NFL Betting: Which Defense Will Lead the League in Interceptions?
With the growth of legalized sports betting across several states, it's not so surprising to see more and more prop bets emerge in the lead-up to the 2019 NFL season. At FanDuel Sportsbook, not only can you bet on a team to go 0-16 or 16-0, but you can lay money on which team will produce the most sacks (the Chicago Bears, Los Angeles Chargers, Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles are favorites at +1000 odds).
However, while sacks increased by 86 from 2017 to 2018, interceptions dropped from 430 to 419. The Bears led the way with 27 picks -- six more than the second-place Miami Dolphins and at least nine more than every other NFL team. Between them and the apparently oblivious San Francisco 49ers, the gap was 25 by season's end.
Naturally, FanDuel Sportsbook has the Bears as one of two favorites to lead the league in interceptions this season.
|Baltimore Ravens||+1000||New York Jets||+2600|
|Chicago Bears||+1000||Pittsburgh Steelers||+2600|
|Buffalo Bills||+1100||Indianapolis Colts||+2900|
|Cleveland Browns||+1100||Philadelphia Eagles||+2900|
|Jacksonville Jaguars||+1200||Houston Texans||+3200|
|Los Angeles Chargers||+1200||Atlanta Falcons||+3800|
|Los Angeles Rams||+1200||Carolina Panthers||+3800|
|New England Patriots||+1200||Seattle Seahawks||+3800|
|New Orleans Saints||+1700||Arizona Cardinals||+4100|
|Tennessee Titans||+1700||Dallas Cowboys||+4100|
|Denver Broncos||+1800||Detroit Lions||+4100|
|Minnnesota Vikings||+2000||Green Bay Packers||+4100|
|Miami Dolphins||+2300||San Francisco 49ers||+4400|
|New York Giants||+2300||Washington Redskins||+4400|
|Cincinnati Bengals||+2600||Oakland Raiders||+5000|
|Kansas City Chiefs||+2600||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||+5000|
Alongside Kyle Fuller, Eddie Jackson, Prince Amukamara and crew, the Baltimore Ravens -- behind safeties Tony Jefferson and Earl Thomas -- are expected to take a big leap forward after totaling a measly 12 picks a season ago. In fact, no one Raven had more than two interceptions to their credit.
Despite the difference in performances last year, our models have the Ravens and Bears projected for the fifth- and sixth-most interceptions this season.
Those two units are followed by six teams at +1100 and +1200 odds, including the Rams, Chargers and Cleveland Browns. Those three rank two-through-four in projected interceptions, and only the Chargers (15th) ranked outside the top six in takeaways through the air in 2018. But it's worth noting that, according to Pro Football Reference, the Rams and Browns owned above-average interception rates while the Bolts were right on the league average of 2.4%.
Joining the Chargers among the league's most average in picks were the Minnesota Vikings.
En route to a dozen interceptions, the Vikings' defense came down with opposing passes at a 2.4% clip. That's two percentage points short of the rival Bears and at least one point off two other teams' marks. But we have to acknowledge that a team hasn't repeated as the leader in interception rate since the Green Bay Packers in 2009 to 2011. Prior to that, you have to go all the way back to 1992-1993 when these Vikings accomplished that feat.
All that is to say that, historically, Minnesota has a higher probability of leading in that category than does Chicago. The reason that matters? All but one of the last 10 teams to either lead or tie for the lead in interceptions ended the year first or second interception rate.
That points to a team outside of those Bears, while other factors give the Vikings a leg up on others.
For starters, Harrison Smith, Xavier Rhodes and the Vikings will get the chance to see more volume in 2019. They saw 503 pass attempts (they managed 606 on the offensive side), the fifth-fewest in the NFL during last year's campaign, but our models project a jump in defensive opportunity.
|Week||Opponent||Projected QB||Proj Attempts|
|8||WSH||Dwayne Haskins/Case Keenum||34.89|
Basically, we're expecting a bump equal to roughly one more game with only Russell Wilson projected for fewer than 30 pass attempts. Nine of the above quarterbacks are projected for 35-plus attempts in their matchups against the Vikes, including games versus high-volume throwers like Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes.
With the same opportunity comes risk though. Ryan (1.15%) and Rodgers (0.34%) posted two of the three lowest interception rates among qualified passers last year, and Mahomes (15th) came in at 2.07%. But Minnesota could draw a matchup with rookie Dwayne Haskins, on top of two games against Mitchell Trubisky, who threw 12 picks on 2.76% of his pass attempts. Five more games will see them square off with signal callers that tossed double-digit interceptions last year.
Though Mike Zimmer's offense is expected to be more focused on the run under coordinator Kevin Stefanski, the pure volume of balls they should see in the air only adds to the chances for improbable interceptions, or ones you might not count on seeing against a Mahomes, Rodgers or Ryan. Through the eyes of Sharp Football Stats, exactly half of the Vikings' 16 games will come against top-12 teams in pass rate a year ago and another two against Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions, who were 14th in pass-to-run ratio.
When all is said and done, we project the Vikings' defense to lead the way in interceptions. Their projected output of 19.04 makes them the only team to exceed 19 and puts them 0.52 ahead of the Rams. Returning $2,000 for every $100 laid, they're a great value if you're looking for a unique prop to exploit before the season gets underway in less than a month's time.