With the 2021 NFL Draft and a majority of free agency behind us, it’s time to start taking a serious look at the upcoming season.
Looking at the eight divisions, it’s difficult to pick out a division where the eventual winner is a given. On top of that, the art of picking a division winner changes when you add betting to the picture. Not only are you looking at what team can win the division but what team offers the most value on a potential bet.
In other words, the obvious favorite isn’t always the best bet. It’s about finding a team that can win the division and offers the best value.
With that in mind, let’s identify the best value bet for each NFL division in 2021.
*All odds are via FanDuel Sportsbook as of May 20
AFC East: Buffalo Bills, -155
Admittedly, there’s not a lot of value here because the Bills are heavy favorites. However, they’re the safe bet because Josh Allen played like an MVP candidate for most of 2020 and Stefon Diggs was one of the best wide receivers in the NFL last year. The Buffalo defense should also be solid and perhaps capable of playing at an elite level, as was the case in 2019.
Meanwhile, the Dolphins are strong offensively but we still don’t know how good Tua Tagovailoa is. We also have no idea who will ever be the starting QB in New England. That’s not even the only problem the Patriots have heading into the season. In theory, the Jets could be a great value pick at +1900, but that’d be like grasping at straws. Zach Wilson would have to be something special right off the bat for the Jets to overcome all of the other issues they have to address following the disaster that was the Adam Gase era.
AFC North: Baltimore Ravens, +115
Again, the favorite is the best value here. The Browns have a money line of +145 to win the division, but that’s too close to Baltimore’s and doesn’t offer enough value to make Cleveland a worthwhile option. Let’s be honest, Baker Mayfield is several notches below Lamar Jackson. The Ravens have also improved their situation at wide receiver and are still strong defensively. That should be enough to keep them a step ahead of everyone else in the division.
Meanwhile, the Steelers have some value at +440. But Ben Roethlisberger is barely hanging on at this point and isn’t the passer he was five years ago. The Bengals also have a little value as a long shot at +2300. Then again, Joe Burrow is coming back from injury and it could still take another year or two until the supporting cast around him is good enough to make Cincinnati a genuine contender in this division.
AFC South: Jacksonville Jaguars, +700
Value-wise, it might be worthwhile to take a chance on Urban Meyer and Trevor Lawrence. To be fair, Meyer has never coached in the NFL before. However, he's been successful everywhere he went as a college coach and he won right away with players he didn’t recruit. That says something about his ability to adapt to the cards he’s been dealt. Plus, is anyone doubting that Lawrence is ready for the NFL?
Keep in mind that this is typically a wide-open division and there’s not much value in the Colts at +100 or the Titans at +125. Indianapolis is rightly favored to win the division after adding Carson Wentz. But there are still lingering questions about him and his ability to stay healthy. Meanwhile, the Titans aren’t particularly exciting despite winning the division last year. And nobody in their right mind would touch the Texans at +2700.
AFC West: Kansas City Chiefs, -290
Let’s be honest, it’s tempting to take a flyer on the Chargers at +500 or the Broncos at +600. Justin Herbert had an outstanding rookie season, which could make the Chargers more of a threat than most people realize. Meanwhile, on the off-chance that the Broncos work out a trade for the disgruntled Aaron Rodgers, that +600 will drop like a rock, so now might be the time to strike if you think there’s a chance it could happen.
However, while -290 doesn’t create much upside, the Chiefs are arguably the safest bet to win their division. Kansas City has done a solid job of addressing concerns on the offensive line. Plus, not every team will exploit that weakness as much as the Buccaneers did in the Super Bowl. Barring Rodgers getting traded to Denver or Patrick Mahomes getting hurt, the Chiefs are winning this division.
NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles, +550
The Eagles have the longest odds in a division that is anybody’s to win, which is why they are the best value pick. Despite how ugly things got in the City of Brotherly Love last year, injuries can be blamed for much of it.
With the drama involving Wentz behind them, the Eagles can start fresh with Jalen Hurts. Also, if the Eagles can stay healthy this year, they have a decent roster from top to bottom and should have a strong running game to help support Hurts.
Meanwhile, there are legitimate concerns about the rest of the teams in this division, all of whom offer a smaller payout than the Eagles. In Dallas, will Dak Prescott be fully healthy and pick up where he left off? Also, can the Dallas defense be completely fixed in one offseason? In Washington, is Ryan Fitzpatrick enough to win the NFC East? In New York, why will this year be any different for Daniel Jones?
The bottom line is that it’s hard to like anyone in this division, so you might as well take a chance on the biggest payout.
NFC North: Minnesota Vikings, +270
Are we sure that Rodgers is going to be in Green Bay this season? If he’s not, taking them with a -125 money line is going to be awfully foolish. Instead, the value lies in Minnesota.
After Justin Jefferson’s breakout rookie season, Kirk Cousins still has two great receivers and Dalvin Cook in the backfield. There should also be growth defensively with Patrick Peterson helping out a unit that also includes two early-round selections from the 2020 draft.
In theory, the Bears could make a good value pick at +300. But they could have a three-way QB competition and we don’t know if Justin Fields will be able to hit the ground running. Meanwhile, there’s no reason to think that a new coach and a new quarterback will make any difference in Detroit. In fairness, the Lions are an intriguing long shot at +2100.
NFC South: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, -175
Until we actually see Tom Brady show significant signs of decline, we can’t assume that it’s coming. Plus, the playmakers around him are too good, so as long as the Bucs don’t have a passer who throws 30 interceptions in a single season, the Tampa offense is going to do some serious damage. There isn’t another team in the NFC South that will be able to keep up.
For what it’s worth, the Saints probably have the next-best roster in the division. But neither Jameis Winston nor Taysom Hill is likely to play well enough over 17 games to finish with a better record than Tampa. Matt Ryan doesn’t have enough help around him in Atlanta, especially if Julio Jones is traded. Finally, the jury is still out on Sam Darnold, even if Carolina is a better fit for him.
NFC West: Arizona Cardinals, +600
In the strongest division in football, the best value goes to the team with the longest odds, which is Arizona.
Don’t forget that the Cardinals were relevant for most of the 2020 season. There’s also plenty of room for Kyler Murray to grow, especially with an improved set of receivers around him. By the way, the Cards have J.J. Watt and a healthy Chandler Jones, too, so the Arizona defense will be able to get after opposing quarterbacks.
Granted, the Cardinals are far from perfect, but the other teams aren’t perfect, either. The Seahawks have struggled to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender in recent years even with Russell Wilson playing at an MVP level. The 49ers are favored to win the division but don’t quite have the same dominant defense that took them to the Super Bowl two years ago. Finally, the Rams are banking on Matthew Stafford to hit the ground running with his new team.
Ultimately, the most value comes from the third-year quarterback who’s been with the same team and has the greatest upside, and that’s Murray in Arizona.
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