The term “same faces, new places” has never been more relevant after the NFL hosted probably its wildest and most active offseason in history. We even witnessed the greatest of all time do a complete about-face on his retirement.
All these significant changes might lead to a little intimidation from a betting standpoint, especially if you’re new to the game, but that’s why we’re here: to help guide you entering the season with several promising futures and prop bets that can put you in a good position at year’s end. In the 2021 campaign, remember, that we went 46-34-2 (57.5 percent) while garnering a delightful 12.57 units.
Buckle up and let’s shoot for more of the same.
Carolina Panthers Over/Under 6.5 Wins
OK, make-or-break time for third-year head coach Matt Rhule. It could also be a similar predicament for new franchise QB Baker Mayfield after he forced his way out of Cleveland. As a result, this is arguably the most important season for the Panthers since their 2015 Super Bowl run.
But this new pairing should at least bring about better results than Rhule’s first two years with the organization, which saw him compile a 10-23 record. This is easily the most stacked group he’s had, with plenty of talent residing on both sides of the ball for this team to do more than hover around .500 — and that’s all they need to do in order to cash this wager.
Carolina has its best QB since an in-his-prime Cam Newton — not the garbage version last year — and he’ll be working alongside one of the best do-everything running backs in Christian McCaffrey. If Run CMC can just stay healthy for most of the season, that’s an MVP-caliber talent regularly at Mayfield’s disposal. Additionally, D.J. Moore is one of football’s true rising players among wide receivers.
Defensively, Carolina possessed one of the stingiest units opposite the pass last season and that’s probably not going to change. Jeremy Chinn was one of the more impressive rookies in 2021 and the trio of Donte Jackson, C.J. Henderson and Jaycee Horn — returning from injury — might be as good as any set of corners in the league. Brian Burns and Shaq Thompson are constant play disrupters.
The NFC South isn’t an easy division, but at least there is one potential patsy, the Falcons, for everyone else to beat up on. Mayfield also gets a revenge game right out of the gate against Cleveland at home and that figures to result in a W. So, there’s potentially three right there and they only have to go 7-10. This club can contend.
Pick: OVER 6.5 Wins (-115)
Tennessee has ruled over this division for consecutive seasons now but there’s a Hall-of-Fame-sized reason they’re not favored to do so once again: Matt Ryan.
(Yes, Matty Ice is a future HOFer; to those who want to argue, just stop it)
In the years since Andrew Luck, the Colts have still not yet found their permanent solution at quarterback, jumping from Jacoby Brissett to Philip Rivers (who retired after his one year with the franchise) to Carson Wentz. None of them was able to secure a playoff win in Indy.
Ryan has plenty of those. He’s also seemingly the missing piece to what looks like a really strong contender on paper. You’ve got arguably the game’s best running back in Jonathan Taylor, along with rapidly-emerging lead wide-out Michael Pittman coming off his first 1,000-yard campaign. The offensive line ranks very highly. And then you have a terrific defensive unit that just oozes playmakers.
Do the Titans have enough to hold off this rival that’s finished second behind them in each of the last two years? Don’t think so. Ryan Tannehill had his worst season since arriving in the Music City three years ago and posted his lowest passer rating (89.6) since 2015. At age 34, it’s reasonable to believe his prime will become more distant. Derrick Henry is back from injury but given the team’s fading receiving corps, there can’t be as much optimism.
Oh, and the beauty of pursuing this particular division in the form of a futures bet is that this is truly a two-dog race. Are the Texans or Jags ready to rise from the ashes of 3-14/4-13 seasons? As Gorilla Monsoon often used to say: highly unlikely.
Pick: Indianapolis Colts (-130)
At first glance, this might seem like throwing money away. The Vikings to take it all?! They have never won a Super Bowl despite being around for all 56 of them. Minnesota also hasn’t even advanced to one since the mid-1970s, meaning we’re about as close to 2070 as we are to their last appearance in the Big Game (Super Bowl XI). Yeeesh.
But hear me out. This is actually a really good football team that — dare I say it — showcases similarities to the high-powered Viking squad of ’98 that went 15-1.
The most obvious comparison involves Justin Jefferson to Randy Moss, a pair of coverage-nightmare monsters for any defense. Cris Carter was obviously an excellent Robin to the latter’s Batman role and the same could be said in modern times of Adam Thielen. Meanwhile, Robert Smith was very underrated in his day, but Dalvin Cook is probably the superior tailback. And considering Kirk Cousins has recorded an outstanding 103.5 passer rating and 124-36 T/INT ratio across his four seasons in Minneapolis, I’ll take him over Randall Cunningham.
Not so far-fetched after all, eh? With the Vikings also boasting impact players like Danielle Hunter, Harrison Smith, Patrick Peterson and Eric Kendricks, the defense figures to at least be decent enough for first-year head coach Kevin O’Connell. Given what this offense is capable of, that’s all they need.
Pick: Minnesota Vikings (+4000)
People forget that before Lamar Jackson went down in Week 14 with what turned out to be a season-ending injury, the Ravens were riding high once again and well on their way to another playoff berth.
Unfortunately, Baltimore lost the final six games to close out the season, with undrafted second-year man Tyler Huntley under center for the majority of those contests. The Ravens ended up on the outside looking in for the first time in Jackson’s NFL tenure. But obviously, it wasn’t the 25-year-old signal-caller’s fault at all.
Jackson still had the Ravens scoring a healthy amount each week. The improvements in his passing game were regularly on display. And above all, he was still a menace on the ground, tallying more than 50 rushing yards in all but two of his ballgames (not including Week 14 when he departed early due to injury).
Speaking of the run game, Baltimore should get a huge boost in that department, aside from Jackson’s return. Remember before last year’s opener how both J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards were lost to IR? Well, both are expected back and should each make a difference.
The defense also endured its fair share of injuries, specifically in the secondary, but the returns of Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters can fix the club’s woeful performance of a season ago against the pass. That would be significant considering Baltimore’s D allowed fewer rushing yards than any other team in the entire league.
Yes, their odds to make the postseason aren’t the kindest for a bettor but exceptions can be made to lay a little juice. After all, the Ravens, at worst, are the second-best team in the AFC North.
Pick: YES/Make Playoffs (-165)
In the case of this award, sometimes it’s as much about the “where” as it is “who.”
Here we have Juju Smith-Schuster, a former Pro Bowler that has logged a pair of top-10 finishes in receptions in his five years in the league. After being limited to five games last season due to injury, the former Pittsburgh Steeler now finds himself in Kansas City, where there is a massive void for targets to be filled after star WR Tyreek Hill was traded to Miami.
I mean, could there be a more perfect scenario to nab this accolade than being paired with the great Patrick Mahomes who’s lost his most explosive weapon?
Not sure. But in the meantime, dabbing into inflated +1600 odds for an already-proven player like Smith-Schuster joining an offense that should continue to churn out points in bunches is a wise investment. If he stays healthy, a second berth in the Pro Bowl could be in store.
Pick: Juju Smith-Schuster (+1600)
Jameis Winston Over/Under 24.5 Passing Touchdowns
Did you know that before suffering a torn ACL in the second quarter of Week 8, Jameis Winston was actually on pace for a career-best year?
The 2015 No. 1 overall draft pick’s 14-3 TD/INT ratio at the time served as a revelation, while Winston was also honing a 102.8 passer rating that dwarfed his previous high mark (92.2) by more than 10 points. As illuminating as anything, he had the Saints at 5-2 in their first year of the post-Drew Brees era.
True, offensive mastermind Sean Payton is no longer the head coach after “retiring,” but the key pieces of his staff remain in place, with Dennis Allen now in charge after seven seasons as the defensive coordinator and Pete Carmichael Jr. returning for his 14th year as offensive coordinator. That stability, along with the improved health of stud receiver Michael Thomas and additions of Jarvis Landry and Chris Olave, puts Winston in a position to succeed again and accumulate those TD tosses.
Pick: OVER 24.5 Touchdowns (-125)
Justin Fields Over/Under 499.5 Rushing Yards
There were plenty of growing pains for Justin Fields as a rookie. But one thing never in doubt was his ability to run.
First off, I’m shocked this rushing yardage number set by the linesmakers is so low. Fields isn’t going anywhere — unless he gets hurt — and should have a full season to prove himself as Bears franchise QB1.
That means if he plays all 17 games, he’ll only need less than 30 yards on the ground per game to sail this bet over. Of course, given how much he scrambles, it’s very possible he misses a few weeks, but even if he plays 14 or 15 of the 17 games, that’s still only about 35 rushing yards he’ll need to register on average.
For Fields, that’s nothing. When the Ohio State product was settled in through the latter portion of his freshman season, he looked much more comfortable and was getting acclimated with running against NFL defenses. In fact, in his last seven outings, he totaled 361 rushing yards on 52 attempts — those are averages exceeding 50 yards and seven scrambles.
Fields isn’t suddenly going to change his style, and with that will come plenty of running mileage racked up on the gridiron.
Pick: OVER 499.5 Rushing Yards (-115)
Allen Robinson Over/Under 71.5 Receptions
During his four seasons with the Bears, Allen Robinson (above l.) had to rely on the likes of Mitchell Trubisky, Andy Dalton, Nick Foles, Justin Fields and Chase Daniel to get him the football. Now, he’ll be catching passes from his ex-club’s former longtime nemesis, and reigning Super Bowl champion, Matthew Stafford.
Uh, upgrade much?
Robinson will be entering a beautiful situation, too. The No. 1 wide-out around these parts, Cooper Kupp (above r.), is coming off a special campaign that resulted in NFL Offensive Player of the Year honors, as he notched the wide receiver’s equivalent of a triple crown by leading the league in yards, catches and receiving touchdowns. Suffice to say, this will draw a ton of attention from opposing defenses on a weekly basis, which should free more looks for everyone else. Robinson can be the biggest beneficiary of that.
Pick: OVER 71.5 Receptions (-115)