Summer vacation ends this week in the NFL. It might not end for Ezekiel Elliott and a handful of potential holdouts, but veterans for all 32 teams are due in training camp by Friday.
Of course, it’s an omnipresent league with a ubiquitous influence in the news and in sportsbooks, where the betting world revolves around football.
The NFL never really leaves us anymore, but excitement is back in the air. It could be the anticipation of Patrick Mahomes launching rockets or Eli Manning flipping wounded ducks, but there’s definitely a different feel in the air. So with an expanding variety of wagers on the menu, it’s time for a scouting report on some of the best bets to consider as camps open across the league.
Will the Cowboys make the playoffs? (Yes 105)
For the first time since the mid-1990s, Dallas truly has the offense and defense to make it a legitimate
Super Bowl contender. It’s not just media hype. The team’s nucleus of young stars is impressive, and all of those stars want to get paid. Elliott’s threat to hold out will be the dramatic story as the Cowboys head to camp. Elliott was the NFL’s rushing leader in two of his three seasons, with 1,434 yards last year and 1,631 as a rookie in 2016. He’s got bargaining power, and Jerry Jones loves star power. Jones will likely find a way to get a new deal done for Elliott and avoid a major distraction.
The Cowboys finished 10-6 last year to win the NFC East, a division without a repeat champion since 2003-04. This is a two-team race, with oddsmakers rating Philadelphia as the favorite. Instead of betting Dallas to win the division, bet on a playoff berth. The Westgate SuperBook is offering 105, and the PointsBet line (-118) in New Jersey is also playable.
Patriots to win the AFC East (-500)
Weak competition within the division has set the table for New England’s postseason dominance. The Patriots have won 10 consecutive division titles and
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15 of the past 16. Although the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills are seemingly on the rise, those teams are probably a year or two away from making Bill Belichick sweat.
Aside from an injury to Tom Brady, what could derail the Patriots? Tight end Rob Gronkowski must be replaced, and wide receiver Julian Edelman, the reigning Super Bowl MVP, has a thumb injury that is expected to sideline him for a few weeks. Brady has not slipped that much — 29 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions last year — and Belichick’s defense appears better on paper. A 1/5 price is a lot to lay in most cases, but this division is a much different case than any other in the league.
Steelers to win the AFC North ( 175)
It’s strange to say Cleveland is the division favorite, but that’s a fact. Baker Mayfield, Odell Beckham Jr. and the new-look Browns still need to earn it. Young teams do not always handle the favorite’s role well, and a role reversal could be an advantage for the Steelers.
Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell have left town and the circus left with them. Brown will be missed on the field, but the Big Ben-led offense will be fine. Ben Roethlisberger topped the league in passing yards (5,129) last year and still has enough weapons
to produce at a high level. Take the plus-price on Pittsburgh at PointsBet or the Westgate ( 160).
Ravens under 8.5 regular-season wins (-130)
The rise of the Browns should coincide with the fall of the Ravens, last year’s AFC North champs at 10-
John Harbaugh is an elite coach who usually finds ways to win. Still, Baltimore’s defense deserves to be downgraded after losing veteran leaders Terrell
Suggs and Eric Weddle. The offense is unreliable because second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson is not an accurate downfield passer. The Ravens’ schedule includes road games against Kansas City, Seattle and the LA Rams plus a home date with the Patriots. The record will show 8-8 or 7-9.
Bears under 9.5 regular-season wins (-150)
The Khalil Mack trade with Oakland brought a dominant defense back to Chicago, but the architect of the defense, Vic Fangio, is now the head coach in Denver. Matt Nagy still has work to do with quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, whose weaknesses will get exposed with more scouting. The bottom line is the Bears, who went from 5-11 in 2017 to 12-4 and the top of the NFC North, are prime candidates to bounce while Green Bay and Minnesota move back up. Play the PointsBet price at 9.5 (-150) or look under 9 ( 110) at the Westgate.
Raiders under 6 regular-season wins ( 105)
Jon Gruden’s first season back in Oakland produced a 4-12 record and a -177 point differential that was worst in the AFC. Gruden got the passing-game juice
he wanted by acquiring Brown from Pittsburgh. But the defense remains a concern and the schedule is a problem. The Raiders will travel a total of 32,023 miles this season — more miles than the Giants, Jets and Bills will travel combined — and they will not play a home game from Weeks 3 through 7. It’s fantasy to forecast seven wins for the Raiders, who figure to finish last in the division behind the Chiefs, Chargers and Broncos.
Andrew Luck to win MVP (10/1)
The Colts currently rate as the third-best team in the AFC behind New England and Kansas City. It starts at the top, where general manager Chris Ballard has assembled Indianapolis’ strongest roster since the 2009 team reached the Super Bowl. Ballard struck gold with the coaching hire of Frank Reich. Luck has an outstanding line in front of him and more weapons around him, including wideouts Devin Funchess, Parris Campbell and Deon Cain to complement T.Y. Hilton. Luck was second to Roethlisberger last season in pass attempts (639) and second to Mahomes in touchdowns (39).
Will the Colts make the playoffs? (Yes -180)
The health of a star quarterback is imperative to any futures wager. Luck’s shoulder issues appear to be in the past. He was bothered by a calf injury in the offseason but insists he’s healthy for the start of camp. Indianapolis finished 10-6 last season. In the other three seasons Luck did not deal with a right shoulder injury, the Colts went 11-5 each time.
Derek Carr to lead league in passing yards (66/1)
The Raiders might not win much, but they will be entertaining. Brown helped Roethlisberger lead the NFL in passing yards in Pittsburgh and he could do the same for Carr, who should be throwing a lot with Oakland trailing in most games. The long odds at PointsBet (compared to 10/1 at William Hill) are worth a shot.
Saquon Barkley to lead league in rushing yards (6/1)
As a rookie, Barkley finished second to the Cowboys’ Elliott with 1,307 yards on the ground. Elliott is the 5/1 favorite at William Hill. The threat of the pass needs to be there for the Giants to run effectively, and Manning’s weak arm is problematic. Still, Barkley is running behind an improved line and he’s a workhorse who should be a rushing champion in the near future.
Week 1: Giants ( 7.5) over Cowboys
This William Hill line is inflated due to public perception — Manning and the Giants are a mess while the Cowboys are Super Bowl contenders. While those theories might eventually prove true, the underdog will show up to fight for the season opener in Dallas.