With the NFL season starting soon, it’s time to set your predictions for the upcoming season in stone. Many online sportsbooks across the country have locked in their NFL futures odds. Whether you want to some cash on darkhorse bets this season or are just curious to see how Vegas thinks each division will shake out, these odds are always interesting.
Here are intriguing sleeper candidates to win their division (odds via PointsBet).
Los Angeles Chargers (+500) to Win the AFC West
Currently projected to finish second in their division, the Chargers have a two-pronged path to knocking off the Kansas City Chiefs.
First of all, second-year QB Justin Herbert and his squad need to improve their record. Herbert showed signs of brilliance last year becoming the youngest player in history to throw 30 touchdowns in a season and cruising to win the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Herbert should continue to improve and a second-year leap like those experienced by Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson in recent years have many predicting the former Oregon Duck as a dark horse MVP Candidate.
With Herbert locked in as the offensive field general, the Chargers hope to improve the other side of the ball by bringing in former Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley as head coach. The coaching shift could aid the LA squad in turning around the terrible 4th quarter luck they have experienced the past few seasons.
Of course, they’ll be competing against Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. There’s no denying that the Chiefs are one of the premier teams in the league after punching tickets to back-to-back Super Bowls. However, after a few long playoff runs, fatigue and complacency could start to set in. Kansas City could be on cruise control for parts of the regular season, exposing themselves to trap games. They’ll almost definitely still make the playoffs, but it’s easy to see them slipping to an 11-6 record and settling for a wild card slot.
Just a little slip-up from the Chiefs could open the door for Justin Herbert and the Chargers to break out and steal the AFC West.
Chicago Bears (+500) to Win the NFC North
Over the past few seasons, the Bears have been arguably one of the most talented franchises in the league except for the position where it matters most: quarterback.
After trading up to select Justin Fields in April’s Draft, the Monsters of the Midway hope to bolster their offensive output and make a playoff push this season. Although veteran QB Andy Dalton is starting the season under center, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where he plays the entire year. If Dalton holds on to the starting job, that’s also a plus for Bears backers because it means that the team must be performing well enough to hold off the rookie. But, in all likelihood, the 1st round pick from Ohio State will take over. Whether Fields can sink or swim will determine Chicago’s fate.
If Fields lives up to his billing, the Bears have a real shot to contend in the NFC North. Slated to finish ahead of them are the Packers and the Vikings. While the Packers have one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever lace up a pair of cleats out there, the drama surrounding the organization has been one of the league’s biggest talking points this offseason. If things start to go south, keeping all of that tension at a low simmer will be a challenge.
Meanwhile, the Vikings have their own concerns. They are one of the least vaccinated teams in the league and the strict guidelines surrounding unvaccinated players could lead to key contributors missing time due to COVID protocols. Signal caller Kirk Cousins has already missed training camp time due to these rules, and it could easily cost the quarterback a game or two this season.
If things go negatively for the Packers and Vikings, the Bears are in a prime position to leapfrog their rivals.
Philadelphia Eagles (+525) to Win the NFC East
Currently holding the worst odds to take their division title, this is the biggest longshot on the list. But, you have to remember that the Eagles play in the NFC East. This division was an absolute dumpster fire last season, with the Washington Football Team coming out on top with a 7-9 record. The Eagles were predicted by many to win what would come to be known as the NFC Least, but suffered from what you could call a season from hell.
Injuries to key players throughout the year led to inconsistent rosters being thrown out from week to week and even had to start 14 offensive line combinations. While injuries are hard to predict, it’s tough to imagine a worse hand being dealt to the Birds this year.
Outgoing QB Carson Wentz played no small part in the team’s collapse. After years of showcasing some spectacular talent (if inconsistent from year to year) Wentz fell off completely last season, looking lost at times and performing as arguably the worst quarterback in the entire league. While new starter Jalen Hurts is still an unknown, there’s little doubt that he will be an upgrade over Wentz’s pitiful 2020. Additionally, they’ve brought in a new head coach in Nick Sirianni, who the front office hopes can lead them to better results than Doug Pederson did last season.
With potentially significant upgrades at quarterback and head coach and a lot more luck with injuries, the Eagles could be one of the NFL’s biggest surprises this year. Don’t be shocked if they steal the worst division in football.