The New England Patriots began the season as the betting favorites on NFL futures at SBR's best sportsbooks to win the AFC title. They are still atop the list, but there has been some shuffling below them. Let's take a look entering Week 13.
Patriots Control Own Destiny
New England (9-2) would have home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs if it wins out. The Patriots clinched a 16th straight winning season with their 22-17 victory at the Jets in Week 12. Tom Brady threw for 286 yards and two TDs, including the 8-yard winner to Malcolm Mitchell with 1:56 to go. Brady joined the 60,000-yard career passing club in the game with Peyton Manning, Brett Favre and Drew Brees. And it was Brady's 200th career win as a starting QB, including playoffs. That tied Manning's league record, and Brady should break it this Sunday at home against the Rams. If Brady plays deep into his 40s as he expects, then that wins record is going to be untouchable somewhere in the 240s-250s, assuming the Patriots continue at their current level.
The Patriots are the favorites on NFL odds at every sportsbook to win the AFC title. The best price you can find as of this writing is +100 at Heritage and Bovada. The shortest is -130 at BetOnline. I think it's very important this team gets home-field advantage because New England has had a few shaky road games this year even though both losses are at home. In addition, star tight end Rob Gronkowski keeps getting hurt and the Pats aren't the same without him. Since Gronk was drafted in 2010, Brady's TD-INT ratio has been cut nearly in half without Gronkowski on the field.
Raiders, Steelers Lead Best Of The Rest
Oakland (9-2) is tied with the Patriots for the AFC's best record but currently loses the tiebreaker on win percentage in conference games. I still can't determine how good the Raiders are. Led by QB Derek Carr, that offense is explosive and Super Bowl-caliber. But that defense still leaves much to be desired. The Raiders were blowing out Carolina in Week 12 24-7 at halftime only to allow 25 straight points. But Carr led the comeback win. I don't give the Raiders much of a chance on NFL picks of getting the top seed because it has a really tough schedule the rest of the way: vs. Buffalo this Sunday, at Kansas City, at San Diego, vs. Indianapolis and at Denver. Just winning the AFC West and taking the No. 2 seed would be a major achievement. The shortest price for Oakland to win the conference title is +550 at Bovada. The longest is +786 at BookMaker.
Pittsburgh (6-5) is the second-favorite to win the AFC at some sportsbooks even though the Steelers would be on the outside of the playoffs looking in entering Week 13. But I like the Steelers' schedule and think they can win out as long as everyone stays healthy. Pittsburgh is favored on NFL odds this week vs. the Giants, then goes to Buffalo and Cincinnati (Bengals in a free-fall) before closing at home vs. Baltimore and awful Cleveland. Pittsburgh is +665 at 5Dimes to win the AFC, ahead of Oakland (+785).
I believe the only other teams with a realistic shot at the AFC title are Kansas City (8-3) and Denver (7-4), although the Broncos currently lose the tiebreaker for the second wild-card spot with red-hot Miami (7-4). The problem with the Chiefs, Broncos and Raiders is they will all be playing each other down the stretch. K.C. is +851 at BookMaker to win the AFC and Denver +951 to repeat.
I liked a Patriots-Steelers AFC title game when the season began and still do.