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Futures Watch: Team and player value

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The NFL season is now in full swing as we surpassed the quarter pole and head into Week 5. The next couple weeks will be increasingly more paramount as NFL teams take shape. The second quarter of the NFL season typically separates our opinions from the 2018 biases. Separating those biases is never easy. Football is such a cultural investment for all of us. We have developed a mental catalog filled with a rich history of triumphant wins, agonizing losses, and feelings directly associated with certain teams and players.

There is real value in those feelings and real opportunity in those perceptions. Each week I comb through the team and players futures section of each of my favorite sportsbooks to see where the public is holding on to 2018 a little too tightly. The key is finding that sweet spot. The gap where public perception forces the books to leave a little more food on the table than it wants to. Timing is everything. Like a cheetah in the weeds, once I spot the food it’s go time. Let’s eat!

Here are some spots where I think there could be real value in the NFL team futures:

• Super Bowl Winner: New Orleans Saints +1200

It’s understood in most circles that the NFL appears to be a two-team race with the Patriots and Chiefs in front of everybody. The big question after the Week 4 is whether there is an NFC team or a third wheel in the AFC that can push these two franchises. The NFL is a war of attrition and is never defined after 4 games. The Dolphins were in sole possession of first place this time last season, while the Redskins and Bengals had a piece of their division leads.

The Saints are the NFC contender that provides the most value. They were the highest-rated NFC team to win the Super Bowl before Brees’ injury at +750 (only slightly behind the Chiefs +700). Their odds immediately dipped after the Brees injury to +1400. Despite them showing the ability to win without Brees against two-playoff caliber teams, you can still get the Saints at “without Brees” odds.

Home field advantage is big for a team like the Saints. The key concern with losing Brees was jeopardizing the ability to secure that No. 1 seed in the NFC. After defeating Seattle and Dallas, it’s hard to envision a scenario where Brees returns and the No. 1 seed isn’t within striking distance. With the Bucs, Jags, Bears, and Cardinals left on the schedule before the bye, 6-2 with a healthy Brees isn’t out of the realm of possibilities.

After surviving the adversity that ruins most franchise’s seasons, a more defensive-oriented Saints team with Drew Brees and a chip on its shoulder, could be excellent value at +1200.

• Division Winner: Detroit Lions +800

I get it. It’s been 25 years since Wayne Fontes was firing up cigars celebrating NFC North titles in Detroit. We have to learn to strip away our previous biases, and judge this Lions’ team on its merits this season. At 2-1-1, Detroit is very much in the hunt. They have invested in their defense, with key acquisitions such as Trey Flowers and thriving nickel back Justin Coleman. This group was impressive against Kansas City, leading early and holding Mahomes without a touchdown. Matt Patricia’s group can play with anybody, especially its foes in the NFC North.

The Bears, Vikings, and Packers all have warts. Mitch Trubisky and Kirk Cousins will continue to lose games for these teams, while Green Bay’s “Matador approach” to stopping the run will be an Achilles heel in a division filled with the NFL’s most run heavy teams. We will find out a lot about this year’s Lions in their next two games (Packers, Vikings), which is exactly why now is the time to take your shot. If the Lions can tread water and win three of the six head-to-head NFC North matchups, that puts them at five wins with five very winnable games still on the schedule (Giants, Redskins, Raiders, Bucs, Broncos).

A 10-5-1 record should be more than enough to light up the cigars like it’s 1993 again in Motown. The Lions are not the favorite, but they are a dog that has some bite. If the books are offering you 8x’s return on your investment, it’s worth a listen.

• Conference Winner: Philadelphia Eagles +700

The season started uneven for Carson Wentz’s group but a prime-time win in Green Bay put the NFL back on notice. Doug Pederson’s commitment to running game brought back familiar memories from the Eagles 2017 Super Bowl run. In a wide open NFC, the Eagles have the talent to play with the other NFC contenders including the Saints. With rumors circulating that Philly could be in play for Jalen Ramsey or another top cornerback, the odds will undoubtedly get less appetizing from here. If you believe in Roseman and Pederson, backing the Eagles here at +700 is a shrewd move.

The value doesn’t stop with the teams. Let’s zero in on some individual player futures.

• NFL MVP: Patrick Mahomes +100

The ship has started to sail on this one has the odds are now at even money for the reigning NFL MVP after being at +400 only two weeks ago. Mahomes is the premiere QB in the NFL and is paired with one of the NFL’s best play designers, Andy Reid. Mahomes blew away the competition last season with 50 TDs and 5,000 plus yards and is on pace to shatter his own records this season. His 1,510 yards through four games puts him on pace to eclipse the 6,000 yard mark. As Mahomes continues to do what they have never done, I do not see a path for anyone else to challenge him for MVP.

Even money isn’t the eye opening value that typically catches my attention, but the odds will only get worse from here. Even money for the surest thing about this NFL season might not be a bad bet.

• Passing Yards Leader: Jameis Winston +1400

I can’t guarantee Famous Jameis is a future starting quarterback in the NFL. I can guarantee that Bruce Arians is going to find out. Arian’s offense seemed to click for Winston last weekend against the Rams, as his 385 yards helped the Bucs rack up 55 points in an upset victory that got all the gambler’s attention. His odds jumped from +3300 two weeks ago, and now sits at +1400 as he trails Patrick Mahomes by 343 yards. This is Mahomes race to lose. However, if KC has everything wrapped up by Week 16 or 17, it may give Winston and others time to catch up. Tampa looks to be playing from behind all year with one of the worst secondaries in the NFL, and a last place schedule makes Winston at +1400 an interesting play.

• Rushing Yards Leader – Nick Chubb +1000

The Browns buried the reigning AFC North champs behind Chubb’s 163-yard performance. The light bulb went off for Freddie Kitchens as he realized the strength of his offensive line is in the run game. The Browns new philosophy is a winner for Mayfield as well, who has struggled under pressure this season. I see Chubb being the focal point of this offense moving forward, with a Browns offensive line that struggles with pass protection. With Chubb only trailing McCaffrey by 13 yards for the rushing title, +1000 is a juicy number that you may want to sink your teeth into.

• Receiving Yards Leader – Cooper Kupp +900

Cooper Kupp is the WR1 in a Rams offense that becomes more dependent on the passing attack. Now sitting at 2nd behind Keenan Allen, the public is taking notice. Kupp’s 27.2% target share is seventh best in the NFL and gives Kupp backers hard evidence that he has replaced Todd Gurley as the focal point in the offense. Factor in Keenan Allen’s injury history and there is reason to believe this is Kupp’s race to lose. His odds have surged in recent weeks in the following increments: +6600, +3300, +2500, all the way to +900 this week. This number won’t last long. It will be interesting to see how much they shift after Kupp faces off against Seattle on Thursday night.


You can follow Mark Drumheller on Twitter (@x_drumheller) and e-mail him at xdrumheller@gmail.com. Subscribe to the Sports Outliers podcast here.

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