A look at Team markets (Divisions, conference and Superbowl) and Player markets (Passing, Receiving, rushing, rookies and comeback player of the year).
The emphasis here is on value, happily contrarian because (as I repeat every year!) the NFL is set up to produce parity via the draft and free agency. Superior coaching can in a few instances create a “dynasty” that withstands the overwhelming trend towards mean reversion (The Patriots have made the play offs 14 of the last 15 seasons) and poor organisation, coaching, drafting can mean a team remains a basement dweller for a long time (Browns, though maybe not this year) but for the vast majority of teams its tough to stay near the top, there are windows for success, and it is possible for any team to go from the bottom to the top quickly. In each of the last thirteen seasons a team that has finished last in their Division has won it the next season, to give the classically quoted example of parity in action.
Of course prices usually reflect last year’s results and there is the opportunity to be ahead of team turn-arounds in markets.
the following divisions in which I think there is value:
In AFC East it is no surprise to see the Patriots odds-on favourites again especially with the other three division participants not the strongest. However what happens if Brady is injured? Garoppolo was traded to the 49ers and the back up is Hoyer. The supporting cast on the rest of the roster, especially on defense, lacks the depth of previous years
The New York Jets are set to improve fast having drafted their franchise quarterback and an already stout defense. Realistically of course they are more likely to be wild-card contenders but I can’t ignore 14/1 to win the division, really an option on Brady not playing 16 games I don’t have the Dolphins or especially the Bills are realistic divisional winners.
4 points New York Jets to win the AFC East 14-1 generally
The AFC West is an intensely competitive division with the four teams priced between 7/4 and 4/1 to win. The Chiefs and Chargers are the favourites, the Raiders less favoured and then there is the Broncos. I am going to talk in more details about the Broncos in a couple of other markets below. Suffice to say for now this is a team capable of rebounding from fourth in the division last season to win it this.
8 points Denver Broncos to win the AFC West 9/2 William Hill, Paddy Power
In the NFC North it looks once again to be a close battle between the Packers and Vikings. For several years this could be distilled into taking a view on Aaron Rodgers and the Vikings defense. Last season Rodgers suffered an injury, the Vikings went deep into the play-offs. These two teams are about as close as you can be in betting terms. The Viking are probably deeper, and with Dalvin Cook back at running back and Kirk Cousins at quarterback have more strings to their offensive bow compared to last season. Having won the division last year though their schedule is tougher (their unique games are the Eagles and Saints) and the Packers easier (unique games Redskins and Falcons). It would be a surprise if both are not in the play-offs, and that is the precursor to discussing the Conference betting
Starting with the NFC first. No bet because the depth and quality teams makes it very tricky. The favourite are the Eagles (not going to be worse), Vikings, Rams, Saints, Packers and Falcons. Not easy to see how too many of the “sleeper” teams can break into that line up, teams such as the Panthers, Lions, 49ers, Bears, Cowboys, Giants etc
I think the AFC Conference market is easier. I am happy to oppose the Patriots and at 9/2 the Steelers there is not much to go for. However its 11/1 bar the front two (NFC, first five 7/1 or under)
Outside the front two I want to be on two teams
Firstly the Jacksonville Jaguars at 11/1
The Jaguars, their roster stocked full of talent as a result of years of high draft choices when the team had poor results, reached the NFC Conference game last year and ran the Patriots close. They probably still have the best defense in the league and an offense built around Fournette and the running game. Could easily go a stage better this year and 11/1 doesn’t reflect that
Three years ago the Denver Broncos won the Superbowl with Manning, who then retired. The two seasons afterwards have had 9-7 then 5-11 records with a revolving door at quarterback. This essentially though is the same strong defense (Von Miller etc) and offensive talent (Thomas, Sanders) now complemented by Case Keenum who at least should be a consistent quarterback game manager and the beginnings of a running game with the drafting of Royce Freeman and fortuitously being able to draft star-in-the-making pass rusher Bradly Chubb this April.
They simply aren’t far off the top teams in the betting here in terms of talent, I think they will hit the play-offs and the 20-1 is over-priced.
8 points Jacksonville Jaguars to win the AFC Conference 11-1 SkyBet 10/1 William Hill
5 points Denver Broncos to win the AFC Conference 20-1 Skybet and William Hill
For the team markets that leaves the Superbowl
The NFC is the deeper conference but that makes it tougher to find a team that will come out of that pack. If pressed I would say the Minnesota Vikings or Green Bay Packers at 14-1 of the NFC teams, though getting past the Eagles isn’t going to be easy
I am going to try the Jacksonville Jaguars and on a contrarian basis the Denver Broncos, small bets than the Conference (one game more, either likely to be underdogs to the NFC participant)
6 points Jacksonville Jaguars to win the Superbowl 20-1 generally
3 points Denver Broncos to win the Superbowl 50-1 BFSB, 40/1 generally
Firstly the major NFL Title markets
In 2017 won by then rookie Kareem Hunt of the Chiefs with 1327 yards The year before Zeke Elliott with 1,631 yards. Last year Elliott was suspended for 6 games and still rushed for 983 yards. A reasonable expectation would have been that he would have gone back to back were it not for his interrupted season
I think he is the one to beat this year again. Aside from his own talent there are two reasons. The offensive line is one of the best in the league. Secondly there is a big turnover in the passing game in Dallas with the departures of Bryant and Witten. It seems a safe bet that this offense will be one of the most run heavy in the league. Hopefully there is enough play-calling flair (a risk) and young talent (unproven) to open up the offense enough to avoid predictability and Zeke having to run into nine man run defences but, assuming fitness, I think he has to be a good thing for 20-25 carries a game (24 last year, 20 in his rookie year). Over 564 carries career to date he is a 4.6 yard per run player so (22.5 carries x 16 games)* 4.6 average hits 1656 yards, discount that a bit for some game scripts when they are behind and not running and call it 1500 yards. Going to be very close to winning it, that figure would have done each of the last three years. Todd Gurley will be there or thereabouts and in combined yardage David Johnson but Elliott is the safest proposition.
My each way alternative, in a market paying quarter the odds four places, is Leonard Fournette of the Jaguars. In his rookie season last year Fournette passed 1,000 yards at 3.9 yards per game despite missing three games and being nicked up for much of the second half of the season. This off-season he has lost weight, the team has acquired an all-pro guard in front of him and in terms of team strategy it really is all going for him.
The frequent aim is to take the pressure off the passing game (which nevertheless has improved talent) and the inconsistent Blake Bortles and the defense is exceptional. The Jags ran a league high 527 times last regular season. He should be running a lot to take time off the clock to protect leads this season, is going to get a heavy workload, 20 touches a game is reasonable and at 11-1 a good thing to hit the top four.
15 points Ezekiel Elliott Most NFL Rushing Yards 100/30 William Hill
10 points each way points Leonard Fournette Most NFL Russing yards 10/1 e/w 1/4 1,2,3,4 William Hill
In 2017 won by Tom Brady with 4577 yards and 4,300 yards was needed to hit the top 4 places. Drew Brees led the NFL in this category for three straight seasons before 2017, when he dropped below 4,600 yards for the first time since 2009. He’s got a bit older, the game plan has emphasised the run more with the emergence of Kamara and his his attempts total (536) last season was his lowest in a season since that 2009.
So who else should we look at?
I think the obvious answer is Aaron Rodgers at 8/1. Injured for the second half of last season he threw for 4,428 yards the year before the first year in which the Packers laced a consistent running game once Eddie Lacy had declined. For the Packers there are a slew of developing young receivers behind Adams, Cobb and newly acquired Jimmy Graham. There is a solid enough offensive line to protect him and no consistent 1,000 yard plus rusher. Game plans are usually quite open and games with the Packers high scoring.
He has to stay fit (all the player bets do!) but he should have a chance of challenging his career mark of 4,643 passing yards from 2011 when he won this title
10 points each way Aaron Rodgers most NFL Passing Yards 12/1 1/4 1,2,3 Betfred (9/1 Ladbrokes/Coral)
In 2017 this title was won by the brilliant Antonio Brown with 1,533 yards, with 1,378 yards required to crack the top 4. Unsurprisingly Brown is a short-priced 2/1 or so favourite again in a crowded field including Julio Jones, Keenan Allen, DeAndre Hopkins and many more. I could make the case for any of the names mentioned
I think I have espouse the case for a player who won this title in 2016 and is available at 22/1 each way. That year He had 91 receptions for 1,448 yards. Last year 57 for 966 yards with Brissett at quarterback and a struggling team. The player is TY Hilton and the major difference 2017 compared to 2016 was that quarterback Andrew Luck (who I considered putting up in the category above) was injured.
Drafted together in 2012, Hilton has since been named to four pro-bowls. Luck has been named to three and led the league in passing yards in 2014. The two have a great connection and it’s the foundation of the Colts offense. That offense always had a weakness on the offensive line but with a center drafted in the first round last year and a guard drafted top 6 this year, as well as another high draft pick, this should be a fast improving outfit. Keep Luck upright, introduce some running game threat and Hilton’s numbers should rebound dramatically
New Head coach Frank Reich, last years Eagles OC who developed Wentz, is an innovator. Luck is playing in pre-season, practice reports are very encouraging and I think Hilton is outstanding each way value here.
10 points each way TY Hilton Most NFL Receiving yards 22/1 1/4 1,2,3,4 William Hill
Next Comeback player of the Year (Skybet only)
Andrew Luck, having missed a whole season at the sport’s marquee season for a team that should be much improved (simply has more talent than before, several years of high draft picks has enabled them to address offensive line and defense on rookie contract, affordable despite Luck’s mega-contract) at 6-1 looks like a warm order to me. Aaron Rodgers is the favourite. He’s missed half a season, it would be nothing on the Luck comeback! JJ Watt (fantastic when fit, very often injured) is a reasonable expectation to be the main threat at 9/2
Teddy Bridgewater, only 25 years old and back a full two years after a horrific practice injury (disclocated knee, torn ACL) and likely to be traded from the Jets (quarterback logjam) to a team that sees him as a starter and suffers an injury of their own is a very sporting small value bet alternative at 40-1
8 points Andrew Luck Comeback Player of the Year at 6/1 Skybet
2 points Teddy Bridgewater Comeback player of the Year 40/1 Skybet
Finally the rookie markets
Offensive rookie of the Year
There is a short priced favourite here and if he plays 16 games probably entirely fairly so in Saquon Barkley of the Giants at 6/4, drafted number 2 over a quarterback and quite possibly an all-pro calibre player.
It such an very attritional position in an attritional sport though, I feel compelled to have a portfolio of small bets. It’s 12/1 the field outside Barkley and three quarterbacks I don’t expect to start the season as starters
The shortlist, based around immediate starters and likely impact:
Sam Darnold QB Jets 12/1 Could start the season. Should be a franchise player
Anthony Miller WR Bears. 66/1 Great chance to have an extremely productive rookie season in the slot
Royce Freeman RB Broncos 20/1 Bell-cow type running back for what should be an improved offense
Kerryon Johnson RB Lions 25/1 Likely starting running back for what was the most run averse offense in the league, now with a new head coach.
Christian Kirk WR Cardinals 50/1 Electric returner, starting WR opposite Larry Fitzgerald
Quentin Nelson G Colts 125/1 Could be a transformational player for a franchise likely to be in the limelight with the return of Luck. Would need a lot to fall his way for a skill player not to win this though.
My portfolio looks as follows, the Freeman and Johnson prices have disappeared from previous levels unfortunately
3 points Sam Darnold OROY 12/1 Coral
2 points Christian Kirk OROY 50/1 Coral
3 points Anthony Miller OROY 66/1 Coral
2 points Quentin Nelson OROY 125/1 Coral
Defensive rookie of the Year
For what I regard is a very good favourite, the 5/1 available about Bradley Chubb appeals more than the 6/4 about Barkley for value reasons. Chubb is the best pass-rusher to come out of this year’s college crop and was considered a sure thing to be drafted in the top 4. Denver lucked out (they were about to trade down to a quarterback needy team) and instead choose Chubb and so did Chubb, going to a ready-made defense with an all pro rusher on the other side in Von Miller. Quite difficult to double team Chubb with Miller commanding the focus.
I scoured the Denver press, as you do.
“Chubb’s versatility allows the defensive co-ordinate to get more imaginative with his schemes. They plan to use Chubb at linebacker, defensive end and drop into coverage too”
Then in USA today
“2017 NFL Rushing touchdown leader Todd Gurley believes Miller and Chubb will combine for 40 sacks this season”
Quite why Gurley is asked for his opinion I am not sure and its almost certainly hyperbolic. Miller’s best year is 18.5 sacks. Chubb hitting double digits would then require someone somewhere else to record quite exceptional performances to beat him to this title.
10 points Bradley Chubb Defensive Rookie of the Year 5-1 Coral 9/2 Skybet