It’s football time everyone! With the opening Thursday night game between the Cowboys and Bucs upon the horizon, it’s time to party! I know we say this every year, but I have a feeling this season is going to be special. The end of summer is always a sad time for us all, but when it means the NFL season is starting, how could one complain?
Anyways, with the season about to start, it’s time for us to take one last deep dive into the futures betting markets. What teams have the most favorable odds to win the Super Bowl? How about awards? We’ll be diving deep into every major team and player futures bet here!
All Stats via Pro Football Focus. Win Totals via Vegas Insider, FanDuel, and Sports Betting Dime
For a complete deep dive into every team’s win total, click here. Based on my personal projections, there is a noticeable gap between each of these team’s expectations, and where they actually will finish. Win totals are generally where the most bets can come from, as they have a better chance of paying off.
As you can tell, I appear to be higher than the Titans that the market is. Even despite the loss of offensive coordinator Arthur Smith, they still feature a high-end passing attack led by Ryan Tannehill throwing the ball to AJ Brown and Julio Jones, while their offensive line will be in better shape this year with the return of left tackle Taylor Lewan. Hopefully, the acquisition of Jones prompts them to pass the ball more, while their defense is due for significant positive regression with regards to their performance on third downs and in the red zone. The only competition for the AFC South is the Colts, who are already dealing with injuries, including to quarterback Carson Wentz, who is far from a lock to perform as is. I’ll take the significantly better offense anytime I can.
That theme applies to the NFC East as well, where I wouldn’t be so quick to call the Cowboys and Washington Football Team “c-favorites” to win the division. Dallas gets back Dak Prescott and essentially their entire starting offensive line this season, and with their elite receiving corps, have the potential to be an elite offense this year if all goes well. Plus, while Washington gets a first-place schedule, Dallas will face a far more favorable slate of opponents. We tend to overrate our ability to evaluate who the best defenses will be, but it’s pretty easy to say the Cowboys will be on another level offensively compared to Washington. Thus, I’ll gladly side with them at their current odds.
Will the Seahawks win the division? Who knows; it’s a very tough division. Yet, we know that Russell Wilson is the best quarterback, while they may end up with the best passing offense. Do the 49ers and Rams have better defenses? Sure. At the same time, there are a lot of positive indicators about new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron establishing a more diverse, up-tempo offense, which could be exactly what Seattle needs to maximize on their full potential offensively. This should likely be a three-way tie in terms of the odds to win the NFC West, but since the Seahawks have by far the highest odds, they’re the bet most likely to generate surplus value. You hear that Seahawks? It’s time to let Russ cook. Is that joke dead yet? Hey, whatever it takes for them to start passing the ball with a greater frequency again.
I guess I’m all-in on the Seahawks this season? I would say that there is considerable recency bias here based on how they finished down the stretch; there wasn’t a lot of positive energy surrounding this team, especially with Wilson even requesting a trade this offseason. Are they a flawed team? Yes. Do they have a top-five quarterback? Also yes. As such, their odds shouldn’t be double the conference odds of the 49ers and Rams. Don’t overlook one of the most consistently successful organizations in the NFL.
Super Bowl Odds
I’ve already expressed my optimism for both the Seahawks and Titans, so I’ll keep this brief. Can we stop dismissing teams because of concerns about their defenses? If Seattle and Tennessee can just have average defenses this year, as most indications suggest they will be, then they’re posted to benefit from very productive offenses. In today’s NFL, offense wins championships! Remember that when evaluating these two teams’ chances to win it all this season.
Most Valuable Player
Ok, I promise the Seahawks didn’t blackmail me! They just happen to be an undervalued team currently; Russell Wilson was the frontrunner for the MVP award halfway through last season. If they flourish, it’s going to be because of him, and he’ll have a lot on his side. The common narrative is that he’s been hindered by his offensive line and poor play-calling, so if he produces at a high level and Seattle wins the division, there’s certainly a narrative working in his favor.
Nevertheless, Tom Brady should have better odds to win the MVP award. Based on my research, touchdowns and wins drive a major portion of the MVP voting. Well, Brady plays for the team projected to easily finish with the best record in the NFC, and a significant portion of my optimism for him in fantasy is his touchdown potential. It’s easy to forget that Brady and everyone on the offense had to adjust on the fly, and after their bye week, he dominated. This is going to be a high-octane offense in 2021 and arguably the best team in the NFL, and when their quarterback is Tom Brady, how can you not pick him to win the MVP. It’s hard to fathom why he’s not the second-most likely candidate to win the MVP after Patrick Mahomes, but we’ll take it!
Offensive Player of the Year
I’ll move past Brady, who I’d simply bet to win MVP. You might be surprised to see Ezekiel Elliot here following a rough 2020 season, but we’re projecting for next season. The Cowboys are projected to have a prolific offense, supplying Elliot with a lot of touchdown upside. In the first five games of the year last year (when Dak Prescott was healthy), Elliot averaged 17.8 carries and six targets. Based on Pro Football Focus’ expected fantasy points model, he was on pace for almost 1800 combined expected yards, as well as 20.8 expected touchdowns (oh my). Things went poorly after Prescott went down, but I’d expect Elliot to once again be in position to accumulate volume statistics at a high level. Even if the underlying metrics suggest he’s not the most efficient running back, all that matters is what his numbers look like, which running back skill doesn’t factor greatly into. A great offense that creates touchdown opportunities, a strong offensive line, and a lot of touches equal an excellent long shot candidate here. Also, side note: please feel comfortable drafting him as a top-five pick in fantasy for 2021, where last year’s overall numbers don’t matter. Recency bias is a hell of a drug, but we have to continue to do our best to overcome it.
Defensive Player of the Year
Pass rushers have dominated this award as of late, so I’d look past the cornerbacks and off-ball linebackers; you’re just playing against the odds at that point. Joey Bosa has earned a 90.3+ PFF pass-rush grade in each of the past two seasons of his career, and could be in line for more sack opportunities with a better defensive play-caller in Brandon Staley taking over. Regardless, he’s a fantastic player that is poised for a “blow-up” year if he stays healthy, which is fine betting on at his current odds.
However, my favorite bet is actually Shaq Barrett. If the Bucs are as successful as we think they can be, then the opposing team is going to be in a lot of obvious passing situations. With a strong secondary, quarterbacks are likely to average a high time-to-throw against them, and they face my projected easiest schedule of opposing pass offenses. They’ll be on primetime a lot, and he’s certainly a well-regarded player. +3300 seems too high, no?
Offensive Rookie of the Year
It’s mainly quarterbacks and running backs for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, but don’t discount the chances a running back wins this year. Sure, the last two winners for this award have been quarterbacks, yet four of the previous six winners came from the running back position. I certainly didn’t expect first-round running back Najee Harris to have favorable odds, though you wonder if recency bias (back-to-back quarterbacks) has caused that. All indications are that the Steelers are comfortable giving Harris 300+ touches, which would allow him to accumulate volume statistics. Trevor Lawrence nor Zach Wilson are locks to perform for teams not projected to win a lot of games, and are we sure Mac Jones posts high-end numbers without elite playmakers and a likely run-heavy offense? What we’re less concerned about, though, is Harris posting elite numbers this season. Should Raheem Mostert get injured, Trey Sermon is also a nice long shot bet considering how consistently Kyle Shanahan manufactures elite rushing production, but Harris is the one to focus on here.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
There is an overall positional balance when it comes to who wins the Defensive Rookie of the Year award, but pass rushers usually have an advantage with defensive awards. This wasn’t the strongest of edge rusher rookie classes, but many thought Kwity Paye would end up as the most productive of them all. A freak athlete coming out of Michigan, he’s impressed with a 93.6 PFF pass-rush grade on 20 pass-rush snaps in the preseason (small sample analysis, I know), and simply is in a favorable situation in Indianapolis. He and Jaelan Phillips are the two pass rushers who are set to start for their respective teams, yet Paye has the higher odds. Furthermore, cornerbacks have had more success winning this award as of late, and the talented Asante Samuel Jr. is set to start for the Chargers this season. He’ll play in a favorable defensive scheme with head coach Brandon Staley, while his aggressive style of play is exactly what you want; there is tremendous interception potential here. For +4000, why not?
Coach of the Year
I’m a major proponent of Arthur Smith, who rated as one of the top offensive play-callers in my research this offseason. He led extremely efficient offenses in Tennessee, and will now be tasked to do the same in Atlanta. Paired with a still-productive quarterback in Matt Ryan, an elite receiver in Calvin Ridley, and, most importantly, a very easy schedule, I like his chances. The Falcons lost three games last year in which they had a 98% win probability or higher, and finished with seven expected wins last year. They’re not only very likely to exceed their win total (7.5 wins) with the extra game, but also could easily push for a wildcard spot with a productive offense. If so, the “new coach” narrative will certainly be on his side.
Bill Belichick seems like a poor choice to bet on, but this year may be different. Leading a team quarterbacked by a rookie to the playoffs is quite the impressive accomplishment for the voters, while all eyes are on him to bring the Patriots back to their glory days without Tom Brady. Expectations will be high, but so will his support if New England finds a way to be even more successful than we believe they will be. I certainly prefer Smith, though Belichick’s odds aren’t a poor bet either.
(Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire)