With or without Tom Brady, oddsmakers believe the New England Patriots are the team to beat in the AFC this year as the +300 favorites (bet $100 to win $300) at online sportsbook Bovada.
Brady will miss the first four games of the regular season due to a suspension for his role in the Deflategate scandal two years ago, with backup Jimmy Garoppolo set to start in his place beginning with Week 1 at the Arizona Cardinals.
The Patriots look to be as strong as ever on paper with some key new additions on both offense and defense as they go for their eighth straight AFC East title. They have gone 12-4 or better in each of the past six seasons, making it to the conference championship game the previous five years and winning it twice during that stretch.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are the +500 second choice to win the AFC and will be dealing with a suspension to arguably their most important player as well in running back Le’Veon Bell, who will miss the first three games following a repeat violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
Bell has managed to play a full 16-game regular season just once in his first three years in the league, missing 10 in 2015 due to injuries and another suspension. If Bell can stay healthy and out of further trouble, Pittsburgh has the best shot of any team in the conference to keep New England from the Super Bowl.
Other top contenders to win the AFC include the Cincinnati Bengals (+700) and three teams from the same division led by the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos. The Bengals have won the AFC North two of the past three seasons, including 2015 before losing 18-16 to the Steelers in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.
Cincinnati is almost a forgotten team in the mix to win the conference, mainly because the franchise has not won a postseason game since 1990, going 0-5 the past five years.
The Broncos have won the AFC West five consecutive seasons but will be without future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning for the first time since 2011. Denver is listed at +800 and will rely on its stout defense to carry the team again with the quarterback picture still murky at this point. Veteran Mark Sanchez, rookie Paxton Lynch and last year’s third-stringer Trevor Siemian all have a shot right now.
The Kansas City Chiefs (+1000) and Oakland Raiders (+1200) will each be trying to end the reign of the Broncos, and winning the division is viewed as the first step toward getting to the Super Bowl.
The Chiefs lost 27-20 at New England in the 2015 divisional round but should be loaded for another run at the AFC West title and figure to have the best shot to dethrone Denver. The Raiders have not made it to the playoffs since they went to the Super Bowl after the 2002 season, and they look to be one of the best young teams in the league with quarterback Derek Carr and defensive end Khalil Mack.