Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Blake Bortles (5).
The NFL draft has come and gone with the usual fanfare and excitement. The NFL sells hope better than any sport, and after the draft, hope is high for the franchises that were able to improve their rosters with young playmakers, especially quarterbacks.
While the season is still months away, rosters are pretty much set, and we can start to explore the season prop bets and futures for total wins, conference championship odds and Super Bowl odds.
Here are the three bets I like the most after the draft. Be sure to shop around.
Los Angeles Rams Under 9.5 Wins (+130)
One common mistake we make when evaluating upcoming schedules is just looking at strength of schedule for the previous season. We should be looking at which quarterbacks each team is facing this year. In 2017, the Rams jumped from 4-12 to 11-5 and won the NFC West. And then they lost soundly at home to the Falcons in the playoffs.
So let’s check out their 2017 schedule and the quarterbacks they played, specifically the above-average quarterbacks. The Rams played and beat Drew Brees, Dak Prescott and Russell Wilson. They lost to Kirk Cousins, Wilson, Carson Wentz (and Nick Foles at the end of the game) and Matt Ryan in the playoffs. That’s seven games against above-average quarterbacks, and Dak arguably wasn’t above average last season. I also don’t count the Week 17 game against Jimmy Garoppolo because the Rams rested their starters.
The 2018 schedule isn’t so kind. They play Wilson twice, Jimmy G. twice, and a combination of Sam Bradford and Josh Rosen twice. They also play Cousins, Brees and Wentz (or Foles) again, as well as Derek Carr, Philip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Stafford. If we take out the Bradford-Rosen games, that’s 11 contests against above-average quarterbacks. The Rams also have late-season games against Patrick Mahomes and Mitch Trubisky, who could be strong starters before facing Jared Goff & Co.
So while the Rams seem to be heading up — adding more parts in the offseason, especially on defense — it still feels like 9.5 wins could be high. I’d take the under at plus odds.
Atlanta Falcons Win NFC Conference (+1100)
After the Super Bowl, I declared that I liked the Falcons to end up NFC champions in 2018. They are extremely talented. The Falcons, with all their issues last season, lost in the divisional round to the Eagles in a close game. They were so close to returning to the NFC Championship Game after nearly winning the Super Bowl the year before.
In 2016, the Falcons had a high-powered offense with a younger defense that improved as the season went on. The Falcons were extremely efficient. They finished third overall in Football Outsiders’ Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA), a metric that measures efficiency play by play. Within that third overall ranking, their offense was first and their defense was 26th. Remember, it was a young defense that improved over the year. And then the Falcons fired their defensive coordinator, and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan became San Francisco’s head coach.
Despite having a new OC last year, the Falcons offense still functioned at a high level. The offense was third in the NFL in yards per play and first in 3rd-down percentage! The team was just 23rd in red-zone efficiency (after being ninth) in 2016, and the rushing game took a small step back in 2017, but the offense eventually found its flow toward the end of the season.
Looking forward to this year, the Falcons return their entire offense (minus a right guard), and they added wide receiver Calvin Ridley on Day 1 of the draft. I’m not sure how defenses will stop them. Their offensive staff should be able to research their issues in the red zone and fix them. I expect the Falcons offense to roll.
The defense took another step forward last season and is starting to resemble the unit Dan Quinn envisioned when he left Seattle. The Falcons can generate a pass rush now and have young players in the secondary starting to ball.
With massive positive odds, the Falcons provide great value for a Super Bowl-contending team that returns almost of its talent and has young players who continue to improve.
Jacksonville Jaguars under 9 wins (+105)
I’m not betting on Blake Bortles (pictured above) to win 10 games this season. Last season everything went perfectly for the Jaguars. Bortles minimized his mistakes, and I just don’t expect that to continue even though the Jaguars are confident in him. Also, the Jaguars had a season with no major injuries, which is unlikely to happen again.
In terms of DVOA, Jacksonville was 16th on offense last year even though Bortles had the best completion percentage of his career (60.2%). The Jaguars were also 24th in special teams even though they had speedy playmaker Corey Grant returning kicks. Both of those units aren’t good enough on their own to help a team make the playoffs. Last year the Jags were dragged to the playoffs by their defense, and it’s hard for a team to win 10 games when it’s no better than average in two of the three phases.
Finally, the quarterback competition in their division is about to get a lot tougher. A healthy Deshaun Watson and Andrew Luck are returning, plus I expect an improved Marcus Mariota, whose Titans beat Jacksonville twice last year. In general, the team with the worst quarterback in its division doesn’t win 10 games.