AFC ceiling/floor scenarios: Colts, Broncos have great potential

Is Green Bay going 13-3 ... or 9-7?

What about, say, the Dolphins? Are they an 11-5 AFC East division winner ... or destined to toil in the sub-.500 range?

With the all-important third week of the preseason in the rearview, I've been assigned to find ceilings and floors for all 32 teams. This means answering two questions. First, what will each team's record be if everything goes right? Like, if Carson Palmer throws over 30 touchdown passes, how many wins will Bruce Arians' group accumulate? On the flip side, what will the floor be if Jeremy Hill slumps in Cincy, or Darren McFadden is more Walk than Run DMC in Big D?

Below, you'll find both scenarios -- and how each would come to pass -- for every AFC team, with the NFC squads grouped under the tab to the left.

Before we dive in, though, I'd like to point out one important note: Health issues are only mentioned if they are pre-existing conditions -- like Arian Foster's groin ailment in Houston or Peyton Manning's 39 years on Planet Earth. Let's be honest: About 26 teams in the league would be absolutely doomed if their starting quarterback went down. So there's no reason to explore random injury hypotheticals. Every other potential eventuality is in play.

Take a gander below, and feel free to share your thoughts about the best-case scenario or basement script for your team (or any team, for that matter): @HarrisonNFL is the place.



Ceiling: 10-6. With the quarterback situation the way it is, I don't see the Bills finishing with 11 or 12 wins under any circumstance. Especially with LeSean McCoy walking around like he has Blackbeard's peg leg. (Did Blackbeard have a peg leg?) In the 10-win scenario, Sammy Watkins surpasses 1,000 yards and Buffalo's defense finishes first or second in the league.

Floor: 6-10. Rex Ryan's defense is simply too formidable for Buffalo to post an absolutely lousy record. In order for Ryan's group to only win a six-pack, the running game will have to falter, the Tyrod Taylor experiment will have to go the way of "New" Coke and, going a step further, the sometimes rock-solid, sometimes mediocre linebacker corps will have to have enough trouble in coverage that the Rob Gronkowskis and Jordan Camerons of the world eat up the middle of the field.


Ceiling: 11-5.Ryan Tannehill lights it up like Clubber Lang lit up all those bums in one of Rocky III's 37 montages. Lamar Miller gets enough work to rush for 1,153 yards, but not so much work that he bogs down by season's end. Jarvis Landry catches 90 balls and Ndamukong Suh is at least 90 percent of the player he was last year.

Floor: 6-10. Look, football-related activities would have to really go awry for this team to go 6-10. You get the point. At this stage, the Dolphins have accumulated too much talent to have that kind of year. I see this team splitting with the Patriots, Jets and Bills. But if Tannehill regresses and still can't complete a vertical throw -- if it turns out his struggles in that area weren't all the fault of the offensive line and former receiver Mike Wallace -- then the AFC East cellar is possible.


Ceiling: 12-4. The AFC East is not weak enough, nor are the Patriots elite enough, to say they can go 13-3 or better, not with Tom Brady in line to miss multiple games. The Bills and Jets could be fighting for bragging rights as the best defensive team in the AFC, if not the NFL. The Dolphins are certainly better, especially the middle of that defensive line. (Which is precisely where the Pats are hurting.) That said, if Jimmy G plays well ...

Floor: 9-7. In this almost-.500 scenario, New England fails miserably on the back end, i.e., the mass exodus in the secondary (with Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner gone) leaves fans and coaches alike dismayed while causing Brady to play more catch-up ball. When Garoppolo is in the lineup, that'll be more of a problem. And if Rob Gronkowski goes down and the Pats fail to find a replacement for Shane Vereen like they did Danny Woodhead ... ugh.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was published before Judge Berman nullified Tom Brady's four-game suspension.


Ceiling: 10-6.Ryan Fitzpatrickpulls a Vinny, circa 1998, while Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker catch at least 140 balls between them. The Jets' defense forgets about Sheldon Richardson and balls out with Muhammad Wilkerson, Damon Harrison and Leonard Williams. Chris Ivory? Top-10 fantasy running back.

Floor: 6-10. Like Rex Ryan in Buffalo, Todd Bowles has a defense that seemingly won't allow him to fail this bad, especially with the additions of Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie. Unfortunately, Fitzmagic tends to go Fitztragic every once in awhile. Let's hope that's not the case. In the six-win scenario, Marshall begins slowing down, and neither Decker nor one of the various tight ends on the roster can pick up the slack.



Ceiling: 11-5.Joe Flacco flat deals. With the help of offensive coordinator Marc Trestman, the quarterback gets young pass catchers Breshad Perriman and Maxx Williams involved early in the season. Running back Justin Forsett catches 80 balls (or more). And the defensive front, starting with Brandon Williams, makes the decision to trade away the 31-year-old Haloti Ngata look smart.

Floor: 7-9. Sorry, but John Harbaugh is way too fine a coach to let this team slip below 7-9, and even that's a stretch. Yet, if Forsett proves to be a one-year wonder and Steve Smith plays what he says will be his final season like someone who should be retiring (doubtful), then 7-9 is merited. Even the most ardent Baltimore fan will tell you the secondary is not good enough to counter an ineffective Ravens offense.


Ceiling: 12-4. The Bengals' talent level hits the high-water mark once again. After all, 21-on-21, Cincy can compete with anybody. Ah ... but that 22nd guy is Andy Dalton, from whom you're not sure what you'll get on any given day. Still, in this scenario, Dalton repeats his 2013 season, throwing for over 30 touchdowns, while A.J. Green, Marvin Jones and Tyler Eifert produce, week in and week out.

Floor: 7-9.Jeremy Hill plods his way to just 800 yards in a big, fat sophomore slump. Geno Atkins, Vontaze Burfict and -- especially -- Michael Johnson fail to return to previous heights. Realistically, I don't see Cincy going 7-9 or even 8-8, unless Dalton throws 25 interceptions or plays like he did against Cleveland in that Thursday night debacle (30.3 percent completion rate, 86 yards, no touchdowns, three picks, two sacks, 2.0 passer rating) last season.


Ceiling: 10-6.Johnny Manziel matures to the point that he overtakes Josh McCown, limits his turnovers and asks to be referred to as John Football. In this Browns-make-the-playoffs scenario, his elbow, of course, does not end up requiring Tommy John surgery. Isaiah Crowell not only wins the starting running-back gig, but he competes like Isiah Thomas in Game 6 of the 1988 NBA Finals. Veterans like Karlos Dansby and Joe Haden not only buy into Mike Pettine's plan, but they become true leaders -- while making believers out of everyone else.

Floor: 4-12. The Browns are one of those big-swing teams, as their season could really go either way. That said, I don't envision a scenario in which they go 3-13. As my colleague Marc Sessler wrote recently, there seems to be too much confidence in that building. Still, McCown and Manziel can wreck that sense of optimism quickly. Ditto that receiving corps. Ditto Cleveland lore.


Ceiling: 12-4. The defense is probably too suspect to even think about 12 wins. But the offense -- babe, the offense! What if Antonio Brown replicates his 2014 production (129 catches for 1,698 yards and 13 touchdowns)? What if Le'Veon Bell shakes off his two-game ban to leave every NFL back in the dust? And what of Martavis Bryant and the Sammy Hagar hair flowing from his helmet? Maybe he can score eight times again, despite being suspended four games. In this scenario, the Steelers get top-notch seasons out of theoretically top-notch inside linebackers Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Shazier.

Floor: 7-9. Without Bell, Pittsburgh starts 0-2. Ben Roethlisberger fails to deep-six the Ravens and Bengals like he did in key matchups last year. And most importantly, the secondary isn't one iota better than it was last season, when wideouts were running around like springer spaniels without a leash.



Ceiling: 10-6. Houston's already been dealt a hot bowl of chili to the stomach, with a groin injury felling Arian Foster -- the Texans' best offensive player -- for potentially half the season, making an 11-win campaign and the AFC South title much more elusive. However, if DeAndre Hopkins can deliver again, while Ryan Mallett overtakes current starter Brian Hoyer and proves to be the real deal, there is hope. This defense is solid, especially if Jadeveon Clowney delivers 10 to 12 sacks.

Floor: 6-10. Methinks Houston will win at least eight games. But in our all-is-lost scenario, Clowney -- or, rather, his knee -- fails to bounce back. Hoyer winds up tossing flat passes and none-yard outs to Alfred Blue and Garrett Graham. And J.J. Watt falls back to Earth as only a 10-sack Pro Bowler. Of course, in 2013, when Watt was dominant, this team still only won two games.


Ceiling: 13-3. Can the Colts win 13 games? Yes, if a few things go their way. Some already have. In this scenario, Frank Gore also continues to dodge Father Time. Phillip Dorsett doesn't end up needing to progress immediately, because Andrew Luck develops better rapport with Donte Moncrief. (Seems like everyone has forgotten about that guy, no?) Most importantly, the re-tooled front seven steps up.

Floor: 9-7. To reach this unlikely outcome, the aforementioned additions to the front seven -- guys like Kendall Langford, rookie Henry Anderson and Trent Cole -- along with the newly healthy Robert Mathis fail to impose their will. The offensive line falters as it has in years past. The signings of Gore and Andre Johnson end up being more buzz than big.


Ceiling: 9-7. Don't laugh. Even if rookie back T.J. Yeldon doesn't tear up the land to the tune of 1,500 yards, this offense has potential at QB, WR and TE. The much-discussed Allen Robinson boosts the aerial attack in a major way, posting 86 catches for 1,282 yards and eight touchdowns, and quarterback Blake Bortles provides a similar lift.

Floor: 3-13. While Bortles continues to physically resemble Ben Roethlisberger, he fails to play like the Steelers QB. The Jags' running game falters in support of what should be an improved passing game. The Jared Odrick singing proves to be another misfire. Tight end Julius Thomas? Don't ask.


Ceiling: 8-8.Marcus Mariota emulates Dan Marino's 1983 rookie year, injecting energy into an offense that previously accelerated like an '83 Pulsar. Fellow rookie David Cobb wins the starting tailback job and racks up 4.6 yards per carry. Tight end Delanie Walker repeats his 2014 performance (63 catches for 890 yards and four scores). And the defense actually forces something other than extra-point kicks by the other team.

Floor: 2-14. Sorry, Titans fans, but this is doable again. Especially if Bishop Sankey runs into the backs of his own blockers, while Cobb holds Charlie Whitehurst's clipboard. The defense finishes 29th in points allowed a second straight year, and Mariota proves unable to fend off Zach Mettenberger.



Ceiling: 13-3. Denver has the potential to be better than anyone in the AFC West, but that doesn't mean Gary Kubiak's club is going to win the division. Because the play -- and, ultimately, the health -- of Peyton Manning is such a question mark, it's hard to decipher where this team will end up. If the end of last season was indeed a mirage, and the defense takes advantage of its talent margin, look out.

Floor: 9-7. Manning struggles and running back C.J. Anderson fails to furnish the lift he provided in 2014. Tight end Owen Daniels falls well short of replicating Julius Thomas' knack for getting in the end zone. Most importantly, the Ryan Clady-less O-line can't provide Manning with the 3.2 seconds he needs.


Ceiling: 12-4. The Chiefs can reach this ceiling, but they won't go higher, what with the stiff competition in the AFC West. The Broncos and Chargers should both contend for the division title, while the Raiders' commitment to being the divisional doormat is getting closer to being a commitment to excellence once more. Still, Alex Smith is better than people realize. A big year from Jeremy Maclin, coupled with another from Travis Kelce, makes 12 wins possible, while the new-look offensive line far surpasses the hopes of even the most diehard Chiefs backer.

Floor: 7-9. There exists many an Alex Smith naysayer out in the football landscape -- those who say he can't throw vertically, and that he is simply a game manager -- and in this scenario, they're proved right. Ben Grubbs and Mitch Morse don't do much to offset the loss of Rodney Hudson on the O-line. Pass rusher Justin Houston winds up being less motivated after getting paid, spelling doom for a secondary that can be had.


Ceiling: 9-7. Almost everything goes right: Amari Cooper is named Offensive Rookie of the Year, Derek Carr takes an Andrew Luck-esque leap in his second pro year, William Shatner sings Rocket Man for a live television audience ... and so forth. On top of the many positive developments that come about in this nine-win campaign, Latavius Murray has a non-Raiders-running-back kind of year -- he plays well.

Floor: 2-14. These are the Raiders, after all. So while I don't foresee this outcome -- or even 3-13 -- for Jack Del Rio's squad, don't tell me it can't happen. In another horrific B-movie of a Raiders season, Carr regresses badly. The defense, which is key, receives no lift from some of the young players, most notably Khalil Mack and the we-still-have-no-idea-what-kind-of-player-he-is D.J. Hayden. Get excited. (Still, I lean more toward the ceiling than the floor. And Mack is going to be awesome.)


Ceiling: 11-5. Rookie back Melvin Gordon proves to be the real deal, meaning he plays faster than he has in the preseason. Philip Rivers doesn't regress to 2012 form. Keenan Allen and the rest of the receiving corps are able to carry the passing game during Antonio Gates' four-game suspension -- and the Chargers make the postseason.

Floor: 6-10. Mike McCoy's offensive line has the potential to get better. Question is, will it? Wonder what fans were thinking when they saw Cowboys rookie La'el Collinsflatten a Charger in the preseason opener ... 8 yards downfield. Probably something along the lines of, "We don't have anyone who can do that ..." In this worst-case scenario, Gordon falters while the defense fails to apply consistent pressure on the opposing QB, which was a huge issue in 2014. The secondary? Can't compensate for quarterbacks having 5.3 seconds to toss the ball around the yard.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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