This week’s column looks at the AFC’s four Divisions. Last week’s debut column which covered the NFC is available online.
The odds for the New England Patriots to win the AFC are five times those of Conor McGregor defeating Floyd Mayweather. Yep, at the Westgate the Pats are 1 to 25! The odds are 100 to 1 for the New York Jets to win the Division. So the only intrigue this season will be whether Miami or Buffalo will finish second to the Patriots and whether either can contend for a Wild Card.
The Bills are starting over with their third head coach in four seasons with Sean McDermott now in charge. He is also their fifth head coach since 2009. The Dolphins have second year coach, Adam Gase, who did a fine job in guiding Miami to a 10-6 record and a Wild Card despite a 1-4 start. The signing of Jay Cutler to replace the injured Ryan Tannehill. Two seasons ago, with Chicago, Cutler had one of the best seasons of his career under the guidance of Offensive Coordinator Gase.
The schedule is much tougher, overall, for the four teams who face the eight teams from the AFC West NFC South this season after facing the AFC North and NFC West last season. Miami will be hard pressed to improve upon last season’s record but 9 or 10 wins are achievable which would have the Fish very much in Wild Card contention. Meanwhile, New England is aiming for an eighth straight season of at least 12 wins.
Pittsburgh is a 2 to 5 favorite to win the AFC north with Cleveland the longshot at 25 to 1. It’s hard to find fault with either pricing. The key question is whether or not the Steelers will be challenged by either Baltimore or Cincinnati. The Ravens have been a team in steady decline over the past several seasons.
After making the Playoffs in the first five season of the coach John Harbaugh and QB Joe Flacco era (including winning Super Bowl 47) the Ravens have missed the Playoffs in three of the past four seasons including each of the last two, going just 31-33 during this stretch. The Bengals had made the Playoffs in five straight seasons between 2011 and 2015, failing to win a Playoff game each time.
Cincy fell to 6-9-1 last season and their window, much like Baltimore’s, may be closing. The Bengals have a more talented roster than the Ravens but Baltimore has the stronger front office and better coaching. Neither team is likely to finish better than 9-7 and thus the Division is likely to produce just one Playoff team with Pittsburgh playing in their fourth straight post season.
This is a Division in transition with Indianapolis continuing to decline and Tennessee looking to build upon last season’s improvement. Houston is the team to beat based on recent experience although the Titans are the 7 to 5 favorites. Houston is held at 9 to 4 odds. The Texans drafted Clemson’s star QB DeShaun Watson who is expected to start the season on the bench behind Tom Savage.
It would not be surprising to see Watson as the starter before Thanksgiving. And with JJ Watt healthy after missing last season the Texans’ defense will again be among the NFL’s best. Tennessee has a solid running game and QB Marcus Mariota made great strides last season and thus the Titans have a bright future.
Indianapolis will go as far as QB Andrew Luck takes them but Luck is still not fully recovered from injury as the start of the season approaches. Even when healthy the lack of a running game, a leaky defense and a turbulent front office limit the chances for a success season for this edition of the Colts.
Again Jacksonville is expected to be a team that shows major improvement as has been the case the past couple of seasons. But after failing to win more than 5 games in any of the past five seasons, and going a pathetic 17-63 over those five seasons, the Jaguars will have to show they are improved before falling for the hype. The addition of former coach and two time Super Bowl winning coach Tom Coughlin (with the Giants) to the front office, the Jags have reason to believe that improvement will materialize but it might take a few seasons for the roster to be improved.
Oakland had its first winning season in a decade and a half last season, going 12-4 before losing to Houston in the Wild Card game after losing QB Derek Carr to injury in week 16. Kansas City, also 12-4, won the Division on tiebreakers. Neither team was as good as their records would suggest as both teams allowed more yards than they gained. Oakland outscored its 16 foes by a total of just 31 points.
The Chiefs were somewhat better in that category and have a better track record of recent success, having made the Playoffs in three of Andy Reid’s four seasons as head coach and compiling a regular season record of 43-21 over his four seasons since coming over from Philadelphia. Still the Westgate has Oakland as 5 to 4 favorites to win the Division with KC at 9 to 4.
Both Denver and the now Los Angeles Chargers are both held at 9 to 2 odds. Denver again has QB concerns and appears to be in the start of the decline cycle despite a still formidable defense. The Chargers are almost in a similar rebuilding mode but for the presence of QB Philip Rivers who still is at the top of his game. Injuries have taken an above average toll on the Chargers, especially along the offensive line, over the past two seasons.
At 7.5 the Chargers’ Season Wins Total is more than 2 more than the teams has won the past two season, going 4-12 in 2015 and 5-11 last season. Both the Broncos and Chargers have new head coaches but Anthony Lynn has more to work with the Chargers overall than does Vance Joseph in Denver.
In next week’s column the weekly forecast for each game will debut with Week One of the regular season. Additionally predictions for the eight Division winners, the four Wild Card teams, the Super Bowl matchup and Super Bowl winner shall be presented.