The hot, humid days of August are typically known as the "dog days of summer."
In my humble opinion, they should be known as the "dog days of sports," because I am sitting on my porch dehydrated and salivating for some NFL football action—I've had enough of baseball and the Olympics.
While we get to hear about Tim Tebow and the New York Jets year-round, there are still four more weeks until we are reminded that the other team in New York actually won the Super Bowl when they kick off the season against the Dallas Cowboys.
To ease the pain of our last month without the NFL, I'll be taking a look at five of my favorite futures bets (in no particular order) for the 2012 NFL regular season and beyond, since betting on the preseason games is a place reserved for only the most degenerate of our gambling friends.
A little background before we start, because I know a lot of people are unfamiliar with these types of odds: Odds of (-130) mean that someone would have to wager $13 to win $10, plus their original $13 in return. Similarly, odds of (-250) mean someone would have to bet $25 to win $10, plus the original $25.
On the flip-side, odds of (+210) mean that someone could wager $10 to win $21, plus the original $10.
(All lines and odds are taken from the online sportsbook, Bovada.)
Now that we're set on that...
1. Philadelphia Eagles' Regular-Season Win Total: 10.5 Games
The Pick: Under (-130)
While the line doesn't feature great odds for this type of pick at (-130), the 10.5 total seems a little too high. In fact, it seems half of a win too high—I would've stayed away from this if the total had been set at 10.
The under pick here isn't a knock on the Eagles whatsoever. Andy Reid is due for a Super Bowl after all of his consistent success in the NFC playoffs, and the team will be extremely motivated to play for him after the tragic loss of his son.
The pick is commending the usual strength and randomness of the NFC East, and the strength of the Eagles' schedule as a whole.
This year, the NFC East plays the AFC North and the NFC South. The Eagles also drew the Lions as one of their unique, nonconference games.
The Eagles are a good team, but only losing five games is going to be extremely difficult with games in New Orleans and Pittsburgh, plus games against the Ravens, Falcons, Cam Newton, Matthew Stafford and Megatron—not to mention the usual four games against the Cowboys and Giants.
How many games will the Eagles win?
Right there, I already see 10 games against good teams or quarterbacks that nobody would blame the Eagles for losing. Additionally, those 10 games don't even include the likes of the rejuvenated Bengals, the potentially rejuvenated Buccaneers and the unknown quantity that is Robert Griffin III.
It's hard to call any games "gimmes" before the start of the season, but I only see two matchups against the Browns and Cardinals that the Eagles should definitely win.
This is one of those bets that makes so much sense to me that I wouldn't even be upset at myself for losing. The Eagles have to win 11 games against that schedule, and we haven't even mentioned the usual concern of a Michael Vick injury at some point during the season.
2. Odds to Win the NFC North Division
The Pick: Green Bay Packers (-250)
I'm sure that the immediate reaction will be that this is an obvious pick.
I agree that picking the Packers to win the division is nothing earth-shattering, but I actually like the (-250) odds compared to some of the other odds we're seeing.
Aaron Rodgers and the Packers were just so dominant in the regular season last year that I would've taken anything under (-350) here. Luckily, the competitiveness of the NFC North is keeping the odds where they are.
If I had to pick a team to win the Super Bowl today, it would be the Packers. However, I'm staying away from their Super Bowl odds, which only pay out 6-1 (they are the favorites) since anything can happen in the playoffs. I would settle for the (-250) odds on the much safer divisional title pick.
Compared to the only other division winners with less-than-even payouts, I like the Packers pick more than the Patriots at (-350), the Texans at (-450) and much, much, much more than the 49ers at (-250).
3. Buffalo Bills' Regular-Season Win Total: 8 Games
The Pick: Under (even)
First of all, let me say that I'm baffled that the over on this total is at (-130). Who out there is willing to bet that the Buffalo Bills will go 9-7 for less-than-even odds? I'd like to meet this person.
I get where this line is coming from. The Bills started last season strong and acquired Mario Williams in free agency. The AFC East also plays a very soft schedule this year against two of the worst divisions in football, the NFC West and the AFC South.
Still, there are a few reasons why this pick is an easy choice: A. I am a proponent that the Bills started "strong" last year; B. the NFL is a league of quarterbacks; and C. Chan Gailey.
Last season, the Bills went 6-10 even after a 4-1 start that was fueled by a substantial turnover advantage and strong play from Ryan Fitzpatrick. Both proved to be unsustainable, as Fitzpatrick started playing like Fitzpatrick again, and the turnovers regressed to the mean.
The biggest reason why the Bills won't win eight games is because the NFL is a league of quarterbacks. Williams or no Williams, the Bills will still throw out Fitzpatrick every week, who is in the lower half of the NFL QB rankings by any measure.
I'm also a nonbeliever in Gailey and the Bills coaches compared to most of the other staffs around the league. Yes, the Bills can beat the likes of the Jags, Cardinals, etc. However, I don't see the combination of Fitzpatrick and Gailey being able to consistently win enough of those games, even against bad divisions, to make it to 8-8.
Personally, I think a 7-9 season would be a good year for the Bills. Now, Vegas is telling me that I can sneak out with even money for a 7-9 Bills season, or get my money back if they somehow make it to 8-8?
Sign me up.
4. New York Jets' Regular-Season Win Total: 8.5 Games
How many games will the Jets win?
The Pick: Over (-130)
Piggybacking off of the previous section, I think the Jets can capitalize on the soft schedule—unlike the Bills—and easily cruise to a 9-7 record, at worst.
This was a tough pick for me to make because I am really not a Mark Sanchez fan.
I've consistently said he is the most overrated player in the league and doesn't deserve an ounce of job security, even though he has somehow been given the keys to the Jets kingdom for years. He's probably only marginally better than Fitzpatrick, if at all. At least it might be time to stop calling Sanchez overrated, as everyone is finally starting to notice how bad he has been.
The reasons why I'm sticking with the Jets are Rex Ryan, the Jets D and a history of recent success.
Last season, the Jets had a "down" year in the Ryan era and still managed to go 8-8. They also played against the NFC East and AFC West, which were better than this year's iteration of the AFC South and NFC West.
This is the part where you might consider calling me a hypocrite after I just bashed Sanchez, but said the Bills couldn't win because the NFL is a league of quarterbacks. The difference here is that the Jets have shown that they can go 9-7 with this group, unlike the Bills. Also, I'll take Ryan and the Jets D over Gailey and the Bills D every day and twice on an NFL Sunday.
I think Ryan has actually become an underrated head coach. He may have a knack for stirring up the media and leaving discord in his locker room unattended to, but he is a great defensive coach on the football field, which is more important than anything else.
I don't care whether the Jets send out Sanchez or Tebow this year. I expect them to return to a reliance on the running game and their defense, and emerge from the regular season with a 9-7 record or better.
5. Odds to Win the AFC South Division
The Pick: Tennessee Titans (+450)
This is more of a value pick than anything else.
I'm not yet ready to pencil in the Houston Texans for their divisional title like the rest of the world. I don't believe that this Texans team is that much better than the teams that perennially choked and failed to make the playoffs.
Kubiak is still Kubiak, and Schaub is still Schaub. Not much to see here. Wade Phillips has been a great addition, but I don't think that should make them overwhelming favorites.
Do I think the Texans are a better team than the Titans? Yes.
Do I think they are that much better and should be favored at (-450) to win the division? Absolutely not.
Have we forgotten that last year the Texans finished 10-6 while the Titans finished 9-7?
The biggest danger with this pick is the chance that the Titans throw out Jake Locker to start the season and stick with him even if he is playing poorly to figure out what they have or to develop him.
Regardless, when you can get the seemingly (the season hasn't started, so everything is a prediction) second-best team in the division at an absurd (+450), you have to take it, unless the team at the top is a powerhouse like the Patriots or Packers.
Nick Pournaras is a senior at Penn State University.