Best NFL Division Bets: Are the Packers Undervalued in the NFC North?

Best NFL Division Bets: Are the Packers Undervalued in the NFC North? article feature image

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers

  • The Patriots (-500), Chiefs (-225) and Rams (-175) are among the betting favorites to win their divisions.
  • We ran 10,000 simulations of the 2019 NFL season and found three teams worth betting right now.

The 2019 NFL season kicks off in two weeks with each franchise looking to lift the Lombardi Trophy. To reach the Super Bowl each team must first make the playoffs. The surest way to qualify for the postseason is to win a division.

According to the oddsmakers at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, the most likely teams to be crowned division champions are the New England Patriots (-500), Kansas City Chiefs (-225) and Los Angeles Rams (-175).

The Pats have won the AFC East 10 straight years. Kansas City will try to make it four in a row and the Rams are eyeing a three-peat this fall. It is easy to pick these elite squads to finish on top of the division once again, but given their short odds, is there value placing a bet?

To answer that question The Action Network simulated the 2019 NFL season 10,000 times using player and team statistics adjusted for Strength of Schedule.

By comparing our projections to the available betting lines, we have found 12 teams worthy of a divisional wager. The analysis below looks at the three best bets to make.

Green Bay Packers

  • Current odds: 11-5, Implied Probability: 31.3%
  • Packers win the NFC North 41.5% of the time

Aaron Rodgers suffered a knee injury in the first half of the Packers’ Week 1 game against the Bears in 2018. The All-Pro passer returned in the second half to rally Green Bay from a 20-point deficit in a thrilling 24-23 win. The Packers earned the victory but Rodgers played through a tibial plateau fracture and an MCL sprain the rest of the season. He wasn’t his usual self.

In 2017, a broken collarbone limited Rodgers to seven games. Injuries to the two-time league MVP have contributed to Green Bay suffering back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1990-91.

Rodgers is expected to be fully healthy in 2019. The last time Green Bay’s quarterback played a full season without ailments was 2016. All Rodgers did that season was throw for 4,428 yards, 40 touchdowns and only seven interceptions.

Mike McCarthy and his outdated offense are gone. McCarthy was replaced by Matt LaFleur, who previously worked under offensive innovator Sean McVay.

Green Bay is likely to use more play-action passes this season. LaFleur’s offenses ranked fifth and third in play-action rate over the past two seasons, while Rodgers hasn’t ranked inside of the top 30 quarterbacks in percentage of play-action passes since 2014 per The Action Network’s Ian Hartitz.

Increased play action should open up the field and make life easier for Rodgers.

Look for the Packers defense, which ranked 29th in DVOA a year ago, to take a step forward. General manager Brian Gutekunst used five of the team’s eight draft picks on defense, including taking linebacker Rashan Gary and safety Darnell Savage in the first round.

With a healthy Rodgers, a modern offense and an improved defense, our model makes the Packers the favorites to win the NFC North.

Houston Texans

  • Current odds: 17-4, Implied Probability: 19.0%
  • Texans win the AFC South 28.5% of the time

The Texans are a star-studded team. Quarterback Deshaun Watson bounced back from a torn ACL to throw for 4,165 yards and 26 touchdowns while adding 551 yards on the ground one season ago.

DeAndre Hopkins is in the conversation for best receiver in football. Last season, the All-Pro was third in the league in receptions (115), second in receiving yards (1,572) and fourth in touchdowns (11).

On the defensive side of the ball J.J. Watt remains a monster. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year winner was fourth in the league in quarterback pressures (75) and totaled 16 sacks in 2018.

Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney (assuming he isn’t traded) partner with Watt to give Houston one of the best defensive fronts in football. Last season, the Texans were seventh in defensive DVOA.

Houston has the star power to win the AFC South for a fourth time in five years. What makes this bet even more tempting is that we see value in the Texans while assuming that Andrew Luck will play the entire season for the Colts.

Indy’s quarterback is sidelined with a calf/ankle injury that puts his availability for Week 1 in jeopardy. If Luck misses time or is limited by his injury, the Texans become a great bet to win the division.

New York Giants

  • Current odds: 16-1, Implied Probability: 5.9%
  • Giants win the NFC East 14.9% of the time

Philadelphia is the most likely team to win the NFC East with a 57.2% chance. If it is not the Eagles, then it will likely be the Cowboys. Dallas has a 17.8% chance of winning back-to-back division crowns.

The Giants are longshots to come out on top of the NFC East. The oddsmakers have given New York the fifth-worst odds to win a division. This is not surprising following the trade of Odell Beckham Jr., the continued employment of quarterback Eli Manning and the organization’s insistence on running the ball in the middle of a passing revolution.

But there are reasons to believe the Giants will be better in 2019. New York had a point differential of a seven-win team in 2018, but won only five games. The G-Men were also 4-8 in one-score games. Teams that underperform their point differential and have poor a record in games decided by seven or fewer points tend to experience positive regression the next season.

Perhaps the greatest reason to be optimistic about Manning & Co. in 2019 is that they have the sixth-easiest schedule in football. New York faces only three playoff teams from last season.

We are not saying the Giants will win the NFC East. However, according to our model New York’s division odds should be closer to 6-1, not 16-1. If the team experiences some positive regression and capitalizes on a favorable schedule it wouldn’t be surprising to see it competing for the division down the stretch.

Other teams with value to win their divisions: Chargers (9-4), Ravens (7-2), 49ers (7-2), Seahawks (7-2), Lions (12-1), Buccaneers (16-1), Bengals (16-1), Redskins (20-1) and Cardinals (35-1).

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