July 19, 2024

Ranking AFC teams from most to least pressure for 2024

With training camps set to begin in earnest at the end of July, NFL teams will start to hyperfocus on the season ahead. 

Some teams face far greater expectations — and therefore pressure — than others. The white-hot spotlight is on you, New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers. What other teams face pressure-packed seasons?

We asked Yardbarker NFL writers to rank which teams face the most pressure in each division in the AFC, from most to least. (Season records from last season are in parentheses.)

AFC East

1. NEW YORK JETS (7-10) | The Aaron Rodgers era couldn’t have started on a lower note for the Jets last season, but after making significant roster upgrades this offseason, they are well-equipped to snap their 13-season playoff drought. GM Joe Douglas’ recent actions may have removed him from the hot seat, but if New York endures another tumultuous season, HC Robert Saleh will surely be on his way out the door.

2. MIAMI DOLPHINS (11-6) | Despite boasting the NFL’s second-highest-scoring offense last season (496 points), the Dolphins experienced their second late-season collapse under HC Mike McDaniel in as many years, this time costing them their first division title since 2008. Things could unravel quickly if the Dolphins cannot show they’re more than just an early-season juggernaut, especially with a massive contract extension for quarterback Tua Tagovailoa looming.

3. BUFFALO BILLS (11-6) | Even after losing a slew of key contributors this offseason and potentially seeing their Super Bowl window shut for the time being, Buffalo remains the team to beat in the AFC East until the competition proves otherwise. Still, anytime you have an MVP-caliber quarterback in his prime like Josh Allen, anything short of a deep playoff run can be considered a massive disappointment.

4. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (4-13) | Entering their first season under head coach Jerod Mayo, the rebuilding Patriots are under little pressure to produce stellar results this season. Even so, Mayo and rookie quarterback Drake Maye must show glimpses that they’re the long-term answers in New England or it won’t be long before the team hits the reset button again. — Colum Dell

AFC West

1. LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (5-12) | The Chargers are banking on head coach Jim Harbaugh helping quarterback Justin Herbert vault to the next level. L.A. needs more from Herbert — who has posted a 30-32 starting record in the regular season in four seasons — especially after the former Pro Bowler signed a five-year, $262.5M deal in 2023.

2. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (11-6) | With 28-year-old QB Patrick Mahomes still in his prime, the Chiefs must take advantage of their wide-open Super Bowl window. This season, Kansas City could become the first team to win three straight titles in the Super Bowl era, increasing pressure.

3. DENVER BRONCOS (8-9) | The Broncos are entering rebuilding mode after releasing QB Russell Wilson this offseason. Still, the seats of head coach Sean Payton and general manager George Paton may get warmer if rookie QB Bo Nix (pick No. 12) starts and flops.

4. LAS VEGAS RAIDERS (8-9) | Considering Vegas’ QB situation, Antonio Pierce should receive plenty of slack in his first season as the full-time head coach. Whether Aidan O’Connell or Gardner Minshew II wins the starting QB job, don’t count on either sparking an offense that finished 23rd in the league in points (19.5 PPG) in 2023. — Clark Dalton

AFC North

1. PITTSBURGH STEELERS (10-7) | After the Steelers’ fifth straight loss in the playoffs in January, president Art Rooney II said, “We’ve had enough of this. It’s time to get some wins.” Pittsburgh is in its longest postseason win drought in franchise history in the Super Bowl era, having not won a playoff game since the 2016 season. That must end this season or bigger changes will soon follow.

2. BALTIMORE RAVENS (13-4) | The Ravens boasted the NFL’s best regular-season record (13-4) last season, but they fell short of winning when it mattered most once again, losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC title game. It’s time for two-time MVP QB Lamar Jackson to improve his 2-4 record in the playoffs and deliver a championship to Baltimore.

3. CLEVELAND BROWNS (11-6) | The Browns proved to have one of the most complete rosters in the league by making the playoffs with five different starting quarterbacks last season. The only thing that seems to be between Cleveland and a championship is quarterback Deshaun Watson, who has played in just 12 games the past two years. It’s now or never for Watson to return to his 2020 form, when he led the league in passing yards (4,823).

4. CINCINNATI BENGALS (9-8) | The Bengals nearly made the playoffs last season without quarterback Joe Burrow, who suffered a season-ending wrist injury in Week 11. This could be Cincinnati’s last season with wide receivers Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins, but as long as the team has a healthy Burrow, it should be a Super Bowl contender. — Aaron Becker

AFC South

1. HOUSTON TEXANS (10-7) | After trading for All-Pro receiver Stefon Diggs and investing $138.825M in their defense, the Texans signaled they are all-in on the 2024 season. Houston’s rebuild is ahead of schedule, but after winning the division in Year 1 last season, the bar doesn’t get any lower.

2. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (9-8) | Had they not lost five of their last six games, the Jaguars would have likely repeated as AFC South champs last season. Jacksonville kept mostly the same roster intact with only a few minor adjustments, signaling it believes it has a playoff roster. However, if it misses the playoffs again after investing $275M in quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the team could consider blowing the roster up around him and hitting the reset button.

3. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (9-8) | QB Anthony Richardson played just four games as a rookie before season-ending shoulder surgery, so many will likely give the Colts a reprieve if they miss the playoffs in 2024. With Richardson and running back Jonathan Taylor working their way back to full health, anything from a .500 record to remotely competing for the division is icing on the cake for Indy.

4. TENNESSEE TITANS (6-11) | The Titans fired their head coach, didn’t re-sign franchise legend Derrick Henry and are giving the keys to the kingdom to second-year quarterback Will Levis. Not much is expected of a franchise in Year 1 of a new regime, but after revamping the offensive line and receiving corps, the Titans could surprise some people. — Michael Gallagher