One reason each AFC team won’t make the playoffs in 2024

2TDDE38 Tennessee Titans quarterback Will Levis (8) warms up before an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

• The Bills will have to prove they can thrive without Stefon Diggs: The reality is that Diggs saw 74 more targets than any other Bills player last season. The team needs to find production elsewhere in 2024.

• Can Will Levis take the next step in Year 2? The pieces are in place for Levis to be successful, with Calvin Ridley pairing with DeAndre Hopkins to form a formidable wide receiver duo, but it will be on him to deliver in his second NFL season.

• Get a head start on fantasy football: Use PFF's fantasy football mock draft simulator to create real live mock draft simulations to get ready for your live draft!

Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

Every team in the NFL is 0-0, and every fanbase has at least some reason for optimism heading into the 2024 season. Let's ruin that with a dash of pessimism by taking a look at one reason why every AFC team will miss the playoffs.

This is not a prediction of what will happen but rather the biggest question mark on each roster heading into the season.



BALTIMORE RAVENS: New-look offensive line doesn’t pan out

The Ravens have handled offensive line shake-ups before, but it is hard to ignore the unit's offseason departures. Right tackle Morgan Moses and right guard Kevin Zeitler both ranked inside the top 10 at their respective positions in PFF grade last season. That’s a lot to ask of rookie Roger Rosengarten and veteran Ben Cleveland, who will likely replace them. John Simpson, meanwhile, is easier to replace.

BUFFALO BILLS: No Stefon Diggs hinders Josh Allen

The additions of rookie wide receiver Keon Coleman and free agent Curtis Samuel, along with the potential for Khalil Shakirwho dropped just one of his 50 catchable targets last season — to continue his emergence, is a reason for optimism after the Bills traded away Stefon Diggs this offseason. However, the reality is that Diggs saw 74 more targets than any other Bills player last season, and at least 50 more targets than anyone else in all four of his seasons with the team.

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CINCINNATI BENGALS: D.J. Reader’s departure proves catastrophic

Just one Bengals front-seven player earned a PFF run-defense grade of 75.0 or better in 2023, and that was interior defensive lineman D.J. Reader, who signed with the Detroit Lions as a free agent this offseason. Sheldon Rankins arrived in Cincinnati but is a better pass rusher than a run defender, with a PFF run-defense grade above 65.0 in just three of eight seasons in the NFL.

The Bengals drafted Kris Jenkins Jr. and McKinnley Jackson, and both have the potential to be good long-term players, but there is a reasonable chance that the team will be weaker up the middle in 2024.

CLEVELAND BROWNS: Deshaun Watson’s struggles hold them back

A loaded Cleveland roster that boasts the reigning Defensive Player of the Year in Myles Garrett and plenty of talent on both sides of the ball means the Browns can contend for a Super Bowl, but the big question remains at the quarterback position. Through two seasons in Cleveland, Deshaun Watson has earned a PFF grade above 70.0 in just two of 12 games. We are now a long way removed from the 2020 season when he earned a 92.4 PFF grade to rank third in the NFL.

DENVER BRONCOS: A rookie quarterback is not enough to compete in the talented AFC

Bo Nix earned a college-leading 92.7 PFF passing grade in 2023, with just five turnover-worthy plays from 499 dropbacks. That being said, he will need to hit the ground running for the Broncos to have a shot at making the playoffs in a tough AFC and in a division where Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert are quarterbacking the two main contenders. It’s a tough ask.

HOUSTON TEXANS: Former first-round cornerbacks don’t work out

Derek Stingley Jr. came on strong in the second half of 2023 and looks like he can be every bit the shutdown cornerback the Texans were hoping for when they used the No. 3 overall pick to draft him back in 2022. Jeff Okudah or C.J. Henderson will likely start opposite him, with Okudah earning a 46.0 PFF coverage grade and Henderson a 43.9 in 2023.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: Anthony Richardson’s inexperience holds the team back

The flashes were very clearly there for Anthony Richardson in his rookie season, scoring four rushing touchdowns in four games. However, injuries limited him to just 98 dropbacks in his debut season, and in that small sample size his pressure-to-sack rate of 22.6% was tied for 10th worst in the league. There will likely still be some teething problems as Richardson develops, and that will make things difficult in a challenging AFC.

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JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: Pass blockers don’t give Trevor Lawrence enough time

Trevor Lawrence was under pressure on 190 dropbacks in 2023 and earned a 46.6 PFF passing grade on such plays, which ranked 27th among quarterbacks. Cam Robinson being back healthy will help, but the Jaguars will also need Anton Harrison to continue to develop into a solid lineman. On the interior, Ezra Cleveland is yet to have a season with a PFF pass-blocking grade above 60.0. If there is something that could derail Jacksonville's season, it’s the pass blocking not holding up.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Question marks at wide receiver derail the offense

The reality is that as long, as Patrick Mahomes is healthy, the Chiefs are unlikely to miss the playoffs, so this is more of a “one reason why the Chiefs won’t complete the three-peat.” They survived issues at wide receiver in 2023, but it again looks like one of the biggest question marks on the roster. Rashee Rice impressed as a rookie, earning an 85.0 PFF grade in 2023, but could face a suspension, while free-agent addition Marquise Brown has struggled to stay on the field due to injuries. Xavier Worthy could make a big impact as a rookie, but how good he can be in year one remains an unknown.

LAS VEGAS RAIDERS: Quarterbacks aren't good enough to compete

Either Gardner Minshew or Aidan O’Connell will start at quarterback for the Raiders in 2024, and it’s difficult to see that being enough for the team to make the playoffs. Minshew will have his moments, but he has just one season with a PFF grade above 70.0 since entering the NFL in 2019. The smart move would be to start O’Connell and see what more is he capable of, coming off a rookie season in which he earned a 65.9 PFF grade. The most likely season outcome is confirmation that Las Vegas is still in the market for a quarterback.

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS: Young receivers aren’t ready for starring roles

Greg Roman’s arrival as offensive coordinator in Los Angeles has coincided with an offseason where the Chargers focused on improving their ability to dictate games on the ground. While they got better up front and made additions in the backfield, both Keenan Allen and Mike Williams have departed at wide receiver. That means they will be relying on young receivers, such as rookie Ladd McConkey and second-year player Quentin Johnston, who averaged just 0.88 yards per route run as a rookie in 2023.

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MIAMI DOLPHINS: Loss of Christian Wilkins hurts too much up front

The Dolphins shouldn’t have any struggles on offense, but the loss of Christian Wilkins on the defensive line is a big concern. Wilkins earned PFF run-defense and PFF pass-rushing grades above 70.0 in each of the past three seasons. Teair Tart has arrived via free agency, but he has just one season with a PFF grade above 60.0 in his four-year career, while Da’Shawn Hand hasn’t played more than 200 snaps in a season since 2020.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: Supporting cast is not good enough to win with a rookie quarterback

With a lack of options at wide receiver and some struggles along the offensive line, New England was always going to be a tough spot for a rookie quarterback to start early, and Drake Maye might not need to with Jacoby Brissett being a capable bridge option. Brissett will have the same supporting cast issues, though, with Ezekiel Elliott leading the team in receptions last season and no wide receiver reaching even 50 catches. The Patriots drafted Ja'Lynn Polk early in the second round, and Javon Baker could be a steal in the fourth round, but unless they can produce right away, this is going to be an offense that struggles, regardless of who is under center.

NEW YORK JETS: Aaron Rodgers is coming off a season-ending injury at 40 years old

In theory, everything is set up for the Jets to be successful in 2024 — and the NFL knows it, too, scheduling them for six primetime games in the opening 11 weeks of the season. Aaron Rodgers has just one season of earning a PFF grade below 77.0 while being on the field for more than 100 snaps. His 2023 season ended after just two dropbacks, though, and he is now 40 years old and coming off an Achilles injury. Perhaps we shouldn’t be entirely confident in Rodgers being one of the top-graded quarterbacks in football until we see him back on the field in the regular season.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS: If you have two quarterbacks, you actually have none

The Steelers' two quarterback additions this offseason look to be upgrades from Kenny Pickett, who earned a 70.6 PFF grade in 2023, and Mason Rudolph (65.5). Both Justin Fields and Russell Wilson, who earned 74.6 and 77.5 PFF grades, respectively, were better in 2023. However, as John Madden once said, “If you have two quarterbacks, you actually have none,” and if there’s something that could hurt the Steelers in 2024, it’s not knowing who their best quarterback is. That being said, this is a Mike Tomlin-led Steelers team. The Steelers' floor is likely nine wins and the No. 7 seed.

TENNESSEE TITANS: Will Levis doesn’t develop

Will Levis had some nice moments as a rookie, earning a PFF grade above 77.0 in two of his nine starts, and he enters 2024 as the Titans' clear starter. Getting out of the AFC South will be tough, though, and they will need to be better if they are to contend for a playoff spot. The pieces are in place for Levis to be successful, with Calvin Ridley pairing with DeAndre Hopkins to form a formidable wide receiver duo, but it will be on him to deliver in his second NFL season.


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