Best Bets for Each NFL Division Winner
Imagine standing in a Las Vegas casino and racking your brain over which NFL squads you want to bet on to win their divisions.
Bleacher Report's team of NFL writers decided to pick our best bets since the previously mentioned situation is more fantasy than reality because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Gary Davenport, Brad Gagnon, Kalyn Kahler, Matt Miller and Brent Sobleski banded together to select the teams they believe are the best bets. Odds can be found at the DraftKings Sportsbook.
The exercise wasn't about picking who will win the division. The choices were based on which responsible bets have the greatest likelihood to pay out.
Don't expect favorites to have garnered many votes. And spoiler alert: The reigning Super Bowl champions, the Kansas City Chiefs, aren't the best bet in the AFC West, while a longtime favorite occupies the top spot elsewhere in the conference.
AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers (5 Votes)
2019 Winner: Baltimore Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens are Super Bowl contenders with reigning MVP Lamar Jackson leading the most prolific rushing attack in NFL history. However, everyone should expect a dogfight to develop in the AFC North.
The Pittsburgh Steelers finished 8-8 a year ago despite not having a healthy Ben Roethlisberger. Their defense is a dominant and opportunistic group. If the quarterback position produces with the weapons at its disposal, the Steelers could surpass the Ravens as leaders of the pack—as evidenced by a unanimous vote by B/R's team of writers.
But the possibility that Baltimore will be toppled extends beyond that. On paper, the Cleveland Browns are extremely talented and have a new head coach after last year's disastrous campaign led by Freddie Kitchens, who was clearly in over his head. The Browns should be better and make life more difficult on all parties. The same can be said of the Cincinnati Bengals, who attacked the offseason and improved on both sides of the ball.
The Ravens are arguably the only team in the division worse off than last season, which makes the Steelers an intriguing bet at +350 (bet $100 to win $350) compared to Baltimore's -225 (bet $225 to win $100). The Browns are +550, while the Bengals are +2500.
- Gary Davenport: Steelers (+350)
- Brad Gagnon: Steelers
- Kalyn Kahler: Steelers
- Matt Miller: Steelers
- Brent Sobleski: Steelers
NFC North: Green Bay Packers (3 Votes)
2019 Winner: Green Bay Packers
At +180, the Green Bay Packers aren't the betting favorites to win the NFC North despite going 13-3 and making the NFC Championship Game in Matt LaFleur's first season as head coach in 2019. Instead, the Minnesota Vikings hold a slight edge over the Packers at +160.
Most people likely see the Packers as a prime regression candidate after they pulled out eight wins by one score. Those could swing in the other direction this fall. Also, many expected the team to add more around Aaron Rodgers, specifically at the wide receiver position, yet the front office decided not to address the quarterback's targets aside from adding third-round rookie tight end Josiah Deguara.
So, the idea that another squad will surpass the Packers makes sense. But cue Admiral Ackbar: "It's a trap."
The Packers are still the NFC North's best squad since the Vikings have significant questions marks at cornerback and on the offensive interior. They also traded wide receiver Stefon Diggs to the Buffalo Bills. The Chicago Bears (+380) remain rudderless without an established quarterback. And the Detroit Lions (+550) seem to be directionless under the supervision of head coach Matt Patricia.
- Davenport: Packers (+180)
- Gagnon: Lions (+550)
- Kahler: Packers
- Miller: Vikings (+160)
- Sobleski: Packers
AFC East: New England Patriots (4 Votes)
2019 Winner: New England Patriots
Sometimes, the easiest choice is to lean on the most reliable option. The New England Patriots have won the last 11 AFC East titles and 16 of the last 17. Yes, they had plenty of turnover in the last six months, but Bill Belichick and Co. can't be ruled out of this race before it even begins.
The odds favor the Buffalo Bills (+120), but the Patriots (+130) aren't far behind.
Really, deciding between the two comes down to their respective quarterback positions. Any success the Bills experience will be heavily tied to Josh Allen's continued development, whereas the Patriots hope a rejuvenated Cam Newton, who is coming off a season-ending foot injury, returns to form and makes a seamless transition into the system after Tom Brady's departure via free agency.
The division's other two squads—the Miami Dolphins (+800) and New York Jets (+850)—can't be eliminated from the equation, either. The Dolphins are still very young, though, while the Jets could implode depending on how head coach Adam Gase handles this season.
This may turn out to be the tightest race among the eight divisions.
- Davenport: Patriots (+130)
- Gagnon: Patriots
- Kahler: Patriots
- Miller: Dolphins (+800)
- Sobleski: Patriots
NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles (3 Votes)
2019 Winner: Philadelphia Eagles
The New York Giants are the only NFC East team not to win a division title in the last eight years. In fact, the Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Football Team each have at least two division crowns during that span. There hasn't been a back-to-back champion since the Eagles claimed four consecutive crowns from 2001 to 2004.
The Eagles have a chance to become a repeat division winner again this fall. The Cowboys are the clear favorite (-121), but that standing overlooks one important factor. Continuity will likely be a major issue this season because of the truncated offseason and lack of preseason games. Dallas has a new head coach, defensive coordinator and special teams coordinator. Philadelphia (+150), meanwhile, brings consistency to the table with the same offensive and defensive play-callers since the '16 campaign.
Admittedly, Philly is injury-riddled with left tackle Andre Dillard likely out for the year, running back Miles Sanders listed as week-to-week, defensive linemen Javon Hargrave and Derek Barnett banged up and first-round wide receiver Jalen Reagor out for a month. Even so, the team's ability to overcome adversity under Doug Pederson has been special.
New York (+1100) and Washington (+1300) are long shots that aren't anywhere near the point of competing consistently.
- Davenport: Eagles (+150)
- Gagnon: Giants (+1100)
- Kahler: Eagles
- Miller: Cowboys (-121)
- Sobleski: Eagles
AFC West: Denver Broncos (3 Votes)
2019 Winner: Kansas City Chiefs
Everyone can be honest and acknowledge the Chiefs are the league's best team and have a great chance to win the AFC West for the fifth straight year. That's why they're -455 to do so. Even so, two of B/R's writers—Davenport and Miller—weren't fazed by such a high risk and chose the Chiefs.
Gagnon, Kahler and Sobleski rode with the upstart Denver Broncos (+900), whose odds are greater than the Los Angeles Chargers' (+800) even though the Chargers have serious concerns at left tackle and Derwin James Jr. suffered another injury. They also could start a rookie at quarterback.
The Broncos are further along than expected. Quarterback Drew Lock, a second-round pick in 2019, entered the lineup and played well with Denver finishing 4-1 down the stretch. General manager John Elway went into the offseason looking to improve Lock's supporting cast and maximize his potential. The Broncos signed running back Melvin Gordon and guard Graham Glasgow in free agency and then drafted wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler. It's a promising group to complement an always stout defense.
The Chiefs are who they are (reigning Super Bowl champions), but the Broncos have the potential to be very good.
The Las Vegas Raiders are +1200.
- Davenport: Chiefs (-455)
- Gagnon: Broncos (+900)
- Kahler: Broncos
- Miller: Chiefs
- Sobleski: Broncos
NFC West: Seattle Seahawks (3 Votes)
2019 Winner: San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers fell short of claiming the franchise's sixth Super Bowl championship despite leading the Kansas City Chiefs well into the fourth quarter of last season's final contest.
The team encountered some salary-cap issues this offseason and had to rework the roster. Before that, left tackle Joe Staley decided to retire, though general manager John Lynch responded by trading for Trent Williams. Still, San Francisco traded defensive lineman DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts and running back Matt Breida to the Miami Dolphins. Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders left via free agency. The Niners released right guard Mike Person as well (he subsequently retired).
The 49ers should still be very good and are the prohibitive NFC West favorites (-106), but the door is open for two other franchises.
Up north, the Seattle Seahawks (+220) will always be in the mix as long as Russell Wilson is the signal-caller. Beyond that, the organization showed it is ready to dance this fall by trading for All-Pro safety Jamal Adams. To the southeast, the Arizona Cardinals (+700) are an ascending squad with head coach Kliff Kingsbury and quarterback Kyle Murray leading the way.
The Seahawks and Cardinals basically split the vote because each is capable of upstaging the 49ers.
The Los Angeles Rams are +550.
- Davenport: Seahawks (+220)
- Gagnon: Seahawks
- Kahler: Seahawks
- Miller: Cardinals (+700)
- Sobleski: Cardinals
AFC South: Houston Texans (5 Votes)
2019 Winner: Houston Texans
Bill O'Brien knows how to position the Houston Texans for a division title. Yes, everyone can make fun of the head coach-general manager's decision to trade three-time All Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins for running back David Johnson. The Texans have regularly thrown away future assets to acquire players, including left tackle Laremy Tunsil, running back Duke Johnson and cornerback Gareon Conley.
While some of the team's moves can be considered head-scratching, the Texans are still in the mix every year to win the division. In six seasons under O'Brien, Houston has claimed four division crowns and experienced only one losing record.
Yet the Indianapolis Colts (+120) and Tennessee Titans (+160) are both favored over the Texans (+350) to capture the AFC South.
Granted, the Colts should be better with Philip Rivers now behind center instead of Jacoby Brissett, and the Titans re-signed both quarterback Ryan Tannehill and running back Derrick Henry.
But none of our writers is buying it. They didn't fall for the oddsmakers' trying to get more action on other options when the Texans consistently place themselves in a position to earn an automatic playoff berth and still have quarterback Deshaun Watson and defensive lineman J.J. Watt.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are +2200.
- Davenport: Texans (+350)
- Gagnon: Texans
- Kahler: Texans
- Miller: Texans
- Sobleski: Texans
NFC South: Atlanta Falcons (4 Votes)
2019 Winner: New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints had a stranglehold on the NFC South during the last three seasons, and their reign may not end. They are the clear favorites (-125) to win a fourth straight division title.
Two intriguing alternatives exist, however, and the better bet among these options might surprise some.
The Atlanta Falcons (+800) trump the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+150) for that title even though the Bucs put together a once-in-a-lifetime offseason. Therein lies the problem, though. Winning the offseason doesn't normally translate to the field.
Granted, Tom Brady is different than other free-agent acquisitions, but the Tampa Bay offense must work with a new starting quarterback, tight end (Rob Gronkowski), right tackle (Tristan Wirfs) and possibly running back depending on how Ronald Jones II performs in his third season.
The Falcons, meanwhile, quietly finished strong last year and put together a stellar offseason with the additions of running back Todd Gurley, tight end Hayden Hurst and edge-rusher Dante Fowler Jr.
Each of these squads produced a 7-9 record in 2019, but only one of them has gotten all the hype this year. Considering the betting lines, the Falcons are a much better investment because of the return if they usurp the division throne.
The Carolina Panthers are +2200.
- Davenport: Falcons (+800)
- Gagnon: Falcons
- Kahler: Buccaneers (+150)
- Miller: Falcons
- Sobleski: Falcons