NFL Division Futures Picks: 5 Teams Our Experts Are Backing, Including the 49ers, Vikings, More
Getty Images. Pictured: Jameis Winston (left) and Kirk Cousins.
Our NFL experts here at Action Network have gathered together their best picks for division winners this season.
They range from longshots (the Jaguars) to teams looking to go from second to first this season. Check out their best bets for the 2022-23 season below.
Sean Koerner: 49ers — NFC West (+170)
While Jimmy Graoppolo is still on the roster, the Trey Lance era will officially begin in 2022.
Lance is still a very raw prospect at 22 years of age and he only attempted 71 passes as a rookie. He has elite rushing ability and a cannon for an arm. Considering he has weapons like Deebo Samuel, George Kittle and Brandon Ayiuk at his disposal, the sky's the limit for Lance’s upside.
The 49ers went 10-7 despite only going 2-5 in one-score games. They’re a team with a very high ceiling heading into 2022 and one I want to invest in.
However, I think the best way to invest in San Francisco is to win the NFC West at +200. The division itself became easier to win now that Russell Wilson is no longer with the Seahawks. The Rams are the reigning champs and should of course be the favorite, but they’re a top-heavy team that could struggle with even average injury luck this year. I’d prefer to invest in the 49ers’ ceiling, and one way to do that is through their division odds.
Chris Raybon: Eagles — NFC East (+150)
I project the Eagles to be favored in 12 games this year, which is two more than the Cowboys. I consider both teams to be nearly even, but the Cowboys have to play the Bucs instead of the Saints, the Bengals instead of the Steelers and the Rams instead of the Cardinals due to finishing ahead of Philly last year.
The Eagles finished 11th in offensive DVOA last year; what held them back was their 25th-ranked defense. That shouldn’t be an issue this season, as they’ve added edge rusher Haason Reddick, linebacker Kyzir White and cornerback James Bradberry. They also get edge rusher Brandon Graham back after he played in only two games last season. In nickel personnel, they have only one starter ranked below average by PFF (safety Anthony Harris) – and just barely. They also have great depth, particularly in the front seven.
And that 11th-ranked offense should be even better with the addition of A.J. Brown. Couple him with DeVonta Smith and Dallas Goedert, and Jalen Hurts is going to have multiple guys open on most passing plays. He’ll have the time to find them, too, as the Eagles have arguably the best offensive line in the league (both Action Network’s Brandon Anderson and PFF rank them No. 1 entering the season).
Stuckey: Saints — NFC South (+300)
I believe the Saints have higher than normal variance this season due to uncertainty surrounding a possible Alvin Kamara suspension (which looks unlikely), Michael Thomas' return from injury and the performance of Jameis Winston – really, the offense as a whole – without Sean Payton. I don’t think anybody can properly measure the impact of Payton’s departure. Regardless, I'm buying New Orleans' upside.
I decided to go the division route since I show Tampa Bay as a tad bit overvalued in this market. The Bucs do still have Tom Brady, who has amazingly won his division in 18 of the 20 seasons that he finished as a starter. That’s just silly, though one of the two exceptions did come in 2020 in his first season in The Big Guava.
This Bucs team certainly has potential issues, starting with the interior offensive line following a plethora of key departures and injuries. Interior pressure with tight man coverage is one of the few ways teams have historically slowed down Brady. The Saints, with a top-five defense on paper, certainly have the ability to do both.
Tampa’s top-heavy roster lacks depth across the board, which could magnify the impact of injuries at key positions. Brady also did miss time in camp, so timing could be off early on, especially with Rob Gronkowski no longer in the mix (for now) and the uncertainty surrounding Chris Godwin's return.
And while I’m not personally considering it since I’ve concluded Brady – now 45 (!) – is an alien, there's at least a non-zero chance he endures a slight decline. The same goes for an injury, which would almost certainly be lights out for Tampa.
Meanwhile, New Orleans at least now has a competent veteran backup quarterback in Andy Dalton a year after suffering through Trevor Siemian and Ian Book. The Saints lost all five of their starts, while going 9-3 in the others.
Lastly, don’t discount the Saints’ recent head-to-head success over Brady and the Bucs. They have won all four regular-season meetings since his arrival. That could end up deciding the division, as it did in 2020.
With a potential top-five defense and an offense with upside after upgrading at receiver, the Saints could reach double-digit wins. Factor in those question marks surrounding Tampa Bay and there’s too much value to pass up.
Brandon Anderson: Jaguars — AFC South (+800)
The Jaguars have one season with more than six wins since 2010, averaging 4.3 wins during that stretch. It’s been ugly. But even for Jacksonville, nothing was as ugly as the histrionics and shenanigans of Urban Meyer.
It’s possible Meyer’s coaching sabotaged last season before it started and made the Jaguars look much worse than they really were. Doug Pederson represents competence if nothing else — an adult in the room. It means a real offense that doesn’t put the quarterback at a deficit every drop back.
If you want to bet on Jacksonville, that’s the case: Competent coaching plus a huge sophomore leap from Trevor Lawrence. Remember, Lawrence had never lost a regular season game before last fall and was considered a generational prospect. Peyton Manning went 3-13 with 28 picks as a rookie, then won 13 games the following year.
Does Lawrence have that leap in him? There were flashes, and more than a few signs that the bad scheme and a lack of receivers were holding him back. If Lawrence does take a step, there’s a real chance that he could be the best QB in the division by the end of the season.
And that’s the other half of the case for Jacksonville: The weakest division in football. Houston is bad. Tennessee is due for regression and over-reliance on an old RB coming off a major injury. Indianapolis lacks ceiling and might have invested in a near-expiration QB. It’s entirely possible nine or 10 wins takes this division. I’d make the Colts healthy AFC South favorites, somewhere around 50%. I put the Titans around half that. But that leaves 25% for the Texans and Jags.
My model gives the Jaguars an 18% chance at a division title. At +800, we’re getting an implied 11%. That’s a 62% edge in our favor, and that means that even though Jacksonville is not the most likely worst-to-first division winner, it is the one most worth betting on.
Anthony Dabbundo: Vikings — NFC North (+260)
This bet has as much to do with Minnesota as it does with the downside risk of Green Bay. The Packers lost two of their top three receiving options with the departures of Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Green Bay has won 13 games in three consecutive seasons.
Some credit should be given to head coach Matt LaFleur for his ability to have his teams consistently outperform their Pythagorean win total. But there’s also a good chance a lot of that can be explained by variance and that regression could be coming this year.
Based on points for and points allowed, Green Bay should have only won 9.8 games in 2019, 11.2 in 2020 and 10.5 in 2021. The Packers have also staved off regression because of stellar play from quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but it is important to note that prior to his back-to-back MVP seasons, Rodgers was not playing at an elite level in the four years before LaFleur arrived. He showed no signs of it last season, but the possibility of Rodgers looking more like the pedestrian 2015-18 Rodgers without Adams is not off the table.
The Packers also finished 28th in early down success rate defensively last year, a major red flag for the unit given early down success tends to be more predictive than late-down data.
An anticipated drop-off in Green Bay’s offensive ceiling sans Adams opens the door for rookie head coach Kevin O’Connell and Minnesota. As good as Mike Zimmer was at coaching up the defense, his conservative approach on game script and in-game decisions held back Minnesota.
The Vikings were a conservative offense by nature under Zimmer, ranking in the top 10 in early down run frequency last season. They weren’t effective, though, as Minnesota was bottom 10 in rushing success rate as a team. A more aggressive offensive approach that keys in on Kirk Cousins and his top-10 passing offense by EPA/play could make Minnesota much better on the margins this season.
O’Connell also comes from the Sean McVay coaching tree and could bring more imaginative ideas to an offense that looked stale last season.