What every AFC team must solve to remain (or return) to fantasy football and real-life relevancy

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New England Patriots - Remaking the offensive personnel

New England may only have two starting-caliber players at the offensive fantasy positions under contract for the 2024 season: running back Rhamondre Stevenson and slot receiver DeMario “Pop” Douglas. I like both guys for what they are — Douglas impressed me as a man-coverage beater from the inside — but neither would qualify as a star-level player right now.

In addition to the issues in the skill-position room, both the Patriots' starting tackles are set to hit free agency. We could be looking at an utterly barebones roster remake on that side of the ball in New England.

Quarterback remains the biggest concern but one has to wonder if the new Patriots leadership takes the long view with this roster. What kind of environment are you dropping a young quarterback into given the state of the roster? This team must build up the talent around that position if they consider taking the third quarterback off the board at the No. 3 overall pick in April.

New York Jets - Filling out the offense beyond the young stars

2023 only further cemented what we all should have known after their rookie seasons: Garrett Wilson and Breece Hall are franchise cornerstone stars. However, the fraught campaign also highlighted what a rough state the rest of the offense finds itself in right now. Obviously, Aaron Rodgers’ Week 1 injury sunk the season before it began, but if you watched last year’s Jets beyond the quarterback and saw a Super Bowl team, you’re a bigger dreamer than me. New York needs to get serious about building the offensive line first and foremost. We also can’t stock the supporting wide receiver spots with just guys who Rodgers likes. Legitimate complementary threats beyond Wilson and Hall are needed.

Miami Dolphins - Do we just run it all back in 2024?

Most of the fantasy players you know here are coming back this season as they’re all under contract. The only big contract decision the team must grapple with is Tua Tagovailoa’s future deal, as he enters 2024 on his fifth-year option. Fantasy folks who love a tight target share won’t like this but they should consider supplementing their top wide receivers with a few other pass-catching threats.

The big to-do list lies on the offensive line where all three of their starting interior players are free agents and left tackle Terron Armstead is a lock to miss a few games per season. This team isn’t rich in resources — third-fewest cap space and just two picks in Rounds 1 to 4 — so they don’t have a lot of avenues to tweak on offense. Mike McDaniel and Co. must decide how comfortable they are simply running back the same core for another year.

Buffalo Bills - Adding to the pass-catcher corps

Any team with a mega-talent like Josh Allen at quarterback should be investigating how to beef up the pass-catching talent on an annual basis. The Bills have made sizable swings in the early Allen era in free agency prior to the Stefon Diggs trade and took tight end Dalton Kincaid in Round 1 last year. However, they have not spent a Day 1 or 2 pick at the wide receiver position since Zay Jones. That almost has to change this year with Gabe Davis' likely departure in free agency and the way Stefon Diggs’ production nosedived to end 2023:

Given the cap ramifications of his contract amid their current salary squeeze and his response to my questions above, I think Diggs will be back on this team in 2024 with a more critical role. That said, this team still needs to be in the market for an heir apparent as Allen’s No. 1 wideout and a big-time vertical playmaker. Slot receiver Khalil Shakir is a favorite of mine but they need at least one more big-play option on the perimeter to stretch the field.


Los Angeles Chargers - How to fill a sneaky blank slate on offense

I don’t think the general public realizes just how much of a blank slate the 2024 Chargers roster is as we head into the offseason. Austin Ekeler and Joshua Kelley will both be free agents, the team has no needle-movers at tight end and the receiver room will lose at least one of its two above-average starters (likely Mike Williams). It’s tough to predict what the vision of a Greg Roman offense in this era of the NFL will look like with a quarterback in the Justin Herbert mold. Roman’s background is primarily as a run-game mastermind, which makes me wonder if they'll lean into beefing up that phase of the offense in Year 1 of this marriage while paying for the mistakes of the Brandon Staley/Tom Telesco partnership.

Denver Broncos - Getting Sean Payton’s true vision started

Last season felt like a long-shot effort by Sean Payton and Co. to try and get some sort of winning product out of Russell Wilson but not the full vision of the long-time play-caller. Wilson will be off this roster soon and then they’ll look for a replacement under center. That’s not the only place work needs to be done, though.

The receiver room is sub-par beyond Courtland Sutton and the backfield was a messy committee for most of last season. The Broncos need to decide on their identity quickly to start this offseason and begin finding long-term players who fit that mold.

Las Vegas Raiders - The quarterback plan

The Raiders have some pieces on offense to get excited about. Davante Adams sounds like he’ll stick around, Jakobi Meyers is a great No. 2 receiver and the running game was productive in spurts with both Josh Jacobs and Zamir White. None of that matters unless they have a legitimate plan at quarterback. If they aren’t able to land a Kirk Cousins type of option in free agency, they may explore a trade up the draft board for one of the passers outside the top two.

Kansas City Chiefs - Adding more skill-position talent

The Chiefs have a near-blank slate at their outside wide receiver position after hitting on slot man Rashee Rice as a rookie last year. They would be wise to explore both free-agent additions and some prospects in the draft. This team doesn’t have NFL starting-caliber players at flanker or X-receiver so they can afford to cast a wide net.

Quietly, the running back room is in a similar position behind Isiah Pacheco. He’s proven to be a valuable tone-setting piece for the offense. Fantasy managers may not want competition or complements added to the depth spots on the roster but it would make the offense more dangerous as a whole.


Cincinnati Bengals - Retaining Tee Higgins

It sounds like the Bengals will make every attempt to ensure Tee Higgins takes the field for them this season. The franchise tag makes their lives much easier as they attempt to pull this off. On the player’s side, Higgins likely wants a long-term deal and far more security than just a big payday for 2024. Cincinnati will have to weigh his future with the team alongside the impending extension for Ja’Marr Chase that will align with Joe Burrow’s salary ballooning. It’s a delicate balance and may create some tough feelings between the front office and Higgins. There’s no question the best possible on-field product will come with Higgins in the fold, especially as Tyler Boyd is likely to depart in free agency and the tight end position and depth behind the top two wideouts are a question mark.

Pittsburgh Steelers - Get a serious quarterback plan

There are players to like on Pittsburgh’s offense. I am higher on Arthur Smith as an offensive play-caller than most of the industry. None of it matters unless the Steelers roll out a serious quarterback plan.

Let me be super clear: letting Kenny Pickett and Mason Rudolph duke it out in training camp and rolling with the winner as the starter is not a serious plan. The team told you everything you need to know about Pickett when it summarily benched him late in the season, and Rudolph can only give you stretches of acceptability. Step one this offseason needs to be identifying a realistic path to an upgrade behind center.

Cleveland Browns - How to get consistently good play out of Deshaun Watson

There is no serious argument that concludes with Deshaun Watson as a consistently good starting quarterback for the Cleveland Browns. If he were building momentum in 2023 — which is indeed an if — his injuries ruined that. It feels like we are still very much at square one with Watson, especially since Joe Flacco’s run revealed the offensive design and supporting cast aren’t issues. Kevin Stefanski brought in former Bills offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey to be his new right-hand man on that side of the ball and those two must find a way to get the best out of Watson on a consistent basis. I’m just not sure that’s possible given how long it’s been since we’ve seen Watson operate at that level. We are coming up on four years.

Baltimore Ravens - Push the offensive vision even further

Year one of the Todd Monken and Lamar Jackson experience was a huge hit. Baltimore was the No. 1 seed in the AFC and Jackson won MVP. We’re ready for an encore. The Ravens could stand to upgrade at both running back and wide receiver. The veteran free-agent market will offer some options at both positions, with bigger names more realistic at RB. I’d also imagine they’re in the lab looking at how to become a more full-time two-tight end offense after Isaiah Likely showed to be a big-time player during Mark Andrews’ absence.


Tennessee Titans - Supporting Will Levis

The Titans moved on from Mike Vrabel, allocated more power to general manager Ran Carthon and hired former Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan as the head coach. Those are all moves that move support behind second-year quarterback Will Levis. Now they need to make the roster better. The receiver room beyond an aging DeAndre Hopkins is a mess and it sounds like Derrick Henry is headed for a new team this fall. The offensive line is a huge area of concern, too. The main focus for this team needs to be improving personnel on that side of the ball.

Indianapolis Colts - Getting Anthony Richardson healthy

The Colts were a surprise fringe playoff team in 2023 despite not having their Round 1 quarterback for most of the season. I liked the flashes we got out of Anthony Richardson to start the season. He’s not some far-off project like many claimed. Backup Gardner Minshew helped shine a light on the fact there are good players on this offense and the overall ecosystem installed by Shane Steichen is quality. But Minshew was a limiting factor for this offense. Richardson can help them reach the ceiling but he has to stay healthy. Working with him to change his stripes while keeping what makes him dangerous in his game is paramount.

Jacksonville Jaguars - Laying out pass-catcher remake, Version 3.0

The Jaguars have remade their pass-catching corps around Trevor Lawrence before and we could be headed for another round this offseason if things play out a certain way. Christian Kirk and Evan Engram are locked into big roles but Zay Jones is likely a cap-savings move. It’s time to feature a better answer outside, anyway.

Calvin Ridley is a more complicated story.

He will get a chance to test the market because the Jaguars would have to send a second-round pick to the Falcons if they sign him prior to the league year. Another team could entice him with a big offer, which would create two openings at outside receiver for the Jags. At the very least, another big-bodied vertical receiver to allow Ridley to move around if he’s still on the roster is a need.

Houston Texans - Where the areas of growth lie

The Texans have every reason to imagine a bright future for the franchise with C.J. Stroud at quarterback. Now, it’s about finding which areas of the roster need the most pruning. The running back room could use an upgrade after Dameon Pierce fell out of favor as a poor system fit. The wide receiver room has a pair of strong options in Nico Collins and Tank Dell, but some depth is needed and Houston could just elect to make a strength stronger with Stroud in place.

At the same time, DeMeco Ryans surely covets better players in place on his side of the ball. The defense did more with less in 2023 and could shoot to another level to match the offense’s potential. The real answer is the Texans will likely mix in a little bit of love on both sides of the ball. They have a lot of potential already and plenty of resources to improve.