We're at the midway point of the NFL season, give or take a few games.
It has been a wild one. The lack of many true Super Bowl contenders has made every week pretty unpredictable.
That has made it a challenge to bet the NFL, but our Yahoo Sportsbook team got together to hash out the biggest betting storylines in the NFL's first half, and what to expect going forward:
Which team has been the biggest surprise?
Nick Bromberg: The Jets and Giants are the obvious choices but I’m going with the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings may be a bit of a paper tiger at 7-1 and could be exposed over the next month with a very tough schedule ahead. But this is a team that could easily have the division wrapped up by the second weekend of December thanks to its hot start. Teams don’t often have five-game leads in their division at the halfway point of the season. Minnesota does and deserves a bunch of credit for it.
Peter Truszkowski: There are three correct answers to this question, and that’s the Jets, Giants and Seahawks. I can see it with the Jets as they’re loaded with young talent throughout the roster. The other two are mind blowing. The fact that Geno Smith is a good starting quarterback in the NFL almost a decade after coming out of West Virginia is insane. His teammates love him now, but remember when he got punched in the face by a sixth-round backup over 600 bucks? I’m still going with the Giants here. Their preseason win total was set at 7.5 wins, and if you told me Daniel Jones would be throwing to Marcus Johnson, David Sills and Richie James, I’d bet the under again. Look at the talent level on this roster and try and explain how they’re 6-2. Brian Daboll is up to +800 to win Coach of The Year!!! Those odds are ludicrous. I know Nick Sirianni in Philly has the inside track, but +800 for this coaching performance is insane value.
Greg Brainos: The biggest pleasant surprise as a player has been Geno Smith, but I have to go with the New York Jets for team. Half of their wins have come against teams ranked in the top 12 of DVOA, including Sunday’s 20-17 shocker over the prohibitive Super Bowl favorite Buffalo Bills. Rookie Sauce Gardner and former Seahawk D.J. Reed have transformed the Jets’ secondary into a no-fly zone, and defensive tackle Quinnen Williams’ 2022 campaign will make a perfect audition tape for Juggernaut in the next X-Men film. This roster is a decent quarterback away from making a whole lot of noise.
Frank Schwab: The Atlanta Falcons were the early leader here as they went off to a 6-0 ATS start to the season, but I think by now it has to be the Seattle Seahawks. They’re 6-3 straight up and ATS and the difference between them and some other teams that are off to good ATS starts is Seattle’s start doesn’t look fluky. We can wonder how the heck Geno Smith turned into a top-end quarterback but that’s our new reality. I don’t think they’re going anywhere. We just have to see when oddsmakers adjust to them.
Which team is the biggest disappointment?
Nick Bromberg: There are a ton of right answers to this question but I’ll go with the Las Vegas Raiders. This is a team that made the playoffs a season ago and added Davante Adams and Chandler Jones. Yet the Raiders are 2-6 and in last in the AFC West. The Raiders’ collapse after leading the Jaguars 17-0 in Week 9 was the third time they’ve lost this season after accruing a 17-point lead. That’s unacceptable for any team, let alone one with this talent level. Josh McDaniels’ second head coaching stint is off to a miserable start.
Peter Truszkowski: Like Nick said, there are so many correct answers here between the Packers, Colts, Buccaneers, Broncos, Rams, Raiders, etc. However, I’m going to go a little off the beaten path here and go with the Los Angeles Chargers. I thought this team had potential to be the best team in football, but injuries and coaching have made that near impossible. Between Rashawn Slater, Joey Bosa, J.C. Jackson, Keenan Allen and Mike Williams all missing significant chunks of time, we’ve been robbed. On top of that, you have Justin Herbert playing through a rib injury for almost the entire year, and that’s still probably holding him back less than playing in Joe Lombardi’s offense. The Chargers are going to hang around the wild-card race and knowing them, they’ll find a way to fall apart in epic fashion. The fact we will never get to see this collection of talent healthy and playing to their full capability is one of the biggest disappointments of the NFL season for me.
Greg Brainos: Green Bay has the reigning back-to-back MVP and what was supposed to be one of the best defenses in the NFL. Nearly everyone picked either the Packers or Bucs to come out of the NFC and it’s looking like they could both miss the playoffs altogether. While Tampa Bay can at least point to a rash of injuries to explain away many of their shortcomings this season, Aaron Rodgers is left pointing at everyone else.
Frank Schwab: There are so many teams to choose from. I’ll go with the Indianapolis Colts, because I thought this would be the clear AFC South winner and instead they’ll come closer to a top-five pick in the NFL draft. Firing Frank Reich and hiring Jeff Saturday (yeah, wow) isn’t going to make things better no matter how much Jim Irsay believes it. They looked awful in Week 9 against the New England Patriots and that’s probably what we’ll get the rest of the season: an offense that will struggle to reach 14 points most weeks with a defense that isn’t good enough to overcome that.
Is there a trend that you've followed?
Nick Bromberg: I’m fascinated to see if scoring picks up over the second half of the season as offenses adjust to defenses clearly begging teams to run the ball as they look to prevent the deep pass. Seven Week 9 games had 37 or fewer total points – four games ended 20-17 – as all 12 games on Sunday and Monday had an over/under of at least 40.5 points. The betting market is adjusting to the rash of unders. That makes me wonder if overs will be the right side as the season goes on.
Peter Truszkowski: I’ve written about this earlier in the season, but if you like an underdog to cover the spread, you absolutely should be at least sprinkling some of your bet on the moneyline. This season, an underdog has covered 75 times. In 54 of those games, they’ve won the game outright. The spread only matters a little over 16% of the time. In 84% of NFL games this season, we’ve either seen the favorite win and cover or the underdog win outright.
Greg Brainos: The obscure touchdown prop I wrote about last season continues to hit in Titans games. A touchdown of less than two yards has been scored in five of their eight contests this year, and in 44 of their 57 regular season games since 2019.
Frank Schwab: As Peter alluded to, heading into the Monday night game of Week 9, underdogs were 75-55-5 against the spread. That’s the theme of this season: Just when you think you have things figured out, they change. Each week there are ugly sides on the board and you can’t come up with one good reason they can cover, yet they do anyway (Houston +14 over Philadelphia on Thursday night of Week 9 being a good example).
Which team do we need to keep a betting eye on, good or bad?
Nick Bromberg: It’s pretty rare for a popular and successful team to have a great record against the spread. And yet here we are halfway through the season with the Dallas Cowboys at 6-2 ATS. Sure, part of that success ATS is because of the team’s success with Cooper Rush, but there’s a decent chance this team could continue that success against the number the rest of the season. It’ll be fascinating to see how Cowboys’ lines adjust over the final two months of the season if they continue to win.
Peter Truszkowski: The Tennessee Titans are one for me. I think we all expected them to take a step back this year and struggle, including the betting market. Well, they haven’t because Mike Vrabel is one of the best coaches in the league. They are 6-2 against the spread this season, they’ve covered six straight and there’s been spots where they’ve been grossly undervalued. I know Malik Willis played, but they were basically a pick’em against the Houston Texans. That’s disrespectful. If the oddsmakers keep doubting them, I’ll keep buying them.
Greg Brainos: San Francisco has been brutalized by key injuries this year, but it sounds like the Niners will be getting a lot of those guys back after their Week 9 bye. When fully healthy, their defense is the best front seven in football and their offense is a buzzsaw. The Niners will win their division and make another deep run in the playoffs.
Frank Schwab: This might sound crazy, but is it the Denver Broncos? They have the second-best defense in the NFL via Football Outsiders’ DVOA. Maybe the offense continues to be awful, but even a little improvement from a first-time head coach with a new quarterback would perhaps lead to an ATS winning streak. The market is pretty far down on Denver, and rightfully so. That might lead to them covering some spreads.