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Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) before a game between the Miami Dolphins and the Jacksonville Jaguars. (Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire)
October 18th, 2023
The first six weeks of the NFL season are in the books, and a couple of divisional races in the AFC remain in the balance.
We’ll preview key storylines and provide picks below.
Despite stumbling at Buffalo in Week 3, Miami may have too much firepower for AFC East rivals, especially since Buffalo lost two key defenders (Matt Milano and Tre’Davious White) recently. Tua Tagovailoa looks poised to make a run at the single season passing record (5,477), Tyreek Hill has his sights set upon the receiving mark (1,964).
Pick: A difficult stretch lies ahead for Miami, playing at Philadelphia (Week 7) and Kansas City (Week 9), and defensive concerns may ultimately impact their postseason hopes, but the Dolphins appear well-coached, prospering offensively in the second year of Mike McDaniel’s system. Buffalo remains a formidable adversary, but it’s Miami’s time to shine in the AFC East.
Behind a third-string quarterback, Cleveland handed San Francisco its first loss in Week 6, and unanticipated ups and downs will continue to be part of a fascinating chase for the AFC North crown. Baltimore, which has gone a different direction this season with a pro-style approach and significantly upgraded its receiver talent, rates as the team to beat after opening 4-2, but it’s a tenuous advantage.
Pick: Baltimore hasn’t reached 30 points in the first six weeks, inconsistencies plagued the team in a home loss to Indianapolis and a road loss to Pittsburgh, games the Ravens appeared to have firmly in hand. Cleveland’s defense is legit, but the Browns don’t scare anyone on offense. Pittsburgh’s too sluggish offensively.
Slow starts have become the norm for Cincinnati, which played poorly in September before reaching the Super Bowl and AFC Championship the last two seasons, and the Bengals didn’t look good losing three of the first four games this year. But the defense is starting to come on, Burrow now appears healthy after dealing with a calf injury, and 3-3 Cincinnati is only a game back in the standings. Look for the Bengals to finish strong and prevail in a tight race.
Jacksonville shrugged off a poor start, winning three straight to open a narrow lead in the AFC South at 4-2, and the Jaguars may continue to gather steam. Houston rates as one of the biggest surprises early in the season, they picked the right quarterback in C.J. Stroud and have surpassed expectations to open the season 3-3. Tennessee exists at the other end of the spectrum, a disappointing 2-4 with one of the NFL’s worst offenses.
Pick: Jacksonville must deal with a key injury issue, as Trevor Lawrence is listed as questionable for Week 7 due to a knee sprain, but the Jaguars will prove too much for their competition. They have too much depth and talent across the board, and rate as the only viable playoff team in the division. Houston is a team on the rise, but it's at least a year away from challenging for the title.
The AFC West race holds the least intrigue, Kansas City brings too much to the table.
Pick: Kansas City will look to add some playmakers on the outside by the trade deadline, receivers Skyy Moore, Kadarius Toney, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling leave something to be desired when matched up against other top teams, but the Chiefs have little to worry about in the AFC West. Los Angeles is viable on paper, led by Justin Herbert and other talented players, but the Chargers are too dysfunctional to threaten Kansas City with a lengthy win streak.
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