NFC West Betting Preview: Back the 49ers to Win the Division
Training camps are under way, and the NFL season is fast approaching.
It's a great time to place some futures bets.
Let's take a look at the NFC West and see where there's betting value to be had.
Rams Under 10.5 Wins (-110)
It feels a little yucky to bet on the defending champs and a team that is universally expected to be among the best in the league again this year to win 10 or fewer games, but hear me out.
For starters, it's -110 on both sides of the line, so oddsmakers are telling you they feel this is close to a toss-up and that they're likely getting a similar amount of cash on each side.
We can poke some holes in the Los Angeles Rams' 2021 resume.
They were a little fortunate to win 12 games last year. Their +88 point differential ranked just sixth in the NFL, and their Pythagorean expected win total was 10.5. Of course, when there are two other really good teams in your division, that dings the point differential, but the Rams weren't an elite team by that metric. For reference, four teams (Buffalo Bills, New England Patriots, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dallas Cowboys) had point differentials of at least +150.
And then there's the Rams' 2022 schedule. Of the four teams I just rattled off, LA has to play three of them. They get the Bucs as part of being pitted against the NFC South, and they take on the Green Bay Packers, Cowboys and Bills in their same-place games.
It doesn't stop there. The Rams match up with the AFC West, which might be the most difficult division in football now that Russell Wilson has joined the fray, and they have four games versus the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals.
In all, LA has the second-toughest schedule, per Sharp Football. They get just three games against teams in the bottom 11 of our nERD-based power rankings, and they play every single team ranked in the top nine except one -- themselves.
The Rams are going to be good. We rank them fourth with a nERD of 4.07, which is their expected margin of victory against an average opponent on a neutral field. They can be really good and still go under 10.5 wins.
We project the Rams to win 9.9 games, and the under is the side I'll be on.
49ers to Win the Division (+200)
With our model having the Rams at just 9.9 wins, that opens the door for someone else to potentially take the NFC West.
Enter the Niners.
In part, this is a leap of faith on Trey Lance -- there's no getting away from that. If Lance faceplants in his first season as the full-time starter, the 49ers almost certainly won't win the division. On the bright side, the 49ers don't need Lance to be a superstar right away to be good; they just need him to guide the ship.
The Niners had the fourth-lowest pass rate last season (51.6%), and that number could actually fall this year, as Lance will likely turn more drop backs into scrambles than Jimmy Garoppolo did. San Fran figures to remain a run-based team, and they rode that to a successful season in 2021.
San Francisco finished with 10 wins a year ago, and their Pythagorean win total of 10.3 was nearly dead even with the Rams' 10.5 mark. The 10 wins was good enough for only third last year in the stout NFC West, but that works to their advantage this year via the schedule.
While the Rams have brutal same-place matchups, the Niners get the Chicago Bears, Washington Commanders and Miami Dolphins for theirs. Due to having to face the AFC West and their own division, San Fran's overall strength of schedule is middle of the road (13th-easiest, according to Sharp Football), but it's considerably easier than the Rams' (2nd-hardest) and Cards' (9th-hardest) schedules.
Our algorithm projects San Francisco to win 10.4 games and has them as the division favorite, handing the Niners a 42.1% chance to win the NFC West. The +200 price on this bet implies odds of just 33.3%.
You can also take a stab at the Niners to go over 9.5 wins (-145).