NFL Futures: Best Bets to Make the AFC Playoffs (2021)

May 6, 2021 - 10:47 AM

Another domino, perhaps the biggest domino of the offseason, has fallen, and we’re officially one step closer to the NFL season. With the draft in the rearview mirror, we’ve got a much clearer picture of the contenders, the pretenders, and the teams that could sneak up and snatch a surprise playoff spot.

Part one of this two-part series outlines some AFC teams with great betting value to make the playoffs in 2021. Part two detailing the NFC will be posted next Thursday.

The AFC looks loaded heading into the upcoming season, and the market features a lot of heavy favorites without much, if any, value left. Here are my three favorite teams with plus-money odds to make the AFC Playoffs in 2021.

View our consensus futures odds for NFL teams to make the playoffs >>

Los Angeles Chargers (+150)

I featured the Chargers in my AFC Champion best bets article, so obviously, I think they’ve got the roster to at least clinch one of the wild card spots in the conference.

Los Angeles finally moved on from head coach Anthony Lynn, and they improved their offensive line in a big way this offseason. They signed Corey Linsley and drafted Rashawn Slater, both of whom should go a long way towards helping Justin Herbert build off his Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign. Herbert was incredibly impressive in 2020. Now he’s not only got the weapons around him, but the protection in front of him to be even better in 2021. The Chargers will also get a healthy Derwin James back after injuries limited him to just five games over the last two seasons.

It’s important to note how much better a team the Chargers were than their record indicated in 2020. Los Angeles finished last season at 7-9, but they ranked in the top-10 in both yards per game on offense and yards per game allowed on defense. Close losses were their kryptonite. Their first seven losses of the year were by one score, eight of their nine losses were by 10 points or less, three of their losses were by three or less, and two losses came in overtime. 

There were an alarming amount of missed opportunities for the Chargers in 2020, but this team has the talent and the new coaching staff to fix those mistakes that lead to blown leads and turn some of those close losses into wins.

Miami Dolphins (+130)

The Dolphins and Patriots are both +130 to make the playoffs next season, so the books are basically anticipating these two teams fighting for one wild card spot behind the division-leading Bills. Perhaps a fair assessment, but I’m not taking the bait. 

The Patriots had a nice offseason that I think was slightly overblown. The Dolphins, on the other hand, have been building one of the deepest and most well-rounded rosters in the league over the past few seasons. They’re a quarterback away from being a real problem in the AFC. And to be clear, I don’t think Tua Tagovailoa needs to be replaced by any means. Miami needs to open the playbook up this year and let him sling it. Jaylen Waddle, the team’s first-round pick this year, should go a long way towards helping with that.

I believe in Brian Flores as well. It’s pretty clear his philosophy is: “we’re going to be better than you in at least two of the three phases of the game.” Miami’s special teams unit was the top-ranked group in the NFL last season, a staple of those Patriots teams that Flores helped coach before joining the Dolphins. 

But the defense is why I’m backing Miami. Their defense has a chance to be one of the best in the NFL after forcing a turnover in every game last season. In fact, they’ve forced a turnover in 22 consecutive games dating back to 2019. Their secondary is the strength of the unit, ranking 5th in pass defense DVOA, and all those timely turnovers help them post the third-lowest points allowed per drive mark in the NFL.

The Dolphins are well-coached, talented up-and-down the roster, and I expect Tagovailoa to leap forward in year two. 

Denver Broncos (+160)

Obligatory bet. I’ll keep this one nice and short. Rumors are swirling that Denver is the anticipated landing spot for Aaron Rodgers. Mark Schlereth said last week that it was close to a “done deal.”

Obviously, no such deal has happened yet. And obviously, just because Mark Schlereth is reporting it doesn’t mean it’s a foregone conclusion. But we do know this: Aaron Rodgers is unhappy in Green Bay, and the Broncos need a quarterback. Don’t forget, they swooped in and snatched up Peyton Manning at the tail end of his career, and he won them a Super Bowl. This organization has done it before, and I wouldn’t put it past them to try and do it again.

Let’s be honest with ourselves. The likelihood of whoever Rodgers plays for next year making the playoffs is pretty high. With the Broncos the favorite to land the 2020 MVP and at plus-money odds to make the playoffs, it’s worth a small play. Because if he does end up in Denver, these odds are going to flip dramatically.

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Mike Wagenman is a featured writer at BettingPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him on Twitter @mjwags23.

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