Given that the NFC East is two years removed from producing a 7-9 winner, and that the AFC West was supposed to be the best division in NFL history, few would have picked the Eagles, Cowboys, Giants, and Commanders Football Team to combine for the most wins of any division in the NFL’s first month, but such is life in the league.
As always, Week 4 in the NFL featured its share of surprises. The Seahawks and Lions combined to post 93 points in the highest-scoring day of the game, the Jets and Steelers combined to toss six interceptions as Pittsburgh rookie Kenny Pickett took the field for the first time, and Patriots rookie Bailey Zappe paid off the bet on “First Rookie to throw a TD” that droves of bettors had placed on New England’s third-stringer. In more relevant games, at least as far as the NFL Playoffs go, the Chiefs took advantage of a Tampa Bay fumble on the opening kickoff to blow out the Buccaneers at home, the Bills and Eagles fought back from early deficits against the Ravens and Jaguars in games affected by heavy rain, and the Cowboys pushed their record without quarterback Dak Prescott to 3-0.
Monday Night will feature one more swing game in a crucial NFC West matchup between the 49ers and Rams, but we’ll dive into the outlook for other divisions around the NFL, starting with the NFC East. All odds are from DraftKings.
New York Giants: Playoff-Bound?
Depending on the outcome of the Rams-49ers game on Monday Night, the NFC will enter Week 5 with either five or six three-win teams. To the surprise of many, the New York Giants are one of them.
The Giants have wins over the Titans, Bears, and Panthers, but unfortunately, their 3-1 start brings to mind the 2021 Panthers, who jumped out to a 3-0 start only to see their season unravel. Carolina proceeded to lose four straight games, with the fourth coming to these same Giants, and at 3-4 after a 3-0 start, the Panthers never got back into the playoff race.
New York now heads to London to face off with a Packers team that was none too happy with its performance in an OT win over the Patriots on Sunday. As quarterback Aaron Rodgers put it, he “settled in…and usually don’t have two terrible halves”, which was certainly the case Sunday, as Rodgers threw a rare pick-six to end the first half down 10-7 before rallying the Packers in the second half, nearly beating the Patriots in regulation on a bomb to rookie Romeo Doubs before pulling out the game in overtime.
Had the Packers played better in the first half and secured a comfortable victory over New England, New York might have caught Green Bay off-guard, but between Rodgers having an off day and head coach Matt LaFleur calling himself out for an “emotional decision” on a late challenge, the Giants are unlikely to be so lucky. New York will come home from London to face Baltimore and Jacksonville, which means the Giants could find themselves back at .500 by the time they make a Week 8 trip to Seattle. DraftKings appears to agree with that assessment; despite their 3-1 record, the Giants are +1200 to win the NFC East, while the 3-1 Cowboys are +310 and the 4-0 Eagles are -300.
Given that the Eagles remain undefeated and that the Cowboys have gone 3-0 with Prescott (a stretch that includes a win over the Giants), New York seems more likely to fade than compete, but even if it plays out that way, it’s been a great start for head coach Brian Daboll and general manager Joe Schoen, who will have far more flexibility to reshape the roster in the 2022 NFL offseason.
Jacksonville Jaguars: AFC South Favorites
As it turns out, Indianapolis’s “formula” of having the opponent punt returner drop the ball inside the five was not a sustainable plan for seizing early-game leads, and Tennessee became the third Colts opponent in four weeks to take a two-touchdown lead before halftime. Meanwhile, the Titans have battled back to .500 after an 0-2 start, but the victories have come against the Raiders and Colts, who have combined for two wins this season.
The circumstances add up to the 2-2 Jaguars sitting as the DraftKings favorite for the AFC South at +160 despite their loss to the Eagles. We could get into the differences in talent between the Titans and Jaguars, but a glance at the NFL standings tells the story to some degree: the Jaguars have a +38 point differential, while the 0-3-1 Texans are second in the AFC South at -20, and the Titans third at -26.
Much of Tennessee’s point differential was driven by the blowout loss to the Bills, but even taking that into account, an AFC South where Indianapolis was a heavy preseason favorite has been turned on its head. Jonathan Taylor and the Colts suddenly can’t run the ball, and while Matt Ryan racked up some gaudy statistics in a failed comeback, no solutions are walking through the door at left tackle or right guard to save Indianapolis.
The Jaguars may have failed to capitalize on an early road lead against the 4-0 Eagles, but with the Texans, Colts, Giants, Broncos, and Raiders coming up on the schedule, Jacksonville has every opportunity to sit at 7-2 when they head to Arrowhead Stadium for a matchup with the Chiefs in Week 10.
Tennessee also has a relatively easy stretch ahead of them, with Washington, a Week 6 Bye, Indianapolis, and Houston on the slate, but after that, the Titans play Kansas City, Green Bay, Cincinnati, and Philadelphia in a five-week stretch. The AFC South will likely be decided in the two matchups between Jacksonville and Tennessee in the final five weeks, but as it stands, the Jaguars appear likely to have the better record entering those matchups, and would currently be favored on the road in Tennessee in The Professor’s model. At +160, the Jaguars are still a good value to win the AFC South on DraftKings.
AFC North: Wide Open Field
The Bengals won their second straight game in a Thursday Night win over the Dolphins while the Browns and Ravens dropped games, putting the top three teams in the AFC North at 2-2 coming out of the NFL season’s first month. The Ravens and Bengals face each other in Week 5, while the Browns will face the Ravens in Week 7 and the Bengals in Week 8, which means that NFL fans will know a lot more about the AFC North by the end of October.
As it stands, the pre-season AFC North odds are holding up. The Browns have been able to navigate the first month of the NFL season, but after going 2-2 against four of the NFL’s eight worst teams, Cleveland’s schedule is about to get markedly more difficult. With the Chargers, Patriots, Ravens, Bengals, Dolphins, Bills, and Buccaneers on the slate, the Browns will be lucky to win two more games before quarterback Deshaun Watson returns from suspension.
With Pittsburgh rookie Kenny Pickett tossing three interceptions and losing to the Jets in his debut, the 1-3 Steelers appear unlikely to rally from their current hole, leaving Baltimore (-125) and Cincinnati (+250) as the top two AFC North contenders on DraftKings. Given Joe Burrow’s penchant for lighting up Baltimore’s secondary, it might make sense to place a bet on the Bengals to win the AFC North if you are betting Cincinnati (+3) at Baltimore this Sunday. If the Bengals win, you could either let it ride, or, in the likely scenario that the Ravens’ odds drop to a number longer than +100, add an AFC North bet on Baltimore to your Cincinnati bet for a close-to-guaranteed return on the AFC North outcome.
NFC South Showdown: 2-2 Buccaneers vs. 2-2 Falcons
Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota went 7 of 19 for 139 yards on Sunday while Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady went 39 of 52 for 385 yards, but the Falcons won and the Buccaneers lost, setting up a matchup between the NFC South co-leaders.
The questions will be out in full force after Tampa Bay’s loss to Kansas City on Sunday Night, but assuming the Buccaneers don’t continue to fumble the opening kickoff, Tampa Bay appears well-positioned to bounce back. Brady has endured slow starts in the past and is not about to panic, and while Tampa’s defensive performance on Sunday Night was highly disappointing, that unit has the talent to rebound.
DraftKings is pessimistic about the Falcons, who are tied with the Panthers for the worst NFC South odds at +1200 even though Atlanta has a better record than both Carolina and New Orleans. It’s an unlikely outcome, but if Atlanta (+310 moneyline) upsets Tampa Bay, the NFC South will be in chaos heading into Week 6.
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Steven Clinton, better known as "The Professor", is a former D-1 Quality Control Assistant (Northwestern, Toledo) who holds a B.A. in Economics and M.S. in Predictive Analytics from Northwestern University. He maintains an end-to-end NFL game projection model and is a film junkie who breaks down the tape of every NFL game.