Pitchers and catchers are reporting for spring training, the NCAA tournament is just a month away and we are approaching what should be a frenetic and exciting NFL offseason. We face the cruel reality that football season is over, but we still have hoops and hockey every night, as well as golf on the weekends. Baseball futures markets are ripe for the picking, and the NFL markets regarding who will play in and win next year’s Super Bowl are available, in addition to props on where certain marquee players will be playing come September. So in a way we do have football, as well as really every other sport on the menu right now. See, it’s not so bad! Not having the NFL each week is like breaking up with a sweetheart — it hurts at first, but it stings less when you realize you are free to see other people.
Not only are NFC and AFC champion odds available, along with odds to win the Super Bowl, but this is the earliest I’ve ever seen division and MVP markets open. Perhaps it’s because more states have legalized gambling and there’s more of an appetite for sports betting, or the lack of sports from March to July left a void and lack of handle for which books are trying to compensate. Either way, these are fun to think about, and they give us a window into how oddsmakers view the NFL landscape six months before the season opens. Remember, the Super Bowl champs were 65-1 this time last year. Let’s take an early look at what’s on the menu for next season.
Deshaun Watson’s Team Week 1 of ’21 Season — Texans (+ 250): Nick Caserio was hired in January to be the Texans’ general manager. Within a few days, his franchise player requested a trade. If Caserio were to comply, it would be the biggest trade he will ever make, a trade that will play a large part in how he’s judged as an executive — and a trade he is very likely to lose. Getting equal or greater value is nearly impossible when you are trading an elite, 25-year-old quarterback. Draft picks are certainly great assets, but eventually the picks turn into players, and it will be hard for those players to match the value Watson provides. Some might look at the package of picks Matthew Stafford netted the Lions and say, “Imagine what Watson will get the Texans.” It’s a logical thought, but my reaction to the Stafford trade was that it makes a Watson deal even more unlikely. Let’s say a three-bedroom house sells for an outlandish price and totally rejiggers the market. Now the beautiful mansion down the street is out of most people’s price range. Let’s put it this way: If you’re the 49ers, Vikings, Broncos or any team in search of a quarterback and you hear your team has just acquired Watson, how many first-round picks would have to be included in the trade for you to be upset? Seven? Eight? As a Vikings fan whose team hasn’t had a young franchise quarterback in the 25+ years I’ve been rooting for them, I’m not sure there is a number that would make me unhappy about the deal. I think the Texans will work to repair the relationship with Watson and hold on to him heading into the season, and I’m very surprised to see them at such a juicy price to do so.
Carson Wentz’s Team Week 1 in ’21 — 49ers (+ 2500): Coaches have egos, especially really good coaches. They see a player with talent, a pitcher who throws 98 mph but can’t find the plate, and think, “That coach can’t fix him, but I can.” Kyle Shanahan is a very smart coach who is widely reported to have pursued Tom Brady last offseason. (I’m not sure if Brady ultimately ended up playing last season, since we haven’t heard much from him. He’s old and likely retired.) Shanahan clearly isn’t smitten with Brady’s former backup, Jimmy Garoppolo, and will possibly look again to upgrade the position. Wentz was ineffective last season, but as a second-year player in 2017 was a -1000 favorite to win the MVP with just a few weeks left. He was essentially a few injury-free weeks from collecting the award. Well, that injury happened in Los Angeles, Nick Foles took over and the rest is history. As bad as 2020 was for Wentz, it was just the first time his Eagles team had missed the playoffs since his rookie year. Late in ’19, Wentz heroically dragged a beaten-up team into the playoffs. He certainly has his flaws and needs to be rebuilt, but an optimist can say this poor season is a blessing in disguise, because without it, Wentz would not be available. Also, Shanahan saw one of Wentz’s few bright spots last season when the Eagles won in San Francisco as 10-point underdogs. Wentz threw for a touchdown and ran for another in the upset. It’s pretty obvious now that the monster trade package Philly was hoping to get for Wentz is more fantasy than reality, but the Eagles seem determined to hand the franchise over to Jalen Hurts. Take a flyer on the 49ers taking a flyer on the former MVP finalist.