Why the Chiefs, Dolphins, Jaguars and Ravens can win the AFC

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Sunday (9:30 a.m. ET, NFL Network) pits the Kansas City Chiefs against the Miami Dolphins in perhaps the most anticipated international game in NFL history.

And the balance of power in the AFC won’t change dramatically over what happens in Frankfurt, Germany, with at least a share of the top seed assured at the halfway mark of a winning season.

The Chiefs and Dolphins are tied with the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars for atop the AFC with 6-2 records.

According to ESPN Stats & Data, it marks the first time in 12 years that four teams are tied for the best record in the AFC after 8 weeks or so.

All four teams are known for their playmaking quarterbacks, with the Dolphins being the MVP favorite Tua Tagovailoa, and opportunistic defenses. Jacksonville is the hottest team in the AFC, having won its past five games, while Baltimore has the most favorable path going forward, having played six of its last nine games at M&T Bank Stadium.

According to ESPN Analytics, the Chiefs (29.3%) and Dolphins (28.9%) are tied for the top seed in the AFC and a first-round bye. The Caesars are the Chiefs favorite to win the AFC at Sportsbook, followed by the Dolphins, Ravens and Jaguars. The Buffalo Bills — at 5-3 — are right behind the Jags.

“Nobody’s crowned after eight games. There’s a lot of football to be played,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “The season is long for a reason, and it weeds out the best. If we want to be the best or be considered the best, we have to do it the long way.”

Here’s a look at each team’s prospects from Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher, Dolphins reporter Marcell Louis-Jacques, Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley and Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco:

chiefs

Why the Chiefs have a legitimate shot at the top pick: It’s the opposite of how it’s been since Patrick Mahomes He became the starting quarterback in 2018, but the reason for the Chiefs’ optimism is their defense. They have the NFL’s second-ranked scoring defense at 16.1 points a game, and if that holds up, the team will be in almost any game. And there is reason to believe it will continue. The pass rush has picked up over the past two games, giving the Chiefs 28 sacks for the season, second-most with the Bills, three behind the league-leading Ravens. Even in Sunday’s otherwise awful loss to the Denver Broncos, the defense gave the Chiefs some hope in the fourth quarter.

Why they can be vulnerable: The offense wasn’t as good as it had been in previous years, and at times it was awful. Wide receiver production out of rookie Rashi rice has been disappointing. Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Sky Moore And Kaderius Tony Was expected to be a major contributor but has mostly been a no-show in half the season, combining for 45 catches, 504 yards and three touchdowns. Moore threw a perfectly placed touchdown pass in a loss to the Broncos that could have sparked a comeback. Mahomes hasn’t done the job of picking up the passing game. He is heading for the worst statistical season of his career. He has the lowest passer rating (95.8) and is on pace for 17 interceptions, which he will easily surpass in his career (13 in 2021). He is on pace for a TD-to-interception ratio of less than 2:1, which would also be a career worst. — Teacher

ESPN BET: The Chiefs are +250 betting favorites to win the AFC and +500 favorites to win the Super Bowl.


the dolphin

Why the Dolphins have a legitimate shot at the top seed: Simply put, offensive firepower. The Dolphins haven’t cracked 100 rushing yards in three straight games, and they lead the NFL in rushing at 151.8 yards per game. Returned to Earth without their ground game though D’Von Achen, the Dolphins lead the league in passing (301.5) and scoring (33.9 points per game). This offense has four players — Tyreek Hill, Rahim Mostert, Jaylen Waddell And Achan — who can score from anywhere on the field. With the return, Miami’s defense is also shot in hand Jalen Ramsey, which should boost a unit that has been middle of the pack through eight games. Ramsey had an interception Sunday in his season debut and forced a fumble.

Why they can be vulnerable: Miami’s offensive line, while significantly improved from the past two seasons, has four starters injured. Taron Armstead, Connor Williams And Rob Hunt Should be back sooner rather than later, but this unit has often been challenged by injuries in the past. A three-game stretch against the Cowboys, Ravens and Bills to end the season could be tough even at a time of year when playoff seeding is usually determined — though two of those games are at home, where the Dolphins haven’t lost since Dec. 25, 2022. Miami has been criticized this season for losing the only two games it has played against teams with a winning record, and while that doesn’t matter much in terms of playoff eligibility, those are the types of team matchups. A must win to secure the top seed in the AFC. –Louis-Jacques

ESPN BET: The Dolphins are +400 to win the AFC and +850 to win the Super Bowl.


jaguar

Why the Jaguars have a legitimate shot at the top seed: You wouldn’t expect defense to be the main factor, but it is. The Jaguars lead the league in takeaways (18) and interceptions (11), are second in pass breakups (33) and fourth in rush defense (79.3 yards per game). pounds Josh Allen (9 bags) and C.B Darius Williams (NFL-high 8 pass breakups) are having the best season of their careers. 2nd year LB Devin Lloyd Took a big step forward, and LB Oluokun in Faysade He is second in the league in tackles (92). The offense had some moments but didn’t perform at a consistently high level due to injuries and WRs along the line Jay Jones (knees). However, QB Trevor Lawrence He posted a career-best five straight games with a passer rating above 90 and RB Travis Etienne Jr. Third in NFL in rushing (583 yards) and fourth in yards from scrimmage (839). There’s a feeling in the building that the offense will finally come together the way it did at the end of last season, and then the Jaguars could be tough to handle.

Why are they vulnerable?: Pass congestion is a problem. The Jaguars rank 26th in QB pressure percentage (32.4%), and their 16 sacks are third fewest in the league. Allen is having the best season of his career (9 sacks) but the rest of the team combined for just seven. pounds Travon Walker, no. 1 overall pick in 2022, has 3.5, which ties his rookie total, but no one else has more than two sacks. The Jaguars have been able to overcome that with turnovers, but it’s hard to count on them to produce at the same pace they’ve had in their first eight games. Another issue is the offensive stagnation in the second half: 42.9% of their drives resulted in no first downs, which ranks 29th. Jaguars make clutch play when needed — WR Christian KirkIts 44-yard TD catch against New Orleans and Etienne’s 56-yard TD catch against Pittsburgh, for example — so that helped, but the offense still hasn’t consistently performed at the high level the team expected. — Dirocco

ESPN BET: The Jaguars are +900 to win the AFC and +1800 to win the Super Bowl.


the crow

Why the Ravens have a legitimate shot at the top pick: The Ravens have proven that they can beat anyone when they are at their best. Case in point: a 39-6 rout of the Detroit Lions two weeks ago. Lamar Jackson Showed flashes of his 2019 NFL MVP form with his deft passing and elusive scrambling. He completed a career-best 70.5% of his throws and made 16 runs of 10 yards or more, tied for most in the league. The strength of this team has been the defense, which has proven to be championship-caliber since the acquisition of the Pro Bowl middle linebacker. Roquan Smith A year ago. Baltimore leads the league in fewest points allowed per game at 15.1, as well as sacks with 31. The Ravens have a big advantage in the schedule with just three road games remaining. Jackson is 15-2 (.882) at home in November, December and January.

Why are they vulnerable?: The obvious reason is Jackson’s track record in health. He hasn’t finished the last two seasons, and the Ravens are 2-7 without him in December and January. Last season, Baltimore’s offense sputtered in Jackson’s absence, averaging 13 points. Another concern is the consistency of the offense in its first season under new coordinator Todd Monken. The Ravens rank 29th in the NFL in total yards in the second half (134.9) and have scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter (only three fewer than any team). Explosive hasn’t returned to Baltimore since an Achilles injury ended his season JK Dobbins, and has no valid number. 3 option in the passing game after the wide receiver Jay Flowers and tight ends Mark Andrews. That’s why the Ravens need Jackson at full strength if they want to land the No. 2 pick. 1 seed in franchise history. — Hensley

ESPN BET: Ravens are +650 to win the AFC and +1300 to win the Super Bowl.

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