NFL Division Odds: Handicapping and Predictions
After next week, all the bye weeks are done with in the NFL. That's when things really get serious. Playoff races get intense, the top teams start to focus on the postseason, and bettors start to dream of betting on playoff football. As the postseason becomes more than just a distant dream, it is always a good practice to keep an eye on where the races are at, how the teams shape up, and where the drama is - and, in many cases, really isn't.
North: With the Thursday night loss by the Steelers, the Ravens now have a three-loss advantage over second place and are all but a lock to win the division. They are at -1000 to do so, so the oddsmakers agree. They have a manageable enough schedule to keep rolling and a QB that makes them very easy to get behind. They are holding down the second bye right now as well, with the Texans - their next opponent - as the closest challenger. They could put a real stranglehold on that with a win on Sunday.
South: This is the closest race in the AFC - and it's not like it's an all-out battle. The Texans are at -160, with the Colts at +275. The Colts are a bit of a mess, losing two in a row. But they have a win over the Texans to their credit, and they are only one loss behind the Texans. And it's not like Houston is a perfect team. I'd take the relative value of the Colts here.
East: The Patriots are at -2500 to win the division, and it would be tough to argue with that right now. The schedule gets a little tougher for them going forward, and they still have questions at a few spots. But they have, by a wide margin, the best points differential in football right now. And they have two fewer losses than Buffalo in the same number of games, and a win over the Bills as well. They are in the driver's seat. As always. And with a one-game lead on the Ravens and at least two on everyone else, they are also in very good shape to get a bye. In other words, there is nothing to see here - just business as usual.
West: The Chiefs have one more win than the Raiders and the same number of losses. No one could have seen that coming five weeks ago. Things have been rocky for Kansas City between injuries and a truly hideous defense. But they have their bye week to work on some things next week, and they are both dramatically more talented than the Raiders and have dramatically better coaching. And they have beaten Oakland once already. They are at -300 to win the division compared to +400 for Oakland. And despite their recent rocky patch, it's tough to argue with those prices.
Wild card: The Bills are at 6-3 right now and are in command of this tough race. Oakland and the Colts are at 5-4, with the Steelers and Titans a game back at 5-5. I'd take the Bills and the loser of the AFC South race here, but there is still a lot of football to be played here. And, above all, it feels like the gap between the potential wild card teams and the top of this conference is very wide.
North: Green Bay is at 8-2, sitting at -210 to win the division, while Minnesota is at 7-3, and +175. The Packers are a team I have struggled to believe in all year, but they have a lead and a win over the Vikings, so they have a clear edge. These odds seem fair enough. However, given how Minnesota's offense has started to roll over the last four or five games, I would consider taking a shot at the Vikings.
South: New Orleans is coming off a truly bizarre, incomprehensible loss to the Falcons. But they still have a two-game lead in the division, and the second-place team, the Panthers, is dealing with QB questions that aren't ideal. The teams haven't played yet, so things could change in a hurry, but the Saints are at -1000 to win the South compared to +600 for the Panthers, and I would have a really hard time even trying to justify a bet on the Panthers. This one feels like it is over.
East: This is one of the two most interesting races out there. This is the only one that has teams that are tied - the Eagles and Cowboys are both at 5-4. The oddsmakers give the Eagles an edge - they are at -125, compared to +105 for the Cowboys. Despite having the same record, I would suggest that there is some value to be had on the Eagles at this price. The drama around the Cowboys and the future of Jason Garrett isn't going to get smoother. Dallas does have a win over the Eagles already, but Philadelphia has a mostly manageable schedule that has a lot of winnable games on the back end, they are playing much better right now, and they are a more talented team. I only sort of trust Philly right now, but I really don't trust Dallas.
West: San Francisco is at -220, with Seattle at +175. If the Niners had pulled it out in overtime last week, they would have been in very good shape in this race. Seattle won a crazy overtime period, though, so now they are only a loss behind, with the same number of wins. I respect the Niners a lot, but at this price the Seahawks are the right bet. The teams play each other again and have common opponents in the Cardinals and Rams. Seattle also plays Philadelphia, Minnesota and Carolina. That's a tough stretch of games, but not as tough as the four San Francisco faces - the Falcons should be easy, but the Packers, Ravens and Saints are all first-place teams. It's quite possible that these teams could be tied heading into their Week 17 showdown in Seattle. What a game that could be.
Wild card: Things could change, but right now it feels like there is very little drama here. The Seahawks are at 8-2, and the Vikings are at 7-3. The rest of the pack is at 5-4 or worse. It feels very much like the losers of both the NFC West and the NFC North will be the wild card teams.
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