While it didn’t happen in 2019, in 15 of the last 17 seasons, a last place team has gone to first in the NFL. The San Francisco 49ers finished with a 4-12 record before making it to the Super Bowl in 2019-2020, but still finished third in their division behind the Arizona Cardinals who took Kyler Murray #1 overall.

Starting with the AFC, let’s look at each division’s odds available on DraftKings Sportsbook and determine the value play within the division. Then, we can evaluate whether or not there’s a likelihood from a jump from last place to first place.

 

AFC East Betting Odds

You’d have to go all the way back to 2008 to find the last time the Patriots didn’t win the division. Now without Tom Brady (and Rob Gronkowski), the Patriots still remain favorites, but have their lowest odds to win the division in almost 20 years.

While Buffalo is the sexy pick to de-throne the Patriots at +160, the New York Jets in Sam Darnold’s third year (second in Adam Gase’s system) may actually be a strong value play, as well as a intriguing worst to first team. The Jets vastly improved their offensive line in the Draft taking Louisville’s Mekhi Becton and then grabbing Baylor wideout Denzel Mims in the second round to help take the top off the defense.

As for a last-to-first squad? Miami is slowly starting to get there, but it won’t be this year. Ryan Fitzpatrick will at some point give way to Tua Tagovailoa and the rebuild towards actually contending instead of tanking will be in place. The division is certainly available for the tanking, but it feels like chasing at the same odds as the Jets that I believe would garner a far better return.

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AFC South Betting Odds

I really like the Colts to win the division this year, especially with positive odds at +138. GM Chris Ballard’s decision to sign Philip Rivers is a bold, yet strategic move to get into “win now” mode without mortgaging the future. Rivers did have plenty of skill players in Los Angeles, but a terrible offensive line that could barely keep him upright. Now he heads to Indy with arguably the top offensive line in the NFL, two exciting draft picks in RB Jonathan Taylor and WR Michael Pittman Jr, and reliable receiving options in T.Y. Hilton and Jack Doyle across the middle. Even with Tennessee making it all the way to the championship game last year, all signs point to the Colts to lock up the south.

Meanwhile, the Jacksonville Jaguars finished last in the division and look to be in full rebuilding mode. Of all worst-to-first teams to bet on, this would be the last of the bunch.

 

AFC West Betting Odds

The reigning Super Bowl champs are running it back with nearly the same crew that got them a championship last season. Besides the re-signing of Sammy Watkins & Bashaud Breeland, they also drafted the extremely versatile Clyde Edwards-Helaire out of LSU as the top running back off the board to an already lethal offense. The Chiefs losing the division would be an absolute stunner, and therefore not much value available on the board.

The Chargers finished at 4-12 a season ago and it’s doubtful they end up reversing into first place a season later. Is it impossible, however? Not at all! Philip Rivers is gone which leaves a quarterback competition between the veteran Tyrod Taylor, and the newly drafted Justin Herbert out of Oregon. They still have terrific talent in Keenan Allen, Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram and Austin Ekeler, but the Chargers have questions at the most important position on the field, which causes some concern even at +900 odds. If Mahomes gets hurt, however, you’ll be thanking yourself for at least throwing a few dollars down on LA.

 

AFC North Betting Odds

The Ravens were dominant in the AFC a season ago, finishing 14-2 but ended up being upset by the Titans in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Derrick Henry ran all over a very physical defense and Lamar Jackson never could get the running game going the way he had all season. The revenge tour for 2020 should be an incredibly motivating force for John Harbaugh and his team after another impressive draft class, led by LSU linebacker Patrick Queen and Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins added to the mix. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh will have Ben Roethlisberger back in the mix as they try to bounce back from their rough 2019 campaign, and Cleveland should be improved with Baker Mayfield now in Year 3 and an improved offensive line led by new first round offensive tackle Jedrick Wills. Unless you believe Lamar Jackson’s MVP caliber season was a fluke, -200 is actually very solid value for a team that ran over their opponents in the regular season, including within their division, going 7-1 last year.

As for the Bengals, this isn’t going to be the year they come back from drafting #1 overall to winning the division. They added QB Joe Burrow and WR Tee Higgins with their top two picks, but there’s too many quality teams in the division to make that jump right away. Cincinnati may also be facing a potential holdout with RB Joe Mixon, as well as a need to fix a porous defense that finished last in the NFL in rushing yards allowed and 25th in points scored. Burrow may be a star, but there will be growing pains within the division in Year 1.

 

AFC WORST TO FIRST VALUE POWER RANKINGS:

  1. CHARGERS
  2. DOLPHINS
  3. BENGALS
  4. JAGUARS

 

 

NFC EAST BETTING ODDS

The Cowboys leaped ahead of the Eagles as the betting public got on board after their strong offseason and draft. They locked up receiver Amari Cooper to a massive year extension, and also added two key weapons at skill positions in CeeDee Lamb and Trevon Diggs. Dak Prescott now has more weapons around him in the receiving game to go along with Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield who up until this season, led the NFL in rushing for three consecutive seasons.

The Eagles also made some key additions to their team’s receiving core after struggling to find consistency last year. They took TCU wideout Jalen Reagor with the 21st overall selection and also traded for 49ers receiver Marquise Goodwin to add two legitimate sub 4.4 40-yard runners to their offense.

Even with the Giants likely getting a full season of Saquon Barkley at top health, it’s a tough hill to climb against both Dallas and Philly. As for Washington, the addition of Ron Rivera as the new head coach provides instant stability at the top of the chain, but the team has a ways to go. Even as a first round selection, there’s still uncertainty about the future of Dwayne Haskins as the quarterback of the future and Rivera will likely need a few years to get this rebuild turned around. He’s taken the Panthers to a Super Bowl and helped Cam Newton win a MVP, but a worst to first turnaround this season would be beyond stunning (hence the +1200).

 

NFC SOUTH BETTING ODDS

Are we buying the Bucs rise in the NFC South? The public certainly is with the signing of Tom Brady, along with the trade for Rob Gronkowski. With as talented as the Bucs offense is, Brady will have the best weapons around him that he’s had for years in New England.

Then there’s the Saints, who if not for a stunning upset loss to the 6-seed Vikings in the Wild Card round of the postseason, would have been considered a potential favorite to meet the Chiefs out of the NFC for the Super Bowl. For a team that finished tied for the best record in the NFC at 13-3, they’ll be playing with a chip on their shoulder in Drew Brees’ likely final season in the league.

Atlanta should once again feature a dynamic offense with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley to lead the way, but increased competition within the division should make it an uphill challenge to climb to the top of a tough division, especially with a struggling defense.

As for Carolina, the Panthers hired Matt Rhule out of Baylor for his ability to rapidly turn teams around. His teams at both Temple and Baylor experienced remarkable worst to first finishes within a few years time, so while Carolina has the 2019 leading rusher in Christian McCaffrey, a new quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater and experienced and talented receivers in DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel, they’re still at least a few years away from being contenders again. Their defensive overhaul is necessary after being amongst the worst int he league at stopping the run, along with the retirement of Luke Kuechly this offseason.

 

NFC WEST BETTING ODDS

After the 49ers claimed the NFC West a season ago, they’ll face stiff competition to repeat as division champions. San Francisco shipped DeForest Buckner to the Colts for pick number 14 in the draft and snagged defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw out of South Carolina to beef up an already impressive defensive line. They also replaced Emmanuel Sanders (who left for New Orleans) with speedster wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk out of Arizona State who should flourish in the slot for Kyle Shanahan’s offense.

They’ll be competing against three other teams with an opportunity to make real noise in the division. Seattle was an expected regression team a season ago that was bailed out time and time again by quarterback Russell Wilson en route to an 11-5 season and playoff win in the Wild Card Round on the road at Philadelphia. The Rams were just in the Super Bowl two seasons ago and will look for Jared Goff and their innovative offense led by Head Coach Sean McVay to bounce back in 2020.

And then there’s Arizona, who with a few shrewd trades and player development could take a major step and surprise many folks this season. Arizona added yet another offensive piece to the mix with the trade and long-term signing of DeAndre Hopkins from the Houston Texans in exchange for David Johnson. They also have shored up their defense, notably with the selection of Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons and the signings of Jordan Phillips and Devon Kennard. But Kyler Murray is the x-factor in all of this. Over the last two seasons, second-year quarterbacks have won the MVP: Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson. Murray has seen his MVP odds move all the way from 50/1 to as low as 12/1 at times.

 

NFC NORTH BETTING ODDS

Maybe it’s not the most impressive division, but the NFC North is certainly one of the most intriguing of the upcoming 2020 campaign. The Green Bay Packers were one of three teams to finish with a 13-3 record in the NFC a season ago and won the North, but is now considered an underdog to Minnesota after the public has lost faith in the Packers’ brain trust. Rather than adding talent around Aaron Rodgers and Aaron Jones, GM Brian Gutekunst selected their likely replacements in Jordan Love and AJ Dillon. Meanwhile, the Vikings have the support of the public behind them after Kirk Cousins took his team into New Orleans and defeated the Saints before eventually falling to the NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers in the Divisional Round.

The Bears are one of the most fascinating stories of 2020, largely because their projections are all over the place. With competent quarterback and offensive line play, the defense is talented enough to be a top-five unit and a legitimate playoff contender. However, there’s also thought that if the season gets off to a rough start, they’ll consider tanking to try and grab either Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields to fix their quarterback situation.

Finally, the Detroit Lions could also attempt to make some noise in the division. After playing some of his most consistent football in his career, Matthew Stafford missed the final eight games of the season which lead to the Lions downfall. Stafford was on pace to throw for 38 touchdowns, which would have led the NFL in 2019. Now, they’ve added standout running back D’Andre Swift to the mix with Kerryon Johnson, Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones and second-year tight end TJ Hockinson. Factor in Jeff Okudah, the top cornerback in the draft out of Ohio State, and the Lions may have enough talent to surprise this season.

 

NFC WORST TO FIRST VALUE POWER RANKINGS:

  1. CARDINALS
  2. LIONS
  3. REDSKINS
  4. PANTHERS

 

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Ben Heisler
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