One reason each AFC team will or won’t make the playoffs in 2023

Florham Park, NJ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers (8) (center) poses for a photo with New York Jets owners Christopher Johnson (left) Woody Johnson (right) during the introductory press conference at Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Tom Horak-USA TODAY Sports

• Aaron Rodgers gets the Jets over the hump: Even if Aaron Rodgers is past his prime, whatever he has left in the tank will be good enough to elevate a solid pass-catching group and a good run game.

• A tough AFC North pushes the Browns out: Cleveland could easily be a playoff team, but the division might just beat up on each other too much for more than two teams to make the postseason.

• Question marks in the secondary may haunt the Chargers: That unit could be what holds back an otherwise playoff-level roster.

Estimated Reading Time: 9 mins

As we begin to look ahead to the 2023 NFL regular season, we wanted to project the playoff outlook for each team by conference.

After reviewing one reason why each NFC team will or won’t make the playoffs earlier this week, we will now switch sides to the AFC for the same exercise.



Baltimore Ravens

  • Playoffs: Yes
  • Reason: Todd Monken

Lamar Jackson is back, paid and healthy. When that is the case, his team will always have a shot at the postseason. But the reason I’m even more in on the Ravens this upcoming season is because of their new offensive coordinator, Todd Monken.

As offensive coordinator of the Oklahoma State Cowboys back in 2011 and 2012, Monken spearheaded offenses that ranked No. 2 and No. 3 in the country in points scored. As offensive coordinator of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2016 to 2018, he helped the team place in the top 20, top 10 and then top three in total yards per game. And from 2020-2022 as Georgia's quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator, Monken won back-to-back national championships while helping quarterback Stetson Bennett go from being a walk-on to a notable name in college football.

Monken knows offense. I’m excited to see what he’ll cook up with Jackson as his quarterback.

Buffalo Bills

  • Playoffs: Yes
  • Reason: Well-rounded offense

The Bills haven’t used two-tight end sets much over the past two seasons. Yet, in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft, they selected tight end Dalton Kincaid out of Utah. Kincaid was seen by many as the top receiving tight end in the draft. Pairing him with Dawson Knox gives the Bills even more personnel versatility in their offense. You can’t get predictable in the NFL, even with an offense as talented as Buffalo's. This new tight end emphasis indicates the Bills won't be.

Cincinnati Bengals

  • Playoffs: Yes
  • Reason: Even better offensive line

The Bengals have made a conscious effort to improve their offensive line since Joe Burrow’s season-ending knee injury in 2020. The unit was improved in 2022 and should be even better in 2023 following the addition of Orlando Brown Jr. The Bengals should yet again be one of the toughest teams in the conference.

Cleveland Browns

  • Playoffs: No
  • Reason: Tough division

It’s hard to look at the Browns' roster and come up with concrete reasons why this team won't make the playoffs. If Deshaun Watson is anything closer to the kind of quarterback he was in Houston, it should make up for one of Cleveland's few roster deficiencies — a lack of depth at pass catcher. Other than that, the defensive front is improved, the secondary is strong and the run game can be one of the best in the league. 

The Browns could easily be projected as a playoff team, but all four AFC North teams might just beat up on each other too much for more than two to make the postseason.

Denver Broncos

  • Playoffs: No
  • Reason: Russell Wilson

This was another difficult team to assess playoff-wise, but there are only seven spots to give out, and Denver misses the cut.

Sean Payton should do very well with this team, and top to bottom this is one of the best rosters in the NFL. But Russell Wilson’s performance last season was concerning. If you are on the other side of this argument, believing that trading out Nathaniel Hackett for Payton at head coach will bring back the version of Wilson who made the postseason eight out of nine years from 2012-2020, I hear you. But Wilson’s struggles go beyond just last season. He recorded an 88.6 passing grade in 2020, then a 70.6 passing grade in his last year in Seattle in 2021 (career worst, at that point) and then a 64.5 passing grade last season (new career worst).

Houston Texans

  • Playoffs: No
  • Reason: Rookie quarterback

The Texans are still in the final stages (they hope) of a rebuild following their massive trade of Deshaun Watson last year. They have since turned that trade capital into quarterback C.J. Stroud and pass rusher Will Anderson Jr. in the 2023 NFL Draft, whom they hope to be their offensive and defensive cornerstones. But they just don’t have the total team talent yet. While their offense features promising young players, there will likely be a big adjustment period for Stroud, who goes from being surrounded by five-star skill position players and offensive linemen at Ohio State to a Texans team that is still finding its offensive identity beyond Dameon Pierce being a wrecking ball out of the backfield.

Indianapolis Colts

  • Playoffs: No
  • Reason: Anthony Richardson efficiency issues

Don’t let recency bias take away from the fact that this Colts team was projected to be an easy division winner before last season. Their play ended up squandering those projections, but the roster can still be good enough to compete. You hope they’ll be healthier and that their offensive line will play better than it did in 2022.

But even if most of the roster bounces back, expecting the Colts' new franchise quarterback, Anthony Richardson, to be efficient enough to make the postseason would be a very tall task. Richardson recorded 16 big-time throws and 13 turnover-worthy plays with just a 64.3% adjusted completion percentage last season — and that was at the collegiate level. He is a talented player, but that part of his game will take time to mature.

Jacksonville Jaguars

  • Playoffs: Yes
  • Reason: Improved passing attack

The real reason the Jaguars should be projected to make the playoffs is that they’re simply the best team in the division. But if we’re focusing on one reason they can secure back-to-back division titles and make the postseason, it’s that their passing attack should be even better in 2022.

Trevor Lawrence should take another big step forward as one of the best young quarterbacks in the league, and this year he’ll be throwing to an eager and motivated Calvin Ridley, as well as Christian Kirk, Evan Engram and Zay Jones from last year’s squad.

Kansas City Chiefs

  • Playoffs: Yes
  • Reason: Patrick Mahomes

I don’t need to bore you with too many words here, do I? As long as Patrick Mahomes is healthy, the Chiefs will have postseason expectations. The losses of JuJu Smith-Schuster, Orlando Brown Jr. and Andrew Wylie this offseason will have an impact, but the defense is still good and the playmakers in the passing game are more than capable of letting Mahomes work his magic.

Las Vegas Raiders

  • Playoffs: No
  • Reason: Bad defensive outlook

The Raiders’ 2022 offense wasn’t enough to overcome their bad defense, with Josh Jacobs winning the rushing title and the team leaning on Davante Adams. So, losing Darren Waller and Derek Carr this offseason will only make matters worse, while projected improvements on defense are minor. Las Vegas ranked in the bottom five in yards per game allowed and in the bottom eight in points per game allowed last year.

Los Angeles Chargers

  • Playoffs: No
  • Reason: Questionable secondary

The Chargers made the playoffs as a wild-card team last season and could very well do so again in 2023. But the question marks in their secondary are worrying given how strong the rest of the AFC passing attacks are. If J.C. Jackson can come back from his patellar tendon injury and look like the New England version of himself, things will look a lot better. But right now, that group could be what holds back an otherwise playoff-level roster, when healthy.

Miami Dolphins

  • Playoffs: Yes
  • Reason: Elite roster

Miami has one of the best rosters in the NFL. Tua Tagovailoa’s ceiling as a quarterback and, more importantly, his health are big factors here, but the Dolphins have talent everywhere. Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle are a nightmare to game-plan for, as is now all the speed in the team's backfield, including Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson Jr. and Devon Achane. Their defensive front is stout, and I loved the addition of David Long Jr. I am also expecting a big year out of pass rusher Jaelan Phillips. And Miami's secondary just added cornerback Jalen Ramsey. All of that talent with one of the NFL's top coaching staffs?

The roster is too good to not make the playoffs.

New England Patriots

  • Playoffs: No
  • Reason: No offensive identity

Bill Belichick will have his defense ready to compete each week, but the offense might not have the talent to do the same. Even if you have faith in Mac Jones to be the guy at quarterback, where does their offensive identity lie? The Patriots don’t really have wide receivers to run a passing attack through. They’ve tried to employ a multi-tight-end offense, but it has not been effective enough. Rhamondre Stevenson is talented, but can he be the offense's identity?

There is too much offensive volatility for this to be a playoff-caliber team in such a strong conference.

New York Jets

  • Playoffs: Yes
  • Reason: Aaron Rodgers

If the Jets had even competent quarterback play last year, they would have likely been a wild-card team. Even if Aaron Rodgers is past his prime, whatever he has left in the tank will be good enough to elevate a solid pass-catching group and a good run game, especially when Breece Hall returns from his ACL injury. The defense should once again be a strong group, allowing the fourth-fewest points in the NFL last season.

Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Playoffs: No
  • Reason: Young guys one year away

I wouldn’t dare predict the great Mike Tomlin to finish below .500 during a regular season, but I do think the Steelers are another year away from being playoff contenders again. Then-rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett was fantastic last season. From Week 10 on, the only quarterback with a higher passing grade than Pickett was Joe Burrow. On top of that, George Pickens is a star in the making. I also loved the Steelers' 2023 NFL Draft class, but it’s hard to say all of those additions will pan out early on.

Overall, it’s a good roster with star power on defense and young guys to get behind on offense. I think the Steelers are close, just a year away.

Tennessee Titans

  • Playoffs: No
  • Reason: Offensive line woes

I still believe the Titans can field a strong defense. Jeffery Simmons, Harold Landry III and Kevin Byard headline a good group when they’re all healthy. But Tennessee's offensive line makes me nervous. They ranked dead last in the league last year in pass-blocking grade (53.8) and pressure rate allowed (39.5%). They’ll likely have four new starters along the offensive line: Andre Dillard, Peter Skoronski, Aaron Brewer and Daniel Brunskill. The change was needed, but it will take time to jell.


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