Betting on weekly NFL games is always fun, but there can sometimes be even more value betting on futures depending on the odds available. We have access to all of the latest odds from a myriad of sportsbooks, and I’ve scoured the futures markets to find ones I like, and I’ve tabled a few for future weeks as I plan to make this a weekly column moving forward. The following are two futures bets I’m grabbing before Week 8 begins.
Cardinals Under 13.5 Wins
I get it; betting against the hottest team in the NFL isn’t necessarily the most fun proposition. However, I see value in this number for the Cardinals based on a relatively demanding remaining schedule. Arizona still has to play four divisional games, all of which should be considered losable assuming Russell Wilson is back in time for the teams’ Week 11 matchup. The Cardinals also face the Packers, Cowboys, and Colts, three likely playoff teams, as well as a sneaky-difficult road matchup against the Bears. The second half of their schedule certainly looks more challenging than the first half, and they now have to go into that stretch of games without J.J. Watt, who underwent shoulder surgery and will miss the rest of the season.
The advanced analytics also show that the Cardinals could be due for regression sooner rather than later. Steven Ruiz wrote an excellent piece about this for The Ringer, and I’ll reference some of my main takeaways. One of the most telling signs of potential regression is a third-down success, and the Cardinals have been overly reliant on third downs on offense as they rank 24th in offensive DVOA on first down and 1st on third down per Football Outsiders. Arizona’s first down success rate of 18% is on par with the Dolphins, Steelers, and Jets, three of the worst offenses in the NFL, and only the Texans have a lower rate. In addition, Football Outsiders shows that the Cardinals have recovered 11 of their 12 own fumbles this year. That luck is unlikely to continue as a typical team’s fumble recovery rate is around 50%.
On defense, the Cardinals are also holding opponents to a 28.8% rate on third-down, the lowest rate in the NFL. For reference, their defense had a 39.6% third-down rate last season, and the Bills and Saints, the two other defenses allowing fewer than 17 points per game, are both over 33% on third-down. Vance Joseph deserves a ton of credit for forcing Cardinals’ opponents into difficult third-down situations with aggressive play calls on first and second down. However, his defense will start to face some quarterbacks who can take advantage of their secondary that has not been tested and has some glaring weaknesses. Arizona is forcing the same number of turnovers (14%) as punts (14%) on defensive drives, which surely won’t continue.
The Cardinals have Kyler Murray, an early MVP frontrunner, and tons of offensive skill position talent led by DeAndre Hopkins. Kliff Kingsbury seems to have turned a corner, and the Cardinals are a serious threat to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. However, the advanced metrics suggest this is a team headed for regression, and that’s before you factor in the potential for Kyler Murray to get injured with the number of scary hits he takes each play. I’m betting on the Cardinals having second-half struggles compared to their first half and finishing the year with 12 or 13 wins.
The Patriots may sit at just 3-4 with wins over the Jets and Texans coming as their only victories of the season, but they are a few bounces of the ball away from statement wins over the Buccaneers and Cowboys as well as a win over the Dolphins. Of course, that’s not how the NFL works, and moral victories don’t matter in making the playoffs. However, New England is developing its post-Tom Brady identity and seemingly getting better every single week. Mac Jones is improving every week as a passer and is incredibly confident as he ranks fourth in the NFL with a 70.4% completion rate and ninth with 1,779 passing yards. We can only hope that as Jones continues to prove himself, Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels will see that he has earned their trust to push the ball and take chances late in these games.
If you’re more into advanced analytics, Jones ranks 16th in the NFL in EPA and 14th in passing EPA. Jones also completed 19 straight passes in the game against the Buccaneers a few weeks ago, the longest streak by a rookie over the past 40 years, and tied for Tom Brady’s longest streak in his career. He did that against one of the best pass rushes in the NFL with an injured offensive line. It’s even more impressive that Jones has been able to do this with Jakobi Meyers as his leading pass-catcher, and while that’s not changing anytime soon, the offense is plenty productive despite lacking star talent.
New England’s offensive line has underperformed this season relative to expectations. After ranking third in adjusted line yards last season, Football Outsiders’ run-blocking metric, New England ranks 22nd this year. Isaiah Wynn and Michael Onwenwu had bouts of COVID-19 earlier in the year. In contrast, Shaq Mason has dealt with an abdomen injury, and Trent Brown remains on Injured Reserve with a calf injury he suffered in the season opener against the Dolphins. The offensive line should gel more during the second half of the year with better luck in the health department, helping the uber-talented Damien Harris be a significant part of the team’s success.
This Patriots team has been disciplined with just six penalties per game, tied for the ninth-fewest in the NFL, but it has five fumbles, tied for the third-most in the NFL. New England has had an even turnover differential which should improve over the back half of the season. As Mac Jones continues to gain confidence and the coaches start to let him take over games more frequently, I expect the bounces to start going in the direction of the Patriots. New England still has to play the Bills twice, the Chargers, Titans, Colts, and Browns, but I believe 9-8 could get a playoff spot in the AFC East, and they have very winnable games remaining against the Panthers, Falcons, Jaguars, and Dolphins. Toss in a couple of upsets along the way, and you have the makings of a playoff squad you can 3x your money betting on.