Much like the AFC East, the AFC as a whole has been dominated by the New England Patriots for the past decade and a half. New England, despite being just one out of 16 teams in the conference, has seven AFC Championships since 2001.
The Patriots enter the 2017 season as the prohibitive favorite to win the conference again. But which other teams could prevent that from happening? Let’s break down the biggest favorites to win the AFC, then mention a couple of dark horses with an outside chance at making it to the Super Bowl. In this AFC Championship preview we quote the best betting odds for each team from the top betting sites for USA residents.
AFC Championship Favorites
New England Patriots (+200 at Intertops)
The Patriots had the best scoring defense in the NFL last season, and they added a couple of great veterans in cornerback Stephon Gilmore and linebacker David Harris. Don’t expect much, if any, of a regression on that end in 2017.
Despite this, the offense is still the team’s specialty, led by the great Tom Brady. The legendary quarterback and head coach Bill Belichick find a way to make New England one of the top scoring units every year, always integrating new personnel into the unit seamlessly.
That “next man up” mindset will be important this season with star slot receiver Julian Edelman going down for the year with an ACL tear.
Pittsburgh Steelers (+600 at Bovada)
The Steelers franchise has always had the reputation of being a dominant defensive team. For the past four seasons, though, Pittsburgh hasn’t finished better than 10th in yards or points allowed.
They have still made the postseason in three of those four years, but all of those runs ended before the Super Bowl. In the games they’ve been eliminated, they’ve allowed 29.7 points per game to their opponent.
Pittsburgh has continued to stockpile talent on the defensive end of the ball for several years. Now it’s about staying healthy and developing chemistry and communication within the group.
Of course, the offense should be great as long as Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell (when he returns from his holdout) and Antonio Brown are 100 percent healthy.
Oakland Raiders (+810 at 5Dimes)
The Raiders have been a popular pick on all NFL-related futures this offseason. It appears many people are high (perhaps unrealistically so) on the chances of this rising AFC West power continuing to get better.
They may not get much better, though. Oakland’s point differential of plus-31 was terrible for a 12-4 team, which shows that the squad may have played more like a 9-7 or 10-6 squad last season.
The offense will be great if everyone is healthy, and the young defense looks to be around average this year. Is that good enough to spark a Super Bowl appearance? Remember, Oakland will likely have to face the vaunted offensive groups of either the Patriots or Steelers on the way to a championship.
Keep in mind that the AFC West is probably the strongest division in the NFL. Oakland’s chances of getting a high seed for the postseason are not nearly as good as those of New England and Pittsburgh.
AFC Championship Dark Horses
Tennessee Titans (+2000 at Intertops)
The Titans could be poised to make a leap similar to the one the Raiders made last season. They have a great young quarterback with the potential for an MVP-caliber year (Marcus Mariota) and a strong young supporting cast around him on offense.
There are definitely questions on defense, especially against the pass, but the squad did overhaul its secondary. Could a huge turnaround be in store?
Tennessee also plays in the AFC South, where there isn’t a major power potentially blocking its way to divisional supremacy. So while they may be around the same level as the Chiefs or slightly worse, they should have a better chance at a higher playoff seed.
Cincinnati Bengals (+2500 at 5Dimes)
The Bengals broke a streak of five consecutive playoff appearances in 2016, going just 6-9-1. Even in that disaster of a season riddled by several injuries to key players, Cincinnati had a positive point differential.
Another silver lining was a defense that ranked in the top eight in points allowed for the second straight year. Now, that unit could be worse with some key offseason losses, but it’s still respectable.
On the offensive end, Cincinnati should take a step forward. Rookie playmakers running back Joe Mixon and wide receiver John Ross will make the squad more dynamic, as will better health to the receiving corps compared to last year.
Our Preview’s AFC Championship Picks & Betting Predictions
- The Patriots (+200 with Intertops Sportsbook) are this preview’s pick to win the AFC Championship. Their +200 odds imply just a one-third probability that they win the AFC, which seems a bit low. Even without Julian Edelman, they have a chance at being the top offensive and defensive team in the conference. None of the other AFC squads can say that.
- In terms of dark horse predictions, the Tennessee Titans (+2000 at Intertops) have a chance of earning you quite a bit of money. Bet on them if you think Marcus Mariota can stay healthy and take that next step in his development or if you think the pass defense will be much improved with some new blood.