- All four NFC divisions could see tight races in 2018.
- Are the biggest favorites, the Eagles and Rams, good value bets?
- Or should bettors put their money on longshots like the Giants and Bears?
Unlike in the AFC, where there are huge favorites in two of the divisions (Patriots: -800; Steelers: -260), the biggest favorite in the NFC is only -160.
Unquestionably the deeper conference, there’s a good chance that all four of the NFC divisions feature competitive races in 2018. That’s particularly true for the NFC South, which currently has three teams between +155 and +275 (and also the Buccaneers).
Below, find the updated odds from Bovada and advice on the best value bets entering the 2018 NFL season.
|New York Giants||+500||3-13|
A week ago, the Cowboys looked like the value bet in the East. The Eagles have the deepest roster, without question, but laying -155 on a team that has a non-zero chance of being led by Nick Foles is not something bettors should do. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, staying healthy is a skill, and Carson Wentz may not have it, especially since his style of play consistently puts his body in jeopardy.
The Eagles also had one of the best turnover differentials in the NFL last year (+11, fourth overall), which is a statistic that tends to regress to the mean.
Betting on the Cowboys today is a little less desirable, however, as their all-important offensive line is battling health issues of its own. Right guard Zack Martin suffered a knee injury in Week 2 of the preseason; he isn’t likely to miss the start of the regular season, but he also won’t be 100% and it will remain an area of vulnerability.
Additionally, center Travis Frederick was just diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that causes general weakness. There’s no timetable for his return yet.
Dallas, extremely thin at receiver, needs its run game to be at 2016 levels to succeed this year, and these injuries portend otherwise.
Washington was a popular dark-horse in the East entering the preseason with underrated “game manager” Alex Smith taking over for Kirk Cousins. However, a season-ending injury to promising rookie bell-cow Derrius Guice has them behind the eight-ball already.
That leaves Eli Manning and the Giants at +500, who are coming off a lost 3-13 season. I’d rather bet on Zack Martin’s bum knee and Travis Frederick’s compromised immune system than Eli’s noodle-arm.
Best Value Bet to Win NFC East: Cowboys +375
|Green Bay Packers||+140||7-9|
Let’s go ahead and write off the Bears and Lions here. The Lions don’t have the defense (19th in DVOA) or the run game (30th in DVOA) to beat out Green Bay and Minnesota over the course of a full 16-game season.
The Bears, while unquestionably on the rise, are still a year or two away. Mitch Trubisky isn’t going to make a Jared Goff-like leap in his second season, as some are predicting. He isn’t surrounded by the same weapons as Goff, and Sean McVay isn’t his coach. The Bears’ 29th-ranked passing offense will show some improvement, but not enough to win the division. Tarik Cohen isn’t that shifty. (Ok, maybe he is.)
Between Minnesota and Green Bay, it’s basically a toss-up. If Philly doesn’t have the deepest roster in the NFL, then the Vikings do. They have Pro Bowlers at every level of the defense, arguably the best WR duo in the NFL (Adam Thielen & Stefon Diggs), a dynamic young RB (Dalvin Cook), and maybe a franchise QB in Kirk Cousins.
The Vikings’ balance led to them finishing top-five in both offensive and defensive DVOA last season (5th and 2nd, respectively), the only team in the NFL to do so.
What Minnesota doesn’t have is Aaron Rodgers.
The most talented pivot in the game, Rodgers missed the bulk of last season, which allowed the startlingly-healthy Vikings to shallack the Pack in their two meetings and, in so doing, run away with the North.
That’s not likely to repeat in 2018, for a couple reasons: (a) Rodgers has played at least 15 games in eight of his ten years as Green Bay’s starter; and (b) after finally parting ways with DC Dom Capers and bringing in Mike Pettine, the Packers may finally be pairing their All-Pro quarterback with a respectable defense.
The latter is all the more true given the personnel upgrades new GM Brian Gutekunst made on the defensive side of the ball. Pro-Bowler Mo Wilkerson is a big upgrade on the defensive line; and in the secondary, fellow Pro-Bowler Tramon Williams plus top draft picks Jaire Alexander (18th overall) and Josh Jackson (45th overall) should boost Green Bay’s 27th-ranked pass defense.
There’s also a chance Green Bay is going to land Khalil Mack, arguably the best defensive player in the game, non-Aaron Donald division.
Odds on what team Pro Bowl DE Khalil Mack will be playing for after the Oct. 30 trade deadline (via @BovadaOfficial):
Oakland Raiders: 3/2
Green Bay Packers: 11/4
Buffalo Bills: 7/1
Dallas Cowboys: 8/1
Indianapolis Colts: 8/1
New York Jets: 8/1
— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) August 14, 2018
Best Value Bet to Win NFC North: Packers +140
|New Orleans Saints||+155||11-5|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||+950||5-11|
Based on the odds, this is supposed to be a three-team race. At a glance, that adds up. The Saints, Falcons, and Panthers all made the playoffs last year and return similar rosters, while the Bucs finished 5-11 and will have to play the first three games of 2018 sans Jameis Winston.
While it’s safe to write off the Bucs as a tier below, there’s another team that deserves to be a little lower than it currently sits.
The Panthers have already suffered significant injuries to an offensive line that wasn’t very good to begin with. Starters Matt Kalil (knee scope), Amini Silatolu (torn meniscus), and Daryl Williams (torn MCL) will all miss significant time, and what’s remaining of their offensive line projects as a complete disaster.
Panthers LT Matt Kalil to have knee scoped https://t.co/5QJ76u0nk8
— Charlotte Star (@charlottestrnew) August 22, 2018
This offense is only effective when there’s a threat to run. Save for Cam Newton going full Superman, the run-game is likely to be ineffective.
A four-game suspension to LB Thomas Davis is a big blow to a defense that, while solid (7th in DVOA), is susceptible to big plays through the air. That susceptibility became all the more pronounced when CB Ross Cockerell suffered a devastating leg injury at practice.
Between the Saints and Falcons, Atlanta is the better value at +185.
New Orleans has finally given Drew Brees a decent defense (8th in DVOA), but the NFL’s second-most efficient offense is likely to take a step back in 2018, simply because much of what Alvin Kamara did last year — 6.1 yards per attempt; 10.2 yards per reception; 9.0 yards per touch — is not sustainable. Additionally, his backfield partner, Mark Ingram, is suspended for four games, and the team spent its first-round pick on a project defensive end (Marcus Davenport), a move that was met with some criticism.
Do you consider USTA DE Marcus Davenport a 1st Round Pick or is he an athletic project player fit better for Rounds 2-3?
— Brandon Varnam (@BravoVictor03) March 31, 2018
The Falcons, on the other hand, drafted a player who’s ready to contribute immediately in WR Calvin Ridley. His presence out wide will take some attention away from Julio Jones who, unlike Kamara, is likely to see some of his key metrics improve, in particular touchdowns (3) and catch % (59.5).
Meanwhile, QB Matt Ryan should be more comfortable in his second year in Steve Sarkisian’s system. He may not meet the lofty MVP numbers he put up under Kyle Shanahan in 2016, but an improvement on last season is a safe bet.
In a toss-up race, take the longer odds.
Best Value Bet to Win NFC South: Falcons +185
|San Francisco 49ers||+300||6-10|
I know what you’re thinking: Jimmy Garoppolo has never lost as an NFL starter! 7-0! Take the Niners!
Slow down. First, the sample size is still tiny with Jimmy G. Second, of his five starts last year, one was against the 5-11 Bears, one was against the 4-12 Texans, and one was in Week 17 against a Rams team that had already sewn up the division and was resting starters. Yes, he was supremely impressive against the Jaguars’ top-ranked defense in Week 16 (21/30, 242 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT) and the Titans the week prior (31/43, 381 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT). But that’s not enough to crown him the next Tom Brady.
Overall, he posted a 96.2 passer rating last year, which would have put him 11th among QBs with at least 200 pass attempts.
San Francisco is not providing Garoppolo with an all-world defense to pick up the slack, either. The 49ers finished last season 26th in defensive DVOA and still have massive holes on that side of the ball.
Speaking of massive holes, the Seahawks are faced with a few of their own after dismantling their once dominant defense. Gone are Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, and Sheldon Richardson from the d-line, along with Richard Sherman, Jeremy Lane, and DeShawn Shead in the secondary. All-Pro safety Earl Thomas may not be long for the Pacific Northwest, as well.
— mike fisher ✭ (@fishsports) August 14, 2018
There’s still talent on that side of the ball, especially if Thomas stays put; Bobby Wagner became a viable Defensive Player of the Year candidate last season. But given how porous the o-line projects to be (again), and how much less potent the offense could be without Jeremy Graham’s ten touchdowns, this team can’t afford regression on defense, where they finished just 13th in DVOA last year.
Russell Wilson did as much as he possibly could a year ago, when Seattle finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs. His offensive production (3,983 passing yards, 34 passing TDs; 586 rushing yards, 3 rushing TDs) accounted for an NFL-record 86% of Seattle’s total offense. Unless the defense is stingier, Seattle is going to get worse, not better.
The 8-8 Cardinals see way too much turnover to be a realistic division contender. Carson Palmer retired, meaning either Sam Bradford or rookie Josh Rosen will start at QB. Two speedsters, John and Jaron Brown, are gone from the receiving corps. Former All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu is now in Tennessee. And Tramon Williams and Justin Bethel exit the secondary.
The return of David Johnson portends more offensive production, just not enough to top a tough division. The Cards are building for 2019 and 2020 under Rosen.
Keen readers will realize that only the NFC West favorites Los Angele remain, and there’s a ton to love about this team. Coming off an 11-5 season that was more dominant than even that record suggests, the young Rams are likely to take another step forward under coaching wunderkind Sean McVay.
They replaced underperforming WR Sammy Watkins with the blazing Brandin Cooks; they added Ndamukong Suh to a defensive interior that already included reigning DPOY Aaron Donald; and they boosted the secondary with both Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib.
Unlike in Seattle, there’s also the potential for improvement at the most important position. Jared Goff, while solid last year (especially compared to his disastrous rookie season) could very well take further steps forward in his third year.
To be succinct, they have the most talent in the division on both sides of the ball and the best coach. Unless they let Aaron Donald’s holdout/contract situation impact the regular season, they should be even bigger favorites than they are.