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2021 NFL Over/Under Totals: Which AFC teams are likely to beat Vegas’ numbers?

Where is the market for AFC teams in 2021?

NFL: JAN 03 Chargers at Chiefs Photo by Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 2021 NFL season is upon us, and with that, let’s take a quick ride around the league to get a feel for who the contenders, pretenders, and laughing stocks are. One of my preferred ways of doing that is looking at Vegas win totals. Instead of trafficking in hot-takedom, these lines reflect people’s real thoughts. You have to put your money where your mouth is. This is not meant to be gambling advice, but it’s meant to be a way to view how public expectations of a team may diverge from the bull or bear influences at play. Without further ado, let’s get to it.

All win totals are from Caesar’s Sportsbook.

AFC East

Buffalo Bills
2021 Win Total: 10.5
2020 Record: 13-3
2020 Point Differential: +126
2020 Record in One-Score Games: 4-1

The Josh Allen breakout in 2020 was one of the most unprecedented things we’ve seen in NFL history, and it powered the Buffalo Bills to an easy AFC East title and to the AFC Championship Game. The Bills have a couple of things working against them in 2021, however. First of all, they overperformed just a little in one-score games last year (and would have been 5-0 if not for a Hail Mary). Their nemesis to the east in New England has also gotten better after a year of salary cap hell induced by the all-in nature of the late Tom Brady years. The Bills still have the most important thing in football though: an elite quarterback. Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll lets him sling it too, as we saw in the Packers pre-season matchup with them. 10.5 is a pretty high win total, but they are still probably the best team in the division, and with a 17 game schedule, I don’t think getting to 11 should be a surprise.

Verdict: Over

Miami Dolphins
2021 Win Total: 9
2020 Record: 10-6
2020 Point Differential: +66
2020 Record in One-Score Games: 3-4

To me, the Dolphins are one of the trickier projections for this season. Tua Tagovailoa looked quite bad coming off a major hip injury, and had an average depth-of-target akin to late stage Alex Smith. Tua has looked better this pre-season, so it’s entirely possible he just needed more time to get back to the guy who was going to be the first overall pick. Miami’s offensive line is still a major question and with Tua’s hip being a potential problem, that certainly worries me. On the defensive side of the ball, Miami has pretty routinely been better than the sum of their parts under Brian Flores. The Dolphins schedule is far from easy though, as they host Baltimore and have to go to Tampa Bay, Tennessee, and New Orleans outside of their divisional games. I would recommend staying away from this one, but if you had to push me one way or another, I guess I would say slight over? If you can find them a half game either way, take whichever side nine is on.

Verdict: Stay away

New England Patriots
2021 Win Total: 9
2020 Record: 7-9
2020 Point Differential: -27
2020 Record in One-Score Games: 3-4

The 2021 New England Patriots hardly represent the 2020 New England Patriots at all. The biggest change is of course at quarterback, with rookie Mac Jones replacing the shell of Cam Newton. Outside of that, New England has added a few weapons to work with in Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, and 2020 breakout Nelson Agholor. Jones looked great in the pre-season, but rookie quarterbacks typically struggle, so that needs to be taken into account. On the defensive side of the ball, Stephon Gilmore is going to miss at least the first six weeks of the season, which could really hamper what New England prefers to do with their man-heavy scheme. Like Miami, I really don’t like that the line has hit exactly on nine, which is where I’d expect them to end up. This is going to be a stay away from me, but tilting under on a rookie quarterback plus missing Stephon Gilmore would be reasonable.

Verdict: Stay away

New York Jets
2021 Win Total: 6
2020 Record: 2-14
2020 Point Differential: -214
2020 Record in One-Score Games: 2-5

Thank goodness the Adam Gase experience is over. The upgrade in coaching from Gase to the combination of Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur cannot be overstated. The issue for the Jets is that despite that, they’re still quite early in this rebuild. Zach Wilson looked as good as Jets fans could have hoped in the pre-season, but we’re still talking about a rookie quarterback. The Jets lost pass rusher Carl Lawson for the year in their joint practices with Green Bay, which really harms what that front can do. I like the direction the Jets are going, especially if they can hold onto LaFleur for a few years, but the issues on the right side of the offensive line and the real dearth of talent, combined with the fact that they’re clearly the worst team in their division makes an under bet feel like the best one, even on a low number in a longer season.

Verdict: Under

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens
2021 Win Total: 11
2020 Record: 11-5
2020 Point Differential: +165
2020 Record in One-Score Games: 2-4

Baltimore is one of the weirder teams in the NFL with their rush heavy attack spearheaded by 2019 NFL MVP Lamar Jackson. Baltimore had a bad record in one-score games last year, and had one of the weirder 2020 seasons in general when at one point Lamar Jackson had to deny that he pooped his pants on the field. 2021 may bring just as many weird outcomes as Jackson is not vaccinated against COVID-19, which presents a lot of problems for this team. If Jackson becomes a close-contact for anyone, he very likely would miss a game because unvaccinated close contacts have to be away from the facility for five days. If he were to test positive for COVID again he would miss a minimum of ten days. Despite the fact that a fully functioning Ravens team is a juggernaut, the difference between Lamar Jackson and Paul Noonan-favorite Tyler Huntley is too large and I expect Lamar to miss too many games to feel comfortable with taking the over here. Combine that with having two formidable in-division rivals, and the under feels like the better bet, despite how great the team looks on paper. An over bet really feels like you’re betting on Jackson not missing more than one game.

Verdict: Under

Cleveland Browns
2021 Win Total: 10
2020 Record: 11-5
2020 Point Differential: -11
2020 Record in One-Score Games: 7-2

Cleveland is just screaming for regression in 2021. The Browns had a negative point differential in 2020, largely due to getting steamrolled in road games by the Ravens and Steelers (a combined -63 in those two games) and also significantly outperformed their play in wins, going 7-2 in one-score games. They even lost to the New York Jets! Yet, despite this, when I look at the Browns on paper, it’s hard not to like them. Cleveland has a strong stable of weapons for quarterback Baker Mayfield, and while Jadeveon Clowney is a chronic underperformer, he’s still a nice add. The addition of John Johnson III at safety should help, but the secondary is still a major question mark. Despite how much I like Cleveland on paper, I can’t overlook their massive overperformance to really bet the over. The under becomes a hard bet as well because Baltimore has major COVID questions and I don’t like the Steelers.

Verdict: Stay away

Pittsburgh Steelers
2021 Win Total: 9
2020 Record: 12-4
2020 Point Differential: +104
2020 Record in One-Score Games: 7-2

Why is every team in this division like this? The Steelers were one of the “most fraudulent” 11-0 teams ever. Ben Roethlisberger had become thicc Alex Smith and the defense was carrying the team to wins. Winter was a rude awakening as the Steelers finished the season 1-5, including a Wild Card shellacking at the hands of the rival Cleveland Browns to send them home. Turning over the offensive keys to Matt Canada should help the offense becomes less predictable with more motion and play-action, but I’m not sure Roethlisberger can ever be the guy he was prior to his the elbow injury. It’s also almost impossible for the defense to be on the same level again, even with elite defensive weapons like T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick. The three contenders in the AFC North are all reliant on any COVID issues with Baltimore, so despite my hesitations, the nine-win total makes sense to me.

Verdict: Stay away

Cincinnati Bengals
2021 Win Total: 6.5
2020 Record: 4-11-1
2020 Point Differential: -113
2020 Record in One-Score Games: 2-5

Ah, the Bengals, the NFL’s most unserious franchise. There are non-scholarship colleges with larger scouting staffs. The catastrophic knee injury to first overall pick Joe Burrow rendered the latter portion of their season largely pointless, and his return this season gives them some reason for optimism. Their offensive line is a train wreck though, which is a disaster in the making for a quarterback fresh off a terrible injury. The defense struggled against both the run and pass last year, and despite adding Trey Hendrickson, doesn’t look primed to be a strong unit in 2021. Joe Burrow’s preference for living in empty or with five-man protections does not align well with this offensive line, but if he can overcome that with quick time-to-throws, perhaps the Bengals can nick the over, but seven wins feels like a bridge too far.

Verdict: Under

AFC South

Indianapolis Colts
2021 Win Total: 10
2020 Record: 11-5
2020 Point Differential: +89
2020 Record in One-Score Games: 5-2

Can someone explain this to me? Does everyone not remember Carson Wentz last year? The only quarterbacks with at least 200 dropbacks who were worse were Sam Darnold with Adam Gase, Dwayne Haskins, and Alex Smith coming off one of the most terrible injuries in NFL history. He. Was. Awful. It’s almost impossible for Wentz to be as bad this year, but the injury-prone signal caller is now coming off of a foot injury that sidelined him for the past month. The depth behind him is poor with either the cannon-armed statue of Jacob Eason or the ninth-year senior Sam Ehlinger. There is no Jacoby Brissett to at least provide some semblance of competence. The receiving corps is shaky at best, and their offensive line has major injury question marks in Eric Fisher and Quinten Nelson. The Colts defense will likely be stout again, but the offense might be legitimately bad. The Colts also have a COVID issue at quarterback, with Wentz remaining unvaccinated.

Verdict: Under

Tennessee Titans
2021 Win Total: 9.5
2020 Record: 11-5
2020 Point Differential: +22
2020 Record in One-Score Games: 7-1

The Titans’ record from last year doesn’t match their underlying numbers. Their point differential was that of a 9-7 team and their one-score record is a crazy outlier. The Titans biggest weakness last year was a putrid defense, and that unit doesn’t look much better in 2021. The Titans biggest off-season move was doubling down on their elite offense with future Hall of Famer Julio Jones replacing Corey Davis. Jones and star A.J. Brown are perhaps the most physically dominating wide receiver duo the league has seen in some time. Combining those two with Derrick Henry and legitimately good NFL quarterback Ryan Tannehill should give the Titans another high-quality offense. Despite all of the indicators pointing in the opposite direction, someone needs to win this bad division, and I think Tennessee can get to 10 to get that done.

Verdict: Over

Jacksonville Jaguars
2021 Win Total: 6
2020 Record: 1-15
2020 Point Differential: -186
2020 Record in One-Score Games: 1-6

The Jaguars were both terrible and unlucky last year. For their efforts they earned the first overall pick and took Trevor Lawrence. Despite that, the vibes around this team are less than stellar. Urban Meyer is the latest college-to-pro convert and the early returns are not great, with players unhappy with him and Meyer allegedly needing to be calmed by veteran lineman Brandon Linder after losing a pre-season game. Meyer last coached a losing team literally never and the closest he had to that, the 2010 Florida Gators at 8-5, saw him suddenly “retire” from coaching, only to resurface at Ohio State after a one-year sabbatical. The potential for this to completely blow up is very high, but the AFC South is also a quite bad division. If Trevor Lawrence is just alright, there is enough talent, and the ability to play the Houston Texans twice, to maybe just squeak over the six win mark. I don’t feel good about it, as the Jaguars are barely an NFL franchise, but they’re not even the worst team in their own division.

Verdict: The world’s most reluctant over

Houston Texans
2021 Win Total: 5
2020 Record: 4-12
2020 Point Differential: -80
2020 Record in One-Score Games: 2-7

You’d think by looking at their record in one-score games last year that Houston would be a bounce-back candidate. But you’re smarter than that. You have not been living under a rock. Superstar quarterback Deshaun Watson won’t play as he is currently being investigated for several counts of sexual assault and sexual misconduct. Tyrod Taylor will start in his place. Taylor is not Nathan Peterman, but he cannot help this team. The roster here is a barebones catastrophe. The offense may only have two players that can even reasonably considered above average: Laremy Tunsil and perhaps Brandin Cooks. Their defense was the second-worst in the NFL last year and also lost J.J. Watt. The Texans are the only franchise that can out-unserious the Cincinnati Bengals, and are run by charlatan. Houston isn’t even favored at home to the Jaguars. They likely won’t be favored in a single game all season, and will be double digit underdogs in several.

Verdict: Easy under

AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs
2021 Win Total: 12
2020 Record: 14-2
2020 Point Differential: +111
2020 Record in One-Score Games: 8-2

The Chiefs were a relatively soft 14-2 last year, but there are worse things to be in life than a soft 14-2 team that makes a Super Bowl. They still have the dynamic trio of Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, and the extremely problematic Tyreek Hill. They have made drastic efforts to bolster an offensive line that gave them no chance in the Super Bowl. Their defense lacks the high-end talent the offense has, but this should not be a 2011 Packers situation. The seventeenth game here makes the over a pretty easy pick for me, but Kansas City is hyper-sensitive to injuries. Mahomes, Kelce, or Hill missing multiple weeks puts that in jeopardy.

Verdict: Over

San Dieg—-er Los Angeles Chargers
2021 Win Total: 9
2020 Record: 7-9
2020 Point Differential: -42
2020 Record in One-Score Games: 5-7

The Chargers have a confluence of conflicting pressures. First and foremost, they overhauled the coaching staff. I don’t think upgrade from Anthony Lynn to Brandon Staley can be overstated. Lynn showed next to nothing as a head coach to make anyone think he was a value-add there. Justin Herbert is going into his second year after a very promising rookie campaign. The defense can hopefully have a full year of swiss army knife Derwin James. A major contributor to their -42 point differential was a 45-point shellacking at the hands of the Patriots last December. On the other hand, the Chargers weren’t particularly unlucky. They started the year looking just like the Phillip Rivers-era Chargers, being 1-7 in one-score games before ripping off four such wins in the last month of the season. Justin Herbert’s strong rookie campaign was heavily buoyed by great play under pressure, which is generally less stable year-over-year. On paper, I think the Chargers are the second-best team in the AFC West, but I’m sure no one has ever been bitten by believing in the Chargers before.

Verdict: Over, if you like stressing in the late afternoon each Sunday

Las Vegas Raiders
2021 Win Totals: 8
2020 Record: 8-8
2020 Point Differential: -44
2020 Record in One-Score Games: 5-4

Remember when the Raiders gave Jon Gruden a ten-year contract? That hasn’t worked out too well. Their drafting has been abysmal in the Gruden/Mayock era and it’s really stressed the team’s ability to surround Derek Carr with competent players. And make no mistake, Carr is pretty good! They’ve completely revamped their offensive line, but it’s probably worse than last year, especially on the interior. They’re slapping band-aids all over the defense with Casey Hayward and Yannick Ngakoue being the most recent “used to be good” additions. Gus Bradley is taking over the defense, but if you know anything about cover-3, it’s probably not going to go well with such a porous front four. Derek Carr might be good enough to get this team to 9 wins, but if he does so, it’ll require a pretty herculean effort. The rest of this roster just sucks.

Verdict: Under

Denver Broncos
2021 Win Total: 7.5
2020 Record: 5-11
2020 Point Differential: -123
2020 Record in One-Score Games: 4-6

Drew Lock was really bad last year. He was 32nd in EPA-per-play and 27th in CPOE. He chucked the ball down the field and was bad at it. Teddy Bridgewater is a stylistic-180. Few players are as conservative with the ball as Bridgewater, but he has been largely okay in his career. He was 21st in EPA-per-play last year, sandwiched between Joe Burrow and Ben Roethlisberger. The improvement on a per-play basis under center should be massive, even if Bridgewater himself is quite lackluster. On the defensive side of the ball, they added Kyle Fuller, who provides them with a legit CB1, and someone who has played for head coach Vic Fangio before. Another note, Fangio is likely coaching for his job this season. The start of the Broncos season is a light slate with the Giants, Jaguars, and Jets. If they get off to a 3-0 start, they just need to go 5-9 the rest of the way to hit the over, and one of those games is against Detroit.

Verdict: Over