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Setting the AFC Hierarchy, Post NFL Draft

The American Football Conference is coming off an extremely competitive 2023 season that saw 11 teams finish with 8 or more wins, including the entire AFC North division finishing with a winning record.

2024 promises more of the same from the power conference of the NFL, and while it makes for excellent television and in-season drama, it does make ranking the 16 teams an extremely difficult undertaking.

To help explain just how close this conference is, I have broken down the 16 teams into 5 tiers. For example, the difference between my 2nd ranked team (HOU) and my 8th ranked team (MIA) is almost negligible, I have them all in Tier 2 and would not balk at any ordering of those 7 squads.

As for the grading system, I am assigning an “Offseason Grade” to each team based on their losses and additions throughout Free Agency and the Draft so far. For the “2024 Composite Strength of Schedule” (SOS), I combined the Projected 2024 Vegas Win Totals and 2023 Win-Loss Records for each team’s opponents and ranked them from hardest to easiest (1-32). I prefer this method of calculating SOS because it considers both statistical and predictive data to determine the final ranking.

With those considerations in play, let’s dive into my early look at the 2024 AFC Hierarchy after the conclusion of the NFL Draft!


Offseason Grade: A- | 2024 Composite SOS: 19th | Early Prediction: 1st in West

Biggest Upgrade: KC gets its own tier as the undisputed Dynasty of the NFL right now. The Chiefs made a concerted effort this offseason to improve the cast of weapons around Patrick Mahomes in their bid for a 3rd consecutive Super Bowl title. Adding FA Marquise Brown and 1st Rounder Xavier Worthy to the receiving corps gives the Chiefs a speed element they sorely lacked in 2023. The defense should still be very good in 2024, but the offense could actually be much better than it was last year. That should be extremely disconcerting to the rest of the teams in the conference.

Biggest Question Mark: Did KC do enough in the secondary to mitigate the loss of All-Pro CB L’Jarius Sneed? They did not add a corner in either Free Agency or the Draft, so it appears that the plan is for Trent McDuffie and a suspect lineup of depth pieces to pick up where the All-Pro left off.  The team did add Rookie SS Jaden Hicks in the 4th Round, but that does little to quell the concerns on the outside. It’s a glaring hole on the roster.


Offseason Grade: A- | 2024 Composite SOS: 5th | Early Prediction: 1st in South

Biggest Upgrade: Call me crazy, but this Texans team is my top challenger to the Chiefs in the AFC as we sit here today. While I didn’t love their Draft class, overall Houston has done a fantastic job improving their team this offseason. The trade for Stefon Diggs made the headlines, but the additions along the defensive front 7 should be the biggest talking point for Houston. Danielle Hunter and Derek Barnett join 2023 DROY Will Anderson on the Edge to form a formidable pass-rushing trio, and I love the signing of LB Azeez Al-Shaair as a rangy tackling machine in the middle of the field.

Biggest Question Mark: What does this secondary look like outside of CB Derek Stingley Jr.? Houston signed 6 CBs and 1 Safety this offseason to try and figure that out, taking swings on FAs like CJ Henderson and Jeff Okudah who have underperformed their 1st Round pedigree badly so far in their careers, and taking former UGA CB Kamari Lassiter with their 1st pick in the Draft. If those guys don’t pan out, the defensive backfield could be a huge weakness for the Texans.

Offseason Grade: B- | 2024 Composite SOS: 3rd | Early Prediction: 1st in North

Biggest Upgrade: The Ravens might be putting together the most “meh” offseason of any team in the AFC. Yes, Derrick Henry is in town to hopefully be the bruising back of Baltimore’s dreams and help take a load off defending MVP Lamar Jackson, who continues to struggle in big moments, specifically in the playoffs. Outside of that, it’s just been “steady as she goes” for the Ravens this offseason. Nothing flashy in the Charm City so far.

Biggest Question Mark: How does Baltimore manage this Offensive Line? It’s a rag-tag group of mid-level starters along the interior, an aging vet at LT in Ronnie Stanley, and perhaps a Rookie starting at RT in 2nd Round selection Roger Rosengarten. That doesn’t seem ideal for a team that wants to run the football and needs to protect the injury-prone Jackson at all costs.

Offseason Grade: B | 2024 Composite SOS: 23rd | Early Prediction: 2nd in North

Biggest Upgrade: The Bengals have made a concerted effort this offseason to improve the trenches, an area with major questions after a disappointing 2023. Adding massive OTs in Trent Brown (FA) and Amarius Mims (Draft) and then loaded up on the defensive front in both FA (Sheldon Rankins) and the Draft (Kris Jenkins, McKinley Jackson) should help Cincy be more consistent on both sides of the ball this season.

Biggest Question Mark: How healthy is Joe Burrow, really? The star QB is working out and throwing, in his own words, only “on the good days” during the extended recovery process for his unique wrist injury from 2023. It’s the most compelling storyline right not for the Bengals this offseason, despite some fairly significant concerns in the 2nd level of the defense.

Offseason Grade: B- | 2024 Composite SOS: 6th | Early Prediction: 1st in East

Biggest Upgrade: This is an extremely difficult question to answer for the Bills. In the end it feels like a net 0 in Buffalo after a bevy of solid players left in Free Agency, just to be replaced by a bevy of solid players. The WR room gets the most press, and the Bills have completely overhauled that room. This might just be the deepest OL that Josh Allen has ever had in front of him after the team spent plenty of FA dollars and several Draft picks up front.

Biggest Question Mark: How will the new pass catchers be utilized in the offense? The loss of Stefon Diggs is not the big worry here for me. It’s how the Bills plan to scheme up big plays and favorable matchups with a slew of role playing WRs in Kalil Shakir, Curtis Samuel, Mack Hollins, and the newly drafted Keon Coleman, who the team could easily have pegged as their WR1 right out of the gate. If it takes time to get these guys rolling in the offense, it could be a slow start to the year for Buffalo.

Offseason Grade: A+ | 2024 Composite SOS: T-1st | Early Prediction: 3rd in North

Biggest Upgrade: The QBs grabbed the headlines early, with the team moving on from Kenny Pickett, Mason Rudolph, and Mitch Trubisky for Russell Wilson, Justin Fields, and Kyle Allen. The biggest improvement for Pittsburgh though is up front, where the team has committed four high draft picks to the OL over the last 2 drafts. Prioritizing the OL was absolutely the biggest need for the Steelers, and adding young talent to compete early should give the offense a boost under new OC Arthur Smith.

Biggest Question Mark: Do they have the horses in the secondary to shut down a passing league? Joey Porter Jr. came on strong in the 2nd half of his rookie year and looks the part of a lock-down press corner for years to come. Volatility at the CB position is a big deal, though, just ask the Philadelphia Eagles. Outside of JPJ, and maybe Donte Jackson, who the team acquired in their trade-away of Diontae Johnson, the corner room in Pittsburgh is at best unproven and at worst a potential disaster.

Offseason Grade: B+ | 2024 Composite SOS: T-20th | Early Prediction: 2nd in East

Biggest Upgrade: The Jets biggest need was improving the OL in front of Aaron Rodgers, and despite rumors that the team would look to upgrade at pass catcher at the expense of the OL, the selection of OT Olu Fashanu with the 11th pick in the Draft was easily the best move of the offseason for the Jets. Adding him to an improved OL group through FA should boost the Jets’ stock for 2024.

Biggest Question Mark: Does the offense boast a diverse enough group of weapons to be successful? Garrett Wilson is a stud, but FA acquisition Mike Williams is one of the bigger injury risks in football, and rookie WR Malachi Corley is more of a YAC weapon than a separator or down-field threat. The TE room isn’t anything to write home about either. Look for NY to run the football and play to Rodgers’ experience to try and become a championship level offense.

Offseason Grade: B- | 2024 Composite SOS: T-26th | Early Prediction: 3rd in East

Biggest Upgrade: The Pass Rush has been heavily fortified in 2024 with the additions of Shaq Barrett in Free Agency and the drafting of Chop Robinson and Mohamed Kamara a couple weeks ago. The Dolphins inability to close out opposing teams down the stretch came in large part to the defense’s inability to get consistent pressure on opposing QBs. The Fins Front Office is doing their darnedest to not let that happen again in 2024.

Biggest Question Mark: Can QB Tua Tagovailoa keep the offense rolling deep into the season? From a talent perspective, the Fins offense has everything a QB could ask for, even if the OL is only average at best. And yet, Tua hasn’t been able to sustain the early season successes of the last couple years late into the year. Miami could find itself in a precarious situation at QB if the offense stumbles down the stretch for the 3rd year in a row.


Offseason Grade: C+ | 2024 Composite SOS: T-1st | Early Prediction: 4th in North

Biggest Upgrade: Some might call this a bit of a shocker, but I’m going with the backup QB situation behind the mercurial Deshaun Watson. I know Joe Flacco had a magical run to finish out the season for Cleveland, but I can’t help but believe the combo of Jameis Winston and former Raven Tyler Huntley isn’t a major improvement for a team that cannot rely on its highly paid QB1 to even make it through a season healthy, let alone perform well when he’s on the field.

Biggest Question Mark: Is Jameis Winston the best QB on the Browns roster? The answer to this might just be a yes, and the fact that it even is a valid question proves to me that the issues for the Browns run much deeper than any other team in the AFC North.

Offseason Grade: B | 2024 Composite SOS: 25th | Early Prediction: 2nd in South

Biggest Upgrade: I have to go with the addition of 1st Round pick Laiatu Latu on the edge for a Colts team desperate for outside pass rush help. Latu was the best pure pass rusher in the draft and was the 1st defensive player taken in this year’s selection process. He’ll make a big impact early if he can stay on the field.

Biggest Question Mark: Is this secondary good enough to slow down NFL passing attacks? The Colts didn’t take a CB in the Draft until Round 6 and did not add to the position in FA outside of bringing back slot man Kenny Moore II. It seems to be a pretty glaring hole for a team ready to compete at most everywhere else on the roster in 2024.

Offseason Grade: B- | 2024 Composite SOS: T-13th | Early Prediction: 3rd in South

Biggest Upgrade: I like what Jacksonville did on the OL this offseason, bringing in experienced veterans along the interior, and then adding a project OT in the 4th Rd of the NFL Draft. Giving Trevor Lawrence time in the pocket to survey the field and hit his new downfield weapons was a big priority for the Jags and they did a solid job attacking that need.

Biggest Question Mark: Is this cast of pass-catchers enough to actually help out Lawrence? I wanted to go with the secondary questions here, but it’s past time the Jaguars put together an actual group of pass-catchers that can make life a little easier for Lawrence. Can Rookie Brian Thomas Jr., Gabe Davis, and Christian Kirk be the trio that perform the routine things like, you know, catching a well-thrown football, well enough to help push Lawrence to the next level?


Offseason Grade: A | 2024 Composite SOS: 29th | Early Prediction: 2nd in West

Biggest Upgrade: Another AFC West squad gets its own tier as a group in transition but one that I feel is closer to being in the mix than the teams below, but not quite established enough to really compete in 2024. I loved the Chargers Draft class. It was a great mix of variety and value. I liked their approach to Free Agency. Solid contributors at value prices. To me, all the moves together this offseason combined prove that the biggest upgrade to the Chargers this offseason has been in the coaching staff and front office. This is an organization with a plan now. A focus. I’m excited to see how it all pans out.

Biggest Question Mark: Do the Chargers have enough weapons on the outside? While I don’t doubt Jim Harbaugh’s desire to run the football and bully teams up front a little bit, the fact is this team has one of the 4 or 5 most talented QBs in the game behind center, and the guy needs weapons. I like Ladd McConkey, but I have serious questions about the rest of the pass-catching group, especially after the Chargers decided to pass on Malik Nabers and Rome Odunze in the Draft in favor of an OT prospect in Joe Alt. Not blaming them for going that route, but it comes with its own set of risks.


Offseason Grade: B- | 2024 Composite SOS: T-16th | Early Prediction: 3rd in West

Biggest Upgrade: I don’t want to, but I am going to go with the QB position, based on the fact that Sean Payton got “his guy” in Bo Nix at 12th overall in the Draft and the fact that Jarett Stidham was the QB1 on the roster leading up to that point. Sean Payton knows more about QBs than I ever will, so the fact that he’s so dialed in with Nix is enough for me to be excited about the potential there, even if taking him where they did was somewhat inadvisable.

Biggest Question Mark: Did the Defense simply get caught in the downward spiral of a poor 2023 overall, or are they really that bad? The defense’s sudden fall from grace last season was the last thing I expected of the 2023 Broncos, and it appears they are banking on a bounce-back as well after failing to add needle-moving talents in either Free Agency or the Draft.

Offseason Grade: B- | 2024 Composite SOS: T-13th | Early Prediction: 4th in South

Biggest Upgrade: The pass-catchers are the most improved unit on this Titans roster, with new Head Coach Brian Callahan looking to give 2nd-year QB Will Levis every opportunity to prove his potential this season. Adding Calvin Ridley and now Tyler Boyd via Free Agency and also drafting shifty slot receiver Jha’Quan Jackson in the 6th round gives Levis a diverse cast of weapons to toss the rock to.

Biggest Question Mark: Is Levis the guy? As mentioned above, the stage is set, now it’s time for the young QB to show some growth in Year 2 after displaying plenty of flashes as a Rookie. The highs were high, and the lows were very low for Levis in Year 1, so layering in some consistency would be a huge step in the right direction for Tennessee.

Offseason Grade: B- | 2024 Composite SOS: 7th | Early Prediction: 4th in West

Biggest Upgrade: It has to be the addition of Christian Wilkins along the defensive front, with a close 2nd going to the focus on rebuilding along the OL. Wilkins is just a different animal, though and should provide rookie Head Coach Antonio Pierce an anchor piece on the interior of the defense to pair with Maxx Crosby while young players like 2023 1st Rounder Tyree Wilson continue to develop.

Biggest Question Mark: What can the team accomplish this season with these QBs? Gardner Minshew is far and away the best option on the roster to start Week 1 at QB, and I say that confidently even with Aiden O’Connell showing some flashes in 2023. It’s one of the least inspiring QB situations in the league. The good news for Pierce? No one is expecting them to win anything this season. Just be bad and get your QB next year.

Offseason Grade: A | 2024 Composite SOS: 4th | Early Prediction: 4th in East

Biggest Upgrade: It’s the QB spot, no question. Drake Maye has all the makings of the next great AFC QB, although I expect Year 1 to be a bit of a bumpy ride, if he sees the field much at all behind veteran bridge guy Jacoby Brissett. If I’m New England, I’m giving the reigns to Brissett early on to mitigate some of the potential early growing pains while the rest of the roster continues to gel, and then I’m bringing in Maye sometime in the 2nd half of the year to see what I’ve got in the 3rd overall pick. Much like the Raiders, the Pats don’t have to be good this year. They just need to have some idea by season’s end whether or not Maye can be “their guy” moving forward. Personally, I have a ton of faith in the kid.

Biggest Question Mark: Can the OL keep whoever’s playing QB upright long enough to get a good evaluation? I like what the Pats did adding weapons like Rookie Ja’Lynn Polk and FA acquisition K.J. Osborn, but the OL went largely untouched, at least when it came to adding high-end talent. Former Steelers OT Chuks Okorafor is in town, but a couple reaches in the Draft at OT (Caedan Wallace) and OG (Layden Robinson) do little to quell my fears for the man (or men) under center in 2024.

Keep an eye out for Part 2 of this mini-series where I break down the NFC Hierarchy in similar fashion. Also, tune in to the latest addition of the FFSN NFL Draft Recap below for a deeper dive into each AFC squad’s Draft class of 2024!

Category: NFL

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