Although long shots do not pay off very often – there’s a reason they’re long shots, after all – it’s worth it to consider which ones might beat the NFL odds in 2017. Last year, those who were paid off the most by betting on a long-shot division winner had the Atlanta Falcons to win the NFC South at +450. Of course, much of the credit for Atlanta’s division title does have to go to the Carolina Panthers who fell from a 15-1 mark in 2015 to a 6-10 record.
Longest of Long Odds
Two teams enter the 2017 campaign at +3300 to win their respective titles, the Cleveland Browns (AFC North) and New York Jets (AFC East).
One positive for Cleveland is that, barring a winless season, there’s nowhere to go but up after the Browns went 1-15 in 2016, the team’s worst record in its storied history. But the focus for us is whether they can shock football fans and win their division. One plus is that the Browns have basically torn apart their playbook in the offseason and started over as that sometimes leads the way for surprises to occur, which will be necessary, especially from the quarterback position; Cody Kessler is tentatively leading that battle.
Now, the New York Jets may appear to have a few steps on Cleveland as their 2011 record was a bit better at 5-11. However, they have to overtake the New England Patriots to win their division title, which will likely be a much harder hurdle to overcome than anything Cleveland has to face. In fact, the Patriots have the shortest division title odds in the NFL at -500. And, like the Browns, New York is in rebuilding mode and hoping that all of the pieces end up going in the right places and that career seasons come from unexpected sources.
Three more teams have double-digit odds against them winning their respective division titles: the Chicago Bears (+1200), Los Angeles Rams (+1200) and San Francisco 49ers (+1800).
Chicago is another team coming off of a horrible season as the Bears were 3-13 in 2016, their second-worst record in history. Can that be turned around so much that a NFC North title is in the works? Of course, the Green Bay Packers (-140) falling to the pack is as necessary as an unexpected Bears turnaround for that to occur. As far as the Bears go, they are expecting more of the same after little change in starting personnel and a questionable draft. However, they should have some depth behind what appears to be mediocre starters.
The Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers are also hurt just as much by the strength of a division rival, the Seattle Seahawks in this case (-350), as they are by the relative lack of quality they appear to bring.
If Seattle does falter, the Rams will need to see a dramatic improvement under the tutelage of 31-year-old Sean McVay, the youngest head coach in NFL history. Of course, a positive that can be taken from not knowing what to expect from an unproven coach is that the potential for an unexpected positive outcome is there as well. Wade Phillips joining the Rams staff as their defensive coordinator is a good sign as well as he recently helped the Denver Broncos to a Super Bowl title.
Conversely, will the 49ers be able to rise up and take the crown should the Seahawks fall back to the pack? It’s unlikely, especially when you consider how much turnover the team has experienced over the last few years, especially at the head coaching position. Kyle Shanahan will be San Francisco’s fourth head coach in the past four seasons. However, the front office did take advantage of all of the cap room that the team had to sign players such as Pierre Garcon, Kyle Juszczyk and Malcolm Smith.
Of the five long shots to win their division this year, I would go with the Los Angeles Rams. The added energy of such a young head coach in McVay will help them exceed expectations while the 70-year-old Phillips will bring some stability too with all of the knowledge that he’s bringing to Southern California. Of course, much of the success of this bet will have to do with Seattle faltering too, but that’s possible, and it’s important to remember that long shots like this don’t have to pay off that often to be good bets.