The 2017 NFL season begins this week and the time for talking is almost at an end as all 32 teams gear up for the new campaign.
The AFC has been dominated by the New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos for the past four seasons.
Both teams have won the Conference twice apiece, with the Patriots going on to win the Vince Lombardi trophy twice, while the Broncos have one crown to their name.
No team since the 2012 Baltimore Ravens have managed to overhaul the duo, with John Harbaugh’s men beating both on their way to Super Bowl XLVII.
The Patriots look set for another run at glory following their triumph in Super Bowl LI, while the same could not be said for the Broncos due to their issues across the pitch.
That could allow a challenge to come from elsewhere in the AFC. The Pittsburgh Steelers have the talent, but have been routinely crushed by the Patriots, including the Championship game last term.
The Oakland Raiders are a team on the rise and now could be the time for them to overhaul Bill Belichick’s men at the top of the Conference.
We’ll now break down the odds for the AFC and the battle to reach Super Bowl LII in Minnesota.
The Patriots look poised for another run at the Vince Lombardi trophy. No team has secured back-to-back crowns since they achieved the feat in 2004. Belichick has ensured that his side have a chance to repeat history by assembling a formidable roster for the campaign.
The trade for Brandin Cooks, sending their first-round pick in the 2017 Draft to the New Orleans Saints looked a smart move. It has now taken on greater significance due to Julian Edelman’s season-ending injury. The 23-year-old has the ability to score touchdowns from anywhere on the field and should provide increased potency to Tom Brady’s offense.
Rob Gronkowski’s return to fitness is also vital for the club. They appeared to be missing his presence against the Atlanta Falcons in the Super Bowl before their comeback. There’s not a player like him in the NFL due to his power and presence in the endzone. His comeback should ease the strain felt by Edelman’s loss.
Brady remains at the peak of his powers despite turning 40 in August. He has shown no signs of decline and will be desperate to etch his place in history as the only player to win six Super Bowls. Expect another dominant campaign from the quarterback, further cementing his status as the greatest of all time.
On the defensive side of the ball there are weaknesses in the front seven. However, the Patriots strengthened their secondary by adding Stephon Gilmore.
Based on the challengers in the AFC – there does not appear to be a team that can expose New England. The Raiders and Steelers have talent, but not enough to head into Foxborough and knock off Belichick’s men in a playoff game. As a result, back the Patriots at +225 with Winner Sports to win the Conference.
The Steelers enjoyed their best campaign since last reaching the Super Bowl in the 2010 term last season. Mike Tomlin’s overcame a great deal of adversity through the regular campaign, battling through a mid-season injury to Ben Roethlisberger to win the AFC North.
A nail-biting triumph over the Kansas City Chiefs put them on a collision course with the Patriots, but they were outclassed by Belichick’s men in Foxborough.
Le’Veon Bell’s injury loomed large in that contest, while Antonio Brown was double-teamed throughout. This season is already starting on a brighter note than the last as impressive wideout Martavis Bryant has returned from suspension to ease the burden on Brown.
The trade for Vance McDonald will add production to the tight end position, while rookie Juju Smith-Schuster will be one to watch on his first term.
Roethlisberger had the demeanour of a man who was considering retirement following their defeat. However, after mulling over the decision he opted to remain in the NFL and looks set for at least one more charge at notching a third Super Bowl to his collection.
Offensively the Steelers should be one of the top units in the NFL. On the other side of the ball the signing of Joe Haden could be vital in stopping their rivals. The cornerback was a standout at the Cleveland Browns and could take his game to new heights in Pittsburgh.
Tomlin’s men should have no issues reaching the playoffs this term. Their issue will be with the Patriots – in Tomlin’s time as head coach he is 1-6 against New England.
Ryan Shazier, Bud Dupree, Artie Burns and Javon Hargrave have talent and could take the next step in their development to halt Brady and company. It’s worth a value bet at +525 with Bovada Sportsbook.
The Raiders had the worst luck of any side in the NFL last season as they lost quarterback Derek Carr in the penultimate week of the campaign. His injury prevented the club from locking up the AFC West and the number two seed in the AFC, allowing the Chiefs to snatch it from under their noses.
Third-string signal-caller Connor Cook was pressed into action in the first round of the playoffs. Their defeat to the Houston Texans was inevitable, ending their first foray back into the post-season since 2002.
Jack del Rio’s men are well stocked to make a surge to the playoffs again, especially with the addition of Marshawn Lynch. The 31-year-old retired from the game after the 2015 season, but has returned to play for his hometown club, with the Raiders acquiring his services from the Seattle Seahawks.
Lynch was the driving force on Seattle’s offense in their Super Bowl XLVIII win and rushed for 1,000 yards for four out of the five seasons he was at the club. Should he bring the same quality to the Raiders it will take a lot of pressure off Carr.
The Oakland quarterback enjoyed an outstanding campaign in 2016. He threw for 28 touchdowns to six interceptions and was an outside candidate for MVP before his injury. Carr can take the next step forward in his development and join the elite quarterbacks in the NFL, with the talent of wideout Amari Cooper aiding his and his side’s charge for a deep run in the playoffs.
Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack leads an inexperienced defense, which could be their Achilles’ heel. Talent alone could be good enough to win the AFC at odds of +850 with SportingBet, although the seasoned Patriots will be tough to overcome.
New England Patriots To Win AFC Conference
Pittsburgh Steelers To Win AFC Conference
Oakland Raiders To Win AFC Conference