Many experts are not very optimistic about the New England Patriots dynasty continuing after the departure of Tom Brady in NFL free agency, but oddsmakers are giving them a fighting chance to compete in the AFC.
Few people would question that the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and the Baltimore Ravens are the two-best teams in the AFC, but you might be surprised to learn the Patriots have the third-best odds to win the conference next season.
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Here are the latest AFC odds via DraftKings Sportsbook.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: +300
2. Baltimore Ravens: +375
3. New England Patriots: +800
4. Pittsburgh Steelers: +1100
5. Buffalo Bills: +1300
6. Indianapolis Colts:+1300
7. Tennessee Titans: +1400
8. Cleveland Browns: +1500
9. Denver Broncos: +1800
10. Houston Texans: +2000
The Patriots are the third-best team in the AFC? It actually makes sense. Let's look at some of the other teams in the conference.
The Indianapolis Colts' most notable move this offseason was replacing Jacoby Brissett with Philip Rivers at quarterback. This is not much of an upgrade, and Rivers has a long history of underperforming in the playoffs. The Houston Texans' odds have plummeted after the DeAndre Hopkins trade, a move in which the AFC South winners pretty much gave away arguably the league's best wide receiver for an underwhelming return.
The Buffalo Bills also are viewed as a legit contender by oddsmakers, but their best offseason move was acquiring Minnesota Vikings wideout Stefon Diggs. He's a good player, but hardly a gamechanger in the conference title race. The Pittsburgh Steelers will be better if veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is healthy, but he's played only one full 16-game season in the last five years, and his offense has taken a hit with the departures of Antonio Brown, Le'Veon Bell and various tight ends in recent offseasons.
The Patriots, despite losing Brady and several veteran defensive players in free agency, still have a ton of talent on their roster, especially in the secondary. And we know head coach Bill Belichick will get his players prepared and well-conditioned as only he can. In fact, Belichick's presence might be the primary reason why oddsmakers remain confident in the Patriots' ability to win games without Brady.
In reality, a lot of the Patriots' success in 2020 likely will depend on Jarrett Stidham. The second-year quarterback is the leading candidate on the current roster to replace Brady, and even though he didn't get many regular season reps in 2019, the former Auburn star did show flashes of his impressive talent in last year's training camp, preseason and in-season practices. Stidham's teammates also have been full of praise for his talents in recent weeks.
The Patriots probably won't get much love when it comes time to make 2020 season predictions, but as long as Belichick and other leaders such as Julian Edelman, Devin McCourty and others remain, you still have to take them seriously as a threat in the AFC.