The NFL season is around the corner and with it comes one of the most exciting times of the year, the period from September to January. All eyes will be on the gridiron and the league’s 32 teams competing for the top prize, the chance to play for the Lombardi Trophy in February 2017 at Super Bowl LI.
This year, the action begins on Thursday, September 8th as the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos take on the runner-up in the rematch everyone is dying to see. It is only fitting that this clash would open the season as the two rivals are once again projected to finish at or near the top of their respective leagues.
Make sure to check back here at USAbetting.com for a full preview of that first game. We’ll also be featuring many other of the top games throughout the season. To hold you over until then however, here is our first glimpse at the NFL season as we preview the AFC Conference and conclude with our AFC Championship betting pick.
The New England Patriots (Best odds +350 with BetOnline)
The New England Patriots, coming off a fantastic season last year (12-4) which saw them win their first 10 games, are the USA sportsbooks’ favorites to emerge with the AFC championship and the right to represent their conference in the Super Bowl.
The Patriots are one of the most complete teams in the league. They feature one of the best and most consistent special teams units, a top offense bolstered by a top five quarterback, top five running back and the best tight end in the NFL. They have a defense which ranked among the top last year as well. It shouldn’t be surprising that they would be sitting at the top in the AFC betting lines.
However, when it comes to the Patriots, the team will have to overcome some uncertainty. Not only is Tom Brady, who threw for 36 touchdowns and a 102.2 rating last year, finally serving his suspension for his role in the ‘deflategate’ scandal, but additionally, Dion Lewis is out at least the first 10 weeks of the season with an injury. That’s two huge playmakers on the sidelines.
Of course, their success will once again ride with Rob Gronkowski (pictured), quite possibly the biggest high impact player in the game. He has led all tight ends in just about every statistical category for the past several years and is always among the top receivers in the game at any position (WR, TE, RB included). The Patriots have always relied on a multi-tight end set and this year will be no different as Martellus Bennett came to the team in the offseason. He will bolster the receiving corps and open up the field for Jimmy Garoppolo to get some easy passes to his top weapon.
If the Patriots can tread water and get past their somewhat easy schedule over the first four games until Brady returns and if James White, Lewis’ backup can emerge as the same kind of talent Lewis was, the Patriots should cope. They could once again blaze through the AFC en route to the AFC East title (their opponents rank 11th, 12th and 13th according to the betting odds) and the AFC Championship crown.
The Pittsburgh Steelers (best +550 with Bovada)
Second only to the Patriots is a way too talented Steelers team that came just shy of winning the AFC Championship last year. The team returns almost all of its top playmakers into top five quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, top wide receiver Antonio Brown and top three running back LeVeon Bell.
This team is absolutely stacked but the big question with the Steelers isn’t just staying healthy, which plagued them last year, but also staying off the suspension list. The team is already without Bell for the first three games, but fortunately for the back who missed time last year due to injury, they have Deangelo Williams, who filled in admirably last year.
Their defense has improved as well and has been getting closer to the group that just a few years ago was consistently among the best in the NFL. They will likely have their pick of the AFC North again this year and as last year’s third ranked offense, should be able to carve out their spot in the AFC Championship alongside New England.
Indianapolis Colts (+1210 with 5Dimes): Projected to finish first in the AFC last year after making the playoffs in each of the past four, the Colts took a step backward winning just eight games and missing the postseason. This year they will be looking to rebound behind Andrew Luck, who needs to put last year’s lackluster season in the rearview mirror.
It is unlikely that they are going to challenge for one of the top spots in the AFC, due to too many inconsistencies and question marks on their offense at key positions such as running back depth. So the Colts aren’t expected to make much noise. However, they are projected to finish atop the AFC South which has historically been one of the league’s softest divisions.
Cincinnati Bengals (+830 with 5Dimes): With a full complement of top players healthy and ready to go, Cincinnati could challenge the Steelers for the top spot in the AFC North. In fact, they could very well win the division again. That is never the problem with the Bengals, who consistently have one of the AFC’s top offense. The issue with this team is its inability to perform big in the big games. Currently mired in an awful playoff slump now in its 25th year without winning a game, quarterback Andy Dalton and head coach Marvin Lewis have a lot to prove. Last year was their best shot at it, but if they can get this monkey off of their back and just win one, the Bengals are talented enough to make a run toward the AFC Championship.
Denver Broncos: (+1000 with Bovada): The Broncos are an interesting case. Yes, they are the defending Super Bowl champions but they are also a team with perhaps the least inspiring quarterback situation this side of the New York Jets.
Their biggest offseason loss was Peyton Manning who retired and replacing him has been far from an easy task. Third string quarterback Trevor Siemian has jumped the depth chart to have the nod for opening day but don’t be surprised if all three rostered QBs take the field at some point in 2016-17.
The biggest positive for Denver is that they return almost all of their defense which was the real star in their season last year. Von Miller and Demarcus Ware shore up the line and will once again be looked to in a big way. If Denver hopes to get back to the big game, they’ll need their defense to come up strong as they navigate their first season in a long time without a stalwart at arguably the league’s most important position.
Our Preview’s AFC Championship Pick & Prediction
I really do like the Patriots to come out as the league’s top team. Losing Lewis is a huge blow as is Brady for the first four games, but they’ve got an easy enough schedule that a 3-1 mark shouldn’t be impossible. They have the most depth and the most potential of all the teams in the AFC and they have the pedigree as well.
Facing them in the championship, again, sticking to the chalk here, I do think it will be the Steelers. A healthy Antonio Brown in last year’s postseason probably makes the difference for Pittsburgh. If he can continue to perform at the other-worldly levels he has since breaking into the league, there is no reason not to expect a great year out of what is undoubtedly the NFL’s most explosive, big-play offense.
- So this preview’s betting picks’ prediction is the New England Patriots to win the AFC Championship at current best betting odds of +350 with BetOnline. It is +335 with 5Dimes Sportsbook, while Bovada are a shade shorter odds at +325.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.