With the NFL Draft less than three weeks away, now is a good time for bettors to jump on recently released over/under totals before these lines shift on the NFL odds boards.
CG Technology—formerly Cantor Gaming—recently became the first sportsbook on the marketplace to release over/under win totals for the 2016 NFL season. Though the impending draft will certainly change the roster makeup of teams, some more than others, the conclusion of major free agency movement has essentially crystallized what each team's veteran core will look like next season.
But while rookies will generate plenty of fan and media reaction, it is unlikely that any first-year class will impact a team's short-term bottom line too drastically. So although these lines may change as the season approaches, only a major injury in training camp or preseason, a la Jordy Nelson or Ryan Clady from 2015, should truly warrant a noticeable move. With that in mind, here are three current totals which stand out as particularly strong values at the open.
Green Bay Packers: Over 10.5
The longtime kings of the NFC North fell off their divisional perch last season, losing the division to the Minnesota Vikings and finishing with a 10-6 record. However, that late-season swoon may pay dividends in 2016, as the Packers will play a second-place schedule, while the Vikings take on the other NFC division champs from last year. That distinction especially makes for the NFC South pairings, where the Packers will avoid the defending conference champion Carolina Panthers.
The Packers also get a juicy cross-conference matchup against the perpetually mediocre AFC South, but there are reasons beyond scheduling to take the over here. For one, it seems highly improbable the Aaron Rodgers-led offense will continue to sputter as frequently as it did in 2015. By Football Outsiders' DVOA metric, a measure of opponent-adjusted efficiency, the Packers held the 11th ranked offense and 16th ranked passing game. Apart from 2013, when Rodgers missed nearly half the season with a fractured collarbone, Green Bay has never finished worse than ninth in either category during the Rodgers era.
Besides Nelson's return, the Packers can look forward to an offensive line which should experience better injury luck and better production from the ground game, either through an in-shape Eddie Lacy or a draft pick. The defense, which finished ninth in DVOA last season, will return nine of its 11 starters, with B.J. Raji and Casey Hayward representing the only defections. If Clay Matthews moves back to a more disruptive edge-rushing role, the Packers defense should remain one of the league's upper-class units.
CG Technology did not put a line in either direction on the Packers' win total, so if the NFL odds in both directions are even, picking Green Bay to win at least 11 games for the fourth time in the past six years seems like a strong bet for this Super Bowl LI.
New York Jets: Under 8
Regression to the mean is an easy concept to espouse, but not always easy to identify. In the case of the Jets, bookmakers seem optimistic that Gang Green's aging roster can remain a contender for at least one more seasons. Currently, New York is -125 to win over eight games, meaning that a bettor could make a larger profit by picking the Jets to finish under .500 in 2016.
Even if free agent quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick does return, a step back seems like a strong possibility. According to research from Chase Stuart, the Jets were the oldest offense in the league last season, with an average age of 29.2 when weighted for playing time. The defense was not nearly as grizzled, but came in 21st overall with an average age of 27.3. When combining both units, the Jets were the second-oldest team in the league, younger than only the Indianapolis Colts.
Veteran teams are typically more expensive ones, and consequently, the cap-strapped Jets lost a trio of valuable starters—Damon Harrison and Chris Ivory to free agency, and stalwart left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson to retirement. While the Jets did bring in Matt Forte, the Chicago import does not relieve New York's scarcity of young cost-controlled talent.
Unless New York hits a home run in the April draft, leaning so heavily on an over-30 core seems untenable. With a second-place schedule that will include games against the Steelers, Colts and Chiefs, as well as a cross-conference matchup against the NFC West, the Jets could struggle to replicate their surprising run from 2015.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Over 6.5
If the bookmakers seem a little too optimistic about the aging Jets, the opposite applies to their treatment of the youthful Buccaneers. Tampa Bay sat 6-6 and on the edge of playoff contention last year before a winless final month delivered a top-10 pick for the third consecutive spring.
However, Tampa also had the third-youngest age-adjusted team in the league last year, based on Stuart's numbers. Based on their age for the upcoming season all of the Bucs' foundational players are before or entering their prime in Jameis Winston (22), Gerald McCoy (28), Lavonte David (26), Doug Martin (27) and Mike Evans (23). In terms of a top crust of young talent, few rosters in the league can boast a similar base as Tampa.
Of course, the margins matter on a 53-man roster, and the Bucs' middle-class held them back from making a playoff run over the final month last season. Tampa Bay still has numerous glaring holes at edge-rusher, cornerback, guard and right tackle. An effective draft can help patch these holes up in the long run, but in reality, Tampa probably has too many defects across its roster to become a true playoff contender next season.
But this line suggests the Bucs will remain a cellar-dweller, which appears to undersell the team's short-term ceiling. CG Technology placed the under at -125; as with the New York line, it is more profitable for bettors to cut against the grain in this instance. Given their talent base and mediocre schedule, taking the over on Tampa here is the wise play for your NFL picks.