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Three weeks into the 2019 season, the AFC is down to three contenders

It’s perfectly clear that there are only three teams that have the potential to represent the AFC in Super Bowl LIV.

NFL: AFC Championship Game-New England Patriots at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The Patriots are the reigning AFC Champions, having won that title in three straight seasons and four of their last five. In 2019, the disparagement between the “haves” and “have-nots” is even bigger than ever before. There are only five, maybe six, teams in the NFL who are obvious Super Bowl contenders, three of which reside in the AFC including the Patriots themselves.

The Patriots are poised to make a run at making it the fourth straight seasons with only two teams seemingly standing in the way: the Baltimore Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs have an offense that can quickly overwhelm teams quickly, scoring 28 and 23 points in their last two second quarters alone. The Ravens are a more balanced team with strong defense and special teams while hosting a developing quarterback in Lamar Jackson.

New England will get an opportunity to play both teams in the second half of the schedule, which is when the Patriots are expected to be at their best. Those games should provide a good measuring stick for the three teams in contention for an AFC title.

The Patriots will see Baltimore in Week 9, one week before their bye. The Ravens have the second best defense in the NFL, behind a Patriots defense that has allowed just three points and not a single touchdowns in three games so far. The Ravens always seem to churn out quality talent all over the field, but the Patriots haven’t had too many problems with their defense of late.

Since the start of the 2013 season, the Patriots have put up at least 30 points in every game against the Ravens. While the Ravens have very good players on defense, they don’t have the players who can outsmart Tom Brady like Raven defenses of the past. While Baltimore played decent against the Chiefs, they were in a constant catch-up mode after Kansas City dropped a 23-point second quarter.

After the bye, the Patriots will face a tough four-game stretch against Philadelphia, Dallas, Houston, and Kansas City, all of whom figure to be in the playoff picture this season. Dallas and Kansas City are the only two teams that concern me of that group, as the Patriots are clearly better than this year’s Eagles team and the Texans on paper. Of course, those match-ups are on paper, the teams still have to play the games. The last team of that gauntlet is going to be the most difficult, as last year proved.

The Patriots played the Chiefs twice last season and despite having the right players to limit Kansas City’s offense needed a pair of game-winning drives from Tom Brady to beat them. Andy Reid is an expert play-caller with an offensive mind that rivals Bill Belichick’s defensive mind. I expect this game to come down to a final drive or stop situation simply because you have two great QBs and two coaches who expertly prepare their teams for any opponent.

The Patriots will have a relatively easy schedule up to that point thanks to the Steelers and Browns having very disappointing starts to their seasons. That will allow them to win without perfect execution while the coaches and players get to work on improving their play before the meat-grinder stretch comes into play. Anything short of the number one seed in the AFC with this schedule will be disappointing, although this team is certainly tough and experienced enough to win a road playoff game if necessary.