Now that the big free agents have signed, the draft is complete and the Washington Redskins have intentionally sailed into yet another offseason iceberg, it's time to focus on what's really important: NFL futures wagering on bets that won't pay out or lose for another eight months. Bovada released its 2017 win totals this week, thus providing an early taste of what to expect in the upcoming NFL season. Here are the highlights:
Tim HeitmanTim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Highest total: New England Patriots (12.5 wins)
This is an insane over/under. How insane? There have been entire 82-game seasons in which certain NBA or NHL teams failed to hit 13 wins. In 2014, exactly zero NFL teams got that high. The Patriots have hit that total only four times in the past 12 years (which is crazy impressive, mind you, but shows how unattainable 13 wins can be). Look at it this way: Tom Brady didn't even hit this number last year in total starts! PFT says its the highest win total for a team in the last 10 years. Be afraid.
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Lowest total: San Francisco 49ers and Cleveland Browns (4.5 wins)
It doesn't get better. The Browns and Niners were the two worst teams in the NFL in 2016 and are projected to stay that way in 2017. On the bright side, 4.5 wins is heady territory for these franchises. Last year they combined to finish 1.5 wins short of 4.5, so hooray for upward mobility on a limited basis!
Dennis WierzbickiDennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Cue Dallas outrage: Dallas Cowboys (9.5 wins)
No, this is not a typo all you Cowboys fans who were expecting this number to be 14.5 and are currently placing your mortgages on the over because it's Dak and Zeke and Dez and how could any team with the greatest quarterback, running back, receiver and offensive line in the history of the sport possibly finish with anything less than, say, a 14-2 record? Every single iota of logic, reason and probability says the Cowboys will take a step back from their 13-3 record in 2016, but dropping 3.5 wins is even better than everybody outside Cowboys Nation would have wished for. Oh, can you imagine the delight the rest of the NFL would feel if Dallas went 9-7 and lost the NFC East in Week 17 to the Eagles?
The 3.5-win drop is the biggest in the NFL, just ahead of Kansas City's -3 expectation, which sets the Chiefs' number at 9 after a 12-win season. And if this feels like a sucker bet, it's because it is. If Dallas goes 10-6 that would represent a plummeting back to earth but would still hit the over. Granted, over 9.5 wins goes off at -150 (bet $150 to win $100) while the under is at +120 (bet $100 to win $120) - the latter being the most juice for any of the 64 possible bets, thus suggesting oddsmakers aren't fully committed to the number on the heavily bet Cowboys. Even so: Stay far, far away from this one. There's a reason they keep building palaces in the desert, and it's because of those poor saps who fall for the trap of thinking they know more than Vegas.
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Smooth Jimmy's Lock of the Week: Oakland Raiders, under 10 wins
Dude, I totally know more than Vegas. This one's a certainty. The Raiders are fun to watch. Maybe not five national TV games fun, but pretty fun nonetheless. The Raiders are also legit. But the Raiders are predominantly the kings of fourth-quarter comebacks, which suggest two things: 1) Derek Carr steps up in the clutch; 2) Oakland is having to come back in games it should have no business being down in (like last year's 24-9 December deficit to the Bills). Just like how baseball teams can't sustain posting a great record in one-run games because things balance out, the Raiders won't be able to keep winning games in the final minute. Eventually, that pass is going to get picked off or the two-point conversion will fail. Last year's Raiders were an 8-8 team that won four coin flips to go 12-4. This year, 8-8 or 9-7 sounds about right.
Most jumbled division: NFC South
The South features the last two NFC champions (Atlanta and Carolina), a young team on the rise (Tampa) and an old team hoping for one last shot at a ring (New Orleans). There's no order of finish that would be shocking, even Atlanta coming in last. Especially Atlanta coming in last. I think I kind of expect Atlanta to finish in last, actually. That's the way things tend to go for Super Bowl runners-up. As it is, the four teams are separated by exactly 1.5 wins, according to the oddsmakers. The NFC East is almost as stacked together with the Redskins (7.5) and Cowboys (9.5) separated by two wins with the Eagles and Giants in the middle.
Kim KlementKim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
The eight-win club aka "we have no idea what's going to happen so let's cut it down the middle"
More than one-third of the NFL has a win total in the eights: Teams at 8.5 wins are Cincinnati, Houston, Tennessee, Denver, Minnesota, Carolina and Tampa Bay. Philadelphia, Detroit, New Orleans and Arizona are all at eight wins. This is the no-man's land of the win totals -- 11 teams that could seriously finish with any record outside the extremes. Can any of these teams go 12-4? Sure. Can any go 4-12? I don't see why not. Lest you think this is a haphazard group of teams thrown into the same pile by oddsmakers, consider the teams at 7.5 wins: Miami, Los Angeles Chargers and Washington. Could any of those teams go 12-4? Absolutely not, 11-5 seems like the high end for these teams. And thus is the beauty of preseason win totals. You learn so much without learning anything at all.
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Lies, damned lies and statistics
• 15 teams are projected to be within one full win of their 2016 total.
• Eight teams are projected to be 2.5 or more wins away from their 2016 totals.
• 14 teams are projected to have more wins in 2017, 16 teams are projected to have fewer wins in 2017 and two teams (the five-win Jets and 10-win Packers) are projected to have the same exact win total as last season.
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• The biggest leap is Cleveland going from one win in 2016 to a projected 4.5 in 2017. Among playoff contenders, the biggest jumps belong to Carolina and Cincinnati, both of which won six games last year and have a number of 8.5 in 2017.
• The biggest drop belongs to the aforementioned Cowboys. Totally woulda been higher with Romo.
• Five teams are projected to have 10-plus wins, which shows how little stock one should take in these totals. Over the last decade, an average of 11 teams finish with 10-plus wins each season, and that's unlikely to change in 2017. Like everything in Vegas, these numbers are relative to human perception and behavior. The goal is equal betting on both sides, and if you have too many 10- or 10.5-win teams, the public would hammer those numbers before the sharps come in to clean up.