The Biggest Need for Each AFC Team in 2021
Listing each AFC team’s biggest concern that needs attention during the offseason months
By: Maxwell Argento
The Buffalo Bills Need: A running back they can lean on
Josh Allen is a top-5 quarterback in the sport, but one-dimensional offense gets exposed in the playoffs against more talented teams. Being able to find a bell-cow back who can play all three downs (and effectively pass-catch out of the backfield) is a must.
The Miami Dolphins Need: To have a short leash with Tua
When stacked up against Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert, Tua is the clear third option from that quarterback draft class. Ryan Fitzpatrick constantly coming in to spare Tua’s blushes cannot, and should not, be a theme in 2021, and if the former Alabama star ends up not being equipped to lead a team into the playoffs, then other options must be looked at sooner rather than later.
The New England Patriots Need: To add more legitimate talent
The main factor that resulted in Tom Brady eventually leaving the Patriots for Tampa Bay was the same reason why New England wasn’t very good this season: they didn’t have enough game-changers (especially on offense). Bill Belichick has (according to overthecap.com) $62 million dollars worth of cap space to play with this offseason, and better capitalize on it by bringing in players who accentuate their schemes and can take over games with their god-given ability. At the end of the day, teams don’t care how well-coached your team is if your players never do special things, and if the Patriots don’t add a couple studs on each side of the ball they are going to fall even further behind their division rivals in 2021, especially with the quarterback position being in a place of uncertainty like it is.
The New York Jets Need: To have a great 2021 NFL draft
Whether it’s drafting Zach Wilson or building around Sam Darnold, the Jets need to have a great 2021 draft in order to give new head coach Robert Saleh a proper first year. The green half of New York may be 2–3 years away from being a legitimate force in the AFC, but having five of the first 90 picks in this upcoming draft makes the process way easier (if the picks work out, that is).
The Pittsburgh Steelers Need: Big Ben to take a team-friendly deal
You could say that the Steelers should take a page out of the Patriots’ playbook and part ways with Ben Roethlisberger a year early as opposed to a year late, but the fact of the matter is that Big Ben still gives the Steelers the best chance of winning games in 2021 compared to anyone else they could bring in, and would still take a hit against the cap regardless of the move they make. The Steelers are in between a rock and a hard place with their quarterback situation moving forward, and will need to rely on their organizational continuity over the next few seasons to adequately transition away from the Big Ben era in Pittsburgh.
The Baltimore Ravens Need: To make their offense more expansive
Dominant running games still hold a place in the league, but this fact is unarguable: If you can’t force the defense to defend the entire field via the passing game, you won’t win the Super Bowl. The Ravens finding a way to highlight Lamar Jackson’s arm-talent by incorporating more passing concepts on the outside will generally make them more balanced, and will make their running game even more fearsome.
The Cleveland Browns Need: More difference-makers on defense
Building around Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward by introducing more talent (especially at the linebacker position) will give the Browns the best chance to match up against teams in the AFC with brilliant offenses like the Chiefs and the Bills. Newly minted Super Bowl champ Lavonte David (pictured, left) has been linked to the Browns from Tampa Bay, and signing him would be a great first step in finding a way to have difference-makers at each level of the defense.
The Cincinnati Bengals Need: A healthy Joe Burrow
The progress shown by the Bengals in 2020 was directly correlated with the dazzling play of Joe Burrow before his gruesome injury. Getting him back (and healthy) as soon as possible will allow Cincinnati to continue to close the gap between them and the rest of the AFC North, which is no easy task.
The Tennessee Titans Need: A pass-rush
Can Derrick Henry play defensive end? Mike Vrabel must’ve been sick to his stomach all year knowing that his team couldn’t perturb opposing quarterbacks even a little, especially in obvious/crucial passing situations. The name of the game in the modern NFL is throwing the football and stopping the quarterback via the pass rush, so not being able to do the latter massively harms your chances of winning football games. Another year of being near the bottom of the league in sacks per game means another year of wasting Henry’s (and to a lesser extent, Ryan Tannehill’s) prime.
The Indianapolis Colts Need: Carson Wentz to work out
A serious argument can be made that the Colts have one of the best rosters in the sport, but were held back by the age (and lack of effectiveness) of Philip Rivers in 2020. Hand Frank Reich a top-10 quarterback in the league in addition to this group of talent and I think they can go to the Super Bowl. The biggest question is: Can Carson Wentz become that again? Reich and Wentz’s prior relationship in Philadelphia (when Reich was the OC) will definitely make it easier to answer “yes”, and mean it.
The Houston Texans Need: To trade Deshaun Watson
What are the Texans waiting for? Playing a game of chicken with your once-franchise quarterback is the wrong move (especially considering he has made it clear he has no problem sitting out the entire year), and the longer this process goes on, the less value you are going to receive from other teams if you do eventually trade for him. The Texans letting this stalemate run through the NFL Draft (when teams will fill their needs at quarterback and settle their rosters for the year) will further prove just how lost they are as a franchise.
The Jacksonville Jaguars Need: The duo of Urban Meyer and Trevor Lawrence to perform
It obviously takes way more than just a head coach and quarterback to create a sustainable franchise in this league, but checking those boxes certainly doesn't hurt. It looks like it’s going to be a slow burn in Jacksonville, but the only way the fire stays lit is if Meyer and Lawrence get off to the right start. Both men will need to prove themselves at this level (which is easier said than done) but the future is as bright for the Jaguars as it’s been in a very long time, simply based off of who they will (in relation to Lawrence, “more than likely”) have in those two roles.
The Kansas City Chiefs Need: To get over their Super Bowl LV loss ASAP
It’s my contention that reaching the pinnacle and losing is much harder to rebound from than getting there and winning. The feeling of achieving your goal becomes addictive, while the feeling of shame and regret that comes from losing lingers, often times for longer than expected. The Chiefs have the best player in the sport on their roster, and will come into next season with as good of a chance to go (back) to the Super Bowl as anyone in the conference, but they don’t call it the “Super Bowl Hangover” for nothing.
The Las Vegas Raiders Need: To trade for Russell Wilson
John Gruden and Mike Mayock always talk about “looking to constantly improve the roster at every position, including quarterback”. Well, here’s your chance, gentleman. #3 in Seattle put you on his list of places he would like to land if he were to be traded, so make it happen. Derek Carr’s feelings will get hurt, but when you consider what that quote above actually means, they already are.
The Los Angeles Chargers Need: To establish an identity
It is in Brandon Staley’s best interest to create a solid and sustainable identity in Los Angeles, and have it center around the talent of their young quarterback, Justin Herbert. The Chargers were a ship without a rudder last year under Anthony Lynn, and have the requisite talent to be a threat to the Chiefs in the AFC West. Defining their style and playing complimentary football will go a long way towards helping them do so in 2021 and beyond.
The Denver Broncos Need: To figure out how to properly evaluate quarterbacks (or trade for a proven one)
The Broncos being interested in a trade for Deshaun Watson shows you all you need to know about their opinions of Drew Lock. The uncertainty that is caused by constantly missing on the most important position on the roster is extremely detrimental to the entire franchise, and needs to righted as soon as possible. Failing to do so once again will put them even further behind the likes of the Chargers and Chiefs, who look to have their franchise guys sewn up for the next decade.