2023 NFL Picks, Futures: 1 Bet for All 8 Divisions
You can feel the weather starting to break and football in the air. That means it's time to lock in all of our preseason NFL futures bets.
If you're curious, my NFL win totals have gone 11-3-4 since I started writing this piece, which certainly doesn't guarantee future results. Please make sure, at the bare minimum, you shop around for the best available price. You should do that before placing any wager (the Action App can help), but it's even more critical in the futures market, where you can see an even greater deviation in price from book to book.
Let's start things off with four NFC division wagers before diving into a more diverse portfolio of 10 AFC positions.
The Eagles' success in last year's playoffs, combined with the Cowboys' lack of playoff success, has caused people to forget that Dallas has finished the last two regular seasons as a borderline top-five team.
The Cowboys addressed two of their biggest roster holes in the offseason. Brandin Cooks gives the offense more speed over the top and Stephon Gilmore plugs a glaring hole at corner opposite Trevon Diggs. I like the fact that with Ezekiel Elliott no longer in the picture, we will see more of Tony Pollard, which is especially good if the offensive line can maintain better health in 2023.
I'm a bit worried about the loss of offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, but Mike McCarthy's past play-calling history tells me not to worry too much about his offseason comments.
Yes, I have the Eagles rated higher than the Cowboys. However, I project both to win double-digit games with a slim overall net differential. Philly also has to deal with a few potential holes on defense and a pair of new coordinators. Things might not go as smoothly as last season in the City of Brotherly Love, especially if injury luck doesn't break their way before one of the most difficult late-season stretches you will ever see.
In regards to the other two teams in the division, I love Brian Daboll, but I don't see a very high ceiling for the Giants with their limitations on offense. Meanwhile, the Commanders just aren't quite there yet from a roster perspective, now with a first-time starting quarterback and a brutal schedule.
Amazingly, no team has repeated as NFC East champion since 2003. I'm betting on that trend continuing another year with the Cowboys taking the crown (+195; DraftKings).
From a power-ratings perspective, the Lions are the only team in this division that I have rated as above average. However, I show value on their season win total and I think they are generally overrated in the market headed into the season.
On paper, Detroit boasts a dominant offensive line to go along with an abundance of skill-position talent and a superb coordinator to run the show. However, it's still Jared Goff under center with a defense that, while getting better, has plenty of leaks until further notice.
Ultimately, I believe this division is completely wide open, so I have no interest in the favored Lions or even the next favorite, Minnesota, which looks to be in a quiet rebuild — although it could certainly still compete in the NFC. Everybody knows at this point how fraudulent the Vikings were last year. The regression monster certainly looms and I lean under on their win total, but I'm passing on any preseason exposure there.
I believe NFC North futures discussion should come down to the Bears and Packers.
Personally, I haven't seen enough from Justin Fields from an accuracy standpoint to buy into a Bears team that still has major questions along the offensive line and across the entire defense. I'd much rather have the Green Bay offensive line and defense while buying the upside of the unknown in Jordan Love.
I've liked what I've seen in a limited sample size, but it's certainly too soon to tell, which I don't mind for a flier in a wide-open division (+400; bet365). And if you want to lose your mind for a few seconds, join me by throwing some couch change on a Super Bowl flier at 66-1.
Have you looked at the projected starting defenses for the Cardinals and Rams? Good lord. Both rosters are in rough shape, and I can't see either competing for the division in 2023.
Therefore, this is clearly a two-team race. However, I'm not fully sold on Geno Smith's ability to duplicate last season's production. Even with an outstanding Seahawks receiving corps, we could see a steep drop-off in efficiency from the quarterback position. And if the secondary can't live up to last year's standard, the defense could also fall off.
Remember, Seattle went 3-6 down the stretch last season (postseason included). Two of those wins came against the Rams (with Baker Mayfield and John Wolford at the helm) by a combined seven points. The other came against Mike White and the Jets.
I show slight value in the season win total unders for the Seahawks, Cardinals and Rams. Consequently, I naturally show value in the 49ers to win the division. The floor is just so high under head coach Kyle Shanahan, especially now that Brock Purdy looks fully healed from the injury he suffered against the Eagles in the playoffs. Outside of a few questions in the interior of the offensive line, this roster is as complete as any in the league.
Don't forget that San Francisco won 12 straight games after acquiring Christian McCaffrey before the brutal injury luck at quarterback suffered in Philadelphia. Speaking of which, imagine if the 49ers could ever get any positive injury luck? Over the past five seasons, the highest it has finished in AGL on either offense or defense is 19th!
The 49ers are just on another level in the NFC West. I show value on them to win up to -175.
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Yes, the Saints signed quarterback Derek Carr, who I actually like a bit more than most. Also, yes, the Saints have one of the easiest schedules you will ever see. In fact, they have the easiest strength of schedule rating, per my numbers, since I started doing this back in the Stone Age. Only two of their 17 games come against teams I have power-rated as above average — Lions and Jaguars — with both coming at home.
However, this is still an older, broken roster that eventually needs a full-blown implosion. And, guess who has the second-easiest strength of schedule rating over that same span? The 2023 Falcons, who I fancy to take this division (+220; bet365).
There's some upside with Desmond Ridder, who we still haven't seen much from, but he doesn't have to do too much with an elite rushing attack that added Bijan Robinson in the NFL Draft. While I didn't necessarily love that draft pick, Robinson adds another chess piece to a versatile offense that can create mismatches all over the field.
Meanwhile, Atlanta's defense should be improved after some veteran offseason additions. I like this team, while I don't see much upside with Baker Mayfield and the Bucs, and I think the Panthers are dealing with way too much change to buy into anything going on there at the moment — even if I'm a fan of Bryce Young.
I'm betting on something that hasn't happened this millennium: the Patriots finishing in last place in the division, which I price closer to -150.
You have to go way back to 1999 for the last time the Patriots finished in the basement of the AFC East when they tied with the Jets at 8-8. And you have to go back over 30 years to 1992 to find the last time New England finished in solo last place in the division. Even at 2-14, they still managed to beat the Jets that year.
However, there are no more free wins over the Jets (I think) for the Pats, who have gone just 25-25 since Tom Brady left. With Aaron Rodgers now in the mix, this division becomes an absolute gauntlet with three other teams that should have pretty high floors (and ceilings).
To me, the Patriots are far and away the worst of the quartet. Their offense should be more functional with an actual offensive staff, but I'm not a Mac Jones buyer and there are still major question marks at offensive tackle, to go along with a lackluster wide receiver room.
The defense lived up to Bill Belichick's standards last season, but I'm not sure there's much room to get much better. We could only see a decline on that side of the ball with defense having much more season-over-season variance than offense.
We will see if Belichick can even get the special teams in order, which fell off a cliff last year. Discipline and penalties have become an issue of late, which would have been unheard of just a few years ago. Things are not headed in the right direction in Foxboro, while they seem to be for every other team in the division. That's not an ideal combination.
Lastly, the schedule is unrelenting. I have it ranked as the most difficult in the NFL. To wit, only three other teams are favored in fewer games in the lookahead market than the Patriots:
Things could go sideways quickly if the Patriots start 0-4, which is a distinct possibility against the Eagles, Cowboys, Jets and Dolphins. They even give up a home game by playing the Colts in London.
I also placed a small wager on under 7.5 (-135; Caesars), which I show with a little less value than last place, but it offers a piece of protection if one of the other teams in the division has a major quarterback injury early in the season and tanks.
Others: Lamar Jackson to win MVP (16-1); Bengals Under 11.5 (-140)
Deshaun Watson might be washed, but I don't think we can take too much from his performance late last season after returning from such a long hiatus. If he can just be an above-average quarterback, the Browns have a good enough roster to win the AFC North — assuming they can actually find someone to make field goals. (Hello, Dustin Hopkins?)
I loved what Cleveland did in the offseason, beefing up the interior of the defense (a major need) and adding speed at wide receiver. Most importantly, it made a much-needed change at defensive coordinator with Jim Schwartz, who if nothing else, should fix some of the massive communication issues that plagued the Browns throughout a disastrous 2022 campaign.
It also doesn't hurt to get the Bengals in Week 1 with a potentially hampered Joe Burrow.
Speaking of the Bengals, I played Under 11.5 wins at -140, as I project their total wins around 10.5. I have them power-rated as the class of the North but project them with the same amount of wins as Baltimore, due to a first-place schedule and a potential slow start for Burrow. Plus, everything has broken Cincy's way the past two seasons from an injury standpoint in the regular season across the division, which certainly may not persist. It even benefited from facing eight quarterbacks in 2022 who are no longer starters in Mitch Trubisky, PJ Walker, Anthony Brown, Jacoby Brissett, Andy Dalton, Marcus Mariota, Cooper Rush, and Teddy Bridgewater.
In fact, I actually have all three teams finishing with double-digit wins, whereas I have the Steelers right on with the market. I just don't see the upside in this division with Kenny Pickett, but he could certainly prove me wrong. I'm just glad I don't show any value on the under, which would have forced me to bet on Mike Tomlin finishing under .500 for the first time.
My last wager is on Lamar Jackson winning MVP at 16-1. With the upgrades at wide receiver and a new scheme under offensive coordinator Todd Monken, I believe Jackson is primed for a massive year in Charm City.
The defense also has questions, especially with the recent injury to Marlon Humphrey, which could lead to even more required offensive output. I just think the league is going to take some time to adjust to this new offense in Baltimore. It might not lead to postseason results, but it should lead to a massive jump in offensive efficiency and explosion with Jackson at the center of it all.
Others: Chargers to Make Postseason YES (-110)
This one is pretty simple. I project 7.5 wins, so I bet under 8.5 wins.
If you're looking for a reason why I show so much value on this under, I believe Russell Wilson is cooked. There's only so much new head coach Sean Payton will be able to do with an aging quarterback who can no longer do what used to make him special. Denver also plays in a difficult division and conference, with a schedule I have ranked as the eighth-toughest, per my most recent power ratings.
When it comes to the Chargers, I believe Kellen Moore was one of the most critical hires of the offseason. And it's not as if I'm in love with Moore, although I do hold him in high regard — he's just a massive upgrade over Joe Lombardi, who held Justin Herbert and this offense back with suboptimal play-calling and design. To me, the two most impactful coordinator hires of the offseason were the Chargers offensive coordinator and Browns defensive coordinator.
Herbert should thrive under Moore and take this offense to another level. The defense lacks depth at multiple positions, but I trust the star power and Brandon Staley's game-planning on this side of the ball to stay respectable enough to get the Chargers back to the postseason.
It doesn't hurt that special teams is no longer a complete dumpster fire.
Others: Colts Last Place (+200) & Under 6.5
It's funny how quickly narratives can change in the NFL.
Last year, the Titans, one season removed from securing the No. 1 overall seed, sat comfortably in first place in the division with a 7-3 record. Meanwhile, the Jaguars were buried four games back at 3-7 with abundant questions regarding quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
From that point on, everything broke the Jaguars' way in every close game while the Titans essentially lost their entire roster to injury. Even so, Jacksonville still had to barely hold on for a four-point home victory to clinch a playoff spot against the Titans, who started Josh Dobbs under center. The Jags then went on to win a playoff game after a miraculous comeback, or maybe I should say just another standard Chargers loss.
In fairness, Lawrence certainly made strides in the second half of the season. The eye test and underlying metrics match in that department. And now, Calvin Ridley potentially opens up the offense even more.
However, everything certainly broke the Jaguars' way, while the opposite is true for the Titans. That includes a very healthy roster throughout the season for Jacksonville, which might not be the case again in 2023. In fact, the Jaguars are already dealing with a cluster of injuries along their defensive front, which was a strength in 2022. That's an ominous sign for an already shaky unit overall.
The Titans don't have a flawless roster. I have major questions about the offensive line, especially with the suspension to Nicholas Petit-Frere, which throws a major wrench into an already overhauled unit. I will say the addition of DeAndre Hopkins is massive and I'm the president of the Tyjae Spears fan club.
The defense also gained valuable experience and depth last year with all of the injuries it had to deal with. Most importantly, I just trust head coach Mike Vrabel, who has consistently overperformed with what he has to work with. It's one of the reasons why bettors have turned a nice profit backing him as an underdog.
I'm expecting a bounce-back year for the Titans, who could win this division with only eight or nine wins if things go sideways for the Jaguars.
If you are a Texans or Colts fan, you might be screaming, "What about us?!?"
Well, I don't see either challenging for the top spot in the South. In fact, I see the Colts finishing in the basement, which I bet at +200, in addition to under 6.5 wins.
The Colts and Texans are in similar spots with first-time head coaches and rookie quarterbacks who start off the bat. Well, I'm not an Anthony Richardson believer, especially not right now. He had major accuracy issues in his final year at Florida, even behind a very good offensive line. By the way, why should we believe the Colts' overpaid offensive line will magically return to form after what we've seen in recent seasons? The defensive roster is also extremely underwhelming, especially in the backfield.
While I don't think C.J. Stroud will develop into a star quarterback, I do think he is much more ready to succeed right now. Houston also has a sneaky decent offensive line, and I liked some of the moves it made on both sides of the ball over the offseason.
I actually have the Texans power-rated slightly ahead of the Colts, so I'll happily take the +200 on Indy finishing last.