The Kansas City Chiefs are leading the AFC Championship odds.
Although individual player awards races are always exciting in the NFL, the true highlight of most seasons is The Big Game—the Super Bowl. In this final game of the season, players become heroes, teams become dynasties, and legacies are cemented. To ultimately win this game, however, teams have to make it first, via the Conference Championship.
Outright (Heavy) Favorite: Kansas City Chiefs, +250 (29% implied odds)
Just as it did when I wrote about the NFL MVP Award, the conversation starts with Kansas City. With the transcendent Patrick Mahomes at the helm, the Chiefs are and will remain a serious threat to their AFC rivals for the foreseeable future.
However, as poorly as his teammates performed in the 2021 Super Bowl against the Buccaneers. This team is much more than just Mahomes. With serious upgrades at the offensive line and minimal losses at WR, RB, or TE, this offense will again be one of the league’s best.
The team will have trouble stopping opposing offenses with what looks to be a below-average defense. But, fortunately, Mahomes’ offensive unit is talented enough to keep them as the AFC favorite. At the same time, however, it appears that they’re not the best value from a betting perspective.
Value Bets For The AFC Championship
Best Value Pick: Baltimore Ravens, +650 (13% implied odds)
Without looking, would you happen to know which team led the NFL in point differential? Aside from the obvious tip of the headline, would you have guessed the Baltimore Ravens? I certainly wouldn’t have.
In a year in which it seemed the Ravens “fell back to earth,” the team led the league in point differential. Although not perfect, the stat remains one of the best measures of predicting a team’s record.
Over the past 2 years, the Ravens have translated their point differential domination into the 2nd-most wins in the NFL. (Meanwhile, the Chiefs were only 6th in the league in point differential; this suggests they may have overperformed by going 14-2.)
And this year’s installment of the team offers plenty of reason for excitement. After an off year, electric QB Lamar Jackson appears due for positive regression. After all, the former MVP is still just 24, and the team finally managed to get him some help at WR.
Incumbent WR1 Marquise Brown is entering the first full offseason of his NFL career. Joining him will be the uber-talented-if-inconsistent ex-Chief Sammy Watkins and the promising first-round rookie Rashod Bateman. With the sudden infusion of talent, Jackson’s supporting cast may jump from poor to above average. The night-and-day improvement should do wonders for the QB’s production.
Best of all, outside of a slight weakness at LB, the team has virtually no holes throughout their entire lineup. And this is in addition to an experienced coaching staff and the best kicker in the league. Mahomes and Co. may deserve a leg up in the odds, but there’s no reason for their AFC Championship odds to be more than twice as high. Should Jackson regain something close to his 2019 form, the Ravens could run away with the conference.
Overpriced Play: New England Patriots +1500 (6% implied odds)
At only +1500, this is splitting hairs to some extent, but it’s asking a lot of a team so devoid of offensive talent. Sure, the defense could regain elite form after losing several talented players to COVID opt-outs last year, but the NFL has only become more of an offensive game as time has passed.
Cam Newton may have some juice in the tank, but his increasing age and poor accuracy last year hint that there may only be so much left. 1st-round QB Mac Jones may be good one day, but that day is highly unlikely to come in 2021. And, aside from a solid run game led by Newton and Damien Harris, the team will likely struggle to move the ball.
Furthermore, their WR unit is led by several tertiary receivers in Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, and Nelson Agholor. And while their TE unit is more than solid after the additions of Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry. So, where is the star talent?
In a playoff game against Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, or Josh Allen—and likely on the road—how would the team’s offense keep pace?
I never want to count out the legendary Bill Belichick, but the Patriots should not have the same conference odds as Tennessee, Miami, or Los Angeles. If you want a long shot, try one of those aforementioned teams. Or, you could go further down the list to the Pittsburgh Steelers or Denver Broncos (both at +2000)—at least you’ll get over a 30% discount on their AFC Championship odds.
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