With over half the season in the books, it’s time to take a deep dive into the AFC playoff picture which is surprisingly wide open, especially with the injuries to Watson and Burrow in the AFC North. As of the time of writing this, we do not have a solid update on Burrow’s wrist, so the Bengals are currently off the board. After the loss last night, any additional weeks missed by Burrow put their season in serious jeopardy.
Before we dive in, let’s take a look at the current standings with odds to make/miss the playoffs and Strength of Schedule (SOS) up to this point and for the rest of the season.
At this point, we can lock in four teams: the Chiefs, Ravens, Jaguars and Dolphins. That leaves three open spots for the other ten teams listed. If you have been following this article, you already have a Texans +140 ticket to make the playoffs and Chargers -110 to miss the playoffs in pocket. While I would not bet the Chargers -280, I do believe there is still some value with the Texans at -125, especially with the easiest schedule left and the QB injuries that have plagued the other teams on the list.
Let’s cut down the eight possible teams first by eliminating the teams with top five schedules left, so the Raiders, Bengals, Bills and Chargers are out. That leaves the Steelers, Browns, Texans, Colts, Jets and Broncos to fill the final three spots.
When you look at the current look-ahead lines, the Texans jump out. They will be meaningful favorites in two of their remaining games, and every other game will be a coin flip at worst. Like I said, I’d still play -125 since I have their chances close to 62% to make the playoffs. Let’s give them one of the remaining spots.
The Steelers are a tough cookie to nail down this season, being outgained in every single game yet somehow pulling out a 6-3 record. Historically, an NFL team that is outgained wins about 32% of the time. They have five road games left but two very winnable home games versus the Pats and Cardinals. 9-8 will probably be the 7 seed so they are in the mix. The current price of -155 seems a little too steep, especially with the current injuries on defense. I would play the Miss or pass, but do not have enough conviction to play +125.
The Colts are an interesting team at +235 to make the playoffs. The schedule is favorable, they have eight coin-flip games left and would need to go 4-4 to make the playoffs, with the toughest game left on the schedule Week 14 at the Bengals. Without knowing the Burrow status and games left versus Tampa, Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Las Vegas and Atlanta, the price is very appealing here.
I did try to make a case for the Jets or the Broncos since both are over 5-1, but it’s going to be tough for either of them to make a run. The Jets have Buffalo once and Miami twice left of the schedule. If you wanted to play them, I would wait two weeks until you would get a much, much higher price if they lose to the Bills and Dolphins. The Broncos are slightly more interesting, but the three-game win streak has been fueled by a massive advantage in the turnover battle, winning those games 10 to 2. They do have four winnable home games left and just one game where they will be dogs of three or more. If you want a swing at a big number, I’d go with Denver.
And that leaves us with the Browns who will start a rookie quarterback but sport the best defense in the NFL. I cannot lay -205 with them, but the schedule is ripe. They need to win three or more games to make the playoffs and have home tilts left against the Bears, Jets and Steelers. They should make it, but with uncertainty at the most important position, I’m not willing to lay it.
Best Bet: Houston -125 to Make the Playoffs
Bets: Colts +235 to Make the Playoffs
Interested, but did not pull the trigger: Broncos +550 to Make the Playoffs, Steelers +125 to Miss the Playoffs.