At the three-quarter mark of the NFL season, the playoff picture has become much clearer in both conferences. Kansas City and New England have been the AFC frontrunners for most of the campaign, but the 9-3 Texans are now hot on their heels. The Chargers and Ravens are also in very strong form and are within touching distance of the lead in their respective divisions. This preview will take a look at my predicted AFC playoff matchups and provide two best bets for the Conference Championship market.
1. Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs have surpassed all expectations this season and currently sit atop the AFC with a 10-2 record. They’ve received outstanding play at the QB position from first-year starter Patrick Mahomes, who’s currently thrown for over 3900 yards and 41 touchdowns on the season. Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, and Travis Kelce have also combined for one of the best receiving trios in the league. Kansas City’s rushing game looks in trouble since the release of Kareem Hunt, whilst the defence has leaked points all year. Ultimately, I expect the Chiefs to win 13 or more games this year and with their excellent home field advantage, they are my favourites to take out the AFC.
2. New England Patriots
The Patriots had their customary rebound after a slow start, winning their last 8 of their last 9 games to find themselves 9-3. Tom Brady has had another very efficient campaign, throwing for over 3300 yards and 20 touchdowns so far. The Pats defence has also noticeably improved of late, allowing 17 or fewer points in 4 of their last 5 games. With a relatively easy schedule the rest of the way, I can’t see the Pats finishing any worse than 12-4. Unless the Texans win out, this puts New England in a great position to make the AFC Championship.
3. Houston Texans
Winners of 9 straight games, the Houston Texans are the NFL’s form team at the moment. Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins have one of the best QB-Receiver duos in the NFL and have gouged defences all year. With the running game noticeably improving of late, this Houston offence is shaping up as one of the league’s most dynamic. Defensively, the Texans have been fantastic all season. They haven’t allowed more than 23 points in their last 8 games and feature one of the NFL’s premier pass-rushing trios. With 4 winnable games to finish their schedule, the Texans are very much in contention in the AFC.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers
After a disastrous collapse against the Chargers last week, the Steelers find themselves only a half-game ahead in the AFC North. The Steelers offence has again been outstanding this season, with Ben Roethlisberger throwing for a shade under 4000 yards so far. In JuJu Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown, he has one of the NFL’s best receiving duos to throw to. Defensively, the Steelers have noticeably improved this season, going through a recent 6-game stretch where they didn’t allow more than 21 points. The schedule doesn’t favour Pittsburgh, with tough games against the Patriots and Saints still to come. That said, with two easy games against Oakland and Cincinnati, the Steelers should edge Baltimore for the AFC North crown.
5. Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers have surprised a lot of people so far and currently lead the AFC Wildcard race at 9-3. In Phillip Rivers, Melvin Gordon and Kenan Allen, the Chargers have a trio of offensive stars to build around. The defense has also been very impressive this season, allowing less than 20 points in 6 games so far. With a tough remaining schedule, I expect the Chargers to finish with 11 or 12 wins. If they can pull off an upset in Kansas City and win out, this all changes. However, I don’t see them winning 3 road games to take the AFC as a Wildcard.
6. Baltimore Ravens
I think it’s a tossup between Denver and Baltimore for the last wildcard spot, but the Ravens superior conference record gives them the edge here. Rejuvenated by the introduction of QB Lamar Jackson, the Ravens have comfortably won 3 straight. Led by an outstanding rushing attack and an elite defence, the Ravens are starting to win with an old-school formula in 2018. Ultimately, I expect Baltimore to finish with 9 or 10 wins and just scrape the #6 seed. Unfortunately for Ravens fans, I expect them to be a one-and-done playoff team.
Kansas City to win the AFC at $2.80
If Kansas City can beat the Chargers next week, I’m very confident that they’ll hold on to the #1 seed in the AFC. As the #1 seed, all they’d need to do is win 2 home games and the AFC is theirs. The Chiefs are 5-0 at home so far, having won every fixture by a touchdown or more. Arrowhead Stadium is renowned for being one of the NFL’s best home fields and I’d expect the Chiefs to be comfortable home favourites over Pittsburgh and New England. At $2.80, this is clearly the best bet on the board for me.
Houston to win the AFC at $10
The Texans have a relatively easy remaining schedule and I wouldn’t be surprised if they manage to win out. Doing so would give them a very good shot at a top 2 seed in the AFC. With the form this team is in, they have every chance of winning 2 games against any AFC opponent. Their offence is one of the most versatile in the NFL, whilst the defensive front seven has a talent advantage almost every week. At $10, I think Houston is excellent value to represent the AFC in the Superbowl.