The rules of the game are simple in the NFL: win your division and you have a shot at the Super Bowl. That automatic bid into the postseason tournament is huge and football bettors have seen some surprising division finishes – motivated by that factor – in recent years.
In 2016, the Atlanta Falcons were priced at 8/1 to win the NFC South. In 2015, the Washington Redskins were 25/1 to win the NFC East. And in 2014, the Carolina Panthers were pegged at +250 to win the NFC South – a season that also featured the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys winning their respective division crowns both at +225 odds.
If you’re hunting for that same futures value, here are four live long shots to win their division this upcoming NFL season.
Tennessee Titans (+225 to win AFC South)
The Titans are the third choice on the AFC South board, behind the Colts (+200) and Texans (+175), but this team looks positioned for a run at the division title. Tennessee finished the 2016 season with a bang, winning four of its last five games with victories over Denver, Kansas City and Houston in that span. The run has made them a favorite of sharp bettors this offseason, drawing plenty of Over action for its season win totals.
The Titans have a balanced offense, led by a maturing Marcus Mariota at QB, breakout receiving options Rishard Matthews and TE in Delaine Walker, and bruising rushing duo in RBs DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. They also added corner Logan Ryan and safety Johnathan Cyprien to improve what was a wretched pass defense. There are plenty of questions in Indianapolis and Houston this offseason, and more answers coming out of Tennessee.
Philadelphia Eagles (+400 to win NFC East)
The NFC East is one of the toughest divisions to predict. Just look at Washington two years ago. Everyone is high on the young and talented Cowboys (+115) and the Giants’ (+250) offseason additions have drawn plenty of action as well, but the Eagles have quietly improved this offseason: first and foremost giving second-year QB Carson Wentz some weapons in WRs Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. If Dak Prescott suffers a sophomore slump and Eli Manning continues to get in his own way, the division could fall into Philly’s lap.
Add to those veterans beefy RB LeGarrette Blount, help on the offensive line and some talent on defense – in DE Chris Long and CB Patrick Robinson – and Philadelphia is in good shape. This is also Year 2 under head coach Doug Pederson, which means the Eagles are also two years removed from Chip Kelly’s mess, so expect improved comfort levels from this team.
Detroit Lions (+426 to win NFC North)
The Lions bookended a 7-1 run with a rotten start and finish to the 2016 season. Detroit was one of the hottest teams between October in November and looked like they would dethrone the Packers atop the division. Losing the final three games of the year left the Lions with a 9-7 record and a wild card spot (losing to Seattle) – with five of those losses coming by a touchdown or less. That’s not too shabby considering all-world WR Calvin Johnson up and quit before the season.
The 2017 Lions have a solid offensive line to protect QB Matt Stafford and hopefully will get to block for a healthy rushing corps, headlined by RB Ameer Abdullah. Detroit’s defense was inconsistent last year, but when it was on it was very good, limiting opponents to 20 points or less in 10 of the 16 games. Regardless of everything above, the Lions will need a down year from Aaron Rodgers and the Cheeseheads to sneak into the top spot in the division so you’ll need a little luck to cash in.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+350 to win NFC South)
The Bucs are the fourth option in the NFC South odds, but the fact that they’re only paying 7/2 and not 12/1 or 18/1 like some other “long shots” tells you the story of the NFC South. The division is a bit of an enigma. Will the Falcons suffer a Super Bowl hangover? Are the Panthers over theirs? Will the Saints play defense? Tampa Bay has its own question marks but appears to be reaching a pinnacle with a good mix of maturing talent and experienced veterans.
The Buccaneers went 4-2 in the division last season and capped the year with six wins in their final eight games. Tampa Bay gave QB Jameis Winston a fun toy in WR DeSean Jackson, who combined with dynamic pass-catcher Mike Evans, will have rival corners pulling out their hair. The rushing attack has some holes but defensively, Tampa Bay will improve upon a strong second half of 2016 in which they allowed less than 20 points in five of their final eight outings.