The Burning Question: Who is the best team in the AFC?
Welcome to The Burning Question, where three of our NFL experts give their thoughts on a big talking point coming out of the past week’s football action.
Results continue to be wild throughout the league, as Week 11 saw Tennessee lose at home to Houston. Dallas and Green Bay also suffered their third losses of the season, meaning Arizona is the only team in the NFL with fewer than 3 defeats. That’s borderline unheard of just 11 weeks into a season!
Needless to say, things are completely up for grabs this year. That is especially the case in the AFC, where no team has better than +350 odds to win the conference and a whopping six teams are +900 or better to reach the Super Bowl. To say that there is parity in the AFC would be a gross understatement. So the question is: which team is the best of the lot?!?!
Our NFL experts — Jared Smith, Andrew Ortenberg, and Ricky Dimon — give their thoughts on the top of the AFC.
Jared Smith: Chiefs still at the top of the heap
Kansas City was left for dead four weeks ago after getting blown out by the Titans, but boy has the perception of the AFC changed since then. Hopefully all of you took my “Back to the Futures” advice and bought low on the Chiefs at +1600 to win the Super Bowl after that disaster in Nashville. To me, it’s the defense that has been the biggest reason for the resurgence, now ranked 8th in DAVE (weighted DVOA) by Football Outsiders this season.
If you examine the schedule, Kansas City’s four losses have come to the Chargers, Titans, Bills and Ravens — teams with a combined record of 27-13. Meanwhile, the other AFC contenders have all dropped stinkers. The Bills lost to the Jags, the Titans lost to the Jets and Texans, and both the Patriots and Ravens lost to the Dolphins.
While the top seed in the AFC is very much up for grabs, I am confident Kansas City has the pedigree — and finally the defense — to pull away down the stretch. For that reason, I added to my Super Bowl position this week.
Read Jared’s “Back to the Futures” column this week, examining other notable moves in the market
Andrew Ortenberg: Give me the Chiefs, by default
One thing is clear and undeniable at this point: the Chiefs’ defense has improved dramatically, and it’s no longer the bottom-feeding unit it appeared to be at the beginning of the year. That’s why I have to give the mantle to Kansas City, but only by default. The Chiefs’ offense still doesn’t look quite the same as in years past, and I don’t think the defense is quite as good as it looked this past week against Dallas, either.
But I’m just not impressed with the rest of the field. Josh Allen has quietly regressed significantly from last season, and the Bills just got exposed. The Patriots’ ceiling is still capped with a rookie under center. While I would say the Chiefs are the best team in the AFC for now, I’m not exactly running to bet them at +350 to win the conference. If I was going to make a futures bet on any AFC team right now, it might be the Ravens at 14/1 or the Colts at 40/1.
Baltimore is borderline unstoppable when Lamar Jackson is playing at his peak, and the Colts showed with their dominant win in Buffalo that they have plenty of upside, as well.
Ricky Dimon: Chiefs best team, not best value
I mentioned in my Monday Night Football recap that the Bucs are still the champs until they are eliminated. Obviously that is a literal fact every year, but what I mean is that it’s especially true this season because there just aren’t any great teams that seem poised to change things up. Tampa Bay hasn’t set the world on fire in 2021…but neither has anyone else.
The same thing applies specifically to the AFC. The Chiefs are two-time defending champions and they should remain the favorites by default simply because no other contender has stepped up to the plate. Tennessee was hot for a while, but it just lost at home to Houston; that’s as bad as it gets. Plus, Derrick Henry is out for the foreseeable future. Buffalo also started strong but has fizzled of late. Kansas City has taken over the top spot in the AFC West and I expect it to remain there. That would guarantee at least one home game in the playoffs and it wouldn’t be surprising if the Chiefs end up playing several at Arrowhead Stadium. I’m not betting against Patrick Mahomes in the playoffs — at least not against anyone other than Tom Brady.
Like Andrew, though, I’m not inclined to touch any favorite at the moment given the current NFL climate. The Ravens (+600) and Colts (+1800) have better value to win the AFC. They aren’t the best teams, but the margins this season are so small that the best teams very well might not win.
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