NFL Futures Bets: National Football League 2014 Season Preview and Predictions
NFL training camps are about to close and the NFL preseason is about to enter its second of four weekends. With teams gearing up for the start of the season in 3 weeks, it’s time to give a preview of the teams and gauge their chances of winning the NFL title in 2014-15.
Using a prominent sports betting platform (Bovada), I’ve taken a look at the top 10 or 12 teams to provide a resource on the NFL futures bets. These are one-time wagers taken before the season starts, and are based on whether a team wins the Super Bowl or not. Here are the team’s with the best chances (and one or two mediocre teams that get a lot of press).
Denver Broncos – 13/2 Favorites
The Denver Broncos come into the season as the betting favorites to win the Super Bowl. That’s an odd note, given the last time we saw the team playing: a 43-8 drubbing at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks.
Peyton Manning had a career year in 2013, which is saying something. Career year’s happen for a reason, usually when everything falls perfectly. Manning had a rare accumulation of talent at the receiver position: Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, and Eric Decker. Julius Thomas had a breakout year at tight end. Even Knowshon Moreno provided valuable service at running back, as he played against defenses lining up to stop the passing game all year.
In 2013, Eric Decker and Knowshon Moreno have left. Moreno should be replaced with Montee Ball, who is coming into his 2nd year. When the team drafted Ball, it was with the intention he would take over the primary ball carrier duties. He was unable to pick up blitz packages last year, so he hardly got on the field until later in the season. When he did take the field, teams knew the Broncos were running. Despite that, Ball showed explosion. He should match or exceed Knowshon Moreno’s 2013 production, though Ball is dealing with an appendix surgery right now. He should be fine to start the regular season.
Watch How Emmanual Sanders Fares
Emmanual Sanders is the big question mark. Sanders comes over from the Pittsburgh Steelers as the replacement for Decker. Sanders has a reputation as a talented receiver who should complement the rest of the receiving corps, if he can limit his dropped balls. That’s the reputation he has, but if he drops balls thrown by Peyton Manning, Sanders is not likely to receive many looks.
Manning is known to throw some wobblers, too, which can be hard to catch. Manning’s ability to come close to last year’s numbers might be tied to the effectiveness of Decker’s replacement. The offense can have no holes, if it operates at a historic pace. Helping is the fact that All-Pro right tackle Ryan Clady should be full healthy from his season-ending injury early last season.
One of the reasons the Broncos are rated so highly is the inclusion of some veteran talent on defense. The team lost Elvis Dumervil through a bizarre set of circumstances in the 2013 offseason, and the team never really recovered from that loss. When Von Miller was suspended the first 4 games last year, then tore his ACL later in the season, they were further depleted in the pass-rushing category. They overcome that deficiency to reach the Super Bowl, but they were exposed in the biggest game of the year. With Von Miller back from injury and Demarcus Ware on the other side, they should finally have filled the void left by Dumervil’s departure.
Since the Demarcus Ware signing is so key to the Broncos’ odds, I want to discuss that. To do so, I’ll need to discuss the Dallas Cowboys. Pardon me if I give America’s Team such precedence, since they hardly deserve it based on recently play.
Dallas Cowboys 2014 Superbowl Chances
I’m as big of a Dallas Cowboys fan as you’ll find. Believe me when I tell you that the Cowboys have zero chance of winning the next Superbowl. The team had the 32nd-ranked defense last season, and it wasn’t even close.
What’s worse, the team lost its few star players in Demarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher in free agency, while losing Sean Lee to an season-ending ACL in OTA’s. Those who saw Ware play in 2013 might say it was no great loss, but they would be making the same mistake Jerry Jones made. Jones, burned by the Jay Ratliff injury saga, was determined not to be fooled by an aging veteran again.
As the saying goes, “We learn from our mistakes how to make new mistakes.”
Demarcus Ware missed games in 2013, but he had never missed a game in his 8+ NFL years prior to last season. Ware had bone spurs in his elbow to begin the season, which he had repaired with offseason surgery. Ware says anytime his elbow got hit the wrong way last year, his arm would go numb and he would lose all strength in the arm. That was the key to his poor performance, and it’s fixed now.
It should be noted, in the 24 hours after Demarcus Ware was cut from the Cowboys, 12 NFL teams contacted him about signing with their team. Demarcus Ware is a massive pass-rushing talent in a league where pass-rushing is the only way to stop quarterbacks anymore (see the Seahawks). If he played no more downs, he’d be a Hall of Fame contender–and he’s only 31. NFL pass rushers can stay effective up to their mid-30’s, if they stay healthy. Take away last year and Ware has always been remarkably healthy. He should make the Broncos Defense a great deal better.
The Broncos Revisited
To select the top favorites in futures betting, that team should stand heads-and-shoulders above the rest. I don’t know if the Broncos do. They get the top spot because the AFC is easier to win than the NFC. Notice that 5 of the 7 top favorites are from the National Football Conference, so those teams naturally have to win one more tough playoff games than the Broncos or Patriots. That’s nice, but it only takes on team to knock you off, and the AFC champ still has to beat the NFC champ in the Super Bowl.
The main reason I wouldn’t pick the Broncos is the main reason they’re the favorites: Peyton Manning. Say what you will, but Manning is a 38 year old quarterback who’s had 2 major neck surgeries. If he goes down or suddenly gets old, the Broncos fall to pieces. Brett Favre seemed indestructible. Then, at age 39, he suddenly fells to pieces. It happens to everyone, and it will happen to Peyton Manning…soon. That might be next year, but the Super Bowl told me the Broncos aren’t the best team in the NFL, so I’m not going to bet on them like they are. Better bargains an be found.
15/2 Favorites – NFL Season Picks
Three teams are given 15/2 odds by Bovada: the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks, the NFC runner-up San Francisco 49ers, and the perennial contender New England Patriots. All three seem like solid bets, but I want to look behind those numbers.
The New England Patriots are always a favorite to win the Super Bowl, especially in an AFC which seems down a bit from its previous lofty standards. In recent years, Bill Belichick has added enough talent at the running back position that teams actually have to account for Shane Verene and Stevan Ridley. The rework of the defense is complete, with Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkowski making one of the best DE combos in the league.
Injuries are key with the Pats, but they have Vince Wilfork returning to anchor the defensive line. Rob Gronkowski is also (cross your fingers) healthy for the first time in a while. The team should be better prepared in 2014 to account for the loss of Aaron Hernandez, who was arrested on murder charges a little over a month before the start of training camp. If the Patriots are to ascend to the top of the pecking order, though, they need to find one or two breakout stars among their receiving corps. While Tom Brady won Super Bowls in the early 2000’s without a top WR, it’s a new era of football after the rules changes in 2004.
San Francisco 49ers Odds
The San Francisco 49ers are another yearly contender, but a team with injury concerns. Navarro Bowman may not be ready to start the season, after he blew out his ACL in the NFC Championship Game. The team also has been to 3 straight NFC Championship Games (and one Super Bowl), which brings up concerns about attrition from playing an extra half-season of games in the last three playoffs.
The talent is phenomenal, though. Colin Kaepernick leads a team with Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin, along with a fully healthy Michael Crabtree. The Niners traded for Steve Johnson as a talented third receiver in the offseason. Frank Gore is a bit of a concern, because he’s 31 now and has a lot of mileage. To spell their veteran running back, the Niners drafted Carlos Hyde in the 2nd round. Marcus Lattimore remains on the roster, though the drafting of Hyde suggests the franchise is concerned about Lattimore recovery from several major knee surgeries two or more years ago.
On defense, the Niners are solid across the board. Patrick Willis remains the heart of the defense, though he needs Bowman to return to help anchor the middle of the defense. Justin Smith, Ahmad Brooks, and the enigmatic Aldon Smith continue to key the pass rush. I like the 49ers, but in a brutal game like the NFL, I don’t like the idea that the team has played 8 extra games (playoffs) over the past three years, they could see a spate of injuries from the additional wear and tear.
Seattle Seahawks Chances to Repeat
Any given year, the World Champions would seem to be the favorites to win the Super Bowl, on paper. As the old saying goes, it’s hard to climb the mountain again. Most teams have a natural drop-off in work ethnic and focus after winning the Lombardi Trophy and doing media appearances all offseason. It’s a time of celebrations, relaxation, and reading one’s press clippings.
The Seattle Seahawks have several perception problems among the American gambling public. First, they don’t look like the traditional Super Bowl winner. Pete Carroll is a laid-back guy in a sport dominated with images of dour, fire-breathing head coaches. Most NFL head coaching greats seem like tough guys, and Pete Carroll of USC-fame often seems more like a “Golly, Gee”-type guy. He looks like he’d be comfortable in a wool sweater.
The team is without any real superstar players, either. Russell Wilson has been in the league two years, hardly long enough to be a household name–even if he deserves to be. He also lacks the stature of the classic NFL pocket passer. Look closer and Wilson’s career is quite similar to that of Tom Brady’s, though.
Richard Sherman and Other Stars
Richard Sherman is the next person of note on the team. Unless you’re Deion Sanders, it’s hard to be a superstar at cornerback, no matter how important the position is these days. Richard Sherman is partly to blame for the Seahawks’ image problem, because he’s brash on the field, and somewhat sensitive off the field.
Anytime an NFL player mentions Richard Sherman, it turns into a Twitter war, as if Sherman still has a chip on his shoulder about being drafted in the 5th round. The quickest way for an NFL player to get media attention these days is to compare himself to Richard Sherman. Richard Sherman, who wrote a weekly column for Sports Illustrated last year, also happens to be one of the best NFL columnists going these days.
As for the rest of the team, it’s an ensemble cast, with stars everywhere, but few superstars. Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch is back, while Christine Michael and Robert Turbin look to be capable backups if something happened to Lynch. Percy Harvin is ready to be the team’s #1 receiver. Harvin claims he’s healthy for the first time in 3 seasons, which could be bad news for Seattle opponents. Harvin’s simply more talented than any receiver that lined up for the team in 2013.
Seahawks in 2014
Though it lost several key performers, the defense should still be strong. Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas return as the best, nastiest safety combination in the NFL. Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril return to bring pressure off the edge, and they could be better, since Avril should be healthy to start the season. Tony McDaniel and Tony Mebane should be solid in the middle, though the D-line has lost depth through free agency. Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright should remain solid at the linebacker position.
Who can say with the attrition rate of the NFL, but I think the Seahawks have a good chance of repeating. They were the 2nd-youngest team in the NFL last year. Football rewards youth, so the team should be better equipped to avoid injuries than most Superbowl champions. In fact, the 2013-14 Seattle Seahawks are the youngest team to win the Super Bowl since the first of those Dallas Cowboys teams in the 1990’s–and that team repeated as champs.
The New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints have 12/1 odds, while the Green Bay Packers have 10/1 odds. Both teams are similar in that they have phenomenal Super Bowl winning talents at quarterback, along with perennial problems on defense.
The Saints Defense was ranked #4 last year, but the team was let down by its receiving corps and injuries to Darren Sproles. In the offseason, the Saints drafted Brandon Cooks in the 1st round, while the team has Kenny Stills coming off a promising rookie season. Sproles is gone in free agency to the Philadelphia Eagles, but fiery young Khiry Robinson could pick up the slack behind Mark Ingram and the immortal Pierre Thomas.
Aaron Rodgers Returns from Injury
The Packers hope to have Aaron Rodgers for the full season this year. The team almost qualified for the playoffs despite Rodgers’ loss for a long stretch in the second-half of the season, but the team’s defense was not quite able to hold it together long enough.
This season, Rodgers should have a remarkable array of playmakers: Randall Cobb is back, Jordy Nelson after signing a long extension, and Jarrett Boykin filling in for the departed James Jones. The team has to find a tight end to replace Jermichael Finley, but has several promising options battling for playing time. Eddie Lacy returns as the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Again, the season rides on the effectiveness of the Packers Defense. Second-year defensive end Datone Jones will need to step up, while many are expecting Mike Daniels to get a great deal more playing time, after grading out as the team’s best DE in limited playing time last year. Jerel Worthy was just traded to New England, so the team seems to have faith in those two and Josh Boyd. Clay Matthews III is a key player, while Julius Peppers appears ready to move to 3-4 outside linebacker, after coming over from the Chicago Bears.
The 2014 Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts
The Chicago Bears are next with 14/1 odds, tied with the Indianapolis Colts. I don’t much like the Bears chances. They in the more difficult NFC, where Jay Cutler has to be better than Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Russell Wilson, and Colin Kaepernick. Also, the Bears Defense was weak against the run last year and lost Henry Melton, though it did add Jared Allen, who still has something in the tank at 32.
The Indianapolis Colts are a team on the rise. Most of that is thanks to the rise of Andrew Luck, who appears to be on the verge of becoming the NFL’s next great quarterback. Ask the scouts and they’ll tell you Andrew Luck already has the strongest arm in the NFL. He’s also an excellent athlete with a tough-minded mental composition. He took over a 2-14 franchise and had them in the playoffs his rookie season, and he came back in season 2 and improved the team’s position last year.
Indianapolis Colts: Team on the Rise
Chuck Pagano is still reworking the roster around Andrew Luck. Pagano drafted another wide receiver for Luck in Donte Moncrief. While Moncrief develops, T.Y. Hilton, Reggie Wayne, and free agent Hakeem Nicks should make a splendid receiving corps. It’s anybody’s guess whether Trent Richardson will ever become a star NFL running back, but he had an offseason and training camp with the team, so he has no excuses. If Richardson should falter, Andrew Brown might take over the top spot (barring injury).
As so often, the defense remains a key. Chuck Pagano came over from the Baltimore Ravens as a defensive specialist two seasons ago, but he’s still shaping the unit to match his gritty personality. If that ever happens, the Colts are a team that could take the next step quickly.
Long Shot Picks
Teams that I like with the long shot picks are the Pittsburgh Steelers (28/1), Baltimore Ravens (40/1), Cincinnati Bengals (40/1), and San Diego Chargers (40/1). The Steelers and Ravens have the recent pedigree to win Super Bowls. While the Steelers might seem like an aging team, their defense now is one of the youngest in the NFL and only has two starters over 30.
With Markus Wheaton now ready to contribute, Lance Moore arriving in free agency, and Martavis Bryant through the draft, Ben Roethlisberger should have targets besides the phenomenal Antonio Brown. Le’Veon Bell appears ready to break out at the running back position.
The Baltimore Ravens are only 18 months removed from a Super Bowl, but so many leaders are gone from that team. That was the problem in 2013–no one should have expected the Ravens to show no effects from losing veterans like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Anquan Boldin. A year later, new leaders should be emerging. CJ Mosely was drafted to replace Ray Lewis, while Dennis Pitta should be ready to contribute after an injury-marred second season. Though Ray Rice is facing suspension and could have eroding skills, many say Bernard Pierce looks like the better back in training camp.
A Case for the Cincinnati Bengals
It seems to be orthodoxy that the Cincinnati Bengals will make it to the playoffs, and lose in the first round. But nothing is set in stone in the NFL. A team can suddenly rise to the top or fall right off the map, depending on injuries, team chemistry, and match-ups.
Nothing says Andy Dalton is predestined to lose in the 1st round of the playoffs. NFL history is full of teams that had several playoff disappointments, only to suddenly gel at the right time one year. The Tom Landry Cowboys were once “Next Year’s Team”. People once said the Madden-led Oakland Raiders could never win a title. More recently, it was thought by many that Peyton Manning would never win a Super Bowl with the Colts and then, about the time his better years seemed behind him, the Colts went on a Super Bowl run (and played Rex Grossman in the Super Bowl).
The point being: the Cincinnati Bengals are now a young, veteran team which may have learned lessons in these last few playoff losses. They’ve looked awful in the last 3 playoff games, but that doesn’t mean they’ll look awful in their next playoff game.
The Chargers and the Falcons
The Chargers are another intriguing team. Philip Rivers is a veteran quarterback. The team has a stable of runners (Ryan Mathews, Danny Woodhead, Donald Brown) who give them various talents they can throw at defenses. Keenan Allen looks ready to become a bona fide star receiver, while Malcom Floyd returns from a season-ending injury. Antonio Gates may be an injury waiting to happen, but Ladarius Green has shown flashes and now has enough experience to fill the role if Gates were to go down again. The defense should be much-improved in 2014, which could make the Chargers a nice dark horse candidate at 40/1.
As for the Falcons, they are only 18 months from the NFC Championship Game. Teams sometimes have the wheels come off in a season. The Falcons had 3 of their 5 offensive linemen missing to start the season last year, either from injury, free agency, or retirement. Jake Matthews, the 6th overall pick in this last draft, should help solidify the offensive line. Julio Jones returns from the IR, while the running back corps has been revamped. The defense needs to show up on Sundays, but it has been retooled The team has switched to a 3-4 defense in the offseason. While it might take a while to adjust to the system, the move could free up traditional DE’s like Kroy Biermann and Osi Umenyiora in pass rush packages. Tyson Jackson came over from the Kansas City Chiefs to help with the transition to the 3-4.
While I would bet the Philadelphia Eagles or Carolina Panthers before I would the Atlanta Falcons, Matt Ryan still has a lot of skins on the wall and should not be discounted. Nick Foles looked good in one stretch last year, but he’s lost Desean Jackson and still has to prove himself over the long term.
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