Jul 11, 2019
Divisional Best Bets
12 Weeks of 2019 NFL Futures Predictions
Here we are, a day after the MLB All-Star break has officially come and gone and now just three weeks away from that first NFL preseason game of the year. It's at this point in the calendar where much of the handicapping industry shifts the bulk of their focus to the upcoming football seasons – college and pro – as it's those two leagues that dominate action each and every year.
Readers of this weekly piece know that 2019 NFL work here started months ago as we've been breaking down various futures plays, and after working our way through things somewhat chronologically, we've arrived at the point where it's time to start talking about potential Super Bowl champions. We are still two weeks away from dissecting those completely, but after last week's piece covered playoff Yes/No props, it's on to division winners from the AFC Conference this week.
Predictably, there will be a bit of overlap between these division winner plays and last week's playoff predictions (and next week too with the NFC), but there are also a few things that have yet to be touched on, even if they've got the look and feel of the 'flavor of the day' right now.
Let's get right to it:
To win the AFC South
Jacksonville Jaguars (+500)
Starting off with the South here, as this play piggybacks off last week's piece on the Jags being a playoff team this year. It was there where I really discussed how the South is a division that definitely feels up for grabs in 2019, as I'm not ready to announce and hand over this division to the Colts after one solid return campaign from Andrew Luck. The Colts didn't even win the division a year ago, and yet as the prohibitive (-105) favorites to win the South in 2019, the general consensus is that we will see Luck and the Colts reach double-digit wins again.
Well who knows how healthy Luck stays in 2019, and with the other three teams in the AFC South all building their organizations with a defense-first mentality, all it takes is a slip up or two from the Colts this year and they'll be finding themselves in the division basement yet again.
The Jags defense is out to make a redemption statement this year after a tumultuous 2018 season, and having finally decided to bite the bullet and move on from Blake Bortles at QB, this offense should be able to take that next step. Scoring points will still be a struggle at times for the Jags, but with the defense and overall schedule they've got, that's probably not a concern that is be all, end all for a play like this at this price.
To win the AFC North
Cleveland Browns (+110)
Cleveland has become a franchise that's taken on plenty of hype this off-season with the moves they've made on both sides of the ball, but you've really got to applaud them for taking full assessment of what they had internally, and the climate of the division around them, and going out and doing what they did.
The Browns were plenty happy with what they got from QB Baker Mayfield last year to be convinced he was the right pick for this organization, so they went out and got plenty of offensive playmakers to put around him. This team is now quite deep at every offensive playmaking position which is always nice to have when making a future play like this – injuries to happen – as should health not end up being a concern for them, who knows how far this team ends up going. There is no more internal turmoil with the coaching staff to worry about now that Freddie Kitchens is confirmed as the head man in charge, and when you enter a season with unity at the top and an influx of talent in-between the lines, chances are success isn't too far behind.
At the same time, Cleveland looked around and saw a Pittsburgh team take a noticeable decline in talent with all their departures and turmoil they've dealt with over the past six months. Baltimore still look goods, but they've moved on to the Lamar Jackson era and the jury is still out if he's a capable passer in this league, and Cincinnati moved on from the Marvin Lewis era (finally) as they give the Dalton/AJ Green duo one more kick at the can under a new regime.
Chances are that can doesn't get too far down the street before new Bengals HC Zac Taylor gets antsy to move on to his own regime, and while I am considerably higher that seemingly most of the market on Lamar Jackson's ability to be a quality starter in today's NFL, in head-to-head matchups with Cleveland I do believe you've got to give the Browns the edge.
And then there is Pittsburgh who may end up suffering a hastily fall in this division with Big Ben on his last legs already and the internal issues they've got within that franchise still likely needing some sorting out. It can't always be guys just being disgruntled on their way out, there's got to be plenty of truth involved in the issues Antonio Brown and LeVeon Bell brought up on their way out the door, and it make take the Steelers moving on from Roethlisberger – whenever that happens – for them to be completely ironed out.
So you can't blame the Browns for taking their shot and going for it in 2019, as they've been an organization that's been starved of success for far too long. It is a big jump for them to make to all of a sudden become division favorites, especially when they are still fairly young and learning how to win, but with so much chaos and uncertainty around them in the AFC North, things do appear to be aligned for them to win their first division crown since realignment happened.
1) Baltimore Ravens
2) Indianapolis Colts
3) Chicago Bears and SF 49ers
4) Atlanta Falcons
5) NFL ROY
6) NFL Passing Yards Leader
7) NFL Receiving Yards Leader
8) NFL Rushing Yards Leader
9) Make Playoffs Yes/No