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Is New England's Reign Of Terror Going to Continue?

Last week I began looking at the upcoming 2018 NFL season by diving into the NFC South futures odds and backing the Atlanta Falcons to make some noise this year.

Today, it's time to look at the AFC East division and whether or not Atlanta's Super Bowl opponent from two years ago – the New England Patriots – can continue their reign of terror within the division. The Patriots have won the AFC East nine straight years and oddsmakers have already made them heavy favorites to make it 10 straight as their price to win this year currently sits at -550.

But is there a case to be made that New England might start to stumble this year and fail to make it 10 in a row?

Odds to Win AFC East - per
New England Patriots (-550)
Buffalo Bills (+800)
Miami Dolphins (+1200)
New York Jets (+1200)

Make no mistake about it, the Patriots deserve to be heavy favorites to win this division again as they are a team that everyone will continue to support as long as Tom Brady is under center (no matter how old he gets), and in all likelihood will claim another division crown this year. A -550 price tag implies that New England will win this division 84% of the time, but I'm here to suggest that number is a little too high to begin with, and in the wacky an crazy world of the NFL where we see plenty of teams go from worst to first in every other division (for the most part), 2018 may be the time we finally see a changing of the card in the AFC East.

To start, I understand that historical trends don't have much to do with the players on the field this year, but it never hurts to look back at history to help dissect and predict the future. And historically, as a Super Bowl “loser” this year, the Patriots aren't exactly in a great scenario to claim another division crown.

Since realignment in 2002, Super Bowl “losers” from the previous year have gone on to win their respective division just five times in 16 tries. That works out to just 31% of the time, and it's only happened once in the previous five years (Denver won AFC West in 2014). With the -550 odds suggesting 84% of the time the Patriots win the AFC East, and history suggesting it happens just 31% of the time, something's got to give right?

The problem here though is the fact that the other three teams in the division are looked at in being well behind New England in terms of talent compared to what the Patriots have, and that's never really been the case in the past with the other Super Bowl “losers” The last two were Atlanta and Carolina, both NFC South teams, and that division has been filled with talent through all four of their teams in recent years. Prior to that, it was Seattle and San Francisco who failed to win their division after losing the Super Bowl and it was those two teams (along with Arizona in 2015) that were battling it out with one another to try and dethrone the reigning division champion.

On paper, Buffalo, Miami, and especially the New York Jets, don't have the prospective outlook to be the ones to dethrone the Patriots this year, but again you never know. The Jets aren't even worth consideration in this conversation so you can throw them out of the mix, but Miami and Buffalo are conversation-worthy at the bare minimum. Both teams are looking to start embattled QB's that have quite a bit of pressure on their shoulders this year to perform (for various reasons) in Ryan Tannehill (Miami) and A.J McCarron (Buffalo), and should a bounce or two go their way, (and probably a significant injury or two on the New England side of things), those bettors that are inclined to take some risks with longshots, might want to consider them as an option.

Of the two, I think you've got to prefer the Bills (+800) as the oddsmakers do, as they still have the bulk of that great defense that led them back to the playoffs a year ago, and do have enough weapons around McCarron to help him succeed. Buffalo is likely going to be a smash-mouth, run-first type of offense this year that will more resemble a team from McCarron's old division (AFC North), controlling the pace of play with their ground attack and strong defense. That style has frustrated and beaten New England before in recent years, so who's to say it couldn't be the beginning of the end for the Tom Brady era in New England this year?

Through the air, McCarron is itching to prove he's a guy that can start in this league with this being his first significant opportunity to do so, but he's already got to look over his shoulder with Buffalo drafting Josh Allen. Dealing with pressure and high expectations isn't exactly new for McCarron and with Allen seemingly waiting in the wings, the desire to prove himself – which could work for or against McCarron in terms of performance – will be there from the start. We haven't really seen McCarron react to that type of ordeal in the NFL, but he did start a playoff game for the Bengals a few years ago that he should have won (18-16 loss when Cincinnati choked the game away with a fumble and very stupid penalties on defense in the final minutes), and he did come from Alabama where he led that program to back-to-back championships in 2012-13. That type of resume will have McCarron ready to prove himself as a starter if you ask me, and whether or not he can take it all the way and win a division crown remains to be seen. But +800 odds is a nice little prize for bettors willing to have even a little bit of faith he can do so.

Getting back to New England, there were rumblings of dysfunction within the organization leading up to last year's Super Bowl, and at various times over the off-season we've heard others talk about the negative sides of playing for Bill Belichick and the Patriots. They'll be without WR Julian Edelman for the first four games of the year, and who knows how healthy Rob Gronkowski stays this season. Brady isn't getting any younger, and one bad hit could put him on the shelf, and if that does indeed happen, then who knows what could happen in the AFC East the rest of the year. A 1st place schedule on top of all that could make this year the toughest one for New England since they last failed to win the division (2008 when Brady got hurt Week 1 and was lost for the year), and holding a ticket of +800 or better in your pocket if all that does happen would be a nice little reward.

All in all, I'm not so sure taking a small piece of Buffalo (and even Miami to an extent with Tannehill's need to perform in 2018 to keep his job) to win the AFC East isn't that bad of an idea. You aren't going to win all the time going against -550 favorites, but if history is any indication in terms of the Super Bowl “loser” role New England is in, this may be the year to take a shot the Bills and/or Dolphins to give us a changing of the guard in the AFC East.

Odds per -

Long Shot Best Bet: Miami or Buffalo to win AFC East

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