Before this NFL season started, I made up a list of three questions for each team to answer throughout the season. In this article, I will answer all of these questions for the AFC teams.

AFC

New England Patriots
Can the defending Super Bowl Champions win it back-to-back? Their new additions have a lot of analysts thinking yes.

Well, they were only eight points away from winning the Super Bowl back-to-back. The Pats had a typical Brady-Belichick season, start slow, get the critics talking and then prove them all wrong.

Will Gronk return to his usual self after missing most of the 2016 season?

Gronk was back this season for the Pats. He went over 1,000 yards receiving and caught eight touchdowns, with three in the playoffs. To prove that he was back, Gronkowski was voted to the AP First Team All-Pro.

Will Tom Brady actually show signs of an aging quarterback or will he continue to defy father time? 

To Tom Brady, age is just a number. The 40 year old quarterback led his team to another Super Bowl trip (his eighth) while leading the league in passing yards. Brady also claimed the honors of Most Valuable Player this season. So yeah, I think you could say that Father Time still hasn’t found Tom Brady.

New York Jets
Are the Jets in full rebuild mode after releasing veterans such as Brandon Marshall and Darrelle Revis?

In the pre-season, the Jets were having a sale on all of their best players. People were concerned that the Jets wouldn’t even win a single game this season. I was impressed with the Jets though, they won 5 games, which is fairly impressive considering who they had on their roster.

How much longer can the Jets go without a franchise quarterback?

Josh McCown was the starter for the Jets through most of the 2017 season until he was injured in mid-December. McCown threw for 2,900 yards and 18 touchdowns compared to nine interceptions. He was capable of leading the Jets this season (not to a winning record, but still). McCown will be 39 by the time next season starts and I would expect the Jets to draft a QB or go after Kirk Cousins.

Can Matt Forte and Bilal Powell carry the Jets’ offense?

Forte and Powell had average seasons but Robby Anderson was the one that carried the Jets offense this season. Anderson had seven touchdowns and was just shy of the 1,000 yard mark.

Buffalo Bills
Will Sammy Watkins recover from his disappointing 2016 campaign?

Watkins did have a better season.. just not with the Buffalo Bills. Watkins was traded to the Los Angeles Rams in August. He posted 593 yards and eight touchdowns (tied for eighth in the league among wide receivers).

With all new staff on the defensive side of the ball and the loss of Stephon Gilmore, how will Buffalo’s defense perform?

The Bills survived just fine without Stephon Gilmore. They ended up drafting a playmaker in the first round, Tre’Davious White, who would fill in the gaps. White had four interceptions and 64 tackles on the year. He was rightfully a candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Can the Bills end their playoff drought this year?

THEY DID IT! But they lost right away to the Jacksonville Jaguars..

Miami Dolphins
Will the Dolphins have a good enough year to earn 2nd in the AFC East again?

Nope. The Dolphins were third in the AFC East this year.

Will Jay Ajayi continue blowing through defenses or will he finally be stopped?

Halfway through the season, Ajayi was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles. But he still had a decent season with 1,031 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns.

Can Ryan Tannehill return from a devastating knee injury that kept him out of the playoffs?

Oh man, rereading these questions really makes me feel bad for the Dolphins. Tannehill never recovered fully from his season ending injury in 2016 and the Dolphins were left to the likes of Jay Cutler all season.

Pittsburgh Steelers
Will the Steelers’ offense be even more dangerous with Martavis Bryant back from a year long suspension?

Sure, Martavis Bryant was back. But the guy everyone had their eyes on was JuJu Smith-Schuster. The rookie was outstanding for the Steelers. He put up 917 yards and seven touchdowns, which is impressive for an offense that also includes Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell.

How will first-round pick and former Badger T.J. Watt perform in his rookie season?

What else is new? A Watt dominated his first season in the NFL. T.J. had seven sacks, one interception, one forced fumble, and even blocked a kick. It seems that T.J. will work out for the Steelers, especially with the unknown remaining with Ryan Shazier‘s season (and possibly career ending) back injury.

Is this Big Ben’s last season? Some of his comments point to yes.

There is no official  word on whether Big Ben will be back for next season but Art Rooney II says that he hopes to play beyond the 2019 season.

Baltimore Ravens
Will Joe Flacco be elite?

Flack had a decent season but I still wouldn’t call him elite. He threw for just over 3,000 yards and 18 touchdowns. Those numbers sound good, right? But then you see he also threw 13 interceptions.. Not elite.

Have the Ravens found a long term running back in Terrance West?

After an impressive 2016 campaign, Terrance West was hardly a factor in the Ravens offense. Alex Collins was the one who saw the majority of the carries and put up the most yards out of the Ravens backfield. Collins had 973 rushing yards compared to West’s 138.

How will the team bounce back after narrowly missing the playoffs in 2016?

In 2016, the Ravens went 8-8 and missed the playoffs. This year they went 9-7 and once again missed the playoffs. When you are in a division with the Pittsburgh Steelers, that just won’t cut it.

Cleveland Browns
Can the Browns win more than one game this year? 

Sadly, no. The Browns went 0-16, the first team to do it since the Detroit Lions in 2008. I had really hoped the Browns would figure it out this year but they did even worse than the year before when they went 1-15.

Will 1st overall pick Myles Garrett live up to expectations?

I would say that Garrett was fairly average in his first NFL season. He had seven sacks, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, and a mere 31 total tackles. Garrett’s play wasn’t enough to help the Browns win a game.

The Browns’ quarterback carousel continues, who will land the starting job? Cody Kessler, Brock Osweiler, or DeShone Kizer?

Kizer was the quarterback that earned the starting role for the 0-16 team. The rookie’s first season could have gone a lot better. He threw twice as many interceptions as he did touchdowns and had a QB rating of 60.5.

Cincinnati Bengals
How will controversial running back Joe Mixon perform during his rookie year?

Mixon had an impressive rookie season. He had 913 yards from scrimmage along with four touchdowns. His rookie season was unfortunately overshadowed by other impressive and versatile rookie running backs (see Kareem Hunt and Alvin Kamara).

After missing the mark by only 36 yards last season, will A.J. Green have his sixth 1,000-yard season?

Green was back to his 1,000 yard seasons and earned himself another trip to the Pro-Bowl. He had eight touchdowns and was the most consistent player on the Bengals offense.

Will the Bengals defense be able to keep their emotions in control?

The Bengals defense was able to keep their emotions in check for the most part in 2018. They didn’t lose their tempers and start targeting players, or swinging at refs, or anything too drastic. The only real news for the defense is that next fall they will be playing under new defensive coordinator, Teryl Austin.

Houston Texans
Will J.J. Watt continue being J.J. Watt, or has Jadeveon Clowney taken over the Texans defense?

Watt has been injured early in the last two seasons. No one is more dominant than JJ but without him being on the field much, the Texans have seen vast improvement in Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus.

Will Deshaun Watson reenact his days at Clemson?

DeShaun Watson was off to an incredible start to his rookie season before he tore his ACL in late October. In just eight games, Watson threw 19 touchdowns and only eight interceptions. He was easily the front runner for Offensive Rookie of the Year before he got hurt.

Will DeAndre Hopkins bounce back from his down year?

Hopkins definitely stepped up in 2017. He led the league in receiving touchdowns with 18 and caught for 1,300 yards. Hopkins was back in the pro-bowl despite playing without his starting quarterback for half of the season.

Tennessee Titans
Can DeMarco Murray continue his success with the Tennessee Titans?

Murray was benched late in the season and forced to watch Derrick Henry from the sidelines. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Murray get traded or released as it seems the Titans are ready to move forward with former-Heisman winner, Derrick Henry.

Will Marcus Mariota lead the Titans to an AFC South title?

They didn’t win the division title, but the Titans still made the playoffs. Mariota did everything for the Titans in 2017. He led them to a victory against Kansas City in the playoffs, where he threw and caught a touchdown, and laid out the game winning block.

Is Logan Ryan capable of replacing Jason McCourty?

Ryan was pretty quiet in his first season in Tennessee. He didn’t record any interceptions but he did account for 50 tackles. Logan Ryan, who came to Tennessee from New England, was faced with the tough task of filling in for fan favorite Jason McCourty. And statistically, he did not.

Indianapolis Colts
Are Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton capable of being the NFL’s best wide receiver/quarterback duo?

Andrew Luck didn’t even see the field this year, as he is still recovering from a shoulder injury that happened in 2016. Hilton still had impressive season, despite being left with Jacoby Brissett all season. Hilton had just under 1,000 yards and four touchdowns.

Who will hang up the cleats first: Adam Vinatieri or Frank Gore?

This questions still remains unanswered but my best is on Frank Gore. I don’t think Adam Vinatieri is ever going to retire. He has been clutch since being drafted by the Patriots in 1996.

Is the Colts’ defense capable of stopping the run?

The Colts gave up the seventh most rushing yards in the league this season, which is simply not good enough to compete in a division with Leonard Fournette, Derrick Henry, and three dual-threat quarterbacks. The Colts need to get stronger upfront,. They will have a new defensive coordinator next season, Matt Eberflus, so maybe that will help their play.

Jacksonville Jaguars
Will Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack help stiffen up the Jaguars’ defense?

In my opinion, the Jaguars had the best defense in the league. Statistically they had the second best (behind the Minnesota Vikings). Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack played a huge role in how dominant their defense was all year, as they punished opposing offenses. Another notable name: Calais Campbell, who was by far the best free agency pickup and was nominated for Defensive Player of the Year.

Will Leonard Fournette live up to expectations?

I would say that Fournette definitely lived up to expectations in his first season in the league. The rookie had 1,300 yards from scrimmage and scored ten times for the Jaguars. Fournette was a key part in the team making it to the AFC Championship.

Can Blake Bortles make use of his bountiful offensive weapons?

Bortles was a game manager for the Jaguars. That is all he really had to be because their defense was just that dominant. Bottles threw for 3,600 yards, 21 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions. Not a terrible season and it was enough to convince the Jaguars to keep him around for the 2018 season.

Denver Broncos
Who will be the Broncos’ game manager? Paxton Lynch or Trevor Siemian?

Simian started 10 games for the Broncos this season and was less than impressive. In the past the Broncos were able to have an average quarterback at the helm thanks to their dominant defense. But this season that wasn’t enough.

How much will Jamaal Charles contribute to the Broncos offense with the return of C.J. Anderson?

Not much. Charles only gained the Broncos 296 yards compared to CJ Anderson, who went for over 1,000 yards on the ground. It was clear that Anderson was the favorite for starting running back and the one Denver was most reliant on.

Will the Broncos regain their place as AFC West Champions?

Nope. The exact opposite happened. The Broncos took last in the AFC West and only won five games all season. There offense was inconsistent behind Trevor Siemian and the defense just wasn’t as dominant as years past.

Kansas City Chiefs
Is Alex Smith’s starting job in jeopardy after the Chiefs spent a first-round pick on quarterback Patrick Mahomes II?

Alex Smith was able to keep his starting job throughout the season and keep Patrick Mahomes II off of the field. But since the season ended, Smith has been traded to the Washington Redskins, which means Mahomes may get the starting job next season.

Who will have more interceptions: Eric Berry or Marcus Peters?

Unfortunately, Eric Berry injured his achilles in the victory over New England in week one. So Marcus Peters takes the cake here with five interceptions.

Can Spencer Ware live up to the expectations left by Jamaal Charles?

Well, Spencer Ware went down in the preseason with a torn MCL and PCL. But luckily for the Chiefs, they drafted rookie sensation, Kareem Hunt. Hunt was outstanding in his first season in the NFL with over 1,700 yards from scrimmage and 11 total touchdowns.

Oakland Raiders
How will Beast Mode perform in his return to the NFL? Something tells me, he isn’t there just so he won’t get fined.

Marshawn Lynch played in 15 games for his hometown team in his season back after retiring last year. He went for over 1,000 yards and scored seven times. Lynch’s most memorable 2017 moment: dancing on the sidelines

Will reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Khalil Mack, continue being the anchor in the otherwise young Raiders defense?

Mack wasn’t as dominant as he was in years past but he was still the center piece of the Oakland Raiders defense. He recovered a fumble this season and had 10.5 sacks. Mack provides the skill and leadership in the Raiders locker room for the younger guys to mold themselves after.

Do the Raiders actually have a chance at taking the AFC from the Patriots?

Nope. The Raiders hit a major slump this year and didn’t even make the playoffs. Derek Carr was coming back from injury, his receivers had countless drops, and their head coach was fired. Jon Gruen is back in the black hole for 2018.

Los Angeles Chargers
Will the Chargers receive a warm welcome in Los Angeles?

I’m going to say no on this one. The Chargers saw the lowest attendance percentage for home games in the NFL in their first season back in Los Angeles. They had on average 25,000 attend their home games every week and only a little over 200,000 attend all year. To put that into perspective, the Badgers have an average of 66,483 spectators for their home football games.

Will Antonio Gates cement his Hall of Fame career by receiving the most touchdowns by a tight end of all time? 

Gates is now the leader in touchdowns by a tight end. He was one away from he mark before the season started and is now two ahead of Tony Gonzalez for the most all time.

Will Melvin Gordon pick up where he left off last season?

The former Badger had an almost identical season compared to his 2016 campaign. Both seasons he had 12 touchdowns. He had a total of 1,581 yards this season (compared to 1,416 in 2016). Gordon is having a consistent career thus far for the Chargers and is just another example of a successful Wisconsin running back in the NFL.

Stay tuned next week as I answer the questions for the NFC teams!

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