This is the NFL offseason on the field, but the most popular league in America does not have an offseason off the field, so here is the impact some player news has on Futures.
The NFL may be in its offseason on the field, but the most popular league in North America is always relevant off the field, and as if there were any doubts about the popularity of the sport, consider that NFL odds to win AFC and NFC Championships in 2016 were actually up in January, the week before the Super Bowl!
We now revisit those Conference Future Odds as they currently stand at Pinnacle and discuss the impact that some offseason player news has on those odds, perhaps putting us on a live longshot or taking us off of a play that we had been considering. And we are focusing on Conference Futures because any news that has a bearing on divisional races will impact those Futures more than the Super Bowl Futures Odds.
So here are our early thoughts of some teams right now following the NFL news of this past week, with the odds presented being the current Conference Championship odds at Pinnacle as of April 8th.
Denver Broncos (+620): Interestingly, the defending Super Bowl Champion Broncos are only the third choice to win their own conference this season, as well as a relatively hefty +1300 to repeat as Super Bowl Champs, and they have a modest posted win total of 9½. The biggest issue is probably at quarterback with Peyton Manning retiring and Brock Osweiler bolting for the Texans. Now, the latest word is that the Broncos have reached out to Johnny Manziel as his scrambling style suits the system of Coach Gary Kubiak and it probably helps that the two share roots at Texas A&M. The problem is that Johnny Football could be facing a lengthy suspension even if he does sign for a domestic violence situation, meaning he may not help the club much this year anyway. All things considered, we would pass on the Broncos at less than double-digit odds right now.
Cincinnati Bengals (+750): The Bengals are the defending AFC Central Division Champions, but at +180, they are currently the second choice to repeat that feat behind the Pittsburgh Steelers at +140, making these +750 odds to win the conference seem a bit light for a potential wild card. The latest word here is that upper management is growing impatient with Coach Marvin Lewis, as while he has made the Bengals a consistent winning team during the regular season every year, he has yet to win a playoff game at Cincinnati. Thus 2016 could be his last chance to get over that hump to avoid being dismissed. Personally, we would prefer Lewis get fired sooner as it is obvious that he has no control of the clubhouse based on the Bengals’ thuggish behavior both on and off the field. We would pass at this low price this year, with maybe a coaching change making up more optimistic next season.
Baltimore Ravens (+1500): The latest news out of Baltimore is that wide receiver Breshad Perriman is still not running fully as he recovers from knee surgery, which is disappointing for a speedball drafted last year that brought a lot of hype but has yet to play an NFL down because of the knee. However, the Ravens did address their need for speed by signing free agent Mike Wallace, and with Steve Smith on the opposite side after changing his mind about retiring and Kamar Aiken and eventually Perriman adding some depth, the Baltimore receiving corps suddenly does not look so bad. If Joe Flacco can build a rapport with the game-changer Wallace, this is one team capable of surprising this year even in the competitive AFC Central, so dropping a few coins at +1500 seems to make sense here.
Oakland Raiders (+1600): Yes, we know the Raiders have not been relevant for years, but they showed improvement last year and this week signed linebacker Aldon Smith. Granted, Smith is out until at least November, but remember the Raiders earlier signed Bruce Irvin away from the Seahawks and they already owned one of the best young linebackers in the game in Khalil Mack. Defense was a major concern for Oakland last year, but adding Irvin right from the start and then Smith giving the Raiders an awesome pass rushing trio once he returns could mean a bright future. And in a down AFC West right now, if the Raiders could at least keep contact until Smith is ready, this could be an interesting AFC darkhorse at +1600.
Buffalo Bills (+1900): The best news out of Buffalo this week was that LeSean McCoy will not be charged for having any role in a nightclub fight back in February. That is a relief after it was previously believed that Shady could be facing a long suspension. Now, with no arrest, there should no discipline from either by the Bills or the NFL, so there is no reason to discount Buffalo because of McCoy missing time. Personally, we were disappointed with the Bills’ supposedly great defense last year, so that is what is holding us back from pulling this trigger at +1900, even if Buffalo does end up leading the league in rushing.
Tennessee Titans (+7000): No, the Titans are not going anywhere this year, although they may not be too far off with a franchise quarterback in place in Marcus Mariota and some very good players on defense. The reason we are mentioning them here is because word has come down that trade interest in their overall number one draft pick has increased, and getting a boatload of picks for the overall number one could speed up the Titans’ development. That would be more beneficial next season though than this year.
Arizona Cardinals (+685): The Cardinals may have had the most complete team in the NFL last season even with the 49-15 debacle of a loss to the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship Game, and now Coach Bruce Arians announced this week that David Johnson will be his bell cow running back right from the start this season. That should not come as a surprise given how great David Johnson looked as a rookie over the second half of last year after sharing time with Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington earlier on. Now that Arians has seen the light an abandoned his loyalty to veteran backs, the Cardinals are a very dangerous team capable of winning it all this year provided quarterback Carson Palmer stays healthy, so they look like overlays at +685 to win the conference.
Atlanta Falcons (+2000): The Falcons fizzled last season after a very hot start to the year, but they did have a revelation at running back in Devonta Freeman, who performed as maybe the best running back in the league for a long stretch after Tevin Coleman was injured. But now this week, Coach Dan Quinn gushed at how the duo of Freeman and Coleman made a great combination, a subtle inference that Coleman will be given another chance to win the starting job. We are not big fans of running-back-by-committee, and while we also get that guys should not lose their jobs due to injuries either, it was clear to us anyway that Freeman was the better all-around back when each player was at full strength last year, so we see less of Freeman and more of Coleman as a bad thing. Thus we have no interest in Atlanta in the NFC, not even at +2000.
Detroit Lions (+2300): If you are looking for an NFC longshot with a decent chance to pay off, look no further then these Lions at this price. Remember that this was actually a very good team during the second half of last year, and then this week the new Lions and former New England general manager Bob Quinn signed his former running back with the Patriots in Stevan Ridley who will now be two years removed for the torn ACL he suffered in 2014 that washed out his 2015 season. We could easily see Ridley winning the job if he is anywhere close to the back he was before the injury, and a solid running game could make the Lions competitors to win the NFC Central.
San Francisco 49ers (+5000): The only thing the 49ers will be competing for this year is for the worst team in the league again, but we are mentioning them due to the conflicting reports surrounding Colin Kaepernick. Some reports are saying that Kaepernick will not be traded to the Denver Broncos while some others are saying that the Broncos and 49ers are still talking about it. Perhaps more light will be shed on this issue following the NFL draft, as the Broncos may lose interest in Kaepernick if Paxton Lynch falls to their laps.