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Early 2017 AFC Preview: Patriots, Then Who?

The New England Patriots are the top team in the American Football Conference. They’re the defending Super Bowl champions, and +375 at press time to repeat this year. So naturally, they’re also leading the AFC futures market, where they’re head-and-shoulders above the pack at +190. No one else is even close.

If you want to avoid the chalk, you’ll have to look further down the line at the other 15 teams in the conference. But which one? The Oakland Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers are next on the AFC odds list at +700, followed by the Denver Broncos and Houston Texans at +900. While these teams all have their flaws, if you combine their odds, it’s almost a coin flip that the next AFC champions will come from this foursome.
 
This Is 40
New England’s strengths are fairly obvious at this point. The Bill Belichick-Tom Brady Era has seen the Patriots (14-2 SU, 13-3 ATS last year) reach the Super Bowl seven times in the new millennium, winning five of those – including two in the last three seasons. Brady’s about to turn 40, so he doesn’t have much time left to add another ring, but he played only 12 games during the 2016 regular season. That should help extend his career.

The Raiders (12-4 SU, 9-7 ATS last year) should be next in line for AFC succession after finding a second-round gem in QB Derek Carr and developing him over the past three years. But their contentious move to Las Vegas has thrown the franchise at least slightly off-track. Luring 31-year-old Marshawn Lynch (born and raised in Oakland) out of retirement to start at running back seems more like a PR move than a football move. And Carr is coming off a broken leg that he suffered on Christmas Eve. Nothing should be taken for granted in Oakland.

Given the quarterback questions surrounding both the Broncos (9-7 SU and ATS last year) and the Texans (9-7 SU, 6-9-1 ATS last year), New England’s toughest competition could come from Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers (11-5 SU, 9-6-1 ATS last year). This is the one proven commodity of the foursome; the Steelers have made the Super Bowl three times with Big Ben at the controls, winning twice – once for current head coach Mike Tomlin, the other for his predecessor, Bill Cowher. Pittsburgh had a strong draft this year, and the AFC North has gotten a bit soft lately, so if you’re betting on someone to overthrow the Patriots in the AFC, the Steelers look ripe for the picking.
 
*Odds as of June 7, 2017

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