Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:53 AM

2020 Win Totals Best Bets - AFC

AFC Win Total Best Bets

N.Y. Jets - Over 6.5

Are we really going to recommend the...New York Jets (6 ½)? Why not? It might surprise that the J-Men would actually have to regress from last season’s 7-9 mark to not clear the win number in 2020.

Indeed, the Jets did win 7 a year ago, as HC Adam Gase saved a job that looked precarious at midseason by winning 6 of the last 8 in 2019. Included were wins in the last two, amid rumors of internal strife, one of those effectively knocking the Steelers out of the playoffs.

Will there will be as much adversity to deal with this season? Likely not, especially if they avoid another 0-4 start, which coincided with Sam Darnold missing almost a month with mononucleosis. In the offseason, Gase set about rebuilding his offensive line via free agency, adding various versatile pieces to better protect Darnold, who has been under siege most of his first two years. Those moves should allow first-round pick OT Mekhi Becton from Louisville to be eased into the lineup. Meanwhile, second-round pick WR Denzel Mims from Baylor could prove an exciting addition to Darnold’s group of targets, while the ageless RB Frank Gore was enlisted in free agency to take some of the load off of Le’Veon Bell.

Meanwhile, GM Joe Douglas also believes he has ample replacements for SS Jamal Adams, including Bradley McDougald, acquired from Seattle in the same deal that also landed the Jets a trove of draft picks down the road. The key to making a playoff run, however, remains Darnold, now working in the second year of the Gase system, with what seems an upgraded supporting cast. Even falling short of the postseason, the Jets can get “over” 6½. Besides, there will be no one in the stands to boo at MetLife Stadium this fall!

Cleveland Browns - Under 8.5

Did the oddsmakers and wagering public see anything last season in the play of the Cleveland Browns (8½) to make them think Baker Mayfield & Co. are ready to make a run at the expanded playoff field and finish above .500? Only by falling again for the hype, which has once more distorted perceptions. Perhaps it’s because, for some reason, the sports media seems to think it important the Brownies contend, but we digress.

New head coach Kevin Stefanski might be an improvement from overmatched predecessor Freddie Kitchens, but he’s also the seventh coach in eight years for owner Jimmy Haslam, who has also been flipping GMs just as quickly in an administrative/coaching merry-go-round more reminiscent of Italian Serie A soccer than the NFL. Can Stefanski, in his first stab as a head coach, handle a locker room full of big personalities and force the likes of Mayfield, Odell Beckham, Jr., Myles Garrett, etc. to finally toe the line?

The ballyhooed Cleveland drafts of recent years have in fact added only a handful of difference-makers; one of those, ex-Georgia RB Nick Chubb, finished behind only Derrick Henry in 2019 rushing stats. But the spectacularly overhyped Brownies also limped to 6-10 last year, and the AFC North isn’t getting any easier, with Big Ben back in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati looking like it might be on the ascent with Heisman QB Joe Burrow in the fold. No hesitation to look “under” by Lake Erie.

Jacksonville Jaguars - Over 4.5

Are the Jacksonville Jaguars (4½) really in contact with Mark Cuban, who is passing along the “do’s and don’ts” of tanking? With the prize at the top of the first round of next April’s draft likely to be Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence, Jags fans can dream, and might even cheer on a 3-13 type mark that could land the first pick. But after HC Doug Marrone and GM Dave Caldwell barely survived the same axe that fell on team prexy Tom Coughlin last December, we doubt either is plotting ways for the Jags to lose so mustachioed owner Shad Khan has an excuse to fire them both.

Nor do the players help their security by underperforming; rather, this is the sort of situation where an embattled team often circles the wagons. Though outwardly it does seem to some as if J’ville wouldn’t mind losing to get a shot at Lawrence. To wit: rather than seek one of the available free-agent QBs, including Cam Newton, the Jags stood pat with 2nd-year Gardner Minshew. But don’t forget that Minshew performed with some moxie and flair as a rookie, forging a 6-6 record as the starter, before overcoming a COVID scare at the start of camp.

Adding Jay Gruden as o.c. looks a good fit for Minshew, who could thrive in the schemed and rhythmic passing system that Gruden prefers, and we suspect that ridding the roster of the distraction that Leonard Fournette had become might be a good bit of business. Watch Colorado rookie WR Laviska Shenault, used in a variety of roles in college and a potential 2nd-round bargain.

The defense has had something of a clear-out sale since the run to the AFC title game three years ago, and still has a handful of difference-makers affter after the weekend trade of DE Yannick Ngakuoe to the Vikings. If the Dolphins could get to five wins in what appeared a similar “tank” situation last fall, the Jags can do at least as good, if not a bit better. “Over” at TIAA Bank Field, or what oldtimers like us still call the Gator Bowl.

Denver Broncos - Over 7.5

When the smoke cleared last December, the Denver Broncos (7½) had clawed their way to a 7-9 record by winning four of their last five after the switch to Missouri rookie Drew Lock at QB. That convinced John Elway and Vic Fangio that they had finally found a proper fit in the cockpit for the first time since Peyton Manning hung ‘em up following 2015.

After several misses in the draft (such as Paxton Lynch) free agency (remember Case Keenum?), and trades (think Mark Sanchez and Joe Flacco) since Manning left, Elway, who hasn’t overseen a Denver playoff appearance since Super Bowl 50, might be playing his last hand, with a possible franchise owner shift in the near future. But if Lock is the guy, Denver might be building something exciting with a “Chiefs Lite” offense.

The Broncos are suddenly heavy on speed at the skill positions, especially at WR where Elway took Bama’s Jerry Jeudy and Penn State’s K.J. Hamler with his first two picks to complement holdover Courtland Sutton and last year’s top draft pick, TE Noah Fant, while ex-Charger RB Melvin Gordon was added in free agency to platoon with Phillip Lindsay, off back-to-back 1000-yard seasons, in the backfield.

Meanwhile, Fangio’s defense still features Von Miller and expects to have fellow OLB Bradley Chubb back at full strength, while Justin Simmons has emerged as one of the league’s best safeties. Maybe the Broncos aren’t ready for the Super Bowl, but they could make the expanded playoffs and land “over” that modest 7½ total.

Bonus Bets

New England Patriots - Over 9.5

Before writing off the New England Patriots (9½) because of Tom Brady’s departure, remember that Bill Belichick is still calling the shots, and the Pats won 12 last season without much help from the offense anyway. A healthy (knock on wood) Cam Newton intrigues as Brady’s successor, and before anointing the Bills as the new team to beat in the East, remember the Pats have lost the division just once since 2003. Underestimate Belichick at your own risk; “over” at Gillette Stadium...

Houston Texans - Under 7.5

We’re not sure if the Houston Texans (7½) have been making the playoffs because of HC Bill O’Brien, or maybe in spite of him. Our thinking is more the latter after watching O’Brien almost deliberately cede momentum to the Chiefs in a Division Round playoff game last January, before authorizing what might be the move to break the camel’s back in Houston when trading away WR DeAndre Hopkins to the Cardinals. Deshaun Watson is always capable of pulling a rabbit out of his hat, but we’re thinking no playoffs for the Texans in 2020; look “under” at NRG Stadium.

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