NFL 2021 Season Futures Best Bets
When it comes to the NFL, it is never too early to prepare yourself for another year of blowouts, upsets and backdoor covers.
Impactful offseason moves, strength of schedule and a season full of uncertainty are all things to consider when betting futures in football’s top league.
The 2021 NFL schedule will kick off on September 9th when the defending Super Bowl Champion, Tampa Bay Buccaneers host the Dallas Cowboys at Raymond James Stadium.
Important Offseason Moves
Kansas City Chiefs (+525 Super Bowl Odds, +265 Conference Odds, -250 Division Odds)
The rich get richer when it comes to the Chiefs and the Super Bowl runners-up from a year ago were able to acquire some great pieces to protect their prized quarterback. Offensive guard Joe Thuney signed a five-year, $80-million contract in free agency with Kansas City. He, alongside three-time Pro-Bowler Kyle Long (who came out of retirement to join the Chiefs) and the awaited return of Laurent Duvernay-Tardif should help provide a nice clean pocket for Patrick Mahomes after he took a beating from the Bucs in Super Bowl LV.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+800 Super Bowl Odds, +400 Conference Odds, -167 Division Odds)
Speaking of the Bucs, they will be looking to run it back in 2021 when they field the same 22 starters from last year’s Super Bowl winning team. After franchise tagging Chris Godwin, they worked through the process of signing their long list of free agents. Ndamukong Suh, Shaquil Barrett, Leonard Fournette, Rob Gronkowski and Lavonte David were all given new deals with the Bucs fulfilling Bruce Arians promise that they were “not going anywhere”. Throw Antonio Brown, pass-catching running back Giovani Bernard and the ageless Tom Brady into the mix and this team feels ready to repeat.
Los Angeles Rams (+1200 Super Bowl Odds, +600 Conference Odds, +180 Division Odds)
The Rams made it clear that they were all-in this year when they traded away their quarterback and former first overall pick in Jared Goff (along with some draft picks) to get Matthew Stafford from the Detroit Lions. After some quarterback controversy near the end of the 2020 season, they opted to swap out the younger Goff for a more veteran Stafford, hoping to make the final jump to win football’s ultimate prize. With the re-signing of Leonard Floyd and the addition of DeSean Jackson, the Rams look prepared to make some noise in one of the hardest divisions in football.
Cleveland Browns (+1600 Super Bowl Odds, +900 Conference Odds, +150 Division Odds)
After being the running joke of the NFL for the past two decades, the Cleveland Browns are nothing to scoff at anymore. This past season marked their first playoff appearance since 2002, where they picked up their first win since before the turn of the century. They came up just a fourth-down stop short from a chance at an AFC Conference Final berth. There is a whole new identity in Cleveland and with their skill, swagger and another year of experience, who says they can’t cause a stir in the AFC. They will welcome new additions Jadeveon Clowney, Greg Newsome II and John Johnson II with opening arms as they look to match their defensive intensity to their offensive firepower.
Tennessee Titans (+2500 Super Bowl Odds, +1100 Conference Odds, +110 Division Odds)
The Julio Jones sweepstakes are complete, and the winners are…the Tennessee Titans! After it was rumoured Jones was moving on from Atlanta, teams began to make their calls on the superstar wide receiver. It was announced over the weekend that Jones (along with a sixth-round pick) would indeed be joining the Titans in exchange for a second and a fourth-round pick. The wideout will assist quarterback Ryan Tannehill in an offense that already features some major threats with Derrick Henry in the backfield and A.J. Brown, a great complimenting receiver. The move gives the Titans a slight odds edge over the Colts as the favourites to win the AFC South.
Indianapolis Colts (+2800 Super Bowl Odds, +1400 Conference Odds, +115 Division Odds)
Another AFC South splash that came in the form of a trade this offseason was the Colts acquisition of Carson Wentz from the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for a pair of draft picks. After a career worst 15 interceptions in 2020, Wentz will be reunited with his former offensive coordinator, Frank Reich, who was with the Eagles for their Super Bowl run in 2017. The two will hope to reignite the flame that had Wentz playing at an MVP level just a few years ago.
Arizona Cardinals (+3200 Super Bowl Odds, +1400 Conference Odds, +575 Division Odds)
After a rather disappointing 2020 season, the Arizona Cardinals have bolstered their roster to take a shot at a very tough division. The run defense was the biggest concern last season for the Cardinals, so they went out and signed a three-time Defensive Player of the year in J.J. Watt. They also added corner Malcolm Butler to help fill the loss of their former all-pro defensive back Patrick Peterson. Arizona also went out to acquire Kyler Murray some more help offensively, adding veteran receiver A.J. Green and former Steelers running back James Connor. Expectations may not be as high as last season, but regardless this team is looking to win now.
New England Patriots (+2500 Super Bowl Odds, +1400 Conference Odds, +375 Division Odds)
Last season marked the first time since 2002 that Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots didn’t reach the 10+ win mark. Naturally, Belichick then used free agency in hopes to reload. With an abundance of cap space, the Patriots signed a number of weapons including tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry, receivers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne and defensive pieces in Matthew Judon and Jalen Mills. They also used the 15th pick in this year’s draft to acquire former Alabama quarterback, Mac Jones, who is expected to start the season backing up Cam Newton. It will be interesting to see if all these moves can get the Pats back to the playoffs and fill the void of losing Tom Brady just a season ago.
Strength of Schedule
There are new kings in the AFC East for the first time since 2008 and the Buffalo Bills (-147) remain the favourite heading into the 2021 season. Even with the promise that the Miami Dolphins (+350) hold and the reload for the New England Patriots (+375), it still looks to be Buffalo’s division. The Bills are tied for the 9th easiest schedule based on teams records from last season and outside of divisional matchups, AFC East teams will play against the AFC South and NFC South this season.
The oddsmakers have set the AFC North as a two-horse race between the Ravens (+120) and the Browns (+150). Both teams rank in the top 10 in schedule difficulty ahead of this season (Ravens: 2nd, Browns: 9th). In 2020, we saw three teams from this division make the playoffs including the Pittsburgh Steelers (+450), who were bounced from Super Wildcard Weekend by Cleveland. We will see how one of the tougher divisions in football shapes up as the season progresses. They will all have games against the AFC West and NFC North this season.
Arguably the most lob-sided difference between top and bottom teams in a division comes from the AFC South. Both the Tennessee Titans (+110) and Indianapolis Colts (+115) have established themselves as threats to win this division, while the Jaguars (+900) continue to rebuild, and the Texans (+2500) spin the wheel of despair. It may not be the simplest division to predict, but it’s important to note that the Colts’ schedule is expected to be easier than the Titans heading into this year, which could play a huge factor in a late-season divisional race. AFC South teams will play teams from both the AFC East and NFC West in 2021.
Barring a major move (Aaron Rodgers to the Broncos?) or injury, the Kansas City Chiefs (-250) will win the AFC West for the sixth straight year. They are coming off a 14-win season on the heels of arguably the best young quarterback in the game, Patrick Mahomes, who has another year of experience and chemistry under his belt. They remain a Super Bowl or bust team, while the Denver Broncos (+525), Los Angeles Chargers (+575) and Las Vegas Raiders (+2000), all battle it out for a chance at a Wild Card spot. For the AFC West, this year’s schedule features teams from the AFC North and NFC East.
Will the most interesting division in football bring us another year of wall-to-wall uncertainty? The NFC East will be following a season where the Washington Football Team (+260) won the division with a 7-9 record, the Dallas Cowboys (+135) lost Dak Prescott early in the year, the New York Giants (+435) stayed relevant just long enough to convince people they were competitive, and the Philadelphia Eagles (+450) lost seven of their last eight games. The return of Prescott gives Dallas the clear edge to win it all, but you can’t count out any one of these teams considering the unpredictability. They are set to play both the NFC South and AFC West.
Drama continues to grow in the NFC North as Aaron Rodgers missed day one of the Green Bay Packers (-125) minicamp, officially declaring him a holdout. The 2020 MVP has made it clear that he is upset with the organization, who originally drafted him back in 2005 to be Brett Favre’s replacement. Since then, they have picked up a number of division titles, but only one Super Bowl to show for it. The Minnesota Vikings (+275), Chicago Bears (+385) and Detroit Lions (+2200) will all be chomping at the bit if Rodgers does not return to the Packers this season. The division is slated to play the AFC North and NFC West.
In 2020, it took Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-167) three games to figure out the New Orleans Saints (+300) and luckily for them, it came at playoff time. With the announcement of Drew Brees’s retirement, the division has now become Tampa’s to lose. The Carolina Panthers (+900) made a quarterback change when they acquired Sam Darnold, but they remain a team fighting just to make the playoffs and the Atlanta Falcons (+900) still haven’t recovered since their Super Bowl collapse in 2016. The AFC and NFC East will be the main features in the 2021 NFC South schedule.
I am officially declaring the NFC West the hardest division in football, please screenshot for your records. After they produced three teams with records of .500 or better in 2020, they will be returning with four teams that all have a chance at making the playoffs. The Los Angeles Rams (+180) made their big offseason move when they swapped quarterbacks with the Detroit Lions. The San Francisco 49ers (+200) nursed a 2020 Super Bowl hangover that never seemed to end, so expect them to be back healthy and prepared to make another run. The Seattle Seahawks (+325) come off a year where they won the division at 12-4 just to go on and lose their Super Wild Card game vs. the Rams. The Arizona Cardinals (+575) remain the biggest underdog in the division, even after acquiring some key pieces in free agency. They will all go up against teams from the AFC South and NFC North.
Jake’s Best Bets
Buffalo Bills to win the AFC East (-147) – The major edge that Buffalo possesses over everyone in their division is experience. This team has been through another year of playing together and after a 13-3 record in 2020, anything less than a division title is a failure.
Indianapolis Colts to win the AFC South (+115) – Defense doesn’t always win championships, but it definitely plays a large role and that’s the major edge the Colts hold over the Titans. They may not run the most exciting offense in the league, but they were effective with an aging Philip Rivers in 2020, so I’m interested to see what the Wentz/Pederson combo can bring.
Minnesota Vikings to win the NFC North (+275) – There is too much uncertainty in Green Bay to pass up the value that the Vikings hold. Mike Zimmer has led the Vikings to the playoffs every other year since he joined them in 2014 and after missing the postseason in 2020, he’s on schedule to return in 2021. The Vikings have won the North twice under Zimmer (2015, 2017).
Cleveland Browns to win the AFC (+900) – Is this a pander pick? Absolutely. Do I think the Browns have a legitimate chance? Of course. Cleveland took a big step in 2020, not only by making the playoffs, but beating a division rival at Super Wild Card weekend. If they can find a way to get passed or avoid the Chiefs I like their chances, but that’s the beauty of the NFL, any team can win on any given day.
Seattle Seahawks to win the NFC (+1200) – You can never count out Pete Carroll, Russell Wilson and the Seahawks. Since Carroll took over head coaching duties in 2010 the team has only missed the playoffs twice, which is the same amount of Super Bowl appearances they’ve made in the same period (1-1). They may not be my first pick to come out of the NFC, but if you’re going to shy away from the favourites (Bucs, Rams, 49ers, Packers), look no further than Seattle.
Kansas City Chiefs (+525) – Feels like a no-brainer if you ask me. After back-to-back trips to the Super Bowl (following a loss in 2020), the Chiefs have addressed their protection issues and are ready for another deep run. Give Patrick Mahomes a clean pocket and watch him work.
Los Angeles Rams (+1200) – It’s hard to fade the Rams after the Stafford acquisition. They’ve made three playoff appearances in the last four years, including a Super Bowl loss to the Patriots in 2018. I like their talent on both sides of the ball and if they can find their way through what looks to be a tough division, I think they make a lot of noise in the playoffs.
Tennessee Titans (+2500) – If you’re looking for more of a longshot, why not take the team putting all their chips on the table. The flaws on the defensive side are concerning, but with the addition of Jones, that offence is must-watch. I imagine they will have to fill a need or two at the trade deadline, but don’t forget about the Titans.