Let’s look at three AFC teams who may fall off some this Regular Season, as well as three teams from the AFC who look poised to improve somewhat and then make a couple of Futures Picks based on the perceived improvement or regression of these six AFC teams.
Last week, we looked at some teams in the NFC who seem like they could be on either the Upswing or Downswing in 2015, so now let’s do the same over the the AFC. The one specific division within the AFC which could improve the most is the AFC South—believe it or not and despite housing two of the worst teams in the league—with the division’s perennial champions, the Indianapolis Colts (10/1 to win Super Bowl, bet365) looking to make that big step up into the NFL’s Elite Teams, while the Houston Texans (50/1, bet365) will be looking to go from an average team to a good team, although much of that may depend on who ends up starting at QB and how well he plays. A very familiar song in the NFL. And the division which looks like it could drop off some feels like the AFC West with the Denver Broncos (14/1 to win Super Bowl, Sky Bet) possibly falling from the ranks of the Elite (New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers) to just a good team that always wins the West with the aging and slowing of star QB Peyton Manning and the departure of talented TE Julius Thomas (Jaguars) through Free Agency this Offseason. Here are six teams—three who could be on the Upswing and three who could be on the Downswing—in the AFC to keep your eye on in terms of Evolution or Devolution for the 2015 season in a conference that honestly could be a two-team battle—despite the potential of the Broncos (+550 to win AFC, bet365), Baltimore Ravens (10/1, William Hill) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (13/1, Paddy Power)—between the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots (+350 to win AFC, William Hill) and QB Tom Brady and the emerging Indianapolis Colts (+500 to win AFC, Paddy Power) and their sensational young QB, Stanford product Andrew Luck.
Must Read: Betting the NFL Preseason spreads
AFC Teams Which Could be on the Upswing in 2015
Buffalo Bills—The Bills (40/1 to win Super Bowl, Skybet) have been getting a great deal of attention on the Internet and the radio as well as in Futures Book betting markets for what they are expected to do in the 2015 Regular Season, and rightfully so. But whether or not that attention and the Expectations that come with everything this franchise has done is good for this team remains to be seen and the Bills schedule is filled with landmines, although Buffalo (20/1 to win AFC, BetVictor) will get one one more Home game this season at Ralph Wilson Stadium in sunny Orchard Park, New York after having to play one Home game last year at Ford Field in Detroit after having it snowed out in Buffalo. So, the Bills (+450 to win AFC, William Hill) have 8 Home games and only 7 real Away games with a Week 7 affair against the Jacksonville Jaguars (100/1 to win Super Bowl, William Hill) at Wembley Stadium in London, England obviously being a neutral site. The big question mark for the Bills will be who leads them at QB. EJ Manuel and Free Agent signee Matt Cassel (Vikings) will battle it out, but it will be hard really having a QB competition in Weeks 1 and 2 when Buffalo is facing the Colts and Luck and the Patriots and Brady at Home to open things up. Hello. Pleased to meet you, hope you guessed my name.
Anyway, if Buffalo (343 PF-289 PA) can get some decent QB play, this team is now loaded with weapons on Offense with QB Cassel, RB LeSean McCoy (Eagles), Percy Harvin (Jets) being added to a unit which already had WRs Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods and RB Fred Jackson. If the Offense can improve maybe 10-15% and the Defense can play like it did last season (289 Points Allowed, 2nd in AFC) and Buffalo can win 3 of 4 vs. the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets, maybe win one against the Patriots, most likely in Buffalo when the two teams meet in Week 2 and improve on their conference record (5-7 in 2014), then the Bills could very well go 10-6 if everything falls into place and find themselves playing in the Postseason—a first step toward improving after finishing 9-7 last year and missing out on the Fun and Prestige. And the effervescent Rex Ryan now in at Head Coach, expect this team to be both a little more loose as well as a little more motivated. Things could be fun in Buffalo in 2015 and the season could also be a gateway to a brighter Future for this deeper Bills football team, which does have a distinct Weather Advantage and which was tied for 6th in the NFL in Turnover Differential last season with a +7. Watch this Bills team, and remember that an 0-2 start doesn’t necessarily mean that this team is in trouble or failed in the Offseason. It just means they opened the 2015 Regular Season with the elite Patriots and Colts. That’s all. Spot on Schedule to Back Buffalo Bills: Week 6 at Home vs. Cincinnati Bengals; Bills 10-2 ATS L12 vs. Bengals, 6-2 ATS L8 at Home
Houston Texans—Like the Bills, the Houston Texans (50/1 to win Super Bowl 50, bet365) went 9-7 SU last season, finished over .500 and didn’t make the Playoffs. Waaah. The perils of being in the AFC where a 9-7 mark can leave you High and Dry where with a 7-8-1 mark in the NFC one can win their Division and make the Playoffs. Damn Lobbyists. This year, again like Buffalo, Houston’s success will depend on QB play and who starts between Brian Hoyer (Browns) and Ryan Mallett, but this team now has a bunch of underrated WRs (Cecil Shorts, DeAndre Hopkins, Rookie Jaelen Strong, Nate Washington, Rookie WR Keith Mumphery), a great RB (Arian Foster) and with superstar JJ Watt and a solid Defense—Houston was tied for #2 in the NFL in Turnover Differential (+12) last season—this team could surprise and may taste the Postseason this time around. Trying to beat QB Andrew Luck and their AFC South rivals, the Colts, in one of the two meetings will be important for the Texans (+350 to win AFC South, bet365)—who had a +0.37 Point Differential Per Possession last season, the 11th best mark in the NFL—to getting to that end and that theoretical win may have to come at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis in Week 15 at the most crucial point in the season. For me, the AFC Playoff picture comes down to the Bills and the Texans (and maybe the Kansas City Chiefs) fighting for the last Wild Card spot held last season by the Cincinnati Bengals, who may regress some as we will talk about below. Spots on Schedule to Back Houston Texans: All 4 games against AFC South doormats Tennessee Titans (Weeks 8, 16) and Jacksonville Jaguars (Weeks 6, 17); Texans 4-0 SU, 3-1 ATS vs. Titans and Jaguars in 2014; at Cincinnati Bengals (Week 10); (Texans 3-1 ATS L4 Away vs Bengals, 6-1 ATS L7 overall)
New York Jets—The Jets (40/1 to win AFC, BetVictor) probably won’t make the Playoffs or do anything too sexy in the 2015 NFL Regular Season, but this team should improve from its paltry 4-12 mark last year and nobody in the league did more in the Offseason to bolster their roster than the New York Jets (80/1 to win Super Bowl 50, William Hill). The Jets and Head Coach Todd Bowles added veterans QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (Texans), All-Pro CB Darrelle Revis (Patriots), Antonio Cromartie (Cardinals), WR Brandon Marshall (Bears), S Marcus Gilchrist (Chargers), CB Buster Skrine (Browns), G James Carpenter (Seahawks) and drafted Rookies DL Leonard Williams (Round 1, #6 overall, USC), WR Devin Smith (Round 3, Ohio State), OLB/DL Leonard Mauldin (Round 3, Louisville), QB Bryce Petty (Round 4, Baylor) and G Jarvis Harrison (Round 5, Texas). That’s all. But the Jets (11/1 to win AFC East, Stan James) will definitely have to improve on their 1-5 AFC East record and beat the Bills and Dolphins once each to get the momentum and confidence that they will need within their AFC East division and the AFC (Jets 4-8 SU in AFC in 2014). New York AFC (6-9-1 ATS) ranked in TO Margin (-11) and #26 in Point Differential Per Possession (-0.67), so there is room for improvement and hopefully for Bowles and Jets (283 PF-401 PA) fans, this influx of new bodies and fresh young talent will turn things around for this team which, like the Cleveland Browns, may just find itself in the wrong division at the wrong point in Time. still, progress and a 5-11, 6-10 or maybe a 7-9 season is in order. Spots on Schedule to Back New York Jets: New York Jets +3 versus Miami Dolphins in Week 4 at Wembley Stadium in London, England; Jets 2-1 SU L3 vs Dolphins; 3-0 ATS L3
AFC Teams Which Could be on the Downswing in 2015
Denver Broncos—The Broncos (14/1 to win Super Bowl, Sky Bet) still may be in the NFL’s Elite Five teams, for now, at least, but as mentioned this team is slowly getting Old and the departure of talented TE Julius Thomas (Jaguars) through Free Agency this Offseason depletes what was a fantastic receiving corps for now 39-year-old QB Peyton Manning (101-82-5 ATS Off Win). Another possible problem for Denver (-197 to win AFC West, William Hill) is the potential emergence of the Kansas City Chiefs (9-7 SU in 2014) and the Oakland Raiders (3-13) who went winless on the Road last season and brought in Free Agent WR Michael Crabtree (49ers), drafted potential superstar WR Amari Cooper (Alabama) with their Round 1 pick and brought in Jack Del Rio as the team’s new Head Coach. So expect Denver’s (12-4 SU in 2014) dominance at Home (8-0 SU in 2014) in the altitude to be challenged and this team to fall from the NFL’s Elite with the Indianapolis Colts and Luck potentially moving up to that sacred ground and rightfully replacing them. Spots on Schedule to Fade Denver Broncos: at Indianapolis, Week 9; Broncos 3-11 ATS L14 vs Colts, 1-6 ATS L7 Away at Indianapolis
Cincinnati Bengals—The Bengals went an impressive 10-5-1 SU last season, but expect some regression from this team which may play in the toughest division in the NFL, the AFC North. Cincinnati (16/1 to win AFC, William Hill) is led on Offense by QB Andy Dalton (53.3 Total QBR, 19th in NFL) and the Bengals signal caller does have some nice skill position players with which to work in WR AJ Green, WR Marvin Jones and RB Jeremy Hill, but having to face the Baltimore Ravens (10/1 to win AFC, Paddy Power) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (12/1, Boylesports) four times each season is a bitch. Seriously. The Bengals (+275 to win AFC North, William Hill) were dead even (+0) in Turnover Differential last season and another problem may come in out-of-division games against the NFC Champ Seahawks at Home at Paul Brown Stadium (Week 5), against the at the Buffalo Bills the following week (Week 6) and at the Denver Broncos (Week 16). Those 7 games will make or break the Bengals' season and I’m leaning toward the breaking. Spots on Schedule to Fade Cincinnati Bengals: at Buffalo Bills, Week 6; Bengals 2-10 ATS L12 vs Bills, 2-6 ATS L8 Away at Buffalo; at Home vs. Texans in Week 10 (Bengals 1-6 ATS L7 vs Houston, 1-3 L4 ATS at Home in Cincinnati)
San Diego Chargers—The Chargers (33/1 to win Super Bowl 50, bet365) went 9-7 last season, and like every year, the Fans/Players/Organization/Media then were/acted disappointed. Expect the same in 2015 with the Chargers, like the aforementioned Broncos, potentially suffering from the slight improvements from the Chiefs and Raiders, the perceived dregs of the AFC West for so long. In the Seventies, it was the Chiefs and Raiders who were perennially fighting for the AFL (American Football League) championship before the NFL and AFL later merged, so maybe the worm is turning and Kansas City and Oakland can make the postseason some year? Maybe. These are strange times. Leading the way again for San Diego will be QB Philip Rivers (28-26-1 ATS vs. AFC West), but after a 2-4 divisional record in 2014—including 2 losses to the Chiefs—maybe the worm began to turn last year? We shall see in 2015. And the Chargers (14/1 to win AFC, Sky Bet) dead-even 348 Points for and 348 Points against in 2014 reveals much. Good teams are in perennially the plus. Way, way, way in the plus. Not at 0. Look for the Chargers (+350 to win AFC West, Bwin) to fall to the 8-8 or maybe the 7-9 mark this campaign. San Diego’s Season Team Win Total is 8 (Over -130, Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook), and that seems right on, so after 10-8 (2013) and 9-7 records, even the Oddsmakers are expecting a little regression from the Bolts. And games against the Steelers at Home at Qualcomm Stadium (Week 5), at the Green Bay Packers the following week (Week 6) and at the Baltimore Ravens (Week 8) will all create bruises and pain and may all result in Losses for the Chargers who always seem to go through spurts of looking great and then looking extremely average most NFL seasons. And it seems much will be the same with this organization in 2015.
Spots on Schedule to Fade San Diego Chargers: at Green Bay Packers, Week 6; Chargers 0-6 ATS L6 vs. Packers
Best AFC Spots on the Schedule Picks: Buffalo Bills (at Home) minus points over Cincinnati Bengals, Week 6; Green Bay Packers -7 (at Home) over San Diego Chargers, Week 6 (Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook NFL Games of the Year); Houston Texans (on Road) minus points at Tennessee Titans, Week 16