The AFC is no fun! While there eight potential teams to bet on to win the NFC championship entering Week 17, the AFC's playoff field is completely set. But the big change on the odds at BetOnline has been the Oakland Raiders now as fairly long shots.
Terrible Break For Raiders
Oakland (12-3) is in the playoffs for the first time since 2002, which also was the last time the franchise finished with a winning record. That team lost to Tampa Bay and former Raiders coach Jon Gruden in Super Bowl XXXVII. The current Oakland coach, Jack Del Rio, is a leading candidate for NFL Coach of the Year.
The Raiders will finish with no worse than the No. 2 seed if they win Sunday at Denver, which has nothing to play for and could start rookie QB Paxton Lynch. Oakland can get the AFC's top seed with a win and Patriots loss in an earlier kickoff in Miami. But a Raiders loss to the Broncos and Kansas City win in San Diego gives the Chiefs the AFC West title and the second seed and drops Oakland to a wild-card spot.
For most of the second half of the season, the Raiders had generally been second-favorites to New England on BetOnline NFL odds to win the AFC title. But that all changed in Oakland's Week 16 win over Indianapolis as the Raiders lost QB Derek Carr, an MVP candidate, to a broken leg. He had surgery on Tuesday and tweeted that the procedure “couldn’t have gone better,” and that he “received great news.” Good for him, but it would take a minor miracle for Carr to even get back for the Super Bowl.
And it's a bit of a stretch that the Raiders will get to the Super Bowl behind undrafted free-agent Matt McGloin, a former walk-on at Penn State. He did start six games as a rookie in 2013 and was 1-5. In his career, McGloin has gotten into 12 games and has completed 155 of 266 passes (58.3 percent) for 1,847 yards, 11 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and a rating of 76.1. Just for a point of comparison, that rating would be 29th in the NFL this season.
The Carr injury has dropped the Raiders to +1200 on NFL odds to win the AFC, ahead of only Miami (+2000) and Houston (+2500). A backup quarterback leading his team to a Super Bowl has happened a handful of times in NFL history, perhaps most memorably in 1990 when Jeff Hostetler took over for an injured Phil Simms and led the Giants to the title. But clearly oddsmakers don't trust McGloin much and neither do I.
Best Of The Rest
New England (13-2) clinches the AFC's top seed with a win Sunday in Miami, which has little to play for, or an Oakland loss. The Patriots have earned a first-round bye for the seventh straight season, adding to their NFL record. Their seventh straight 12-win season has tied a league record since the 1970 merger. The Pats have been AFC favorites all season and that hasn't changed with them currently -140 on NFL picks. The Carr injury probably helps New England more than any team except perhaps Kansas City depending on what happens Week 17.
The Chiefs (+500) had to play at New England in last year's divisional round and lost 27-20 thanks in part to some really questionable late-game clock management from Coach Andy Reid. I don't believe the Chiefs have the offense to win in Foxboro. The only AFC team that likely can now is Pittsburgh (+330), which has offensive talent likely superior to New England's.
The Steelers are locked into the No. 3 seed so that at least means they would avoid the Patriots until the AFC title game. Pittsburgh opens the playoffs at home next week likely vs. Miami and then could get weakened Oakland in the divisional round if the Raiders do get the No. 2 seed.
I'm going with a Steelers-Patriots AFC title game.