Givin Futures: AFC North & NFC North

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) warms up prior to the game against the Minnesota Vikings at M&T Bank Stadium
Image Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Each week, BetPrep Sharp and NBC Sports Betting Analyst Brad Feinberg discusses expected win totals, division odds, Super Bowl favorites, and potential award winners with host and BetPrep Editor Michael Salfino of The Athletic and FiveThirtyEight. It’s the official futures podcast of BetPrep, a free sports betting research site that empowers bettors with the same tools both the sharps and the sportsbooks use.

Here are some highlights from the latest episode of the Givin’ Futures Podcast.

The Norths are on the menu today in Givin Futures. Let’s start in the NFC north. The worst team in the division according to play-success differential—which is for-minus-allowed, determined by plays that effectively set up the next down or result in a first down—is the Detroit Lions, 31st at minus-5.8%.

Brad: It’s hard to say Detroit has improved. They’ve actually had a significant downgrade at quarterback going from Matt Stafford, who has been one of the 12 best quarterbacks in the last 10 years or so, to Jared Goff, a probably slightly below-average quarterback. They also lost Kenny Golladay. Their over/under is five wins. I definitely have a lean to the under here. This team is favored in one game all year. Where are the strengths on this team now? I do think D’Andre Swift is a decent running back. But I just don’t see a path for them to get to six wins. I do like under five wins for Detroit. You can get +750 to make the playoffs; I don’t like that. And you can get 20-to-1 odds to win the division. I don’t like that. The only way I can go here with Detroit is under.

The player evaluation market seems to think the Lions are decent on both the offensive and defensive lines. Is that something that you think could maybe argue well for them beating such a measly expected win total?

Brad: At such a low number, it doesn’t take much for them to maybe surpass expectations, but I just don’t know if I see enough. Again, who are the real defensive stalwarts on this team? I just don’t think this is a very talented team anywhere.

Next up from the bottom in play-success differential is Minnesota. Their offensive success was elite but their success allowed was very poor. They have a defensive minded coach and defense is very volatile from year to year. So maybe the defense could be much better and the offense can stay basically the same?

Brad: Minnesota is a team that I am personally very bullish on. They are probably right there as my biggest investment of the year. It has not been a good offseason in terms of the whole COVID thing. Atlanta is 100% COVID vaccinated. Minnesota is only 64%. That’s huge. Now COVID is something you do have to put in your handicap. I did bet this team over eight wins and the season win total is up to nine. I still like it. I can’t help myself. I think Kirk Cousins is actually an underrated quarterback. They have two really good receivers. An elite running back. This team offensively has a chance to be top five and football. And The Athletic, where you write, Michael, and which I really respect, actually had Minnesota ranked No. 1 in 2021 defense.

For the division, I bet them +450 when it opened. At +300 do they have a 25% chance to win this division? I absolutely think they do.

Last year, the Chicago Bears were seventh in the NFL in play success differential, mostly on the strength of their defense. Are they/were they actually pretty good? What do you make of this?

Brad: One of my bets before the year started and it was a big wager was Chicago under 7.5 wins. When they took Justin Fields. I immediately bet over to get out on my bat. I knew Andy Dalton stinks. And if Andy Dalton played, this team is not going to win eight games. Now 7.5 seems like the right number but there is upside with Fields. You can get them +550 to win the division, but I don’t like that. You can take in +210 to make the playoffs—don’t like that. They’re a no play for me.

Next up, we have the Packers and they’re fourth in play success differential, plus 3.9%.

Brad: A lot of it comes down just to Aaron Rodgers. Before last year, in 2018 and 2019, he completed only 62% of his passes. And then last year… boom 71% completion percentage, 48 touchdowns, five interceptions. Are we expecting what he did last year? Their over/under right now sitting at 10.5.  My lean would be under now. We talk about shopping, you can get them -275 to make the playoffs and +275 not to make the playoffs if you shop. Nothing will raise your IQ more than shopping. They’re -160 to win the division, but I’m going with Minnesota on this. This Green Bay team could be good again. I mean, they’ve won 26 games over the last two years. It’s just an under lean for me.

So now let’s switch to the AFC and start again at the bottom with the Bengals who were 25th last year in play success differential at minus-2.2%. But they played a significant portion of the season without starting quarterback Joe Burrow, who suffered a massive knee injury.

Brad: I do have a ticket on the Bengals over six wins. It’s up to 6.5 now and I could not take over that. Burrow’s probably my favorite all-time college player. I had a ticket for LSU to win the title in 2019, so I’ve watched every Burrow game; I thought he had the best year of any athlete I’ve ever seen play. Every throw was perfect. Everything was precision. Now you can get this team getting +500 to make the playoffs. I think there are worse things you can do than that. Do I think they have a one-in-six chance of making the playoffs? Yes. They’re 25-to-1 to win the division but I’d rather see you take the yes-playoffs bet. Based on projected win totals, they do have the fourth-hardest schedule, so that’s going to be a tough, horrible division. If you wanted to take the five-to-one to make the playoffs for a pizza bet I wouldn’t call you crazy.

The next team at 22nd on our 2020 success differential list is the Browns. Are we expecting the Browns to be much better than they were last year? Or are we thinking that the Browns were legit really good last year and are going to be a little bit better in 2021?

Brad: Look, Baker Mayfield may be a “system quarterback,” but that’s fine. This team has surrounded him with good wide receivers, great running backs, and a good offensive line. And I think the defense has improved. He probably rides the bus. He doesn’t drive the bus. But that doesn’t mean this team can’t be good. Their over/under right now is up to 10.5. I did over 10 but I still believe in over 10.5. Because I actually do think this team is going to go 11-6 or better. But I cannot bet over 10.5 for any team because it’s just inherently hard to top that. Cleveland is +150 to win the division. I think they’re most likely. They’re -225 to make the playoffs and +180 not to make it. But I really like +150 to win the division. I think this team is going to be very good.

At 10th last year at plus-2.3% in success-rate differential is the Ravens.

Brad: Their season win total is 11. They’re +120 to win the division, -300 to make the playoffs, and +235 on the no. They had the second-hardest schedule last year—opponents won 56% of games. They’re projected to have the 12th-hardest schedule based on opponent expected wins. The only way I can lean is under. Like in the playoffs, Lamar Jackson is going to take more hits. And he exposes his body. I can go either way on Pittsburgh, but the division on the whole is improved. My lean is under 11 wins because I think Cleveland’s going to win the division.

The other thing about Jackson is he’s less equipped to deal with an injury that would be minor for any other quarterback because he’s basically a skill player who needs his legs and to be healthy enough to run.

Brad: I love doing these shows with you. Most wouldn’t be astute enough to point that out and you couldn’t be more right. You nailed it. And that’s the weakness of this team.

Ben Roethlisberger is the key for the Steelers. Does he have any gas left in the tank at 39?

He was so bad at the end of last year, but head coach Tomlin is a winner. He’s a leader of men. Every grandmother saw what happened to Pittsburgh and Roethlisberger last year with their collapse but I thought they’d still be 9.5 wins and I’d be under that. Instead they’re exactly .500 at 8.5. That took away all my gusto. However, you can get them -170 not to make the playoffs and +170 to make the playoffs, another example of shopping. With the second-hardest schedule, I look at that 5-to-1 to win the division and view that as a stay away. I can really see this story reading either way. This team’s probably going to win eight, nine, or 10 games.

If you were to take one team in each of these divisions to win the Super Bowl, who would it be?

Brad: That’s easy for me Cleveland and I have a big bet on Minnesota. I have them at 66-to-1 to win the Super Bowl and 32-to-1 to reach the Super Bowl.