Sports betting continues to heat up across the country, and things should only accelerate when the NFL returns in just a few months—hopefully with full stadiums for all 32 teams. Online sportsbook usage will also pick up in the coming months as more states fully legalize sports betting.
Being in New Jersey (where sports betting is legal), I have access to various online sportsbooks, which has been especially preferred over going to in-person retailers throughout the pandemic. Since August of 2020, despite COVID-19, the monthly betting handle for New Jersey has consistently stayed above $600 million. Overall, the state has surpassed the $1 billion mark in total revenue, which is pretty stunning and likely a sign of things to come in the industry.
Especially as sports betting picks up (perhaps where you are located) and you can place bets online, it’s worth thinking about picks you might consider this NFL season. It’s early, but these are some teams that should be sneaky picks to win their division crowns in 2021.
While many are high on Washington, Dallas, and New York all taking big steps forward in 2021, it could be the Eagles that make the biggest jump. While it’s a veteran group, the offense line at full health could be a strong point for the team. Also, the playmakers on offense should be much better after adding Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith, and quarterback Jalen Hurts flashed major upside in limited action as a rookie last season. If the defense can compete and play above its talent level, Philadelphia can make some noise.
There’s no end in sight with the Aaron Rodgers situation in Green Bay, and the NFC North would likely become a wide-open division if the reigning league MVP isn’t under center for the Packers. Powered by what should be one of the NFL’s best offensive lines and a quarterback that’s been to the Super Bowl in Jared Goff, the Lions might be this year’s team that comes out and shocks people—there’s almost always at least one of those squads each season.
These next two aren’t as big of long shots or “sneaky” picks as the Eagles and the Lions, but they arguably present values at this time of year. The Ravens and Browns are deservedly getting love as the two division favorites, and the Bengals are one of those teams some feel can go from worst-to-first. Perhaps lost in the shuffle are the Steelers. Pittsburgh is a near-lock to be in contention with Mike Tomlin as their head coach, and the roster remains a proud group that probably feels they should be the AFC North favorites.
New England Patriots
The Bills have the look of an elite team that might run the AFC East, but the Patriots can take a step back into that territory after a very strong offseason. Either by Cam Newton improving in his second season with New England—or by Mac Jones or Jarrett Stidham taking over and operating Josh McDaniels’ offense at a high level—the quarterback position and the offense overall should be better, complementing a defense that might again be elite under Bill Belichick. Don’t be shocked if the Pats are back near the top of the standings in December.