2020 AFC Conference Futures
2020 AFC Conference Futures
Pittsburgh Steelers to win the AFC +1300
Fanduel’s odds of an AFC Champion Steelers team are +1300, which I believe is baking in way, way too much recency bias about last season.
The 2019 Steelers lost their starting quarterback one game into the season, their starting primary WR and starting RB for chunks of it, had league-worst back-up quarterback play, bad touchdown luck, and they still ended up 8-8. Mike Tomlin has been the coach in Pittsburgh for 13 seasons, has never had a season finish worse than 8-8, and in all but 3, has finished at least 9-7. This is important, because starting this year, 7 teams will make the playoffs instead of 6, so a 9-7 record would likely get them to the playoffs.
They also have the 7th-easiest projected strength of schedule in the league.
All reports out of training camp look to confirm that Roethlisberger, Juju, and James Conner are all healthy. There is offensive line continuity. Secondary WR Diontae Johnson will look to build on being the rookie with the most catches in the NFL last year. Their offense will no longer be weighed down by Mason Rudolph and Duck Hodges. Their defense was already particularly good last year. Their front-7 led by TJ Watt and Bud Dupree created constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks and their mid-season trade for CB/S hybrid Minkah Fitzpatrick paid dividends immediately. It’s not a stretch to think that a defense that was 1st in opponent turnovers, 3rd in opponent passing yards, and 2nd in Interceptions should be good again.
If the season goes well and everyone is back to form, I see no reason why the Steelers, with the offensive firepower it’s possible they have and a stout defense, can’t go toe-to-toe with the Ravens or Chiefs in a AFC Championship game and win that 60 minutes. For that reason, +1300 seems like a value to me.
Indianapolis Colts to win the AFC +1000
The Colts are +1000 to win the AFC at Fanduel. I think this represents value.
They switch Jacoby Brissett for Phillip Rivers at quarterback, but there is continuity everywhere else: They return all five starters on their top-ranked offensive line, they return WR TY Hilton, they return their entire coaching staff. Rivers will have time to throw the ball, and the Colts have the personnel to suit Rivers. They have a strong run-game with Jonathan Taylor and Marlon Mack, and a pass-catching back in Nyheim Hines, which is a prerequisite in a Phil Rivers offense.
Just as important, there is a path for them to end up the #3 seed and avoid Kansas City/Baltimore in the first round of the playoffs: Their projected strength of schedule is the easiest in the league, and the AFC South appears to be weak again. The Jaguars have all but admitted they’re tanking, the Texans will likely take a big step back, and the Titans have to pray that Derrick Henry stays healthy after logging nearly 400 carries last year, as I don’t believe that Ryan Tannehill will continue his torrid, outlier pace last year again this season. The path to their winning the AFC South could not be clearer.
Their defense is on the upswing and faces an easy slate of offenses to start the season. Most know Darius Leonard and DeForest Buckner, but they have company in other young stars: Linebacker Bobby Okereke was PFF’s top-graded rookie Linebacker last year, and CB Rock Ya-Sin graded as above-average as well. Justin Houston, the perennial pass-rushing specialist is still there, and the team smartly took a flyer on former Minnesota lockdown corner Xavier Rhodes.
I think given the quarterback upgrade, easy strength of schedule, continuity in important places, and a young defense on the upswing, that +1000 is good value for the Colts to win the AFC.
Baltimore Ravens to win the AFC +300
+300 isn’t a value but 3:1 is still a decent payout for a team exceedingly likely to at least make the AFC Championship. Even with the likely touchdown regression of Lamar Jackson, there’s reason to believe the Ravens will be winning the AFC this year.
They have continuity, and a culture that promotes buy-in. HC Jim Harbaugh is back, in addition to both OC Greg Roman and DC Wink Martindale. The team comes first in Baltimore, as evidenced by their recent cutting of FS Earl Thomas for punching another player during a walk-through. These are great things in a coronavirus-ridden year that will reward cohesive teams more than most years.
They bring back the #1 Special Teams unit in the NFL. They bring back a top-5 defense in the NFL, (which was the 2nd most injured defense in football last year and should be healthier this year), and that’s before accounting for additions like drafting LSU Linebacker Patrick Queen to pair with emerging LB Matt Judon, as well as trading for Calais Campbell and signing Derek Wolfe on the defensive line. Jackson’s 1st-round WR from last year, Hollywood Brown will be healthy this year. Breakout TE Mark Andrews will likely see his usage increase, as he only played 41% of snaps last year (and still put up 10 touchdowns doing so).
Last, the high-leverage weeks of the NFL season for playoff seeding set up very nicely to ensure the Ravens are in play for the bye week. Their last 3 games in weeks 15-17 are against the Jaguars, the Giants, and the Bengals. For these reasons, I think +300 is a fair bet.