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AFC Betting Outlook
By Marc Lawrence

2015 AFC Division Preview

Passer Rating Differential

In a passer-friendly league these days, it’s important to know that you win when you have a quarterback; you lose when you don’t.

According to, teams with great efficient QBs win games and teams with lousy, inefficient QBs lose games.

Want proof? Look no further than the fact that teams that won the battle of Passer Rating Differential (the difference between a team’s Offensive Passer Rating and Defensive Passer Rating) in 2014 went 218-36 (.858). Leading the pack was Green Bay, as the Packers Offensive Passer Rating was 109.88 while its Defensive Passer Rating was 82.05 – for a differential of 27.83.

AFC teams brought up the bottom of the barrel as Jacksonville, the NY.Y. Jets and Oakland ranked as the lowest rated teams at -27.05, -26.40 and -22.54 overall Passer Rating Differentials, respectively.

In order for the AFC to hold its own against the NFC the conference will need it’s signal callers to stand up and deliver.


Not so coincidentally, the AFC stands 120-138-1 SU and 123-127-9 ATS in non-conference clashes against the NFC the past four seasons.

They have gone 148-109-2 ‘Over’ in those games, including 91-61-2 ‘Over’ when playing as a dog.

Quick Outs

— The AFC reigns supreme when it comes to point differential. In 2014 New England led the league in point differential +155. In 2013 the leader was Denver at +207. In 2012 it was New England, again, at +226.

— The Indianapolis Colts led the league in dropped passes in 2014 with 40. The Oakland Raiders (33) and the Jacksonville Jaguars (32) round out the top three. The average Drops Percentage in the NFL 2014 season was 4.35.

— It’s a passing league these days and with it the AFC owned the three worst rushing teams in the league in 2013, Baltimore (1,328), Jacksonville (1,260) and Pittsburgh (1,383). Not so coincidentally, all three teams miss the playoffs. Last year the AFC produced two of the three worst rushing squads, Oakland and San Diego – who also missed the playoffs.



If you lit a candle depicting how long it’s been since Buffalo last made a playoff appearance (16 years), you’d be holding a torch. That being said, Bills savior and new owner Terry Pegula forked over $1.6 billion for the right to become only the second owner in Buffalo’s checkered 55-year history. When asked if he overpaid for the team, Pegula’s response was point-on: “I want to ask our fans if I overpaid, because I know what they’re going to tell you.” And with it comes changes aplenty, starting with new head coach Rex Ryan.

After taking the Jets to the AFC championship game in his first two seasons with the Flyboys, Rexy turned less sexy with New York fans, going just 26-38, while allowing nearly 24 PPG, thereafter. Still, strong offseason acquisitions including the likes of RB Sean McCoy, WR Percy Harvin, QB Matt Cassel and TE Charles Clay, helped offset a mediocre draft (no first-round pick). Thus, WR Sammy Watkins needs to quickly justify his being the No. 4 pick in last year’s draft. The biggest issue facing the new-look Bills is the quarterback position, which has been a black hole for this team since Hall of Famer Jim Kelly (the last Buffalo QB to win a playoff game) retired. Nonetheless, if Ryan – who knows this division even better than the bottom of his wife’s feet – can replicate his first two seasons with the Jets, the passing of the torch in Buffalo will be well worth it.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Fifteen of Buffalo’s last 24 losses have been by a touchdown or less.


Six years, $96 million dollars. It’s the price you pay for stability in the NFL these days. Even though he has never had a winning season, and had two years remaining on the back end of his rookie contract, QB Ryan Tannehill inked a $96 million contract extension with the Dolphins in the offseason. In a dizzying three months they turned over nearly half their starting lineup, signed Tannehill and Mike Pouncey to contract extensions and landed the year’s biggest free agent prize, Ndamukong Suh. And to help Tannehill and the Fish ascend, Miami reeled in free agent Pro Bowl TE Jordan Cameron and stud WR DeVante Parker in the first round of the draft. It’s what happens when your owner (Stephen Ross) has nothing to show for his investment and is willing to provide the financial wherewithal to make it happen.

And speaking of reeling it in, expect a breakout season from WR Jarvis Landry who switches from inside to outside receiver. Word is his improvement during the offseason has been dramatic. So, if you’re head coach Joe Philbin, with all this new and expensive talent on hand it all needs to happen now. Miami beat the sisters of the poor last season, going 5-1 versus losing teams while struggling at just 3-7 versus winning opposition. Luckily OC Bill Lazor is looked upon as a quarterback whisperer after delivering dramatic results with QBs Nick Foles and Tannehill in his first year with both Philadelphia and Miami. Let’s hope it’s not all smoke being blown into Ross’ ear.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Owners of a 42-5 September home record from 1970-2003, Miami has gone 8-15 since.


As pointed out in our preview, the Patriots have been one of the most consistent teams over the last dozen years, winning six straight AFC East titles, and eleven of the last twelve overall, including a pair of Super Bowl victories. Unfortunately, the Deflategate scandal further smeared the reputation of this organization with Tom Brady suspended and the team fined $1M, while losing a No. 1 draft pick next year and a 4th-rounder in 2017. In addition, the loss of star CBs Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner cannot be underestimated. Not only is the secondary weakened, it’s also likely to have an impact on the wide receivers, who felt going up against the tandem every day in practice made them better. “It’s been great for our receiving corps and (because of it) we’re all better out there,” insists WR Danny Amendola.

Toss in NT Vince Wilfork’s departure and suddenly there are huge gaps to fill. RBs Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley (nearly 100 rush attempts apiece last season) are also gone, leaving a significant hole in the backfield (look for Dion Lewis to fill one of the holes). If RB Jonas Gray wakes up in time, he will likely be teaming with suspended druggie LeGarrette Blount, leaving Brady holding a precarious hand. Thus, keeping stud TE Rob Gronkowski (averaged 11 TD passes in five seasons) is Priority One. Heck, if it weren’t the Patriots we’re talking about, this club would be in dire straits. Then again, it wouldn’t be a Bill Belichick team, would it?

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Patriots are 0-4 ‘In The Stats’ the last four games with the Jets, averaging 247 YPG.


It’s safe to say the Jets enjoyed the best offseason of all AFC teams, and arguably the entire league. What else can you say after they landed CBs Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, plus talented nickel-back Brian Skrine, in addition to flighty WR Brandon Marshall. It continued when DL Leonard Williams (USC) – said to be the best player in this year’s draft – fell into their lap with the sixth pick. Added to the mix was Ohio State star wide-out Devin Smith, the 37th selection in the draft. Indeed, it was quite a haul. But as is always the case, the success of new head coach Todd Bowles will go hand-in-hand with the play he gets from the quarterback position.

Geno Smith and Ryan Fitzpatrick figured to go toe-to-toe for starting honors (that’s not saying much), until Smith hit the canvas with a broken jaw in a scuffle a former teammate. Fortunately, new OC Chan Gailey has worked with Fitzpatrick in the past (Buffalo). Another concern is that no less than 16 new coaches will be entering their first season with the Jets – and that’s not counting Bowles. On the defensive front, Gang Green will be counting heavily on third-year iron man LB Demario Davis, one of four Jets defenders to log 32 starts the past two seasons. It’s been five years since Rex Ryan last led this team to the postseason. With a little luck of the Irish, Bowles may do it in one.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick is 0-15 SU away vs. foes who ended the season with a winning record.



Pro Bowl QB Joe Flacco, off arguably the best season of his NFL career in 2014, insists working with a fourth offensive coordinator in as many years is no big deal. This time it’s Marc Trestman, former Chicago Bears head coach. “I’m really excited about Marc being here,” Flacco said last spring. “I think he’s got a great mind. I think he does a great job in the meeting room. My conversations with him have gotten me excited.” With Trestman aboard, and after losing WR Torrey Smith to free agency and TE Dennis Pitta to forced retirement, Baltimore’s first priority in the draft was to bolster its air corps.

That was accomplished with the selection of human rocket Breshad Perriman with the first pick, then trading up for TE Maxx Williams in the second round. As a result, Flacco was all smiles entering the OTA’s. You would be too after piloting the team to franchise records in total points (25.6) and yards (364.9) per game last season. Meanwhile, head coach John Harbaugh has been a symbol of success during his tenure with the Black Birds, averaging nearly 12 wins in seven years, with nary a losing season. And to his credit, he managed to make it to the AFC divisional round game year despite the fallout from the Ray Rice fiasco, thanks to a career-year (1,266 yards) from RB Justin Forsett. An 18-7 SU mark in head-to-head games against the NFC West – including 4-1 with Harbaugh – bodes well. Color them a legit threat to make it to Super Bowl 50.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: 30 of the Ravens’ 45 losses under John Harbaugh have been by a touchdown or less, including 10 times the last two years.


In the 2014 season the Bengals dealt heavily with the injury bug on the offensive side of the ball. Among others, they lost QB Andy Dalton’s No. 2 wide receiver in Marvin Jones (10 TD passes in 2013 – only five WRs scored more. Figuring to contribute this season with a now-healthy Jones is 2013 first-round pick TE Tyler Eifert, out the majority of last year. Along with star WR A.J. Green and added support from Mohamed Sanu, Denarius Moore and Brandon Tate, plus a boost from good-hands running back Giovanni Bernard, these cats once again have an air attack that would make most head coaches envious. And speaking of Dalton, his 40-23-1 record in the NFL is rock solid, to say the least. It’s his 0-4 mark in the playoffs that leaves the 96 million-dollar-man scratching his head.

To make matters worse, the Red Rifle’s numbers regressed last season, albeit largely due to the aforementioned loss of Eifert and Jones. Cincy has added much needed depth to the OL with the addition of Cedric Ogbeuhi and Jake Fisher with their top two picks in this year’s draft. Meanwhile, second year RB Jeremy Hill fits run-loving OC Hue Jackson’s playbook like a glove. The Achilles heel may be its defense, one that slipped 60 YPG last season. The optimistic return of stud LB Vontaze Burfict (microfracture surgery) is a key to a turnaround. It may sound like press-release hype but the fact is it would be a shock if the Bengals do not only improve on last year’s 10-win effort but also… drum roll, please… win a playoff game!

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: It’s been 24 years since the Bengals last won a playoff game – the longest in the league.


After a 7-4 start under new head coach Mike Pettine last season, it was looking like sunny skies had finally found their way to the north coast. And then faster than you can say nor’easter, the heavens turned black when the Browns lost all-star C Alex Mack and proceeded to drop their final five games of the season. In the process, Cleveland cycled through three more starting quarterbacks, making it 10 the last five years and a total of 23 starting signal callers since their rebirth 16 years ago. As stoked up as Browns fans were when the team announced the selection of Heisman Trophy winning Johnny Manziel in the first round of last year’s draft, it proved to be simply another letdown: Manziel himself was more stoked than most realized when he headed off to rehab at the conclusion of the season.

Gone is QB Brian Hoyer, the hometown star who just happened to own the only winning record (10-6 SU and 11-5 ATS) as a starting Cleveland quarterback since Vinny Testaverde (1993-95). So does recycled QB Josh McCown – 1-10 as a starter with Tampa Bay last season – step in and pick up where Hoyer left off, or does a clear-headed Johnny Smoke take over and capitalize on a super-soft three game season-opening set (foes 9-39 last year) and win the fans back? Stay tuned. Meanwhile, re-cycled WR’s Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline come aboard. The hope is a star-studded draft, headlined with NT Danny Shelton and RB Duke Johnson (the talk of minicamp), should pay dividends sooner than later.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Browns are 1-15 SU the last two years without QB Brian Hoyer.


If you don’t agree with us that the best acquisition the Steelers made during the offseason last year was the signing of OL coach Mike Munchak, then think again. After having been sacked 386 times in his 10-year NFL career – or an average of 2.64 times per game started – Ben Roethlisberger hit the deck just 2.24 times per game last season. As a result, Pittsburgh’s offense spiked 71 YPG when the Black-and-Gold ended a two-year playoff hiatus. This season they must endure a three-game suspension of stoner RB Le’Veon Bell (pot), meaning he’ll be out the entire month of September.

The hope is 32-year old RB DeAngelo Williams has enough oxygen left in the tank to fill the gap. On the other side of the ball the defense loses Hall of Fame DB Troy Polamalu, along with CB Ike Taylor and LB Jason Worilds, all to retirement. In addition, longtime DC Dick LeBeau has departed, leaving the Steel Curtain in distress. If the picture we’re painting seems fuzzy, it’s because it is. The good news is the long-in-the-tooth Steelers are clearing cap space – $8.2M this year as opposed to 998K last season – and Big Ben has been signed to a long-term deal. At least for now the Steelers can make clear football decisions, instead of worrying how many players they must cut to clear enough cap room.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Roethlisberger is 17-3 SU in his NFL career games played in Ohio.



After winning the stats by 29 YPG in 2013, yet losing 14 games in the process, the call went out to Bill O’Brien to get Houston back to the playoff. Despite slipping in the stats on both sides of the ball, O’Brien’s bunch came tantalizingly close to returning to the postseason. And therein lies the rub. It’s not often a team slips statistically as Houston did in 2014, yet improves dramatically both SU and ATS – which by definition makes them prime ‘play against’ material the next season. Granted, we admire the fact the Texans outyarded each of their final five opponents to finish the season but closer inspection reveals that three of the contests were against division lightweights Jacksonville and Tennessee.

Meanwhile, former Browns QB Brian Hoyer comes in to battle former Patriots castoff Ryan Mallet, with Hoyer holding the edge having worked under O’Brien at New England. And since the quality of the quarterback position largely determines the outcome of a season, the Texans could be in trouble. Especially with former stud WR Andre Johnson in a new huddle, leaving talented DeAndre Hopkins and 3rd round steal Jaelen Strong to carry most of the wide receiver weight. The loss of star RB Arian Foster (groin) for the first half of the campaign is especially crippling for and offense looking to find an identity. A healthy Jadeveon Clowney, along with Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt, could make the defense imposing. Still, with HBO’s HARD KNOCKS focusing on their every move this preseason, a bounce looks to be in order this season.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Texans have suffered 13 losses by a TD or less the last two seasons, including six by a FG or less.


It was fun while it lasted, picking on the Colts and their smoke-and-mirrors winning efforts the previous two years. But after drawing the league’s easiest – or 2nd easiest – strength of schedule each of the past three years, it appears the Colts are ready to go toe-to-toe with the Big Boys in 2015. A 33-5 SU mark at home in division play since 2002 bodes well. As does the fact they will face only four foes this season that made the playoffs last year. In a sign of Super Bowl or bust, the offseason additions of WR Andre Johnson (34 years old) and RB Frank Gore (32 years old) look good on paper, but age could be a factor. Consider: in the NFL’s 95-year history, there have been only 46 instances of a 1,000-yard season by a running back who is at least 30 years old. Worse, only four times has it happened for one older than 32, and not once since 1984.

The real strength of the team, however, is QB Andrew Luck who is a jaw-dropping 14-1 SUATS off a loss – meaning he’s lost back-to-back contests only one time. And then there’s Chuck Pagano, Indy’s underrated head coach, who himself is 12-1 SU and 11-1-1 ATS in games off a spread loss. They are also ecstatic over selecting WR Phillip Dorsett at No. 29 overall in this year’s NFL Draft. “He looks really good,” Pagano raved. “He’s really fast. He’s got really good hands. He’s really smart.” (FYI: the Colts led the league in dropped passes, 50, last year). Yep, he’s Andrew Luck’s kind of guy – and the QB agrees that Dorsett fits in very, very well. Behind an improving defense, its no wonder Indianapolis OC Pep Hamilton has dubbed the Colts the “Greatest Shoe on Earth.” It’s a moniker the iconic helmets can finally live up to… provided Luck can snap a dizzying 0-4 SUATS career mark against the Patriots.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Colts are 12-1 SU and 11-1-1 ATS when playing on Thursdays.


The news from rookie minicamp was not good: the Jaguars suffered a crushing blow when LB Dante Fowler, the third selection in this year’s NFL Draft, tore his left ACL. Still, all is not lost. Jacksonville had the sixth most sacks in the league last year without Fowler and have added former Miami Dolphins DL Jared Odrick – who many believe is set for a breakout season in 2015. Fowler can now learn behind Sen’Drick Marks (12.5 sacks the last two seasons) and Chris Clemons (8 sacks and 4 forced fumbles last year). Ironically, Marks tore his ACL three seasons ago before developing into an elite pass rusher. In addition, the Jags may have landed the biggest gem of the draft when Ohio State DT Michael Bennett fell to them in the sixth round. And then there is the offense where, come hell or high water, Blake Bortles is their quarterback.

Last year’s third overall pick was the worst QB in the league statistically but Bortles has shown enough promise and leadership that the feeling is he has nowhere to go but up this season. After two years of finishing 31st in total offense under Jedd Fisch, new OC Greg Olsen can only hope to lead this offense up the ladder. The hope is former Alabama star and rookie RB T.J. Yeldon – the third running back in this year’s draft – will help kick-start an attack that has failed to gain 300 YPG each of the last four seasons. And word from camp is former starting RB Toby Gerhart is healthy and turning heads. Should that happen, Jags fans will be riding the victory bus with Gus.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Jaguars have been favored in only one of their last 44 games.


Ken Whisenhunt’s first year with the Titans was not a good one as no team in the league won fewer games. Enter the newest savior: Marcus Mariota, last year’s Heisman Trophy winning quarterback from Oregon. Recognizing an apparent need for instant offense, Whiz immediately surrounded the deceptive Duck with plenty of help at the wide receiver position, bringing in Hakeem Nicks and Harry Douglas while also drafting Dorial Green-Beckham. Word in camp is Marriotta has taken control of the huddle and is further along than they thought he would be. “I think there is good reason to be really excited about him,” said Whisenhunt. Let the experiment begin. Meanwhile, an experienced OL returns five linemen who each started at least five games last season.

New assistant head coach Dick LeBeau will be in charge of the defense. As David Climer of the best put it, “LeBeau is in the same union as Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. He shows up in the middle of the night and delivers great defense while we’re sleeping.” His defenses have earned five No. 1 rankings and he owns two Super Bowl rings with the Steelers. It’s said he makes average players good, good players great, and great players elite. See Joey Porter, James Harrison and Troy Polamalu for prime examples. The free agent additions of LBs Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan should be a terrific fit. LeBeau’s hire was not only a no-brainer but a coup for a 2-14 team whose defense was ranked 27th in the NFL last year. It all adds up to a huge step forward.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Rookie QB Ben Roethlisberger went 14-1 when Ken Whisenhunt was the Steelers OC.



As mind-boggling as it seems, after averaging more than 12 wins a season with Denver, the Broncos sent head coach John Fox packing. Enter Gary Kubiak, former head Houston boss who averaged less than 8 wins per season in just under eight years with the Texans. While we may not own a masters degree from MIT, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to call that a mysterious move. However, a deeper look shows Kubiak, an OC for the Broncos from 1995-2005 and Texas High School Hall of Fame inductee, was twice named to the all-state football, basketball, baseball and track teams.

He played his entire nine-year NFL career as a backup for John Elway, and thus the two are re-united once again. Kubiak owns three Super Bowl rings, two more than his star QB Peyton Manning, who winds down a brilliant Hall of Fame career having won 40 of 53 games for the Broncos. It should also be noted that Kubiak mentored quarterbacks John Elway and Joe Montana in their NFL careers. With 40 wins in the last three seasons, and behind a defense that improved leaps and bounds in 2014 en route to outstatting 13 of its final 15 foes, it appears Peyton is in prime position to write a winning epitaph. So the question begs: Is Gary Kubiak the man for the job in Denver? John Elway thinks so. Retaining WR Demaryius Thomas for the long run was huge, but rest assured, this team is going as far as Manning takes them.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Head coach Gary Kubiak is 0-8 ATS in his NFL career in Game Five of the season.


After taking over a 2-14 squad in 2013 and compiling 20 wins in two seasons, Andy Reid is riding high in Kansas City these days. Sure, he’s yet to win a playoff game, but then again the Chiefs are 0-8 SUATS in postseason play dating back to 1994. And on a side-bar note, speaking of non-regular season games, this just in: KC has struggled mightily in preseason play, too, going 9-34-1 SU and 7-36-1 ATS in its last 44 exhibition games. It’s safe to say the Chiefs’ absence from the playoffs last year – despite winning ten games – was largely attributable to the dramatic drop in numbers by feature running back Jamaal Charles. Playing through an injury-riddled season, Charles amassed nearly 700 fewer combined yards while catching 30 fewer passes.

One has to figure if Charles chips in with a better effort in 2015 that Kansas City’s season-ending woes under Reid (4-8 SUATS during the final six games of the regular season) might be a thing of the past. The addition of ex-Philadelphia WR Jeremy Maclin was an upgrade over departed Dwayne Bowe. Coupled with speedy 3rd round pick, 6-foot-2 WR Chris Conley (4.35 speed with 45-inch vertical jump), they figure to aid QB Alex Smith, whose 18 TDs and 6 INTs last year equated into a rock-solid 93.4 QB Rating. Heck, they may even snag a TD pass this season (none by Chiefs’ wide-outs in all of 2014). The return to health of star CB Eric Berry is a strong shot in the arm for the defense. Once again the pieces are in place. The rest is up to Andy.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Chiefs head coach Andy Reid is 16-0 SU with rest versus sub .888 opponents.


New but re-cycled head coach Jack Del Rio joins the Raiders, a team that has suffered 10 double-digit loss seasons the last eleven years. Also aboard is new OC Bill Musgrave, who spent the last two seasons working with Chip Kelly in Philadelphia. Musgrave’s up-tempo offense should suit rising QB Derek Carr – who thrived in a no-huddle attack at Fresno State – just fine. Carr, though, will need to improve on his atrocious 5.5 yards-per-attempt mark, one of the worst in NFL history. To do so, Alabama’s Amari Cooper, the best wide receiver in this year’s NFL Draft, was taken with the fourth overall pick. Cooper may also end up being the best player selected – he’s that good.

With the addition of Michael Crabtree, Carr now has the tools to work with. In addition, Oakland is expecting big things from third round draft pick TE Clive Walford (Miami, FL). The loss of RB Darren McFadden to the Cowboys marks the end of a failed project as health issues hampered his high hopes. Likely-to-explode RB Latavius Murray showed big-play potential last season and will step in for McFadden. The bottom line, though, is this team will go as far as its young defense carries them. Del Rio is a defensive specialist and having LB Khalil Mack as his anchor is a strong starting point.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Raiders are 1-11 SUATS vs. foes off a pair of losses by 7 or more points each.


What appeared to be a messy divorce in the making turned into good news for the Chargers in 2015 when they managed to ink QB Philip Rivers to a lucrative long-term deal. And while it appeared that the loss of OC Ken Whisenhunt last year was unsettling (Diego dipped 39 YPG on offense in 2014), San Diego’s 9-win effort last season fell right in line with the fact the Chargers’ record has now regressed each year eight times in a row since 1982 after winning 10 or more games the previous season. So what can we expect in 2015? They will certainly need Rivers to improve on a 55.8 QBR on passes 10 yards or fewer. He finished seventh in the league in the same category en route to a 10-win playoff effort in 2013. It’s called taking what the defense gives you, a trait his AFC West counterpart Peyton Manning does best.

Meanwhile, San Diego lost RB Ryan Mathews to the Eagles and WR Eddie Royal to the Bears in free agency, but managed to acquire WR Stevie Johnson. First round draft pick RB Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin will be counted on to fill Mathews’ shoes. The loss of star TE Antonio Gates – Rivers’ security blanket – for the first month of the season (drugs) is a bummer. But as far as Rivers’ separation papers from the Chargers were concerned, it was Zsa Zsa Gabor who put divorce in the best light when she said, “I have never hated a man enough to give his diamonds back.” Safe to say, Rivers now walks with diamonds on the soles of his shoes.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Philip Rivers is 31-9 SU during the month of December in his NFL career.