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How to Make Sense of NFL Betting in this Season of Surprises

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The 2014 NFL season has been chock-full of upsets, with Cinderella stories and falling giants topping the storylines. Here’s what to expect going forward.

The NFL is without question the most unpredictable of America’s pro sports leagues. With each team playing only 16 games throughout the season, a single major event can turn a loser in a playoff team and vice versa. The fact that the NFL has a hard salary cap (in contrast to the NBA or MLB, for example) also ups the unpredictability factor; each organization is on a level playing field financially, so no team can monopolize talent.

So far 2014 looks like a year of upsets, unpredictability and relative parity. Sure, we know that some teams are really good (Seattle, Denver, San Diego) and we know some teams are terrible (Oakland, Jacksonville, Tampa Bay). But what do we know about everything in between?

Very little. This season has been a crapshoot so far. This piece takes a look at the biggest surprises so far, as well as offers odds on what to look for going forward.

Worst to first: Dallas Cowboys

• The Seattle Seahawks are still the favorite to win the Super Bowl

• Philip Rivers has topped Peyton Manning in the MVP running

• The Dallas Cowboys are the biggest Cinderella story so far

No longer “America’s team”, the Cowboys have become the squad that everyone loves to hate. Maybe it’s a sign of the changing times, as the country seems to be leaving its Wild West traditions behind. The fact that the Cowboys haven’t won the Super Bowl since 1995 may have something to do with it as well.

Going into the season the boys in blue and white were roundly expected to be one of the league’s worst; one analyst even said that their defense would be “historically bad.” Five weeks in, the Cowboys are tied for the division lead with a 4-1 record, lead the league in rushing yards and have a surprisingly resilient defense.

~ Current odds to win the Super Bowl: 29/1 ~

The Disappointment: New Orleans Saints

Going into the 2014 season online sportsbooks in the US, Canada and UK were drooling over the Saints and star quarterback Drew Brees. They were in the top-five in any conversation about potential Super Bowl winners. How do they look now? Not so pretty.

The Saints currently sit at second-to-last in the NFL South division with a 2-3 record, with one of their wins coming in close fashion at home against the injury-plagued, scandal-ridden, hapless Minnesota Vikings. Their defense looks toothless and their offense is underachieving.

The good news is that a team’s fortunes can change quickly in the NFL. If the Saints want to be Super Bowl contenders, they should set about changing those fortunes ASAP.

~ Current odds to win the Super Bowl: 26/1 ~

The Enigma: New England Patriots

The Patriots haven’t missed the playoffs since 2008, the year that star quarterback Tom Brady tore his ACL and missed the entire season. The 2014 edition of the team, however, looks like an old, worn out combination of has beens, retreads and talentless nobodies. Or… at least it did one week ago.

The Pats were sitting with a 2-2 record and coming off a meltdown against the Kansas City Chiefs. Tabloids were reporting grumbling from the locker room: the story was that Brady was fed up and wanted out of that sinking ship.

The next week rolls around, and those same Patriots smash the fearsome Bengals 43-17, putting wind back under their sails. Just a week after pundits cast them on to the ash heap of history they now have a winning record and are tied for third place in NFL futures betting odds according to Bovada. Go figure.

~ Current odds to win the Super Bowl: 11/1 ~

The True Contenders: Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos

Going into the season, the Hawks and Broncs were one and two for the top billing after last season ended with the former annihilating the latter in the Super Bowl. Five weeks into the season that hasn’t changed. The only surprise is that neither of these teams is undefeated, showing that a challenger could swoop in to the Super Bowl conversation.

As it stands, the Broncos certainly look like a better team than they were a year ago. Their offense is the same dominant unit, and their defense looks much better with a healthy Von Miller and the addition of future Hall of Famer Demarcus Ware.

The Seahawks also look great as quarterback Russell Wilson keeps getting better. But they lost some key players on both sides of the ball and simply don’t have the same level of depth they had last season. If these two teams meet in the Super Bowl, I’m putting my money on the Broncos to win the rematch.

~ Current odds to win the Super Bowl: Seahawks 5/1, Broncos 5.25/1 ~

Top Prop: Who will win the MVP award?

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Online and mobile betting on NFL games is great because of all of the prop bets we can make with real time information. One of the most popular props made by NFL fans is who will win the illustrious MVP award. Going into the season the top candidates were Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees, all quarterbacks.

While Manning is still in the conversation, an unexpected challenger has come to the fore: Philip Rivers of the upstart San Diego Chargers. Right now it looks like a two-way race between these two stars.

~ Current odds to win the MVP award: Rivers 5/1, Manning 5.5/1, Andrew Luck 7/1 ~

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