With NFL training camps just around the corner now is the time we should be getting our head around how we think things are going to turn out by the time the playoffs roll around. That's easier said than done. A good place to start, though, and to get back into the swing of thinking about football again, is to look at the odds for each team to win their division. That way, you only have to look at four teams at a time - certainly manageable. Here's a first look at some of the potential opportunities for NFL division winners futures betting that jump out (all odds are from Sportsbook.com):
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AFC North - This one is seen as a two-horse race. Pittsburgh is favored at 10/11, but Cleveland is certainly still relevant at 8/5. Cincinnati is far back at 9/2, and Baltimore, at 8/1, is expected to struggle under a new coach and a new quarterback (whoever that may be). My first reaction when looking at this group was that Pittsburgh's odds were too low. But then my second thought was that, as much as I loved Cleveland last year and like their core, I don't trust them completely. Neither Cincinnati nor Baltimore are contenders in my mind, so I guess that Pittsburgh backs into the win, but they don't present much value.
AFC East - I'm not going to spend much time on this one. Why bother? The Patriots are going to win the division. It's virtually a lock. They are at 1/10, though, so you would really have to come up with a good reason to bet on them. The Jets and the Bills are 8/1, and the Dolphins are 18/1. One day this division will be competitive again. Maybe.
AFC South - Finally, an interesting one. Again it is a two-team race. The Colts are at 5/8, and the Jaguars are at 2/1. I'm probably colored by my pathological hatred of all things Manning, but I like the Jags here. They weren't far behind last year, and they have improved significantly this year. The Colts still have their same basic core, but something about them makes me think that they are a team about to take a step back. Not a huge one, but big enough to give the Jags life. Tennessee at 6/1 and Houston at 10/1 bring up the rear.
AFC West - The Chargers could get off to a slow start again this year and still win the division by three games. San Diego is at 1/4. Denver is generously at 9/1. Oakland would need a miracle to pay off at 7/1. The Chiefs are attempting an experiment - can an NFL team win without a quarterback or any other significant talent? If you think they can then you'll love the 12/1 price. In my mind any win they get is a bit of a miracle.
NFC North - I was so looking forward to watching this division play out this year, but stupid Brett Favre had to go and turn it into a soap opera. We still can't know for sure how his ridiculousness is going to play out, but it doesn't really change my thoughts. Minnesota is the class of the group. Tavaris Jackson is a question mark, but not enough of one to worry about - he has some experience, and he is surrounding by impressive talent that will make him look good. Heck, I could look good if I had Adrian Peterson in my backfield. The defense should be stout. The Vikings are at 7/5. Green Bay is a step back at 7/4. With or without Favre, I think they are a step behind Minnesota, and not particularly attractive. They look great beside the Bears at 3/1, though. That's too low for a team that still doesn't have a QB and which has a defense that keeps getting older. Detroit is, as always, irrelevant at 6/1.
NFC East - This one comes down to one question - do you like the Cowboys or not? They are unquestionably the biggest collection of characters in the league. They are also talented, but they have to be to justify their 5/6 price. They are a very public team. If you think the public is buying into the hype, or you think that the character issues are just too much to overcome, then you'll want to look at the Eagles at 11/4. They are turning into a sexy upset pick in a lot of circles, and could do damage if Donovan McNabb can finally find a way to stay healthy. Even though they are the defending champs, the Giants strike me as totally lacking in value at 3/1. Washington at 7/1 does nothing for me.
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NFC South - One thing I know for sure is that I won't be touching the Falcons, even if they are at 12/1. Beyond that I find this to be a difficult group. The Panthers would be interesting at 5/2 if I could get a guarantee that Jake Delhomme was going to be healthy. I like Tampa Bay more than a lot of people, but I am made very uneasy by the unrest at the QB position. I would be happy if Jeff Garcia was left alone to do his job, but he's not happy, there are a million quarterbacks on the roster already, and now they seem to be in the market for Favre. That's too much uncertainty for 5/2. That leaves the Saints. I think that they are probably the best team in the group, but I don't feel certain enough about that to jump at the 11/10 price.
NFC West - This could be the year of the Cardinals. Of course, any year in the last decade could have as well, and it hasn't. You have to decide if you like a team from the desert that is on a painfully slow rise, or one from the rainy Pacific Northwest that is on a gradual decline. Of the two, Seattle is the favorite at 10/11, while Arizona is at 2/1. I'd lean towards the cards, mainly because the 'Hawks bore me to tears. The Rams and the Niners are grossly undervalued at 5/1.