Aug 29, 2018
Aug 29, 2018

NFC winner odds: Who will win the National Football Conference?

Using last season to help predict future outcomes

A closer look at the NFC winner odds

Who has the best chance of winning the NFC divisions?

NFC winner odds: Who will win the National Football Conference?

The NFL pre-season is well underway and in a few weeks time, 32 teams will begin their journey to what they hope will be Super Bowl glory. Who are the main contenders in the NFC winner odds? Read on for some expert NFL insight.

How last season can help with predictions for this season

The 2018 NFL regular season begins on September 6 when the defending champions the Philadelphia Eagles host the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons will also play host to Super Bowl LIII in February and they will be hoping to become the first team to contest the Super Bowl at their own stadium.

Pre-season is currently in full flow, but teams never play a full playbook and reserve a full-strength team for few of the warm up matches. The starting quarterback for example traditionally sees most action in the penultimate game of pre-season.

Therefore, although it may be tempting to use pre-season to make predictions about potential Super Bowl contenders, many of the clues for improvers or teams on the slide will be found from the previous season.

A variety of partly unsustainable metrics can easily inflate a side’s win/loss record and if these subsequently return to more usual levels.

The cyclical nature of most NFL teams, as poorer performance is rewarded with higher draft picks, along with the influence of randomness is a relatively short 16 game regular season, was starkly demonstrated by the recent fortunes of last season’s champions the Philadelphia Eagles.

Philadelphia were not obvious candidates to even win their division, never mind the Super Bowl, given a casual glance at the standings in 2016 when they propped up the NFC East. 

However, a positive points differential (despite a losing record) and five more losses than wins in games decided by a touchdown or fewer points suggested that if “luck” was less extreme in the 2017 season, they would contend within the division. 

A variety of partly unsustainable metrics can easily inflate a side’s win/loss record and if these subsequently return to more usual levels, while the side’s core talent remains broadly similar, results may either improve or suffer.

These factors include a side’s record in close games, their record compared to their points differential over the season and thus whether they over or under-performed against their Pythagorean expectation and their turnover differential on offence and defence.

A closer look at the NFC winner odds

A closer look at the NFC winner odds

Team

Odds*

Philadelphia Eagles

4.87

Minnesota Vikings

6.14

Los Angeles Rams

6.18

Green Bay Packers

7.84

New Orleans Saints

8.43

Atlanta Falcons

11.11

Dallas Cowboys

14.32

San Francisco 49ers

15.00

Detroit Lions

20.45

New York Giants

20.45

Carolina Panthers

21.00

Seattle Seahawks

24.54

Washington Redskins

33.81

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

37.83

Chicago Bears

41.00

Arizona Cardinals

56.00

NFC East odds

NFC East odds

Team

Odds*

Philadelphia Eagles

1.609

Dallas Cowboys

4.64

New York Giants

5.74

Washington Redskins

9.52

This division is notoriously difficult to defend and just as last year the statistical indicators strongly favoured the Philadelphia Eagles, this year they suggest they will struggle to dominate.

It’s almost a given that successful sides will be both good and lucky and Philadelphia enjoyed the fourth best turnover differential in the NFL, one more win than their points differential suggested was merited and two more wins than losses in narrowly decided games. 

The New York Giants lost five games narrowly last season and won just one in compensation, but start at a low point of just three actual wins. The Washington Redskins did well in narrow matches, but still couldn’t break 0.500 for the season and so the Dallas Cowboys, who performed broadly in line with their points gathering abilities appear to be stronger challengers than the current odds imply.

NFC North odds

NFC North odds

Team

Odds*

Minnesota Vikings

2.09

Green Bay Packers

2.52

Detroit Lions

7.48

Chicago Bears

10.35

The Green Bay Packers broke a sequence of eight consecutive visits to the post season by dropping to a sub 0.500 season in 2017, but it’s worth remembering that their most influential player (QB Aaron Rodgers) was absent for nine of their 16 games. Their passing inevitably took a hit as they became a one-dimensional running team with a below average defence.

The Minnesota Vikings posted a 13 win regular season that was only slightly buoyed by unsustainable factors. They’ve moved to provide a long-term solution at QB in Kirk Cousins, despite impressive core passing statistics from 2017. They remain a top five defence and still look the side to beat in the north.

The Detroit Lions finished last season with nine wins but that included two wins against a Rodger-less Green Bay and a top five-turnover differential. They may fight out the basement slot with the Chicago Bears, who are looking to progress after winning just three games in 2016 but improved to five victories in 2017 which they gained despite three more narrow losses than wins and no assistance from turnovers.

NFC West odds

NFC West odds

Team

Odds*

Los Angeles Rams

1.552

San Francisco 49ers

4.49

Seattle Seahawks

5.71

Arizona Cardinals

17.95

Over in the west, the 8-8 Arizona Cardinals appear the most vulnerable side in the division. They struggled offensively and were reliant upon their defence to carry much of the load. Four more narrow wins than losses and two more wins than their points differential merited suggests that they are more likely to fall to a losing season.

It may be tempting to use pre-season to make predictions about potential Super Bowl contenders, but many of the clues for improvers will be found from the previous season.

The Seattle Seahawks chased home the high scoring Rams and although their wins to points scoring return was almost exactly in line with their Pythagorean expectation, they did benefit from a turnover differential of +8.

After six wins last year, the San Francisco 49ers are the only team in the division who are projected to improve their tally. They failed to get the rub of the green in close games and ended nearly a game below their Pythagorean expectation and they also had a slightly negative turnover differential. 

However, their core offensive and defensive efficiency statistics were both below the league average and second spot appears to be a more realistic aim.

Divisional winners from 2017, the LA Rams reaped the rewards for sticking with Jared Goff, their number one draft pick and underwhelming QB debutante midway through 2016. Their passing efficiency solidly underpins their high scoring offence and defensively they have produced a turnaround that is almost as impressive as their offensive rebirth.

LA had some help from narrow wins and a positive turnover differential, but 11 wins were largely deserved and the gap between themselves and two main rivals who may take a step back makes them solid (albeit odds on) favourites for the title.

NFC South odds

NFC South odds

Team

Odds*

New Orleans Saints

2.54

Atlanta Falcons

2.80

Carolina Panthers

3.96

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

10.58

The NFC south is another traditionally competitive division where repeats are rare and winners tend to improve their wins by around four compared to the previous year. 

Last season was a near three-way tie, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers being cast adrift with just five wins. Following a disappointing showing last season, their seven narrow losses and just three such wins, as well as a Pythagorean expectation just one win shy of 0.500 make Tampa Bay a likely improver in 2018.

The Carolina Panthers are unlikely to be as fortunate in 2018 as they were in 2017, picking up six more narrow wins than losses. They also have an offence that lags well behind their two main rivals.

There’s little to split the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints. The former slightly over-performed against their Pythagorean and edged two more narrow wins than losses. While the latter enjoyed a top ten turnover differential and an unusually efficient defense to go with their usual strong offence - with little between the two teams, Atlanta is taken as the likely second favourite.

Want more insight ahead of the NFL season? Read our analysis of the AFC winner odds.

Odds subject to change

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