The NFL season begins on Thursday at 8:20 p.m. ET, and that means it’s time to make some bets by 8:19 p.m. ET on Thursday. If you’re looking for the best over/under bets for each team’s win total, check out this podcast with Bill Simmons and Cousin Sal. If you’re looking for some bets with a little more spice, here are eight prop bets that cannot possibly lose. (Most odds are from Bovada, with several from MyBookie mixed in.)
Most Rushing Touchdowns 2019: Lamar Jackson (40-1)
A quarterback leading the league in rushing scores is a stretch but not impossible. Cam Newton was second in the league with 14 rushing scores in 2011, and he did it in 126 carries in 16 starts. Last year Lamar Jackson had 119 carries in seven starts. With the nine games in which Jackson got 28 carries as a gadget option before he took over the starting role from Joe Flacco, he set the record for the most by a quarterback in a single season. Baltimore wants to scale back Jackson’s rushing this year, but a 16-game season would put him on pace to shatter his own record. Ravens head coach John Harbaugh says that Baltimore’s offense will revolutionize the game and use concepts not seen since the 1950s, and that could mean a lot of read-options near the goal line. Jackson is 40-1 now, but he could be 15-1 by the end of September.
Josh Allen (Buffalo Bills QB) Interceptions (-9.5) vs. Josh Allen (Jacksonville Jaguars Defensive End) Sacks
This pits the Bills’ no. 7 overall pick from 2018, Josh Allen, against the Jaguars’ no. 7 overall pick from 2019, Josh Allen. The Bills version threw 12 interceptions in 12 games last year and just 10 touchdowns, making him a prime candidate to lead the league in picks if he plays a full season. The Jaguars’ Allen had 17.0 sacks at Kentucky in 2018, the most sacks for an SEC player since the conference started recording them in 2000.
Jacksonville’s Allen is not expected to start his rookie year and could drop into pass coverage occasionally when he is on the field instead of being a pure pass rusher, but he should find his way to at least two sacks. Buffalo’s Allen seems like a lock to throw at least a dozen interceptions across a 16-game season, though his health could prevent it. If both Josh Allens play the whole year, Josh Allen is the better bet. But if Josh Allen misses time, the smart money is on Josh Allen. Got that?
Winner 2019-20 Most Valuable Player Award: Russell Wilson (35-1)
It’s worth gandering at the full list of MVP odds to understand how discounted Russell Wilson’s are.
Wilson is the best value on the board by far. At 35-1, Wilson has the same MVP odds as Kirk Cousins and only slightly better ones than Mitchell Trubisky at 40-1. Considering Wilson was a dark-horse MVP candidate in 2016 and 2017, the latter of which he could have pulled off with a better December, his odds are silly. Eleven of the past 12 MVP winners are quarterbacks, and all 11 of them led a team that earned a first-round bye. That makes hunting for the QB of a good team to bet on imperative, but not all quarterbacks get credit for their team’s success. No matter how great Jared Goff does in 2019, Sean McVay will likely get too much of the credit for Goff to win MVP. If the Vikings or Bears earn a first-round bye in 2019, Kirk Cousins or Mitchell Trubisky will share credit with their defenses. To win MVP, a quarterback must be seen as the engine of his team’s success, and Wilson is the perfect candidate. He’s often seen as being held back by his coaching staff and a front office that has surrounded him with middling talent, including a weak receiving corps for 2019. The Rams are the favorites to win the NFC West, but history is littered with Super Bowl losers who failed to win their division or even make the playoffs the following year. If the 49ers’ and Cardinals’ offensive innovations fail to disrupt anything other than their own players this year and the Rams suffer from a Super Bowl hangover, the Seahawks could waltz to the NFC West title and potentially a top seed in the NFC. That’s not the most likely scenario, but the odds of it are better than 35-1, and if this season goes that way, it’s hard to see how a healthy Wilson wouldn’t win MVP.
Most Interceptions: Jimmy Garoppolo (28-1)
Last year the leader was Ben Roethlisberger, who threw interceptions at a roughly league-average rate but also had the most pass attempts in the NFL. Roethlisberger is unlikely to lead the league again, so we must look elsewhere. Second in attempts and interceptions last year was Andrew Luck, but, well, yeah. The favorite to lead the league in interceptions in 2019 is Jameis Winston, who tied for the fifth-most picks in just 11 games in 2018 and won’t have Ryan Fitzpatrick to take playing time from him this year. Winston throws a ton of picks per pass attempt, so he’s the easy choice to lead the league. But he has the lowest odds at 7-1, so he’s not a great value.
Enter Jimmy Garoppolo at 28-1. Garoppolo doesn’t have the reputation as a gunslinger, but he deserves it. He has eight interceptions in eight games as a 49er, and anybody who watches him play knows he isn’t afraid of a 50-50 ball or of threading it through tight coverage. He’s flashed some of that turnover prowess this preseason, throwing five consecutive interceptions in practice and a pick and near pick six in just six passes in a preseason game against Denver. Garoppolo’s still relatively green—he has fewer career starts than three of the five quarterbacks drafted in the first round last year—and he’s returning from a torn ACL while playing with the league’s least experienced receiving group and a banged-up offensive line. He could have a tough season, but he’s not likely to be benched if that happens. (The same can’t be said for other interception-leader candidates such as Eli Manning or Marcus Mariota.) This could be a fun wave to ride for those who don’t believe the hype around San Francisco.
First Coach Fired: Jay Gruden (10-3)
This bet more than any other is a process of elimination. Roughly half the coaches in the league are safe enough that they have no hope of being fired first. Another dozen could lose their jobs with a bad year but not a bad first half (Dan Quinn in Atlanta, Ron Rivera in Carolina, and Mike Zimmer in Minnesota are prime examples). That leaves only a half dozen or so who could truly be canned by October with a terrible start. That could include Doug Marrone in Jacksonville (12-1) or Jason Garrett in Dallas (15-1) if those teams start with zero or single-digit wins, but a disastrous start from those teams seems unlikely. The best combo of questionable job security and the chance to start slowly is Jay Gruden. It’s his sixth season in Washington and the team is 0-1 in the playoffs in his tenure. Washington has a tough start to the year with Philadelphia, Dallas, Chicago, the Giants, and New England on tap. If Washington leaves that stretch 1-4 or 0-5—extremely possible—and then goes into Week 6 and loses to Miami, which is expected to contend for the no. 1 overall pick, Gruden will be on thin ice. If he loses the following week to Kyle Shanahan, his former assistant, at home, Gruden will likely not make it to the team’s bye week.
Panthers (11-2) to Win the NFC South
Carolina is 5.5-1 to win the NFC South. To put that in perspective, that is a higher payout than for the Colts, who are 5-1 even after Andrew Luck’s retirement. Standing in Carolina’s way are the juggernaut Saints, but there’s plenty of reason to believe the Saints could fall off this year—they’re one of the most likely teams to regress in 2019 according to ESPN’s Bill Barnwell. Aside from the Saints’ internal questions, their entire division looks better. Atlanta shored up its offensive line, the Buccaneers hired Bruce Arians as head coach, and Cam Newton’s shoulder is reportedly healthy. The NFC South could be the most competitive division in football, and that can create chaos. The Panthers could rise, especially with an offense fueled by potential breakout receivers D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel. Under Ron Rivera, Carolina has been an every-other-year squad since 2012, following up every losing season with double-digit wins. Based on this logic, the Panthers are a surefire bet to bounce back in 2019, and that could earn them the NFC South title.
The Broncos, the 2019 Sleeper Hiding in Plain Sight
New Denver QB Joe Flacco has become a punch line, but he is undeniably an upgrade at quarterback over Case Keenum. New head coach Vic Fangio is an even bigger upgrade over Vance Joseph, both because Joseph was considered one of the worst in-game decision-makers in the league and because Fangio is one of the best defensive minds in football. Fangio was the mastermind of last year’s league-wrecking Bears defense and oversaw the 49ers’ defenses under Jim Harbaugh that fueled their Super Bowl run. Now he gets Super Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller and last year’s no. 5 pick Bradley Chubb to play with at defensive end, plus one of the best cornerback groups in football with Chris Harris Jr., Kareem Jackson, and Bryce Callahan. And while Denver upgraded at quarterback, head coach, and defensive personnel, the Chargers (who already appeared set for regression in 2019) are banged up on defense and along their offensive line, which already looked like the league’s worst.
There’s nothing sexy about adding Joe Flacco and a defensive-minded head coach in a year when offensive coaches were all the rage, but nobody would be surprised if Fangio makes Miller and Chubb the heart of the league’s best defense while Flacco serves as an experienced game manager with something to prove. Yet Denver’s odds suggest a huge value. The Broncos are 3.5-1 to make the playoffs, 7.5-1 to win a wild-card berth, 8-1 to reach the AFC championship game, 66-1 to earn the no. 1 seed (tied with the Giants and Raiders), 75-1 to be the last undefeated team, and 100-1 to have the league’s best record. Hell, a team with Fangio coaching Miller and Chubb is 15-1 to lead the league in sacks. Those odds range from unsurprising to out there, but a Denver turnaround means they’d all be solid bets.
The Pittsburgh Steelers Ewing Theory
Bill Simmons popularized the Ewing Theory for teams that would defy expectations and be better after losing their star player. There has not been a better candidate in years than this year’s Pittsburgh Steelers, who traded Antonio Brown and let running back Le’Veon Bell walk this offseason and are currently set at 9-1 to win the AFC. There’s serious reason to believe Pittsburgh could be better without them. Bell’s rushing totals were largely replaced by James Conner, but Conner couldn’t replace everything the Steelers did on offense, and they were forced to adapt on the fly. The Steelers threw the most passes in football last year, in no small part because they were caught off guard by Bell not showing up. With a full offseason to prepare for life without him, Pittsburgh will return to a more balanced approach. Brown is likely a bigger loss than Bell, but he seems to be one of the rare cases where addition by subtraction is truth, not a platitude. If there was ever a football team that wanted to play better to spite a former player, it’s Pittsburgh. Last year was the first time the Steelers missed the playoffs since 2013, and they have a good chance to return in 2019 with a defense that has quietly led the league in sacks each of the past two years and just added first-round linebacker Devin Bush to fill the role Ryan Shazier used to fill. If you believe in the Ewing Theory, the Steelers are easy money this year.