As the NFL is still in the thick of free agency, some teams got out of the blocks quickly and wasted no time in signing or trading players. Others are still waiting in the wings or remaining quiet in this time of chaos, choosing instead to build through the draft.
We’ve identified two teams that showed their hands early, and as a result are now in great shape to be considered for some early futures action.
Buffalo Bills to Win AFC East (+140)
Interestingly, Tom Brady can leave the Patriots after 20 years of dominating the AFC East and yet they’re still considered the favorites to win. Oddsmakers currently have the Pats listed at -110. This is a prime example of how the incoming bets or the “market” can influence the odds more than the actual talent on the roster.
In this case, the Bills and their backers are the benefactors of being overlooked once again. They’re getting a nice price to win the division and clearly have a very good chance to do so. Buffalo finished last season with a 10-6 record earning the first wild card spot in the AFC. Granted, they made an early exit from the playoffs but they took Houston into overtime on the road and only lost by a field goal.
The argument for the Bills to win the division this season is very simple. The Patriots are an enormous question mark after losing Brady and other key players like Kyle Van Noy. The Jets are still the Jets (sorry Jets fans) and the Dolphins are rebuilding but are still a few seasons away from being a real threat. Meanwhile the Bills have kept their core from last season in place, while also adding a very dangerous weapon in Stefon Diggs. The addition of Diggs shows that the Bills are in “win now” mode. They gave up 4 draft picks, including their first round pick in this year’s draft in April 2020.
Buffalo got a nice surprise last season as rookie tailback Devin Singletary quickly emerged as valuable weapon out of the backfield. Frank Gore was his usual self with consistent production, but father-time may be quickly sneaking up on him.
Now there are rumors floating around that the Bills have interest in making a play to sign free agent tailback Melvin Gordon. Should Gordon decide to join the Bills, bettors should expect these current odds of +140 to shorten dramatically. Buffalo could quickly become the new favorites in the AFC East.
Additionally, the Bills have re-signed offensive lineman Quinton Spain which will help to give Josh Allen that extra half-second of protection that he’ll need while letting routes deep downfield develop. With the addition of Diggs, and speedster John Brown still on the roster, look for the Bills to threaten down the field at a much higher rate this coming season.
Buffalo also retained the services of safety Jordan Poyer who may be one of the most underrated safeties in the league. With star corners like Tre’Davious White, and standout linebackers like Tremaine Edmunds, the Bills already had one of the most formidable defensive units in the league, keeping Poyer will only serve to shore it up even further.
This division is ripe for the picking and there’s no better time to back the Bills to break the Patriots choke-hold on AFC East.
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Arizona Cardinals to Win NFC West (12-1)
Clearly, this pick is a long shot and we won’t get too far into the weeds in breaking it down. The reasoning here is pretty simple though. The Cardinals committed possibly the biggest heist in NFL history by getting DeAndre Hopkins for a ham-sandwich. By adding Hopkins to their arsenal of weapons, they now have a unit with the potential to score a considerable amount of points.
Kyler Murray now has a year of NFL experience under his belt. Kenyan Drake, after coming over from Miami in the middle of last season, quickly re-discovered his considerable talent out of the backfield. Larry Fitzgerald is as steady as they come and now Christian Kirk is showing some flashes of greatness as well.
Adding Hopkins to their roster is going to make all these players even more effective.
Fitz and Kirk will see much more single coverage due to all the attention Hopkins will warrant. Drake will see softer boxes to run against as Hopkins will draw attention towards the sidelines and downfield. Plus, as Drake becomes even more successful than he already has been, play action will become more effective as well.
It barely needs to be mentioned, but adding a top-5 NFL receiver should make any quarterback more successful. Murray will be no different. Teams are going to have a very difficult time stopping all the weapons that the Cardinals can now throw at them.
The two glaring issues with this futures play are the Cardinals defense and the strong division that is the NFC West. Obviously, the odds reflect these issues, but that’s what make plays like these so much fun. Put a few schillings down on a team like the Cardinals that has a lot of weapons, then hope they get a couple good breaks throughout the course of the season.
Compared to the other professional leagues, the NFL is the most unpredictable year-to-year which works to bettors advantage in this case. Something as simple a fumble in week 4 or a pick-six in week 10, for example, could be enough to make the difference between winning the division or becoming an also-ran.
Regarding the other teams in the NFC West, the 49ers and Seahawks battled back and forth all season trying to win the division last year. In the end, the Niners were able to squeak out the division title while Seattle came up just short, but earned the first NFC wild card spot as a nice consolation.
The Seahawks are a prime example of how the margin of error is razor thin in today’s NFL. Seattle finished the regular season at 11-5, however 5 of their 11 wins came by 4 points or less. Additionally, the Cardinals were able to go on the road to Seattle and beat the Seahawks by 14 points in Week 16. Any team can win on any given Sunday.
This Cardinals team is maneuvering their way into a position where they should be able score plenty of points. If they get just a handful a good breaks this 5-win team from last season could become a 10-12 win team in a hurry, which may be enough to win this tough division.
At 12-1 odds, the Cardinals are putting themselves in a position where the payoff would be well worth the risk, but if you’d prefer a little more cushion, the Cardinals are +175 to just make the playoffs. A wild-card berth is a definite possibility. This play could serve as a nice hedge to the division pick. Playing both can help ensure at least some profit should the Cards have a good season but come up just short of the division win and of course should they win the division then both tickets cash.
*Odds provided by VegasInsider as of 3/19/2020