AFC Playoff Race: Titans Odds-On Favorites to be No. 1 Seed in AFC
AFC Playoff Race: Titans Odds-On Favorites to be No. 1 Seed in AFC
Let’s just say the AFC is well-balanced. After all, 12 of 16 teams have at least 5 wins through 10 weeks, and even further, 8 of them reside in two divisions. Four teams are winners of six games, but only one – the Tennessee Titans – have eclipsed that mark with eight of their own. But with an injury to their franchise running back and heart and soul of their offensive attitude, can they sustain and enter the AFC playoffs as the top-rated seed?
AFC Playoff Race: AFC No. 1 Seed Rankings
5. Indianapolis Colts (+1400)
In reality, there are three teams tied at +1400 odds at FanDuel Sportsbook, consisting of the Colts, Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins. However, if you take a look at DraftKings Sportsbook, the Colts lead these three teams at +2500 odds to win the conference. Therefore, they get the nod for the fifth spot, and why wouldn’t they?
Indianapolis is three games off of Tennessee in their own division, yet they are 5-5 and 4-1 in their last five alone. And of their five losses, two of them were in overtime to the likes of the Baltimore Ravens and the aforementioned Titans. In summary, their losses have come against flat-out better teams, and close losses at that.
Behind running back Jonathan Taylor, the Colts are solid on the offensive side of the ball. Per Football Outsiders, they are 5th in rush DVOA compared to 20th through the air in the first year with Carson Wentz behind center. Wentz has had his ups and downs, but their control approach has done them well when combined with their number 10 rated defense.
Unlike its fellow AFC foes vying for that top spot, Indy has tough strength of schedule the rest of the way. According to Tankathon, they own the eighth-hardest schedule including matchups with Arizona, Buffalo, Tampa Bay and New England. If there is any silver lining it's in the form of two games against the Jaguars and Texans.
4. Baltimore Ravens (+1000)
In the face of injury after injury, Lamar Jackson and the Ravens have themselves positioned atop the AFC North at 6-3. But since their early-season run of five straight wins, they have failed to mount the momentum after losses to the Bengals and Dolphins in two of their last three games.
Nonetheless, it’s almost impossible to count out someone like Jackson and an offense like that of Baltimore. Ranked 10th overall, the Ravens are the 3rd-most efficient running team behind the committee running back approach that complements Jackson’s skill and production via his legs. Their defensive is near the bottom of the league, so that could keep them from making a run to a first-round bye.
Their late-season schedule doesn’t do them any favors either. The combined win percentage of their final eight opponents is .579, putting them just behind the rival Steelers in that respect. John Harbaugh will be faced with games versus the Packers, Rams, Steelers (twice) and Browns (twice). Can you say, “Oof”?
3. Cleveland Browns (+800)
Speaking of the Browns and the AFC North, it’s almost hard to see them rise to the top three most likely teams to take the conference crown. All of the focus has been on off-the-field issues for Cleveland, including the departure of Odell Beckham Jr., injury after injury to Baker Mayfield and the absence of Nick Chubb due to COVID.
On the gridiron, the Browns seemingly hit their season-low this past week after being bested by the Patriots by a margin of 38 points. They’ve lost four of their last six, but the other three were respectable losses to decent if not quality opponents. With that, they are 5-5 and technically in the bottom of the division, but in the thick of things in the AFC, especially if their defense can step up and Chubb can return to his typical form.
Cleveland hasn’t had an easy go of it, and their rest-of-season schedule is more of the same. They face the fourth-hardest string of opponents, including two games against the Ravens, one on the road against the Packers and a road divisional matchup with the Steelers. It’s going to be tough, but who’s to say their path is any harder than the Ravens’?
2. Buffalo Bills (+400)
Given their odds and situation, Buffalo is the best bet to return value. Their division has tightened up, with New England behind them by just half a game, but they’re sitting on six wins and have arguably the best team in the AFC.
Overall, the Bills lead the entire NFL in DVOA and are first defensively by a wide margin. We know that offensively they are no pushover, either, as they ride the arm of Josh Allen and his trio of receivers down the field. They are 12th in passing efficiency, and they should only go up from here.
They’ll draw the Falcons and Jets in what should result in two comfortable wins, and beyond that they play five home games, including pivotal ones against the Colts and Patriots. Undoubtedly, Buffalo has a handful of tough games on hand, but they’re in the middle of the pack in terms of their remaining strength of schedule.
1. Tennessee Titans (-180)
If you asked the betting public just three weeks ago, they probably would have agreed with the idea of the Titans being the odds-on favorites to win the AFC. The combination of Derrick Henry’s legs and Ryan Tannehill’s arms had them flying high – that is, until Henry’s potentially season-ending foot injury. The sentiment was that Tennessee was no longer a legitimate contender, but here they are.
Without their star back, the Titans have won consecutive games over the Rams and Saints, bringing their win streak to a half-dozen dating back to their last loss on October 3rd. Tennessee’s 19th-rated offense hasn’t lit the world on fire, but their 12th-rated defense has stepped up with three forced turnovers and nine sacks in that short span. An injury to pass-rusher Bud Dupree won’t make that any easier to sustain, but it’s possible Tennessee won’t have to be at their very best for obvious reasons.
Not only do the Titans carry a two-win advantage over any other team, but their schedule is conducive to a number of wins. Their last seven opponents include the Dolphins, Jaguars and Texans (twice), and their combined win percentage they will face is .346 -- the lowest in the league. It’s difficult to see a path in which the Titans don’t finish as the top team in spite of their injuries and shortcomings in telling metrics.
Brett Oswalt has been writing about sports for five years, has covered everything from the NBA to College Football DFS, and previously served as an editor at numberFire. He is a Senior Workforce Planning Analyst at Highmark by day, and an avid sports fan and girl-dad by night. He resides in Pittsburgh, PA with his wife, Marley, daughter, Aria, and goldendoodle, Braun.