The NFL preseason is giving handicappers their first glimpse of the league’s landscape in 2015. And while exhibition results should be taken with a grain of salt, it’s never too early to start thinking ahead to divisional races – especially when considering NFL division futures. Here are three sleepers to keep in mind when sports betting handicapping who could shock their way to the top this season:
Minnesota Vikings (+700 to win NFC North)
Adrian Peterson’s return instantly makes the Vikings offense a threat, something that just wasn’t there in 2014. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater looked good at the end of the year and the franchise rewarded him with a brand new toy in WR Mike Wallace. This is Year 2 under head coach Mike Zimmer, who injected his intensity into a defense that limited opponents to 21.4 points per game – 11th best in the NFL. The road to the NFC North crown goes through Green Bay, but don’t count out the resurgent Vikings.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+700 to win NFC South)
First, let’s be honest. The NFC South is bad. Carolina was the default winner in 2014, earning a playoff spot with a losing record, while the Saints and Falcons fell way below their standards. Those teams are expected to be better this season but so is Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers enter their second year under head coach Lovie Smith, who made this defense respectable toward the end of the season, and No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston has Tampa Bay faithful drooling over his long ball to big-play WR Mike Evans. You’d have to go back to the Gruden years to get the Bucs this low in the divisional futures. That’s telling you something.
Buffalo Bills (+450 to win AFC East)
There’s plenty to be optimistic about in Buffalo these days. Rex Ryan brings a certain swagger to the franchise, along with a hard-nosed defense designed to dethrone Tom Brady and the Patriots. And who’s to say the Pats don’t struggle without Brady – pending his suspension – putting them behind the eight ball in the division. The Bills still have some QB questions to answer but having WR Sammy Watkins and new RB LeSean McCoy should take some of the burden off whichever passer earns the starting gig. Hey, at least they’re not the Jets…