Drought Continues For Texans
Every team in the American Football Conference except the Houston Texans have played in the conference championship game at least once.
The New England Patriots have the most titles with 10, including the last two. They have also made it into the title game for the last seven consecutive years, winning four of them.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have the most appearances in the AFC Championship at 16. Eleven of those games have been at home — the most of any team in the NFL.
The Patriots (+260) and Steelers (+400) are the favorites to win the AFC title (odds provided by Bovada).
Patriots Favored To Repeat
At the end of the 16-game regular season, the four division winners and the next two teams with the best records (wild cards) advance to the postseason.
The division winners are seeded one through four with the team with the best overall record ranked No. 1. The wild-card teams, also ranked based on record, are seeded No. 5 and 6.
The Patriots were the No. 1 seed in 2017. They won the AFC Championship and represented the conference in Super Bowl LII. They are once again the favorites (+260) to repeat as champions. The New York Jets, who finished 5-11 last season, hasn’t won a conference crown in 16 years. They are +4500 and the longest shot on the board to get the job done this year.
What’s the payoff for these two teams? A $100 bet will return $360 if the Pats repeat ($100 bet + $260 profit = $360 total return). A $100 bet will return $4,600 if the Jets stun the league and their fans ($100 bet + $4,500 profit = $4,600 total return).
AFC Conference Favorites
- New England (+260)
All roads to the conference title pass through Boston. As long as Tom Brady is healthy and playing, the Patriots will be among the favorites.
New England hasn’t had a losing record in 16 years. The team hasn’t had fewer than 12 wins in a season since 2009. These are special numbers, and so are their head coach and quarterback — both future Hall of Famers.
The Patriots play four of their first six games at Foxboro. Their Week 15 game at Pittsburgh could decide home-field advantage in the playoffs.
- Pittsburgh (+400)
The Steelers have won two Super Bowls and three AFC titles since Ben Roethlisberger became their starting quarterback in 2004. But those were all at least eight years ago.
Pittsburgh has posted double-digit wins for the last four seasons, which is expected with two of the league’s most explosive weapons in running back Le’Veon Bell and receiver Antonio Brown. With a young, improving defense which ranked in the top 10 last season, the Steelers are a legitimate threat to the Patriots.
The nation will see a lot of the Steelers this season with five games in prime time.
- Houston (+850)
Sure, there are a lot of question marks surrounding the health of the Texans, but no one can challenge the explosive talent on this team.
The additions of Tyrann Mathieu and Aaron Colvin and the return of three-time defensive player of the year J.J. Watt make this unit significantly better. QB Deshaun Watson may have been a rookie last year, but he played like a seasoned pro before being sidelined with a torn ACL.
The Texans have the easiest schedule in the league. The teams they play this season had a .453 win percentage in 2017. Don’t be fooled by last season’s 4-12 record.
- Jacksonville (+900)
The NFL is a quarterback’s league, but it does happen on occasion that a team can win without a franchise play-caller.
The Jaguars have the best defense in the conference, and they need it considering they have one of the worst quarterbacks in Blake Bortles, who consistently ranks among the leaders in interceptions every year.
The Jaguars, who have ditched the ugly, two-toned helmets, will lean on star running back Leonard Fournette to post another double-digit win season and capture their second straight division title.
AFC Conference Long Shots
- Oakland (+1500)
In his first four-year head coaching job in Oakland, Jon Gruden never had a losing season (38-26). The Raiders paid him handsomely (10 years, $100 million) to return to those winning ways.
The Raiders have had one winning season in 15 years. It will be Gruden’s job to get his stars — like quarterback Derek Carr, running back Marshawn Lynch and receivers Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson — firing on all cylinders.
The Raiders have one of the easiest schedules in the league. They will need it, as the 53-year-old coach will find out quickly that this job is a lot harder than the one in the TV broadcast booth.
- Tennessee (+1600)
Mike Vrabel is the Titans’ fifth head coach in eight years. The former linebacker for the Patriots takes over a team that won its first playoff game in nine seasons in 2017.
The three-time Super Bowl champion’s top priority will be to get quarterback Marcus Mariota back on track. The young QB, who is signed through the 2019 campaign, had his worst performance in three years, throwing for more interceptions than touchdowns last season.
The Titans, who play three games in prime time and once in England, need another winning season to stop the revolving door on head coaches.
VGB’s pick — Houston (+850). The Patriots did little in the offseason to improve on a mediocre defense. The Texans will be dangerous on both sides of the ball in pursuit of their first AFC title.