NFL bettors have two beacons to help guide them through the long and arduous offseason, illuminating potential forecasts for all 32 teams. The first is the list of Super Bowl odds, released only hours after the season finishes. The second? Team win total lines, which arrived at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook on April 29. A team's opening line will dictate how Vegas thinks it will fair in the upcoming season while taking the public perception into account.
And perception does matter. The draft, free-agent acquisitions and prior form are the only building blocks available, so there's no game action to help formulate an opinion. Avoiding the hype train becomes key. During the 2017 preseason, for instance, public cash came pouring in on the Oakland Raiders hitting the over on 9.5 wins and the New York Jets under 4.5. So much for any of that.
Which teams are garnering the most action at the Vegas windows this offseason, and what lines should you be considering?
Note: All win totals are via Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook as of July 25.
Teams with the most public action
Los Angeles Rams
Opened: 9.5, over -150
Current: 10, over -110
The Rams were the definitive surprise of last season (sorry, Jacksonville fans). Handicapped at only six wins, they shattered expectations and dethroned the Seattle Seahawks to take the NFC West crown. Along the way, they racked up a 9-6 ATS record (tied for sixth) before resting starters in Week 17. If they repeat as division champs in 2018, it will surprise exactly no one. Public bettors pounded the 9.5 opening line despite the hefty vig, driving the number up to an even 10.
The reasoning isn't complex: The public loves winning teams. The flashy acquisitions on both sides of the ball don't work against that perception, either. Brandin Cooks via trade, Ndamukong Suh in free agency and a pair of gifted, though volatile, corners in Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib come to town for '18.
This combination is driving bettors to look farther down the road into February. Thus far, the Westgate has taken the most tickets and the second-most cash on the Rams to win the Super Bowl.
New York Giants
Opened: 6.5, over -130
Current: 7, over -135
The circus of Ben McAdoo's final days at the helm was well publicized. Making a change was both overdue and absolutely necessary. Bettors are banking on a restoration of confidence and a rediscovery of the team's 2016 form.
Odell Beckham Jr. is back, healthy and in a contract year. The woeful ground game that plagued the Giants in years past was finally addressed with a first-round pick of Penn State running back Saquon Barkley and a second-round selection of guard Will Hernandez, who graded out as one of the top run-blockers in the 2018 draft class.
Sure, there are undeniable questions still strewn across the Giants' landscape. Team chemistry, an aging Eli Manning past his prime, the Super Bowl Champs inside the division ... but seven wins isn't a big enough number to scare away action on the over.
When asked what the volume of tickets placed on the Giants at the Westgate Super Book was like thus far, bookmaker Ed Salmons described it quite simply as "large."
New England Patriots
Opened: 11, over -120
Current: 11, over -160
When a public bettor walks to the ticket window, there is nothing to give them a moment's pause before taking the Pats. Over the past two seasons, they have amassed both the best record (27-5) and the best ATS record (24-8) in the league, an incredible accomplishment considering they are week in and week out handicapped with borderline ridiculous numbers.
Yet they cover, consistently and methodically.
Were we expecting something different this offseason? The public isn't going to pass on one of the final chances to get a piece of the Patriots' success with reigning MVP Tom Brady back under center. The Westgate knew public action would be coming in on the over 11 wins, initially strapping it with a -120 vig. But with the price ballooning to -160, it appears that the Westgate will be on the hook once again if the Pats can notch a 12th regular-season victory.
Best over/under bets based on movement
Seattle Seahawks: Under 8 wins
Opened: 8, under -120
Current: 8, under -130
I hate to take an even number when four months of patience could potentially result in a push, but we're doing it -- and we're paying the -130 vig for the privilege.
The Seahawks are favored in just one of their first 11 games (Week 3, -1.5 vs. Dallas Cowboys) and face a schedule that's tied for fifth-hardest in the league. Additionally, they'll do so without the majority of their key defensive starters of the past half-decade. Gone are Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman -- and with them, the Legion of Boom. Gone are Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Sheldon Richardson. What remains are questions about defensive depth, playmakers and the way the team is trending.
Move to the other side of the ball where deeper and more pressing issues carry over from last season. The front office failed to address the biggest concern: protecting QB Russell Wilson. The 'Hawks O-line ranked 27th in 2017, according to Pro Football Focus, surrendering bottom-10 league marks of sacks allowed (43.0) and hits allowed (121). I'm confident that the Seahawks have as much of their season's success tied to Wilson as any other team does with a single starter. How did they address this problem? They drafted RB Rashaad Penny with the 27th overall pick and selected a lone offensive tackle in the fifth round.
Engage rebuild mode, and take the under.
Cleveland Browns: Under 5.5 wins
Opened: 5.5, under EV
Current: 5.5, under +140
I have deja vu. Didn't bettors stand at the platform in 2017, fueling the Browns' hype train with over bets that pushed the 4.5 number from -110 to -170, only to watch the train derail the second it left the station? Well, here we go again.
The Browns will need a plus-6 win differential from last season to hit the over. Although certainly not impossible (10 such occurrences in the past five seasons), it's a huge task, having happened once in the past five seasons with a rookie quarterback taking the majority of the season snaps (Dak Prescott in '16 for the Cowboys). The adjustment from spread to pro-style could be a difficult transition for top overall pick Baker Mayfield. Per Rob Nelson of ESPN Stats & Info, there's a reason Big 12 QBs are rarely seen on Sundays.
"Only seven of Mayfield's 1,497 passes thrown during his college career came from snaps under center. Last season, Big 12 quarterbacks started a combined 12 NFL games, fewer than QBs from the WAC, which has not existed since 2012. Also, QBs from FCS conferences started over three times as many games last season as QBs from the Big 12."
How have the top Big 12 QB prospects faired?
"Baker Mayfield became the eighth Big 12 quarterback to be a first-round draft pick over the last 10 years. The previous seven have gone a combined 129-199-1 (.394 win percentage) as starters in the NFL. The only one with a winning record? Patrick Mahomes, who is 1-0."
Was it a huge risk to take Mayfield with the top pick? Absolutely. Does the season win total rest entirely on Mayfield? No, especially because we're not sure how much of him we'll see this season. There were some big signings (Jarvis Landry, E.J. Gaines) and potential for others such as DE Myles Garrett to stay healthy and take the next step. But future Hall of Famer LT Joe Thomas has retired, and if Mayfield is asked to put the offense on his shoulders early, I don't see six wins as a likely outcome, especially when you can take the under at +140.