Who are the biggest AFC threats to New England this season?

AJ Spirito – Pats Militia

The preseason is officially underway and we are just weeks from the 2017 NFL season kicking off on Thursday September 7th at Gillette Stadium. With that in mind it’s time to take a look into the AFC East and which other AFC teams pose a threat to New England down the road.

The Patriots have won eight straight division titles and this year will be their ninth. Even with injuries the Pats are far and beyond the best team in the division so it’s okay to be cocky with this pick.

With Miami losing Ryan Tannehill for the season it’s safe to say the division will be a lock for New England, especially with Jay Cutler coming in to command the Dolphins offense. The Dolphins are the second best team in the east with weapons like Jay Ajayi and Jarvis Landry and they have a chance to make the playoffs but they shouldn’t scare the Pats one bit. Even with Pro Bowl caliber weapons on both sides of the ball they just cannot be successful consistently and with Cutler being a turnover machine it could get ugly in South Beach early.

The Bills have just recently traded their best wide receiver, Sammy Watkins, to the LA Rams and that leaves a lot of question marks on the offensive side of things for Buffalo. It seems like after adding a new coach and new GM that the Bills are tearing things down and rebuilding their team and that’s probably the smartest thing to do. At this point they might as well rebuild while waiting out the remainder of Brady’s time in New England which at this rate might not be for another five years.

Miami and Buffalo pose absolutely no threat to New England, then there’s the Jets.

The 2017 New York Jets will be the laughing stock of the league as they have one of the worst rosters they’ve had in recent memory and that’s saying something considering they went 5-11 last year. The Jets may only win a couple games this year, they’re that bad.

So as usual there is no competition for the Patriots in their own division.

The teams they’ll have to worry about in the AFC will be the Steelers, Texans, and Raiders. Not really a huge surprise as those three finished near the top of the AFC in 2016.

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The Steelers still have Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown so they are still dangerous. Big Ben is a proven winner in this league and he’s tougher than a two dollar steak but those other two All-Pros are the ones keeping Pittsburgh from going the distance. Bell and Brown may each be the best at their respected positions but I think they’re soft and come playoff time that’s going to cost you and it has the past few seasons for the Steelers.

Last year’s AFC Championship was a total joke as the Patriots steamrolled over Pittsburgh on their way to Super Bowl LI. Their defense had no answer for Brady’s offense and now New England has gotten better. Mike Tomlin is too stubborn to change his ways and he better be ready to get trounced by Brady and Belichick again, or as Tomlin calls them, “those a—holes”.

Houston has had a monster of a defense for the past few seasons and with some talent on offense and a brand new rookie quarterback with a high ceiling, they look to be one of the better teams in the conference. They’ll be getting their heart and soul, JJ Watt, back from injury and he’ll be on a mission after being out of the game for the past year with a back injury.

Today’s Texans are like the Ravens from the early 2000s, great defense but no quarterback to balance the team out. This season they may have the guy though in Deshaun Watson. Last year it was Watson who put on a show in the NCAA Championship game, defeating Alabama 45-40. Watson is a proven winner and he’s going to be the missing ingredient that Houston has been searching for for the past few seasons. They really could pose a threat to the Patriots if Watson is the real deal, that’s a big “if” though.

Jose Carlos/ Bay Area News Group

Finally we have the Oakland Raiders. Fans were hoping for a Raiders-Patriots AFC Championship last season but the Raiders were bounced in the first round after being plagued by injuries late in the season. Now that Oakland is back to full strength they will look to get back to the top, trying to dismantle New England on their way. The Patriots added a lot of firepower this offseason but the Raiders were also able to add a big name to their team. Enter Marshawn Lynch.

The Oakland Raiders and Marshawn Lynch, it was meant to be.

If Lynch can still be the great power back that he was for Seattle after taking a season off then the Raiders will be a force to be reckoned with in 2017.

I’m going to have to say Oakland is the biggest threat to New England this season just because they are proven on all sides but Houston is a close second. If Watson can click in the Texans offense they will be an elite team with their dominant defense.

With all that being said, the Patriots are still heavy favorites in the AFC and there’s a great chance we see them playing in Minneapolis in about six months for another title.

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