The back end of the future NFC playoff picture is crowded. Like the defending champion Buccaneers and the re-tooled Rams, a few teams look like relatively safe bets to get back to the playoffs in 2021. But, a lack of quality among the remaining NFC rosters has left nearly every other playoff spot wide open and available for the taking.
The Packers may be forced to move on from Aaron Rodgers. The Saints will attempt to forge forward without Drew Brees. Dak Prescott will take his first meaningful snaps since a nearly career-threatening injury Seahawks will have a new play-caller after last year’s clash of philosophies. Tons of question marks, to say the least, but thankfully for bettors, this creates opportunity and a ton of value in the futures market.
Here are my best plus-money bets to make the 2021 NFC playoffs, and don’t forget to check out part one of this series detailing the AFC.
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Minnesota Vikings (+120)
The Vikings had a strange year last year. A Mike Zimmer coached team who’s defense let them down on countless occasions? I never thought I’d see the day, but that’s exactly what happened.
I can’t imagine the Minnesota defense being remotely close to as bad as they were for the first half of 2020. Through their first six games leading up to their bye, the Vikings allowed 32.0 points per game, and naturally were 1-5. They finished the year on a 6-4 run, and excluding a 52-point debacle on Christmas in New Orleans, their defense allowed a touchdown fewer per game than they did pre-bye week.
The Vikings also brought in a few key free agents on the defensive side of the ball, namely defensive backs Patrick Peterson and Xavier Woods – who didn’t show much last year but could bounce right back in Zimmer’s scheme – and defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson, who had a career year with the Giants and should go a long way towards lifting the league’s 27th-ranked run defense. There’s reason for optimism on defense, despite last year’s struggles.
We all know about the weapons on offense. Justin Jefferson is a legitimate WR1, Adam Thielen – while perhaps no longer Adam Thielen of old – is still a formidable number-two, and Dalvin Cook is coming off a 1,500-yard, 16-touchdown year. Does Kirk Cousins leave a ton to be desired? He does. But, he could very well be the best quarterback in the NFC North if the Packers indeed move on from Aaron Rodgers. And at plus-money odds, I’m willing to take the risk that if Rodgers is no longer in Green Bay, Cousins alone gives Minnesota the best chance to win a division that could be really, really weak and winnable.
Washington Football Team (+150)
The NFC East was historically bad in 2020, and I outlined in my best bets to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl article that I think there’s a ton of value on the Dallas Cowboys now that they’re bringing Dak Prescott back into the fold. I also see a ton of value on Washington to secure a playoff spot, despite my belief that the Cowboys are the class of the division.
The extra Wild Card spot is huge for a team like Washington. They have a dominating defense – tied for fifth-best in terms of scoring and yards allowed per game and third-best in terms of DVOA and yards allowed per drive – but their offense was a bit of a pain point in 2020. The defense being as good as it is is reason enough to keep this bet on your radar, because it’s certainly good enough to steal a few wins, especially in their own division. But the improvements on offense are what really has me excited about Washington.
The team brought in Adam Humphries, a prototypical slot receiver who should slide right into that role for Washington, and more importantly landed Curtis Samuel, a favorite of Ron Rivera’s from back in Carolina. Samuel left some to be desired with the Panthers, never once topping 900 yards or 80 catches, but he’ll play opposite Terry McLaurin, who’s proven over the last two years that he’s matchup-proof. He’ll have a much easier time now with more help on the outside, and some semblance of a quarterback throwing him the ball.
Curtis Samuel (ADP of WR39 on @UnderdogFantasy)
~ 2020 with Joe Brady: 71% of snaps in the slot and an aDOT of 7.5 yds
~ 2019 with Norv/Scott Turner: 29% of snaps in the slot & an aDOT of 14.8 yds
yes, I'm very excited to see Curtis reunited with Scott in Washington pic.twitter.com/fLrmAwGXmZ
— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) May 12, 2021
And finally, I’m just ready for the Ryan Fitzpatrick curse to end. He’s been in the NFL for 16 years, and not once has he made the playoffs. He had a real shot last year with Miami, but this could be the year he finally gets over the hump.
Arizona Cardinals (+190)
I understand why these odds are nearly two-to-one for Arizona. Their division is grueling – possibly the toughest division in all of football – and on paper, the Cardinals may have the lowest expectations of the four NFC West teams. But, NFL games aren’t played on paper, and I think this bet is worth a flier in a year where we’ll probably see two, even three NFC West squads in the postseason.
I’ll start by saying the Cardinals failed to address their offensive line in the draft, and are prepared to head into the 2021 season with career timeshare back Chase Edmonds, oft-injured James Conner, and seventh-rounder Eno Benjamin as their running back room (at least they added J.J. Watt though, right?). It’s not great, but it gives me confidence that Kliff Kingsbury wants to feature Kyler Murray – especially Kyler Murray’s legs – even heavier than he has in his first two seasons, and I think that works in our favor.
Arizona added Rondale Moore in the draft, a weapon however Kingsbury decides to deploy him, and signed A.J. Green to a one year deal in free agency. In my opinion, whatever Green gives them is gravy. He’s been so banged up over the last few seasons that it’s almost impossible to expect the Green of old. But, he’ll no longer be relied upon as the WR1 – that job is unequivocally DeAndre Hopkins’ – so some single coverages in a limited-but-effective role could be exactly what he needs at this stage of his career. And exactly what Arizona needs too.
Kingsbury has made his share of head-scratching moves throughout the first two years of his tenure, but I expect growth in year three from, let’s face it, a coach who didn’t have very much coaching experience at any level when he was named the boss in the desert. All aboard the Kyler Murray hype train… again!
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Mike Wagenman is a featured writer at BettingPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him on Twitter @mjwags23.
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