NFL Season Preview: AFC
The Wolf previews the AFC and gives all his futures bets for the conference.
AFC East Winner – Patriots
The Patriots have won 13 of the last 14 AFC East titles and look set to win another division title this season. They went 14-2 last year on their way to winning Super Bowl LI. The Patriots have won at least 12 regular season games for seven straight years and 2017 is shaping up the same way. Since 2003, the Patriots have amassed an impressive 110-19 home record The Pats are the clear cut Super Bowl favourites at $4.25 and a 16-0 regular season isn’t beyond the realms of possibilities, especially when you consider that they’ll face both the tanking Jets and Bills twice. The loss of wide receiver Julian Edelman with a torn ACL is a big blow, but a healthy Rob Gronkowski, new recruit Brandin Cooks and the underrated Chris Hogan will pick up the slack. The Patriots are a sure thing to win the AFC East again but have bigger fish to fry than the Dolphins, Bills and Jets. The Jets look to be the worst team in the NFL and The Wolf recommends backing them for most regular season losses.
The AFC North is one of the most competitive divisions (outside of the Browns) in the NFL. Not since the Ravens in 2011 and 2012 has a side won back-to-back AFC North titles. The Steelers won the division last season with a 11-5 record before losing the AFC Championshil game 36-17 to the Patriots, and will be looking to become the third back-to-back division winners since the division came into being in 2002. The Steelers offence will be a force to be reckoned once again, with the likes of Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown leading the way, but it’s the return of wide receiver Martavis Bryant from suspension which could prove to be the x-factor. The only thing stopping the Steelers from winning this division is injury. If Bell goes down, it will be up to rookie running back James Conner to carry the load and it would prove to be a big ask for a rookie who isn’t in the same class as Bell. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger has hinted at retirement and isn’t getting any younger, turning 35 in the offseason. It will be up to the Steelers solid offensive line to keep Big Ben protected as he is an injury away from derailing the Steelers season. The Steelers should make a strong start to the season as only one of their first seven opponents reached the playoffs last year. The Bengals look the biggest threats to the Steelers, but The Wolf has doubts whether the ‘Red Rifle’ Andy Dalton can get the best out of the Bengals offensive weapons. The Browns have long been the whipping boys in this division, but they have a very strong offensive line and should be able to run the ball effectively this year. Throw in rookie QB DeShone Kizer and the Browns might do enough to beat their season line total of 4.5 wins.
AFC South – Titans
The Colts and Texans have dominated this division since 2009, but The Wolf is tipping the Titans to break the trend and win the division for the first time since 2008. The Texans have won the division for two years running with a 9-7 record, but could struggle this season with quarterback Tom Savage calling the shots, while rookie Deshaun Watson is going to take some time to find his feet in the NFL. The Texans will stay in plenty of contests on the back of their defensive unit led by J.J Watt but they will need points to compete with the Titans who have plenty of weapons at their disposal. Many experts are tipping a breakout year for Titans QB Marcus Mariota and The Wolf tends to agree. The Titans spent the No.5 overall pick in the draft on wide receiver Corey Davis, while Eric Decker will also strengthen the Titans receiving corp. The Titans will also have no problem pounding the rock courtesy of a strong offensive line and two powerhouse running backs in DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. The Titans have a relatively soft schedule and if Mariota stays healthy, they can take out the AFC South. The Colts cannot be trusted until there is clarity around their quarterback Andrew Luck’s health status.
AFC West – Chargers
The West looks the most competitive division in the AFC and The Wolf could see anyone bar the Broncos taking out the division. The Broncos have dominated this division in recent times, winning the AFC West in five of the past six seasons. Unfortunately for the Broncos, they’re dealing with life after Peyton Manning, and Trevor Siemian doesn’t look capable of taking this side to the top of the division. The Raiders and Chiefs will be right in the mix, but The Wolf likes the value around the LA Chargers, who are set for a bounce back year after finishing 5-11 last season. They’ll want to hit the ground running in LA after the move from San Diego and will make their mark if they can avoid the terrible run of injuries that has dogged previous campaigns. Wide receiver Keenan Allen is set for a huge season if Lady Luck is on his side, while running back Melvin Gordon had a bounce back year last season after disappointing in his rookie year. The Chargers have looked to improve their offensive line, which can only be an added bonus for Gordon and veteran QB Philip Rivers. Staying healthy and winning the close games will dictate if the Chargers top this division.