3 Dark Horse Teams That Could Win the AFC This Season

Dan Israeli
Cincinnati Bengals v Pittsburgh Steelers
Cincinnati Bengals v Pittsburgh Steelers / Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Over the past 18 seasons, the New England Patriots have won the AFC title nine times. That equates to a 50 percent chance of a different team representing the conference in the Super Bowl, quite the staggering stat for such a long stretch.

The Patriots are favored once again to reach the Super Bowl with odds of +320, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. And while the NFC is considered the stronger conference, there are a handful of AFC teams, including Kansas City Chiefs (+370) and Indianapolis Colts (+700), with serious conference title aspirations this upcoming season.

Beyond the obvious names, however, are a few AFC teams that aren't getting quite enough credit, considering the talent they possess on both offense and defense. Here are three dark horse teams that could win the AFC Championship in 2019.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars

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It's easy to forget that the Jacksonville Jaguars fell one game short of the Super Bowl two seasons ago, when they blew a lead against the Patriots in the 2018 AFC Championship Game. That's because this past season the Jags reverted to their old ways with a 5-11 record, good for dead last in the AFC South. Jacksonville finally parted ways with Blake Bortles, in favor of free agent signing, and former Super Bowl MVP, Nick Foles. The Jags will also need a bounce-back season from their defense, which is still loaded with talent and added Kentucky linebacker Josh Allen in April's draft. If Foles can unearth some of his Eagles magic, along with the defense returning to form, the Jags can become a contender once again.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers

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After missing out on the playoffs in heartbreaking fashion last season, the Pittsburgh Steelers enter 2019 without Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell. As such, Pittsburgh is the definition of a dark horse. Ben Roethlisberger will have to lead an offense missing its two biggest weapons from the past several years. Still, the Steelers played just fine without Bell, who held out all of last season, and have plenty of wide receiver depth to make up for Brown's departure, led by emerging star JuJu Smith-Schuster. The defense was also sneaky good last season, yielding the sixth fewest yards from scrimmage in the NFL. While everyone is handing the division to the Cleveland Browns, the Steelers can sneak up on a lot of people thanks to their experience and all-around talent.

1. Houston Texans

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Previously perennial underachievers, due to their assumed talent, the Houston Texans finally broke out last season with a division crown. Unfortunately, they lost in the Wild Card Round to their AFC South rival, the Indianapolis Colts, furthering the narrative that coach Bill O'Brien can't win in the playoffs. The Texans enter the 2019 season as an afterthought in the division, considering how hyped the Colts are, not to mention the buzz being afforded to the Jags. Still, despite their offensive line concerns, the Texans are a team loaded with All-Pro level talent, headlined by quarterback Deshaun Watson, wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and defensive end J.J. Watt. If Houston can stay healthy, and not let it's O-line hold it back, the team will be highly motivated to prove its doubters wrong in 2019.

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