With the remarkable success of the Bengals, who went from a worst-in-the-league 2-14 in 2019 to the Super Bowl this season, longshots are surely on the minds of NFL futures bettors for Super Bowl 57 next season in Glendale, Arizona.
And why not? Since the current four-division format was created 2002, there have been 37 teams that finished last in their divisions (some via tiebreaker) that went on to reach the playoffs the following season, including 22 division winners.
Already, folks have been jumping on the Lions after they won three of their final six games on the heels of a 0-10-1 start. Their Super Bowl 57 odds opened at 200-1 at the Westgate SuperBook and dropped to 150-1 by late last week. DraftKings also has them at 150-to-1 odds.
Making next season’s picks even more challenging is figuring out where a handful of prominent QBs will wind up, specifically Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, and Jimmy Garoppolo. Not so much Jameis Winston.
On the other end of the QB spectrum, will any of the high-profile rookies who were largely ineffective last season — yes, you Trevor Lawrence — have a big-time turnaround in their sophomore years? Chicago’s Justin Fields also comes to mind with the 80-to-1 Bears (Caesars Sportsbook).
As evidenced by this year’s postseason results, when both top seeds were one-and-done and all No. 2 and 3 seeds were at best three-and-done, any team that reaches the tournament has a reasonable chance to run the table. If the odds are high enough, bettors inclined to hedge can cash in as long as their team makes the playoffs. Backers of the inaugural Vegas Knights (500-1) or those who had Final Four sensation Loyola-Chicago at 5,000-1 to win the NCAA basketball crown in 2018 know how that works.
Futures bettors should not automatically be scared off by strength of schedule. In 2008, the Steelers’ foes had a cumulative .598 win percentage the season before, the highest for any team this century, but Pittsburgh still went 12-4 and won the Super Bowl.
OK, enough yakking. Here are three picks from each conference that should be attractive to futures wagerers, with odds from various sportsbooks around the betting marketplace.
AFC Longshots For 2022-23 Season
Denver Broncos (22-to-1 odds, Caesars)
This choice largely rides on the hope Aaron Rodgers opts to play in the Rockies next season.
At the Westgate, the number already has dropped from 60-1 to 20-1 with rumors of Rodgers’ potential move or the acquisition of one of the other top QBs available who would replace Teddy Bridgewater/Drew Lock.
But even if Rodgers doesn’t show, Broncos fans learned during the team’s 2015 championship season a solid defense can carry a team to glory even it has crummy quarterback play. That season Peyton Manning was the worst-rated passer in the league (according to nfl.com rankings), marking the first time since World War II the lowest-rated QB won a ring.
Of course, if Lock (4-12 as a starter the past two seasons) winds up as “the man,” bettors can tear up their tickets early.
Baltimore Ravens (30-to-1 odds, Westgate)
The late-season ankle injury to QB Lamar Jackson essentially relegated the Ravens to the bottom of the AFC North standings at 8-9 after an 8-3 start, which is great in the grand scheme here since that will enable them to play a fourth-place schedule that includes the Giants and Jaguars. No other division rival will face either squad.
With Cincinnati likely dealing with the Super Bowl loser’s hangover, and QB issues in Pittsburgh and Cleveland, the Ravens seem like strong shots to return to the top of the division.
And they can’t possibly suffer all the injury issues again this year.
Houston Texans (500-to-1 odds, Westgate; 200-1 Caesars)
With veteran Lovie Smith taking over as coach and rookie QB Davis Mills showing glimpses of promise, it’s hard to not put a few bucks on a team with such ridiculous odds.
Futures numbers like these usually aren’t seen until a team loses its first three games and its starting QB breaks a leg. Plus, Smith knows what it takes to coach a team to the Super Bowl (Chicago in 2006 season).
There’s also the likelihood the Texans will get a haul of prospects/draft choices with the inevitable trade of QB Watson.
NFC Longshots For 2022-23 Season
Minnesota Vikings (35-to-1 odds, DraftKings)
Last season, Minnesota had the fourth-ranked QB based on passer rating in Kirk Cousins (33 TDS, 7 INTS) , fifth-leading rusher in Dalvin Cook (1,159 yards despite missing four games), and second-leading receiver Justin Jefferson (1,616 yards). Only the Bengals also had players in the top five in each category.
What makes the Vikings particularly attractive is playing in a division that could be up for grabs if Green Bay’s Rodgers retires or plays elsewhere.
What makes these guys not so attractive is a defense that ranked 30th last year. However, neither of this past season’s Super Bowl teams had units that ranked in the top half of the league, so maybe just a little improvement can get them to the tournament.
Carolina Panthers (80-to-1 odds, Caesars)
The Panthers went 5-12 last season despite having the league’s second-rated defense. Their problem is pass protection, but Cincinnati just showed that issue can be overcome.
For sure, standout RB Christian McCaffrey has to return and play a full schedule after sitting out most of the season with an assortment of nagging injuries. Also, QB Sam Darnold must take better care of the ball.
But at least the division is up for grabs with the sudden retirement of New Orleans coach Sean Payton and not-so-sudden retirement of Tampa Bay QB Tom Brady.
Washington Commanders (60-to-1 odds, Caesars)
Washington was one of the NFL’s biggest disappointments last year, with the league’s second-rated defense in 2020 dropping to 22nd in large part due to injuries, plus the ordinary play of QB Taylor Heinicke.
This season, Washington should benefit from having the league’s easiest strength of schedule (along with Dallas). And if 1,000-yard rusher Antonio Gibson can quit fumbling (six last season) and Washington can get a quality starter at QB, it can leap into the playoffs much like it did two seasons ago.
Dallas is the clear favorite to win the NFC East, but these odds are hard to resist.