NFL Futures Cheat Sheet & Preseason Bets: 13 Picks To Make Before Week 1 Kicks Off
Jamie Squire/Getty Images. Pictured: Patrick Mahomes.
Real, live NFL football is here, but before we get to the games, there's still time to get those last-minute futures bets in.
We spent the last three weeks covering every futures market under the sun. We hit every major award, all the season leaders, each team's over/under, divisions, exotics, title odds, and more. Now it's time to gather it all together in one nice, easy cheat sheet before Week 1.
Each Thursday all season, we'll come back to these futures markets and look for new angles and plays. Futures markets are always shifting as teams win and lose and public perception changes, and there's always value to be had. I'm still workshopping alliterative name ideas for this weekly column…
- Thrifty Thursdays — shopping for the best futures bargains available
- Thursday Thermostat — checking the temperature of markets around the league
- Thursday Theories — pre-telling the narrative by finding the futures stories that have yet to be told
- Thirsty Thursdays — getting a few bucks on that long shot you just have to nibble
Like I said, we're still workshopping it. Hit me up @wheatonbrando with your best ideas, but you get the idea: we're gonna play the futures markets all year and make some money together.
So what futures bets do you need to get in right now before the season starts?
Below are links to all my futures articles and predictions, plus my favorite bets of each type that you need to get in before the season kicks off…
Over/Under Win Totals
For my season preview, I divided the 32 teams into four buckets of eight, below. Along the way, we made picks for each team's over/under. Here are snippets from my three favorite bets:
- The 8 Worst Teams
- The 8 Teams Taking a Step Backward
- The 8 Sleepers Trending Up
- The 8 Super Bowl Contenders
The Titans are a prime regression candidate with a rapidly aging roster that shapes up like a team in transition. Tennessee surprised last season with a run at the No. 1 seed in the AFC, but the Titans have gone 13-4 in one-score games the past two seasons and history says those games are coin flips and regress to the mean.
Tennessee is my favorite under on the board. I have the Titans projected at 7.4 wins, more than two below this total, and I like the Titans at +118 to miss the playoffs, too. Tennessee is my projected 12-seed in a loaded conference. I’ll even sprinkle the alternate under 5.5 at +700 in case the bottom falls out and the Titans turn to rookie QB Malik Willis midseason to see what they have.
The big concern is the once-great offensive line. Dallas already lost two starters in the offseason, but losing LT Tyron Smith to injury could be a fatal blow. The Cowboys plummeted from 4.8 to 4.2 yards per carry without Smith last season and 0.13 to 0.03 EPA on passing plays. With Smith, the Cowboys were a top offense. Without him, they’ve barely been average.
Dallas has just five winning seasons since 2009 and have only gone over this win total twice in that stretch. The opening schedule is tough, and Mike McCarthy’s seat could get hot quickly if Dallas stumbles out of the gate, especially with the persisting Sean Payton rumors.
The Eagles have a talented, nasty defense along with the best offensive line in the league. If you think NFL football is won in the trenches, Philadelphia has the best trenches in football. Really, the Eagles have the best non-QB roster in the NFL. That’s not an exaggeration. On my roster rankings matrix, if I zero out the QBs, the Eagles become the No. 1 overall team.
You can still bet Hurts at +2500 to win MVP, and the Eagles are +2000 to lead the league in wins with a Charmin-ultra-soft division and schedule. And if you trust the formula in the playoffs — especially if you think the Eagles could take the one-seed and a bye — Philly is +1200 to win the NFC.
Nothing gets my juices flowing like major sports awards. Some awards are all narrative, while others are numbers-based. We built a historical profile of what sort of player wins every award, then ran through all the top candidates for each. These are the three award bets you have to make right now:
- Most Valuable Player (MVP)
- Offensive Rookie of the Year (OROY)
- Defensive Rookie of the Year (DROY)
- Coach of the Year
- Offensive Player of the Year (OPOY)
- Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY)
- Season Awards podcast ft. Gilles Gallant & Brendan Glasheen
Mahomes has started four seasons and won at least 12 games every time. He finished top-three in EPA all four times, and his Chiefs finished top-two in Offensive DVOA all four too. From the moment Mahomes became an NFL starter, his presence guaranteed success, more than any other player.
That’s value, and this year there’s real narrative. Like Rodgers, Mahomes lost his stud receiver, Tyreek Hill. If the Chiefs just keep whirring even without Cheetah and Kansas City sits near the top of the league yet again, how can voters do anything but give Mahomes supreme credit?
Patrick Mahomes is the league’s best player on the best team and should enter every season as the MVP favorite until proven otherwise. He’s my preseason favorite, and I wouldn’t price him any longer than +400 entering the year. He’s the one must-bet MVP candidate entering the 2022 season.
Donald and Watt are past winners and recent vote getters. They rack up sacks and have reputations as the game’s truly elite defenders. Watt’s finished top-three DPOY three straight years, and Donald has placed top-three in four of the last six. I’d make them co-favorites and give each at least 20% chance at the award, which would imply odds at +400. Instead, we can bet both together at +900 each for that same implied +400.
These two have won four of the last five DPOYs in an award that loves repeat winners. Betting Donald and Watt together likely gives us one and maybe two top-three contenders. We may need to add to our position later if a top contender emerges, but we’ll be in a tremendous hedge position.
Lance fits the profile as a sophomore breakout candidate. He’s got a trio of great pass catchers, plus a super talented defense and an outstanding coaching staff. Kyle Shanahan consistently elevates his quarterbacks and makes them hyper-efficient, and he’s never had anyone with Lance’s talent.
This is a risk on a complete unknown, but that’s why we’re getting such a good price. But with the Niners opening against the Bears and Seahawks, that price won’t last. Lance should look great early and get immediate buzz, and he fits the recent pattern of dual threat QB MVPs a la Newton and Jackson.
I love a chance to crunch numbers, and we crushed these markets last season. We nailed +650 and +950 winners in passing TDs and yards, hit our +2000 long shot on receptions, and finished second on receiving yards, rushing TDs, and receiving TDs. This year's markets, plus two favorites and two long shots:
- Passing yards
- Passing TDs
- Receiving yards
- Receiving TDs
- Rushing TDs
- Season Leaders podcast ft. Chris Raybon & Gilles Gallant
Evans has 27 TDs over the past two years with Brady, 31 if you count the playoffs. That’s nearly a touchdown a game together. Evans had 14 last year and 13 the year before, and he also has two other seasons with 12-plus TDs. The man is unstoppable and playing in an offense that led the league in passing attempts, completions, yards and TDs last season.
Twenty of Tampa Bay’s 43 passing TDs last season went to players no longer on the roster. Someone has to catch all those extra TDs. And that someone’s name is probably Mike. I project Evans at 15 TDs and he has the potential to fly past that number. That puts Evans further ahead of the field in this category than any other projected player in any statistical category and it means I’d make him a clear favorite in this category, probably something like +400.
Jefferson finished with 1,616 yards (second in the NFL) so he’s nearly won the yardage crown already. He ranked fourth in both targets and catches and has potential for a Cooper Kupp-like season.
New Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell comes over from the Rams, where he and Sean McVay moved Kupp all over the field. Kupp played the X, Y and Z, moved before the snap, ran outside routes and got catches inside from the slot. Jefferson was an elite slot receiver at LSU before moving outside in the NFL, so it would be easy to see him succeeding out of the slot again and moving all around the field for O’Connell.
Jefferson has an absolutely monster ceiling. I project him at 1,850 yards, which is 350 ahead of his closest competition.
Over that final six-game stretch, St. Brown racked up 51 catches, 560 yards, and five TDs. He did that on 67 targets, over 11 per game, and maintained an outstanding 76% catch rate. Prorate those six games over a full 17-game schedule, and St. Brown would’ve finished the season with 145 catches for 1,587 yards and 14 TDs on 190 targets.
Cooper Kupp had 145 catches last season on 191 targets. Amon-Ra St. Brown, in other words, produced at an identical pace to Cooper Kupp over the final six games last season.
Jacobs had nine rushing TDs last season, 12 the previous year and finished top 10 in the NFL both times. He has 28 TDs in 43 games and Derek Carr has never been a big passing TDs guy.
Josh McDaniels could be the key. The Patriots almost always ranked near the top of the league in rushing attempts with McDaniels as offensive coordinator, and they often ranked top three in rushing TDs. It’s hard to say whether that’s a McDaniels or a Bill Belichick tendency, but that offense loved to punch it in near the goal line, and that’s one thing Jacobs is great at.
The Raiders are expected to score a heap of points with the addition of Davante Adams. Josh Jacobs could be this year’s James Conner, an inefficient, volume back who threatens to lead the league in rushing TDs.
Exotics and Other Bets
Before all the fun stuff, we started by ranking things like offensive lines and coaches to look for hidden edges in how to view these teams in the market. Here are our 1-to-32 rankings plus three final exotic bets:
- Offensive Units
- Defensive Units
- Offensive Lines
- Coaching Staffs
- Worst to First Division Winner
For all that excitement, Las Vegas still has the worst offense in the AFC West — by a lot. Even after adding Davante Adams, the Raiders still fall in Tier IV among offenses, a full two tiers below anyone else in a loaded division. The Raiders have the worst quarterback and by far the worst line in the AFC West.
Pundits can call this a four-team race all they want, but the Raiders’ strength is their offense, and it still doesn’t measure up. Las Vegas is +120 to finish last in the division, my favorite bet I made on our Action Network exotics podcast.
The Saints might be this year’s Steelers. The Steelers, who have never finished below .500 in 15 years under Mike Tomlin, always seem to roll out a great defense. Many seem to be penciling Pittsburgh in to do the same this year, but its defense is more good than great, and the offense doesn’t measure up.
Instead, this year’s version of the Steelers could be the Saints. New Orleans has played consistently great defense under Dennis Allen and could rank near the top of the league, while its offense should be at least around average. With plenty of defense and just enough offense to get by, the Saints are an intriguing division long shot.
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.
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.