With training camps just getting underway, now is as good a time as ever to start looking at NFL futures. Since no games have been played yet, the market is strictly driven by the public. This presents an opportunity to get some teams at a good value that may not be available, even by the end of the pre-season. For example, the Browns are the favorite to win the AFC North at +120 which is completely absurd. This is a team that hasn’t had a winning season in over a decade, so declaring them the favorites to win an extreme overreaction. So I might as well start inthe NFC North.
The public can’t get enough of Baker Mayfield. He is everything the public likes to talk about. He’s a winner and his brash confidence that borders on arrogance is a trait that attracts a lot of media attention. Then you have the addition of Odell Beckham Jr’s personality and you have even more media attention. The Browns looked good in a short sample size last year with Freddie Kitchens calling plays but calling them the favorites in the division is still crazy. They lost their defensive coach Gregg Williams and replaced him with Steve Wilks who was fired after his first season as head coach of the Cardinals.
The second highest ranked team is the Steelers who have a lot of value at +195. Since Ben Roethlisberger was drafted the Steelers have been very successful when he is healthy. Their defense has also had a reputation for being stout throughout the years. Their defense is still very talented and well coached and should play well again this year. As long as Roethlisberger stays healthy I don’t see any reason they shouldn’t be the favorites for the division. Despite losing Antonio Brown the Steelers still have a solid receiving core. They signed Donte Moncreif to be the #2 receiver alongside Juju Smith-Schuster and either Eli Rogers or Ryan Switzer in the slot.
The Ravens at +295 and Bengals at +1500 finish the AFC North. These teams are both priced like they don’t have a chance and I agree with that. The Ravens got an easy schedule to end the season winning 6 of their last 7 games and wound up winning the division. Their defense was phenomenal through that stretch. They had to be to help their newly fashioned run heavy offense that did not put up a lot of points. That became an issue in their first playoff game against the Chargers as soon as they fell behind early. It is not an offense that is sustainable to winning for an entire season so I think you can count the Ravens out of the division.
Lastly the Bengals. There is not much to say about them. Andy Dalton is not a good quarterback and will not win games on his own. The key to the Bengals offense being successful is AJ Green who just got injured and will miss week 1. Right now I’m looking at the Bengals schedule and my initial thought is they could easily be a 2 win team. Even if AJ Green only misses one week it will be tough to integrate him back into the offense after missing the entire pre-season. He will be in even worse shape than the other players at the beginning of the year who have at least had to go through training camp.
The next division I want to talk about is the NFC South. The Saints -180 are the favorites at -180. Sean Payton engineered an excellent regular season for the Saints. The addition of Taysom Hill was huge last year but it will remain to be seen how effective he can be now that the element of surprise is gone. The offense was fading a little bit down the stretch. That could be a trend that continues into this year. The Panthers +500 are dealing with an injury to Cam Newton’s throwing shoulder. The Falcons +350 are dealing with injuries to their top two receivers. This makes the Bucs+1200 a very good value.
In Bruce Arians’ first full season as a head coach in 2013, he led the Arizona Cardinals to a 10-6 record after they were 5-11 the year before. When Bruce Arians took over as head coach for the 2012 Colts he led them to an 11-5 record after they were 2-14 the year before. You get the picture. This is his first year coaching with the Bucs and he already has a good track record of turning teams around. Not to mention the Bucs schedule is weak and includes the NFC west, which he is already very familiar with. The Bucs offense is already very talented. I think the coaching change to Bruce Arians will really spark this offense and this team for a big year.
Next I want to talk about the NFC North. The honest truth is nobody knows what is going on in this division. The Bears +160 are the favorites after their great year last year. Their defense was the best in the league and led the league in turnovers. The Packers +195 are next who are looking to have an improved year with the return of Aaron Rodgers. The Vikings +240 who are next who have just about nothing going for them. They are by far the most boring team in the league. Lastly you have the Lions +1000 who I think are ready to make a big jump this year. They struggled a bit last year but I see them doing better in Matt Patricia’s second year as head coach. This division is a crapshoot and has had a different winner every year since 2014. I think the Lions are being overlooked right now and have as good a chance as anyone to win this division. Certainly a better chance than the Vikings who are due for a steep decline.
Next I want to talk about the AFC South. The Colts -105 are the favorites after the way they closed the season last year. When you look back at who they faced though, it was the easiest schedule of teams they could have had. When they faced the Chiefs in the playoffs was when they showed how they are when they play good competition. Next is the Texans +275 who are basically just like the Colts where when they play good teams they are not very good. The Jaguars +400 and the Titans +600 both have very good defenses with a lot of talent. I would be more surprised if this division didn’t come down to these two teams rather than the Colts and Texans. This makes both teams a good value pick.
The NFC East is kind of a mess too. I honestly think this one is completely up for grabs and the Giants +1200 and Redskins +900 are good value picks. Both teams look like they are a complete mess from the outside but I don’t think the Eagles -105 and Cowboys +140 are very overwhelming favorites. All of these teams under achieved last year to allow the Cowboys to win the division. I have noticed throughout the years that when they New York media overreacts the teams are actually not so bad. I think if the Redskins can get Trent Williams back they have a very talented team. Dwayne Haskins could be just what they need to get their offense going. The offense has good weapons around him and has done well under Jay Gruden’s tenure as head coach.