With the AFC teams with the star veteran QBs and great Head Coaches—the New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos, Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens—always seemingly gobbling up 5 of the 6 postseason berths in the conference, is there any value in trying to peg that one team that will likely get the last Wild Card berth in the AFC and do the current odds justify making a play on this candidates? Honestly, the answer is not really.
Many times all the preseason hype and wishes of fans and media member of team who didn’t make the NFL Playoffs overshadows the fact that it often takes a great deal of Time and Experience for some teams who seem to perennially be on the verge of making the professional football postseason to actually get over that big hump and that could be the case again this year in the AFC. As the Divisional Odds reveal, the winners of the individual Divisional Races in the AFC may again all be foregone conclusions, with the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots (5/9, Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook) and QB Tom Brady heavy chalks in the AFC East; Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts (1/5) prohibitive favorites in the AFC South; and future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning and his Denver Broncos (5/11, opened 5/12) big favorites in the AFC West. Only in the AFC North (again), does there appear like there will be any type of race again with Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers (2/1), Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Colts (3/2, opened 8/5), Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals (2/1) and the Cleveland Browns (12/1, opened 10/1) all vying for honors of winning maybe the NFL’s best division (top-to-bottom) which sent three teams (half) to the AFC Playoffs last season (Steelers, Bengals, Ravens).
Let’s give a thumbnail sketch of who wins what and why in the American Football Conference from this distance in late May.
AFC East Winner: New England Patriots
As we have looked at in our first wave of 2015 NFL Season Team Schedule breakdowns this division will probably look a lot like it looked last year despite the thought that the New York Jets, Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills all look like they have made some really nice moves to improve in the Offseason, but constantly having to cut your teeth on the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots year-in and year-out can’t be easy and the markets of Miami and Buffalo don’t seem as expectant of winning Super Bowls as does the New England crowd while the J-E-T-S Jet! Jets! Jets! seem perennially hamstrung by their recent list of starting QBs (Geno Smith, Michael Vick, Mark Sanchez, Greg McElroy, Kellen Clemens). This division is always the Patriots (8/1 to win Super Bowl, Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook) to lose and they won’t (lose it) again this season. With such an improved defense and TE Rob Gronkowski and water bugs Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman, another Super Bowl for the Patriots in 2015 is a distinct possibility.
AFC North Winner: Baltimore Ravens
This may come down to the Baltimore Ravens (9/1 to win AFC; Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (11/1 to win AFC, opened 8/1) and who can maybe steal one at the other guy’s joint. The Steelers host the Ravens at Heinz Field in Week 4 (Steelers -3, 2015 NFL Games of the Year, Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook) and then Baltimore plays host to Pittsburgh in Week 16 (Ravens -3) in probably the two biggest games in this AFC North. No disrespect to the Cincinnati Bengals (14/1 to win AFC, opened 11/1)—whom I see fighting for the last Wild Card in the AFC this season with two or maybe three other teams—or the Cleveland Browns (35/1 to win AFC, opened 25/1), but again, the cultures of the cities and markets of Baltimore and Pittsburgh expect to be in the NFL Playoffs whereas the Ohio cities Cincinnati and Cleveland celebrate it when they make the postseason before getting bounced in the opening round like the Bengals did (against the Colts, 26-10) last season. It’s never been easy being from the Buckeye State and playing in the rugged AFC North. More Black and Purple and Black and Gold than Orange and Black and Orange and Brown, although there’s nothing wrong looking like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup running around with an orange helmet on your head on Sundays in Middle America. Honestly. We do have our traditions. The Bengals should may scrape in again this season, but I’m gonna give that last Wild Card edge to another team in another paragraph below. In 2015, I see the Ravens winning the division (barely) with the Steelers and sensational All Pro WR Antonio Brown snagging the first AFC Wild Card berth.
AFC South Winner: Indianapolis Colts
From a preseason perspective, this division has basically been a question of “Can the Houston Texans beat the Indianapolis Colts?” and lately it seems that answer to that question has been a resounding ‘No.’ And with the Horseshoes picking up so much talent on Offense (RB Frank Gore, WR Andre Johnson, WR Phillip Dorsett) this Offseason, the Colts (7/1 to win Super Bowl, opened 12/1; Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook) should win this division again easily although a Houston Texans (13/4 to win AFC South, opened 7/2) win versus Indy and superstar QB Andrew Luck at Home in Houston or possibly at the RCA Dome in Naptown could mean both finish 5-1 in the division? I’m asking brother. One thing we know is it’s nice for these two teams to be in the same division as the lowly Tennessee Titans (30/1 to win AFC South) and the Jacksonville Jaguars (20/1). Blessed you might say in a way. Despite losing legendary WR Andre Johnson to the Colts (via Free Agency), the underrated Texans (9-7,+65 PD in 2014) are seemingly always in the mix at the end and are like the Carolina Panthers of the AFC to me...underrated to a degree by both John Q. Public (and his wife Misty Q. Public) and NFL odds makers. For me this team, the Texans (Season Team Win Total 8½ Over -120, Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook) will be the one to edge the Bengals for the last Wild Card Spot in AFC. Are you ready to r-r-r-r-r-r-umble?
AFC West Winner: Denver Broncos
This division has always been the Denver Broncos (12/1 to win Super Bowl, opened 8/1, Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook) to lose an with Uncle Peyton coming back for another go at an NFL Championship and with all the weapons he still has—WRs Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, TE Owen Daniels and RB CJ Anderson—fading the Broncos (5/1 to win AFC, opened 7/2, Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook) hasn’t been Wise in recent seasons in this AFC West and probably won’t be again this campaign, although all three of the Kansas City Chiefs (14/1 to win AFC), San Diego Chargers (14/1 to win AFC) and Oakland Raiders (45/1 to win AFC, opened 120/1) should all be improved and have done much in this Offseason to bolster their rosters. But all three will have to try to win in Denver, where the Broncos went a perfect 6-0 at Home at The Stadium Formerly Known As Mile High in this division in 2014. For me, the Chiefs (30/1 to win Super Bowl) will probably give the Texans and Bengals (and maybe the Bills and/or Dolphins) a run for that final AFC Wild Card spot, but backing a team that had 18 receiving TDs last season but couldn’t muster one from a WR with your NFL picks is a hard thing to do despite the wonderful lockdown Defense shown in Kansas City in 2014 (#1 in in AFC in Points Allowed, 281). Defense matters.
Wild Card Teams: Pittsburgh Steelers and Houston Texans (over Chiefs and Bengals)
Much of this stuff done from a distance comes down to Simple Math and when two-thirds (66.6%) of your six divisional games annually are against the struggling Titans (2-14, -184 PD) and Jaguars (3-13, -163 PD) like the Houston Texans are, then you’re going to get the lean over the Bengals (who have to play the Ravens, Steelers and Browns twice each) and the Chiefs (who have to play the Broncos, Chargers and Raiders each twice). Games against non-conference and non-divisional opponents are always important, but it’s strangely often those 6 games against Divisional opponents—just 37.5% of the Regular Season’s 16-game schedule—which end up being the difference between being one of the conference’s six playoff teams each season. And it seems the sad reality for some AFC teams with High Hopes for the 2015 season like the Bills, Dolphins, Chiefs, Bengals, Chargers and Texans, is that they all may be fighting for just one shot at glory with that second Wild Card spot. And whoever wins it will have to play that Wild Card playoff game on the Road after all of that jazz. Good times. Welcome to the NFL. Now start rebuilding for next season again.
AFC Divisional Pick: Baltimore Ravens 3/2 to win AFC North (Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook)