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Futures Watch: Second half NFL targets

As the NFL season continues to take shape, it’s not only the teams that have separated themselves from the field. The leaders in the most important statistical categories have fought off their peers and are zeroing in on capturing the crown. The NFL is a war of attrition. The 2019 season has its own identity. Nobody is confusing the 2018 49ers with this year’s juggernaut. The Steelers, Raiders, and Packers all have different identities for better or for worse.

The MVP race gets all the headlines with Lamar Jackson and Russell Wilson taking center stage each week to stake their claim. There is a new sheriff in town as the Cowboys quarterback has surprised everyone by racking up career highs in passing yardage. Christian McCaffrey continues to carry an unprecedented amount of volume in Carolina. The pendulum of the NFL season will always swing wildly as the season continues, but now is the perfect time to zone in on your future plays. After 11 weeks of NFL action, we have a good foundation of the season and there are enough weeks left where there is still value on the board.

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

Super Bowl: New Orleans Saints +600

There is not much value in the AFC as the top two teams, New England and Baltimore, sit atop the board and I don’t feel strongly enough about Big Red’s Chiefs to win postseason games in Baltimore and New England this year. That leads us to the NFC where the 49ers, Saints, and Packers are all jockeying the top two seeds and the bye that comes with it.

San Francisco is game ahead of the pack at 9-1, but with their next three games against the Packers, Ravens, and Saints it will be hard to imagine them finishing there. If that’s not enough, they also have an NFC West showdown in Seattle in Week 17. The Saints have a much easier schedule and are in prime position to steal home-field advantage for the playoffs. I recommended that you grab the Saints at +1200 back early October, so I strongly suggest you pounce now while there is still some meat on the bone.

MVP Winner: Lamar Jackson +150

In what appears to be a two-man race between Jackson and Wilson, Baltimore’s dynamic quarterback put the NFL on notice by completing over 70% of his passes and hanging 37 on Bill Belichick’s defense. There is an argument for Russell Wilson here, which is good news for Jackson backers. The longer Wilson can hang around in this race, the longer you will be able to grab Jackson at plus money. As Matthew Freedman from the Action Network pointed out, in 11 of the last 12 years the NFL MVP award went to a QB who led their team to one of the top two records in their conference. Wilson will be able to hang in the conversation only if he can get Seattle there, but the Seahawks are likely to slowly regress along with his chances at holding off Lamar. Meanwhile, Jackson has a nice three-game stretch in Weeks 13-16 against the Bills, Jets, and Browns. Look for him to put an exclamation point on his MVP season. Get in on Jackson while there is still a race.

Passing Yards Leader: Deshaun Watson +5000

I was all over Jameis Winston at +1400 after Week 4, and his odds have moved all the way to +200. Now, I am looking to back that up with an even greater play. There is definitely a significant risk playing the Texans QB here, but you miss every shot you don’t take. Prescott, Winston, and Rivers are the current leaders. There have been strong rumblings of how long of a leash Bruce Arians will give Jameis Winston. After last Thursday night’s four-interception performance, how long can the Chargers let Rivers give games away? If these quarterbacks are benched for even a game, they will fall completely out of the race.

Enter Deshaun Watson, who trails Prescott by only 322 yards. That number will undoubtedly increase after the Cowboys clash with the Patriots Sunday. The question becomes how much? If the Patriots can hold Prescott to 230 yards, that puts Watson approximately 550 yards behind with 5 games to go. Prescott has some tough matchups down the stretch with the Bills, Bears, Eagles, and Rams. Deshaun Watson has to face the Patriots next week, but then should be able to gain significant ground in a three-week stretch that features two games against the Titans and a trip to Tampa Bay. The Titans have allowed an average of 433 passing yards per game the last three weeks, and Tampa Bay is arguably the worst passing defense in the league. It’s a long shot to ask Watson to catch Prescott at this point, but as Bruce Arians will tell you, “No risk it, no biscuit”.

Rushing Yards Leader – Josh Jacobs +600

The front runner for Offensive Rookie of the Year has now put his sights on the NFL rushing title. His odds have surged from +1600 to +600 and it’s only going to get worse from here on out. There are a few things I look for when forecasting the future performance of running backs. The first is whether or not the player will have sufficient opportunity. Jon Gruden’s offensive philosophy checks all the boxes. Oakland ranks 8th in rushing attempts per game and the Raiders appear to be right in the middle of the playoff race in the AFC. The schedule is where I find the most value with Jacobs. After a tough matchup with the Jets, Jacobs gets the benefit of running against the Chiefs, Titans, and Jaguars. Jacksonville has allowed 7.4 yards per carry over the past two weeks, and over 470 yards combined on the ground. If you took advantage when I advised running with Nick Chubb at +1000, you are right in the race as Chubb now has now surpassed Dalvin Cook as the having the second-best odds at +300. If you are looking to add another player to the race, the best value is with Josh Jacobs at +600.

Receiving Yards Leader – Mike Evans +350

As Evans closes in on another 1,000-yard season, he is also closing in on the receiving title. Evans trails New Orleans Michael Thomas by 148 yards with 6 games to go. Tampa’s terrible defense will keep the Buccaneers throwing early and often down the stretch. Evans, who was overshadowed by Chris Godwin early this season, has seen his odds move from +2500 in Week 5 to its current number at +350.  This is still great value for a wide receiver who has averaged an incredible 132 yards per game over the last four weeks. Can he catch Michael Thomas who is New Orleans MVP this season? I believe so. The Saints became very run-oriented the last six weeks of the season last year, and Thomas posted less than 50 yards in four of the last six games last year. Catch that +350 with Evans and sprint to the window!

You can follow Mark Drumheller on Twitter (@x_drumheller) and e-mail him at [email protected]. Subscribe to the Sports Outliers podcast here.

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