Any talk of the 2020 AFC champion begins with last year’s winner, the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs, of course, went on to defeat San Francisco to capture the Super Bowl title as well. Head coach Andy Reid and the Chiefs will have plenty of competition for the AFC crown in 2020. Can they fight it off and repeat?
NFL Odds: The Presumptive Favorite
As long as Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes is healthy, Kansas City is going to be the favorite to win the AFC again. Mahomes, the Super Bowl LIV MVP, missed two games last season but still threw for 4,031 yards and 26 touchdowns.
His supporting cast will stay intact with TE Travis Kelce (1,229 yards receiving), WR Tyreek Hill (860 yards receiving, 7 TDs), and WR Sammy Watkins (673 yards receiving) all returning. Leading rusher Damien Williams (498 yards) returns as well.
The Chiefs were fifth in scoring offense (28.2 ppg) and sixth in total offense (379.2 ypg). The big change in Kansas City last year was the defense and the unit will only be better in Year 2 of defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s scheme.
A powerful offense and an improving defense is the reason why the Chiefs are the +300 (NFL odds) favorite to repeat and win a second straight AFC championship.
NFL Odds: Action Jackson
The biggest challenge to the Chiefs repeat chances will come from the Baltimore Ravens and their quarterback Lamar Jackson. Last season, Jackson set an NFL record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 1,206. He rushed for seven touchdowns but proved he is also a capable passer.
Jackson completed 66.1 percent of his passes for 3,127 yards and 36 touchdowns. He threw only six interceptions and is one of the NFL’s most difficult players to defend. For his efforts last season, Jackson was the NFL’s MVP and he is not the Ravens’ only weapon.
The reason why Baltimore checks in at +400 (NFL odds) to win the AFC is defense. Head coach John Harbaugh’s defense yielded just 17.6 points per game last season, third-fewest in the NFL.
NFL Odds: The Brady-less Patriots
For the first time in almost two decades, someone other than Tom Brady will start at quarterback for the New England Patriots. The Patriots have won 11 straight AFC East titles and had won three straight AFC championships before losing to Tennessee in the Wild Card round last season.
Despite losing Brady, the Patriots still have the master, head coach Bill Belichick at the controls. New England’s defense last year was a thing of beauty. They were No. 1 in total defense (275.9 ypg), No. 2 in pass defense, and gave up just 95.5 yards per game on the ground (6th). The result was an NFL-best scoring defense that allowed just 14.1 points per game.
New England didn’t give up more than two touchdowns in a game until the Patriots met Jackson and Baltimore in Week 9. The defense should still be excellent, but with a new quarterback, the Patriots are a +1000 underdog to win the AFC in 2020.
NFL Odds: Other Likely Longshots
Buffalo will challenge New England for the AFC East title this season. The Bills finished 10-6 last season and head coach Sean McDermott wants to take another step in 2020. As if the Bills defense wasn’t good enough, McDermott worked free agency to snag DE Mario Addison (9.5 sacks in 2019), corners Josh Norman and E.J. Gaines, and defensive tackles Vernon Butler and Quinton Jefferson.
The Bills were third in total defense (298.3 ypg) and second in scoring (16.2 ppg). Quarterback Josh Allen continues to improve, WR John Brown was a pleasant surprise last year, and the running game is strong. Buffalo has the recipe for a championship football team. At +1200, a small wager on Buffalo to become AFC champion makes some sense.
The same can be said of Indianapolis (+1300) now that Philip Rivers will take over at quarterback. The Colts have a powerful running game with Marlon Mack (1,091 yards in 2019) and an improving defense. Indianapolis has only made the playoffs once in the past five seasons, but head coach Frank Reich has been to plenty of Super Bowls as a player and a coach.
One of the more intriguing bets would be on the “new” Las Vegas Raiders. Head coach Jon Gruden and GM Mike Mayock have been quietly building a championship-worthy roster. If Gruden can figure out his quarterback situation, the Raiders are an interesting play at +1350.
A healthy Ben Roethlisberger gives the Steelers a chance at +1500. Pittsburgh’s defense is young and improving. It was the reason the Steelers were still in the heat of the playoff race late last season. T.J. Watt (14.5 sacks) is a pass rusher built in the mold of his brother, former three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt.
The Chargers, Titans, and Browns are all priced at +1500 to win the AFC. Tennessee fell 11 points short to Kansas City in last year’s AFC title game. The Chargers lost Rivers to Indianapolis and need a new quarterback. Cleveland, with its super-talented roster, is still Cleveland and that is likely why they went just 6-10 in 2019.
Houston (+1900) is another that might warrant a small wager. The Texans won the AFC South last year and held a commanding lead over Kansas City in the divisional round before giving up 41 straight points and eventually losing 51-31.
The Texans also made what many consider one of the worst trades in league history sending elite WR DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona for RB David Johnson and some draft picks. Still, Houston has Deshaun Watson at quarterback, a strong running game, and a defense led by J.J. Watt.