Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, January 2, 2017 at 10:43 AM
The playoff matchups are set and the NFL futures odds are updated and on the board. Here are some thoughts on the six teams coming out of the AFC. These are not focused on individual game matchups—that’s for clients of my NFL Playoffs package. These are big-picture thoughts on the strengths and weaknesses of each team vis-a-vis its price. The odds shown below include both the numbers for the AFC title alone along with the Super Bowl.
New England (1-2, 17-10)
They have the best quarterback, the best coach and one of the best defenses. There’s nothing not to like about the Patriots. Except the price, which further illustrates the ultimate question about this team—are there enough truly big-time playmakers outside of Tom Brady to win three straight playoff games.
Remember 2010? New England looked unstoppable that year and Brady was at his best, winning the MVP award. But he didn’t have great weapons to work with and that caused his team’s ultimate demise in the divisional playoffs against the Jets. Our big decision as handicappers is whether this edition of the Patriots resembles that 2010 team or the 2014 team that won it all.
Pittsburgh (17-4, 9-1)
Kansas City (17-4, 9-1)
The prices are a reflection of market belief that the Steelers are better than the Chiefs. If these teams actually meet in the divisional round two weeks from now, the number on Pittsburgh probably drops. Right now, the Steelers have to deal with the Dolphins this weekend while the Chiefs can rest up.
Both teams have the playmakers to win and both would be a credible threat to New England in an AFC Championship Game. Pittsburgh has the reverse problem of New England—while the Patriots have tremendous balance, but perhaps not enough game-changers, the Steelers have more game-changers than you can ask for, but a lot of weaker spots throughout their lineup. Handicappers have to decide what they value more.
Kansas City may have the best balance of good talent, good coaching, depth and game-changers (including on defense). The problem there? History suggests that Alex Smith and Andy Reid have hit their ceiling. Our decision here is whether quarterback and coach have a next level.
Houston (40-1, 100-1)
Oakland (50-1, 100-1)
Miami (50-1, 100-1)
The three longshots here all have injury problems at quarterback and it’s very difficult to come up with a scenario where any of them make a run through the AFC playoffs. The best that can be come up with is this—you start by taking at least Houston and Oakland together, so you’re guaranteed having the winner of their first-round game still alive for the divisional round. Each team has enough playmaking talent on defense to pull an upset.
It would be preferable to have the team be the Raiders, where Khalil Mack is a defensive force that can be a one-man wrecking crew and the wager would essentially be whether he can put Oakland on his back and carry them to a Super Bowl.