NFL playoff picture: AFC not the powerhouse predicted

The AFC isn't as competitive as many predicted at the start of the NFL season, but the New York Jets are raising expectations with their running game, while the New England Patriots and Cleveland Browns are hanging around in playoff contention.

Video Transcript

VOCH LOMBARDI: What's up, y'all? It's Voch Lombardi. Watch every second of the NFL season when and where you want it, only on The Zone.


It's the halfway mark season and you know at every quarter, I want to just take a look at the standings, see who's leading the division, who is as bad as I thought they were, who is doing much, much better than I thought they were. And we'll just do this all the way up until playoff time. And then when we get these mathematically eliminated characters, we'll have a little funeral for and all that good stuff, but it's way too soon for that.

This is what I wanted to do today, right? I'm starting with the AFC side. And if the season ended today, the last team to make it into the playoffs would be the Chargers at 4-3. I just wanted to put that out there, just so we have just a reference point to where some of these teams are as we start to go down some of these divisions.

So I just want to start with the AFC East. It seems everything is steady on the AFC East side. Everything is happening the way that we thought it was going to be happening, except for the idea that the Jets are good. The Jets are 5-3 good.

And what happened, with Tua missing a couple of games, Miami kind of fell down to third place there. But the Jets are second place and the Jets are running into that same conversation that we had a couple of weeks ago. I'm going to play defense, I'm going to run the football, I'm going to take the quarterback position out of the equation right. Zach Wilson came back, and it's not like Zach Wilson has been better than Joe Flacco or anything, it's just that this Jets offense was carried by Breece Hall prior to him tearing his ACL.

But now we have this new running game that they're going to be rolling out. We didn't get a chance to see it this week. We'll definitely see it next week where the Jets traded for James Robinson from Jacksonville Jaguars and then they have Michael Carter, who was pretty good as a running back last year. We get to see what that tandem looks like.

Now, can that tandem maintain all of this Jets success? And 5-3 has to be worded as all of this Jets success. I'm not being hyperbolic here. Can those two running backs maintain all of that Jets success?

I don't know. We'll see. But Tua Tagovailoa is back and I do anticipate the Dolphins getting as good as I thought they were. Currently, in fourth place in the AFC East it is the New England Patriots and their record is 4-4. If you'll remember back when I told you here that the Chargers were 4-3, I told you all to write that down.

It would be on the test. The Chargers are 4-3, but the last place Patriots are 4-4. They're not that far away from the playoff picture. They're probably like eighth or ninth or something like that, right? So the AFC East could get really weird if the Patriots pick up a little bit of steam and continue to get a few wins.

We're going to definitely keep our eyes on that. The AFC West, I don't want to say it's been a let down. It's been a let down for some of y'all. I had no faith in the Raiders to begin with.

I had a feeling that Russell Wilson wasn't that good to begin with. But when we look at the AFC West, those are the two teams that kind of stand out. We thought this was going to be a four man division that was going to walk in here and tear everything up and they were going to be this close fight all the way to the end, and that's not the case. The Chiefs are at the top and the Chiefs and they can have their problems also.

They're not invincible looking. They look crazy on offense, but they're not invincible looking as far as the defensive side of the ball. So we'll keep our eyes on that in other shootout news. But the Chiefs are number one. The Chargers, as funny as they're looking, they're 4-3, they're the last playoff team that are in the race there, right?

If the season ended today, the Chargers are second place in this division as the last playoff team, but the New England Patriots are fourth in their division and they're one win away from the Chargers. We got to keep eyes on stuff like that. The AFC West isn't as powerful as we think. It is so strange that the AFC East is much more powerful than them.

As we go to the AFC North, I don't really think there is much to report here. The Steelers aren't ready to win just yet. But I do think that the Steelers find themselves in an interesting position, the fact that they drafted Kenny Pickett last year, a quarterback that I really didn't have super faith in and he doesn't seem like one of these franchise changes, but he does seem like a solid quarterback.

The idea that he's your quarterback and the fact that you're 2-6 and you could get a top five pick in this class full of incredible quarterbacks, right? If you're the Pittsburgh Steelers and you drafted Kenny Pickett last year and you have an opportunity to draft a guy like, I don't know, CJ Stroud from Ohio State, then you might want to keep your eyes open on that. But like I said, we're not talking about Pittsburgh right now.

They're way at the bottom. I think it's about time to retire those dudes pretty soon. They're not out of the race, but they're pretty close. The Ravens sit comfortably atop, but they're only a couple of games ahead of the Browns who are third place at 3-5, and the Bengals who just got smoked by the Browns last night on Monday Tonight Football.

They're keeping this thing incredibly close. We have to have that conversation. But the Browns are keeping this close with Jacoby Brissett, that's the thing that we got to talk about too. Weirdness all over the place, ladies and gentlemen. At some point, the Browns are going to get their quarterback back.

So in my imagination, this is just Voch's brain, even when the Browns other quarterback come back, I don't think they're going to be a good team. But some would say that if the Browns could keep this thing afloat until their other quarterback comes back, then the Browns can make a real push. But I don't know, we'll see.

I don't think this is the year for that team or that guy. And as far as the AFC South, nothing to see here. Colts are bad, Jags aren't bad. Jags gave us a little bit of hope, but they're still bad.

Texans are bad like we thought they were. All these dudes are fighting for the first overall pick and the Titans sit up top by themselves. Ladies and gentlemen, that is your AFC that we thought was going to be a powerhouse this year.