AFC Midseason Grades: Ravens Earn Only Perfect Score, One Team Fails

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Through nine weeks, we know a few things about the AFC.

  1. The Ravens, Chiefs and Jaguars are making the playoffs.
  2. The Bengals, Bills and Dolphins are likely making the playoffs.
  3. The Broncos, Patriots and Titans aren’t making the playoffs.

Beyond that, everything is open to interpretation.

But which teams are playing above their summer expectations? Which are playing below, and which should expect their fortunes to change—for better or worse—over the coming months?

Let’s dive into our AFC midseason grades.

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens are looking solid both on the ground and defensively.

Jessica Rapfogel/USA TODAY Sports

Grade: A+

Very few people were discussing the Ravens as a legitimate threat to emerge from the AFC, but here we are. Baltimore leads the league in sacks, Lamar Jackson is thriving in coordinator Todd Monken’s scheme, and the result is a 7–2 mark. The Ravens have a tough schedule ahead, but they appear more than capable of handling it.

Buffalo Bills

Grade: C

The Bills are beat up and sinking. At 5–4, Buffalo is only a game out of first place in the AFC East, but it has a gantlet ahead with road games against the Dolphins, Eagles, Chiefs and Chargers still remaining. If the offense can’t elevate, with all the notable defensive absences looming, Buffalo could be in for a rough finish to the season.

Cincinnati Bengals

Grade: B+

Nothing went right for the Bengals early on. Joe Burrow was hampered by his calf from late July through the first six weeks. Then Burrow got healthy, and Cincinnati began to roll. The Bengals came out of their bye and pounded the 49ers before handling the Bills in prime time. At 5–3, the Bengals are in a good spot to challenge for the AFC North.

Cleveland Browns

Grade: B

Great defense. Shaky offense. Still, the Browns are 5–3 and right in the mix for a playoff berth. The big question is whether the defense can continue playing top-tier football, and is it good enough if Deshaun Watson continues to play mediocre football? Cleveland is a factor, but it’s unclear where the season is headed.

Denver Broncos

Grade: D+

The Broncos played better in their last two games, beating the Packers and Chiefs at home. Still, they’re 3–5 and (surprisingly) didn’t sell at the deadline, instead holding on to veterans such as Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton and Justin Simmons. Denver is more competitive lately, but it’s still a team with a murky future.

Houston Texans

Stroud put together a record-setting day against the Bucs Sunday.

Thomas Shea/USA TODAY Sports

Grade: A-

The Texans won 10 games total over the last three years while cycling through Bill O’Brien, David Culley and Lovie Smith at head coach. Now, they have an answer at quarterback in C.J. Stroud and a likely long-term fixture on the sideline in DeMeco Ryans. At 4–4, Houston is progressing every week.

Indianapolis Colts

Grade: B

The Colts are 4–4 despite being without rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson for all but four games. Coach Shane Steichen has shown the ability to innovate, while the offense has a rising star in receiver Josh Downs. Indianapolis isn’t likely to reach the postseason, but provided Richardson returns healthy for 2024, there’s plenty to be excited about.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Grade: B+

After starting 1–2, the Jaguars have ripped off five straight wins to take command of the AFC South, leading the Colts and Texans by two games. Still, it feels like there’s another level for Trevor Lawrence, as he’s on pace for only 4,111 passing yards and 19 touchdowns. That said, the Jaguars are in prime position to host a playoff game or two.

Kansas City Chiefs

Grade: A-

While the offense has faltered at times, the Chiefs’ defense has an argument as the best in football alongside the Ravens and Browns. Kansas City has shut down some of the league’s best attacks, holding the Lions, Dolphins and Jaguars to a combined 37 offensive points. At 7–2, the Chiefs currently hold the top seed in the AFC playoff picture.

Las Vegas Raiders

Grade: C-

The Raiders are an interesting case study. They’re 4–5 and somehow feeling great, largely because they rid themselves of Josh McDaniels, one of the worst coaches to ever get two jobs. While Aidan O’Connell and a leaky defense don’t inspire confidence in a postseason run, Las Vegas is playing with pride.

Los Angeles Chargers

Grade: C

The Chargers are once again disappointing, even riding a two-game winning streak into contention. Los Angeles is dealing with its annual injury issues, but many of them are also self-inflicted, whether from poor coaching to horrific defense. Los Angeles isn’t a bad team, but it’s not a real contender, either.

Miami Dolphins

Raheem Mostert has emerged among the Dolphins’ cohort of speedy running backs.

Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

Grade: B+

The Dolphins are somewhat of a tough grade. Miami is 6–3 and has the league’s top-ranked offense in both points and yards per game. The defense has also never looked better, limiting Kansas City’s offense to just 14 points Sunday. However, the Dolphins have played three contenders this year, and they’ve lost to them all.

New England Patriots

Grade: F

The Patriots spent 20 years as the dominant franchise in the NFL. Now, they’re clearly the worst in the AFC. At 2–7, New England doesn’t have much to be excited about. The Patriots are without a long-term quarterback; we could be looking at Bill Belichick’s final year in Foxborough; and the offense is without a single, meaningful playmaker.

New York Jets

Grade: C+

Without Aaron Rodgers, the Jets have stayed on the periphery of the playoff chase at 4–4. The problem? Zach Wilson can’t play, and the offensive line is a disaster. The front office knew the latter could be a huge problem and didn’t address it, and now the team is paying for it. The defense brings the grade up, but for reasons both controllable and not, New York has disappointed. 

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers remain above .500 despite lacking a true explosive offense.

Denny Simmons/The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network

Grade: C

The Steelers are 5–3, but how can you be excited about their present or future? Kenny Pickett is a first-round pick who in his second year is on pace for 3,166 passing yards and 12 touchdown passes. Also, every home game features the crowd begging Mike Tomlin to fire offensive coordinator Matt Canada. It’s not great.

Tennessee Titans

Grade: C-

Tennessee was likely headed for a mediocre year after general manager Ran Carthon spent the offseason remaking the roster. And at 3–5 with Will Levis taking over under center, that’s where things have gone. The Titans are now playing out the string, trying to figure out whether Levis is the answer or just a stopgap.

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