The NFL is back! The NFL is back! The NFL is back!
Okay, so as of the time I'm writing this column, we still have another 10 days until the 2014 National Football League season *officially* begins. But damn it, I'm just too freakin' excited.
The NFL is back!
If you enjoy betting on sports, the NFL provides a smorgasbord of wagering opportunities every single week for 17 straight weeks. And then comes the playoffs. Oh, and then comes the biggest betting day of the entire damn year: The Super Bowl.
Last year, I took my Casino Casino City compadres to school with our weekly NFL picks against the spread. I finished 135-106-8 for a $172.46 profit, based on $10 wagers for each game. That was good for a 6.93 percent return on investment. Eat that, Vegas.
This year, I plan to return to my throne every week. But before the season kicks off, here are my top-10 futures bets for the 2014 campaign.
Note: All odds provided either by bet365 Sportsbook & Racebook or Bovada Sportsbook.
10. LeSean McCoy wins rushing title (+450 -- Bovada)
Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy led the league in rushing last year with 1,607 yards. The next closest player was Bears tailback Matt Forte, who finished a whopping 269 yards behind McCoy. To put that into context, that difference equals about 2.5 games worth of McCoy's per-game average. Yikes.
I think McCoy is up there with the Vikings' Adrian Peterson (fifth in 2013) and the Chiefs' Jamaal Charles (third) as the three best running backs in football. But McCoy plays in an explosive offense led by innovative head coach Chip Kelly. Part of the reason McCoy rushed for so many yards in 2013 is because he is unbelievable at breaking tackles -- but a big reason for his breakout season was Kelly's ability to break down opposing defenses.
I like McCoy to take down the rushing title again, and the odds are too enticing to pass up.
9. Indianapolis Colts over 9.5 wins (+100 -- Bovada)
One of the reasons I had such a great year handicapping NFL spreads last season was because I was always on the money in AFC South games. I went 34-15-3 against the spread in the division, and I was 12-4 in the Colts' 16 games. Suffice it to say, I think I can read this division pretty well.
This year, I'm pretty confident that the Colts are the only team worth talking about in the AFC South, and I think they'll go 6-0 in divisional games. They start the season with a tough road matchup against the Denver Broncos, but with games against the Ravens, Steelers, Giants, Redskins, Browns and Cowboys, I think they should easily be able to get to double-digit wins.
8. Baltimore Ravens under 8.5 wins (+100 -- bet365)
Following a brilliant run to the Super Bowl title in 2012, the Ravens fell apart in 2013, finishing the season a putrid 8-8. And though I'm generally higher on quarterback Joe Flacco than others (probably because he and I grew up 10 minutes away from each other), the Ravens finished dead last in rushing yards per attempt in 2013.
This year, given the controversy surrounding running back Ray Rice, I'm not sure I expect the running game to improve. And in a tough AFC North, along with games against the Colts, Panthers, Saints, Chargers and Dolphins, it's going to be tough for Baltimore to finish with a winning record.
7. Houston Texans under 7.5 wins (+130 -- bet365)
I don't really understand the hype surrounding the Texans, who seem to be everyone's favorite sleeper pick. Sure, they probably weren't as bad as their 2-14 record would indicate, as they lost nine games by seven points or fewer.
But need I remind everyone that Houston's starting quarterback is Ryan Fitzpatrick? Ryan Fitzpatrick! I don't care how good a defense anchored by J.J. Watt and rookie phenom Jadeveon Clowney projects to be; you can't win a significant amount of games with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center. This defense is not the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, and to compare Fitzpatrick to then-Ravens quarterback Trent Dilfer is an insult to Dilfer.
I'll just make this real simple and pick the first nine games the Texans will lose from their schedule: Redskins, at Giants, at Cowboys, Colts, at Steelers, at Titans, Eagles, Bengals, at Colts. They'll have nine losses by Week 15 -- book it.
6. Miami Dolphins over 7.5 wins (-105 -- Bovada)
I'm really high on the Dolphins this year, mainly because I am generally high on quarterbacks entering their third years. Ryan Tannehill is one such quarterback, and he's looked brilliant so far in the preseason.
Miami went 8-8 last year despite being swelled in the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito controversy, which not only divided the locker room but also decimated the team's offensive line. By all accounts, the O-line has improved this year.
Tie all that in with an easy schedule -- one of Miami's "road" games is against Oakland in London -- and I think the Dolphins should fight for a playoff spot in 2014.
5. New England Patriots under 10.5 wins (+120 -- bet365)
Eventually Tom Brady will have to crack, right? The 37-year-old will certainly go down as one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. But he's 37. And like last year, he doesn't have many offensive weapons in his arsenal.
I still think the Patriots will be a highly competitive football team in 2014. But they play road games against the Chiefs, Colts, Packers and Chargers, plus home contests against the Bengals and Broncos. And I think they'll lose their first game of the season, a road game against the division rival Dolphins. If I had to make a prediction for an exact win total, I'd pick 10. That still wins me this bet.
4. Dolphins win AFC East (+650 -- Bovada)
Given what I've said in my last two bets, it only makes sense that I'd pick the Dolphins to dethrone New England in the AFC East, especially at this price. Miami simply has a much easier schedule and will benefit by playing New England at home in Week 1.
3. T.Y. Hilton wins receiving title (+5000 -- bet365)
Back to the Colts. T.Y. Hilton might not be Andrew Luck's first or even second option at wide receiver, with future Hall of Famer Reggie Wayne on one side and free agent pick-up Hakeem Nicks on the other. But Hilton showed great strides in 2013, catching 82 balls for 1,083 yards. And he's also a deep ball threat, as he finished tied for sixth in the league with six catches of 40 yards or more.
Hilton will be a long shot to take this down, but with these odds, I'll take a flyer.
2. Andrew Luck wins MVP (+2800 -- bet365)
The main reason I'm so high on Hilton and the Colts, however, is because of Luck. I think when the 2014 season is all said and done, Luck will be regarded as the top quarterback in football. He's entering his third year in the league, which, again, I love. And though he was somewhat inconsistent in his first two seasons, he seemed to show signs of improvement every single game.
And man, what a player this guy is. I rave about quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers -- guys who always make the correct reads, can scramble out of pocket pressure and make impossible throws against their bodies on the run. Luck is like Rodgers, but he has more speed. He is going to break out in 2014.
1. Colts win the Super Bowl (+2200 -- bet365)
And that is why I like the Colts to win it all. I'm not sure they will be the best team in football this year, even if Luck does take that leap. The Seahawks, Broncos, 49ers, Packers and Saints will all likely be among the elite teams in the game.
But if Indy can pick off a road win in Denver to start the season, I think they'll have a very good chance of nabbing home field advantage in the playoffs. And if they do that, they'll be the clear favorites to get to the Super Bowl.
Dan Podheiser has covered the gambling industry since 2013, but he has been an avid poker player for more than a decade, starting when he was just 14 years old. When he turned 18, he played online poker regularly on U.S.-friendly sites until Black Friday in April 2011. Follow him on Twitter @danpodheiser.