The Duel

Dark Horse Teams That Could Win the AFC Ahead of 2019 NFL Season

Dan Israeli

For the third straight year, the New England Patriots were AFC champs last season, en route to their sixth Super Bowl championship.

The Pats are favored to win the AFC this year at +300, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, just ahead of the Kansas City Chiefs at +350. As crazy as it sounds, the Cleveland Browns have the next best odds at +700, despite finishing 7-9-1 last year and missing the playoffs.

If you peek further down the list, however, there are some intriguing dark horse candidates that could represent the AFC in Super Bowl LIV. Here are three teams, all with +1000 odds or greater, that could dethrone the Patriots this season.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars (+1800)

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A team that many are pegging for a bounce-back season, the Jacksonville Jaguars shocked the NFL two years ago, finishing 10-6 and falling one game short of the Super Bowl. Of course, that all came crashing down last season, as the Jags finished dead last in the AFC South (5-11). The biggest reason for optimism this year is the addition of quarterback Nick Foles, who could be a significant improvement over Blake Bortles. Another positive for 2019 will be a possible return to dominance for the Jags' defense, which added defensive end Josh Allen in the NFL Draft. With just slightly above average QB play from Foles and a healthy year from RB Leonard Fournette, the Jags have a chance to ride their defense, which held opponents to 16.8 points per game (PPG) in 2017, to a Super Bowl berth this season.

2. Houston Texans (+1500)

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The Houston Texans were not getting a ton of respect a few weeks ago, despite winning the AFC South last season with an 11-5 record. Of course, everything changed when Andrew Luck shockingly retired from football, reducing the Indianapolis Colts from a sneaky Super Bowl bet, to a team with slim odds to make the playoffs. As a result, the Texans are now favorites to win the AFC South (+155). With a loaded offense and talented players on the defensive side of the ball, the Texans' outlook can change dramatically depending on the status of contract holdout Jadeveon Clowney. Trading Clowney could allow Houston to rebuild an offensive line that surrendered an NFL-high 62 sacks in 2018. If Houston manages to re-sign Clowney, or move him for offensive line help, a Super Bowl berth is not out of the question.

1. Pittsburgh Steelers (+1000)

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With all of the hype in the AFC North focused on the Browns, the Pittsburgh Steelers could be sleeping giants. Yes, the Steelers lost 2/3 of the Killer B's in Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell, but the team performed just fine without Bell last season and has seemingly already rebuilt its WR corps on the fly. One of the biggest keys for the Steelers this offseason has been finally finding a suitable replacement for Ryan Shazier in rookie linebacker Devin Bush Jr., who has turned a lot of heads in training camp. With a young defense that finished tied for first in the NFL with 52 sacks, and an offense that may not miss a beat, the Steelers could be the most complete team outside of the Pats in the AFC. If Pittsburgh can finally get over the hump and beat New England, a Super Bowl LIV trip is certainly possible.

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