NFL Futures Picks: 3 Bets to Make for Cowboys, Aidan Hutchinson, More
Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images. Pictured: Aidan Hutchinson.
Welcome back to another edition of Futures Friday!
Each Friday, we're zooming out from the game-to-game trees to consider the forest. We'll take a look around the league and talk big picture awards, season leaders, playoff odds and more as we look to the future.
Too many bettors think of futures as dart throws you make prior to the season before crossing your fingers, waiting six months and hoping for the best. Instead, we're playing the market every single week, buying low and selling high, building a deep and varied portfolio that should give us big line value and long-term upside.
Today, we've got one Super Bowl future, an over-under and a possible Defensive Rookie of the Year winner.
Cowboys to Win the Super Bowl (+2000)
It's not often that there's value on America's Team, but the Cowboys might actually be a bit overlooked right now.
The NFC is where you want a sleeper pick right now. The AFC is loaded with the Bills and Chiefs at the top, along with the Ravens, Bengals and any other number of contenders. But in the NFC, it's the Eagles and … the one-loss Giants and Vikings? The imploding Packers, Rams, 49ers and Bucs?
The Cowboys might be the second best team in the NFC right now. After surviving Dak Prescott's absence, Dallas is set up as a likely 5-seed, which is starting to look like a less-than-daunting road trip to Seattle or Atlanta. Win that and the Cowboys are two games from the Super Bowl.
Dallas ranks third overall in DVOA on the season (ahead of the Chiefs). It has the No. 2 defense, which is led by the league's top pass defense. Micah Parsons is the heavy Defensive Player of the Year favorite and leads a ferocious pass rush buoyed by an underrated secondary. The Cowboys also has a stout run game and the league's No. 2 special teams unit under John Fassel.
The one weak spot on this team has been the offense, specifically the passing attack. Dallas ranks just 20th in pass DVOA, but there's obviously reason to expect improvement now that Prescott is back. He got to ease in against the Lions and Bears, and a bye after Sunday should let him fully get back up to speed for the back half of the season.
The Cowboys increasingly look like a team built for a real postseason run. Prescott is a fine QB and should give Dallas a balanced offense, and the elite pass defense is a huge weapon in the playoffs. You can make an argument that Dallas could even be the most playoff-ready NFC team ahead of the Eagles and their somewhat gimmicky and specific offense. Heck, the Cowboys could still catch Philadelphia for the 1-seed and that first-round bye.
Football Outsiders gives the Cowboys a 17.3% chance at making the Super Bowl. That's the fourth best odds in the league behind only the big three trio of the Bills, Eagles and Chiefs. We're getting implied 4.8% at a title at +2000, so it's clear the odds are in our favor. Even getting close will give us options.
The NFC increasingly looks wide open. Dallas has the whole package — a deep coaching staff, a balanced attack, a franchise QB and a fearsome defense. It's time to invest in a Cowboys +2000 Super Bowl ticket.
Colts Under 8.5 Wins (-140)
The Cowboys are really good; the Colts are really bad.
Indianapolis is .500 on the season at 3-3-1, but that record doesn't even come close to being an accurate representation.
This team has trailed on 95% of its snaps. The Colts rank 31st in DVOA, between the dreadful Panthers and Texans. They're last in offensive DVOA, bottom three in both passing and rushing, and they've done that against a relatively easy schedule.
Even worse, the Colts have the second highest variance of any team. That leads to occasional shocking upsets, but it means the bad is really bad. The defense has been stout enough to keep them in games, but even the wins have been lucky.
The Colts stunned the Chiefs in Week 3, but that win was wholly undeserved, almost completely at the hands of an abnormally awful special teams day by Kansas City. Indianapolis also had that shambolic Thursday night overtime win over the Broncos, when neither team even deserved a tie. The third win came in the final seconds against the 2-5 Jaguars.
I know what you're thinking — yeah, but the Colts play in the worst division in football, so that means plenty of easy wins.
Wrong! Indianapolis already played five of its six division games. It went 1-3-1 in those contests and should probably be 2-5, or even 1-6, right now.
Now Indy turns to 2021 sixth-rounder Sam Ehlinger at quarterback. All you need to know about Ehlinger is that he's played in three NFL games without even throwing a single pass. He's recorded three rushes in his career, and that's it.
Is Ehlinger really the answer? The Colts have veterans Matt Ryan and Nick Foles, but Ehlinger appears to be owner Jim Irsay's move. Irsay has had a quick trigger finger blaming and finding new quarterbacks, so this might just be an overreaction to some decent preseason action, or even a purposeful attempt to tank.
We haven't seen Ehlinger play yet. Maybe he's good! But he's stepping into the worst offense in the league, and the history of an unknown third-string QB stepping into a situation with awful pass blocking, no run game and few receiving threats is not great.
If Ehlinger and the Colts lose at home to Washington this weekend, this could go sideways in a hurry. Indianapolis is currently a 6.5-point underdog in New England next weekend. If Ehlinger looks bad, that line jumps past a touchdown and suddenly the Colts are only even close to favored two more times this season.
Indianapolis still has to play the entire NFC East — that sounded great a couple months ago, but now it's the toughest division in football. The Colts also have upcoming games against four of the five NFC teams above .500 — the Eagles, Cowboys, Giants, and Vikings — three of them on the road.
The Colts need nine victories to go over this line; that Week 1 tie looms large. That means the Colts need to win six of their final 10 games to go over. Even going 1-3 against that quartet of NFC teams leaves an awfully narrow path.
I'm going under, and I think this has a far better chance of going sideways and finishing way under than hitting the over. What's interesting is we can also bet on the Colts to miss the playoffs at -130, nearly the same price.
The AFC South is so bad that Indianapolis could literally go under at 8-8-1 and still win the division and make the playoffs. It's clear the under is the better play.
The Colts are bad; they might even be tanking. This team needs to win six of its final 10 games to go over. Grab under 8.5 and don't look back.
Aidan Hutchinson, Defensive Rookie of the Year (+1600)
Aidan Hutchinson was my preseason Defensive Rookie of the Year pick, and I'm going back to the well and doubling down.
Hutchinson had 1.5 sacks last week and played his best game of the season coming out of the bye. Detroit moved him around on the line and got him into advantageous spots, and it resulted in the Lions' best defensive game of the season after that extra week to prepare.
Pro Football Focus graded Hutchinson 78 and 80 his last two games, the best two of his career. He's peaking as we hit the season's midpoint, and those grades would make Hutchinson a top-25 edge rusher.
Hutchinson also already had a three-sack game against Washington. That puts him at 4.5 on the year, a pace of 12.75 sacks.
Six of the last eight DROYs finished with seven or more sacks. The last three winners were Micah Parsons, Chase Young, and Nick Bosa — high draft pick pass rushers who put up splashy numbers as sack artists. Hutchinson fits the bill.
He fits our other preseason criteria too. Seven of the last 10 winners started the season at +900 or shorter, and Hutchinson was the preseason favorite. Winning doesn't matter, with seven of the last 12 winners on teams that finished .500 or below, so Detroit's dismal record isn't an issue.
And most importantly, Hutchinson was a high draft pick. Every DROY this century was a top-39 pick, and 18 of the 22 were top 15. Five winners since 2010 went in the top three. Hutchinson went No. 2 to Detroit. Voters have shown they love to reward top draft picks.
The current DROY favorite, Sauce Gardner, went two picks later. He's been outstanding, but what happens if the Jets stop winning? Gardner garners attention for being on a 5-2 team, but if New York falls back to earth, what stands out?
Sauce has just one interception, plus a bunch of tackles. Voters reward splashy stats. Gardner leads the league with 12 passes defended, but that's not going to win anyone over.
Tariq Woolen and Jack Jones are the other two rookies with short odds. Both have been terrific! They even have some splashy stats. Woolen has four interceptions for Seattle, and Jones has two interceptions for New England, including a pick-six. But Jones and Woolen went in the fourth and fifth rounds, respectively, and are complete unknowns to most.
Gardner, Woolen, and Jones don't fit the historical profile of a Defensive Rookie of the Year winner. In fact, we've had only two corners win all century. It's just tough for cornerbacks to get the sort of stats that grab voter attention.
Sacks grab voters' attention, and Hutchinson has 4.5 and counting. He also plays the Dolphins in Week 8, then the Bears in Week 10. Those are two of the worst pass blocking lines in the league, so more sacks could be on the way.
Since 2010, we've only had one season when a rookie recorded at least nine sacks and another position won DROY. That was Shaq Leonard, who had seven sacks himself as a linebacker.
Hutchinson is already halfway to nine, so he has a great shot to hit double digits and then some. This is the time to invest in everyone's favorite "Billie Jean" cover singer as he's starting to come into his own.
I'm seeing this as short as +700 at some books, so it's a gift to grab Hutchinson at +1600. Even if you played this in the preseason, it's time to add to your position.