NFL Midseason Update: Divisional Betting

With Week 8 in the rearview mirror, we’ve just about reached the midpoint of the NFL season.  While a few teams have all but eliminated themselves from playoff contention, most are still in the hunt for the post-season.  Seven out of eight division leaders have two or fewer games of separation at the top, and it’s not likely that these races will be resolved anytime soon.  With that in mind, let’s take a look at some division bets that may offer value.  As always, odds are courtesy of our friends at Bet365.

NFC East

NFL

Philadelphia Eagles 6/1

In Week 8, the Eagles blew a golden opportunity to catch the Cowboys for the division lead.  With 7 minutes to go in Dallas, Philadelphia couldn’t close out the game, and allowed an improbable comeback to the Cowboys that must have been nothing short of demoralizing.

Now with a two game lead over the Giants and the Eagles, there are many expecting the Cowboys to run away with the NFC East.  After all, the Cowboys are 6-1 and look unstoppable on offense.

However, history suggests that breakout rookie stars Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott may run into trouble down the stretch.  As teams adapt to these newcomers, expect the Cowboys to stumble over the next few weeks, with games against the Steelers and Ravens looking challenging.

This could open the door for the Eagles, who are 4-3, with all three losses coming in tough road games.  If the Eagles defense can continue to shut down opposing offenses, look for Carson Wentz to keep his team in the hunt for the division title until the very end.

While the Cowboys are still the smart pick to win the division, 6/1 on the Eagles is too good to pass up.

NFC North

NFL

Detroit Lions 16/1

With the Vikings coming off two tough losses, the NFC North is suddenly up for grabs again.  With the Packers 1 game back and the Lions just 1.5 games back, the Vikings will begin to look over their shoulders at two very capable teams.

While the Lions’ struggles have been well-documented over the past couple seasons, there are no glaring deficiencies in this year’s squad.  The biggest challenge, as usual, may just be getting out of their own way.

Once again struggling with penalties and sloppy mistakes, the Lions have real upside with some talented playmakers on both sides of the ball.

Two of their next three games come against the division-leading Vikings.  If they can manage to split the series with Minnesota, they have a relatively easy stretch of games to look forward to, with games against the Jaguars, Saints, Bears, and Giants consecutively.

Contrast this to the Vikings, who have to face the Cardinals and the Cowboys at home, and the division race could look a lot tighter in the middle of December.

While everyone expects the NFC North race to come down to the Vikings and Packers, look for the Lions to make some noise over the next month and position themselves in the middle of the hunt.  At 16/1, they’re well worth a flyer.

NFC South

NFL

Carolina Panthers 15/2

After getting off to one of the worst starts imaginable, the Panthers finally pulled out a big win at home, coasting past the Cardinals in a 30-20 statement win.  While many wrote the Panthers’ season off after their 1-5 start, there are plenty of reasons to think this obituary may have been premature.

First, consider that the Panthers have a point differential of only -5 on the season, which is much better than you’d expect from a 2-5 squad.  With three losses of three points or less (at Denver, vs. Tampa Bay, and at New Orleans), the Panthers have been on the wrong side of several games that could’ve gone either way.

Second, the Panthers actually rank in the top half of the NFL in both offense and defense through Week 8.  With primarily the same players as during their 15-1 run last season, there’s no reason to believe the Panthers aren’t talented enough to turn this around.

Finally, take one look at Carolina’s schedule and it’s easy to see how they can begin to make a serious run at the division.  With four winnable games leading up to their all-important showdown in Seattle, it’s not difficult to imagine the Panthers crawling back to 5-6 entering December.

And with games against division foes Atlanta and Tampa Bay to close out the season, it’s much too soon to turn your back on the defending NFC champs.

NFC West

NFL

Seattle Seahawks 4/11

It’s typically difficult to find value in betting frontrunners.  For one thing, they’re usually a popular pick, leading oddsmakers to shorten the team’s odds even further.  For another, the NFL is full of parity, meaning division leaders are almost always in a precarious position.

But nothing about the Seahawks this season screams ‘overrated.’  In fact, if anything, it’s quite the opposite.  In a bit of a head-scratcher, this perennial powerhouse has flown under the radar so far this season, thanks in part to a couple underwhelming performances in primetime games.

Despite these hiccups, Seattle is 1.5 games ahead of its closest division foe, and is well-positioned to bounce bounce from last week’s disappointing loss in New Orleans.  Albeit facing a difficult run of games which includes trips to New England and visits from Philadelphia and Carolina, the Seahawks have to be considered strong favorite to win the NFC West given their top three defense and rebounding offense.

While it wouldn’t be reasonable to expect the Seattle to rattle off a long winning streak over the next month, look for them to expend their division lead as mediocre Arizona and Los Angeles squads drop several games in November.

4/11 is a steep price for an imperfect Seattle squad, but with nobody to challenge on the horizon to challenge them, there may yet be value here.

AFC East

Pass

Our friends at Bet365 currently list the New England Patriots as prohibitive 1/250 favorites to win the AFC East this year.

Resist the temptation to overthink this one and move along to other potential bets—there are plenty of competitive divisions left to explore.

AFC North

NFL

Cincinnati Bengals 7/2

Let’s start with the bad news for the Bengals.  They currently find themselves one game behind the Steelers in the AFC North and can consider themselves lucky not to be in a deeper hole.  A full 42 points worse than the Steelers on the scoreboard so far in 2016, the Bengals have to be thrilled to be within touching distance of first place.

Also complicating matters is a defense ranked 24 in the league in yards per game allowed.  Following a season in which they ranked 11 in this same category, on the surface it’s easy to surmise that something has gone awry in Cincinnati.

Now for the good news: after enduring an impossible early-season schedule and some unfortunate breaks, the Bengals have a very reasonable stretch of games in November.  With a bye upcoming at just the right time, Cincinnati may very well be able to reel off 3 or 4 straight wins heading into the home stretch.

Also helping their cause will be a prolific offense that ranks in the top 5 in the league.  With Dalton and Green leading a dangerous aerial attack and a talented RB tandem leading the ground game, the Bengals’ offense should keep them in almost every game.

While there’s a lot to be said for the “defense wins championships” cliché, it’s reassuring to know that even if the Bengals are down two touchdowns, they have plenty of firepower to get right back in the game.

With the division still very much up in the air, taking the Bengals at 10/3 provides a lot more value than the Steelers at 8/15.  In a race that could easily go either way, go with the generous odds.

AFC South

NFL

Houston Texans 4/7

In many ways, the AFC South is the complete opposite of the NFC West.  In other ways, they’re eerily similar.  Let’s start with the obvious: the AFC South is one of the worst divisions in the NFL right now, and there’s a reasonable chance the winner will be 8-8 or worse.  Contrast this to the NFC West, which could end up featuring as many as three playoff teams.

However, in both cases, the easiest way to pick a winner is via process of elimination.  Just as the Seahawks will likely benefit from the challenges facing Arizona and Los Angeles right now, the Houston Texans may win their division by default.

Consider that the only team within touching distance of the Texans is the Tennessee Titans.  That’s right—the same Titans who went 3-13 last season and 2-14 the year before.  While no one would deny that things are looking up for Tennessee, it’s quite a stretch to imagine them challenging for a playoff spot this year.

The Texans, meanwhile, have both of their games against the Jaguars remaining, and overall have a much easier second half schedule than the Titans.  While it would certainly be a dramatic finish were the Week 17 Texans @ Titans matchup turn into a winner-take-all final game of the season, it’s much more likely that the Texans will have wrapped up the AFC South title by that point.

Consider that 3-5 the rest of the way may very well be good enough, and 4/7 begins to sound like quite a steal.

AFC West

NFL

Kansas City Chiefs 13/8

If you find yourself more than a little confused about the state of the AFC West, you’re certainly not alone.  Let’s start with the fact that the last place Chargers (3-5) actually have a better point differential on the season than the first place Raiders (6-2).

Add to that the fact that the Raider, Broncos, and Chiefs are all separated by a half game atop the standings, and we’re set up for a highly entertaining and guaranteed competitive race throughout November and December.

So why pick the Chiefs?  A couple reasons.  First, while the Raiders are quickly shaping up to be the favorite of neutral fans everywhere, there are several warning signs with their current run, including the fact that 5 of their 6 wins have been by one possession and that their schedule has been particularly easy thus far.  With tough matchups against Houston and Carolina on the horizon, the Raiders are poised for a return to reality.

With this in mind, the division battle is likely to come down to Kansas City and Denver.  While it’s difficult at first to pick between two teams that are rated just about equally in most power rankings (I have them tied for second in the NFL, personally), when in doubt, go back to basics.

The Chiefs clearly have the easier slate of games the rest of the way, starting with a favorable home matchup against Jacksonville next week, and additional home games against Tampa Bay and Tennessee later in the season.  The Broncos, in contrast, must travel to New Orleans and Tennessee, all before hosting the 7-1 Patriots and traveling to Kansas City in back-to-back weeks.

With this edge in mind, lean toward the Chiefs at 13/8, in what’s expected to be one of the most thrilling divisional battles of the year featuring some real contenders.


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