The summer offers plenty of early buying opportunities when it comes to NFL futures. Barring any unforeseen injuries, we can be about 95% sure about what the 32 rosters will look like entering training camp.
Sometimes, the early bird really does get the worm in the futures market.
With that said, here are some teams I’m targeting to represent their respective conferences in Super Bowl LVI.
Note: All odds are from DraftKings Sportsbook.
Cleveland Browns +750
The Browns are my favorite value bet on the board right now.
Head coach Kevin Stefanski worked wonders during his first season in Cleveland, implementing a powerhouse running game that finished third in the league. Most importantly, he helped Baker Mayfield take a pivotal next step in his career development.
Mayfield transformed from a risk-taker into an efficient passer. The former No. 1 overall pick completed 62.8% of his passes and threw only eight interceptions in 2020 after tossing 35 picks in his first 29 career starts. Cleveland’s passing game could become even better in 2021 with the return of Odell Beckham Jr. and the addition of blazing rookie receiver Anthony Schwartz.
The Browns also made several improvements to their defense, most notably their secondary. They signed safety John Johnson III and cornerback Troy Hill before drafting cornerback Greg Newsome II and linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, who surprisingly fell to the late second round because of a reported heart issue.
The Browns had the Kansas City Chiefs on the ropes in last year’s Divisional Round and probably should have won. Assuming the injury bug stays away, the Browns have a legitimate chance to make their first-ever Super Bowl appearance.
Kansas City Chiefs +250
I know, I know, this is a no-fun favorite. But how do you bet against Patrick Mahomes at plus money? The Chiefs should be loaded again in 2021 after finding ways to improve their roster this offseason.
There’s not much to really say about the offense. It’s loaded when everyone’s healthy. However, Kansas City was exposed in the trenches during the Super Bowl, when Tampa Bay’s fearsome front seven harassed Mahomes throughout the game. The Chiefs rectified that weakness this offseason. They signed the best guard on the free-agent market, Joe Thuney, and spent their first-round pick on Orlando Brown to replace Eric Fisher at left tackle. They also signed former Rams center Austin Blythe and drafted Creed Humphrey from Oklahoma in Round 2.
Defensively, Kansas City made small improvements. The back-to-back AFC champions signed interior lineman Jarran Reed, re-signed versatile defensive back Daniel Sorenson, and signed cornerback Mike Hughes. Kansas City also might have found its middle linebacker of the future in Missouri’s Nick Bolton, whom the team drafted in Round 2.
This team is always a contender with a healthy Mahomes, but upgrades along the offensive line will make this offense even harder to stop in the postseason. The defense should be good enough under Steve Spagnuolo to let Mahomes work his magic.
San Francisco 49ers +650
Injuries on both sides of the ball destroyed the 2019 NFC champions last season. Frankly, you can probably throw out the 2020 season, as San Francisco was without Jimmy Garoppolo, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, Nick Bosa, and so many other key players for long stretches.
There’s a reason this 6-10 team a year ago has the fourth-best odds to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. They’re loaded when healthy. San Francisco didn’t make many splashy moves during the offseason (we’ll get to the splashy move in a second). Instead, they’ll benefit from getting players healthy and retaining many of their free agents, including left tackle Trent Williams.
Okay, now let’s get to the splash. San Francisco traded up to No. 3 overall and took North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance. While Lance has tantalizing dual-threat abilities, he was a really tough evaluation. Lance played only one game in 2020 and spent most of his career playing against FCS opponents. It’s widely believed he requires the most development of the top QB prospects in this year’s draft. Fortunately, the 49ers likely won’t have to throw Lance to the wolves early, as Garoppolo is still under contract.
The uncertainty at quarterback has me a little nervous about placing this futures bet, but this team is healthy and loaded. If San Francisco can get through the gauntlet that should be the NFC West, it’ll have as good a chance as any NFC team to get to the Super Bowl.
Dallas Cowboys +1300
Like San Francisco, I’m throwing out Dallas’ 2020 season. Everything went downhill once Dak Prescott suffered a season-ending leg injury in Week 5. With Prescott expected to be healthy to start Week 1, Dallas should return to form as an offensive juggernaut.
The Cowboys will score points with Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup. The question is whether the defense improves enough for it to matter. Dallas made modest additions via free agency, most notably signing safety Keanu Neal.
Yet the Cowboys drafted heavily on defense, using their first six picks were on that side of the ball. Dallas got a steal in linebacker Micah Parsons, arguably the best defensive player in the draft. The Cowboys also drafted cornerbacks Kelvin Joseph and Nahshon Wright, defensive tackle Osa Odighizuwa, and defensive end Chauncey Golston.
If not for Prescott’s injury, the Cowboys probably would have won the NFC East handily last season. That division remains wide open, and I’m confident Dallas will win it. At 13-1 to win the NFC, the Cowboys are worth a flier.
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