The two conferences in the NFL are separate entities, literally and figuratively speaking. The NFC and AFC seem to be yin and yang for every football season in recent memory. On one hand, the NFC is competitive, unpredictable and overflowing with talent. In stark contrast, the AFC is largely homogeneous from year to year, featuring the same teams at the forefront seemingly every time.
This has slightly changed with the recent emergence of teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans along with the regression of presumed contenders such as the Oakland Raiders and Houston Texans, but the AFC has largely remained unchanged throughout the past few years. One can never predict the future, but certain teams in the AFC need to hit hard on their picks in the 2018 NFL Draft this month if they wish to remain competitive with the frontrunners of the conference.
Throughout the past 15 years, the AFC has largely been dominated by the New England Patriots. Ever since head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady burst onto the scene in 2001, a multitude of teams in the rest of the conference have been written off as subordinates to the might of the tour de force known as New England. This is most exemplified by the state of their division rivals in the AFC East. Brady and company have given the Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills and New York Jets countless fits since their first Super Bowl win in 2002.
Another consistently prominent team in the AFC is the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have largely dominated the AFC North for years and have clinched playoff berths on a consistent basis. They are spearheaded by longtime star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger along with otherworldly talent in running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown. This team may be notorious for playing down to the level of their competition and they have consistently suffered defeats to New England for the past few years, but they are perennial Super Bowl contenders nearly every season.
It is true that some AFC teams have beefed up their rosters in free agency and are looking to stock up in this year’s draft. The Kansas City Chiefs have been a noteworthy squad for the past few seasons and are only looking to become stronger. They made a bold move signing wide receiver Sammy Watkins to provide a more powerful spark to their already dynamic offense. The aforementioned Tennessee Titans signed former New England stalwarts Malcolm Butler and Dion Lewis to keep up with their division rivals, the Baltimore Ravens have bolstered their wide receiving corps with additions like Michael Crabtree and John Brown, and the Buffalo Bills have a hefty amount of cap space and draft picks with which to add offensive and defensive weaponry.
Perhaps the AFC team most poised to have a successful season in 2018 is the Houston Texans, whose quarterback Deshaun Watson dazzled all with his veteran-like play in his rookie season last year. Houston also possesses a strong defense when healthy, featuring solid and experienced players in J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus among others. If this team and its key players stay healthy, they are a surefire Super Bowl contender for 2018.
Like the NFC, nothing is set in stone. However, the AFC looks to maintain its lack of parity and it is difficult to believe that the current juggernauts at the top will regress and make way for those trailing them.