AFC Playoff Picture Week 14: Dolphins’, Ravens’, Others’ Biggest Strengths and Weaknesses

The AFC playoff picture has been highly contested all season. The teams at the top are incredibly talented, but each has flaws.

The AFC playoff picture has been highly contested at the top thus far, with five different teams within a game of the top seed in the conference. However, none of the top teams in the conference are without flaws, even if their strengths help mitigate them.

According to FiveThirtyEight, two AFC teams have a greater than 99% chance of making the playoffs. What characteristics could help propel each team to the Lombardi Trophy, and what could weigh them down during the playoffs?

AFC Playoff Hopefuls’ Strengths and Weaknesses

While the ceiling of these AFC teams may be higher than their NFC counterparts, it’s easier to poke holes in the top AFC teams, considering the complete nature of a few NFC teams.

1. Buffalo Bills

EPA: Offense (third), Defense (ninth)
DVOA: Offense (fourth), Defense (fourth)
Scoring: Offense 27.8 (fourth), Defense 17.4 (fourth)

Biggest Strength: Josh Allen’s Legs

We saw how effective Josh Allen could be on the ground down the stretch last season. So far in 2022, the Bills’ offense sees better outcomes on a per-play basis when he runs than when he passes.

Buffalo’s run game is starting to turn things around, finding ways to use their backs to the best of their individual abilities. But the run game is still lackluster without the threat of Allen’s legs.

Biggest Weakness: Rushing Attack

According to Sports Info Solutions, the Buffalo Bills rank 29th in rushing EPA per play on non-QB runs. James Cook has been getting more opportunities recently and is seeing positive results. But on a team with no other apparent flaws, the rest of the running game gets the red mark.

2. Kansas City Chiefs

EPA: Offense (first), Defense (22nd)
DVOA: Offense (first), Defense (25th)
Scoring: Offense 29.2 (first), Defense 22.5 (15th)

Biggest Strength: Passing Game

Somehow the Chiefs lost Tyreek Hill, and their passing attack got demonstrably better. Hill is also on a record-setting pace, so it’s not like he got a raw deal either. The Chiefs’ dropback EPA is 0.303 on a per-play basis. That mark is over double the sixth-ranked Seahawks (0.151).

Patrick Mahomes is the best QB on the planet, and it shows in his third-down performance so far in 2022, particularly in third-and-long situations. Pair him with Andy Reid, Travis Kelce, and a bevy of adequate weapons, and the Chiefs’ offense remains the best in the league.

Biggest Weakness: Coverage

Steve Spagnuolo still has some tricks up his sleeve, but he can only do so much with the tools afforded to him on the defensive side of the ball.

Five Chiefs defenders have been targeted 25 or more times. In total, 131 players have been targeted at least 25 times, and none of the Chiefs’ five defenders rank inside the top 80 in EPA per target allowed. If Chris Jones and Co. struggle to pressure the opposing QB, teams can throw the ball all over the yard against Kansas City.

3. Baltimore Ravens

EPA: Offense (10th), Defense (14th)
DVOA: Offense (sixth), Defense (ninth)
Scoring: Offense 23.8 (12th), Defense 19.7 (ninth)

Biggest Strength: Rushing Attack

The Ravens’ biggest strength should be self-explanatory. Only one team over the past five seasons has averaged a positive rushing EPA, and that’s the Baltimore Ravens.

MORE: Mobile Quarterbacks Evolution — How Justin Fields, Lamar Jackson, and Others Are Immortalizing the Work of Mike Vick

They’re one of just a few teams in the league that can get next to nothing from their passing attack on any given day and still win a football game. They rank second in yards per carry and first in first-down rate. However, they’ll need a healthy Lamar Jackson for a significant playoff run — his legs add so much value to the Ravens’ run game.

Biggest Weakness: Losing Leads

The Ravens could very well be undefeated and seen as the best team in the NFL if they could hold a lead. They’ve held a 10-point lead in each of their four losses, and three of the four losses involved multi-possession leads in the fourth quarter. One more such loss like that would tie the league record.

4. Tennessee Titans

EPA: Offense (21st), Defense (16th)
DVOA: Offense (20th), Defense (12th)
Scoring: Offense 18.3 (26th), 20.0 (11th)

Biggest Strength: Middle Defense

Jeffery Simmons, Denico Autry, David Long, Kevin Byard, and Amani Hooker make up one of the best interiors in football. Autry might be a bit of a stretch because of how often he’s aligned on the edge, but it would be unfair to talk about the Titans’ defense without bringing up his name.

Biggest Weakness: Receiving Corps

Many were surprised upon hearing of Jon Robinson’s dismissal from the team. The timing of his firing was peculiar. The team was the top seed in the AFC a season ago and is currently in first place in the AFC South. But he’s made huge mistakes constructing this roster recently, including trading A.J. Brown to the Eagles.

Treylon Burks looks to “have that dawg in him.” He’s tough as nails and has all the big-play ability in the world. But he has a long way to go before becoming a true No. 1. Robert Woods hasn’t been what the Titans need him to be, and Nick Westbrook-Ikhine is the definition of JAG.

5. Cincinnati Bengals

EPA: Offense (fourth), Defense (12th)
DVOA: Offense (fifth), Defense (11th)
Scoring: Offense 26.0 (seventh), Defense 21.3 (13th)

Biggest Strength: Receiving Corps

Tee Higgins is a No. 1 receiver on 20 NFL teams. He just happens to be the No. 2 inside his own offense, which also has a fantastic third option in Tyler Boyd (wacky drop against the Chiefs notwithstanding).

Ja’Marr Chase isn’t the best receiver in the NFL, but he is one of the most explosive receiving options in the league. He can turn a simple slant into an 80-yard touchdown, breaking three tackles along the way.

Their entire unit is a big mismatch against any secondary in the league.

Biggest Weakness: Run Defense

The Bengals’ linebackers aren’t necessarily beefy. Akeem Davis-Gaither is an undersized LB, and Germaine Pratt was a safety in college. Plus, Logan Wilson is better in coverage than he is defending the run.

The Bengals’ run defense isn’t horrific, but something needed to be a weakness. They rank 22nd in rushing success rate and 26th in EPA defending the run.

6. Miami Dolphins

EPA: Offense (fifth), Defense (17th)
DVOA: Offense (second), Defense (17th)
Scoring: Offense 24.9 (eighth), Defense 24.1 (25th)

Biggest Strength: Middle-of-Field Passing

Nobody has been better over the middle than Tua Tagovailoa in 2022. He leads the league in yards per attempt and adjusted net yards per attempt over the middle. He also leads in points earned and points above average per play over the middle, as well as the highest percentage of positive EPA plays in that area of the field.

The offense is built to attack the middle. Hill and Jaylen Waddle’s outrageous athleticism creates massive windows for Tua to exploit.

Biggest Weakness: Secondary

Xavien Howard is an outstanding talent, but we’ve seen this story with him before. He’s allowing 10.5 yards per attempt against him, which ranks 170th out of 181 qualifying candidates. Nobody with more targets against allows more yards per attempt against them.

Howard ranks 130th in EPA per target; Rowe ranks 150th. Kader Kohou has been a bright spot for the Dolphins’ defense, but that is the extent of things at cornerback for Miami.

7. New York Jets

EPA: Offense (25th), Defense (seventh)
DVOA: Offense (19th), Defense (fifth)
Scoring: Offense 21.0 (18th), Defense 18.6 (sixth)

Biggest Strength: Defensive Completeness

The Jets rank fifth in passing EPA per play against, ninth in completion percentage, second in QB rating, and third in yards per attempt.

MORE: Week 14 NFL Power Rankings

They’re also 10th in rushing EPA, 11th in pressure rate, sixth in sack rate, and seventh in sacks per game. They’ve received good linebacker play, a dominant front four, and one of the best CB duos in the league.

Biggest Weakness: QB Play

The Jets are in the playoff hunt despite suffering the worst completion rate, sixth-worst catchable rate, ninth-worst ANY/A (adjusted net yards per attempt), and fifth-lowest positive EPA rate in the league. Things might be better with Mike White than Zach Wilson, but that’s far from guaranteed.

Nonetheless, with the weapons at their disposal, whoever is quarterbacking the Jets’ offense should be able to keep them in the game, given their defensive abilities.

8. New England Patriots

EPA: Offense (27th), Defense (third)
DVOA: Offense (24th), Defense (third)
Scoring: Offense 20.8 (20th), Defense 18.8 (seventh)

Biggest Strength: Bill Belichick

It’s unclear exactly how Bill Belichick continues to get elite play out of his defenses after letting cornerback after cornerback walk, but here we are. The Patriots’ defense ranks highly against the run and pass.

They have the fourth-best pressure rate and the third-best sack rate in the NFL, despite having just one big-name asset in their front seven.

Meanwhile, nobody allows a lower completion rate in the NFL, and they rank fourth in EPA allowed, despite not having any big-name assets at cornerback. Once again, Belichick has zigged while everyone else has zagged, and it’s worked.

Biggest Weakness: Bill Belichick

For all the credit Bill deserves defensively, he deserves just as much criticism for his offensive decisions. Losing Josh McDaniels was a massive loss, and replacing McDaniels with Matt Patricia was a curious decision at best.

And Belichick’s outstanding personnel decisions on the defensive side of the ball are matched by underwhelming decisions on the offensive side of the ball. Receivers run this league, and the Patriots lack talent at the position. But the biggest issue has been the loss of McDaniels, one of the league’s best run-game architects. The run game ranked 10th in EPA a season ago and ranks 22nd in 2022.

9. Los Angeles Chargers

EPA: Offense (19th), Defense (27th)
DVOA: Offense (25th), Defense (23rd)
Scoring: Offense 22.7 (14th), Defense 25.8 (30th)

Biggest Strength: Justin Herbert

Absolutely nothing is easy in the Chargers’ offense. Los Angeles has been without Keenan Allen for most of the year, and Mike Williams has been in and out of the lineup as well. At one point, Herbert was giving targets to someone called Michael Bandy.

The offensive structure with Joe Lombardi effectively uses Justin Herbert, a Ferrari, like a Prius. There’s no speed on the outside, everyone struggles to separate, and far too often, routes are going to the sticks and stopping.

Herbert’s unbelievable talent keeps the offense relevant, but it’s incredibly difficult to consistently leverage passes away from draping defenders, where only the receiver can catch the pass.

Biggest Weakness: Everything Else

Honestly, the Chargers are a bad football team at this point, and it would be shocking to see them make the playoffs. Losing Rashawn Slater hurt, and the defense they spent so much money on in the offseason has been a bottom-third-of-the-league unit all season.

They also don’t run the ball well, and they don’t run the ball often. Only the Dolphins, Buccaneers, and Texans run the ball less, and only the Buccaneers average fewer yards per carry.

FEATURED
PFN NEWSLETTER

Every day, get free NFL updates sent straight to your inbox!