AFC ceiling/floor scenarios: Jaguars, Raiders must prove selves

Ceiling ... *You can be a U.S. Senator one day! *

Floor ... Will you be moving out before you're 28?

The highs and lows of expectations -- they're all around. From our parents. From our employers. And, of course, we turn around and project the same on our favorite football teams. If everything breaks right, the Kansas City Chiefs will go 12-4. If everything breaks down -- that is, Justin Houston misses too much time and Jamaal Charles isn't himself -- maybe 7-9 is on the horizon. With the margin of victory so slim in today's NFL -- the realization of former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue's vision of parity -- a five-game swing is actually a pretty narrow range. And the cool thing? We can do this for every franchise, you and I.

Well, I did. Below you will find the hypotheticals -- the hot-dogs-and-apple-pie version as well as the doom-and-gloom scenario -- for every team in the NFL. Bear in mind, these scenarios include eventualities where everything either goes very right or very wrong. In other words, don't get upset at the mere mention of the possibility that the Packerscould go 8-8. Much would have to go awry -- like the return of Brian Brohm. Yet, if you still have an issue with these narratives, @HarrisonNFL is the place.

Let's get the dual-universe predictions going with a look at the AFC ...



Ceiling: 11-5. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor sees the field even better this season, receiver Sammy Watkins plays like an All-Pro and the Bills split with the Patriots. We would have gone to 12-4 had the club not lost rookie linebacker Reggie Raglandto a torn ACL and defensive tackle Marcell Dareusto suspension.

Floor: 6-10. What would send Buffalo spiraling back? If first-round pick Shaq Lawson, who is starting the season on the PUP list, fails to contribute, and the run defense is subpar sans Ragland, that could spell trouble. There will be times the ground game and defense carry this team. LeSean McCoy can't be missing game days.


Ceiling: 10-6.The schedule is far from easy, although the Dolphins will catch the Patriots sans Tom Brady. Most important: 1) QB Ryan Tannehill receives ample protection, and 2) Cam Wake's return and Mario Williams' arrival to the defensive front goes swimmingly, because the corners ... uhh ...

Floor: 4-12. Second-year pro Jay Ajayi gets off to the same sluggish start he did in preseason, with veteran Arian Foster unable to provide the punch we saw versus the Falcons in August. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh endures another mediocre year in the middle, with no one to pick up the slack. Rookie offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil busts.


Ceiling: 14-2. This would be a lofty goal, especially with Tom Brady suspended the first four games. In this narrative, Jimmy Garoppolo goes 3-1 as a starter while Brady is out. The pass rush is just fine minus Chandler Jones. Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett are unstoppable, catching 20 TDs as a TE tandem.

Floor: 9-7. The Patriots haven't finished 9-7 since 2002, so this is far from likely. Garoppolo would have to dink and dunk, never challenging defenses, while the running game provides no punch. New England totals 25 sacks as a team. And what if Brady comes back a little rusty? Like I said: not likely.


Ceiling: 12-4. The Jets blow through the AFC East, dropping one game to the Patriots and sweeping the rest. Ryan Fitzpatrick doesn't come up short versus Buffalo this time. New running back Matt Forte racks up 1,800 yards from scrimmage, with zero dropoff from veteran receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker.

Floor: 6-10. In this not-feel-good story, the veteran nucleus that makes New York a player in the AFC East falls apart. One problem with Fitzmagic (33), Marshall (32), Forte (30), Nick Mangold (32) and Darrelle Revis (31): They're old. The corners outside of Revis endure another bad season.



Ceiling: 11-5. So much goes right for the Ravens in the double-digit-win narrative. Joe Flacco is mint following his recovery from a torn ACL. Breshad Perriman's lighter -- as in, less heavy -- hair allows him to hit the deep ball like former Ravens receiver Torrey Smith. Justin Forsett, Terrance West and Buck Allen form a prolific running back committee.

Floor: 5-11. Sixth overall pick Ronnie Stanley proves to be a bust on the offensive line. The passing game ends up going through 37-year-old Steve Smith Sr. again. Linebacker Terrell Suggs provides no lift in his return from his Achilles injury. Almost everything went wrong for the Ravens last year, and they still won five games. No way Baltimore suffers nine one-score losses once more.


Ceiling: 13-3. The Bengals went 12-4 last year, so 13-3 is possible, but everything would have to go their way. Andy Dalton must play 16 games at his 2015 level (25 TDs, 7 INTs, career-high 106.2 passer rating). Rookie receiver Tyler Boyd needs to be ready to start now. Running back Jeremy Hill plays like a man possessed, i.e., one who racks up 1,200 yards and 4.6 per carry.

Floor: 7-9. Dalton struggles in his return from a broken thumb that kept him out from Week 15 on last season. Ditto still-recovering tight end Tyler Eifert. The defense sputters without suspended linebackerVontaze Burfict early. No one is healthy enough to replace RT Andre Smith, who signed with the Vikings. The DBs? Few INTs sans Reggie Nelson (now with the Raiders). Cincy could fall as close to this record as it could to 13-3.


Ceiling: 8-8.Robert Griffin III proves to be the answer at quarterback. Receiver Josh Gordon's return following his February 2015 suspension brings back memories of his 200-yard games in 2013. The horrible run defense tightens up considerably. Although it's not a high ceiling, I believe Cleveland will be closer to this than its floor.

Floor: 2-14. Start with that run D, which can't allow almost 5 yards per carry again. Otherwise, even if RGIII performs, the record could still be bad. To go 2-14, the running game would have to flounder without former offensive linemen Mitchell Schwartz (who signed with the Chiefs) and Alex Mack (now with the Falcons). No one besides tight end Gary Barnidge steps up in the passing game.


Ceiling: 13-3. The Steelers enjoy a relatively easy schedule, so 13-3 is plausible, though getting there would require coordinator Keith Butler's defense to play lights-out while Le'Veon Bell (three games) sits out on suspension, especially with Martavis Bryant (one-year suspension) out for the season. Receiver Antonio Brown wins the NFL MVP award.

Floor: 8-8. Defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt and linebacker Ryan Shazier take steps backward in Year 3 of their careers. Veteran defender James Harrison is forced to be the team's pass rush. The secondary reenacts 2014, when Pittsburgh ranked 27th against the pass. Running back DeAngelo Williams' age (33) factors in while Bell is out. An older Ben Roethlisberger (34) struggles down the stretch. That's how you get to .500.



Ceiling: 12-4. The AFC South is stronger collectively than it has been in years, so 12-4 might be a pipe dream for Houston. But if new QB Brock Osweiler throws 30 touchdowns passes, new RB Lamar Miller proves he can be a workhorse and linebacker Jadeveon Clowney lights it up, why not?

Floor: 6-10. Much would go awry here, as a yuck season for Texans fans will likely be 8-8. If defensive dynamo J.J. Watt's health still isn't right following offseason back surgery, it could spell doom, given that the new-look offense is an unknown (especially with rookie center Nick Martinout for the year and Duane Browna question mark). Houston would have to receive little from rookie WR Will Fuller. Not likely.


Ceiling: 11-5.Andrew Luck enjoys a huge year to overcome a questionable defense. Receiver Phillip Dorsett? 900 yards. The offensive line improves drastically with rookie center Ryan Kelly. Anytime you have a quarterback like Luck, this record is possible.

Floor: 4-12.Robert Mathis plays like the 35-year-old he is, leaving the pass rush in a lurch. Running back Frank Gore slows down in Year 12. Donte Moncrief falters as the WR2, while the absence of Coby Fleener (now with the Saints) at tight end is felt. Oh, and Luck goes on one of his patented out-of-the-pocket-get-crushed runs.


Ceiling: 11-5. QB Blake Bortles limits his costly turnovers, while the coaching staff leans more on its running backs (Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon) and defense (which looks to be stronger on paper) than at any time in the Gus Bradley era. While we're high on the Jaguars, we're not going higher than 11-5.

Floor: 4-12. Huge pendulum swing here, mostly because history tells us 4-12 is normal in Jacksonville. The Allen Brothers would slump drastically in this outcome, with tight end Julius Thomas adding little. Ditto new safety Tashaun Gipson on defense. But none of this is likely with the Jags' schedule.


Ceiling: 10-6. The chances of the Titans reaching 10 wins are darn near implausible. That said, if QB Marcus Mariota progresses on an accelerated curve and Tennessee leads the NFL in rushing with DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry, it's possible. Rookie receiver Tajae Sharpe would prove to be for real.

Floor: 2-14. Tennessee should be vastly improved. But another lackluster record will come about if the pass defense allows opposing quarterbacks to post a 101.1 passer rating again. Linebacker Brian Orakpo getting hurt would be majorly problematic. So would the interior offensive line performing like it did last year.



Ceiling: 12-4. In order to reach 12-4 again, the defense must perform as well as it did in its unreal 2015 campaign. Former defensive end Malik Jackson (now in Jacksonville) and inside linebacker Danny Trevathan (now in Chicago) will have to be quickly forgotten. Trevor Siemian throws more touchdown passes than interceptions. Better to not have to play musical QBs in 2016.

Floor: 8-8. Don't see the Broncos falling tooooo flat. Not with their home field, defense or leadership. Running back C.J. Anderson struggling out of the gate would hurt plenty, given the QB situation. If offensive lineman Russell Okung still isn't healthy and the young guards fare poorly, cover your eyes on offense.


Ceiling: 12-4. Kansas City is one of the strongest teams in the AFC, yet it will be incredibly challenging to win 13 or 14 games in a tough AFC West without a healthy Justin Houston rushing the passer. Speaking of, in order for the Chiefs to win this many, running back Jamaal Charles would have to come back from his torn ACL with a robust 5 yards per tote.

Floor: 7-9. With health question marks surrounding Houston and Charles, linebackers Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson being over 30 years old and former corner Sean Smith in Oakland, an imperfect storm could rain on Andy Reid's parade. What if safety Eric Berry is rusty from his franchise-tag-related layoff? Lastly ... Alex Smith, keep running, sir.


Ceiling: 11-5. I want to go 12-4 with the Raiders, but as with the Jaguars, we've seen too much losing football from the Silver and Black to climb that high. Both lines are strengths. In this playoff-making narrative, running back Latavius Murray consistently produces while the pass rush compensates for a so-so secondary.

Floor: 5-11. QB Derek Carr would have to seriously slump for Oakland to slip this far, missing open receivers far more than he did in 2015. The signings of Bruce Irvin, Sean Smith and Reggie Nelson would have to pay minuscule dividends on defense, putting pressure on Carr to put up 25-30 points per game to win.


Ceiling: 9-7. First things first: No. 3 overall pick Joey Bosa rounds into shape and contributes to the defense right away after ending his holdout. Running back Melvin Gordon capitalizes on a strong preseason to provide balance, à la Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead in 2013. Keenan Allen leads the NFL in receptions, or comes darn close.

Floor: 2-14. Everything falls on Philip Rivers' shoulders -- and all the QB sees are oncoming pass rushers. In this storyline, the defense receives no boost from Bosa, with 31-year-old defensive tackle Brandon Mebane past his prime. Gordon makes no sophomore leap. Woodhead is the goal-to-go offense. Again.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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