NFL Futures: Our Top 6 Division Winner Picks For 2020
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images. Pictured: Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott
Do the Patriots have any hope of winning a 12th straight AFC East title without Tom Brady? Which team has the best chance to win the NFC East? And are there any division “longshots” worth betting?
Our staff breaks down their top-six division picks for 2020.
NFL Futures: Division Winners
Click the pick to skip ahead to that analysis.
Texans to win AFC South (+350)
New to betting? The Lions’ +600 odds mean a $10 bet would net a $60 profit. Convert more odds with our Betting Odds Calculator.
Raheem Palmer: Cowboys to win NFC East (-120)
Based on a number of factors, the 2019 Cowboys were better than their 8-8 record suggests.
They finished sixth in Football Outsiders’ overall DVOA, their +113 point differential ranked sixth in the league and they had a Pythagorean expectation of 10.9 wins. Typically, we see NFL teams improve year-over-year when their point differential and Pythagorean expectation indicates they performed better than their record the previous season.
The main culprit is that unlike in 2018 — when they went 8-3 and had a +6 point differential in games decided by seven or fewer points — they were only 0-5 with a -5 point differential in one-score games in 2019, which means we can expect this to regress to the mean in 2020.
Mike McCarthy should be an upgrade over Jason Garrett at head coach. And although center Travis Frederick retired this offseason, we should still expect the Cowboys to have a top-tier offense with Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and the addition of first-round rookie CeeDee Lamb out of Oklahoma.
If new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan can shore up the defense, the Cowboys should be a shoe-in to win the NFC East.
With the Giants and Washington Football Team in rebuilding model, the Eagles appear to be the Cowboys’ only competition in the division. Unfortunately for the Eagles, they’ve been hit with the injury bug as they’ve lost both LT Andre Dillard and RG Brandon Brooks for the season. Add in Carson Wentz’s injury history, and it’s tough to bet on any team but the Cowboys winning this division.
Stuckey: Bills to win AFC East (+125)
I’m going with a team that hasn’t won its division since 1994, which also happens to be the last time it won a playoff game.
This is the year the Bills finally win the AFC East.
They have a lot of factors working in their favor given the unprecedented nature of this season. They have a great coaching staff and as much continuity with returning starters as any team in the league. They also added Stefon Diggs to give Josh Allen a bona-fide 1-2 punch at wide receiver. And the offensive line should continue to improve as the completely-rebuilt unit from last season all returns.
The Bills had a Super Bowl-caliber defense in 2019 in large part due to their secondary, which will be the strength once again. And some of the front seven additions could help it become better overall against a much tougher schedule this season.
I like the Bills to win the division so much almost by default, as I am way lower on the Patriots and Jets than the rest of the market. And while I do love what the Dolphins are building, they’re still a year away.
In a quarterback-driven league, Buffalo’s ceiling all hinges on Allen. He can’t lead the Bills to a Super Bowl (yet), but he’s certainly capable enough to lead them to a division title.
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Travis Reed: Patriots to win AFC East (+135)
I’m taking a different approach to the AFC East.
A lot of things have changed for the New England Patriots this offseason. Tom Brady is gone, many of their defensive starters opted out due to the pandemic, and Cam Newton was a late signee in free agency.
But one thing remains consistent: Bill Belichick.
Feel free to count the Patriots out if you want, but I won’t be doing that. My model has actually pinned the Patriots as the division favorites despite the media, public and sportsbooks entrenching the Bills as such — in fact, according to my model, the Patriots’ odds to win the AFC East should be closer to -135 instead of the +135 you can currently get at PointsBet.
You get plus-money on the best coach of all time and the best quarterback in the division. I’d take the Patriots to win the AFC East all the way down to -110.
Mike Randle: Seahawks to win NFC West (+220)
These are great odds for a team that has improved its record in each of the past three seasons and has finished either first or second in the NFC West eight consecutive years.
Seattle features one of the NFL’s most efficient offenses, ranking fourth in Football Outsiders’ pass DVOA and sixth in run DVOA. And somehow, Russell Wilson is still under-appreciated. While not putting up the explosive totals of other top quarterbacks, his efficiency is unmatched. Wilson ranked fourth at the position in true passer rating (110.9) and first in clean pocket completion percentage (81.5%).
Staying true to the preferences of offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, Seattle always maintains a strong rushing attack, ranking first and fourth over the past two seasons, respectively. Running back Chris Carson’s 82.1 rushing yards per game since 2018 is among the league’s best.
While the path to the division crown runs through reigning NFC champion San Francisco, the Seahawks are 12-2 in their past 14 meetings against the 49ers. Seattle also has a very favorable late-season schedule, facing both New York teams and Washington during the critical Weeks 13-15 stretch. Seattle also avoids traveling to San Francisco until Week 17.
I would play this down to +175.
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Chris Raybon: Seahawks to win NFC West (+220)
Wilson gives the Seahawks a high floor: They’ve averaged 10.75 wins per season in his eight years as the starter, and they’ve never had a losing season.
They’re generally undervalued in the market because they’re the one team that can outplay their underlying metrics and win one-score games with some level of consistency.
The acquisition of Jamal Adams gives them a dangerous secondary: Adams — Pro Football Focus’ fifth-rated safety of 83 qualifiers in 2019 — joins safety Quandre Diggs (23rd of 83) as well as cornerbacks Quinton Dunbar and Shaq Griffin, who rated second and ninth, respectively, out of 115 qualified corners.
Seattle went 11-5 last season, but came within inches of going 2-0 against San Francisco, which would have left both teams with 12-4 records. Two of Seattle’s other losses came against two of the NFL’s best teams, Baltimore and New Orleans, neither of which Seattle has to face this season whereas San Francisco does have to play New Orleans, which could be the difference.
The Seahawks have won this division in 3-of-8 (37.5%) seasons with Wilson, so I would play this down to those implied odds (+167).
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Raybon: Texans to win AFC South (+350)
Despite having the best QB in what should be a tight division, the Texans are projected to come in third behind the Colts (+120) and Titans (+160).
Houston has a murderer’s row schedule to start the season — at KC, vs BAL, at PIT), but they’ve actually won outright in 50% of their games as an underdog with Watson over the past two seasons. They’ve also won their division in both of Watson’s healthy seasons, and have posted a winning record in five of Bill O’Brien’s six seasons as head coach.
This should be a close three-team race, and Watson gives Houston the biggest margin for error, so I would bet this at anything better than 33.3% implied odds, or +200.
Sean Koerner: Lions to win NFC North (+600)
Matt Patricia’s attempt to recreate a Bill Belichick’s brand of football has flopped so far. This may be Patricia’s last chance to prove he can make it all come together, which is why he’s a favorite to be the first head coach fired. But while it’s easy to frame a narrative that Patricia is a terrible coach who is responsible for their losing record last season, the Lions were on the wrong side of variance according to my 2019 Luck Ratings and should fare much better in 2020.
The NFC North is also likely to be weaker than most expect.
Green Bay, Minnesota and Chicago could all realistically struggle, so there is a path for Detroit to take the division. That’s why in addition to the over on their win total, I’m making a small investment in the Lions to reach their ceiling as NFC North champions.