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The Whiparound: Checking in with the AFC as we approach the final preseason game

The final week of the pre-season is upon us, which provides a good chance to do a quick whip-around of the league and check in with some of the more interesting stories developing in the final days of training camp. Today, we look at the AFC:

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts have granted Jonathan Taylor the right to seek a trade, something he requested weeks ago and has prompted a de facto camp holdout ever since. Taylor is entering the final season of his rookie contract and has been vocal about his displeasure with the league’s diminishing running back market. Owner Jim Irsay originally announced he had no intention to trade Taylor, but moved off of that stance this week.

The market for Taylor is hard to determine, but if Christian McCaffrey is any barometer, it should fetch a solid return. McCaffrey was dealt last season from Carolina to San Francisco for 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th Round picks in the 2023 and 2024 drafts.

In the short term, the trade will make things tougher on Anthony Richardson, the rookie quarterback who was recently named the team’s starter. A “Taylor-son” backfield duo would have been intriguing and would have alleviated much of the pressure on Richardson to carry the offense. For now, it seems likely veteran Kenyon Drake will fill that role, which is clearly a step back.

Buffalo Bills

Speaking of Taylor, keep an eye on the Bills as a potential trade partner. I’m sure Vegas has odds on such a thing, but I’d put Buffalo (along with Chicago and Miami) among the favorites to make a run at Taylor. The Bills have not had a 1,000-yard rusher since LeSean McCoy in 2017 and may see a more balanced attack on offense as a way to close the gap with the Chiefs in the AFC. They own nine picks in next year’s draft and possess their 1st-rounder in the next three drafts. So if it’s picks the Colts are seeking for Taylor, Buffalo is in play.

The issue for the Bills could be the money. Josh Allen’s cap hit soars to $47 million next season, and if Taylor wants to reset the running back market, it could require the Bills to do some restructures and push some cap money down the road. For a team in win-now mode, that may be the price they have to pay to acquire a player who could be the final piece of a championship puzzle.

New England Patriots

The bookmakers in Vegas have updated their lines on win totals, and the Patriots are receiving the most action of any team in the league as far as “over” bets are concerned. This means bettors are wagering the Patriots will win more games this season than the number established by the books, which for New England is 7.5.

Bettors, then, are hot on the Patriots to win at least eight games. For me, that’s a tough call. New England has six division games against Buffalo, Miami and the Jets, in which they’d do well to go 2-4. Their conference slate includes games at Las Vegas, Indianapolis (in Germany), the Chargers, at Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and at Denver. That could go anywhere from 2-4 to 4-2. Then they must play the NFC East, which is loaded. There’s a good chance they go 1-3 in those contests. Winning eight games could come down to their NFC crossover game, where New England gets the Saints at home in Week 5. That feels like a win, but overall it’s too close to call. You can make a good case for 7-10 or 8-9, with an injury or two bumping that win total up or down a notch. Vegas, as usual, is right on the mark. I’d sit this bet out and save my money for something more reliable, like the slots…

Kansas City Chiefs

It’s been a surprisingly tough summer in Kansas City, where veteran coach Andy Reid conducted one of the longest and most physical training camps of his career. The Chiefs returned to their training facility this week after spending a month at Missouri Western State University. On Monday, they practiced at their indoor complex where there was no air conditioning and temperatures soared to 100 degrees. Reid seems intent on sending a message that Kansas City will not rest on its laurels after winning a second Super Bowl in the past three seasons. But the long, tough camp has also given him an opportunity to get a good look at his roster.

One player who has stood out is backup quarterback Shane Buechele. Buechele went 10-10 for 105 yards with a 15-yard touchdown run in relief of Patrick Mahomes last week. The third-year quarterback from SMU appears to have made the team, and now the conversation turns to whether he will push veteran Blaine Gabbert for the backup job. That doesn’t seem likely right now, but with good pocket presence and an understanding of Reid’s system, Buechele seems to be a riser.

Cleveland Browns

Cleveland is another team with an interesting situation at backup quarterback. Rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson has been impressive and has led several long drives during the preseason, while backup Josh Dobbs, whom the Browns brought in from Tennessee, has been unremarkable. Cleveland will surely keep Dobbs as the backup to Deshaun Watson, given his experience (four years in the league with three different teams) and Thompson-Robinson’s lack thereof. But Dobbs has passed for less than 500 yards in his career and isn’t exactly a known commodity. It’s no slam dunk Cleveland would feel comfortable giving him complete control of the offense should Watson go down.

This could prompt the Browns to take advantage of the new NFL rule that allows a team to maintain three active game-day quarterbacks. It wouldn’t be surprising to see them prepare a package each week for Thompson-Robinson, one they could use in tandem with Dobbs or even as a supplement to their regular offense. Thompson-Robinson’s ability to create plays with his legs gives them a different style than they have with Dobbs, who is predominantly a pocket passer. It seems unlikely they’d elevate him over Dobbs, but giving him some read-option plays, a few bootlegs or some RPOs could be an inexpensive way to get the rookie some early game experience should Watson get injured.

New York Jets

Everyone loves talking quarterbacks, so we’ll finish there. Aaron Rodgers is set to make his New York debut when the Jets take on the Giants Friday night. Giants coach Brian Daboll has indicated he’ll play mostly backups in the contest, so Rodgers won’t exactly face the stiffest competition of his career. But it will be an interesting first look at a New York offense that many expect to be among the league’s best.

The big thing for Rodgers in an outing like this will be communication. Whether it’s getting in sync with his receivers in terms of reading coverages, making sight adjustments or anticipating route breaks, or with his linemen on protection calls and play-checks at the line of scrimmage, live reps are vital. It doesn’t matter that Rodgers has been doing this at the highest possible level for 17 years. This is a new situation, with a new set of teammates, in a new environment. The last thing New York wants is for a communication breakdown to lead to a linebacker getting a free run at their prized acquisition. The game reps on Friday night will be important for Rodgers, regardless of the competition or the results on the field.

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