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Early AFC Favorites
If you are to believe the odds makers for this upcoming NFL season, the Super Bowl representative from the AFC will likely come down to one of three teams; Denver, Houston or New England. All three are considered the heavy favorites to come out of this conference with the Broncos leading the way. However, the NFL is known for its parody and who’s to say 2013-14 will be any different.

Teams to eliminate off the bat: Jacksonville (+15000), Oakland (+7500), NYJ (+6500) Tennessee (+5000), Buffalo (+5000), Cleveland (+3000)

These six teams bring up the rear in terms of the odds and it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. Jacksonville has the lowest projected win total in the league (5 wins) and is at the front end of a huge rebuilding project. Oakland, New York and Tennessee are in similar positions with the Titans expected to be the best of the three at 6.5 wins (-110). That won’t be good enough to even sniff the playoffs and fans of these franchises understand that rebuilding takes time.

Buffalo and Cleveland are a little further along in their rebuilding projects but are still projected to be around 7 wins each and have huge question marks at the QB position and that’s a recipe for disaster in today’s NFL.

Longer shots to consider: Kansas City (+2500), Cincinnati (+1800)

The Chiefs made a lot of noise this off-season, tweaking their roster at almost every positional weakness and bringing in a very good coach in Andy Reid. KC has always had a stable of young budding talent in recent years and whether it was poor coaching, poor play, immaturity or a combination of all of them they could never seem to get out of their own way. Reid hopes to change all that with a veteran guy like Alex Smith at QB and some big body receivers in Dwayne Bowe, Jon Baldwin and others. Getting by the Broncos in their own division will be a feat in itself, but this team has a chance to get hot at the right time and make a run.

Cincinnati is another team loaded with a young talented core but unlike Kansas City, this group of players actually has some playoff experience the past two seasons. The Bengals are a team on the rise with their top-5 defense staying intact from a season ago and having QB Andy Dalton and WR A.J. Green entering their third year together.

Cincinnati could also benefit from Pittsburgh and Baltimore seemingly taking a step back this season with their key roster losses and that could equate to an AFC North title for Cincinnati and their first playoff home game in a long while. From there a strong defense and a few lucky bounces could have Cincinnati back in the big game for the first time since the late 1980’s.

Favorites: Houston (+650), New England (+350), Denver (+240)

All three of these teams are heavy favorites to walk away with division titles and of the three it’s likely that Denver and Houston are the two teams that end up being the top two seeds in the conference.

New England is an interesting team given all the off-season turmoil and the fact that they will be without their top five receivers from a season ago. No matter what kind of new faces you bring in (Amendola) it’s tough to replace that kind of production and I think there is no way you can take New England at this price. Not only will they need time to come together and gel as a team, but as that’s going on you are almost surely going to get a much better price later on in the year.

I also don’t believe you can take Denver at this price either. The Broncos are likely to have another good season and be in the Super Bowl conversation all season but one or two key injuries could derail their hopes and 2.5-1 before training camp even starts just isn’t a long-term bet I’d want to make. Remember, Manning has been historically bad in the W/L column in cold-weather games and he and the Broncos could fall victim again in that scenario this year.

That leaves Houston and I think they are worth a very long look here. They should cruise to a division crown this year as long as they take care of business in their games vs. Indianapolis and they have the defense, experience, and drive to finally get over that hump and make the big game.

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