Charlie Riedel/Associated Press
We’re at least a week away from preseason games that are maybe-kinda-sorta worth wagering on: games in which the entire second half isn’t undrafted rookie pachinko, in other words. Until then, let’s break down a few league-leader futures bets that are worth your time, attention and dollars (all odds and moneylines courtesy of Caesars Palace Sportsbook as of August 4).
Passing yardage leaders
The favorite: Patrick Mahomes +400
The smart play: Mahomes +400
Worth a few bucks: Matthew Stafford +5000
Mahomes registered the eighth-highest passing total in NFL history last year, has a loaded offense, an iffy defense that will force him into some shootouts, has talent on loan from Asgard and doesn’t turn 24 for another month, meaning he’s likely to get significantly better. Take that +400 moneyline now before the casual money flows in and the house starts to adjust. (It slid down from +500 to +400 between the rough draft and the final draft of this paragraph.)
Matt Ryan has finished in the top five in passing yards six times in his career, making him an inviting play at +700 if you are the sort of masochist who wants to spend a whole year waiting for the Falcons to narrowly disappoint you.
Drew Brees and Tom Brady have combined to lead the NFL in passing yards 10 times, including four of the past five years. Brees at +700 and Brady at a yummy-looking +2500 are tempting, but both are likely to throw fewer passes this year because the Saints defense has improved in recent years and the Patriots have switched to a more balanced offense. Also, they’re both old.
Stafford has finished third or higher in passing yards four times in his career, appears to be healthier this year than last and is in a situation where he might have to throw six billion passes—not a bad combination if you like taking a flier on a 50-to-1 payout.
Rushing yardage leaders
The Favorite: Ezekiel Elliott +150
The smart play: Le’Veon Bell +1500
Worth a few bucks: Todd Gurley +2500
That Elliott moneyline got a little carried away in Cabo; leave it alone until it sobers up.
Saquon Barkley looks like free money at +600 until you realize he’ll have a lot of 20-carry, 70-yard stat lines (with plenty of 19-yard screens on 3rd-and-20 that won’t help you) in the Giants’ dysfunctional offense. By contrast, Bell is in a less desperate situation, his coaches will be eager to work him into the ground, and heaven knows he’s well-rested.
Gurley’s moneyline is higher than those of Joe Mixon (+1400), James Conner (+2000), Dalvin Cook (+2000), Marlon Mack (+1500) and Kerryon Johnson (+2200). Yes, Gurley’s health is a serious issue. No, you’re not going to find a 25-to-1 payout with a better, more accomplished player in a better situation.
Receiving yardage leaders
The favorite: Julio Jones +500
The smart play: Antonio Brown +1500
Worth a few bucks: T.Y. Hilton +2000
Brown has led the league in receiving yards twice and finished second once in the last five years. He’s done it despite annual midseason injury absences from Ben Roethlisberger, so the drop-off to Derek Carr at quarterback isn’t a major concern, and the Raiders are likely to force-feed AB targets to keep him a happy camper.
Brown’s absence from practice and foray into foot photography are keeping the moneyline high. Those appear to be blisters, folks. Blisters heal.
Julio is a safe choice with little meat on the bone. True believers in the new Packers mentality might consider a flier on Davante Adams at +1400. But the last five NFL receiving leaders have been AB, Julio, Hilton, AB and Julio. That’s a pattern, Team Umizoomi! And while real life is rarely that simple, a 20-to-1 payout for a great player in a great situation is at least worth a second look.