Lynn has to figure out why his team struggles to follow through in the clutch or risk another close-but-not-close-enough campaign.

Miami Dolphins

Will Adam Gase’s roster purge actually improve on-field performances? – The Dolphins decided they were better without Jarvis Landry, Ndamukong Suh, and Mike Pouncey this offseason, months after also sending Jay Ajayi packing. Clearly, Gase wasn’t happy with the cultural makeup of his team, but have the Dolphins actually made their team worse by opting for a more together locker room over premium talent? Gase’s job likely depends on how big of an impact the likes of Danny Amendola, William Hayes, Frank Gore, and Albert Wilson have in 2018.

New England Patriots


Can Tom Brady and Bill Belichick put their differences aside? – The Patriots’ apparent dysfunction behind the scenes last season didn’t ultimately have the dramatic on-field impact some expected – or maybe hoped for, as Brady and Belichick inspired the Patriots to another Super Bowl appearance. But, Brady stoked those fires again when he opted not to answer whether he feels appreciated by the franchise recently. While it’s likely the Patriots band together once more when football resumes, the end of every dynasty starts with a single crack – and this power struggle has the potential to bring everything crashing down.

New York Jets

Who will win the starting quarterback job? – The Jets’ quarterback situation is in far better shape than it was a year ago, with Teddy Bridgewater and rookie Sam Darnold joining reliable veteran Josh McCown, who is currently slated to be the starter. However, a lot can change between now and Week 1. Bridgewater, if healthy, has a higher production ceiling than McCown, and while Darnold might need time to develop, we’ve seen rookies unexpectedly snatch the starting job before. For the long-suffering Jets, it’s a welcome problem.

Oakland Raiders

Can Jon Gruden and Reggie McKenzie coexist? – Gruden’s first offseason back in charge of the Raiders has been met with mixed reviews, and at the heart of the Raiders’ confusing decisions appears to be the lack of a singular vision. It was rumored Oakland essentially worked with two draft boards – one from GM Reggie McKenzie’s staff and one built by Gruden’s men. McKenzie was key to the Raiders’ resurgence and is unlikely to be pleased with the power that $100 million has granted Gruden. Something’s gotta give.

Pittsburgh Steelers

How will Le’Veon Bell’s contract dispute end? – For the second straight season, the Steelers are facing an offseason in which their star running back is voluntarily away from the team. Bell’s contract dispute has no easy answer, as the Steelers have the leverage of the franchise tag, while the 26-year-old can miss workouts and camp without punishment if he waits to sign the tender until the start of the regular season (just as he did in 2017). Bell likely plays in 2018, but Pittsburgh desperately needs to end this distraction.

Tennessee Titans


Will the new offensive scheme get Marcus Mariota back on track? Mariota has been a round peg that’s been continuously forced into a square hole throughout his first three seasons in the NFL. The Titans’ traditional run-first scheme couldn’t have been further from the quarterback’s high-flying, no-huddle offense at Oregon, and his poor fit it was emphasized by a 79.3 passer rating in 2017 – by far the worst mark of his young career. A return to a spread offense should help Mariota bounce back, but the Titans could have done irreparable damage to their franchise player by delaying the blindingly obvious change for so long.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)



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