Written by AccuScore Staff
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NFL Season Preview: AFC
In AFC week 1 includes a top level matchup as New England hosts Pittsburgh in the Sunday Night Football game. Accuscore predicts that regaining Super Bowl champion, the Patriots is the favorite in this match, but are they favorite to win the conference for the fourth time in a row?
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Once again, New England is the clear favorite to win the division, and the Patriots are looking for an 11th division title in a row. That is what we call dominance. This time, their division win probability is just over 65% as the New York Jets and the Buffalo Bills have improved with their respective second year QBs from the last season. New England has 80% probability to reach the playoffs, and another deep ride during the postseason won’t be a big surprise.
The Bills and the Jets have better chances to playoffs than year ago. This time around, they are predicted to reach eight wins and have around 30% probability for the playoffs. They won’t be ready to challenge New England, but both will benefit the downward spiral of the Miami Dolphins. Given recent trades, the Dolphins appear to be tanking this season.
Miami appears to have thrown in the towel before a single snap has been played. They have lost their top offensive linemen and the QB position is a fight between Ryan Fitzgerald, who starts for the the 6th team in his career, and John Rosen, who left Arizona after only one season. The most probable outcome is around 5 to 6 wins for rookie head coach Brian Flores, but fewer wins would not be shocking.
Traditionally, the AFC North has been one of the toughest divisions at the top, along with featuring the bottom of the barrel. The Cleveland Browns, however, took a big step forward last season. After being a laughing stock for so long, the Browns may even challenge for the division title in the future, but right now, it looks like Pittsburgh will return to the top after last season’s second place finish. The Steelers have over 70% probability to reach playoffs and over 60% chances for their third divisional title in four years.
The Browns have generated good vibes around them and have added playmakers like Odell Beckham Jr. to their roster. This will give them a 30% chance to reach the playoffs, a feat they have not accomplished since 2002. A great deal depends on how well last year’s draft pick, Baker Mayfield, develops, but the team is clearly going in the right direction.
Division winners from the last year, the Baltimore Ravens will face a new era, as their Super Bowl winning QB Joe Flacco moved to Denver after 11 years in Baltimore. Mobile new QB Lamar Jackson showed some flashes last year, but it looks like it will be a difficult task to repeat last year’s division title, as simulations project only 16% probability for the playoffs and even less for the NFC North title.
The Cincinnati Bengals have won 6 or 7 games during the last three years. Their projected number of wins will again hover between these numbers, and probability to see the postseason is under 15%. This year is clearly a rebuilding year for the Bengals, but Cincinnati is trying to find some of the key components for the rebuild.
The sudden retirement of Andrew Luck has been the biggest news leading into the new NFL season, and has especially had an impact on the AFC North. The Indianapolis Colts were the favorite to win the division, but now they are predicted to finish second in the division, which may be higher than most external projections. After recent trades and the Luck retirement, Houston now highest probability to win the division, but that is only 35%.
Despite the last minute QB change, Indianapolis is not far behind Houston. The Colts have just under 27% chance to win the division. Meanwhile, the Jacksonville Jaguars are stalking both teams. They have 29% probability to ensure a postseason berth by winning this division.
The Tennessee Titans won 9 games last season, but at that time, it still wasn’t enough to the playoffs. Accuscore predicts them to get 7 wins this time and miss the playoffs for the second year in a row. Tennessee is a bit behind in the playoff probability and their chances to win the division is around 10%.
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The Kansas City Chiefs have improved step by step during the last few years. They have won the division three years in a row, and this time, they have over 61% probability to repeat as division champs. Their chances to reach the playoffs are one of the highest in the league: 81.5%.
The Los Angeles Chargers were another playoff team last season. Their star running back Melvin Gordon has his own contract disputes and may sit out more than just the preseason. Simulations predict that they’ll reach the playoffs this time, as well, with nine wins. However, they are clearly second to the Chiefs, with the Chargers only given a 27% chance to win the division.
The Denver Broncos have a new head coach in Vic Fangio and a new QB in Joe Flacco. This should be an improvement from 6 wins a year ago, but their chances of seeing the playoffs are only 24%. With a few surprises and Joe Flacco turning back the clock, the Broncos might have a shot at competing for the last wild card spot.
The Oakland Raiders will play their last season in Oakland before moving to Las Vegas. They have stacked high value veterans like Antonio Brown and Clay Matthews, but based on simulations, it's not going to make much of a difference. Oakland’s chances for the playoffs are under 10%. It would be, frankly, shocking if the Raiders are challenging for the AFC West.
Given the Chiefs and Patriots are the clear cream of the AFC crop, the conference is not seeing too much change at the upper crust. A Kansas City and New England rematch for the Super Bowl would not be surprising, and Pittsburgh is clearly chosen as the third horse in that race. The AFC South winner, however, is difficult to determine. Houston looks to be in the best position to take the division. The Chargers will be favorite to the wild card, and the Jaguars, Jets and Bills should be in the mix for the last wildcard spot in the AFC.
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