In picking division winners, we’ve constantly talked about “value,” the idea that some bookmakers’ odds don’t reflect the real chances of a team winning. In the final division odds preview for the AFC and NFC East, we see the different ends of the value spectrum.
One division features a team that’s all but guaranteed to win, but can’t be represented at those odds; the other appears to be a four team race, so the true contenders get better value than they should.
New England Patriots: 1/2
New York Jets: 5/1
Buffalo Bills: 6/1
Miami Dolphins: 7/1
Thanks to the Tom Brady suspension, we’re looking at the most wide-open AFC East race in the last seven years (Yes, the Pats at 1/2 is the most wide open it’s been.) That goes to show you just how one-sided this division has been.
You can bet the Patriots to not win the division for the surprisingly high price of +175. Whether you should is an entirely separate matter.
New England has been the model of consistency under Bill Belichick, especially lately. His Patriots teams have finished 12-4 in each of the last four seasons and reached four straight AFC Championship games. Who among the East leftovers seems capable of hitting the 12-win mark this season?
Is it the bumbling Jets, reliant on a journeyman QB who has never strung together two good seasons? The perennially 8-8 Dolphins, for whom every offseason pickup seems to backfire? Or the Bills, the owner of sports’ longest playoff drought, and the early favorite for “injury riddled team of the year”?
Even if you have rock-bottom expectations for Jimmy Garoppolo, the Patriots team around him is too good not to survive the first quarter of the season. (And even if it wasn’t, the other three teams are too mediocre to pull away.) The Pats finished last season sixth in points for, ninth in points allowed, and sixth in Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (“DVOA”). They’ve also won seven straight AFC East titles.
The best play here is not really a question.
New York Giants: 15/8
Dallas Cowboys: 9/4
Philadelphia Eagles: 4/1
Change you can set your watch to, the NFC East hasn’t had a repeat champion since 2004. (Bad news for Washington fans.) That’s part of why, from top to bottom, this year’s race features the tightest division odds in football. And it’s already gotten crazier without a single down of meaningful football being played.
Slight favorites to open the year, the Dallas Cowboys have already lost starting quarterback Tony Romo for 6-10 weeks, and will enter the season with rookie Dak Prescott at quarterback. The Cowboys don’t have a dynamic defense, ranking last in takeaways in 2015 and 19th in defensive DVOA. That means this kid will need to lead an effective offense if Dallas is to survive the first half of the season.
Reigning-champion Washington took advantage of an easy schedule last season, never beating a plus-.500 team yet still finishing 9-7. Washington boasts an exciting passing attack, but not much else. Incapable of running the ball, and well below-average on defense, if you’re taking the Skins to win this season, you must have a ton of confidence in Kirk Cousins.
New York and Philadelphia both enter the season with new bench bosses; and in the last two years, teams with new head coaches have averaged a 1.7-win increase Of the two, the Giants made the more significant upgrades, addressing a ton of defensive needs through free agency. With an offense headlined by Eli Manning and Odell Beckham, the G-Men are currently the most talented team – on paper – in the East.
Philly, meanwhile, is getting shorter odds than they deserve because of the division they’re in. Sam Bradford leads a no-name offense (at least for now, until Carson Wentz is deemed ready) that will put a ton of pressure on a defense that faded down the stretch last season.
Though this division has been defined by its unpredictability, I see too many holes on Washington and Philly to take them seriously. The Cowboys and Giants both offer good value, but I will roll with the team that still has its starting quarterback available for Week 1.
Photo credit: Keith Allison (Flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/].
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