I can't keep dreaming about September. Can you blame me?
Football cannot return quickly enough. How shall we pass the time? One way is to get an early look at some potential value plays in the futures market.
Who might lead the league in certain significant categories, or take home some hardware come the end of the 2022 season? Obviously, there are variables we cannot account for this far out. Injuries. Lack of development by teammates. The inability for a coaching staff to make schematic adjustments.
It's a tricky proposition, but that also explains why the odds are so potentially rewarding. Is Vegas not seeing what I'm seeing in some instances? Are there certain players who may not be the kind of longshots that the numbers indicate? I certainly believe so. And this presents an opportunity to take some spare change and perhaps turn it into a fun weekend come January and February. Call it some Hot Toddy money to cash in on in early 2023.
- More NFL futures: SportsLine Projection Model's best bets
These are a few of the futures betting scenarios that caught my eye. All odds are courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook.
MVP: Russell Wilson +1600
Think about the remarkable season Tom Brady had a year ago ... and it still wasn't enough for him to earn an MVP, given how high his individual bar has been set. Aaron Rodgers wining MVP again? That doesn't happen, especially at his age and with his supporting cast dwindling. Will Matthew Stafford throw too many picks? And could Aaron Donald overshadow him on his own team? So you like Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes more, perhaps; I get that, but those are the two favorites.
Wilson is on a first-ballot Hall of Fame trajectory, and if he is at his best, he will lead the Broncos franchise to terrain they have not seen in quite some time. And if he does it with a rookie head coach, and with essentially all the same pieces around him that were there a year ago languishing with Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater, that starts to feel like an MVP campaign to me.
The subplot and storylines tend to matter in this category, as does production, of course. This is the best talent Wilson has had around him a long time, and Nathaniel Hackett, who will cater everything to him, just saw firsthand how a rookie coach (Matt LaFleur in Green Bay) meshed with Rodgers in an MVP season. Wilson has never had an offensive head coach invested fully in maximizing his abilities in the passing game.
I believe Denver will have a strong regular season and compete at the top of the AFC. Wilson will get his due. He works as hard in the offseason as TB12, and this franchise is all about him.
Most regular season passing yards: Derek Carr +1200
The Raiders play in an extremely tough division. The defense still has holes, so they are going to have to chase some games. Josh McDaniels is an expert play caller and schemer, and Vegas has more offensive weapons than the new coach has had at his disposal in recent years. Tom Brady never left the field under McDaniels in New England; I figure Carr will get heavy volume in the passing game, and the Raiders will play no shortage of high-scoring games.
Seven passers have shorter odds, but Carr was fifth in passing yards a year ago, and that was while losing his head coach early in the year and with wide receivers being released and arrested, and chaos abounding. Oh, and they added Davante Adams, and the offensive line has to be at least a little better. Carr finished about 500 yards behind Brady a year ago, but does the GOAT have another 5,000-yard season in him? And might the presence of a defensive-minded new head coach in Tampa (Todd Bowles) lead to more running and less No Risk It, No Biscuit than under Bruce Arians?
I have a feeling that we're going to see some fresh blood in this category, and I bet Kirk Cousins (+1500) ends up being a factor in this as well.
Most regular season rushing yards: Najee Harris +1500
This is a young man's position. We see how quickly top veteran backs can fade. Think about Derrick Henry as a declining asset. Jonathan Taylor has been taking a pounding for a few years now.
With Big Ben gone and coordinator Matt Canada able to implement the concepts he espouses, I could see a lot of volume for Harris. The Steelers will move the mesh point around and make teams defend Mitchell Trubisky – or at least account for him – and get the math working for Harris. I don't see any pitch counts for the young back. Pittsburgh will run the hell out of the ball and bleed the clock to help its defense, the strength of the team. The quarterback, no matter who it is, will have limitations and won't be able to check to a passing play whenever he wants. This offensive line will be better run blocking, too.
This kid has a special talent and we didn't get to see it at its best a year ago. I'd gamble on Harris here with this kind of payoff.
Comeback Player of the Year: Raheem Mostert +5000
You don't have to go back very far to a time when Mostert was leading a 49ers playoff charge, with run-game guru Mike McDaniel – now his head coach in Miami – at the helm. He was born for this zone scheme, which he knows inside out. He hit some of the best NFL Next Gen Stats sprint speeds you will find anywhere.
Injuries are a massive concern, but they are generally a part of the story of whomever wins this award. Mostert coming back after playing just eight games in 2020 and just one a year ago and being a top rusher in what should be a much-improved offense is a flier I like. Yeah, it's a bit scary with how many running backs the Dolphins have collected, but McDaniel loves this guy. Mostert can be as explosive as any back in football, and putting down a few dollars here is worth it to me.
Defensive Player of the Year: Chandler Jones +5000
Outside of a freak arm injury in 2020, Jones has been incredibly durable. He has more sacks than any edge player since he entered the NFL and he is out to prove he is far from done. The Cardinals messed around with Jones for years, refused to make legit contract offers, and then got cute last year and started altering his role and shifting him around in coverage.
A return to upstate New York with the Bills was one offseason possibility; that ended being Von Miller's gig. But being a Raider will serve Jones just fine. He gets to play on a fast track in Vegas opposite Maxx Crosby, and he will feast early while some sleep on him. Jones knows how to play the chess game; setting up tackles, running counter moves, using his mind and body. This guy was overlooked on suspect Cardinals teams for the most part, but he will shine.
Coordinator Patrick Graham was with Jones early in his career in New England and knows how to get the most out of him. There will be sacks -- many of them -- and he can bow up and set the edge in the run game, too.
Coach of the Year: Kevin O'Connell +2000
I expect the Vikings offense to take off this season. I think the NFC is weaker overall, and this division is particularly "sussy," as the kids say.
Voters tend to lean into rookie head coaches who have immediate success, and these players are desperate to be out of the oppressive clutches of Mike Zimmer. Think about the Kevin Stefanski vibes in Cleveland a few years ago; I could see the same thing happening here. They have oodles of talent on that side of the ball and O'Connell is a QB guy. I can see them winning the division. Nathaniel Hackett makes sense here as a play (+1500), but the longer odds here and weaker division carried the day with me.
Looking for the best picks against the spread, sharp plays on the total, and props you can take straight to the pay window? Join Jonathan Coachman on the Early Edge as he speaks with SportsLine's top handicappers to preview the day's biggest games. We promise to keep it short, sweet and to put some green in your pocket. Early Edge is in your feed every single day by 11 a.m. ET. Subscribe right here on YouTube to watch daily, plus don't miss the Early Edge specials and live shows!