The Houston Texans managed to do more than right the ship on their season. Not only did they stop the skid of a 2-5 start to win 7 of their next 9 games, but they secured the AFC South on their way to a winning record. That’s not just because the team plays in a weak division, either. In six of their final nine games, the Texans held opposing teams to ten or fewer points, which suggests a defense that, as the cliche goes, can win championships.
You know who doesn’t believe in the Texans, though? Vegas, or the off-shore gambling sites that draw up the odds for football games. No team is a longer shot to win the Super Bowl than the Texans—even Washington, which plays in a conference with more dominant teams, and whose 9-7 record is the match of Houston’s, is considered more likely to hoist the Lombardi Trophy on February 7 than J.J. Watt’s boys are.
That’s true at a number of sites. Over at Bovada, which tends to run conservative in its odds, the Texans are 66/1 to win the Super Bowl. At Sportsbook.ag, meanwhile, those odds are even longer, at 75/1, which means that even a bet of a single dollar is worth $75 in the event that the Texans win the day. (Washington, meanwhile, is 38/1 to win the Super Bowl. So a whole bunch of people have a relatively surprising amount of faith in Kirk Cousins in the playoffs.)
The AFC is a weird field for the playoffs this year, too. The top seed Denver Broncos benched their nominal starter, Brock Osweiler, in a game against the dreadful San Diego Chargers, and playoff success now rests in the hands of AARP member Peyton Manning and/or the bruised ego of a guy who lost his job to someone who’s the football equivalent of Ned Stark, ready to be beheaded at any time. The New England Patriots, meanwhile, limped to the playoffs losing four of their last six games, with basically all of their good players except for Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski injured. The Cincinnati Bengals are starting rookie A.J. McCarron at quarterback (the last time they played the Texans, they managed only six points), and haven’t had a truly decisive victory since playing the just-fired-everybody Cleveland Browns in early December. The Pittsburgh Steelers relied on help from other teams in Week 17 to even qualify for the postseason, and the Kansas City Chiefs, though riding the NFL’s hottest winning streak right now, are still starting Alex Smith at quarterback on a team that’s not exactly a touchdown machine.
Yet when the Chiefs come to Houston on Saturday, the Texans will be a 3.5 underdog at home to Smith’s team. Fans interested in betting against the Chiefs’ head coach Andy Reid, famous for his questionable judgment, can get $150 back for every $100 they put down on the Texans to win outright. Consider that, and the fact that the Chiefs haven’t beat a team with a winning record since mid-November, when you look at how little faith the sports betting world has in the Texans.
When someone offers you the chance to bet against Andy Reid and Alex Smith on the road in the playoffs, you might think about taking it, but that doesn’t mean that Houston is going all the way. Still, gamblers seeking some value in their betting decisions could do worse than to consider Houston to win the AFC Championship Game, at a whopping 40/1 shot to even get to the Super Bowl. Considering that J.J. Watt may merely have to step on/over a broken Peyton Manning and A.J. McCarron to get there, the Texans do seem like this year’s value proposition.
Of course, they’re not likely to get to—or win—the Super Bowl, but football is a game in which anybody can reasonably be expected to beat any other team on a given week (witness the crappy Miami Dolphins upsetting New England on Sunday, for example). Given that none of the AFC teams are so dominant that they can expect to Super Bowl Shuffle their way to glory, the idea that the Texans are a 40/1 shot, while the Broncos and Patriots are at 2/1, just seems like an imbalance in the betting market. That’s something a savvy bettor might think about trying to exploit—after all, they don’t call it gambling for nothing.