NFL 2018 Season - Week 16
 

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AFC Champion
by Dennis Ranahan

The first place to begin the search for a Super Bowl winner is with the playoff field from the previous season. It is from that fertile congregation of good teams that most Super Bowl winners for the next season emerge.

With that said, I like two teams that didn’t make the playoffs last year in the American Football Conference. There is also one team, the Jacksonville Jaguars, that were in the playoffs last year and lost where a lot of future Super Bowl winners stumble, in their conference championship game.

While the Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl over a New England Patriots squad looking to repeat last season, perhaps the team that showed the best in the AFC playoffs and would have been a lot more likely to beat the Eagles was the Jaguars. It was only Jacksonville’s inexperience that allowed a late lead to slip into defeat last January in Foxboro.

The Jaguars were the best team last year, better than New England and better than the eventual Super Bowl winner. They were the best because they had the better defense between those three squads.

Philadelphia and New England had good stop units, the Jaguars the best in the conference.

Forged in the fire of losing a lead on the road in a contest that held admittance to the Super Bowl is a spike for a future result. Next time the Jaguars face the pressure of playing for a Super Bowl berth they will have that experience to build from.

Most teams spring to success off a conference championship game loss, and if the Jaguars have the best defense in the NFL this year, and they could, it might be enough to make up for what appears to be a liability at quarterback. Even now as a veteran, Blake Bortles throws into coverages he should be able to avoid and tosses enough errant throws to keep Jacksonville games close no matter how well the defense plays.

If quarterbacks make the difference, and they do, then two teams that weren't in the playoffs last year are sitting pretty for the upcoming season.

Few quarterbacks burst onto the NFL scene with more flair and results than did Deshaun Watson, and no rookie quarterback had ever thrown 19 touchdown passes in his first seven games until Watson did before suffering a season ending knee injury.

The injury, the surgery, the rehab all seem to be coming together well and a full strength Watson this season gives the Houston Texans a full throated shout for potential success. Watson is capable of leading his team to more than 30 points in every outing, like he did in his final five starts last season. He gets it done both through the air and with his legs. On 36 carries last season, he averaged 7.5 yards and added two touchdowns on the ground to his rookie of the year resume.

If a young quarterback in his second year was to lead his team to a Super Bowl title it could be Watson. He has the same inspired look that Russell Wilson showed when he burst on the pro football scene six years ago in Seattle, and he won the Super Bowl in his second season. With Houston’s defense healthy, injuries was the primary reason they struggled last season, then the Texans have stars on both sides of the ball that could land them in Atlanta next February.

If it is defense that rules the AFC I like the Jaguars. If offense proves to be the trump card I’ll go with Houston. But, if what is required is both, then I like the Los Angeles Chargers to represent the AFC next February in Atlanta.

There are many good defenses in the NFL, two play out of Los Angeles alone, but each year one unit rises above the rest and spearheads their team to excellence. I think that team this year is the Chargers, and I love having Philip Rivers at the controls for this conference champion.

Qoxhi Picks: Los Angeles Chargers (5/1) to win AFC