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NFC South Betting Tips

By Peter Brooks in Tips & Tricks / Strategies
| September 5, 2017 12:00 am PDT
NFC-Atlanta-Falcons

The moment that football fans have been waiting for over six long months has finally arrived: Regular season NFL action is just around the corner

In this edition, we focus on tips specific to NFC South teams. We’ll cover the following tips:

  • The odds of the Saints’ Michael Thomas winning for most receiving yards in the regular season.
  • The Atlanta Falcons to beat the Chicago Bears against the spread in Week 1, at Soldier Field.
  • Adrian Peterson going to the Saints, his odds for future bets, and playing his old team Week 1.
  • The Buccaneers playing the Dolphins in Week 1 of the regular season, and why they should win.
  • The case for the Atlanta Falcons to be significantly worse in 2017/18 than they were last year.
  • Why Mike Evans is a good bet for most touchdowns and receiving yards in the regular season.
  • The Panthers’ first-round draft pick Christian McCaffrey’s odds for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
  • The case for the New Orleans Saints as a great sleeper pick for win total and playoff betting.

Remember: If the NFL coaches aren’t trying to win, you shouldn’t be trying to win. Stick to our tips, and regular season action will be here before you know it!

Michael Thomas +2000 for Most Receiving Yards

Despite missing the playoffs last year, the New Orleans Saints ended the regular season ranked second in the league in scoring offense. The problem for the team was on the defensive side of the ball, where they were also ranked second-worst in the league at number of points allowed.

To help address this dramatic gulf between offensive production and defensive production, Saints GM Mickey Loomis traded away one of their premiere offensive weapons – wide receiver Brandin Cooks – in order to gain an additional first-round pick. Along with other draft trades intended to gain more picks, the goal was to inject some young talent into the defense.

Whether this strategy worked for the Saints’ defense remains to be seen. But on the offensive side of the ball, the departure of Cooks means that the high amount of passing production will have to be replaced by someone, and we believe that someone should be Michael Thomas.

Last season, rookie second-round draft pick Michael Thomas never caught fewer than four passes in a game. He has proven himself to be reliable and sure-handed, and set franchise records for a rookie in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns. With a full offseason to improve and a corresponding sophomore leap, there’s no reason to think that Thomas couldn’t emerge as the #1 guy for Brees.

In addition, by bringing in Adrian Peterson it’s entirely possible that the Saints could be much improved in the running game, which will only help balance their offense and open up more opportunities in the play-action passing game. And… if the Saints’ defense is still mediocre, the team will end up playing from behind often, and will be forced to keep throwing the ball well into the fourth quarter.

We believe that all of the elements are present to make Michael Thomas a great pick for most receiving yards in the season. (We don’t feel the same way about receiving touchdowns, because the Saints have too many options in the red zone.) What’s more, perhaps due to Thomas’s youth, the odds still hold great value.

At +2000, Michael Thomas has the 6th-best odds in the betting pool, tied with the Cowboys’ Dez Bryant. He is getting enough consideration that he’s not an unknown entity, but he’s not so much of a sleeper that he’s offering enormous payouts. His +2000 odds lie right in that sweet spot.

We believe that second-year Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas could be the guy who makes up for all the yards now-departed receiver Brandin Cooks earned last year.

We like him to make a sophomore leap, and feel that at +2000 his odds to win the receiving title hold great value.

Week 1: Falcons Over Bears ATS

The Atlanta Falcons and the Chicago Bears are two teams who have gone through a lot of changes this past offseason. For the Falcons, the departure of offensive savant Kyle Shanahan will have their offense looking different, and a lot of free agent turnover will give them new personnel to work with.

On the side of the Bears, it’s possible that no other team in the league has changed as much overnight as Chicago. Parting ways with long-time franchise quarterback Jay Cutler has the team turning over a new leaf, with free agent quarterback Mike Glennon and rookie first-round draft pick Mitch Trubisky competing to see which one will end up the new face of the franchise.

Ultimately, in the long run, we believe that the Bears are going to be significantly better this season than they were last season, particularly if GM Ryan Pace is able to stay the course and maintain a consistent 16-game starter at QB. Conversely, we believe that the Falcons will suffer a severe Super Bowl hangover and will be unable to climb the mountain again this year, perhaps even missing the playoffs altogether.

Importantly, however, we believe that these trends are not likely to come about until later in the season. At the beginning of the year, we believe that both teams will start out looking pretty similar to the way they looked in 2016/17.

This is what makes the odds for their Week 1 matchup so favorable. September 10th at 1PM EST, the Atlanta Falcons will take on the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field, Falcons -7 (-115).

Nab the Falcons against the spread before the odds swing farther towards the Bears as we get closer to the game and people realize just how one-sided this contest will be.

Whichever quarterback ends up starting for the Bears will need several games to get his feet under him, and the fast and ferocious Falcons defense should have a pick party. We wouldn’t be surprised if Atlanta wins by 20 or more.

Adrian Peterson a Saint

Though this headline may be ironic given Peterson’s past suspension for domestic violence, at face value the acquisition of Adrian Peterson is a very intriguing move for New Orleans. As we mentioned above in discussing Michael Thomas, the acquisition of Peterson could help balance New Orleans’ offense.

Peterson is getting +5000 to lead the league in rushing, but we think this is absolutely inconceivable. We would put more money on Peterson missing half the season with injury than we would on him winning the NFL rushing title. This bet is purely to drive action amongst more casual NFL gamblers, who will be suckered in by AP’s name recognition.

Adrian Peterson is also getting +5000 odds to win the MVP award, tied with a whole host of players including Kirk Cousins, Sam Bradford, and Carson Palmer.

Though Peterson has certainly done it before, being the only non-quarterback to win the MVP award in the last 10 years, we just don’t believe it’s possible that Peterson could make himself that indispensable to the Saints. When AP won the award with Minnesota, he was the team’s whole offense. That couldn’t be farther from the truth in New Orleans.

Also, Peterson gets a chance to play his old team that cut him the first game of the season, with the line set at New Orleans +3.5 (-115). We like New Orleans here, not only because of Peterson but because Drew Brees is much better than Sam “Check-down” Bradford in a dome, even if it is the Vikings’ fancy new stadium.

Adrian Peterson becoming a Saint should have a dramatic impact on New Orleans, but we don’t recommend betting his future odds.

One way to immediately bet on AP in an exciting way is taking the Saints Week 1 in Minnesota against Peterson’s old team.

Week 1: Buccaneers Over Dolphins ATS

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are one of our teams to watch in 2017/18. With the ascension of quarterback Jameis Winston from hotheaded rookie to respected (almost revered) team leader, the Buccaneers, more than many other teams in the league, have something that you very rarely find – identity. And they have it in spades.

Last season, the Bucs were right on the bubble of making the playoffs, but ended up sputtering out and shooting themselves in the foot down the stretch.

On the other side, the Dolphins did end up making the playoffs with a Wild Card spot, despite losing star quarterback Ryan Tannehill to injury late in the season. This year, with Tannehill re-injuring the same knee that put him out last year, Miami made a splash and convinced former Bears’ QB Jay Cutler to come out of retirement.

Having worked with Dolphins’ head coach Adam Gase for one season in Chicago, where Gase served as offensive coordinator, the move made some sense, and has fans believing that the offense could actually be improved.

However, it’s important to realize that this is absolute nonsense. In Week 1, September 10th at 1PM EST, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are playing at the Miami Dolphins, Buccaneers -1.5 (-115). And frankly, we’re astonished that the Buccaneers aren’t favored by a touchdown in this matchup.

The only reason we can fathom for why the Bucs are getting so little love this early on is because of Jay Cutler. But the hype is mind-bogglingly misplaced: In a vacuum, bringing in an entirely new quarterback for the first week of the season is a bad idea, especially when going against a team that has such an incredibly solid identity around Jameis Winston.

But bringing in a washed up 34-year old quarterback who was cut by the team that he was franchise quarterback on? How does that compute! Cutler’s familiarity with Adam Gase means nothing to us, and we like the Dolphins to come out looking very discombobulated against the Bucs.

Get in now, while the getting is still good, and nab the Bucs against the spread.

Cutler has already retired once, so you never know how many more opportunities you will have to bet against him.

Falcons Headed for Serious Regression

The Atlanta Falcons were undoubtedly the most tragic story in all the league last season – and that’s including the 1–15 Cleveland Browns. After storming into contention, seemingly out of nowhere, the Falcons first made a legitimate case to be a contender, then Matty Ice made a legitimate case to be MVP, then the team made a legitimate case to win a Super Bowl, and then had it snatched away.

Without a doubt, the Falcons’ come-from-behind loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 51 was one of the absolute worst losses in recent memory. Memories of this game will haunt the players and fans associated for the rest of their lives, and it stands to reason that this (in addition to a lot of turnover on the roster and in the coaching staff) should make the Falcons worse in 2017/18.

The gambling public doesn’t seem to be aware of this overwhelming case for the Falcons to regress, however. Atlanta’s win total over/under opened at 9 games, with the under getting even odds. Since then, the under has gotten more action than the over, but the line has only shifted slightly, down to -105.

At the same time, the Falcons’ other future odds haven’t changed at all:

  • Falcons’ odds to make the playoffs: Yes, -150; No +120
  • Falcons’ odds to win the division: +170, the favorite in front of the Panthers at +225
  • Falcons’ NFC Championship odds: +600
  • Falcons’ Super Bowl odds: +1200

These Super Bowl odds are the fourth-best in the entire pool, and they haven’t changed one iota over the course of the offseason. People have faith in Atlanta, but we believe that faith is misplaced for two reasons.

First, we would note that Atlanta has had way more free agent turnover this offseason than just your average, run-of-the-mill departures. A whopping 13 players left the team, only 2 of whom played less than 200 combined snaps. They lost offensive guard Chris Chester – the only player on the offense to play 100% of the offensive snaps last year, and the average snap count among all 13 departed players was 380 combined snaps.

So what we’re saying is that the Falcons didn’t just lose a few scrubs in free agency; they lost key, important contributors. And these losses were in no way recouped by free agent acquisitions, or even really by draft picks in many cases.

In addition, the Falcons also lost arguably their greatest asset on the offensive side of the ball: Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who left to fill the head coaching vacancy with the San Francisco 49ers.

Though many people may not know this, Kyle Shanahan is one of the greatest offensive minds in the game today, essentially serving as the King Midas of quarterbacks. Every single player he works with turns to solid gold, becoming much, much better in his system than they would be in any other.

Just look at his track record: Matt Schaub put up career numbers with the Texans under Kyle Shanahan. Brian Hoyer took the Browns to their best record in 7 seasons under Kyle Shanahan. Robert Griffin III won Rookie of the Year in Washington under Kyle Shanahan, the same year that Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson were both 16-game starters as rookies.

And importantly, in each of these cases, as soon as Kyle Shanahan left, the quarterbacks that he worked with – who had received so much hype, attention, and adulation during their time together – regressed back to a much lower level after his departure. And we believe this is about to happen to Matt Ryan.

After two seasons under Kyle Shanahan, Matt Ryan will be due to regress in 2017/18 back to his usual, on-the-fringe-of-being-elite status. And tacking on the challenge of adjusting to a new offensive scheme, the Falcons’ offense will still have talented players, but we believe that they will simply look worse.

With an awful psychological scar from their Super Bowl loss, the departure of over a dozen key contributors in free agency, and the loss of Kyle Shanahan, the Falcons will be worse.

Avoid betting on them for any future bets, and watch closely to see when they will start to fray at the edges.

Christian McCaffrey Favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year

The Carolina Panthers are getting a lot of love this offseason, with their odds to win over 8.5 games shifting from -140 all the way down to -175 over the course of the preseason. A big reason for this has been the exciting play of rookie running back Christian McCaffrey, who was selected with the 8th pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, and who has had a very strong preseason thus far in 2017/18.

Among the many issues that the Panthers had last season, they struggled to move the ball on the ground, which was one of the primary reasons why, when McCaffrey fell out of the top 5 picks in the draft (where he had been expected to go), the Panthers couldn’t help but snatch him off the board.

Despite starting out with odds of +550, McCaffrey is now tied with Leonard Fournette and Deshaun Watson with the best odds in the pool to win Offensive Rookie of the Year, at +400. And we think that this could be an excellent pick despite not holding as much value as some of the other OROTY sleepers.

The Panthers have been up and down for two seasons now, going 15–1 in 2015/16 and making it all the way to the Super Bowl, only to lose the big dance and then go 6–10 the following year. Combine this with some serious front office changes (including a swap and then a swap back at GM) and you get a picture of a confused franchise, not really sure of its identity.

Cam Newton has always been a running quarterback, and the issues surrounding his protection (and whether or not that has been called fairly or unfairly by officials) have been made an area of focus for the team recently. All of this supports the idea that the Panthers could potentially rally around an identity of running the ball in 2017/18.

Christian McCaffrey is currently getting favorite odds to win Offensive Rookie of the Year, and we think this is a safe bet.

Consider including him among your other future bets in this category.

New Orleans Saints a Top Sleeper Pick

For us, one of the most surprising gambling storylines of the 2017 preseason has been how little respect the New Orleans Saints have been getting. As of now, the Saints are flying under the radar, and we believe there is plenty of value to be found in their future odds.

As we mentioned above, the rub on New Orleans last season was that their defense played terrible. Despite having the 2nd-best scoring defense in the league, the Saints also had the 2nd-worst scoring offense – the widest disparity in the entire league. No one is worried about whether the Saints will move the ball on offense in 2017/18; they’re worried about whether or not they’ll be able to generate stops.

In this context, sportsbooks are providing us the following odds to wager on Saints futures:

The Saints Future Odds:

  • Over 8 Wins: EVEN
  • Under 8 Wins: -130
  • Make the Playoffs: +195
  • Miss the Playoffs: -250
  • Win the NFC South: +400
  • Win the NFC Championship Game: +2000
  • Win the Super Bowl: +5000

The most important thing to note about these bets is the fact that in essentially every category, the Saints odds have been absolutely plummeting. The over for their win total started at -125, they were originally +260 to win the division – nearly tied for second place. Now they are in last place. Their NFC Championship odds started at +1600, and their Super Bowl odds opened at +3300.

Just looking at this freefall objectively, it would seem to indicate that the Saints have had a terrible preseason, which has demonstrated just how bad their defense is going to be. Except nothing could be farther from the truth!

The Saints have been straight-up dominant on defense through three preseason games. New Orleans allowed 0 points in the first quarter of all three of its games, and only a total of 7 points and 390 yards in the first half of these games. In fact, it was the offense that looked to be more of the issue in these games.

Naturally, of course, the caveat has to be given that preseason football doesn’t mean anything. But what does mean something is the fact that GM Mickey Loomis sacrificed his Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandin Cooks in exchange for an additional first-round pick in the draft, which he then used (in addition to other draft trades) to select five defensive players in the draft, including cornerback Marshon Lattimore with the #11 pick overall.

All signs point to the Saints being significantly improved on defense, and if they can bring their ranking up significantly for points allowed– even, say, to the middle of the league – they could easily find themselves with a handful of additional W’s in the win column compared to last season.

The New Orleans’ Saints should be significantly improved on defense in 2017/18, making them a top sleeper pick for futures.

We’re not sure exactly why the gambling public doesn’t trust the Saints, but we’ll take the great odds the Saints are getting across the board because of this.

Jameis Winston: Most Interceptions or MVP Candidate?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ quarterback Jameis Winston is an intriguing player, one who is undeniably talented and has great potential to become a truly special player, but who is also very young and incredibly unpredictable. And his odds for interceptions and MVP reflect this duality.

Winston has the second-best odds in the betting pool to win most regular season interceptions, behind Blake Bortles and Eli Manning at +550, and tied with Philip Rivers and Jared Goff at +600. After these five players, the pool drops off considerably, down to +1200 and beyond.

The irony, though, is that not only is Winston also high up in the betting for most receiving yards and most receiving touchdowns, he’s also a pretty good MVP candidate, with his odds of +2500 the 8th-best odds in the pool, tied with fellow NFC South players Cam Newton (who has already won the award, two seasons ago) and Drew Brees.

The distinction between these two bets seems to us to cut right to the quick of what we believe about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Being such a young team, they are bound to make those mistakes that inexperienced players make, and thus we believe it entirely possible that Winston could win for most INTs.

However, at the same time, the Buccaneers have rallied so much around Winston and enveloped his strong personality so much into the team’s identity that it’s understandable how a case could be made that Winston’s value to the Buccaneers is much greater than the value of another quarterback to another team. As Winston goes, so goes Tampa Bay.

Ultimately, however, we’re inclined to avoid both bets. With more offensive weapons in the receiving corps, it’s easy to see how Winston could end up throwing both more touchdowns and more interceptions. But we just can’t imagine a player winning the Most Valuable Player award a mere one year removed from headbutting an opponent.

Jameis Winston is a rising star in the league, but we believe his stats will be in the middle of the road as he continues to improve his game.

Avoid betting on him for most interceptions, and don’t wager on him as an MVP candidate, as he should end up splitting the difference between the two.

With our forecast for the 2017/18 season, you should be ready to wager intelligently on the regular season drama about to be played out. Pay attention to what is really going on, and you’ll have more fun than the average bettor.

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