Less than two months into what must be the most bizarre offseason in NFL history, the strange-but-true tales of Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Deshaun Watson are only the beginning of the story. Not even a face-slapping night at the Oscars can top this chaos.
Brady wins the award for most dramatic actor. Six weeks after retiring to spend more time with his family, he announced his return to quarterback the Buccaneers. He called it quits the week before the Super Bowl and called an audible before the NCAA Tournament even started.
Once again, Brady upstaged Rodgers, who spent a year playing the role of the league’s drama king. Seemingly determined to find a way out of Green Bay, Rodgers reconsidered and is back with the Packers for a long-term relationship, for better or worse.
After all of those twists and turns, the NFC’s top two quarterbacks are staying put. But a few other elite quarterbacks are on the move, in addition to two of the league’s top wide receivers and some defensive stars.
“I never in a million years thought Brady would be back in play,” Westgate SuperBook manager Ed Salmons said. “After what happened this offseason in a month and a half, I would never say never.”
The most curious case of all involves Watson. Some thought the former Texans quarterback, facing a possible suspension amid allegations of sexual misconduct with more than 20 civil cases pending, might never play again. He’s not on the field yet, but he’s back in business with a guaranteed $230 million contract in Cleveland.
An action-packed offseason has kept bettors and bookmakers on their toes and swinging to stay ahead of the curveballs. Each major trade or transaction is typically followed by a knee-jerk flurry of wagering, and there have been several significant odds adjustments to Super Bowl futures before the calendar flips to April.
“Have you ever seen so many teams who have already won the Super Bowl 10 months ahead of time?” South Point oddsmaker Vinny Magliulo said with a laugh.
Only one team can win the Super Bowl, so bookmakers are not complaining, for the most part. It’s fairly easy to book futures and hold a solid percentage of the money when so much action is spread all over the board. But it was difficult to deal with the Buccaneers and Brady, and the situation preceding his surprising comeback did trigger some bookmaker complaints.
After Brady retired in early February, the South Point placed the Buccaneers at 30-1 to win the Super Bowl then bumped them up to 50-1. At least two oddsmakers said 100-1 was a more realistic price. But the week prior to Brady’s return in mid-March, some Las Vegas books — including the South Point and Westgate — started getting hit with bets on the Buccaneers at odds as high as 60-1.
Westgate SuperBook vice president Jay Kornegay called for the NFL to investigate the matter, citing inside information, an extension of the integrity-of-the-game issue.
“I was asked when Brady retired, ‘Why are the Buccaneers only 50-1?’ ” Magliulo said. “I said, ‘What happens if Brady decides he’s not going to retire?’ You can’t be too surprised by anything and start throwing up crazy prices.”
At the Westgate, Tampa Bay is currently the 7-1 title favorite, followed by the Rams and Bills at 8-1 odds. The Packers are the fourth choice at 10-1, with the Chiefs at 12-1. As of now, the bookmakers facing six-figure losses on the Buccaneers are rooting against Brady winning his eighth Super Bowl.
Other teams attracting an abundance of action are the Broncos, Browns, Dolphins and Raiders. Denver, which added quarterback Russell Wilson in a blockbuster deal with Seattle, is at 18-1 odds. Most books never raised the Broncos higher than 25-1 because of the speculation they might acquire Rodgers from the Packers.
The Westgate was the first book in Las Vegas to post division odds late last week. The Chiefs are + 175 favorites in the AFC West, followed by the Chargers (+ 225), Broncos (+ 240) and Raiders (+ 800). Kansas City was an odds-on favorite a year ago, so the gap has narrowed.
“It’s a great division,” Magliulo said. “No disrespect to Russell Wilson, but his last couple years have not been stellar. The entire AFC is going to be an absolute dogfight.”
The first round of the NFL draft is set for April 28 in Las Vegas, but the Raiders do not have a pick that day after trading it to Green Bay for Rodgers’ favorite receiver, Davante Adams.
The AFC West can make an argument for being the league’s toughest division. It’s stacked with star quarterbacks, led by Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs, Justin Herbert of the Chargers, Derek Carr of the Raiders and Wilson. Kansas City’s offense will look different after Mahomes’ top receiver, Tyreek Hill, was traded to Miami.
The Chargers added outside linebacker Khalil Mack from Chicago, and the Raiders’ efforts to improve their defense were highlighted by the addition of Chandler Jones, an elite pass rusher. The Raiders’ odds to win the Super Bowl have moved from the 50-1 range to 30-1.
“The public just will not stop betting the Raiders to win the Super Bowl, and no price will slow them down,” Salmons said. “We think the other three teams in the division are better than the Raiders.
“If Herbert is the best QB in the league next season, I don’t think anyone would be surprised. Kansas City is a big question mark. For this time of year, 12-1 (odds) is a high number for the Chiefs. I think Denver has a lot of talent, but their quarterback play and offensive play-calling have been ridiculously bad the last couple years.”
The Chargers always seem to attract sharp bettors in the futures market, and they almost always underachieve, but maybe Herbert can change the fortunes of LA’s No. 2 team.
“I would have selected the Chargers as most improved, but the rest of the AFC West stayed right with them, including the Chiefs, who signed capable and less-expensive wide receivers to replace Tyreek Hill,” said VSiN’s Brent Musburger, the radio voice of the Raiders. “Russell Wilson and Davante Adams keep the Broncos and Raiders in the thick of the division race.
“I’m picking the Browns as most improved. Watson is one of the NFL’s premier QBs. Not being indicted opens the door for him to compete from Day 1.”
When it was reported that Watson said he would not go to Cleveland, the Westgate bumped the Super Bowl odds on the Browns to 60-1. When that quickly changed, the odds moved to 18-1.
The Browns sent three first-round picks to the Texans for Watson, a three-time Pro Bowler who sat out last season. The NFL still could suspend Watson for part of the season, although two Texas grand juries declined to charge him with a crime. Cleveland’s new backup quarterback is Jacoby Brissett. Baker Mayfield is headed out of town yet remains in limbo.
Watson has turned the Browns into + 175 favorites in the AFC North, ahead of the Bengals (+ 210), who signed three veteran offensive linemen to help quarterback Joe Burrow.
The other major quarterback move in the AFC was made by the Colts, who acquired Matt Ryan from Atlanta. Indianapolis dumped off Carson Wentz to Washington and chose Ryan instead of Mayfield or Jimmy Garoppolo.
“The AFC is just so loaded, it’s crazy right now,” Salmons said. “Everywhere you look there are good teams, and even the bad teams got better. The AFC is so balanced one through 11, with the Patriots being 10th and the Dolphins 11th. The Raiders rank 12th.”
The Dolphins might move up the ladder if Brady manipulates a trade from Tampa Bay to Miami, as is being rumored. It’s a far-fetched rumor, but never say never during this wild and crazy offseason.
NFL division futures
Recently released by the Westgate SuperBook
Dolphins + 425
Patriots + 425
Jets + 3500
Browns + 175
Bengals + 210
Ravens + 210
Steelers + 1400
Titans + 105
Colts + 125
Jaguars + 800
Texans + 3000
Chiefs + 175
Chargers + 225
Broncos + 240
Raiders + 800
Eagles + 350
Commanders + 450
Giants + 750
Vikings + 255
Bears + 1000
Lions + 1400
Saints + 500
Panthers + 1000
Falcons + 2000
Rams + 150
49ers + 175
Cardinals + 300
Seahawks + 1500