We’ve still got a while to go until NFL training camps begin and even longer until the 2021 season begins. But, with the draft officially in the rearview mirror, there’s a bit of a clearer picture as to who we can expect to contend for the Super Bowl.
The AFC is loaded, and despite back-to-back conference titles for the Chiefs, they’re no lock to clinch their third consecutive Super Bowl appearance. There are plenty of teams with aspirations of unseating Kansas City, including one dangerous team in their own division.
Let’s take a look at two of my favorite bets to represent the AFC – one favorite and one surprise value play with great odds.
View our consensus futures odds for AFC Champion >>
Buffalo Bills (+650)
Josh Allen was the target of much criticism in his first two seasons in the NFL, but in year three, as Allen solidified himself as one of the top-tier quarterbacks in the league. If Allen takes another leap forward from his 13-win, 37-touchdown (plus eight more on the ground), 69.2%-completion 2020 season, the rest of the AFC is in trouble. Another leap forward isn’t out of the question either, thanks to his incredible chemistry with his favorite receiver: Stefon Diggs.
Diggs had his best season as a pro in 2020, as he led the NFL in both receptions and receiving yards. He caught 76.5% of his targets – the best mark of his career and a testament to his chemistry with Allen – which ranked fifth among wide receivers with at least 50 targets. It’s impressive for such a connection to develop between first-year teammates during a COVID-affected offseason. While it’s pretty difficult to improve on such productive numbers, it’s also not crazy to imagine this pairing becoming even more dynamic in year two.
On paper, the only AFC team stronger than the Bills right now is the Chiefs. If the two meet in another AFC Championship game, there will be little-to-no shock-factor for Allen and the Bills like there was this past year. They’ll have been there before, and they’ll be much more prepared.
Buffalo has a great head coach in Sean McDermott. They were miraculously able to retain offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, one of the hottest names on the coaching carousel this offseason. The Bills stars are ready to take the next step and finally bring the most passionate fanbase in the NFL a long overdue trip to the Super Bowl.
Los Angeles Chargers (+1600)
What an offseason for the Chargers. They finally moved on from head coach Anthony Lynn and brought in his promising replacement, Brandon Staley, from the cross-town rival Rams. Their clear-as-day goal this spring was to revamp and improve the offensive line, and they’ve done so in a big way.
They signed Corey Linsley, one of the best centers in the league, and used their first round draft pick on Rashawn Slater, a tackle from Northwestern who many felt was the best at his position in the entire class. Both moves will go a long way towards helping Justin Herbert build off his Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign and avoid the dreaded sophomore slump. Herbert was incredibly impressive in 2020, and he’s got the weapons around him and the protection in front of him to be even better in 2021.
Speaking of the Chargers draft class, it’s widely regarded as one of the strongest of any team in the 2021 Draft, receiving A-grades from many draft analysts and experts (B+ from Mike Tagliere at FantasyPros). Players like Slater and former Florida State cornerback Asante Samuel, Jr. are fully capable of stepping in right away and becoming impact players on a much better team than their record indicated in 2020.
Los Angeles finished last season at 7-9, but ranked in the top-10 in both yards per game on offense and yards per game allowed on defense. How in the world can a team sport a top-10 offense and defense and still miss the playoffs with a losing record? Losses in close games. Their first seven losses of the year were all by one score, eight of their nine losses were by 10 points or less, three of their losses were by three or less, and two losses came in overtime.
There were tons and tons of missed opportunities for the Chargers in 2020, but this team has the talent and the new coaching staff to fix the mistakes that led to blown leads and close losses. Plus, they’ll get their defensive leader in Derwin James back in 2021, after injuries limited him to just five games in 2019 and held him completely out of action in 2020.
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Mike Wagenman is a featured writer at BettingPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him on Twitter @mjwags23.
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