NFL training camps begin in a matter of weeks. For some teams, these late July practices could kickstart a memorable season.
Last year the Jacksonville Jaguars were one of the AFC's biggest surprises. The team had a 3-14 record the season before but somehow found a way to a 9-8 campaign in 2022, winning the AFC South.
So which AFC team could be the 'surprise' of 2023? Here's one team from each division that could push for a title.
To me, there's only one team that football fans would be shocked to see win this division and it's the New England Patriots.
New England has had one winning season in the post-Tom Brady Era, and it just so happened to be in the current starting quarterback's rookie year.
Mac Jones played all 17 games in 2021 and completed 67.6% of his passes for 3,801 passing yards and 22 touchdowns. After a back-and-forth start to the season, New England won in Week Seven and found themselves on a seven-game win streak. The team finished second in the AFC East with a 10-7 record.
Last year aside, Bill Belichick is still one of the best head coaches in the NFL, and he'll want to prove it with a bounce-back in 2023.
On the field, New England has done a fine job of getting quality football players around Mac Jones. Adding Riley Reiff at right tackle could help reduce the 2.4 sacks per game the team allowed last season.
With the potential of signing DeAndre Hopkins, the New England Patriots may be building an offense that can compete with the high-powered competition in the AFC East.
Everyone thought the AFC West was going to be the dominant division in 2022, and it just wasn't. The Raiders and Broncos struggled for much of the year, and the Kansas City Chiefs ran away as division champs.
This year, outside of the Chiefs and Chargers, don't be surprised if the Denver Broncos win their first AFC West title since 2015.
It was a struggle in 2022 for the Broncos. Quarterback Russell Wilson never seemed to feel comfortable in the offense, albeit something that is difficult to do when you're the most-sacked QB in the NFL.
Luckily the organization saw the need for change and acted fast. The Broncos fired the head coach Nathaniel Hackett and brought in former New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton.
In free agency, Denver signed guard Ben Powers and tackle Mike McGlinchey to boost the offensive line. The team also added well-known defensive names like Kareem Jackson at safety and Alex Singleton at linebacker.
If the defense can remain a top-ten unit and we see the return of the old Russell Wilson, the Denver Broncos will be in a race for the division late in the year.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have to be the surprise pick to win the AFC North, but it will not be easy.
Cincinnati and Baltimore have consistently proven to be top teams over the last two years, and the Cleveland Browns are betting on DeShaun Watson returning as a top NFL quarterback.
One of my favorite stats in the NFL is that Mike Tomlin has never had a losing season as the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. That's 16 years of .500 or better play out of this franchise. Why expect that to stop in 2023?
Quarterback Kenny Pickett is entering his second season as an NFL starter and should be more comfortable behind center. Najee Harris has also been one of the league's best rushers since debuting in 2021, and nine-year NFL veteran Allen Robinson is a great weapon in the passing game.
Former Defensive Player of the Year, T.J. Watt returns to an always-tough Steelers defensive line, alongside Cameron Heyward and Larry Ogunjobi. Minkah Fitzpatrick and Patrick Peterson highlight the secondary.
If Pittsburgh can steal a few wins from the suspected top teams in the division, they'll be in the mix for an AFC North championship.
The Houston Texans are my shocker team out of the AFC South.
It's very much a division going through change. Houston and Indianapolis are expected to have rookie QBs starting Week One, while the Tennessee Titans may look towards Will Levis later in the year. Jacksonville is rightfully the odds-on favorite to win the AFC South at -160.
The Texans haven't had a winning record since 2019 and have gone through head coaches like a hot knife through butter. So what makes Houston the pick here?
Houston has the seventh-easiest projected strength of schedule this year. I also have a good feeling about DeMeco Ryans taking over at HC.
Looking at the roster, the Texans have done what they can to ensure C.J. Stroud is successful in his first year. Expect the team to have a solid running attack with Dameon Pierce, Devin Singletary and Mike Boone. Wide receivers John Metchie, Robert Woods and Nico Collins should be a steady group, plus you can add Dalton Schultz at tight end.
In an AFC South with so much change, don't be shocked when the Houston Texans claim their first championship in four years.
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