The Buffalo Bills are scheduled to report to training camp on July 27 at Orchard Park, the second consecutive season that training camp is at One Bills Drive instead of St. John Fisher College in Rochester because of Covid-19 protocols.
But after no fans were allowed to attend camp a year ago, when the preseason was canceled because of the pandemic, the Bills will have several open practices and three exhibition games to prepare for the start of the NFL’s new 17-game regular season on Sept. 12, when they host the Pittsburgh Steelers at Highmark Stadium.
Buffalo, which rates among the best teams in the NFL, is favored to win a second consecutive AFC East title and make another deep playoff run after reaching the AFC championship game last season. But the competition within the division and conference could be more difficult.
How have signings, draft picks, trades, retirements and health issues shaped the AFC since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV?
Here are The Buffalo News’ AFC training camp power rankings and whether each franchise’s championship prospects have improved or worsened since last season:
Rank | Team (2020 record) | Trend
1) Kansas City Chiefs (14-2). UP▲
The two-time defending AFC champs still run the conference. Last offseason, the Chiefs signed Patrick Mahomes to the richest contract in the history of North American professional sports. This offseason, they worked on protecting him. Kansas City signed guard Joe Thuney, traded for left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. and drafted Oklahoma center Creed Humphrey with a second-round pick.
2) Buffalo Bills (13-3). UP▲
Josh Allen rates among the best quarterbacks in the NFL and nearly every starter and coach returns from a team that reached the AFC title game last season. Two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders replaces John Brown on offense, while run-clogging defensive tackle Star Lotulelei returns after opting out a year ago. The Bills further solidified the defensive line by drafting Miami edge rusher Gregory Rousseau in the first round and Wake Forest edge rusher Boogie Basham in the second.
3) Cleveland Browns (11-5). UP▲
Baker Mayfield’s team is stacked, from its solid offensive line to running back Nick Chubb to wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. On defense, pass rusher Myles Garrett has been joined by Takk McKinley and Jadeveon Clowney. The Browns also signed former L.A. Rams safety John Johnson III and cornerback Troy Hill and drafted former Northwestern cornerback Greg Newsome II with the No. 26 overall pick.
4) Tennessee Titans (11-5). UP▲
How much does Julio Jones have left in the tank? The superstar wide receiver joins an offense that includes fellow stud wideout A.J. Brown, resurgent quarterback Ryan Tannehill and runs through bruising workhorse running back Derrick Henry. Tennessee lost offensive coordinator Arthur Smith, who was hired to coach the Atlanta Falcons.
5) Baltimore Ravens (11-5). DOWN ▼
Lamar Jackson completed passes for a league-low 1,729 yards to wide receivers last season, and after losing the free agency sweepstakes for veterans JuJu Smith-Schuster and T.Y. Hilton, the Ravens addressed the position through the draft. Baltimore selected Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman with the 27th overall pick and Oklahoma State’s Tylan Wallace in the fourth round, adding them to a group that includes Sammy Watkins and Marquise Brown.
6) Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4). UP▲
Ben Roethlisberger returns for his 18th season and has a pair of new toys on offense after the Steelers drafted former Alabama running back Najee Harris with the No. 24 overall pick and used a second-round selection to pair former Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth with Eric Ebron.
7) Indianapolis Colts (11-5). UP▲
Carson Wentz reunites with coach and former Bills quarterback Frank Reich, his offensive coordinator when the Philadelphia Eagles won Super Bowl LII. But there’s no guarantee Wentz returns to the MVP-caliber form he displayed before tearing an ACL in 2017. The Colts lost left tackle Anthony Castonzo to retirement and may not have done enough to fortify the line. They drafted Michigan defensive end Kwity Paye in the first round after moving on from Denico Autry and Justin Houston.
8) Miami Dolphins (10-6). UP▲
It’s time for Tua to sink or swim. The Dolphins have handed the reins to 2020 first-round pick Tua Tagovailoa, allowing Ryan Fitzpatrick to leave in free agency. They juiced the receiving corps by signing Will Fuller in free agency and drafting former Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle with the No. 6 overall pick.
9) New England Patriots (7-9). UP▲
How long until Mac Jones takes the starting job from Cam Newton? That’s the biggest question surrounding New England, which hopes it drafted its successor to Tom Brady. The Patriots spent a fortune on free agent tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith and could be much improved on defense with the return of several starters who opted out last season.
10) Los Angeles Chargers (7-9). UP▲
Justin Herbert enters his second NFL season as a possible MVP candidate. He has a new blindside protector in former Northwestern tackle Rashawn Slater, the No. 13 overall pick in the draft, and center Corey Linsley after the Chargers dropped big money on the former Green Bay Packer. Former L.A. Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley replaces Anthony Lynn as head coach and is changing the loaded base front from a 4-3 to 3-4.
11) Las Vegas Raiders (8-8). DOWN ▼
Another head-scratching offseason by General Manager Mike Mayock and coach Jon Gruden. The Raiders traded away three starting offensive linemen and addressed their need at right tackle by drafting Alabama’s Alex Leatherwood, who was widely considered a reach, with the No. 17 overall pick. They tried to address the pass rush by adding Yannick Ngakoue in free agency and signed former Bills wide receiver John Brown.
12) Denver Broncos (5-11). DOWN ▼
The Broncos have a terrific roster and a huge question mark at quarterback with Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater, which will undermine the team’s potential. The secondary, which added first-round pick Patrick Surtain II, and wide receiving corps rate among the best in the league. As does their pass rushing duo of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb.
13) Cincinnati Bengals (4-11). UP▲
The Bengals are relying on Joe Burrow to pick up where he left off after his rookie season ended with a gruesome knee injury. They aided his cause by drafting former LSU teammate, wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, with the No. 5 overall pick. But they didn’t address the offensive line. Cincinnati also moved on from defensive end Carl Lawson, signing former Saints DE Trey Hendrickson.
14) Jacksonville Jaguars (1-15). UP▲
No. 1 overall draft pick Trevor Lawrence, widely regarded as the most impressive quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck, could make the Jaguars an instant contender in the AFC South. There is talent sprinkled throughout the roster, including an excellent young pass rushing duo in (the other) Josh Allen and K’Lavon Chaisson. But this group is still a work in progress under first-year coach Urban Meyer.
15) New York Jets (2-14). UP▲
Another rebuilding year. The Jets jettisoned Sam Darnold and drafted former BYU quarterback Zach Wilson with the No. 2 overall pick. New York continued to address its offense through the draft, adding former USC guard Alijah Vera-Tucker in the first round, former Ole Miss wide receiver Elijah Moore in the second and former North Carolina running back Michael Carter in the fourth. Former San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh replaced Adam Gase as head coach.
16) Houston Texans (4-12). DOWN ▼
Could the Texans become the NFL’s first team to go 0-17? Star quarterback Deshaun Watson wanted out of town, demanding a trade from this talent- and asset-poor franchise, even before multiple allegations of sexual misconduct became public. Houston used its first pick in the draft, the No. 67 overall selection, on former Stanford QB Davis Mills.