You can pick your play, but the NFL offseason unofficially began sometime in the third quarter of an underwhelming Super Bowl LV. The Bucs are the new champions, obviously covering as 3-point dogs. The Under 56 cashed, while the Over of .5 Chiefs touchdowns miraculously did not.
As a kid in the 1990s, the Super Bowl was notoriously lopsided. The Bills getting trounced by the Cowboys twice, the 49ers dismantling the Chargers ... blowout games became the norm. But the last 15 years or so, the games have routinely been competitive. The Patriots played in nine Super Bowls, and all were at least close in the fourth quarter, with a handful of absolute classics mixed in.
Essentially, we were due for a dud, and we got it. The Bucs were 65-1 around St. Patrick’s Day and moved to 16-1 after signing Tom Brady. After last year’s Super Bowl victory, the Chiefs opened as + 700 chalk, and they looked like great value for the ensuing 11 months and 364 days — until this year’s game got into the second quarter.
As the Bucs celebrated, I thought about the Saints. They dominated the Bucs 38-3 in Tampa just three months ago and beat them 34-23 on opening day. They also led the Bucs 20-13 late in the third quarter of the divisional round when Jared Cook caught a ball in Bucs territory before fumbling it away. The Saints, riding a streak of playoff heartbreakers heading into that game, now must reflect on another missed opportunity, as they were poised to put away the eventual Super Bowl champs.
In Brady’s first title run after the 2001 season, the Patriots fell to the Rams in Week 10 to drop to 5-5 but never lost again, beating those same Rams in the Super Bowl. This year the Bucs’ last loss was also to the team they ultimately beat in the Super Bowl, capping an incredible string of eight victories.
Football is over, but there are still winners to be found, and we will spend every week searching for them. Enough looking back. Let’s look ahead to cashing some more tickets.
Washington Nationals To Win NL East (+ 600): Hours before the first game of the season against the Yankees, star outfielder Juan Soto was declared out with a positive COVID-19 test, an ominous sign for what turned out to be a disappointing season in D.C. The magic of ’19 netted the Nats a memorable World Series championship but didn’t carry over to an injury-riddled, star-crossed ’20 campaign. Stephen Strasburg was the World Series MVP in ’19 but threw only a handful of pitches last year. A lot went wrong last season, and that creates value this season. The pitching is still outstanding, with a dominant big three of Max Scherzer, Strasburg and Patrick Corbin, and it will be bolstered by the addition of veteran lefty Jon Lester. Former All-Star Brad Hand will now be closing games in Washington, and the team took some good buy-low risks on Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber to beef up the offense. The division is the deepest in baseball. Even the Marlins, who were pegged for last place, made the playoffs and won a round, so nobody is running and hiding with 95 or more wins. The Mets might have been able to do that but were jilted by Trevor Bauer and failed to land George Springer or J.T. Realmuto. The Braves are still very good and were up 3-1 on the Dodgers in last year’s NLCS before letting the series slip away, but the Nationals have the pitching depth and quality to hang in this race until the end. Getting 6-1 on a team with championship pedigree and pitching is great value. Look for the Nationals to bounce back and be playing in October.
Kansas City Chiefs To Win Super Bowl (+ 600): It’s football season already! Well, even though it’s not, lines for next year’s champion are available, and you are unlikely to ever find a better number on the Chiefs barring an injury to Patrick Mahomes or a disastrous start to next season. Yes, it was ugly Sunday night, but between injuries and opt-outs, the offensive line was decimated. It will surely receive an injection of reinforcements before next season, and despite the loss, this team will be right back playing well into January and perhaps beyond. Mahomes has played three seasons as a starter and is an offside call from being in the Super Bowl all three years. Having the best player at the most important position and being in a relatively easy division are incredible advantages considering the new structure of the playoffs, in which only the top seed gets a bye. One home win puts the No. 1 seed at home for the conference title game, where it will face a team playing its third game in 14 days. Translation: The Chiefs and Mahomes are going to be in this game year in, year out, much like the Brady-Belichick Patriots. The only downside is you’re placing a wager that can’t cash until next year. If you can afford tying up a small piece of your bankroll, having a 6-1 ticket in your pocket will feel good once the season comes along.
Harold Varner III To Win Pebble Beach Pro-Am (+ 6,500): With football over, some of you may want to use the next few weeks to take a breather from the grind of betting. But do you really want to take a break? Golf is a good way to get some exciting action without risking much. Last week’s PGA Tour winner, Brooks Koepka, went off at 55-1, an indication of the type of powerball paydays golf can provide. Varner III has been hot and cold, alternating between top-15 finishes and missing cuts, but has the upside in a depressed field this week at Pebble Beach to hang around the top of the leaderboard all weekend. Take the talented Varner III and give yourself a shot at a monster payout, and perhaps look at his odds to be the “end of Round 1 leader” and “to finish top 10,” as he has struggled to finish the job on Sundays.