Playoff football is finally here and somehow, even with a week added to the regular season, it seems to have gone by too quickly. As we savor the final month of the season, it also gives us an opportunity to look ahead and check out our favorite NFL odds and futures.
Favorites Leading the Way
The Green Bay Packers and Tennessee Titans are reaping the benefits of a long, winning season by getting a week to rest their bodies, get healthy and prepare to host through their conferences. Impressively for the Titans, they made it without Derrick Henry from Week 9 on and still managed to get the AFC’s top seed.
Henry was designated to return, meaning we could see his power running return from the injured reserve after missing time with a foot injury. While this is great news for the Titans, they only have the fifth-best odds (+800) to win the Super Bowl. Meanwhile the Packers are the favorites at +375.
Behind Green Bay is Kansas City (+450), who after starting 3-4 rallied to win nine of its last 10, including a 36-10 triumph over first-round playoff opponent, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Following the Chiefs are the expected suspects: Reigning champion Tampa Bay (+750).
Equipped with Tom Brady and an experienced defense to try and anchor an offense that has gone through some turmoil of late with Antonio Brown walking off the field and Chris Godwin suffering a season-ending injury, the Bucs are an intriguing team to say the least. Next, it’s the Bills (+750), who have won four straight and seem to have found a running game with 80-yard rushers in three of their last four compared to just twice the rest of the season.
Longshots with a Chance
The two best longshots may be the two teams with the most hatred toward them: Dallas and New England. The Cowboys (+1,200) uniquely had the highest-scoring offense in the NFL (31.2 per game) and the most takeaways defensively with 34 and a +14 turnover differential, tied for the best with Indianapolis.
The Patriots (+2,000) meanwhile had 30 takeaways — tied for third with Buffalo — but only converted that into a +7 turnover margin. They’re also one of the top teams remaining in defensive points per 100 yards (points allowed divided by total yardage divided by 100). They have a 5.7 rating, allowing the fourth-best yards per game (310.8) and the second fewest points (303) this season.
Potential Super Bowl Matchups
Looking at future Super Bowl matchups, as the odds above would indicate, here are some of the favorites: Kansas City vs. Green Bay (+650), Tennessee vs. Green Bay (+1,000), Buffalo vs. Green Bay (+1,100), Kansas City vs. Tampa Bay (+1,200) and Kansas City vs. Rams (+1,400).
Another longshot pick to win the AFC and Super Bowl is the Cincinnati Bengals, who have captured the hearts of football fans with their exciting emerging core. The Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since Jan. 6, 1991, which only a handful of players on their roster would have been alive for. But they possess the seventh-best passing attack (259.0 yards per game) behind second-year QB Joe Burrow, Offensive Rookie of the Year favorite Ja’Marr Chase (+) and fellow receivers Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. They also have Joe Mixon, who led the team in rushing for 15 weeks including three games of 120-plus yards on the ground.
Cincinnati was a net 0 in turnover differential but only gave it away 21 times, 11th best in the NFL. The biggest hesitancy may be playoff football weather isn’t ideal for offenses relying on the passing game, especially downfield passing as has been the LSU connection’s specialty.
The Super Bowl’s top performer is typically handed out to the winning quarterback. There are some rare exceptions such as a standout wide receiver or linebacker, but nine of the last 12 Super Bowl MVPs were quarterbacks.
The top nine odds are QBs, notably with Aaron Rodgers (+550), Patrick Mahomes (+650), Tom Brady (+900) and Josh Allen (+900) leading the way. Though with those potent offenses, there are several skill position players — and particularly pass catchers — worth considering.
Only seven wide receivers have won the Big Game’s coveted award in 55 years, and no tight end has won it. However, a big game or highlight play could sway voters and there are several capable of doing so.
Rodgers’ reliance on throwing to Davante Adams (+2,800) was noticeable. Adams was second in the league in catches (117), third in yards (1,498) and fifth in touchdowns (19).
Should the Rams make it, Kupp (+5,000) will have similar usage as Matthew Stafford’s (+1,000) main target.
If Henry is healthy for Tennessee and returns to himself, he could be the first running back in 24 years to win Super Bowl MVP. He’s a focal point of the Titans’ offense and at +2,000 for the AFC’s top seed, he could be a not-so-longshot play.
Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce are each +5,000. Kelce had a monster 191-yard game with two touchdowns and 13 catches in an overtime win against the Chargers. A similar day could make him the first tight end to win the award.
If you’re wanting the longest of longshots, defensive players start checking in around +20,000 but only six times has the award been given to that side of the ball.
If you’re waiting till the Super Bowl matchup is decided, the team wearing white in the Super Bowl has won 14 of the last 17 times.
And the Winner Is…
Closing the book on the regular season brings awards odds. Oddsmakers seem to have most awards down to a favorite or two-person race, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some intriguing options.
Seemingly like the Heisman in that it’s a quarterback’s award to lose, the League MVP is a two-player race between future Hall of Famers Aaron Rodgers (-500) and Tom Brady (+375). Colts running back Jonathan Taylor may have been third had his team taken care of business in Jacksonville, but he’s fourth at +3,000 after rushing for a league-best 1,811 yards — most by 552 yards — and 18 touchdowns.
Brady’s 485 pass completions are the most in NFL history and his league-best 5,316 passing yards were the third-most all-time. He completed 67.5% of passes, had 43 touchdowns to 12 interceptions and a passer rating of 102.1.
Rodgers missed a game earlier this season and battled through a toe injury late in the year. Still, he passed for 4,115 yards, a 68.9% completion percentage, 37 touchdowns to four interceptions and had a passer rating of 111.9. Heavily favored to win the award, it should be his as long as sportswriters don’t hold his OVID-19 takes against him.
Offensive Player of the Year
Offensive Player of the Year is split odds (-110) between Taylor and Cooper Kupp, who was the first receiving triple crown winner — led the league in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns — since Steve Smith Sr. in 2005. Kupp fell 17 yards shy of Calvin Johnson’s record for most receiving yards (1,964) in a season.
Defensive Player of the Year
T.J. Watt (+175) is the favorite for Defensive Player of the Year after tying the NFL sack record (22.5) and doing so in just 15 games. Behind him is interceptions leader Trevon Diggs (+750) and Rams lineman Aaron Donald (+800).
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Ja’Marr Chase (-250) has the inside track on Patriots QB Mac Jones (+200) for Offensive Rookie of the Year. Chase caught 81 passes for 1,455 yards and 13 touchdowns reuniting with LSU teammate Joe Burrow in Cincinnati.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Defensive Rookie of the Year is almost certainly Micah Parsons, who has -10,000 odds and the only other player listed is Denver cornerback Patrick Surtain II at +900.
The final two awards are interesting. Comeback Player of the Year likely goes to one of the two QBs who suffered horrific sports injuries to their leg. The separation between the two is hard to find.
Dak Prescott (-140) suffered a dislocated right ankle and compound fracture, keeping him out of the 2020 season after Week 5. He returned to go 11-5 in 16 games started while passing for 4,449 yards, 37 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and had a 68.8% completion percentage and QB rating of 104.2.
In Week 11 of 2020, Burrow (+110) suffered a torn ACL and MCL. His sophomore season led the Bengals to the playoffs for the first time since 2015, going 10-6 in his 16 starts. He passed for 4,611 yards, completed 70.4% of passes, threw 34 touchdowns and 14 picks.
The Coach of the Year favorite is Mike Vrabel (-185) for leading Tennessee to the AFC’s top seed despite Henry’s absence for more than half the season. Cincinnati’s Zac Taylor (+250) and Green Bay’s Matt Lafluer (+350) follow. But there are some interesting longshots.
While many people were writing off the Patriots, who elected to cut Cam Newton in favor of their rookie out of Alabama, Bill Belichick (+4,000) still coached them to the playoffs and a 10-win season. Similarly, first-year coach Nick Sirianni (+4,000) elected to start Alabama/Oklahoma QB Jalen Hurts and went 9-8.
Then there’s Arizona coach Kliff Kingsbury (+5,000) who led the Cardinals to a 7-0 start, going from the hot seat to extension talks before finishing 4-6 over the last 10 games. Still, the previous two years Arizona has improved from 5-10-1 in 2019 to 8-8 in 2020 and now 10-7 with its first playoff appearance since 2015.
With the First Pick…
This year’s NFL Draft will be interesting because there aren’t a lot of great offensive players at the top of the draft class, and there are several teams holding multiple first-round picks who could shake things up.
Still, oddsmakers believe either a pass rusher or offensive tackle is likely to go first overall. Both Oregon edge Kayvon Thibodeaux and Michigan edge Aidan Hutchison are +110 to go No. 1. It’s a win-win situation for the Detroit Lions — who have the second pick — to get one or the other should they choose to stand pat. Or they could get their pick if the new Jaguars brass decides they’d rather have Alabama’s Evan Leal (+250) to address their offensive line issues.
With a quarter of teams shedding their coaches to date this offseason, it’s possible QBs become needs for others but as of now just a handful of teams in the top 10 need a QB. They include the Texans (No. 3 pick), Giants (No. 5 and 7), Carolina (No. 6) and Denver (No. 9). Washington (No. 11), New Orleans (No. 18) and Pittsburgh, who will bid adieu to Ben Roethlisberger when they lose in the playoffs or pull off a longshot Super Bowl run, could feel the need to trade up to secure the No. 1, or another, pick.
Quarterbacks in play are Pitt’s Kenny Pickett (+2,500), Ole Miss’ Matt Corral (+3,000) and Liberty’s Malik Willis (+4,000). It’s a rather underwhelming QB draft class that may not be worth trading up for. Corral also suffered an ankle sprain in the Sugar Bowl, though it looked much worse at the time.
Though the No. 1 pick is difficult because of the odds. While an edge seems likely, choosing between Thibodeaux and Hutchison is like splitting hairs. Jacksonville picked Trevor Lawrence No. 1 last year though and needs to improve its offensive line, so Neal at +250 is a nice buy-in price so long as they don’t trade back.