Could an AFC Wildcard Team Win It All?

January 5, 2021

Heading into Week 17, we had a good idea of what teams would make the playoffs (division winners and the AFC wildcard teams) and which ones would not. We already knew which teams from the AFC (and NFC) are likely to make a run.

But favorites do not always win.

It does not happen often, but on occasion, a wildcard team wins it all.

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Since 1975 there have been ten wildcard teams that have made the Super Bowl. Of those ten, seven came from the AFC, and four won. That is not very many, but it is proof that you do not have to have the best record or win your division to win it all.

Yes, the Kansas City Chiefs have been the Super Bowl favorite practically the entire season, and their odds heading into the playoffs are great (+225 via DraftKings). Since 2000 eight AFC No. 1 seeds have made it to the Super Bowl, but only three went on to win.

So, betting on the favorite is not exactly a sure thing either. Besides, if you bet on one of the AFC wildcard teams, and that team goes on to win it all, the payout will be a lot nicer.

There is risk involved, of course, which is why you need to figure out who has the most value. Who has a better chance of winning it than the oddsmakers think?

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The AFC Wildcard Teams

All three AFC wildcard teams, the Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, and Indianapolis Colts, enter the playoffs with identical 11-5 records. The Ravens have the best odds (via DraftKings) to win the Super Bowl at +1100, followed by the Colts (+4000) and the Browns (+5000).

Cleveland Browns

Of course, it would be great if the Browns could go on to win it all with the payout that would come with those odds. But what is the likelihood that the Browns make it that far?

Under ideal circumstances, they would have their hands full making it past the Pittsburgh Steelers in the wildcard round this weekend. But they will have to get the job done without head coach Kevin Stefanski who has tested positive for COVID-19.

Also testing positive and missing the game are two assistant coaches, defensive backs coach Jeff Howard and tight ends coach Drew Petzing, and KhaDarel Hodge and Joel Bitonio.

Jedrick Wills Jr. and Rashard Higgins could miss if the team decides to discipline them for getting cited for drag racing. 

Cleveland barely made it past a Steelers team last week that was not trying very hard. Chances are good the Browns do not make it past a motivated Steelers team this week.

Indianapolis Colts

Indianapolis is an intriguing prospect since they have a solid defensive team and a good offense. But they will have their work cut out for them this weekend when they travel to Buffalo to take on the red-hot Bills (who are favored by 6.5 points).

The 20th ranked pass defense of the Colts could struggle against Josh Allen and the explosive Bills offense. Their best shot will be to try to control the ball with their run game, thus keeping Allen off the field.

If they can stay within striking distance, they will have a shot. However, if the Colts make it past the Bills, they will get the Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional round.   

Baltimore Ravens

As for the Ravens, they have the second-best scoring defense in the league (18.9 points/game allowed), a run game that averaged close to 200 yards a game in the regular season, and one of the most dynamic players in the league running their offense (Lamar Jackson).

But they have a tough one right out of the gate in Derek Henry and the Tennessee Titans.

However, the Ravens could be in luck. Over the last three weeks, the Titans have had Derek Henry carry the ball almost 100 times. Tennessee will need him to keep the Ravens offense off the field, but if he is a little worn down and slow from his recent workload…

If the Ravens make it past the Titans, they will probably see the Steelers in the division round. While the Steelers did beat them twice in the regular season, it is a winnable game. Should they win, they will likely meet the Chiefs in the AFC title game.

Or Derek Henry could run wild over them this weekend and knock them out in the wildcard round.

So – How Should You Bet?

Betting Play:  The road will be extremely tough but, the AFC wildcard team with the most value is the Indianapolis Colts. Will they win the Super Bowl? Probably not, but a $10 bet will win you $400 if they do, and they are good enough to risk $10.

The smart play would probably be to pass on all three AFC wildcard teams, but the question was not whether they are going to win it all. No, the question was whether there was value in betting on either of the three.

At their odds, all three teams are longshots– which means they will probably not win. But is there one that could buck the odds and go on a run?

A good case could be made for the Ravens, but the Chiefs seem to know how to neutralize Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore offense. At their odds, there is not much value.

That leaves the Colts. With their potential and their odds, there is value there.

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