The RotoAnalysis AFC Preview

Despite being primarily a fantasy sports site, I wanted to weigh in with my thoughts and picks for the upcoming season on each NFL team. Without further ado, here’s my breakdown of the AFC:

My breakdown of the NFC can be found hereAll lines courtesy of Bovada.

AFC East

1.    New England Patriots – Over 11 wins (+130)

The Pats definitely have some tough games (@CIN, @ATL, DEN, @HOU), but I think the public is overrating how important receivers are to a team’s overall success. The Patriots still have plenty of weapons and Gronkowski could be back earlier than people think. The Patriots have had 12+ wins in seven of the last ten seasons, were absolutely dominant from a point differential standpoint last season (and had the most points scored by 76), and I certainly don’t see them slipping down to 10 wins.

2.    Miami Dolphins – Under 8 wins (-140)

The Dolphins made some flashy additions (Dion Jordan, Mike Wallace) as well as some unheralded ones I really liked (Tyson Clabo, Brent Grimes) this offseason. However, I still don’t see them making the leap to a 9-7, wild card type team. Tannehill has potential but I still don’t see him making a leap this year – and he’ll have to for the Dolphins to get over .500.

3.    New York Jets – Over 6.5 wins (+160)

He definitely shouldn't have been the #1 pick, but at #39 Smith should help the Jets exceed expectations this year (by a little bit).

He definitely shouldn’t have been the #1 pick, but at #39 Smith should help the Jets exceed expectations this year.

It’s fun to hate on the Jets but that seems to be what everybody is doing. Meanwhile, not much has changed and if anything they have gotten better. They had a great draft getting the best corner in the draft as well as a solid D-tackle in Sheldon Richardson, who well help the massively underrated Muhammed Wilkerson anchor a strong defensive front. The obvious question is at QB, where I think Geno was a great value in the draft and is probably their future at the position. If they get through the first half of their schedule with a couple wins, the back end is easy enough for them to get to 7-9. With +160 on that over, I like their chances.

4.    Buffalo Bills – Under 6.5 wins (-160)

Ah, the Bills. They have some playmakers, but I don’t see them touching 7-9. For as good as CJ Spiller and their rushing attack was last year, their run D was even worse. Their defense allowed 145.8 rushing yards against per game at a 5.0 YPC clip. That was the second worst in the league and they didn’t do much to shore up their front 7. I also thought E.J. Manuel was a huge reach in the draft and won’t be much of an upgrade over Fitzpatrick, who wasn’t that bad last year. All in all, there’s not enough potential here to entice me to take the over.

AFC North

1.    Cincinnati Bengals – Over 8.5 wins (-160)

Hard Knocks will be the reason that more fans than usual are on this bandwagon, but I’m all in. This team isn’t elite in any individual regard, but has a solid rushing and passing attack to go with above average run and pass defense units. After going 10-6 last year and only improving, this line at 8.5 makes me curious what Vegas is seeing that I’m not. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the edge I think I have and see the Bengals as the best team in the division.

2.    Baltimore Ravens – Over 8.5 wins (-115)

I haven’t lived long enough to truly know, but 8.5 has to be one of the lowest lines for a Super Bowl champ the following season ever. I think Vegas is overreacting to the “lucky” postseason run of the Ravens. This defense will still be good without Ed Reed and Ray Lewis, whose name recognition far exceeded their value last season. Lardarius Webb is the biggest addition for the defense as he returns from injury to bolster the secondary, and Matt Elam should be a solid replacement. This isn’t a great team, but 9-7 is easily reachable. They’re clearly an above .500 squad in this AFC.

3.    Pittsburgh Steelers – Under 9 wins (-115)

This is probably the hardest line to pick in the AFC for me. I see the Steelers as a solid 9-7 team – behind the Bengals, and right on par with the Ravens. Their defense was best in the league in terms of yards per play allowed last season and Big Ben is severely underrated as a real-life QB. The offense just seems a little shy of weapons to be more than above-average and the defense doesn’t make up for it. I think there’s a higher chance they slip to 8-8 than they end atop the division.

4.    Cleveland Browns – Under 6 wins (+145) 

A lot of people think the Browns are going to be a pesky team this year but I don’t like them for a few reasons. First, as I’ve gone into above, their division is really tough. They went 2-4 in the division last season and would be lucky to do so again. Second, they had just two draft picks in the first five rounds of the 2013 draft. I really like Barkevious Mingo, but that kind of draft hurts your depth and limits your upside. Third, I just find it hard to put too much faith in Brandon Weeden. The Browns could pull off 6 wins, but I don’t see a way they get to 7.

AFC South

1.    Houston Texans – Over 10.5 wins (+120)

Watt's 20.5 sacks last season anchored a defense that may be the best in the AFC.

Watt’s 20.5 sacks last season anchored a defense that may be the best in the AFC.

This is another line that seems to be just a little off. The Texans should wreck this division and whenever you can go 5-1 or 6-0 in your division it makes an elite record possible. This team has some tough matchups early in the year with back to back weeks against the Seahawks and Niners, but after their bye they should go 8-2.  As long as Arian Foster and Andre Johnson are healthy this offense will keep plodding along and the defense should be phenomenal with Brian Cushing returning to hopefully play all season as well as Ed Reed filling a hole at free safety.

2.    Indianapolis Colts – Under 8.5 wins (-125)

They were a great story last season, but the Colts outperformed what just about every metric expected them to do. Despite being outscored over the course of the season and expected to win 7 games by the Pythagorean Expectation, the Colts went a gaudy 11-5. My biggest issue is with their front 7, which is weak against the run AND doesn’t get much of a pass rush. If only one of those is weak you can get by, but if both are bad you’re going to struggle. The Colts ranked 31st in the NFL terms of yards per play allowed last season. Horrible sign for this year. Additionally, they ranked only 23rd in yards per play offensively in 2012. Their pace overrated a lot of their offenses actual production and Andrew Luck’s accuracy needs to improve for them to be an above .500 team this season.

3.    Tennessee Titans – Under 6.5 wins (-105)  

It’s hard to go under on 3 of 4 teams in a division, but I think I’ve got to go with my gut on each team no matter what. The Titans are mediocre on both sides of the ball and I just don’t see the talent (especially defensively) to bring them to 7-9. This one is probably going to be set as soon as Week 5; they have three straight home games against other middling teams and however many wins they pull off against the Chargers, Jets, and Chiefs will be what swings this line. Personally, Jake Locker has a ton of talent but doesn’t quite do it for me, and will be what holds this team back from moving up ladder in the AFC .

4.    Jacksonville Jaguars – Under 5 wins (-130)

The common rationale is always to be careful going under on the worst teams in the league, but 5 is still way too high for the Jaguars. This defense is absolutely horrible and Blaine Gabbert isn’t going to make too many steps in the right direction. Luke Joeckel and Jonathan Cyprien (a Josh Norris favorite) are both top-notch pieces, but they aren’t enough to vault this team more than 3 wins from last season.

AFC West

1.    Denver Broncos – Over 11.5 wins (-115)

The highest over/under total in the AFC went to the team with the best record last year and the easiest schedule this year – makes sense. This is definitely a fair line that will revolve around Peyton’s health more than anything. If he remains healthy like last year the Broncos, who ended the season on an 11 game win streak, should be a 12-4 squad. I have faith that he has one more season left and that even without Von Miller, the defense will be in fine shape for the first 6 games.

2.    San Diego Chargers – Over 7.5 wins (even)

Only one of the Chiefs and Chargers is likely to make it to .500, and I like the Chargers a little bit more. They had a great draft to fill needs at tackle and linebacker, and Philip Rivers is still a decent NFL QB. If the offense is able to improve from their 4.8 yards per play rate, which was 30th in the league, .500 should be an easy target.

3.    Kansas City Chiefs – Under 7.5 wins (+110)

I like Andy Reid, Alex Smith is OK, and they have some nice talent, but I don’t see the Chiefs having enough talent to jump to 8-8. They had the worst point differential in the league last season at -214. That’s an average of losing by more than 13 points per game, and a jump that’s really hard for a team to make in one year.

4.    Oakland Raiders – Under 5.5 wins (-175)

Offensively and defensively, the Raiders are just shy for talent across the board. Their offensive line play is a joke, and the Terelle Pryor/Matt Flynn show should be funny, not fun, to watch. Their secondary is decent on defense, but with their front 7 teams should run all over them. Just like the Jaguars, everybody wants to take the under and it’s still the way I’d lean – in fact, I think they’re even worse than Jacksonville.

Projected Seeds

  1. Denver Broncos
  2. New England Patriots
  3. Houston Texans
  4. Cincinnati Bengals
  5. Baltimore Ravens
  6. Pittsburgh Steelers

Playoff Predictions

Wildcard Round

  • Texans over Steelers
  • Bengals over Ravens

Divisional Round

  • Broncos over Bengals
  • Patriots over Texans

Conference Championship

  • Broncos over Patriots 

(Super Bowl pick to come in NFC Preview)

Matt Cott is a co-founder of RotoAnalysis. Follow him on Twitter @KidCotti21 and all of his work on RotoAnalysis.com, BasketballWAR.com, & CBSPhilly.com! 

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Photo Credits:

  • http://sports-kings.com/downanddistance/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/JJ-Watt.jpeg
  • http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-SIgnSAEkLQs/UY-hwhwBQiI/AAAAAAAAP6k/Y35awhxJPis/s320/Jets+Geno+Smith+Football.JPEG-014a4.jpg

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