Tom Brady missing the first quarter of the season with his Deflategate suspension has scarcely dimmed the New England Patriots’ prospects on the NFL division futures boards at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.
The Patriots appear resigned to having third-year backup Jimmy Garoppolo fill in for their first four games, but they have won the AFC East every season since 2003 save ’08, when Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 1.
It’s no surprise that the Patriots have overwhelming -200 odds to win the AFC East division title. The Buffalo Bills and New York Jets are each +475 longshots that could be capable of vying for an AFC wild card, but seem a long way off from toppling New England. Buffalo, which has long lacked for disruptive defensive players, swung for the fences at the NFL draft by adding DE Shaq Lawson and OLB Reggie Ragland, who each played in the College Football Playoff title game in January.
The other AFC divisions are wide open. In the AFC North, the Pittsburgh Steelers and QB Ben Roethlisberger were far too dependent on their offense last season, but still managed to hang in with the eventual Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos before falling in the divisional round. The Steelers are listed at +120 on the odds to win the AFC North, with their longtime foil from southern Ohio, the Cincinnati Bengals, listed at +140. The close to even odds on each team suggests that the Baltimore Ravens, at +350, are unlikely to contend.
The aforementioned Broncos have questions to answer at quarterback and on defense after post-Super Bowl defections via free agency and retirement. Denver is listed at +165 on the odds to win the AFC West, which reflects bettors’ confidence in the Broncos organization to fill holes in the depth chart.
The Kansas City Chiefs, who are coming off a playoff berth and a win in the wild-card round, are at +175. The Chiefs would rate higher if there weren’t questions about QB Alex Smith and the calibre of his wide receiver corps.
The first team to nine victories might win the AFC South, where the Andrew Luck-led Indianapolis Colts are the favorite at +125. Luck is coming back from an injury season, and the Colts’ defense, with CB Patrick Robinson signed away from the San Diego Chargers, should improve after being 26th overall in the 32-team NFL last season.
The Houston Texans, the defending AFC South champion, are listed at +200 on the odds to win the AFC South. Houston signed QB Brock Osweiler, the former Broncos backup, and DE J.J. Watt is a wrecking crew on the other side of the ball. Houston has the first-place schedule, which could make it tougher to hold off the Colts, especially if Luck holds up for the whole season.