By Zack Schlegel

We got a taste of football this past weekend with five straight days of college football action, but now it’s time to turn our attention to the NFL.

Many of you are wrapping up your Fantasy Football drafts this week, setting your lineups, and anxiously awaiting kickoff of the 2019-20 season this Thursday night between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears. Now that we are roughly 48 hours away from the start of the season, let’s take a closer look at some season long investments — aka my favorite NFL Division Future bets.

Let’s begin by looking at the NFC (odds via Bovada):

NFC East

Philadelphia Eagles EVEN

Dallas Cowboys +135

Washington Redskins +900

New York Giants +1100

The NFC East is a very top heavy division, with two of the four teams considered to be in rebuild mode after drafting star Rookie quarterbacks in this year’s NFL Draft. The Eagles and the Cowboys at the top are both playoff caliber teams with championship potential. As of now, it looks like the Zeke Elliott holdout will be coming to a close very soon as a new deal is expected this week. This is great news for Cowboys backers, given that Dallas is 28-12 (4.7 yards per rush) with Zeke, and 4-4 (3.9 yards per rush) without Zeke. The Eagles may have the most dynamic offense we have seen under head coach Doug Peterson. DeSean Jackson returns to Philly to join Alshon Jeffrey and Nelson Agholor as the core wide receiver options for QB Carson Wentz. On defense, the Eagles allowed just 96.9 rushing yards per game in 2018. The Eagles or Cowboys have won the division in five of the last six seasons. I’ll be rolling with the Eagles this year, with Carson Wentz on MVP watch all season.

The Pick: Eagles EVEN

 

NFC North

Chicago Bears +160

Green Bay Packers +195

Minnesota Vikings +240

Detroit Lions +1000

No more Vic Fangio in Chicago to coach that talented defense led by OLB Khalil Mack. The Bears defense ranked 3rd in the league last season, allowing just 292.9 yards per game. Fangio took the head coaching job for the Denver Broncos, so it will be interesting to see if the Bears defense continues to play at the level they did in 2018. The Green Bay Packers also made some major changes, bringing in Matt LaFleur to be their next head coach. After controversy between QB Aaron Rodgers and his former QB Coach, LaFleur has made it clear that Rodgers has the green light to change plays at the line of scrimmage. As for the Vikings, the offense is talented but there is concern about RB Dalvin Cook’s ability to stay healthy, after hurting his knee in 2017 and then hamstring in 2018. The Vikings were one of the worst rushing offenses in the league last season, averaging only 93.3 yards per game. I’m going to bet that the Bears see some regression with the loss of Vic Fangio, and the Packers rise up under first year head coach Matt LaFleur to take the division in 2019.

The Pick: Green Bay Packers +195

 

NFC  South

New Orleans Saints -175

Atlanta Falcons +375

Carolina Panthers +550

Tampa Bay Buccaneers +850

We all remember the missed pass interference call in last year’s NFC Championship game, which arguably cost the Saints a chance to play in Super Bowl LIII. That alone might be enough for me to pick the Saints to win the division this season for the third year in a row. The Buccaneers have a new coach this season, as Bruce Arians made his way over from Arizona. I believe this is a solid fit with QB Jameis Winston, and an offense that led the league in passing in 2018 (320.3 yards per game). However, this division has three other teams with a real shot at the playoffs this year. I’m intrigued with the narrative of Cam Newton making a resurgence with the Panthers and getting back to MVP form in 2019, but I can’t trust him to stay healthy. Cam played through a shoulder injury for most of last season and suffered a foot sprain during this year’s preseason. Although the price is steep, I’m going with the Saints to 3-peat as division winners in 2019.

The Pick: New Orleans Saints -175

 

NFC West

Los Angeles Rams -180

Seattle Seahawks +285

San Francisco 49ers +500

Arizona Cardinals +2500

First off, if you believe in miracles and want to sprinkle a little something on the Arizona Cardinals this season, I’m not mad at you. Kyler Murray in that Kliff Kingsbury offense will be exciting. Remember not too long ago in 2015 when the Cardinals went 13-3 and made it to the NFC Championship game? Yeah, that was just four seasons ago. The Los Angeles Rams were the latest victims of the Patriots dynasty in Super Bowl LIII, and have all the talent in the world to make it back. The biggest question is with RB Todd Gurley’s knee, and whether or not he will hold up for the entire season. I’m a believer in the Super Bowl slump when it comes to pretty much every team except the Patriots. This is the idea that a team who made it to the Super Bowl but lost, will turn around and have a losing season the year after. I think the Rams are too talented to have a losing season, but I do think that they are due to regress. The 49ers are a team getting a lot more attention this year with the return of QB Jimmy Garoppolo from his ACL tear in 2018, and a defense that is looking very scary on paper. I’m just not sold yet on Garoppolo until I see him play a full season without injury. This year I’ll be going with the team that has won the division eight out of the last fifteen seasons. The consistently scrappy defensive squad with a mobile veteran quarterback, and the most experienced head coach… the Seattle Seahawks. Adding Jadeveon Clowney to that defense doesn’t hurt either.

The Pick: Seattle Seahawks +285


AFC East

New England Patriots -500

New York Jets +600

Buffalo Bills +950

Miami Dolphins +2500

I’m not going to spend too much time on this division for one simple reason… Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are STILL together. The New England Patriots have won the AFC East now fifteen out of the last sixteen seasons, and are looking to win their 11th straight division title in 2019. I can confidently tell you that we will never see a run like this again in the history of the NFL. Every other team in the division is rebuilding with very young quarterbacks, and two of them have first year head coaches. The Patriots lose TE Rob Gronkowski to retirement, and rookie WR N’Keal Harry was just placed on the IR with an ankle injury, but this will not stop New England from claiming the division once again this season.

The Pick: New England Patriots -500

 

AFC North

Cleveland Browns +120

Pittsburgh Steelers +185

Baltimore Ravens +300

Cincinnati Bengals +1600

The popular pick for this division is obviously the Cleveland Browns. QB Baker Mayfield has been as exciting as advertised for the Browns offense, and now he will have All-Pro WR Odell Beckham catching passes alongside Beckham’s former college teammate at LSU, Jarvis Landry. The problem is that the Browns defense ranked 30th in the league in yards allowed per game (393) in 2018. The other glaring issue here is that the Browns haven’t won a division title since 1989, and their head coach is by far the least experienced of the other three in the division. So, do I want to bet the Browns this season? No, thank you. The Ravens have the best head coach in John Harbaugh, and a quarterback in Lamar Jackson that is on his way to becoming a star in the league, but I just feel like Jackson will go through growing pains in year two. So, similar to my pick in the NFC West, I am going with consistency and experience here. I’ll be riding with the Antonio Brown-less Pittsburgh Steelers to take the AFC North in 2019. The Steelers missed the playoffs completely last season, and I believe this team is on a mission this year to make a statement and reclaim their spot on top. Look for Big Ben to have a great season (assuming he stays healthy), and rising star WR Juju Smith-Schuster to make Steelers fans forget all about the dude with the frozen foot.

The Pick: Pittsburgh Steelers +185

 

AFC South

Houston Texans +130

Jacksonville Jaguars +260

Tennessee Titans +350

Indianapolis Colts +500

The shocking retirement of QB Andrew Luck completely changed the landscape of the AFC South in a matter of minutes. The Colts went from being the odds on favorite to win the division at EVEN money, to now being projected to finish last at +500. Still, I believe this division is the most wide open of any division in the NFL. It wouldn’t even shock me to see the Colts win the division regardless of Luck retiring. QB Jacoby Brissett recently signed a 2-year $30M contract in the wake of Luck’s retirement and he is now the man in charge of an offense that ranked 5th in points per game in 2018 (27.1). The Texans are now the favorite to win the division with QB Deshaun Watson healthy and coming off an impressive 2018 campaign, where he led Houston to an 11-5 regular season division title. The issue here is that RB Lamar Miller recently suffered a torn ACL that will force him to miss the entire 2019 season. Tennessee QB Marcus Mariota is entering the final year of his contract, and will need to have a breakout year to earn a contract extension with the Titans. Mariota has thrown 24 touchdown passes and 23 interceptions over the last two seasons, and he is in a “do or die” situation in 2019. I cannot trust this Titans offense, which ranked 27th in points per game in 2018 (19.4). By process of elimination, we are left with the Jacksonville Jaguars who won their first division title in 2017 and who I believe will be back on top again this season with the addition of QB Nick Foles. A lot of this will rely on the health of RB Leonard Fournette who only played in eight games last season due to injury. If Fournette can remain healthy all year, and the Jaguars defense can continue to play at a high level (4th in PPG and 5th in YPG), there’s no reason that Mr. Reliable Nick Foles can’t lead this team to a division title and playoff birth.

The Pick: Jacksonville Jaguars +260

 

AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs -150

Los Angeles Chargers +190

Oakland Raiders +1100

Denver Broncos +1200

Every year we get really excited over HBO’s Hard Knocks. This year is no different, as there has been plenty of drama and excitement with the Oakland Raiders entering their final season in the Bay Area. Between Jon Gruden’s speeches and Antonio Brown’s off field antics, this may be the most entertaining Hard Knocks series yet. However, let’s not be so naive to think that the Raiders are going to win the AFC West. Kansas City is back with MVP QB Patrick Mahomes leading the best offense by far in the NFL. The Chiefs averaged 425.6 yards per game and 35.3 points per game in 2018. There is no reason to think that this offense will slow down, and some are saying that Mahomes and Reid might be the next Brady and Belichick. A major concern for Kansas City is on the other side of the ball, as their defense ranked 31st in yards allowed (405.5) in 2018. The Chargers are a much more balanced team, ranking in the top-10 offensively and defensively in 2018. They made it to the AFC Division round last season before being bounced by Brady and the New England Patriots. QB Phillip Rivers is entering his 16th season, but may be without RB Melvin Gordon as his hold out continues and rumors spread about possible trade scenarios. The Chargers were also forced to place SS Derwin James on the IR, which means he will miss at least half of the season. The Dark-horse here is the Denver Broncos. In fact, the Broncos had won five division titles in a row before the Chiefs took the last three. QB Joe Flacco made his way over from the Baltimore Ravens, and they also named former Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio as their next head coach. Denver will have a trio of talented running backs with Phillip Lindsey, Royce Freeman, and Devontae Booker, behind a very good offensive line. Oh, and they still have Super Bowl L MVP Von Miller leading that defense. I don’t know if I have the guts to bet the Broncos with my own money this season, but why not have a little fun here. Broncos shock the world and win the AFC West in 2019.

The Pick: Denver Broncos +1200


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