With all the parity in the NFL, there’s always lots of value betting futures – basically, making NFL season predictions instead of betting week to week.
All it takes is for a star player to get injured (see Tony Romo last year or Ben Roethlisberger basically any year), or for an underdog to pull off a couple of upsets and gain some confidence, to turn the division races upside down.
So where does the best value lie this season?
Let’s see what our crystal ball holds in store with these 2016 NFL season predictions.
2016 NFC East Odds And Pick
Betting the favourite is rarely the way to go in the NFC East, which hasn’t seen a repeat winner since 2004.
Dallas is the favourite in the East this season despite finishing last in the division last year with a 4-12 record. That’s because an early injury to Tony Romo derailed the Cowboys, and Romo is back this year. Still, he’s 36 and there’s no guarantee he’ll avoid injury again in 2016.
The defending champion Redskins hardly look invincible. They benefited from a weak schedule last year to win the division with a 9-7 record. It’s hard to imagine Kirk Cousins can be better than last year (70% completions, 29:11 TD to INT ratio) but it’s quite possible he’ll be worse. Their defence isn’t great, and they have a tough schedule.
New York made a coaching change after last year’s 6-10 performance, replacing Tom Coughlin with Ben McAdoo. McAdoo inherits a team that doesn’t have a ton of receiving threats outside of Odell Beckham Jr. and a mediocre running game. But the Giants made some improvements on defence and Eli Manning is a two-time Super Bowl champion QB.
It looks like a rebuilding year in Philadelphia, where the Eagles also have a new coach in Doug Pederson. Philly traded a lot of picks to draft QB Carson Wentz, but he played 1-AA last year and will probably start the year on the sidelines behind either Sam Bradford or Chase Daniel. There aren’t many playmakers on offence and the defence is pretty weak as well.
(Note: Three days after we wrote this, Romo was hurt in a pre-season game and is expected to miss 6-10 weeks. Updated odds on the NFC East had the Giants as co-favourites with Dallas, and we still like New York to claim the division.)
2016 NFC North Odds And Pick
The Packers’ four-year reign atop the NFC North was interrupted last year by the Vikings, and it looks like this season will be another two-horse race in the division.
Green Bay really missed Jordy Nelson last year, as the Packers averaged 6 points less per game and Aaron Rodgers looked lost at times. Nelson’s back healthy now and Rodgers has many other weapons as well, though he may have to find them without much protection from an offensive line that struggled in 2015. Green Bay’s defence should be strong once again, especially rushing the passer now that Clay Matthews has moved back to outside linebacker. The Packers have a very soft schedule in the first half of the year and could seize control of the division early with a Week 2 win in Minnesota.
The secret is out on the Vikings, who were nearly 8:1 to win the North last year but just 2:1 to do it again. Young quarterback Teddy Bridgewater should be even better this year and the Vikes have made some upgrades on the offensive line and at receiver. Minnesota’s calling card should still be on defence with a strong pass rush. On the downside, Adrian Peterson is now 31 years old and could start to show some regression.
Chicago has tons of weapons on offence, even with the departure of Matt Forte. The big questions are if Jay Cutler can avoid turning the ball over, and whether he’ll be able to have time to throw the ball behind a porous offensive line. The defence is expected to be better, but the Bears look like they’re a year or two away from legitimately challenging for the division title.
The Lions have been pretty one-dimensional on offence for the past decade (Calvin Johnson) and now Johnson is gone. There’s no real studs for Matthew Stafford to throw to anymore, and their O-line doesn’t pass protect or run block very well. Detroit’s defence isn’t good enough to make up for the holes on offence and the Lions look like they’re on their way to a long year.
Our Pick: Vikings +223 (Pinnacle)
(Note: Minnesota QB Teddy Bridgewater was injured for the season after we wrote this article. The odds on the NFC North were drastically adjusted in favour of the Packers, and we don’t really see a way Green Bay doesn’t win this division.)
2016 NFC South Odds And Pick
Carolina is the biggest favourite on the 2016 NFL division odds, partly because they went 15-1 last year and partly because the rest of the South has been so bad the past few years.
The biggest question facing the Panthers might be the Super Bowl hangover. It’s common knowledge that losers of the Super Bowl have not typically done very well the following season, though that trend has slowed down recently. Still, it will be interesting to see how quickly Cam Newton and Co. can get the taste of last year’s loss to Denver out of their mouths. If they can do it quickly, there’s really not much reason to think the Panthers won’t win their fourth straight South title. They benefit from the return of WR Kelvin Benjamin, who missed last season due to injury, and still have a strong defence led by stud LB Luke Kuechly.
New Orleans’ biggest hope to being competitive is Drew Brees, who continues to put up great numbers but is now 37 years old. He also doesn’t have many weapons left around him, especially after TE Ben Watson left for Baltimore. The Saints will need to put up points in order to overcome a defence that has been one of the league’s worst for years and allowed nearly 30 points per game last season.
The days of Atlanta as a NFC South contender seem like a distant memory. Matt Ryan doesn’t look as good without Tony Gonzalez and an in-his-prime Roddy White to throw to, and Julio Jones is his only real receiving threat now. Atlanta’s got a good offensive line and may move the ball on the ground. The Falcons defence is nearly as bad as the Saints, which might make for some entertaining games when they face New Orleans but won’t help them hunt down a division title.
Tampa Bay has the worst odds in the NFC South, but they may be the second-best team in this division. Jameis Winston showed a lot of potential as a rookie last year and also has a decent running game to support him. The Bucs addressed their defence in the draft and should be better on that side of the ball. Add in a weaker schedule (non-division foes include the Rams, 49ers, Bears and Chargers) and Tampa may make things interesting.
Our pick: Buccaneers +750 (Bet365)
(Note: Of course Carolina will probably win the division. But there’s a lot that can go wrong for any NFL team, and we’re grabbing the 7.5 to 1 value on Tampa Bay.)
2016 NFC West Odds And Pick
The Seahawks were nearly 1:4 favourites to win the NFC West last season but stumbled out of the gate, losing 4 of their first 6 games and opening the door for Arizona to win the division. After making some adjustments during their bye week, the Seahawks finished the season on a 7-2 run before getting blown out by Carolina in the second round of the playoffs. Seattle has since lost Marshawn Lynch and Jimmy Graham, but neither was a big contributor last year anyway. The defence remains the strength of the Seahawks and they’ve upgraded their pass rush.
Arizona doesn’t get as much attention as Seattle does, but the Cardinals actually have a better record over the past 3 seasons than the Seahawks. They have arguably the best receiving corps in the NFL and a strong running game, though they’ll have to do a better job of protecting aging QB Carson Palmer. Defensively, the Cards hope they’ve improved their pass rush, which was the one big weakness last year.
The Rams return to Los Angeles this year and could possibly benefit from an energized fan base, but they’ll be starting a rookie QB (Jared Goff) and don’t have much else on offence. The D is decent, though they lost a few key players to free agency. Jeff Fisher’s known for 8-8, but he’ll do well to get there this year with this group.
San Francisco may keep the Rams out of the division basement, even with Chip Kelly as their new coach. The 49ers quarterback situation is so bad that they’re having trouble deciding between Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick, and their only credible wideout is Torrey Smith. Issues at linebacker and in the secondary make it unlikely that the 49ers will be competitive in most of their games, let alone a NFC West contender.
Our Pick: Cardinals +160 (Bet365)
2016 AFC East Odds And Pick
Betting on the AFC East has to begin with looking at the Patriots, who have won the division 7 straight times and 12 of the last 13 years.
The Pats are -200 favourites or higher to do it again in 2016, despite the fact Tom Brady will miss the first 4 games of the regular season. After that, Brady returns to lead a diverse offence highlighted by Rob Gronkowski, Dion Lewis and Julian Edelman. New England’s pass protection was exposed in the playoffs by Denver and may struggle to protect the 39-year-old Brady again at times. Defensively, the Patriots have made some changes but are always a tough unit to score on.
New York surprised many by going 10-6 last year but it’s tough to see the Jets doing that again. Their QBs are mediocre, their offensive line isn’t great, their defence is aging and they’ve got a very tough early schedule that could bury their division chances before November. Reasons for optimism are their 1-2 receiving tandem of Brandon Marshell and Eric Decker, the addition of Matt Forte and the fact that their D allowed less than 20 points a game last year.
The Bills have been a trendy pick to challenge the Patriots the last few years but they’ve failed to do it. Maybe this is the year, now that QB Tyrod Taylor has a year of experience and will benefit from a strong backfield and offensive line. Buffalo needs their defence to live up to Rex Ryan’s reputation, which could happen with the improvements the Bills have made in their secondary. They’ll also need to take advantage of Brady’s absence in Week 4, but they have only 1 win all-time at Gillette Stadium.
Miami looks poised to bring up the rear in the AFC East once again. There’s not a whole lot of confidence in QB Ryan Tannehill, although he does have a few decent receivers. Their running back corps is thin and their defence has some recognizable names (Mario Williams, Kiko Alonso and Ndamukong Suh) but not a lot of substance.
Our Pick: Patriots -188 (Bet365)
2016 AFC North Odds And Pick
The AFC North once again promises to be perhaps the most competitive division in football, with the Steelers, Bengals and Ravens all having legitimate shots at a first-place finish.
It feels so weird to see a Steelers team built almost completely on offence, but that’s what Pittsburgh is. Antonio Brown may have had a 2,000 yard-season last year if Roethlisberger had not been injured, and the Steelers played 10 games without Le’Veon Bell. With all 3 of those players in the lineup, it’s scary to consider what the Steelers might put up, though they do have to make do without Martavis Bryant. Pittsburgh will need to put up a lot of points to mask one of the worst secondaries in the NFL, however, and God help them if Big Ben or Antonio Brown go down again.
The Bengals are one of the most balanced teams in the NFL, strong on both offence and defence. The question remains whether Andy Dalton will ever win the big game, but he’s proven himself good enough to lead Cincy to division titles. Dalton has lost a couple of top receivers from last year but A.J. Green, a dominant offensive line and a solid defence should keep the Bengals in the North playoff hunt. They just need to figure out a way to beat the Steelers, especially when it matters. Cincy will also play the first 3 games of the year without suspended linebacker Vontaze Burfict.
3:1 odds or better looks like great value on the Ravens, who suffered through a 5-11 season in 2015. Baltimore’s biggest issue last year was injuries, including heart-and-soul LB Terrell Suggs tearing his Achilles tendon in the first game of the season and Joe Flacco tearing his ACL midway through the year. For all of Flacco’s inconsistencies, we can’t forget he’s a former Super Bowl champion. Running the football and playing stout defence are also calling cards of the Ravens, and kicker Justin Tucker can be the difference in close games.
Another year, another coach in Cleveland. The Hue Jackson hiring has been widely applauded, but he doesn’t have much to work with in his first year as Browns coach. Robert Griffin III is a wild card but even if he shows flashes of his former self, he won’t have much help. The defence ranked fourth-last in the league in points allowed per game last year and hasn’t made much improvements in the off-season, either.
Our Pick: Ravens +350 (William Hill)
2016 AFC South Odds And Pick
Indianapolis has failed to earn 10+ wins just two times since 2002. The first time was in 2011, when Peyton Manning was injured. The second was last season, when Andrew Luck struggled through a shoulder injury before finally shutting things down midway through the year. Luck is back and healthy, and the Colts have made improvements on their O-line to protect him better. Sprinkle in a decent set of receivers and an adequate defence, and Indy looks like the team to beat in the AFC South.
The Texans won the division last year despite an offence that ranked 19th in the league. Houston limited its opponents to 10 points or less in 7 of its 16 games, and defence will obviously be where this team hangs its hat once again. There’s optimism that the offence will be better, however, with the signing of Brock Osweiler. Osweiler is still relatively unproven, but he’ll almost certainly be an upgrade on Brian Hoyer. The Texans should be in contention for the division once again.
We liked Jacksonville as a darkhorse pick to win the South last year. It was a bit too much to ask too soon, but there were plenty of positive signs the Jags are moving in the right direction. Blake Bortles threw for 4,500 yards and 35 touchdowns, with Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns emerging as big-play receivers. The defensive line and secondary look solid as well, and the Jaguars may finally be a playoff team again this year. +343 odds aren’t quite enough for us to take a shot on them winning the division, though.
Marcus Mariota is another good-looking young QB in the AFC South. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have much to work with on the Titans other than running backs Derrick Henry and DeMarco Murray. Tennessee’s made improvements on the offensive and defensive lines, but there’s still enough concern about their linebackers and secondary that we don’t see the Titans making much noise in 2016.
Our Pick: Colts +144 (Pinnacle)
2016 AFC West Odds And Pick
How often do you see a defending Super Bowl champion not even favoured to win their division? Well, that’s what we’ve got in the AFC West, and it’s not because any of the other teams are powerhouses.
Denver will have to find its way this season without a star QB, or even a clear-cut #1, after Peyton Manning retired earlier this year. Of course, Broncos supporters are quick to point out that Manning wasn’t exactly #1 QB material in 2015 either, even losing his job to Brock Osweiler in the middle of the season. But Manning at least had the experience and intelligence to read opposing defences, and there’s no certainty that new starter Trevor Siemian or the Broncos’ other options will be able to do the same. Denver still has a phenomenal defence and a strong receiving corps, but will that be enough to win 10+ games and the West?
Kansas City is the obvious choice to overtake the Broncos for the division title. They’ve got Jamaal Charles back (he missed two-thirds of the season in 2015 after tearing his ACL) and a decent defence. QB Alex Smith isn’t a highlight factory, but he can manage a game and posted a 95.4 passer rating last year. A big key for the Chiefs will be whether Justin Houston can return to form from injury. Coming off their first playoff win in ages last season, Kansas City should be in the thick of the playoff race once again.
Oakland has been a sexy darkhorse pick for several years, and this may be the season they finally live up to those expectations. Derek Carr is going into his third year as Raiders quarterback, and Oakland is very strong on both the offensive and defensive lines. The Raiders were just 7-9 last year but five of those losses were by 6 points or less. If a few things go Oakland’s way this year, they’re definitely capable of capitalizing with a division crown.
The depth in the AFC West does not include San Diego. They’re coming off their worst season in a dozen years and have an aging QB in Philip Rivers, a mediocre defence and the added distraction of talk of re-locating, which doesn’t make for a happy fan base. We’d need a lot more than 6:1 to back the Chargers to win the West.
Our Pick: Raiders +300 (Bet365)