I’ve talked about real players and fictional players. Let’s make some money now. I don’t flaunt myself as some expert gambler, but I do know odds and statistical probability. I can crunch numbers all day and play out the best odds, but for the purpose of this article I will give you the most surefire outcomes I can come up with. I also know the game of football inside and out, and here are some of my favourite odds/bets on the current lines. A little background, I've been betting on football (legally) for a few years now, and I have kept track of my record throughout.
Note: The follow piece will represent the author's personal opinions towards the NFL season. TheSportster is in no way associated with the gambling industry and we wish to express that we do not encourage any person(s) to place any bets on the upcoming football season. This is a work of entertainment and should you feel the need gamble, please do so with caution.
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15 First Coach to Get Fired: Mike Mularkey
The Titans have improved their already stout running game even more in the off season. They have an up and coming star in Marcus Mariota. They finished 2-14 last year. All of this should indicate that there is nowhere to go but up for Mike Mularkey, right? Wrong. While I do believe the Titans are on the up-and-up and they will eventually creep out of the division basement, I also believe that Mularkey has a short leash. Converting from an interim head coach to a full-time is usually somewhat tumultuous. If the Titans don’t jump off to a quick start, GM Jon Robinson may look to bring in his own guy, instead of being stuck with stalwart Mularkey. The Titans should have a 2015 Jaguar-esque season, and if they fall to a quick 2-5 to start, it may be curtains for Mularkey.
14 Coach of the Year: Bill Belichick
Things that will happen this year:
1. The sun will rise in the East.
2. We will all have to pay our taxes.
3. The Patriots will win the AFC East, even without Tom Brady for four games.
While this may not indicate that Bill Belichick will win Coach of the Year, I think the constant back-and-forth between Ron Rivera and Bruce Arians will come to a standstill this year when the Patriots come out roaring in the first four weeks, even without their other-worldly QB, Tom Brady. Brady, as we all know, is suspended for the first four games due to the fallout from DeflateGate. I still am very confident in the Patriots running this division and probably taking their customary place in the AFC Championship game. Belichick most likely will not get enough credit for this, but I am not taking Bruce Arians or Ron Rivera to win COTY once again.
13 Comeback Player of the Year: Robert Griffin III
Don’t call it a comeback, he’s been here for years. True, but not entirely. After Mike Shanahan destroyed Robert Griffin III's knees in the 2012 Wild Card round of the playoffs, RG3 has never quite been the same. Unfortunately, even though he recovered, Jon Gruden never wanted to give him a chance. He started RG3 for the beginning of a pedestrian 2014 campaign, before injuries mounted and before letting Kirk Cousins take over. RG3 did not see the field in 2015
The situation RG3 is walking into in 2016 is not a desirable one. The Browns have a well documented history of QBs not panning out. Most recently, a young man named Johnny Manziel was dazzling in Cleveland just a few short years ago. Cleveland is desperate for a saviour (besides LeBron James), and RG3 can honestly be the guy. The Browns will be a surprisingly fun team to watch this season. With rookie Corey Coleman, Terrelle Pryor, and recently un-suspended Josh Gordon coming back Week 5; this offense should fly vertically and efficiently. Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson are a less than savoury backfield tandem, but they will definitely be tenacious enough to put defenses on their heels. The Browns have the worst defense in football, which will put even more responsibility on new captain, Robert Griffin. I expect huge numbers from RG3, and an emergence as a top-15 fantasy viable QB. I also expect the Browns to finally start turning things around (they will still finish dead last in the division).
12 MVP: Russell Wilson
Russell Wilson as a player is something special to watch. He is another pocket passer with escapability, who can make things happen on any given play. He handles broken plays better than any QB in recent memory (besides Ben Roethlisberger). He also plays for a top-five NFL team with an elite-tier defense and an excellent run game. Wilson finished last year with a 34:8 passing TD:INT ratio and 553 rushing yards. Wilson also finished with the highest passer rating in the league among eligible QBs (110.1). The craziest thing is that he really did not come into his own until Week 9, after the loss of both Jimmy Graham and Marshawn Lynch. Wilson made the Seahawks his team, and they flourished. Doug Baldwin caught 14 TDs last season. Tyler Lockette is going to make huge strides this season. The Seahawks will make the playoffs and go off from there. Russell Wilson at 8/1 odds to be MVP is the best odds for, in my opinion, one of the best QBs in the league.
11 NFC North Winner: Green Bay Packers
With the injury to Teddy Bridgewater (and subsequent trade for Sam Bradford), I would put the Packers squarely back in the driver’s seat of the NFC North. They ended up losing the division last year to the Vikings in a Week 17 showdown, and that was with their best wideout down for the season. Jordy Nelson is supposedly back at full strength, and if he can get through the entire season, I could see a huge bounce-back (if that’s what you can even call a Wild Card team from last season) for Green Bay. This division will be fun this season, no doubt. But anyone who thinks the Lions or Bears (oh my) will compete is not seeing the big picture. The Bears still have a pretty weak defense, and even with the addition of Josh Sitton, a suspect rushing attack. Langford would have to take a huge step forward to make the Bears even remotely competitive. On the Lions side, losing Calvin Johnson would stagnate the growth of even the best teams.
This is not the best bet to place, due to the fact that the Packers are already heavy favourites. However, I can not and will not advise anyone take any of the other three teams as a division favourite.
10 NFC East Winner: Dallas Cowboys
What a dumpster fire the NFC East is shaping out to be. The Cowboys lost Tony Romo for an undetermined amount of time, yet they refuse to put him on the temporary IR. This means either they are very confident he’ll be back, or they’ll rush him back only to get injured again. Time will tell either way. However, they have statistically the best O-Line in the NFL, a stud rookie RB in Ezekiel Elliot coming up, and Dez Bryant (a top-five talent at WR). Bryant’s output may be lessened without Romo, but the dude can ball. Another interesting piece of the puzzle is how Dak Prescott will fill in for Romo. This preseason, Prescott boasted a 78% completion rate, alongside a 5:0 TD:INT split. The other advantage the Cowboys maintain even without Romo is the strength of competition.
The Washington Redskins are a team with a weak defense and Kirk Cousins at the helm. Cousins put together a fantastic second half last season, but he is due to regress. The running attack will be hampered by having an injury prone Matt Jones as the lead tailback. The Giants did a lot to bolster their defense over the offseason. However, it still does not look like this unit could stop a nosebleed (Bart Scott). The Eagles just traded away their starting QB a week before the regular season in order to utilize either a 29-year-old career backup or a DI-AA rookie with broken ribs. Suffice to say, this division will be competitive. I still see Dallas coming out on top, but I would be shocked if they won more than nine games.
9 NFC West Winner: Arizona Cardinals
This is going to be a fun division this year. It will be a strong, two-horse race. But these two horse are probably the two best teams in the NFC this season. The Arizona Cardinals and the Seattle Seahawks are very similar teams. Yet, they have their differences. At the top, Russell Wilson > Carson Palmer. At this stage in their career, that is just a statistically backed fact. However, Carson’s arsenal is going to be unmatched this year. He has the number two pre-season ranked RB in David Johnson and boasts one of the wide receiver trios in the league. John Brown is a young flashy receiver who is set to break out this season. Michael Floyd is arguably the most talented receiver currently on the roster. I didn’t even name the legendary Larry Fitzgerald yet. In his natural space (the slot), he is a possession receiver who can bust off a huge run at any given moment. Their defense, led by arguably the best CB in football (Patrick Peterson) as well as hard hitting Tyrann Mathieu will be formidable. All around, the Cardinals are probably the most complete team in football.
The Seahawks are nothing to scoff at. The Legion of Boom is not what it once was, but it is still a unit that will not give up easy yardage. Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman remain the heart and soul of this team, as well as the voice. Losing a player like Marshawn Lynch is tough, but Thomas Rawls is chomping at the bit to step in and be the feature back he was always meant to be. If Jimmy Graham can harness even half the talent he had in New Orleans, he can be a top-15 TE this season. This will be a fun race that will most likely come down to a week 16 Christmas Eve showdown.
8 NFC South Winner: Carolina Panthers
This division is a paper tiger. All of these teams look like they should be decent, and yet there will only be one team with more than nine wins (hot take alert). The Carolina Panthers should easily run through this division once again. At -240, these odds aren’t a great bet. However, I am completely confident that they will return (or at least get close) to 2015 form. The Panthers are an all around excellent team, led by entering his prime QB Cam Newton. Cam was the best QB last year in terms of fantasy output and rushing yards/TDs. 10 TDs is most likely not a repeatable number, but I can see his passing stats improve even further with the return of Kelvin Benjamin.
The Bucs should be a nice upstart team this year. Expect Jameis Winston to take a big step this season. I would also expect Doug Martin and Mike Evans to contribute greatly to a newly founded offensive attack. They also may have a more stout defense than years past. However, the lines are heavily favouring Carolina to repeat. I can absolutely see why.
The Saints and the Falcons are both very incomplete teams. The Saints had the worst defense in football last season. Drew Brees is unquestionably a top-five QB talent, but he can’t do it alone. Matt Ryan was a mess last year in Shanahan’s new system. Julio Jones is another top-five talent, and Devonta Freeman was a revelation last year. However, the Falcons’ D is still weak as well. Cam will run all over this division.
This is not the best bet to place, due to the fact that the Panthers are already heavy favourites. However, I can not and will not advise anyone take any of the other three teams as a division favourite.
7 AFC North Winner: Cincinnati Bengals
This is where the guessing game gets fun. This division should shape up to be between two formidable teams. However, this is the AFC North. All of these teams (except Cleveland) usually put up a good fight. Heck, last year the Ravens (4-12) beat the Steelers (10-6) twice. The Bengals won this division last year, but if you looked twice you wouldn’t even realize it. The Steelers and the Bengals met in what was a disastrous AFC Wild Card playoff game in 2015. Suspensions, fines, and penalties galore. That being said, this was all done while both teams were banged up. Ben Roethlisberger is the best QB in the division, bar none. But Andy Dalton looked very good last year. He was poised to finish as a top-five fantasy QB, including major leaps in TDs and passing yards before he broke his thumb. You can attribute a lot of things to Dalton’s improvement. Personally, I think it was his new haircut. But in all seriousness, he seems to be making strides to be an above average QB. Having AJ Green and Tyler Eifert to throw to, alongside a solid O-Line, definitely helps.
6 AFC East Winner: New England Patriots (-240)
And this is where the guessing game stops being fun. Since 2001 (aka the beginning of the Tom Brady Era), the Patriots have won the AFC East 13 times. The only years they did not win were 2008 (Brady out for the year with torn ACL) and 2002. This is absurd consistency from the Patriots. As long as they have Belichick and Brady, I see no way they blow this division. The Bills and the Dolphins, as always, are both divisional patsies that will give the Patriots a few easy wins. Their only real competition is the New York Jets. While the Jets have a very ferocious defense, they still don’t match up with the Patriots as well. Plus, the Patriots offense blows the Jets offense out of the water, no matter what the personnel dictate. At the end of the day, Ryan Fitzpatrick is who he is. This year, the Jets are going to find out exactly what that means. I would never bet this division, because one of two things happen:
1. The Patriots win the division - bad payout.
2. The Patriots somehow lose the division andthere’s no guessing which way this will go.
Betting against the Patriots at this point is a losing proposition, even with Brady missing four games.
5 AFC West Winner: Kansas City Chiefs
This division is about as closely talented top to bottom as any division in the league. This division boasts the Super Bowl 50 Champions. This division also has one of best young QB/WR duos in Derek Carr and Amari Cooper. The Chargers are an up-and-down team, who clearly have a hard time getting rookies to agree to deals (see Manning, Eli; Bosa, Joey). But above all else, the Kansas City Chiefs will be one of the best teams in football this year. It starts at the top. Andy Reid is a legitimately good coach. He’s easy to make fun of, his time management is not the best, but he brings out the best in every team he takes over. The Chiefs still have one of the strongest overall defenses in the league, only allowing 17.9 PPG last season. Led by stalwarts Eric Berry, Dontari Poe, and Justin Houston, I would expect this defense to improve even more this season. The Broncos won the Super Bowl last year without a solid QB (no offence Peyton Manning), but expecting them to repeat last year’s miracle performance would be far too ambitious.
The Raiders are another team that’s a year away. They have a huge defensive piece in Khalil Mack (my pick for DPOY). They have a solid RB in Latavius Murray. They have young Derek Carr and Amari Cooper who should be lighting up the scoreboard. However, the veteran play of Alex Smith and the emergence of Travis Kelce should help buoy the Chiefs. Jamaal Charles, when healthy, is still one of the best RBs in the league. Spencer Ware is a very viable handcuff for Charles. The Chiefs should win this division handily, and at +200, they’re not a bad bet.
4 AFC South Winner: Houston Texans
This division is about as closely untalented top to bottom as any division in the league. The Titans and the Jaguars both look to improve on their 2015 campaigns. The Colts, with Andrew Luck back, should be a lot more competitive than they were last year. Yet, the Houston Texans will still finish on top. Why? Defense wins championships (or just divisions). The one thing the Texans have over the rest of this division is top notch defensive talent. J.J. Watt is other-worldly. Jadeveon Clowney should be a huge addition this year to an already stout defensive line. Vince Wilfork has been clogging holes since the early 2000s, but that doesn’t mean this man has lost a step. The acquisition of the new "Million Dollar Man" Brock Osweiler and RB dynamo Lamar Miller should shore up an offense that already boasts an elite talent in DeAndre Hopkins. The Colts defense is far too weak and their O-Line is far too shoddy to compete in this division. The Jaguars are still a year away. They have a lot of young talent, but young talent comes with taking some lumps. The Jags are going to be competitive for years to come. But the Texans take the cake in this cluster of a division.
3 AFC Champion: Pittsburgh Steelers
But Mike, didn’t you say the Bengals were going to win the division? Winning the division is important to get to the playoffs, but the Steelers are one of the most complete teams in football. They will slip into the playoffs as a Wild Card and then run wild. I can easily see the Steelers offense become too much to handle for the typical powers of the AFC (New England, Kansas City, and Cincinnati). The Steelers defense has been refueled with younger, faster talent than last season. The Steelers come playoff time will be a threat to all other teams in the AFC and will take a run at the Conference Championship. Look for them to complete the run and find themselves in the Super Bowl. This is a very good football team, and I would have expectations set very high for them this season.
2 NFC Champion: Arizona Cardinals
Arizona is the most complete team in football, not just the NFC. As long as Carson Palmer can keep it together this season, all he has to do is be average. That’s how good this team is. I explained previously why I think Arizona will win their division. That goes double for the conference. This conference is mainly a three horse race between Arizona, Seattle and Carolina. However, I don’t see Arizona having another NFC Championship collapse like last season. With the return of the Honey Badger (Tyrann Mathieu), this defense should be as strong as ever. The most epic outcome for this game would be a super high stakes Seattle vs. Arizona playoff match up which will not disappoint in any way. However, expect to see Arizona come out on top and make there way to the Super Bowl.
1 Super Bowl LI Champion: Arizona Cardinals
Steelers vs. Cardinals in a rematch of that 2007 showdown. Epic Santonio Holmes diving out of bounds in the endzone to secure the go-ahead touchdown. Pick-Six in the endzone to end the half. Expect more fireworks like that in this potential Super Bowl matchup. My favourite combination for this Super Bowl pick is the fact that this is the team I liked initially, and they’re not the outright favourites on the Vegas books. There are five teams that have equal or more favourable odds than the Cardinals. After last year’s implosion, I think people will be off this team. But I believe Palmer will reignite his resurgence in Arizona this season, a la Kurt Warner.
Score Prediction: 27-17 Cardinals over Steelers
Division Bets I’d Run With:
AFC North - Bengals (+190)
NFC East - Cowboys (+240)
AFC West - Chiefs (+200)
Follow me on Twitter @michaelthemurr
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