NFL futures betting is not for everyone, and it is far from the most efficient way to make money, even by the highly uncertain standards of sports betting. Observers struggle to understand the present in sports, much less predict the future, and even successful futures bets require the bettor to let a sportsbook hold their money for extended periods. That’s time that could be spent putting your money to work in various other ways.
On the other hand, NFL futures betting is fun. To the extent that gambling on a sport can provide a thrill, nothing beats having something pegged months in advance and watching it pay off. I recommend it only in small doses and as a way to give yourself something to keep track of over the course of a season or even offseason. The best futures strategy, I’ve always found, is to spread money around on a couple of intriguing prospects and see what happens—while keeping your expectations limited.
With that attitude in mind, here are a handful of early NFL futures bets for 2022 that deserve consideration. Let’s use American odds, where -110 correlates to a $110 bet needed to win $100 and +700 correlates to a $100 winning bet returning $700 (see this article on Super Bowl bets for an odds explainer). Odds here are via the online sportsbooks at DraftKings and FanDuel.
NFL Futures Bets to Make Ahead of Next Season
JUSTIN HERBERT THROW OF THE YEAR
— PFF (@PFF) December 12, 2021
1. Los Angeles Chargers to Win the Super Bowl: +2400
If you’re going to park money on a futures bet for almost an entire year, don’t do it for a small return (in the event your bet hits). That typically means not picking the favorites, which in this case are the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills at around +750 odds each. This past season’s champion, the Los Angeles Rams, had the seventh-best odds at this time in 2021 (+1500). Nothing’s a guarantee, but it’s not a bad idea to pick teams with similar odds this year.
The Chargers are an intriguing lottery ticket. They have a (hopefully) ascendant quarterback in third-year man Justin Herbert. After winning Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2020, Herbert didn’t take as big a leap as he might’ve preferred in 2021. His interception rate ticked up from 1.7 percent to 2.2 percent of his throws, his adjusted yards-per-attempt held steady at 7.6, and his QBR hopped from 62.6 to 65.6.
The numbers aren’t the full story, though. Herbert has some best arm talent in the NFL, and he thrived in tough moments to manage five fourth-quarter comebacks. The Chargers had one of the worst defenses in the NFL last season, but there’s enough individual talent sprinkled around (defensive end Joey Bosa and safety Derwin James are the headliners) that a step forward in 2022 seems like a good bet.
DAMIEN HARRIS. BEASTMODE. #ForeverNE
— NFL (@NFL) September 19, 2021
2. New England Patriots to Win the Super Bowl: +2800
The Patriots got dragged around the field by the Bills in the wild card playoff round, but they’re a good value at these long odds, too. They finished the regular season fourth in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, a play-by-play efficiency stat that tends to be relatively predictive of who’s good and who isn’t. Quarterback Mac Jones was the league’s best rookie passer by a wide margin in 2021, even though New England didn’t ask a lot of him. If Jones gets better, the Patriots could be a threat.
This kid Justin Herbert…
— NFL (@NFL) October 5, 2021
3. Los Angeles Chargers to Win the AFC West: +400
The Chiefs have won this division six years in a row and frequently piled long playoff runs atop their dominant regular seasons. But eventually, every dominant team gets some bad breaks, like injuries, and slips up a bit. The Chiefs are still the best bet in the AFC to contend for the Super Bowl in any given year, but they’re due for some bad luck, and 2022 seems like it could be the time.
They’ll probably put the franchise tag on free agent tackle Orlando Brown, but there’s a good chance that an inconsistent secondary loses its best player (safety Tyrann Mathieu), one of the league’s better cornerbacks (Charvarius Ward), and maybe another player or two. If the Chiefs take a small step backward and the Chargers make the leap I’m expecting, then L.A. becomes an attractive option here.
— NFL (@NFL) August 15, 2021
4. San Francisco 49ers to win the NFC West: +200
The Rams are, of course, the division favorites at +150. But let’s note a few things: The 49ers beat them in Los Angeles to close the regular season and very nearly did it again in the NFC Championship. The Rams are excellent and will stay that way for a while, but it’s difficult to see how they’re better than they were in 2021.
Cooper Kupp just had the best receiving season ever. It’s hard to go up from that, and the Rams’ No. 2 receiver down the stretch, Odell Beckham Jr., is staring down both free agency and rehab from the torn ACL he suffered in the Super Bowl. Matthew Stafford, the title-winning quarterback, will be another year older at 34. Andrew Whitworth, the 40-year-old left tackle who somehow continued to play at an elite level in 2021, will probably retire. Von Miller, the similarly ageless pass-rusher, is a free agent and might roll out of town. Even if he doesn’t, the Rams have an old roster core with lots of contractual uncertainty. They are a brilliantly managed team and will be fine in the long run, but they might drop down a peg in 2022.
The 49ers are poised to get better, and they’re clearly not far behind the Rams to begin with (they finished fifth in DVOA to the Niners’ sixth). Second-year QB Trey Lance, who figures to have a lot more upside, if a lower floor, than Jimmy Garoppolo, is likely to take over behind center. They aren’t going to lose any premium free agents and only have one player, guard Laken Tomlinson at No. 26, in the top 75 of the Pro Football Focus free agent rankings. For those reasons, the Niners are a good futures bet in the West, and probably for the NFC title and Super Bowl, too.
Guys I think some of you are overthinking Kayvon Thibodeaux too much. pic.twitter.com/4omMSmodAK
— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) February 23, 2022
5. Kayvon Thibodeaux to be the NFL Draft’s first pick: +800
Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal at +120 and Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson at +200 are the far-and-away market favorites to go first in April’s draft. I don’t see a ton of value there, and it’s not clear the Jacksonville Jaguars have figured out who they want. But Thibodeaux at +800 looks like the pure value play. He entered the 2021 college season as most people’s favorite, and he’s likely to test off the charts in the pre-draft workout circuit. I must caution, however, that placing any bet on the Jaguars’ decision-making is a dangerous exercise.