NFL Division Odds, it’s all about the smart plays

With the NBA season over and the MLB waiting until late September to get really interesting, it’s time to start taking a look at my favorite odds to lay money on in the upcoming NFL season. Once again, as I’ve said before, never bet anything you can’t afford to lose. I keep a small amount in my online account, leaving my winnings there to lay on other odds, and am very very stingy about pumping any more of my hard earned money into it. That said, the reason I like Division odds so much is because they’re season long action that you can lay comparatively little money on and potentially have a nice payday come through just in time for Playoff bets (another favorite of mine).

So I’ll be going through the 8 Divisions of the National Football League, breaking down the smart (or smartest yet still stupid) play for each. While it can be argued that there are more variables for a Division title run than an individual game (my heart is still heavy from the Atlanta Falcons NFC South champs bet I placed last year around this time), you still get a season’s worth of excitement, often with multiple games each week having implications on your wallet. You can also (at least most of the time) get positive odds on a play you feel strongly about, much different than putting up big cash on a -400 favorite and either losing big or making pitiful earnings on it.

Starting it off, the NFC West:

Arizona Cardinals      +850
San Francisco 49ers    +150
Seattle Seahawks       +130
St Louis Rams          +800

Now, last years Baltimore Ravens aside, Superbowl champs rarely fall out of contention that quickly. Sure, they won’t necessarily get back to the big game, but taking anyone other than the ‘Hawks to win the West is a fool’s bet. 49ers are due for a sharp decline, I honestly think the Cardinals have better odds to beat out the champs than the Rams do, although neither is a smart play. +130 is a decent score if you win, but this Division is going to be tough, and there are better plays I’ll get to later.

NFC North:

Chicago Bears         +350
Detroit Lions         +360
Green Bay Packers      -130
Minnesota Vikings      +2000

Given that no one in the world is picking the Vikings to come out on top of the strongest Division in the NFL, that leaves the first three teams as possible plays. I also, as a rule, never take a Division winner at negative odds, there are too many variables to take less than you risk. So the Packers, as much as the Division is theirs to lose, are out as a bet. The Bears have been close to a playoff run the last two seasons, and given their stability at the coaching position (at least relatively stable, compared to first year Lions coach Jim Caldwell), I’ll take the Bears to win out the NFC North. At +350, a quick $10 bet will give me a $35 payout at the end of the season. This is a play I’ve been contemplating since the Division odds were released.

NFC East

Dallas Cowboy          +420
New York Giants        +320
Philadelphia Eagles    +130
Washington Redskins +420

This may be the most competitive Division race this year, as a couple of early losses by the Eagles and the entire NFC East may be one game apart all season. Still, the Eagles are the team in the best position to take the Division title and a possible bye week to go with it. Chip Kelly’s offense should only improve with a full season under his belt and an entire offseason to work with Nick Foles and only Nick Foles under center. The Cowboys, Giants and Redskins would each need a vast improvement this season to beat out last year’s breakout team. +130 is not the greatest line (same as Seattle above), but a small bet for a small payout is a decent play on a team that has a very good chance in the coming season.

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons        +380
Carolina Panthers     +380
New Orleans Saints    -110
Tampa Bay Bucs        +800

This is one Division I am absolutely staying away from. The Saints are good enough, but without Sproles on the offense this year, and Drew Brees only getting older with each passing year (see what I did there?), the Falcons have a real shot at rocketing back into the Division race. The Panthers decided to start up an impromptu rebuilding year in the middle of a playoff caliber team, but without anyone for Cam Newton to throw to, I wouldn’t trust them to go .500 in this tough Division.

And now on to the AFC

AFC West

Denver Broncos         -300
Kansas City Chiefs     +650
Oakland Raiders        +2500
San Diego Chargers     +650

No one, but no one, believes the Broncos are even capable of losing this division. They have a tough schedule, to be sure, with IND, KC, SEA, ARI, SF and NE in the first 9 weeks, but then end the season with all “winnable” games against OAK, STL, MIA, KC, BUF, SD, CIN and OAK. Yes, I know, I put KC in the tough games list and the winnable games list, because they are just that, both winnable and tough. I know my rule is never take negative odds, but at -300 for a sure thing, that’s not a bad take. However, I could never take another team besides my Oakland Raiders to win the West, so I will also be staying away from this Division.

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens       +260
Cincinnati Bengals     +190
Cleveland Browns       +700
Pittsburgh Steelers    +230

Even though the Sin City Bengals won it out for me last year, making up for the loss I took on the Falcons in the South, I’m not sure they’re the smart play this year around. Losing Jay Gruden and his offensive gameplan will hurt them in 2014. Hue Jackson has some success under his belt, and he’s got the talent on the field to impose his will the way he wants to. But three straight playoff losses, and none since they ruined Bo Jackson’s hip in 1991, leads my gut to feel like the Bengals are on a bit of a down slope, probably losing the Division to either the Ravens or the Steelers next season before firing back and potentially, finally getting a playoff win and a Conference championship in Hue Jackson’s next few years as coach. For now though, since I have no idea which of the other teams the Bengals lose to, I’m also staying away from the AFC North.

AFC East

Buffalo Bills         +1200
Miami Dolphins        +750
New England Patriots -320
New York Jets         +900

The Miami Dolphins are on the rise, and the New England Patriots are absolutely on the decline, trying desperately get one more title run in before Tom Brady hangs up his cleats. Take it from an Oakland Raider fan, desperate is never a good mind set for an NFL football squad. I like Ryan Tannehill to have a big, breakout year, and the Dolphins to finally expunge the AFC East dynasty of the Patriots and Brady, at least as the Division winners. At +750, obviously the oddsmakers know what they’re talking about, don’t ever think you know more than they do. But it’s a nice big payout if it comes to fruition, one that you don’t have to risk very much to cash in on. A $5 bet, less than you’ll be (hopefully) pulling in from the Eagles, Seahawks and/or Bears winning their Divisions, will get you a cool $37.50, and if you want to risk more, well, that’s up to you.

AFC South

Houston Texans          +300
Indianapolis Colts      -170
Jacksonville Jaguars    +2500
Tennessee Titans        +650

Another Division I’ll be staying away from, Andrew Luck is the new Peyton Manning, and I’m not just saying that because he’s in a white and blue uniform. The Colts win this Division easy, yet I still refuse to take a team for negative odds (I can’t say this enough!). Sure, I guess the Texans have a chance, but really, they’re a Wild Card team at best, and that’s even a long shot in their own rebuilding year.

So that does it for Division odds: Eagles are your best bet at +130, Bears at +350, ‘Phins at +750 and Seattle at +130 if you’re so inclined.

Other odds I like to check out before the season starts are the over/under total season wins.

Arizona Cardinals 7.5

Yes, they’re from a very tough division, but they still have a good chance of sweeping the Rams and splitting with the 49ers, Seahawks or both. 3-1 against the NFC East, also beating the Raiders and the Chiefs, that’s 9 possible wins right there. Detroit and Atlanta are also winnable if needed to top 7.5 wins on the season, I think this is a really smart play this year.

San Francisco 49ers 10.5

This is a bet I where I would take the under if anything. For the same reason I think the Bengals slip in their own division, the 49ers are desperate for a ring, with 3 ‘failures’ racked up in the last 3 seasons. However, I would not take both the over on the Cardinals and the under on the 49ers, since two 49er wins over the Cardinals would likely lose both bets, and the point here is to spread it around, be in a position for one win to cover one loss, not “double or nothing” on two different teams.

New England Patriots 10.5

Another 10.5 over/under, this time in the AFC, I believe the Pats can easily lose 6 games, although I wouldn’t bet the house on it. Looking at the schedule, they likely lose to the Jets at least once, possibly twice, Green Bay and Chicago both beat Brady and his squad, Detroit has a chance and the Colts and Broncos should each lay a smacking on them. There’s 6 losses, maybe 7 if the Jets step it up. Other than that, though, unless the Dolphins can upset their Division betters of the last decade, this is going to be a really close call. Still, it’s one of the few smart bets of the Season wins lines, most are right around my own predictions (again, never think you know more than the oddsmakers).

Superbowl Champions

I usually pick three teams to win the Superbowl, one or two before the season starts and then another when the season is coming to a close and I’m trying to put myself in a win/win situation. At this point, the Conference championship odds are just half of the Superbowl odds, so if you want to hedge or double up, those are good odds to play as well.

My actual prediction this year is a repeat, Seattle over Broncos for the second straight year. As such, +650 for the Seahawks to win the Superbowl is a good bet to lay down. Broncos odds to win are the same, so if you want to pick both, and the two teams do make it to the Big Game, you’ll be making a profit either way. I may do just this.

The Green Bay Packers are set at +1500, and since this is Dave Dameshek’s pick for the upcoming season, they may also be worth a play, with a lot of juice coming your way if they do win it all.

All that said, Superbowl picks are much less an exact science than the Division races, so this is all just speculation.

You can also play some Superbowl Matchup odds, where you pick both teams to be in the Superbowl, and it pays out regardless of who wins. But that’s something I wait to do until the playoffs start, since at that time you have a much better idea of who’s going to the playoff dance, but can still get some great odds on the different possible matchups.

As always, play smart, don’t be stupid. I still play with chump change, sure, I don’t win much, but I also still have all my hair.

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