While the NFC continues to produce different champions (12 different franchises have gone to the Super Bowl since 2001), the AFC has been dominated for decades by the same small group of teams.
When the New England Patriots haven’t been the AFC’s representative in the Super Bowl, either the Denver Broncos, Pittsburgh Steelers and Indianapolis Colts have won the conference in every year but one since 2002. And while not much is expected from Denver or Indy in 2018, the Patriots (+175) and Steelers (+450) are once again the favorites to be the last team standing this season in the AFC.
Problem is, there’s not much value betting the Patriots or Steelers at those prices. Fortunately, there’s another team that is oozing with betting value in 2018: the Houston Texans.
Houston pays a nice fat +1000 to win the AFC this season, and an even juicier +2500 to win its first Super Bowl in franchise history. Here are three reasons why the Texans are a great darkhorse bet at those prices:
1. They’re Underrated
— NFL (@NFL) June 19, 2018
After finishing 4-12 last year (their worst record since 2013), the Texans aren’t flying high on many people’s radar right now. But it’d be a mistake to judge Houston’s potential on that miserable 2017 campaign because of how the team was decimated by injuries.
Before Deshaun Watson got injured in early November, the Texans were averaging more than 30 points per game on offense, nearly even pulling off road upsets in New England and Seattle (while the Seahawks were still considered good.) With Watson expected back and healthy in time for training camp, don’t be surprised if the Houston offense picks up where it left off.
Meanwhile, a defence that allowed an un-Texan-like 27.2 points per game (most in the NFL) will be bolstered by the return of stud linebacker J.J. Watt, who has played just eight games over the last two years due to injuries. Prior to last year, Houston had been seventh or better in fewest yards allowed four times in the last six seasons, including a #1 overall ranking in 2016.
2. The AFC South Stinks
The easiest path to the NFL playoffs is by winning your division, and no division looks easier to win than the AFC South.
According to Pinnacle.com, 9 wins might be enough to win the division this season. Just look at the season Over/Under win totals for each of the teams in the South:
- Houston Texans O/U 8.5 Wins (Over 8.5 -145, Under 8.5 +122)
- Indianapolis Colts O/U 6 Wins (Over 6 -187, Under 6 +155)
- Jacksonville Jaguars O/U 9 Wins (Over 9 -124, Under 9 +104)
- Tennessee Titans O/U 8 Wins (Over 8 +103, Under 8 -123)
To put that into perspective, the NFC South and AFC West are the only other divisions in the NFL that don’t have a team with an Over/Under season wins total of 9.5 or higher. That’s because of the extreme parity within those groups (Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans all have an Over/Under of 9 in the NFC South, and all the teams in the AFC West have win totals set at 9 or higher.)
Meanwhile, Bet365.com makes the Texans co-favourites with the Jaguars to win the AFC South in 2018.
- Houston Texans +180
- Jacksonville Jaguars +180
- Tennessee Titans +350
- Indianapolis Colts +450
Yes, Jacksonville came within one victory of reaching the Super Bowl last year. But when a Blake Bortles-led offence is your biggest obstacle to overcome to win the division, you’ve got to like your chances.
3. Their Schedule Is Easy
AFC South teams strength of schedule from best to worst:
Indianapolis Colts: tied 22nd, .484 win %
Jacksonville Jaguars: T-25th, .477 win %
Tennessee @Titans: 31st, .465 win %
Houston Texans: 32nd, .453 win %
Which AFC South team has the easiest road to the playoffs? pic.twitter.com/eFwoC1WN8y
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) April 21, 2018
Not only do the Texans have the potential to win their division, they could do it with one of the better records in the entire AFC.
That’s because Houston is slated to play the easiest schedule in the NFL this season (based on the combined 2017 record of their opponents.) Nearly half of Houston’s games (6 of 16) will be against teams that won five games or less last year, and five of their 2018 opponents will be teams getting used to a first-year coach.
The weakness of the AFC South factors into that strength of schedule, which is why all four teams in the South have a slate that ranks among the top 10 easiest. But unless Houston, Tennessee and Jacksonville all beat each other up, whoever comes out of the AFC South has a great chance at having at least the second-best record in the conference and a first-round bye in the playoffs.
It’s almost become as natural as a bodily function to pencil the Patriots or Steelers into the Super Bowl, so we get why you might be a bit reluctant to bet the Houston Texans to win the AFC in 2018.
But while the Texans’ chances of winning the conference or the Super Bowl obviously aren’t as good as New England’s or Pittsburgh’s, the odds being offered on Houston more than make up for it. Getting 10:1 return on a Houston squad poised for a bounceback season is more than worth pulling the trigger here, even if it’s just a small play.
And if you still can’t quite stomach asking the Texans to beat out the Pats, Steelers and whoever else rises up in the AFC this season, there are still other ways to take advantage of Houston’s underrated status. We also like the Texans to win the AFC South at +180 odds, and the Over 8.5 Wins at -145 odds has lots of value as well.