Which team will win the AFC? Chiefs a clear favorite, but a +1700 longshot looms

Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, and Tyreek Hill of the Kansas City Chiefs AFC
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Andrew Ortenberg

NFL

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I'm an editor here at Pickswise who was raised in a household full of sports fanatics. Since I unfortunately never had LeBron James' jumping ability I wasn't able to make it to the NBA, and chose writing about sports as the next best thing. An avid sports bettor myself, I'm excited to get to write about the industry as it gets set to take off across the country. Buckle up.

The 2021 NFL season is so close we can taste it. The offseason truly flew by, and Week 1 is only a little over a week away. But before the Cowboys and Buccaneers kick off the season on September 9, we’ve still got plenty of time to make our futures bets. Here at Pickswise we’ve had all sorts of futures content, with plenty more coming. You can check out all of our latest NFL futures articles under our NFL news tab. Today we’re focusing on the AFC. I’ve already broken down bets I like for AFC teams to make or miss the playoffs, but right now we’re talking conference winner.

I had a lot of success last NFL season, like when I cashed our Week 13 mega parlay at 74/1 odds, and I can’t wait to get started again. Let’s not waste any more time, we’ll start with the odds:

2021 AFC winner odds

Unsurprisingly, the Chiefs are a large favorite. They’ve earned it with the run they’ve put together the past few seasons. The Bills have the second-lowest odds after the massive step forward they took last year, followed closely by the Ravens. Buffalo made it to the AFC Championship Game only to come up short.

Baltimore has often been as good as anybody during the regular season since Lamar Jackson took over, but their playoff performances have left a lot to be desired. The upstart Browns clock in right after them with odds right around 8/1.

Imagine being told a couple years ago that Cleveland (who went 1-15 in 2016 and 0-16 in 2017) would be viewed by oddsmakers as a legit contender. The second-tier includes the Titans, Colts, Chargers, Dolphins, Patriots, and Broncos. All those franchises are between 13/1 and 20/1 at most shops.

After that we’ve got the Steelers around 25/1, and everybody after them is a 40/1 or greater longshot. Now let’s get to the fun part, a couple of best bets:

Best bet: Kansas City Chiefs to win the AFC +250

Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s the boring pick. It’s also the right one. Odds of +250 might seem steep for a conference winner, but it’s really not when you break it down. A bet at +250 has to cash only 28.6% of the time to be profitable long-term. I certainly think there’s a far better than one in four chance that the Chiefs win the AFC.

Kansas City has won the conference title in back-to-back seasons, and it would have been three in a row had Dee Ford not lined up offsides back in 2018. They went 14-2 during the regular season in 2020, and that doesn’t even tell the full picture. They really lost only one game, since one of their two losses came in a meaningless Week 17 game when they rested their starters.

Then the Chiefs went and dramatically upgraded this offseason. Their offensive line received a complete overhaul. Not only did they trade for stud left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. and sign All-Pro guard Joe Thuney to a massive contract, but they’re also getting Laurent Duvernay-Tardif back from a COVID opt-out year.

There’s really no weakness with this team, and the rest of the conference certainly can’t say the same. The Bills had a historic passing offense last year, and they still didn’t come particularly close to threatening the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game. It wouldn’t shock me if Josh Allen regresses a bit this season, and either way they’re simply not as good.

I love Jackson as a player, but the Ravens’ offense has cratered in the post-season with him. It’s no longer a small sample size. Cleveland overachieved last year, and I don’t see them as a serious threat. The conference is still very much Kansas City’s to lose.

With lines released for EVERY NFL game from Week 1 to Week 17, find out our early best bets for the season

Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback warming up before Week 16 against the Atlanta Falcons

CREDIT – Denny Medley (USA TODAY)

Longshot: Los Angeles Chargers to win the AFC +1700

If the Chiefs are going to get knocked off, it could come from within their own division. I’m sprinkling a few bucks on a bunch of Chargers futures. This team could fall flat on their faces, but they’ve also got the upside to be one of the best teams in the league. When looking for longshot futures plays, upside is the name of the game.

Justin Herbert set plenty of records as a rookie last year, and should make a sophomore leap with an upgraded offensive line. By signing All-Pro center Corey Linsley and drafting tackle Rashawn Slater in the first round, the trenches have been solidified just like the Chiefs’.

With Keenan Allen, Austin Ekeler, Mike Williams, and Jared Cook, Herbert has plenty of weapons at his disposal. All-Pro safety Derwin James is coming back after missing all of last season. They also added corner Asante Samuel Jr. and still have Chris Harris Jr. in the secondary. Joey Bosa is one of the best pass-rushers in the league.

There’s elite talent on every level of this roster. Hiring Brandon Staley to be head coach could be the final step if he’s as good as he looked coordinating the Rams’ league-best defense last year. If Staley proves to be the real deal and the next Sean McVay, this team is going to be really, really good.

Longshot #2: Pittsburgh Steelers +2500

I also think the Steelers have a better shot than they’re being given credit for. Deep into last season, this team was 11-0 and one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl. The wheels came off down the stretch, but that was with Ben Roethlisberger looking about as washed as he possibly could be.

Roethlisberger has looked refreshed during training camp now that he’s had a full offseason to recover from the elbow surgery that ended his 2019 campaign. If he gets back to even a semblance of his old self, this team will have a high ceiling. When looking for longshot futures bets, that’s really all that matters.

Pittsburgh should once again have a ferocious pass-rush led by TJ Watt, and there’s a ton of talent at all three levels of the defense. With JuJu Smith-Schuster, Chase Claypool, Diontae Johnson, and now first-round rookie running back Najee Harris, the skill positions look pretty good too.

Check out our analysis on how the return of fans could impact NFL betting

Pickswise is the home of free Expert NFL picks and NFL odds. Be sure to check out all of our season previews and NFL futures bets leading up to the 2021 NFL season.

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