An early look at some NFL futures options

Baltimore, Atlanta and Detroit offer appealing value

Mike Schopp
May 30, 2019 - 10:10 am

Photo: Dale Zanine - USA TODAY Sports

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The Buffalo Bills have tilted my head a little bit this spring by the respect they're getting from oddsmakers and bettors. Granted, this is a modest standard. But it's something.

The Bills' win total at BetOnline is seven -- all numbers here are from that site -- and the over is -125. That means you'd have to wager $125 on the Bills to win eight or more games in order to win $100, or $25 to win $20.

Buffalo has won between six and nine games in each of the last eight seasons. Amazing consistency!

That line of seven wins isn't a big story, but the fact that the over is where the action is, that's a small one. This is very different from last year when bettors pounded the under on the Bills. Depending on what line they got they may have lost when the Bills blew out Miami in Week 17 to finish 6-10.

If the odds were split evenly I might like the Bills at over 7, but I don't like it at -125. The margin for what I see them being is too slim.

And, there are plenty of other bets out there to choose from. I like to pick between three and five teams for futures bets, and at this early stage the Bills don't make my cut in either direction.

If I had any confidence that New England was going to falter this year, I might take out a second mortgage. High confidence in the Patriots is reflected everywhere in these numbers. Their win total is 11 and the price on the over is -130. That means they have to go at least 12-4 for you to win. They did win at least 12 games every season from 2010 to 2017 but settled for 11 wins last year. The line isn't a surprise or anything, it's just that the Patriots have set such a ridiculous standard that more than half the bettors on their win total are putting them on at least 12 wins.

At 7-1, New England is the only team with better than 10-1 odds to win the Super Bowl. Behind the Patriots and Chiefs (10-1), the third choices in the AFC at 14-1 are Cleveland, Indianapolis and the Chargers. Those are very appealing prices for three good teams -- but you have to imagine a season either where New England breaks down or loses a playoff game to one of these teams, probably at home. The Chargers seemed perfectly equipped to be that team last year, to go to Foxboro and win, and they were blown out in a hurry.

Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders told WGR last week that as it stands now, his metrics show the Chargers to be the AFC's best team. If you can get the Chargers' overall history of playoff failure running all the way through 2018 out of your heads, LA at 14-1 to win it all is a bet for you.

Think the Patriots are (finally) heading for a sharp downturn? Consider the Jets (6-1) and Bills (7-1) to win the AFC East. In fact if you do feel this way, bet them both. The Jets are favored slightly over the Bills across these bets, but for those prices I'd play them as if they're a dual entry.

One team that's really interesting to me for 2019 is Baltimore. It's Lamar Jackson's season to shine. Will he? The Ravens went severely run-happy under Jackson in last year's second half, and buoyed by a critical late-season win in Los Angeles were able to win the AFC North. As ugly as their performance in the playoff rematch with the Chargers looked, they did have the ball with a chance to win it in the final minute.

Jackson has got to improve in securing the ball over last season where he fumbled 12 times. I'm more confident in his passing ability than most. The key to this though is how confident the Ravens are in him. They're confident enough to draft him and give him this job, but to what extent they trust him to make plays as a passer remains to be seen. Fantasy analysts moped about "Hollywood" Brown being drafted by Baltimore. From Brown's standpoint, sure, there were more appealing destinations for him to be productive. But from Baltimore's, he's a prime investment in their passing game.

In a division where Cleveland and Pittsburgh should provide tough competition -- but not too tough the way New England does -- I'll give the 2018 AFC North winners a look at repeating. They're +175 to make the playoffs and an attractive +375 to win the division. Baltimore's win total is 8 and is being bet up (over is -130). If that bet cashes you're at 9-7 at worst, and that's a team with a look at the playoffs. The Ravens have the Bengals twice, the Dolphins (Week 1), Bills and Jets, they have the Cardinals and 49ers ... I think they can squeeze out 8+ wins.

Two NFC teams whose playoff prices work for me are Atlanta (+160) and Detroit (+400). 

The Falcons were 7-9 last year and deserved closer to 8-8 based on their point differential of minus-9. Their offense was 6th in yards, their defense 28th. They were, of course, in the Super Bowl three seasons ago with several of the same skill players (Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman). In the NFC only two teams look particularly mighty -- New Orleans and the LA Rams. Everybody else has some proving to do. Of course the Falcons are no different but to me they measure up to teams they'd likely be competing for a wild-card spot with (e.g., Dallas, Green Bay, Minnesota, Seattle). I'm a fan at +160 -- and of their 25-1 Super Bowl odds.

Detroit is a different story at a hefty +400 to make the playoffs. I became curious when Mike Clay of ESPN wrote that the Lions are "a better team on paper than you probably realize". Clay projected them at 7.7 wins, and a team of that quality is in the conversation for the playoffs. Will coach Matt Patricia in Year 2 begin to settle in? The rest of the NFC North is respectable but also surrounded by uncertainty. What is Chicago's offense, and can the Bears repeat what they were on defense? (Doing that in the NFL is perhaps also tougher than you think.) Is Green Bay, with its coaching change, actually good? And what is Minnesota after a hugely disappointing non-playoff season last year?

That door is open wide enough for me to see the Lions, at 4-1 for the playoffs, walking through. (At the moment BetOnline does not have NFC North title odds. 7-1, maybe?)

Next time around I'll look at some individual prop bets. I've seen a couple of interesting ones on Kyler Murray and Josh Rosen.

Come to me on Twitter (@Schopptalk) for questions and comments. Thanks for reading!

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