While hope may spring eternal for some NFL teams, there are others looking for reasons just to have hope.
It seems that for every Super Bowl contender at the start of the season, there is another team rebuilding or bottoming out. With the NFL kickoff Thursday night, 2022 is shaping up to be no different. The Buffalo Bills are the consensus Super Bowl favorites, and the Houston Texans are at the opposite end of the spectrum — the favorite to finish with the league’s worst record.
There are other contenders for that dubious title, and since the NFL drives the sports wagering market in the U.S., there will be no lack of action from bettors trying to figure out which team is so much trash it becomes someone’s treasure for potential payout.
Not loving Lovie’s team
The Texans have a narrow band of pricing for worst record from +275 at Betfred to +350 at FanDuel. The most common offering is +300. Every oddsmaker has pegged Lovie Smith’s team to contend for the No. 1 pick in the 2023 draft. Most books are offering the Texans with an over/under of 4.5 wins, which is fitting as they are coming off back-to-back four-win seasons.
Smith, a defense-first coach and stabilizing presence, at least is the right coach at the right time for the franchise, which got out from under the crushing weight of the Deshaun Watson saga by trading the embattled quarterback to the Cleveland Browns in the offseason. Houston also began using picks it stockpiled from other deals to begin the rebuilding process.
The AFC South is again projected to be among the weakest divisions in the league, and recall two of Houston’s wins last season came against Jacksonville — a team that finished behind the Texans at 3-14. Houston has an added degree of difficulty in facing the entire AFC West, where even one win among those four matchups could drastically change the odds of this pick delivering.
Falcons, Jets, Bears, Seahawks also in the mix
Who is this years biggest loser? 😅 pic.twitter.com/1A5vB91EUq
— Moxie Bets (@MoxieBets) September 7, 2022
The Texans are just one of five teams that are perceived to have a realistic chance to finish with the NFL’s worst record. Oddsmakers have also declared a consensus for the worst team in the NFC in the Atlanta Falcons, who will have someone other than Matt Ryan under center for the first time since 2008. The most common listing for the Falcons to have the NFL’s worst record is +400 at DraftKings, FanDuel, BetRivers, PointsBet, and Unibet, while Betfred is offering the shortest odds at +300.
Veteran Marcus Mariota will try to resurrect his career and hold off rookie Desmond Ridder for the starting quarterback spot. There is a glaring hole in Atlanta’s receiving corps with Calvin Ridley suspended for the season for betting on NFL games, but first-round pick Drake London will get every chance to fill that void. The Falcons still have young tight end Kyle Pitts. But there may be a fall-off for all these receivers from Ryan to Mariota, in the sense that Atlanta could occasionally win a shootout with the former.
That looms larger considering Atlanta has a mostly new-look front seven after giving up 30 or more points on seven occasions in 2021. The secondary is solid, but if opponents can gash the Falcons on the ground similar to how they did last season, that becomes a lesser strength. The NFC South is not a murderer’s row beyond Tampa Bay, but the interconference schedule of facing the AFC North plus a date with the Los Angeles Chargers is where this pick can be won or lost.
The Jets, Bears, and Seahawks can all be lumped together in a second tier, as there is no consensus on third through fifth. Caesars Sportsbook has the shortest odds on the Jets at +375, tying them with the Falcons and serving as the low end of a band that ranges to +900 at FanDuel.
Though there has been plenty of optimism surrounding New York following a productive offseason ahead of coach Robert Saleh’s second season, the recent news that second-year QB Zach Wilson will be held out until at least Week 4 to fully recover from a knee injury could result in a slow start that makes this a sneaky value pick. Joe Flacco will be under center for at least Week 1, and the scheduling quirk that has the Jets playing the entire AFC North the first four games makes an 0-4 start a possibility.
The Bears have begun their top-down rebuild around second-year quarterback Justin Fields and first-year coach Matt Eberflus, but the bigger news is oddsmakers thinking they will finish behind perennial NFC North doormat Detroit. Picking Chicago here requires conviction, because the Bears most control their destiny in this betting market.
In addition to the Bears facing the Lions twice, they host the Texans in Week 3 and face the Falcons and Jets on the road in Weeks 12 and 13. If Chicago comes out of those five games with even two wins, it may be enough to make a worst-record wager fizzle.
Seattle is a consensus top-five option with a narrow band from +650 at PointsBet and Caesars to +800 at BetRivers, BetMGM, and Unibet. Watching Geno Smith lead the first-team offense to 10 points in the preseason did not do much for fans still grieving Russell Wilson’s departure to Denver — Drew Lock may not be a notable upgrade once fully healthy.
Is there a longshot that could collapse?
Coach @TracyWalkerIII reporting for duty 🤣
Season finale of #HardKnocks tonight at 10pm on @hbomax! pic.twitter.com/q2cunWq5Eq
— Detroit Lions (@Lions) September 6, 2022
There are four other teams that have little realistic chance for the postseason: Jacksonville, Detroit, Carolina, and the New York Giants. Like the Bears, the Jaguars cleaned house in the offseason to build around their franchise quarterback Trevor Lawrence, but they also spent wildly to give him receiving options.
Detroit has gotten a lot of hype for being on Hard Knocks, but it is still hard to shake the Lions’ history, despite coach Dan Campbell’s enthusiasm. The Panthers are counting on Baker Mayfield to prove the haters wrong, and a healthy Christian McCaffrey would quickly eliminate Carolina from delivering on this pick, with offerings ranging from +900 (FanDuel) to +1200 (DraftKings, BetRivers, PointsBet, Unibet).
That leaves the Giants, with Brian Daboll as their fourth coach in seven years and quarterback Daniel Jones in a make-or-break season under center. New York could be worth a flyer at +3000 at Caesars, and even the shortest odds of +1400 at DraftKings and BetMGM still provide some bang for those banking on a bungling team.
Photo: Kirby Lee/USA TODAY