The AFC was the conference that this year brought us the Super Bowl champions, some of the worst teams in the league and an epic story of unity that will be remembered for years.
Let us review every AFC teams’ 2022 season.
The Baltimore Ravens are a team that has a lot of potential. They never rise to their full potential however, partly due to the fact that they are in the AFC, and to be successful in their conference, you need to be able to defeat Joe Burrow, Patrick Mahomes, and Josh Allen when it matters. In their first 6 games of the season, Baltimore won three of these, including defeating the Cincinnati Bengals. However, they could have done much better, as in the three games in which they lost, they were comfortably leading at one point. After 6 games, they had a 3-3 record but could have gone 6-0. The Ravens would then go on a 4 game-win streak, before losing on the last play of the game to the Jacksonville Jaguars (Ravens kicker Justin Tucker failed to the what would have been the longest field goal in NFL history) , before returning to winning ways in Week 13 against the Denver Broncos. However, while the Ravens won this game, they lost their star quarterback Lamarr Jackson for the rest of the season. This meant that Tyler Huntley came in to quarterback the Ravens. Under Huntley, this team struggled. While they did win 3 of the 6 games he played in, the Ravens did not score more than 17 points in this period. By some miracle, (or mostly due to their strong middle part of the season) the Ravens ended the season with a 10-7 record and made the playoffs. They would face divisional rivals the Cincinnati Bengals in the wildcard round, which was also a rematch of the previous week’s matchup. The Ravens would lose this game 24-17, and their season would end. As for Huntley, he would make the Pro Bowl, solely due to the fact that Josh Allen was injured. Was Huntley really that good?
A few years ago, the Cleveland Browns were the worst team in football, infamously going 1-31 between 2016-2017. Then, Odell Beckham Jr and Baker Mayfield came along and they started winning, even making the playoffs. Beckham Jr left last season, and in the off-season, the Browns traded Mayfield to the Carolina Panthers. To replace him, the Browns acquired Deshawn Watson, but he was suspended by the league, so was not able to play. The Browns opened their season against Baker’s new side and won. A week later, they would lose to the New York Jets by one point, before comfortably defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers. Cleveland would then go on a 4 game-losing streak, before defeating a Cincinnati Bengals side without star player JaMarr Chase. This gave them a 3-5 record in their bye week. Coming out of the bye, the Browns lost two road games to the Miami Dolphins and the Buffalo Bills, before defeating the Tampa Bay Buccanneers in overtime. Week 13 finally gave us the unwanted return of Watson, in a game that the Brown won against his former side, the Houston Texans. In their final 5 games of the season, Cleveland lost 3 of them but would defeat the low-scoring Baltimore Ravens and the Washington Commanders to give them a record at the end of the season of 7-10. A poor season for Cleveland which put them in last place in the AFC North.
Last season, the Cincinnati Bengals won the AFC, and then lost in the Super Bowl to the Los Angeles Rams. The expectation for the Bengals coming into this season was to make the conference championship game at least. With star quarterback Joe Burrow getting better with every game, anything was possible. The Bengals struggled in the early part of the season, losing their first two games to the Pittsburgh Steelers in overtime, and then to the Dallas Cowboys. They would return to .500 with their next two victories over the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins, but would again have a losing record the following week as they lost to divisional rival the Baltimore Ravens. 3 wins over the NFC South teams, but another loss to another division opponent, this time the Cleveland Browns, meant that by their bye week, the Bengals had a record of 5-4. After their bye week, they would not lose a game, comfortably defeating a range of opponents. Their week 16 encounter with the Buffalo Bills would be affected by the unfortunate events surrounding Damar Hamlin, and the game would in my eyes correctly be canceled, meaning that the Bengals would have played 16 games to the rest of the conference’s 17 games. This created a small problem in relation to home-field advantage in the postseason, which the Bengals made with a 12-4 record. In the wildcard round, the Bengals would defeat the Baltimore Ravens in a game that was not as straightforward as everyone expected it to be. The Bengals and Bills would finally play against each other in the divisional round of the playoffs. Cincinnati would comfortably defeat Buffalo in the snow of Western New York. This set up a rematch of the previous year’s AFC Championship game against the Kansas City Chiefs. It would be a close affair, but the Chiefs would win on a game-winning field goal to send them to the Super Bowl.
This was the first season that the Steelers played without veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who retired in the off-season. To replace Big Ben, Pittsburgh obtained the services of former Bears’ quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and drafted Kenny Pickett. The season would start well, with an overtime win over divisional rival the Cincinnati Bengals. Things would then get rough for the Steelers, losing 6 of their next 7 games, including a 38-3 loss to the Buffalo Bills in Week 5, in what was Kenny Pickett’s first game as the quarterback of the Steelers. Going into their bye week, the Steelers had a record of 2-6, which was their worst start to a season since 2003. After their bye, Pittsburgh experienced a turnaround in form, winning 7 of their final 9 games. Their improvement in form put them in contention for a playoff spot in Week 18. While they were unsuccessful in this quest, their week 18 victory against the Cleveland Browns meant that they ended the season with a winning record of 9-8, which still means that head coach Mike Tomlin has never had a losing season in the 16 years he has been coaching in the Steel City. The improvement of the team’s form and new quarterback Kenny Pickett means that next season, the Steelers will be aiming to return to the postseason.
The Buffalo Bills are one of the best teams in football. They unfortunately have a habit of falling at the final hurdle. But could this be the year in which Josh Allen and company finally return Buffalo to the game where they infamously lost four in a row in the ’90s? The Bills had the luxury of playing the opening match of the season, visiting the Super Bowl champions the Los Angeles Rams. The Bills destroyed the Rams and would destroy the Tennessee Titans the following week. Their week 3 loss to the Miami Dolphins was a surprise, but Buffalo would recover to win their next three games, including an epic encounter with the Kansas City Chiefs. This match was the first match I reviewed for World In Sport, and said at the time that it could be the AFC Championship. By the Bills’ form at the time, they could easily see them as Super Bow champions, having a 6-1 record early in the season. Buffalo would then lose consecutive matches to the New York Jets and then lose to the Minnesota Vikings in overtime in what was the game of the season (until the Vikings’ massive comeback against the Colts). These two losses will be followed by a 6 game winning streak, which included playing two consecutive games at Ford Field in Detroit. By January, the Bills had won the AFC East was were trying to become the number one seed. Their game against the Cincinnati Bengals would be a pivotal game in this race to the number one seed. However, the game would instead be a pivotal moment in the NFL. During the first quarter of the match, Bills defender Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field in what was later confirmed as a cardiac incident. Hamlin was sent to the hospital and thankfully made a recovery from this event. In the aftermath of the canceled game, the NFL community and fans of all teams came together to show support. When he awoke, he asked who won the game. The doctor treating him replied that he had won, “You won the game of life”. A truly harrowing moment for the sport.
The Bills would end the season with a 13-3 record and faced the Miami Dolphins in the wildcard round. The game was closer than anyone would have thought it would be, as the Bills would defeat the Dolphins. Their divisional-round opponents would be the Cincinnati Bengals. In a snowy Buffalo, the Bills collapsed and would lose the game, ending their season.
The Miami Dolphins came into this season with a new head coach in Mike McDaniel, after former head coach Brian Flores was dismissed by the team. The McDaniel era in Miami started very well. The Dolphins won their opening 3 games of the season, including defeating divisional rivals the New England Patriots, and the Buffalo Bills, the latter game would give us two iconic moments (The Butt Punt and the reaction of the Bills’ Offensive Coordinator once the game had finished). However, this game also was somewhat controversial, as the Dolphins kept in the game a concussed Tua Tagovailoa. Strangely, Tagovailoa was confirmed to play in the following weeks’ games against the Cincinnati Bengals but was carted off after suffering a head injury. It was only then that it was confirmed that Tua was actually concussed. In a season where the health of the players overshadowed the on-field action at one point of the season, this event is a dark stain of the season. Backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater would then start for the Dolphins, but in the Dolphins’ game with the Jets, he suffered a concussion as well. Two concussions in one team, that is a massive cause for concern. Luckily, the NFL changed its concussion protocol due to this incident, but these incidents should not happen for a change to come. Tua would return in Week 7 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, a game the Dolphins would win and start a 5-game winning streak. This streak would end with the Dolphins’ defeat to the San Francisco 49ers. This would start a 5 game-losing streak. On Christmas Day, Tagovailoa would suffer another concussion in the Dolphins’ defeat to the Green Bay Packers. Coming into the final week of the regular season, the Dolphins had an 8-8 record and needed to defeat the New York Jets to keep their playoff chances alive. They won, in a game that included no touchdowns and made the playoffs. They faced the Buffalo Bills in the Wildcard round, and third-string quarterback Skylar Thompson nearly pulled off a massive upset. The Dolphins lost the game 34-31, but the fact they were in the game for so long shows that there is talent on this team.
New England Patriots
Ever since Tom Brady left New England for Tampa Bay, the Patriots have struggled. This season they were hoping to have some success and make a return to the playoffs. While the teams have changed a lot in the few years, some things are ever present, like the Patriots losing to the Miami Dolphins in South Florida, which is something they did in Week 1. After this game, Patriots quarterback Mac Jones had an x-ray on his back but was cleared to play in the following week’s win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the loss against the Baltimore Ravens. The loss to the Ravens was the first time that the Patriots have lost to Baltimore at home in the regular season. Mac Jones was injured at the end of this game, so Bailey Zappe started for the next three games. He would win two of them and would lose to the Green Bay Packers in overtime. This led to what could have been a very strong quarterback battle in New England, but the moment Jones was fit to play again, Zappe returned to the bench. By the team’s bye week, they had a 5-4 record. Coming out of their bye week, the kickers would give them victory against the New York Jets, but two heavy losses to Minnesota and Buffalo hurt any chances of the postseason. The Patriots would lose in almost comedic fashion to the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 15 when a lateral pass from Jones never found anyone. Two more losses in their final three games would mean that the New England Patriots would end the season with an 8-9 record. They were in playoff contention in the final week of the season, but with Pittsburgh and Miami winning, the Patriots were locked out of the playoffs again.