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2017 NFL season preview: Floor, ceiling for each AFC team

The preseason is coming to a close. The fourth week of preseason could be gone for good. Predictions? Here to stay. This week, you'll get a two-for-one in NFL prognostication.

I've gone through and worked out the most -- and least -- each NFL team can hope to achieve in the win/loss column this season. A challenging feat, considering that while some teams treated big hits in the preseason like they came on fourth-and-goal in Week 16 (SEE: Chiefs vs. Seahawks), others treated their big-time players like they were delicate china, barely using them at all (SEE: Eagles' starting offense, Preseason '17). Thus, the spectrum for each team's predictions can range from postseason berth to getting Hackenberg'd.

That said, take a look to see the success meter for your favorite squad below. Your measured thoughts are welcome ... @HarrisonNFL is the place.



Ceiling: 9-7. This is being awfully generous. For Sean McDermott's group to reach nine wins, the Bills can't sustain injuries to their young players again. LeSean McCoy not only remains in Buffalo but leads the NFL in rushing. Jordan Matthews catches everything that comes his way.

Floor: 3-13. This might be as wild as the Bills finally making the postseason. Yet, if McCoy is traded, the team sinks quickly. In this scenario, Tyrod Taylor tries to do too much, uncharacteristically turning the ball over. Defensive lineman Kyle Williams finally hits the wall, linebacker Lorenzo Alexander comes back to Earth and corner E.J. Gaines fares poorly in his first season in Western New York.

Tipping point: If receiver Zay Jones puts up a 1,100-yard rookie season, and someone like Nick O'Leary emerges, making people forget aboutSammy Watkins' departure, add a few wins ...


Ceiling: 12-4. Needless to say, the Jay Cutler experiment works out better than anything you did with bugs or frogs in the eighth grade. Jay Ajayi eliminates the chaotic highs and lows of last year, becoming a consistent hang-your-hat-on-80-yards-per-game rusher. Laremy Tunsil and Ja'Wuan James play at a Pro Bowl level, becoming book-end offensive tackles that are the envy of the league.

Floor: 6-10. In this six-win horror story, the secondary sucks. Cameron Wake, who has posted nearly 11 sacks per season in the five seasons since he turned 30, finally realizes he's 55, and fellow end Andre Branch can't play up to his 2016 standard. Jarvis Landry catches a thousand bubble screens with everyone screaming he's elite, while DeVante Parker can't add the necessary vertical chops. (For the record, I don't think this happens. Miami goes at least 8-8, if not 10-6.)

Tipping point: Cutler. If I said anything else, I'd be a total dumbass. (Please don't comment on that.)


Ceiling: 16-0. Before you haul off and scream that is infatuated with the Patriots (the folks in the comments section always find a slightly more creative way to describe said bias), recall that these Patriots went 16-0 in 2007 in what was then a tougher division. Carolina and Green Bay came awfully close to going perfect in recent years, too. Both those teams QBs won the MVP. Brady would, too, even with Julian Edelmanlost for the year with a torn ACL. Also, Rob Gronkowski would stay healthy and Brandin Cooks would top 80 catches.

Floor: 10-6. Can't find more losses on the schedule. To fall this far, the already-thin pass rush would struggle. The Stephon Gilmore acquisition wouldn't pan out, while fellow CB Malcolm Butler would perform closer to how he did against Jaelen Strongand the Texansin Week 2 of the preseason than how he did last year. Mike Gillislee would stink as LeGarrette Blount 2.0. And the passing game would miss Edelman's underneath skills immeasurably.

Tipping point: So few quarterbacks in NFL history have performed at a high level post 40. The few who did couldn't keep it up for 16 games. Brady's ferociously maintained body is the key.


Ceiling: 5-11. If you can fathom a way in which the Jets win more than five games in 2017, I am all ears. For even this plateau to be reached, 1) Josh McCown would have to mirror his best season from a long career (his 2013 half-season as the starter in Chicago), 2) Leonard Williams and the defensive line would have to control the engagement on the regular and 3) first-round pick Jamal Adams would be the DROY. And that would probably still not be enough.

Floor: 0-16. New York faces two of the three best divisions in pro football in 2017, playing the AFC West and NFC South. In this winless scenario, McCown misses time while Christian Hackenberg ends up missing Penn State. Bryce Petty is not the answer, either. Question almost as big as QB: the offensive line.

Tipping point:Matt Forte (who could be wearing a different uniform soon), Bilal Powell, Muhammad Wilkerson, Leonard Williams ... these are quality players with plenty of pride and, presumably, respect in the locker room. Maybe enough to string together a few wins.



Ceiling: 11-5.Joe Flacco stays healthy for the entire 2017 schedule, relegating Ryan Mallett to the role of emergency fill-in. Danny Woodhead catches 80 passes, compensating for what is still a questionable tight end spot. The defense continues the 2000-esque mojo it seemed to show off the other night, when the first-stringers allowed Nathan Peterman and the Bills 11 net yards over Peterman's first four drives.

Floor: 5-11. The lack of work Flacco -- who has been out due to a disc issue in his back -- has had with players like receiver Breshad Perriman shows up. If Flacco's back flares and Mallett plays more than a game or two, a losing season is very possible. Terrance West and Co. fail to improve one iota from last year's 28th-ranked rushing offense. The defense should be too good for this five-win scenario, but the pass rush is still not guaranteed.

Tipping point: If Benjamin Watson (coming off a torn Achilles tendon) and Maxx Williams (returning from knee surgery) can be a productive TE-by-committee, they could mitigate other deficiencies on offense.


Ceiling: 11-5. If everyone on the Bengals' offense plays up to their personal ceiling(s), the defense won't be forced to pick up the slack left by a non-existent ground game, stalled drives and untimely Blake Bortles-esque turnovers. Jake Fisher and Co. must compensate for the loss of two quality linemen in Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler. Rookie back Joe Mixon would come away with 1,000 yards and Jeremy Hill's j.o.b.

Floor: 5-11. Team discipline becomes a Twitter talking point for the masses once again. SAD! A.J. Green suffers through a couple more annoying injuries, limiting his brilliance when Cincy most needs it. Andy Dalton goes from dark-horse MVP to horse-racer behind a porous offensive line.

Tipping point: If Tyler Eifert gets fully healthy and rakes in the red-zone catches a la 2015, the win count will swell.


Ceiling: 7-9. The defense cashes all the checks that coordinator Gregg Williams' mouth has been writing this offseason. Oh, and all that money spent on the offensive line translates to Cleveland running the football both regularly and effectively. Myles Garrett registers a (gulp) 15-sack season. Cool.

Floor: 2-14. The long-standing QB carousel continues. DeShone Kizer fails. Cody Kessler can't stay upright. Brock OsweilerOsweilers his way out of your football heart. The lack of a consistent pass rush puts the onus to stay in games on the secondary -- which is no bueno. The wide receiving corps doesn't live up to even the most meager of expectations.

Tipping point: Kizer's learning curve (slurvy or rapid?) affects the W-L total like no other factor.

(UPDATE: The Browns released Osweiler on Friday.)


Ceiling: 13-3. Unlike in the past few years, Ben Roethlisberger does not give way to his backup (Landry Jones or, new this season, Joshua Dobbs) for a few games. Le'Veon Bell would also need to be in the lineup and season-ready right out of the gate, and play until the end of the road, despite staying away from the team in the preseason. The young corners would definitely play over their heads to earn this record.

Floor: 8-8. Since the Steelers' schedule isn't that tough, a ton would have to go wrong, starting with Bell missing a chunk of time. Losing a star player would hurt any team, but it's been something Pittsburgh's had to deal withregularly,unfortunately. Couple Bell's absence with a slow start for rookie defender T.J. Watt, no progression from linebacker Bud Dupree and veteran James Harrison finally slowing down, and you can see 8-8.

Tipping point: Receiver Martavis Bryant -- back after a one-year suspension -- already demands attention, but if he goes off for 800-1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns, Antonio Brown will be more effective, and the defense will need to do less.



Ceiling: 12-4.Deshaun Watson not only seizes the starting job but delivers a Russell Wilson-esque rookie campaign, making enough plays to win without forcing throws and leaving the Texans' defense to protect short fields. J.J. Watt returns to his previous level of play while Jadeveon Clowney raises his. Whitney Mercilus casually throws his 10 sacks into the mix.

Floor: 5-11. While this record is quite doubtful, it could happen, if Duane Brown stays away and the offensive line ends up being a complete trainwreck. The quarterback situation turns into Bill O'Brien debating who to turn to from week to week. Meanwhile, the defection of A.J. Bouye festers as age catches up to Johnathan Joseph (33), and Kevin Johnson gets toasted.

Tipping point:Lamar Miller and rookie D'Onta Foreman could grow into one of the premier RB tandems in the NFL, which, coupled with a top-five (top-one?) defense, could help paper over yet another middling quarterback performance.


Ceiling: 10-6. In this scenario, Andrew Luck -- who is still working his way back after undergoing surgery on his throwing shoulder in January -- not only returns to the lineup quickly, but he shows no rust and even less need for the preseason (a topic for another day). Frank Gore squeezes another 900 yards out of those 34-year-old legs. Donte Moncrief blossoms into a 16-game, 1,000-yard WR2.

Floor: 4-12. Without Luck on the field, this could sour rapidly. In this scenario, the franchise QB's absence bleeds into the season. When he does get back, his timing is off to the degree that he returns to the turnover-happy ways of years past. The Johnathan Hankinssigning fails to work out, as he falters without former Giants running mate "Snacks" Harrison playing next to him. First-round pick Malik Hooker struggles.

Tipping point: If free-agent OLBs Jabaal Sheard and John Simon produce early, much less pressure will be on whoever's under center, be it Luck or backup Scott Tolzien.

(UPDATE: The Colts traded for Patriots backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett on Saturday and took Luck off the PUP list, though Luck's availability remains a question.)


Ceiling: 10-6. Head coach Dog Marrone dispenses with all temptation to give Blake Bortles a 539th chance, giving the reins to Chad Henne and leaving them in Henne's hands. The veteran backup plays within himself, completing 65 percent of his passes with less than 13 interceptions. The defense creeps into the top 10, with free agent Calais Campbell leading a unit on par with the Texans'.

Floor: 3-13. New cornerback A.J. Bouye fails to perform after getting paid. Ditto safety Barry Church. Corner Jalen Ramsey struggles in his return to the lineup coming off a core muscle injury. The back seven as a whole fails to meet lofty goals with the slower-than-anticipated development of former high picks Dante Fowler Jr. (who is facing off-field legal trouble) and Myles Jack.

Tipping point: Rookie running back Leonard Fournette owns the potential to take pressure off both sides of the ball, lowering the amount Henne must throw while burning clock to save the Jags' defense.


Ceiling: 12-4.Marcus Mariota capitalizes on the new toys general manager Jon Robinson provided him this offseason, tossing a combined 20 touchdown passes to rookie Corey Davis and free-agent signee Eric Decker. The DeMarco Murray-Derrick Henry combo eats up 2,000 yards on the ground, with a few more Mariota scampers mixed in than in his previous two years.

Floor: 6-10. The mediocre secondary never improves on its lackluster preseason showing, and the pass rush is unable to make up the difference. That includes Brian Orakpo failing to duplicate his stellar campaign from a year ago. More importantly, Tennessee continues its maddening trend of playing down to weaker teams ... like the Bears, for example.

Tipping point: Weeks 16 and 17 versus the Ramsand Jaguars. The Titans sucked in Jacksonville last year, with the postseason on the line (Tennessee was down big before Mariota was lost to a fractured fibula). Also of note: The Titans were 2-4 against the weak AFC South last year.



Ceiling: 11-5. While the ceiling isn't wildly high, don't take that as an indication that the Broncos aren't a postseason contender. Given the style of football this team plays, it's hard to see a large win-loss swing. To get to 11, veteran back Jamaal Charles produces when C.J. Anderson doesn't. Free-agent signee Ronald Leary helps the offensive line become an area of strength. The defense stays in top-five shape.

Floor: 6-10. Welp. You know where this goes. Trevor Siemian fails to signal to the organization that he is a long-term answer at quarterback, leading to either constant questions or Paxton Lynch entering the lineup. Receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are hamstrung by inadequate quarterback play. Defensively, Shane Ray's wrist injury -- which required surgery and is expected to keep the pass rusher on the shelf through the early portion of the season -- proves debilitating, as Von Miller can't bring it by himself.

Tipping point: Siemian could greatly influence the season positively by playing within himself, but not so tightly that he misses chunk plays downfield. Who cares when he was drafted?

(UPDATE: The Broncos have agreed to terms with Brock Osweiler, who will back up Siemian, with Lynch shelved by a shoulder sprain.)


Ceiling: 13-3. Much goes right for coach Andy Reid if this storyline unfolds, starting with Alex Smith putting rookie quarterback Patrick Mahomes firmly in the rearview and producing his first full season with a passer rating of 100-plus. As important: Rookie Kareem Hunt seizes an opportunity to be the workhorse in the wake of Spencer Ware's torn PCL. Dee Ford collapses pockets all season, not just for the first few games.

Floor: 7-9. While I don't see K.C. falling below .500, it is possible in the AFC West. If there is a better division, it might be the NFC East, which would account for three losses on the Chiefs' slate. In this scenario, Tyreek Hill fails to morph from special weapon to WR1. Chris Conley struggles to replace Jeremy Maclin, or be a WR2. The ever-flowing takeaways provided by the defense dry up.

Tipping point: Linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali. The latter will be a spot player, but he is currently on the PUP list. When Houston's body is right, this KC defensive unit is a whole different animal.


Ceiling: 11-5. While the Chargers have the talent to reach 11 wins, things could go south quickly if L.A. (it still feels weird to type that) puts 20 guys on injured reserve again. That said, if Philip Rivers has a cupboard full of healthy receivers and tight ends, look out. In this scenario, Melvin Gordon continues his ascension as a running back. Pass rusher Joey Bosa elevates his games as well, avoiding the sophomore slump after winning the Defensive Rookie of the Year award.

Floor: 4-12. Remember all that jazz a paragraph ago about a full collection of receivers? In the floor scenario, Keenan Allen is hurt again. First-round pick Mike Williams (who is dealing with a back injury) doesn't check in until midseason, with plenty of rust to keep him company. Same for linebacker Denzel Perryman, who tore a ligament in his ankle in the preseason opener. More on the Bolts' D: Jason Verrett struggles to stay healthy, with opposite corner Casey Hayward unable to replicate his sterling 2016 season.

Tipping point: The front five protecting Rivers. It's a mixed bag of once-great vets, journeymen and undrafted free agents.

(UPDATE: NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Saturday that Williams will come off the PUP list and be on the active roster to start the season.)


Ceiling: 13-3. The Raiders own the nucleus to do this. In order for 13-3 to happen -- and the franchise's sixth Super Bowl berth to be claimed -- Derek Carr must continue his Superman act. Khalil Mack must mirror Von Miller, who followed up dominance with more dominance. More importantly, the secondary holds up: 2016 first-rounder Karl Joseph improves while the 33-year-old Reggie Nelson staves off decline.

Floor: 7-9. While it's doubtful that Oakland will finish with a losing record, it could happen if the corners don't play well enough to even merit participation trophies, while Carr, Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree are unable to keep producing track meets (26 points per game last year). Bruce Irvin, the now healthy Mario Edwards Jr. and the rest of the non-Mack pass rush also struggle in this scenario.

Tipping point: Quite simply, it's Beast Mode. If the Marshawn Lynch comeback (?) succeeds, it will provide both of those aforementioned pass-rushers and DBs a breather. Not to mention, how about being able to hold a lead without the Carr-octane offense having to add to it?

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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