Saints Top 2018 NFC Playoff Futures Ahead of Wild Card Weekend

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D.S. Williamson

January 3rd, 2019

As we might expect, odds on teams to win the NFC follow seedings. First seed New Orleans is a solid +110 favorite, the 2-seed Rams are a solid second choice while 3-seed Chicago offers the third lowest odds. The Cowboys, Seahawks, and Eagles, the fourth, fifth, and sixth seeds, follow. The question is which of the lower ranked teams has the best value when it comes to laying long action in the 2018 NFC playoff futures.

The odds disparity between the top 3 seeds and the lower 3 seeds implies only the Saints, Rams, and Bears can win the NFC. Super Bowl odds back this up with New Orleans, LAR, and Chicago comprising 3 of only 5 teams offering less than double digit odds to win the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Which of the NFC playoff teams have no shot at winning the conference? Which teams should NFL handicappers look to back at the odds? Check out a run down of the 6 National Conference Football teams with a shot at Super Bowl 53!

1. New Orleans Saints +110

On paper, the 1-seed in the NFC Playoffs sure looks unbeatable. The Saints have never lost a home playoff game coached by Sean Payton. The likely NFL MVP plays under center for them while the defense was one of the best in the second half of the season. All signs point to New Orleans marching to Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA for Super Bowl 53.

But, although things look great, there’ something to consider before taking their somewhat favorable odds in 2018 NFC playoff futures. Injuries have hit New Orleans’ vaunted offensive line. Three injuries along the line could hurt the Saints in their Divisional Playoff game: Terron Armstead has a pectoral issue, Jermon Bushrod has a hamstring problem, and Andrus Peat, who’s Mr. Do Everything along the line, hurt his hand in the embarrassing Week 17 loss to the Carolina Panthers.

If any of the 3 don’t show up in football pads in the Saints’ first playoff game, things could go south right away. The Saints are not a passing team the way they were. They prefer to rush the football and set things up for Drew Brees.

The problem with backing the Saints at +110 is that if any of those 3 linemen show up on next week’s injury report, value at above even money drops. However, if none of the 3 show up on the injury report, +110 will look like a gift.

If you believe in New Orleans, take the +110. If you were leaning towards someone else before reading this, it might be a good idea to lay off.

2. LA Rams +220

Hopefully, one of the teams you were leaning towards aren’t the Los Angeles Rams because you won’t like what I’m going to write about them. The Rams offer absolutely no value at +220. There are a myriad of reasons why this is the bet to fade in 2018 NFC playoff futures. Let me explain.

First, Los Angeles quarterback Jared Goff doesn’t appear ready to lead a team to the Super Bowl. Whenever bringing up this fact, those who don’t believe in the value of quarterback play in the postseason are reminded that Trent Dilfer won a Super Bowl. Yes, Trent Dilfer did. The opposing team, the New York Giants, were led by Kerry Collins. Also, that happened way back in 2001. Since that time, quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers have won Super Bowls. True game managers are not the types that take home the title anymore.

Second, the Rams lost to 3 fellow playoff participants: 35-45 to New Orleans, 6-15 to Chicago, and 23-30 to the Eagles. Los Angeles barely beat the Seattle Seahawks 33-31 and 36-31. The Rams are going to have a difficult time beating any team in the Divisional Playoffs. The Conference Championships, provided they get that far, will be even more difficult.

The final reason the Rams offer no value is because the linebacker position is a mess. At first it looked like a real good move trading for cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters. LAR mortgaged the linebacking unit, though, and neither Michael Brockers nor Ndamukong Suh have given Aaron Donald enough help to make up for the shallow talent in the middle of the defense. If teams manage to block Donald, they can destroy the Rams with the rush.

At +220, LAR’s a play against.

3. Chicago Bears +550

Here’s the value play. No team was as hot in the second half of the season as the Chicago Bears. What makes Chicago so scary is how the team gelled on both sides of the football.

It’s hard to pin point a key game, but I’d go with the 31-38 loss to the New England Patriots. The Miami Dolphins had just upset the Bears 31-28 the Sunday before. Chicago hosted New England at Soldier Field a 1-point dog. Even though the Bears didn’t win, they played with the Patriots, the top organization in the NFL.

For young teams like Chicago, it’s more about belief than anything else. The Bears are talented on every level on the defense. The offense has few weaknesses while Matt Nagy’s a brilliant play-caller. Chicago had to prove to itself that it could hang with an elite team. Although they lost by 7, the Bears played the Patriots tough. They scored 31 against a Bill Belichick coached defense, forced 3 fumbles and recovered 2, and picked off the GOAT.

Don’t believe me? Chicago went 9-1 SU after losing to the Pats. The +550 make the Chicago Bears the best play to win the NFC. This is the place to dump your money in the 2018 NFC playoff futures if you dare. They're just good at everything even if they're not the "best" at anything. Teams like that can hurt you in a lot of different ways.

4. Dallas Cowboys +1200

I’m one of those quarterback biased NFL futures handicappers. I don’t have a ton of faith in Dak Prescott. I know he’s gotten much better with Amari Cooper and the Cowboys might have the best running back in the NFL in Zeke Elliott, but in the playoffs there will come a time when your quarterback must step it up. Praying that Dak can do that in the right moment consistently is just that - a prayer.

Also, the Cowboys might have the worst draw of any team in the NFC Playoffs. The Seattle Seahawks will field the best rushing attack in the league in Saturday’s wildcard matchup while Dallas’ defense has looked tired in the past 3 weeks.

The Colts rushed for 178 yards in Week 15. Tampa only rushed for 64 in Week 16, but Jameis Winston threw for 336. In Week 17, the Cowboys allowed 301 passing yards to Old Man Eli, and gave up 143 rushing yards.

Take the Seahawks at +1400 before backing the Cowboys at +1200. Speaking of which...

5. Seattle Seahawks +1400

Seattle’s a much better option in the pre-wild card 2018 NFC playoff futures than the Cowboys are at their odds, but that doesn’t mean the Seahawks are a great play at +1400. Seattle’s actually not a good play at all to win the NFC.

On paper, the Seahawks look like a team with a shot: they lead the NFL in rushing yards per with 160, they’ve got a Super Bowl winning quarterback in Russell Wilson, and the defense has played great in the final month of the regular season despite a myriad of injuries.

However, Seattle heads to AT&T Stadium a wounded bird. Left tackle Duane Brown and guards J.R. Sweezy and D.J. Fluker are listed as questionable. Cornerback Shaquille Griffin is listed as probable while they put safety Delano Hill on IR after he fractured his hip in Week 17.

Seattle should play well enough to beat the Cowboys on Saturday. After that? Unless they get healthy, they might not stand a chance against the Rams or Saints in the Divisional Playoffs.

6. Philadelphia Eagles +180

Quarterback Nick Foles is banged up, but this is Mr. Postseason we’re talking about. Foles is one of those guys who excels in the playoffs. Philly’s savior said he might wear extra protection around his bruised ribs. He’ll need it against Chicago’s tough defense. The Eagles’ quarterback might be the only real question mark about Philadelphia heading to Soldier Field, though.

Although Chicago’s been impressive, the Eagles match up well with the Bears. Philadelphia’s defensive line played great in the final 3 weeks of the season when the Eagles beat two playoff teams, the Rams and Houston Texans.

Also, no one can argue that, for some reason, Philly’s a different team with Foles under center. Everyone’s picked their game up since he took over for the again injured Carson Wentz.

If Foles doesn’t get hurt on Sunday night, the Eagles could upset Chicago. It’s not hard to envision Philadelphia turning the tables on the Saints in the Superdome in the Divisional Playoffs. Then, they can beat the Rams or whomever else they face in the NFC Championship.

This is all to suggest that, just like any longshot, the defending champs have a shot. They certainly have a much better shot than +1800. If you’re a believer, or just want to make as much money as you can, you could do worse than to back a surging team with a Super Bowl MVP quarterback at those odds in the 2018 NFC playoff futures.

Based on my analysis, the Bears offer the most value at +550. The Eagles offer great value at +1800 while the Saints aren’t a bad play at +110. The Seahawks offer some value, but they’re banged up badly on both sides of the football while the Cowboys and Rams offer the least value.