The top seven picks in the 2021 NFL draft were all offensive players, with AFC teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets and Cincinnati Bengals bolstering their offense.
But will this year’s draft class impact the race to the playoffs in the AFC? Or will the off-season free agency moves prove to be more significant to winning this season?
Let’s look at which teams are the favorites to win each AFC division after this year’s draft.
AFC teams that are favorites to win their respective divisions
AFC North - Baltimore Ravens
2020 Champion - Pittsburgh Steelers
The AFC North is one of the most competitive divisions in the NFL. Three of the four teams could easily win this division in 2021.
I’m picking the Baltimore Ravens to win the AFC North this season but it’s going to be a tight race. The Ravens offense, led by Lamar Jackson, has an improved offensive line and with newly drafted receiver Rashod Bateman it should be even more deadly.
The Steelers drafted Alabama star running back Najee Harris to give their ground game some much-needed life. They had the worst running production in the NFL last year and Harris should help ease the workload on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. If the defense holds up, the Steelers can repeat as division champs.
Once again, the Cleveland Browns spent big in free agency. They added Javeon Clowney, Malik Jackson, Troy Hill and John Johnson to their defense. The Browns will be looking to build from last season’s playoff success and win the division for the first time since 1989.
The Bengals will be hoping to get an injury-free season out of quarterback Joe Burrow and will cause many teams problems this season with their young roster. But it’s unlikely they will challenge for the division title this year.
AFC West - Kansas City Chiefs
2020 Champion - Kansas City Chiefs
Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs should once again reign supreme as AFC West champions.
After returning to the Super Bowl last season, the Chiefs spent the offseason and draft improving their offensive line. They signed Ravens left tackle Orlando Brown and drafted Oklahoma lineman Creed Humphrey to shore up their biggest weakness.
It’s a big season for Jon Gruden and the Las Vegas Raiders. They will be hoping to at the very least make the playoffs and compete for the division title. Derek Carr will again be in the spotlight. He will have to prove that he is the long-term answer at quarterback for the Raiders or else the team might move him next offseason.
The Broncos traded for veteran QB Teddy Bridgewater to compete with Drew Lock for the starting job. It’s unlikely that the Broncos will pose a serious challenge to the Chiefs, but they did draft a cornerback in the first round to help deal with Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert in the division.
There were big changes at the LA Chargers during the offseason. They fired head coach Anthony Lynn and brought in Brandon Staley from the Rams. With quarterback Justin Herbert winning AFC Offensive Rookie of the Year last season, the Chargers do have a star to build the team around.
They could be wildcards in this division, but it's hard to see them overcoming the Chiefs this year.
AFC East - Buffalo Bills
2020 Champion - Buffalo Bills
Last season, the Buffalo Bills ended the New England Patriots’ eleven-year reign as champions of the AFC East. Buffalo should be able to repeat their title-winning efforts in 2021.
Josh Allen proved he is one of the top ten quarterbacks in the NFL and should have another solid season. With the addition of two defensive ends in the draft, the Bills addressed their biggest weakness in defense.
The Dolphins will give the Bills a run for their money in the division. Head coach Brian Flores has turned around the franchise and will expect the team to make the playoffs this year.
Much of that will depend on how second-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa performs. If Tua can show dramatic improvement from his rookie season then the Dolphins could win the AFC East.
Bill Belichick and his front office spent big in free agency after their dreadful 2020 season. They brought in tight end Hunter Henry, center Ted Karras, linebacker Kyle Van Noy, and defensive lineman Montravious Adams, among others.
They also drafted Alabama quarterback Mac Jones in the first round. Never count the Patriots out, and if Cam Newton can stay healthy, they will be a force in the division.
The New York Jets made some bold moves this offseason. They traded starting quarterback Sam Darnold to the Panthers and replaced him with the second overall pick in the draft, rookie Zach Wilson. After a woeful 2020, Jets fans will be hoping for some signs of life from the newly constructed roster.
AFC South - Tennessee Titans
2020 Champion - Tennessee Titans
The AFC South will come down to a race between two teams this season, the reigning division champions, the Tennessee Titans and the Indianapolis Colts.
The Titans have a slight edge due to their consistent and established roster. The combination of Ryan Tannehill, Derrick Henry and AJ Brown on offense should be enough to clinch the AFC South again in 2021. If the team's core can stay healthy, then the Titans are set for another playoff run.
The Colts finally got their future quarterback in Carson Wentz. The Eagles cast-off was reunited with former offensive coordinator Franck Reich. If the two can rediscover the magic they had in Philly then look out AFC rivals.
Jacksonville will unleash the number one pick, Trevor Lawrence, on the division this year but it’s going to be a tough road for the rookie quarterback. While they should win a few games they won’t be serious challengers for the AFC South title this season.
Then there are the Houston Texans. Star quarterback Deshaun Watson wants out and is now embroiled in a sexual assault case while legendary defensive end JJ Watt left the franchise. The draft wasn't of much help either as they could only pick five players, none in the first two rounds and two each in the third and fifth round.
Apologies Texans fans, but 2021 is not going to be fun.