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A new NFL season brings new hope to teams that failed to meet expectations the year before. It's almost a certainty that at least one team fans and pundits expect to be a bottom-feeder will surprise and compete for a division title. Last season, it was the San Francisco 49ers, who went from 4-12 to playing in the Super Bowl.
We previously explored which team in the NFC has the best chance to surprise this season. Which team in the AFC is most likely to go from worst to first? We analyze the field to find the best bet.
Odds to win AFC East: +900
The Dolphins offer more value to win their division in 2020 than any other last-place team from last season. The Buffalo Bills are slight favorites over the New England Patriots for the divisional crown, but the AFC East is wide-open after Tom Brady bolted for the Buccaneers.
Miami was one of the NFL's most active teams this offseason, adding defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, linebacker Kyle Van Noy, cornerback Byron Jones, and running backs Matt Breida and Jordan Howard. The team also drafted quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Veteran signal-caller Ryan Fitzpatrick will begin the season as the starter, but the talented Tagovailoa will be on deck if Fitzpatrick struggles.
Based on their respective rosters, the Dolphins arguably have more talent than the Patriots. New England head coach Bill Belichick is an obviously significant X-factor, but the Patriots are +120 to win the division while Miami is the longest shot in the AFC East at +900.
Odds to win AFC North: +2500
No team in the NFL has longer odds to win its division than the Bengals, who stumbled to a 2-14 record last season. But things are looking up for Cincinnati after the club selected quarterback Joe Burrow with the first overall pick of the NFL draft. Burrow will start from Day 1, and if he lives up to expectations, the Bengals will be vastly improved this season.
The problem for Cincinnati is that vastly improved means something around six wins. In addition to a rookie starter at quarterback, the Bengals still have question marks on the offensive line and a defense that allowed an NFL-worst 148.9 rushing yards per game in 2019. The Bengals will be more competitive this year, but they aren't winning a division that includes the Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Cleveland Browns.
Odds to win AFC South: +2000
Oddsmakers aren't expecting the Jaguars to be very good in 2020. Jacksonville has the NFL's lowest projected win total (five) and longest odds to win the Super Bowl (250-1). The Jaguars opted against drafting a quarterback and will enter the season with Gardner Minshew and Mike Glennon under center.
On paper, the Jaguars aren't very deep, and three teams in the AFC South - the Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts, and Houston Texans - are all expected to be playoff contenders. Jacksonville is a little undervalued at 20-1, but a division title isn't likely. If you like the Jaguars to be better than expected, grab over five wins instead.
Odds to win AFC West: +800
The most obvious worst-to-first candidates are the Chargers. Picked by some to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl last season, Los Angeles instead finished a disappointing 5-11.
Gone is longtime quarterback Philip Rivers, replaced by Tyrod Taylor with rookie Justin Herbert waiting in the wings. An optimist will say L.A. was unlucky last year, with multiple injuries to key players like safety Derwin James and tight end Hunter Henry. A pessimist will say the Chargers still have issues on the offensive line, questions at quarterback, and a head coach in Anthony Lynn who's 11-15 in games decided by eight points or fewer since 2017.
The bottom line: Los Angeles is still loaded with talent and will be one of the most improved teams in the NFL if Taylor provides some consistency under center. The AFC West is no joke though, with the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs standing between the Chargers and a division title.
The Chargers are the most obvious play here, but they need to get by Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs to cash at +800. The best bet on the board is Miami. The Bills have a loaded roster and are the deserving favorites in the AFC East. But with Brady gone, the division is up for grabs. The Dolphins should be right in the mix, and with a few breaks, they'll reward bettors with a division title at juicy +900 odds.
Thomas Casale is theScore's supervising editor of sports betting. He's been following the sports betting industry for almost 30 years. A devoted fan of the wishbone offense, Thomas bets on all sports but specializes in college football, NFL, and college basketball. Find him on Twitter @TheTomCasale.