NFL Futures Action For the Slowest Sports Month

August often feels like the most interminable month for major North American team sports. Sure, baseball pennant races starting to heat up, but those don't feel as significant now in the three-Wild Card era. We know that the teams who have been the best all season should be in playoffs and the bubble teams that have to sweat it out won't be significantly over .500.

The MLS may have the greatest player of all time to show off now, but Lionel Messi won't be taking part in a league match until at least Aug. 20, thanks to the MLS and Liga MX joining up for a month-long, continent-wide cup competition.

In my mind, and to put it kindly, preseason NFL games aren't exactly an entertainment upgrade on regular-season baseball and soccer, but the onset of training camp means there's a smorgasbord of season-long betting options to find value in before the real action starts in September.

I'll offer one bet in each of the following categories for late-summer futures action, with consideration toward value plays:

* Team win total
* Making the playoffs
* Division winner
* Player stats props
* Player award props

(Note: All odds are from FanDuel Sportsbook as of Aug. 1.)

Team Win Total
Atlanta Falcons, under 8.5 wins (+100)

Someone's got to win some games in bad divisions, right? The AFC South has shown us that over the years. But no one finished over .500 in the NFC South last year, and I don't know that any team — including division favorite New Orleans — should be expected to win 9 or 10 games this season. But 9 wins to hit the over for the Falcons seems a particular bridge too far.

Desmond Ridder wasn't all that impressive in his four starts at the end of 2022, and now the third-round pick from last year has been given the keys to the offense. Is he good enough to pilot an average offense from last year that should have dynamic playmaking at RB and TE, but is lacking in top-end talent at WR? I'm not confident.

The defense ranked 31st in DVOA last year and 27th in yards allowed. Atlanta went big on defense in free agency, adding Jessie Bates at safety, Bud Dupree on the edge, and Calais Campbell at tackle. If the defense can't improve demonstrably, 8 wins or less seems like a very solid play.

Making the Playoffs
Pittsburgh Steelers to make the playoffs (+128)

Every AFC North team, as of Aug. 1, has a win total over/under of 8.5 or higher. The Steelers, by default, are projected to finish in last place. Does the offseason cause us to forget the magic Mike Tomlin is capable of?

Now, this bet is a little bit risky because it's a playoff bet and not the Tomlin .500 or better special. But when you consider that T.J. Watt's missed time last year lined up with a 1-6 stretch in the first half of the season, how comfortable Kenny Pickett looked as the weeks went on, and what should be an improved offensive line, I think a jump to 10 or 11 wins is very doable.

Division winner
Miami Dolphins to win AFC East (+290)

If you think Tua Tagovailoa can stay healthy, I think this is the value bet of the preseason. Right now, the Dolphins are third-favorites in the AFC East market, behind Buffalo at +130 and the Jets at +250. That's way too much respect/public money invested in an Aaron Rodgers that might not be a top-10 quarterback anymore.

The defense was a relatively weak link for Miami last season, and now Vic Fangio has been brought in to oversee that side of the ball. If the Dolphins can improve significantly on their 14 forced takeaways all of last season, they can absolutely compete with Buffalo given the talent up and down the roster.

Player Stats
Tony Pollard over 975.5 rushing yards (-112)

There are only two non-quarterbacks to average more than 5 yards per carry each of the last two seasons: Nick Chubb — the best running back in the NFL, per most observers and advanced metrics — and Tony Pollard. After Ezekiel Elliott was cut by the Cowboys, Pollard is a clear No. 1 option in the backfield for Dallas. And his backup, Ronald Jones, was just suspended two games this week.

Pollard was over 1,000 yards last season on fewer than 200 carries. I don't expect him to get a Derrick Henry-esque workload or anything close to it, but even if he declines to 4.5 yards per carry on 240 carries, he clears this number by 100 yards. The biggest threat to this over would be Dallas signing a big-name RB from the sidelines like Dalvin Cook.

Player Award
Jaxon Smith-Njigba to win Offensive Rookie of the Year (+1400)

From 1999 to 2020, wide receivers won Offensive Rookie of the Year just three times. Now, WRs are on a two-year winning streak after Ja'Marr Chase and Garrett Wilson took home the award in 2021 and 2022, respectively. Smith-Njigba, who merely set a single-season Big Ten receiving yards record in his one full season starting at Ohio State, is the top WR in this market. Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Anthony Richardson, Bijan Robinson, and Jahmyr Gibbs are the players who have better odds and were the five skill position players selected ahead of Smith-Njigba.

I think WRs have begun to do better in this award because it's hard for QBs to truly be stars as rookies with all of the complexities of the pro game they have to pick up. It's as hard or harder for rookie RBs to get enough carries to win the award or be durable enough to last the whole season. And with Smith-Njigba on the Seahawks, we know he's going to get a lot of open looks in the slot with Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf out wide.

While the preseason starts this week, the 18 weeks of football that count are just around the corner. During the next five weeks, there's plenty of great action to take advantage of, including these five bets.

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