NFL Futures Odds, Picks: Targeting Longshots Ahead of Week 4, Including Ja’Marr Chase & Trevor Lawrence
Cooper Neill/Getty Images. Pictured: Ja’Marr Chase.
Welcome back to Futures Fridays. Today we're going to have a little fun:
It's Longshots Week.
We're only three weeks into the NFL season, which means we still have 83% of the season to go, but already some narratives are starting to form as everyone latches onto early results.
Aidan Hutchinson is a sizable Defensive Rookie of the Year favorite after a three-sack game in Week 2. Micah Parsons has dominated and pulled out ahead in the DPOY race. The Eagles and Bucs are massive division favorites. And there's already talk of this weekend's showdown between Josh Allen's Bills and Lamar Jackson's Ravens giving us the early MVP front runner.
But right as these narratives form and odds start to shorten, that's when it's time to strike on some of the longer odds available.
I've got five longshots for you today. You can decide how you want to play them. Every one of them is +1500 or longer, which means each of them is an implied 6% or lower to hit. Split one unit between all five if you like, put a full unit on each, or pick and choose somewhere in between.
The implied odds suggest there's approximately a 20% chance of at least one of these five bets below hitting, or 1-in-5. My numbers put that closer to 1-in-3. That means we're still more likely to lose than win one but getting great value.
Let's dive right in and start with a doozy. It's Longshots SZN.
MVP: Trevor Lawrence +4000 (BetRivers)
Already, it seems the MVP picture is starting to shape up. Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes are the obvious early favorites, with Lamar Jackson, Jalen Hurts, and Tua Tagovailoa the next three names mentioned in some order. That's effectively how the odds shape up at every book, and there's a real gap after those five to the next contenders, guys like the injured Justin Herbert or veterans like Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady who haven't done much yet.
That top tier of five should be six, and Trevor Lawrence is that sixth name.
Lawrence has led the surprising Jaguars to a 2-1 record and is a late Week 1 collapse away from 3-0. He's thrown six TDs, half his rookie total already, with just one interception. Lawrence's efficiency has skyrocketed as a sophomore, up from 5.2 adjusted yards per attempt to 7.6 and from under 60% completion to 69%, near the top of the league.
Lawrence also ranks fifth in EPA and fifth in EPA + CPOE. That matters because history tells us the MVP is almost always a quarterback that finishes top two in those metrics — and Lawrence is already competing. Look at the names he's clustered with at RBSDM:
Lawrence heads to Philadelphia this week with a chance to really leap into the media narrative. There's still a lot of Jaguars skepticism, with Jacksonville nearly a touchdown underdog. If the Jags go to Philly and knock off the undefeated, red-hot Eagles, you better believe Lawrence will be a hot name suddenly thrust into the MVP conversation with odds nowhere near this price.
If Lawrence gets that win, the next three games against the Texans, Colts, and Giants could leave Jacksonville 6-1, firmly in control of the division and atop the NFL standings with a likable sophomore breakout QB. That literally screams MVP contention.
Per PFF, the Jaguars also have the easiest remaining passing schedule in the NFL. That means a real chance for Lawrence to put up big numbers. And I don't even need to tell you about the obvious narrative. Shaking off the stank of Urban Mayer to go from two straight years with the worst record in the league to contention near the top of the standings? That stuff writes itself, and we just saw Jackson and Mahomes win MVP with sophomore breakouts.
The AFC is tough, but the AFC South is not. Jacksonville's defense looks like the real deal, and a last-place schedule is huge. If this Jaguars thing is real, Lawrence is going to get MVP buzz. This number is twice as long as it should be. And if you wait until after Sunday and they beat the Eagles, you'll have already missed your window.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Brian Robinson +3000 (PointsBet)
Remember that guy?
Brian Robinson was getting big preseason hype before tragedy hit when he was shot on August 28 in an attempted hijacking. Most assumed Robinson would miss at least the full season, but he's already running routes and getting some practice reps in and is eligible to play as soon as next week.
Robinson hasn't fallen off the radar for Comeback Player of the Year. He's +700 there and has a slam dunk narrative for an award about literally just that. But I'm greedy — why can't Robinson win Rookie of the Year too?
It's no secret Washington is ready to move on from Antonio Gibson, so the door is open for Robinson if he's ready. Gibson has 2.9 opportunity-adjusted expected TDs and seven carries inside the 5-yard line. Those numbers both lead the league, and they tell us a Washington back is going to score some TDs. That could be Robinson soon. He had 57 yards and a TD in preseason.
I wrote before the season about how this year's Offensive Rookie of the Year race is more open than usual, so I'm looking for a sleeper. Some books are forgetting about Robinson. I got him at +5000 on the eve of the season. If you get a lottery ticket at this number, he's worth a speculative sprinkle.
Most Receiving Touchdowns: Ja'Marr Chase +1600 (FanDuel)
Ja'Marr Chase was one of three names atop all the receiving categories to start the season, and I'm not entirely sure why he's slipped down the lists. He has 21 catches for 212 yards and two TDs, on pace for 119/1,201/11. That's a bit off last year's pace since Chase hasn't had any breakaway plays yet, but he looks as dangerous as ever.
If you watch the Bengals each week, it's impossible to miss how much of an effort Cincinnati is making to get Chase the ball, especially in the red zone. The numbers bear it out. Chase ranks third in the league with 3.6 opportunity-adjusted expected TDs, but he's only scored twice.
But don't forget Chase was robbed of a TD against Pittsburgh when the ball crossed the plane but the play wasn't reviewed, and he also caught a ball last week inside the one but was ruled out of bounds on review. A couple inches the other way and Chase has four TDs and is the favorite here.
I think he should be anyway. Last year, Chase finished with 8.3 expected TDs, which already ranked sixth. He converted that into 13 actual scores, and this year he's on pace now for 20.4 xTDs. Chase also has 14 red zone targets and nine looks inside the five, pacing to 79 and 51 on the season. He had 37 and 21 last year, already top-seven, and last year's leaders were at 55 and 23.
Those numbers all tell the same story — Cincinnati is targeting Chase early and often and giving him every opportunity to score, even more than last season. I've lost track of how many times I've seen Joe Burrow take a three-step drop and throw to an out-breaking Chase. It's the old Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams connection, and it's unstoppable once the timing hits.
Chase was half this price entering the season, and I think his odds should have shortened based on what we've seen. He'd be my co-favorite right now, and I still like my preseason pick of Mike Evans now that he's back from suspension too, if you want to nibble at +3000.
Defensive Player of the Year: Aaron Donald +1500 (BetRivers)
Speaking of preseason picks, I'm begging you to add an Aaron Donald DPOY ticket if you didn't already before the season.
The DPOY race is wide open after T.J. Watt's injury. Micah Parsons was runner up last year and is the obvious favorite now, but he's too strong a favorite this early in the year. Donald should be co-favorite, and he's a steal at +1500.
The DPOY template is simple: voters just choose the best defender regardless of numbers, and they love to keep rewarding guys who have won it before.
Donald is a three-time winner and has finished top-five DPOY seven straight seasons with at least 11 sacks in all but one. He hasn't fallen off at all, still grades over 90 at PFF, and is widely regarded as the best defender in the game. He has his Super Bowl ring now and could get the GOAT treatment if voters make him the first four-time DPOY.
NFC South Winner: Atlanta Falcons +2500 (BetRivers)
Let's close out Longshots Week with a team pick.
I stared all offseason at the NFC South, trying desperately to talk myself into a sleeper. I was ready to fade the Bucs all summer, and that was even before the entire offense went into the hospital.
Somehow, 45-year-old Tom Brady is about the only healthy guy playing for the Bucs offense. The line has been decimated, and the receiving corps is in shambles. The Bucs rank 27th in Offensive DVOA and can't run the football at all. They've looked extremely ordinary outside of an awesome defensive performance, but they can't keep forcing turnovers every six series either.
Besides, you never know when Brady will finally hit that wall, and not having any blocking or receiving doesn't help. There's plenty of reason to be skeptical about the Bucs, and the Panthers and Saints sure don't look threatening. If Tampa continues to struggle, nine or 10 wins could take the division
The door might be open. Could Atlanta walk through that door?
The Falcons should've beat the Saints in Week 1 before a late collapse and almost came back from down 28-3 to beat the Rams before coming up just short. Atlanta finally won Sunday, and the team has been feisty.
The Falcons are 3-0 ATS and rank 8th in Offensive DVOA and top-10 in both rushing and passing DVOA. Arthur Smith has unlocked this offense, putting Marcus Mariota on the move and maximizing Cordarrelle Patterson, Drake London, and Kyle Pitts. Atlanta's special teams have been strong too. Dean Pees' defense has been poor, but that might be less of a problem in a division with three other bottom-eight DVOA offenses.
Atlanta is a short home underdog to the Browns before a road trip to Tampa. That's the toughest game on the schedule, and it behooves them to play this early while the Bucs are banged up and coming off a displaced underdog spot against the Chiefs. If two coin flips go Atlanta's way and steal a win in Tampa, the Falcons could effectively be 1.5 games up in the division 10 days from now.
The rest of the schedule is shifting in Atlanta's favor too. The game after Tampa is the 49ers, another team ransacked by injury. A later game against the Chargers is less daunting now too, and Atlanta gets the Bucs at home in the finale which could create an important hedge spot if necessary.
It's wild, but we've got more parity than ever with 28 of 32 teams stuck on one or two wins after three weeks. Things could be tighter than usual, and that could open the door for a few underdogs — perhaps like the Falcons.
Atlanta is a longshot, but that's the point now, isn't it? Football Outsiders gives the Falcons a 10.2% chance at the division. That would put the Falcons' true odds at +880, and it means we're getting huge value at +2500.
It's Longshots Week. Pick your favorite pony and enjoy the ride.