- The odds to win the four AFC divisions have shifted over the course of the offseason.
- Are the Patriots a lock to win a 10th straight title?
- Can a healthy Deshaun Watson lead the Texans past Blake Bortles and the Jaguars?
Back in March, the early odds to win the AFC’s four divisions favored two of the usual suspects, while foreshadowing extremely tight races in the other two.
The Patriots were massive chalk in the AFC East, while the Steelers were a heavy favorite in the AFC North. But no team in the AFC South or West was better than +150 (3/2).
After free agency, the draft, training camp, and half of the preseason, much has changed, and yet, much has stayed the same.
Below are the updated odds courtesy of Bovada’s sportsbook.
|New England Patriots||-800||13-3|
|New York Jets||+1500||5-11|
Now that we have seen positive early returns from both Buffalo’s Josh Allen and New York’s Sam Darnold, the Patriots aren’t quite the runaway favorites they were in March. Injuries to their top-two draft picks, OT Isaiah Wynn (torn Achilles; out for season) and Sony Michel (knee injury; questionable for Week 1), are further cause for concern.
Still, Tom Brady looks great; Rob Gronkowski didn’t retire; and Bill Belichick remains at the helm. The 88.9% probability that’s implied by the Patriots’ -800 odds is about right for the nine-time defending AFC East champions, who have won at least 10 games in 15 straight seasons.
Best Value Bet to Win AFC East: Patriots -800
The already offensively loaded Steelers are going to have even more firepower this year, if the preseason is any indication. Rookie WR James Washington (Oklahoma State) is capable of giving Pittsburgh one of the best receiving trios in the league this year, alongside Antonio Brown and Juju Smith-Schuster.
In the backfield, James Connor has emerged as a viable no. 2 capable of spelling All-Pro RB Le’Veon Bell.
The early returns aren’t as promising for Baltimore’s most-hyped offensive acquisition, rookie QB Lamar Jackson. He’s shown flashes in the preseason, but the cons have significantly outweighed the pros. This will remain Joe Flacco’s team for the foreseeable future, and that’s not a reason for confidence.
Their defense isn’t going to make up for the offensive limitations, either. After finishing last season third in DVOA, the unit is likely to regress. It led the league in turnover margin at +17 — a number that will, in all likelihood, be much lower in 2018 — and starting cornerback Jimmy Smith has been suspended for the first four games of the season, a stretch that sees Baltimore face both the Steelers and Bengals on the road.
As for the Bengals and Browns, fans can expect better things compared to last year, but that doesn’t mean a division title is within reach just yet. Look for the Browns, in particular, to take a sizeable step forward this season, and then really challenge for the AFC North title next year when first-overall pick Baker Mayfield is a seasoned sophomore.
Best Value Bet to Win AFC North: Steelers -260
If the Jaguars had anyone other than Blake Bortles manning their offense, they would be better than even money to win the South. The defense is absolutely stacked and finished last season ranked first in DVOA, while the run-game — powered by second-year standout Leonard Fournette — is above average. The perils of having Bortles under center, however, keep Jacksonville within reach.
Houston is hot on the Jaguars’ tail thanks to the prospect of having a fully healthy Deshaun Watson and JJ Watt for an entire season. When Watson was healthy last year, the offense was borderline unstoppable, averaging nearly 35 points per game in his six starts.
When he was out, it was literally the most impotent unit in the league, averaging just 13.0 PPG in the ten games started by non-Watsons.
The wild card here is the Colts. Andrew Luck is back, but is he “back”? If he’s the latter, the Colts will be in the hunt. They limped to a 4-12 record last year despite entering the fourth quarter with a lead nine times. Back-breaking turnovers from Jacoby Brissett were to blame for some of the late-game collapses, and Luck isn’t apt to make the same mistakes.
Best Value Bet to Win AFC South: Colts +550
|Kansas City Chiefs||+325||10-6|
Based purely on roster talent, the Chargers should run away with the AFC West. Mike Williams, a first-round pick from 2017, is fourth on their wide receiver depth chart (behind Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, and Travis Benjamin). That’s how stacked Philip Rivers’ offense is, even without tight end Hunter Henry . The defense is equally terrifying, with ball-hawking corner Casey Hayward and arguably the best pass-rushing tandem in the NFL (Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram).
Why aren’t they bigger favorites? Because Chargers gonna Charger. At least, Chargers tend to Charger, and also, Chargers tend to suffer horrendous injuries, like the ones that have already befallen Henry and CB Jason Verrett.
The value play here is the Broncos at +400. Jon Gruden wants to take the Oakland offense back to the Stone Age with ground-and-pound football, while Andy Reid and the Chiefs are rolling with untested second-year QB Patrick Mahomes.
The Broncos, meanwhile, upgraded their own QB situation with veteran Case Keenum and added the best player in this year’s draft, edge rusher Bradley Chubb, to one of the league’s best defenses. Watching Chubb work alongside Von Miller and his 83.5 career sacks will be a treat for Denver fans, and a nightmare for every QB in the division.