A search for division-title sleeper picks

Posted June 14, 2012 @ 1:49 p.m.
Posted By Mike Wilkening

I love Super Bowl odds, but let’s face it: cashing a winning ticket is a tough, tough task. I wouldn’t ever talk someone out of taking a $5 flyer on a longshot, lest I be known as the guy who cost you several hundred dollars, but more often than not, that ticket will be a spent shell before we even get into the teeth of Christmas shopping season, much less January.

Yes, yes — every team has a chance to win the Super Bowl. But for those who want to determine the needed odds to make such a gamble, the list of viable contenders is surely less than 32, and likely no more than a small pile.

Those looking for longer shots with a better shot at paying out might want to look at other propositions. For instance, multiple Nevada sportsbooks, including the Las Vegas Hotel and Casino, offer odds on all 32 teams to win their respective divisions.

Below are LVH's division-title odds as of Thursday, and here's my take on a few teams that are intriguing at their current prices. These aren't my division-title picks, but rather clubs that don't look like unreasonable flyer plays for those so inclined. I tried to focus on clubs 5-1 or higher, but I stretched in a couple of cases.

Here we go:

AFC East

Patriots: -500

Jets: +600

Dolphins: +1000

Bills: +1000

The Patriots have won the AFC East in eight of the last nine seasons, and they were narrowly defeated in Super Bowl XLVI. Bettors banking on New England to keep rolling through the East will pay a heavy price: a successful $100 bet will return just $20 in profit. The longshot-minded will chuckle at that and turn the page.  

Take a flyer on: The Jets (+600). They have played the Pats fairly tough since Rex Ryan became head coach, winning 3-of-7 contests (though just twice in the regular season). At 6-1, the Jets don’t seem an unreasonable gamble to me.

Note: The Bills (+1000) also intrigue. Buffalo has a potent offense and a stout defensive line. I’d like the Bills’ chances more in another division, though.

AFC North

Steelers: +120

Ravens: +125

Bengals: +350

Browns: +2500

The odds say the public will view the North as a two-horse race. Someone who really, really likes Baltimore or Pittsburgh might relish getting better than even money on winning this division.

Take a flyer on: The Browns (+2500).

I better explain this one.

Do I believe the Browns will win the division? No. But if you believe them to be a sleeper, a division-title gamble might make more sense than a Super Bowl bet.

Let’s suppose you think the Steelers and Ravens will really start to show their age and the Bengals will regress after a surprising 2011 performance. If you believe Cleveland can pick up the pieces, 25-1 isn’t a terrible price, and you don’t have to worry about the playoffs. (Picking the Browns to surprise and win the division is one thing; asking them to win multiple playoff games is another.)

You're often going to lose backing longshots. But in a four-team competition, backing a 25-1 shot in a division with some question marks at the top isn't the worst play I've ever seen.

AFC South

Texans: -500

Titans: +450

Colts: +1200

Jaguars: +1500

On paper, it's the Texans and everyone else in the South, even with Houston perhaps not being as strong as it was a season ago after some offseason losses.

Take a flyer on: No one. Houston's best figures to be too much for this division.

AFC West

Broncos: +140

Chargers: +150

Chiefs: +400

Raiders: +600

The addition of Peyton Manning makes the Broncos the favorite, but the Chargers are the narrow second betting choice, and no team is higher than 6-1. Three AFC West teams tied at 8-8 a season ago, with Kansas City just one game back at 7-9.

Take a flyer on: The Raiders (+600). They defeated all three West rivals on the road in 2011, and QB Carson Palmer gets a full offseason with the club. I'm not especially high on Oakland, but I don't have to be to like the Raiders as a price play, as I have a lot of questions about the division.

Also, the Chiefs (+400) look like nice value as a division-title play, too.

NFC East

Eagles: +110

Giants: +225

Cowboys: +225

Redskins: +1500

The Giants were outscored 400-394 in the 2011 regular season, and they had the worst record of the six NFC playoff teams, so perhaps it's not a huge surprise they aren't favored.

Take a flyer on: The Redskins (+1500). They beat the Giants twice in 2011, and they suffered two narrow losses to Dallas. Washington doesn't appear to match up all that well with Philadelphia, but at 15-1, you overlook some things, and in Robert Griffin III you trust.

NFC North

Packers: -300

Bears: +450

Lions: +450

Vikings: +2000

The Packers finished five games clear of Detroit, seven in front of Chicago and a dozen ahead of Minnesota a season ago, and they did not lose in division play. But can their challengers narrow the gap?

Take a flyer on: The Bears (+450). No NFC North team helped itself more in the offseason than Chicago, which solidified some weaknesses and added go-to receiver Brandon Marshall. I believe the Bears are the only team in the division that can get the necessary stops to beat Green Bay, though the Packers, who have won four straight vs. Chicago, are very clearly going to be tough to overtake in the North. Nevertheless, if you're looking for a North challenger, Chicago's the one.

NFC South

Saints: +125

Falcons: +140

Panthers: +350

Buccaneers: +1200

I like the Falcons to win the South, but they are hardly a bargain, what with the Saints still formidable. The Panthers look like an underlay.

Take a flyer on: No one.

NFC West

49ers: -275

Seahawks: +500

Cardinals: +500

Rams: +1000

The 49ers are and should be short-priced favorites, but those looking to beat them are getting at least 5-1 on each of their rivals.

Take a flyer on: The Seahawks or Cardinals (+500)The Seahawks have a strong defense, and the Cardinals won seven of their final nine games. I'm not crazy about either club's chances to beat San Francisco, but I prefer each to St. Louis.