When placing futures bets (IE putting money on hold for six+ months), I prefer longer shots as opposed to season over/unders. They're long shots for a reason, but you get more bang for your buck if you win. Here’s where I placed my NFL bets entering the 2022 season:
• Minnesota Vikings to win Super Bowl (40/1)
• Kirk Cousins to win MVP (45/1)
• Justin Jefferson to win Offensive Player of the Year (20/1)
The Vikings play in a winnable division (the Packers admittedly offset the loss of Davante Adams and continued absence of David Bakhtiari by fielding arguably the league’s top defense this season, but they are also due for regression), entering 2022 with a strong roster across the board and a massive coaching upgrade. Minnesota held at least a six-point lead in every game but one last season (with double-digit leads in 10 of them!). Put differently, the Vikings would've finished 15-2 if they hadn't given up points in the final two minutes of halves last season. And they now go from Mike Zimmer to the Rams coaching tree and an analytical front office.
With the benefit of nine home games in a wide-open NFC (the Bucs and Rams have plenty of question marks) and a decent-looking schedule, it would hardly shock if Minnesota secured the No. 1 seed and a bye, so this number looks long.
Cousins has thrown 68 touchdowns over the last two seasons despite being hindered by a coaching staff that had the Vikings rank 20th in pass rate over expectation, and ignored play action. Meanwhile, new coach Kevin O’Connell orchestrated a Rams offense that scored 80 percent of their touchdowns via the pass last season. Playing indoors with Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, K.J. Osborn and Irv Smith on a Vikings team that should be among the top seeds, you have to like the underrated Cousins at 45-to-1.
While the MVP award almost always goes to a quarterback, OPOY is less restrictive. Jefferson has the most receiving yards over the first two years of a career in NFL history; extra impressive given he didn’t start right away, had real competition for targets and plays for a team that ranked bottom-12 in pass rate over expectation last season. Jefferson is aiming for 2,000 yards and should see more touchdowns while taking over the Cooper Kupp role in Minnesota’s new offense.
• Saquon Barkley most rushing yards (50/1)
By my estimation, there are only about a handful of players who even have a chance at this, and Barkley is one of them, yet he’s treated as a mere long shot here. Put differently, Carson Wentz (40/1) is more favored to finish with the most passing yards this season than Barkley is to win the rushing title.
Barkley finished second in rushing yards as a rookie and looks as strong as ever further removed from ACL surgery (and no longer dealing with a fluky sprained ankle). The Giants also have the easiest schedule (based on projected win totals) and the thinnest RB group in the league with just Matt Breida and Gary Brightwell rostered behind Barkley.
• Trey Lance to win MVP (50/1)
One year after sitting and watching Alex Smith during his rookie season, Patrick Mahomes won the MVP award, so it only stands to reason it’ll happen again in 2022 with Lance in San Francisco.
In all seriousness, this is a QB award (11 of the past 12 MVP winners have been quarterbacks on a team with a top-two seed, and half those winners entered the season with odds 30/1 or greater), and Lance is taking over the position on a team that just led their conference in yards per play and held a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship game. There’s a real chance, despite his rawness, that Lance is an immediate upgrade over Jimmy Garoppolo, who quite clearly held back Kyle Shanahan’s offense (that helped Nick Mullens record the second-most passing yards over his first 16 starts in NFL history and has led the league in YAC+ in five of the past six years).
In a terrific system (and weather) with Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle as targets, the talented Lance could finish with big numbers despite being the seventh-youngest starter in league history (including a whole bunch of stats on the ground). He’d suddenly become a viable MVP candidate should the 49ers finish with one of the league’s best records (nine home games, an elite defense and declining division should all help).
• CeeDee Lamb most receiving yards (17/1)
• Michael Pittman most receiving yards (45/1)
• Allen Robinson most receiving yards (50/1)
Lamb’s targets per route run rate jumps more than 30% with Amari Cooper off the field, and Dallas will also be entering the year missing Cedric Wilson, James Washington, Michael Gallup and Blake Jarwin after ranking top-10 in pass rate over expectation last season. With arguably the thinnest WR group in the league on a Dallas offense that led the NFL in scoring last season (and with Dak Prescott no longer running and Ezekiel Elliott declining), Lamb could approach 200 targets. He should be considered among the favorites to lead the league in receiving.
Pittman developed into one of the best route runners during his second year in the league, ranking top-three in creating separation against man coverage. Already primed for a further leap in Year 3, Pittman also gets a major upgrade at quarterback, going from one of the league’s most inaccurate passers to one of its most accurate; Carson Wentz ranked bottom-three in on-target throw% from a clean pocket last season, while Matt Ryan was top-10 (and top-three under pressure). Pittman was third in route participation as a sophomore among all wideouts, and he’s about to see far more higher quality targets in 2022.
Robinson has seen historically bad targets from quarterbacks throughout his career while recently dealing with a Chicago climate that’s never produced a 4,000-yard passer. Now he gets to play indoors with Sean McVay and Matthew Stafford in an offense that produced 80% of its touchdowns through the air last season. A-Rob would suddenly become one of the favorites to record the most receiving yards should the older Cooper Kupp go down.
• Breece Hall to win Offensive Rookie of the Year (+750)
This one I feel least confident about in hindsight, as there are a handful of receivers looking at real opportunities right away, including Drake London, Chris Olave, Jalen Tolbert and Wan’Dale Robinson, among others.
Moreover, I’m worried about Zach Wilson, and the loss of Mekhi Becton hurts (the addition of Duane Brown helps), but Hall is a standout prospect who should easily overtake Michael Carter while overcoming his situation with a big rookie season.
• Nick Bosa to win Defensive Player of the Year (15/1)
Bosa saw by far the most double teams in the NFL last season yet still recorded 15.5 sacks while finishing eighth in pass rush win rate despite coming off major knee surgery. A much deeper SF defensive line this year (Javon Kinlaw is finally healthy, while the team used its first draft pick on EDGE Drake Jackson out of USC) should lead to more opportunities for Bosa, who was able to enjoy an offseason without rehab.