THE SEASON'S STORY LINES GET EVEN MORE INTERESTING WITH MONEY ON THE LINE. HOLD ON TO YOUR MORTGAGE!
SURELY YOU'VE heard by now: Sports gambling is legal. Not just legal, mandatory. They'll soon be adding it to the curriculum in public schools. That's not quite accurate. In May the Supreme Court ruled the federal ban on state-sanctioned sports betting to be unconstitutional, paving the way for sports betting to—possibly, someday soon—become legal in your state. This season you will be battered by a deluge of advice on how to make your money grow through the magic of betting on the NFL. Anyone can break down favorites and underdogs for you. We're looking for unique investment opportunities. Here are nine prop bets you should get in on this season.
Number of times Hue Jackson is asked, "Are you really not starting Baker Mayfield in the opener?" over the first eight days of September: Over/Under 853.5
The Browns coach's stated desire to sit the No. 1 overall pick is curious for a few reasons. First, there's the fact that teams flocked to Norman to learn about the scheme Mayfield (left) mastered at Oklahoma. Any organization interested in drafting Mayfield was prepared to heavily incorporate elements of the Sooners' attack—surely that included the one who actually did draft him. Second, Mayfield is NFL-ready. He can handle a ton of information and process it quickly. He's accurate. He's able to create when plays break down. And Cleveland's O-line is a strength, and the receivers are solid. Third, the one knock on Mayfield is his lack of size. Presumably, the Browns are not expecting the 6'1" 23-year-old to have a growth spurt. Fourth, the placeholder in Cleveland is Tyrod Taylor, whose ultraconservative style emphasizes preventing turnovers to the point that he sometimes neglects to score points. The Browns need points.
OUR PICK: OVER. Jackson (above) is really going to do this, isn't he. Mayfield is really going to start the season on the bench. Apparently watching your team turn the ball over 41 times during an 0--16 season makes a man do strange things. Or—OR!—perhaps the team with one win over their past 32 games is making a particularly unwise decision.
Number of sad face emojis Dak Prescott texts to Dez Bryant this season: Over/Under 26
Bryant is not who he used to be, and it was only a matter of time until the Cowboys moved to get out from under a contract that paid him like he was still in his prime. But Dallas was surely caught off guard when future Hall of Fame tight end Jason Witten, a security blanket for Prescott (right), retired last spring. The Cowboys enter 2018 with—on paper—the worst group of pass catchers in the NFL. There is not a single receiver or tight end on the roster who demands a double team—the kind of threat a healthy Bryant might have been able to provide. Dallas is built around running back Ezekiel Elliott, an all-world offensive line and the run game this season. But, as he enters Year 3, Prescott doesn't have the supporting cast to become the franchise QB the Cowboys might have to pay for when he's due for a contract extension next offseason.
OUR PICK: UNDER. The ice-cold market for Bryant after he was released—he still hasn't signed—shows what most teams think of the one-time star: He's lost a step. Nostalgia for the good old days of 2016 will hit Prescott every now and then, but there's enough of a run game in Dallas to give the 'Boys a chance at a wild-card spot.
Fans in attendance when the Chargers clinch the NFC West vs. guests attending your nephew's bar mitzvah: Minus 53.5
The Rams dominated the headlines this past offseason, but they're not even the best team in their city. Yes, there's another team in L.A.—some people may recall that the Chargers moved there last year. They're the only team in pro football that plays in a soccer stadium. They're also the only team that boasts bona fide stars at each of the most important positions in the NFL: quarterback (Philip Rivers), both edge rushers (Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram) and No. 1 cornerback (Casey Hayward). Coach Anthony Lynn's team won six of its last seven games in 2017 and would have finished 12--4 had it not been for the gaffes of a disastrous special teams unit that cost them three wins. No one realizes this because the Chargers have been completely overshadowed by the Rams in the L.A. market and play at the 27,000-seat StubHub Center, by far the smallest venue in the league—and one they still can't fill. But there's no doubt the Chargers will be one of the most legitimate threats to New England in the AFC.
OUR PICK: CHARGERS FANS. It will be close since the Rams, who own most of the football hearts and minds in Southern California, are poised for another playoff run. Plus, your sister-in-law promised open bar and those little mini--hot dogs and barred the DJ from playing any Black Eyed Peas songs. There aren't going to be a lot of no-shows at that party, is my point. Still, if the Chargers start out fast, people will come out to see a winner.
Hours of sleep lost by NFC East defensive coordinators while thinking about Saquon Barkley: Over/Under 51.5
A fact that might surprise you if you've been in a coma since 1989: The NFL is a pass-happy league. So perhaps you shrugged your shoulders when the Giants decided to rustle awake their hibernating run game by drafting the Penn State star in April (with the second overall pick, no less). Barkley (above) is capable of becoming the third consecutive rookie to win the NFL rushing title—even behind an offensive line with some question marks. But just as important: He's immediately going to be one of the most valuable pass-catching backs in the NFL—think Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell and Arizona's David Johnson—because he can torch most linebackers and even some safeties in one-on-one situations. Consider too that wideout Odell Beckham Jr. demands a double team on every play; second-year tight end Evan Engram provides another matchup headache; and new coach Pat Shurmur is considered one of the shrewdest play designers in the NFL. Eli Manning, whose arm strength is still there, is the kind of savvy veteran who can take full advantage of the matchup problems this offense creates. The Giants, 31st in the league in scoring a year ago, have a chance to be one of the league's top five scoring teams in 2018.
OUR PICK: OVER. Figure a defensive coordinator averages five hours of sleep per night, and loses an average of 90 minutes per night during Giants week, starting with the previous Sunday. Six division games, though the Eagles visit on a Thursday night and Washington hosts the Giants after the Skins play a Monday nighter. That would come in around 57 hours of lost sleep this season. Not even memory foam would make much of a dent in that.
Photocopies of lost-dog-style Khalil Mack posters Jon Gruden pins to telephone poles around the greater Oakland area: Over/Under 712.5
Strange times in Oakland. The Raiders are two years from setting sail for Vegas. Wunderkind QB Derek Carr took a step back in 2017 after signing his mega-contract last summer. The man brought into fix him last coached a game during the George W. Bush presidency. It's been almost an afterthought that the Raiders' best player could miss regular-season games while holding out. Mack (above), indisputably one of the top three pass rushers in football and the 2016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, is one of the few non-QBs who deserves to be paid like a franchise headliner, but Carr's contract (heavily backloaded) complicates Oakland's ability to get a second huge deal on the books. A lame-duck franchise coming off a 10-loss season, a new regime, a QB in crisis and now a potentially prolonged absence for the franchise's only undisputed superstar. Welcome back, Gruden.
OUR PICK: UNDER. Considering Gruden is on the record as being ... shall we say, lukewarm, on some technology that is now commonplace in the NFL, he won't take any shortcuts with social media. Still, he's going to have his hands full with Carr and an offense that needs a lot of that famous Gruden TLC. He won't have much free time to woo back Mack.
TV pundit references to Patrick Mahomes as "Favre-ian": Over/Under 12.5 (Over. Mahomes is going to be something to behold in Andy Reid's offense.)
Decibels of the unintelligible grunt from Bill Belichick the first time he hears "Garoppolo" during a press availability: Over/Under 38.5 (Under. Bill will be expecting it.)
Metaphorical pounds of pressure on new Vikings QB Kirk Cousins's shoulders: Over/Under 4 billion (Over, considering how good Minnesota's defense is.)