Futures Friday: 32 Teams in 8 Tiers, How To Bet Each
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images. Pictured: Matthew Stafford.
It's Futures Friday again, and we're having fun with these weekly check-ins.
We R-E-L-A-X-ed and bought low on Packers futures after the season opener, played a little Buy or Sell with the Eagles, Bengals, Titans, Giants, and Dolphins after two games, and sprinkled longshots like Trevor Lawrence MVP +4000 and Atlanta Falcons division +2500 last week.
We're building ourselves quite a futures portfolio.
Now that every team has played four games and we're about one-fourth of the way through the season, it's a great time to zoom out and scan the football landscape to see exactly where everything stands.
These are your Quarter Season Title Tiers.
These are not power rankings. They don't necessarily rank what teams have done so far, nor how good they are right now. Title Tiers are forward looking, using what we know so far to project where things look going forward.
So which teams are the favorites, who are the contenders to the throne, who are the sleepers and frauds, and — most importantly — how do we bet it all?
Tier VIII: No. 1 Pick Watch
32. Houston Texans
31. Washington Commanders
30. Carolina Panthers
29. Chicago Bears
The season is already over for these four.
They know it, the fans know it, and everything else is only a matter of time. The rest of the season is just about seeing which pieces are worth keeping around — and that probably doesn't include the quarterbacks or coaches.
It won't be long before these teams' football attention spans turn from Sunday to Saturday games as fans dream of C.J. Stroud or Bryce Young and hope their team loses enough to secure a chance to take them next spring.
How to Bet This Tier: Panthers +900 Fewest Wins
The Texans are near even odds for worst record in the league, far too short this early in the season, especially since that tie effectively counts as a sneaky win for tiebreaks. Houston still plays the Giants and Commanders, plus five more against its own terrible division. The Texans won two of their final four last year, so they're not necessarily a tanking team.
Check out Carolina's next eight games: 49ers, Rams, Bucs, Falcons (x2), Bengals, Ravens, Broncos. Every opponent is .500 or better and will be favored, so Carolina could be 1-11 into the bye. That should mean goodbye to Matt Rhule and Baker Mayfield and could equal an organizational mandate to lose as much as possible to put the franchise in position to start over.
Football Outsiders actually makes the Panthers favorites to pick No. 1 at 18.9%. That would put them at +430, under half the price we're getting. I'd make them about even odds with Houston. It could get ugly.
Tier VII: It Could Be Worse, You Know
Unlike the four teams at the bottom, at least these franchises have some direction, a coaching staff they trust, and some potential at quarterback. But that's about the only silver lining.
The NFL is weird and you never know with these things. Heck, the Giants are 3-1 and would be in the playoffs right now. But these teams look like squads that will take their lumps as they face growing pains with young QBs this fall.
How to Bet This Tier: Don't.
Feel free to sprinkle an occasional moneyline longshot or a long odds cover, but otherwise stay away for now.
Tier VI: It's Getting Late Pretty Early
24. New Orleans Saints
23. Indianapolis Colts
22. Arizona Cardinals
21. Tennessee Titans
20. Las Vegas Raiders
A month ago, these five all had clear playoff hopes. Now their respective seasons are already on life support, and the signs are worrying.
All five rank 20th or below in DVOA. The Colts are dead last. The Saints are a late comeback against the Falcons away from 0-4. The Cardinals are 2-2 against the second easiest schedule in the league but have the fourth hardest remaining and Kyler Murray's numbers are rough. The Raiders have the most encouraging profile of the bunch but are buried in that division at 1-3.
It's not over yet for these teams, but they all fall outside the top-nine in their conference in these rankings, and you may recall only seven make the playoffs on each side. It's desperate times, now or never.
How to Bet This Tier: Back Desperate Teams in Upcoming Weeks
The odds aren't juicy enough to bet against these teams making the playoffs, though you could parlay a few of them together if you like. The better play is just looking for the right spot to back them as underdogs in the weeks ahead. Desperation can be a dangerous thing.
Tier V: All Vibes, Baby
Unlike the five teams we just discussed, these four are ecstatic to be right in the middle a month into the season. The Lions have a real offense! Geno Smith leads all quarterbacks in PFF grade! The Falcons have won two in a row! Seattle, Atlanta, and Cleveland are tied for the division lead!
All of those things sure feel like they'll pass, but don't be so certain. This feels like an extreme parity year, and weird things happen when teams are grouped so closely together. This entire tier ranks top-nine in Offensive DVOA, and offensive numbers tend to be stickier and more predictive going forward.
These teams are just on the outside of the playoff picture, but they're lurking. Someone above them will get too many injuries, and these four look enough to take advantage. I'll call it — at least one of these four, maybe more than one, will make the playoffs.
How to Bet This Tier: Take Some Longshot Futures Fliers
If there's a team in this tier you believe in, you have every reason to dream big and bet some longshot futures. I can't get there on Detroit at 1-3 with that awful defense, and I'm intrigued by the Browns but we'll get a better spot later with a brutal Ravens, Bengals, Dolphins, Bills, Bucs stretch on deck.
I recommended Atlanta division odds last week at +2500. They're +1200 a week later, tied for the lead, and an upset in Tampa Sunday would flip this division. There's still some value there, but the better value is now on Seattle.
The entire NFC West sits at 2-2, with real questions for all four. The Seahawks have the league's second easiest remaining schedule. Saints, Cards, Chargers, Giants, Cards up next could get them to 6-3, and they still get the Raiders, Panthers, and Jets, plus three late hedge opportunities against division foes. Seattle's offense ranks top-five in DVOA, EPA, and Success Rate.
Football Outsiders gives the Seahawks a 17.8% chance at the division and 33.8% at the playoffs. That would imply +460 and +195, and we can bet Seattle at +2500 (implied 3.8%) and +900 (10%) instead. Play the numbers.
Tier IV: Something Feels a Little Off
15. Denver Broncos
14. Los Angeles Rams
13. Los Angeles Chargers
12. Minnesota Vikings
If you're betting on one of those underdogs, these are the teams you're eyeing for a drop-off. They're all .500 or better with ostensibly good quarterbacks and offenses, but something just doesn't feel right.
You may think the Broncos should rank even lower, but the defense has been good and this team was always going to take time to jell with a new QB and a green coaching staff.
The Los Angeles teams have been thoroughly underwhelming. Both offensive lines are struggling, and both MVP-hopeful QBs have disappointed playing through injury.
The Vikings are 3-1 but needed last-minute escapes against the 1-3 Lions and Saints and got blown off the field by the Eagles. Minnesota's defense is troubling and Kevin O'Connell's offense has not lived up to billing.
These teams all still feel like 8-to-10 win squads for now, but another big injury or two or an unexpected loss could change things in a hurry. Best not get comfortable.
How to Bet This Tier: Rams to Miss the Playoffs +182
If there's a team you're not feeling in this tier, don't be afraid to fade them both now and in the futures market. The Vikings have the league's third softest remaining schedule and the offense should settle in. The Chargers are a tough read with the injuries. Denver's perception is too low for juicy odds.
I'm fading the defending champs. The Rams have been blown out twice with unconvincing wins against the Falcons and Cardinals. Los Angeles ranks 26th in DVOA. The offense is bottom five in passing and overall offensive EPA. The pass D has been bad. The line can't block anyone. The offense looks vanilla and doesn't stretch the field. The Rams are scrapping.
And look at that upcoming schedule: 10 games left against .500 or better teams, and two of the other three are in New Orleans and against the Raiders. The Rams still travel to Tampa, Kansas City, and Green Bay and have games against the Cowboys and 49ers plus dangerous late matchups with the Broncos and Chargers.
Maybe LA beats Dallas and Carolina, reaches the bye at 4-2, gets healthy, and is just fine. But Football Outsiders gives the Rams just a 48.6% chance at the playoffs, basically a coin flip. The Rams are tied for the 12-seed and only a win ahead of last in the NFC. At +182 to miss the playoffs, the odds are in our favor.
Tier III: You Never Know With a Defense This Good
11. San Francisco 49ers
10. Dallas Cowboys
9. Jacksonville Jaguars
8. Cincinnati Bengals
Defense can be unpredictable, but a great defense tends to be a very strong indicator of a good regular season team.
These teams all rank top seven in Defensive DVOA after a month. The Cowboys and Jaguars have young, ferocious pass rushes that open up everything. The Bengals make brilliant adjustments under DC Lou Anarumo. The 49ers look like the best defense in football under DC DeMeco Ryans.
A great defense makes everything easier for the offense, letting them wear opponents down and giving them positive field position. The offenses in this tier haven't been good, but the defenses are so great that it's buying time.
Be wary of San Francisco. The 49ers are missing their best offensive player — that's stud LT Trent Williams — along with his backup, the starting QB, and the go-to RB in a run-first offense. This is not a reliable attack and may not get much better.
The Cowboys are jelling and should improve once Dak Prescott returns soon. The Jags are young but starting to figure things out with Trevor Lawrence. The Bengals offense has been the worst of the bunch thus far, but you have to figure Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase figure things out at some point, which is why Cincinnati's upside ranks highest in this group.
How to Bet This Tier: Playoff and Division Odds but Not Title Futures
Defense is a great predictor of regular season success, but offenses typically win out in the modern playoffs. These are teams to back right now while they're undervalued, but you may not want to go all-in with a Super Bowl ticket.
I can't blame you if you're eyeing Cowboys division odds at +370 or Bengals to make the playoffs at +100, but the best bet here is Jaguars playoffs at +140.
Jacksonville looks like the class of a bad AFC South, and that Eagles game didn't throw me off the scent. The defense was still terrific, and the offense had a bad game in sloppy weather against a great opponent. There aren't many great opponents left on the schedule. Up next are the Texans, Colts, Giants, Broncos, and Raiders, and they still get the Lions, Jets, and Texans later, plus two late games against a Titans team that might already be out of it.
You don't have to believe the Jaguars are good — just that they're better than the bad teams they're facing. They absolutely are right now, and there's every reason to believe this young team should only get better going forward. Football Outsiders puts Jacksonville at 64% to make the playoffs, an implied -178. We can play them at +140 at BetMGM, a bad number I prefer to the +175 division odds since they could get a wildcard spot too.
Tier II: Flawed, But They Can Get There
7. Miami Dolphins
6. Green Bay Packers
5. Baltimore Ravens
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
We've made it to the teams who genuinely believe they can win the Super Bowl this year.
Baltimore and Miami are a Spider-man meme of all offense, no defense, reflected in their wild 42-38 game. These are the top two DVOA offenses in the NFL despite a number of injuries for both teams on that side of the ball. These are proud, aggressive defenses that are also banged up. As they get healthy and figure out how to play to their strengths, a true contender could emerge.
The Bucs and Packers are on the other side of things, winning without impressing or even having much fun. Tampa Bay feels underwhelming, all the more reason to respect the No. 5 DVOA despite the lackluster offense. The defense has been dominant, and the offense should only get better as the line and receivers get healthy. Green Bay is not as explosive as past versions but continues to manufacture wins.
And when you have Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Lamar Jackson… and maybe Tua Tagovailoa??… you've always got a chance.
How to Bet This Tier: Look to Buy Low on Title or MVP Odds
All the attention right now is on the three teams at the top, and rightfully so, but it's a long season. The Bucs were always going to start slow out of the gates with all those injuries and a brutal opening schedule, and it's telling that these teams have losses in part because they've played one another.
These teams have all the makings of a Super Bowl run if health and luck permits. They're also potential 1-seeds with star QBs, which means there's MVP upside here too.
There's not much value on Packers or Bucs futures yet with the NFC so lackluster, and it's tough to bet on Miami futures until we see Tagovailoa healthy. But if you don't totally believe in the Eagles, then the Bucs or Packers are probably your NFC 1-seed.
That would make Rodgers or Brady the quarterback of the best team in the conference. Nothing about their numbers says MVP right now, but at +3500 and +4000 respectively, you could do much worse on a longshot for teams that should only get better and make them look better going forward.
Tier I: Title or Bust
3. Kansas City Chiefs
2. Philadelphia Eagles
1. Buffalo Bills
You already know these are the best teams in the league.
The Eagles are our last unbeaten, the Chiefs have played in four straight AFC Championship Games, and the Bills are one of the finest teams in the league on offense and defense and special teams.
These are the only three teams with shorter than +1000 Super Bowl odds. They're the teams to beat.
How to Bet This Tier: Wait for Bills-Chiefs Next Week
Don't look now, but we've got a monster Bills-Chiefs game on tap next Sunday. Winner gets a leg up in the race for the AFC 1-seed and bye week, the MVP conversation, and conference and title odds. NBD.
Rather than picking a side in that one, you might want to bet the "moneyline" by playing AFC or title odds instead.
Or you can go the other way — if you think the Bills and Chiefs are a class ahead of the rest, you can bet both of them together.
If you bet Buffalo (+250) and Kansas City (+380), you can effectively take the Bills and Chiefs against the field at +102 for the AFC Championship. You can also play both Josh Allen (+300) and Pat Mahomes (+500) to take those two against the field in the MVP race at +140.
We're only four weeks into the NFL season, so we've got a long ways to go — and we're just getting started.