(Via Mark Konezny/USA Today Sports)
Shockingly, Antonio Brown has been traded to the Raiders. This came as somewhat as a surprise, since just recently it looked like all signs pointed to Brown getting traded to Buffalo. Now that he's in Oakland, what does it mean for all the teams involved, the AFC as a whole, and the New England Patriots?
First, for the Raiders. On the surface, it seems like a good thing to acquire arguably the best receiver in the NFL and a probable future Hall of Famer. And on the surface, it looks good for Brown, too. He wanted out of Pittsburgh and that's exactly what he got. But there's a couple reasons why this deal might not turn out great for the Raiders and Brown. For Brown, we need to look at the quarterback situation in both cities. For the Steelers, they had Big Ben Roethlisberger. Is he the greatest quarterback in the league? No. But is he at least good enough to win games in the NFL? Yes he is. Let's compare that to the Raiders quarterback situation. They have Derek Carr. Don't let the three Pro Bowls fool you, he isn't that good. How many times has he thrown for more than 30 touchdowns in a season? Just once in five years. What about for less than ten interceptions? Again, only once. 4000 yards? Once. Winning 10 games? Once. Making the playoffs? Once, and he didn't even play due to a leg injury. So it's completely fair assume that Antonio Brown's stats could suffer with the Raiders, at least in his first season.
Now, for the Steelers. It wasn't that long ago they seemed to be a legitimate threat to the Patriots as the top team in the AFC. And now, they've lost arguably the best receiver in the NFL and arguably the best running back in the NFL in back to back seasons. Now, to be fair to the Steelers, James Conner and Juju Smith-Schuster have performed admirably in their absences. However, there's no indication that Conner will be as good of a receiver out of the backfield as Le'veon Bell was, and there's no indication Smith-Schuster will be as good against #1 cornerbacks as Antonio Brown was. But even if Conner is the next Le’veon Bell, and even if Smith-Schuster is better than Antonio Brown, there's one factor that hurts their team that they have no control over: Ben Roethlisberger's age. Big Ben is 37 and not getting any younger. And unlike, say, Tom Brady and Drew Brees at 37, Ben's an old 37. Yes, he did lead the NFL in passing yards at 37, but that's because he also led the NFL in both completions (by 22) and completions (by 36) Ben also led the NFL in interceptions. He missed the Pro Bowl. He's also publicly flirted with retirement over the past few seasons, although funny enough he's been more willing to come back for another season now when it's never been more clear that he should retire.
For the entire AFC, let's take this by division. First, the AFC South. The South was the least impacted by the Antonio Brown trade, because none of their teams were involved with the trade, and none of their teams were even in on Brown to begin with. Then we have the AFC East. For a moment, it looked like Antonio Brown was a Bill. But that trade would be shot down before it ever really happened. Even if it did happen though, it's hard to say that this trade would unseat the Patriots as the top team in the division. Next is the AFC West. Where do the Raiders stand after trading for Brown? Well, they're not the favorite. Not even close. The Chiefs, led by reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes, the team that took the Super Bowl Champion Patriots to overtime in the AFC Championship, is probably still the favorite to win the division. Barring that, the San Diego Chargers also won 12 games last season and won a playoff game. The Raiders are at best the third best team in the division, and even then it's really a toss up between them and the Broncos as to who is the West's worst team. Finally, for the division most impacted by the trade, the AFC North. The Steelers have been the favorites to win the North for years now. It's not a foregone conclusion, like with the Patriots in the AFC East, but for years predicting the Steelers to win the North was far from bold. Now? They just might be the third best team in the North. The Bengals are terrible. Ignoring them, the Steelers won't be a popular pick to win the division. The most popular picks will be the reigning division champs in the Ravens, but don't discount the upstart Cleveland Browns from incredibly making it back to the playoffs.
For the Patriots, the best news they could've gotten is that Antonio Brown isn't a Bill. It wouldn't be enough to take the Bills seriously, and even if it was, Tom Brady owns the Bills anyway, and one player, even one as great as Antonio Brown, wouldn't put a team ahead of the Patriots in the division. Other than that, after what seems like a decade of the Patriots going to Pittsburgh every year, the Steelers will come to New England. It's already tough enough to beat the Patriots in Gillette, but when you lose two great skill players, that's just making it that much tougher. As for the Raiders, the Patriots are not scheduled to play them at all next season. The only chance the Patriots have to face Brown and the Raiders in 2019 is a potential playoff matchup, and that's incredibly unlikely given how bad the Raiders are outside of Brown. The Patriots are still the favorite to win their third straight AFC Championship and their fifth in six years. The only other team that could give them trouble in their way is still the Chiefs.