Betting

As history has taught us, the NFL’s division leaders often don’t hang on

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The Chiefs and Ravens both look like good bets to climb into first place.
Gail Burton/AP

Two years ago, only three of the NFL’s eight Week 9 division leaders held on to finish first. That 2014 regular season was particularly turbulent, but it was a reminder that little is guaranteed as the league officially stretches into its second half with every team having played at least eight of its 16 games.

Only once in the 14 years since the NFL realigned (2007) did every division leader at the halfway point maintain its advantage. On average, two teams per year have emerged from lower in the standings to claim a home playoff game. And that means there’s value to be had at local sports books for bettors who can find the teams poised for comebacks. Here are four such teams worth considering, and their current divisional future odds:

Kansas City Chiefs (plus-160 in the AFC West) The best team in the best division in football isn’t the one sitting atop the standings. It’s the one that walloped the division leader 26-10 on the road three weeks ago. The Oakland Raiders are a half-game ahead of the Chiefs, but don’t expect that to last. KC’s point differential is 12 points better than Oakland’s, even though the Chiefs have played one fewer game. The defending Super Bowl champion Broncos, currently in third, actually have the best point differential in the division but have severe offensive issues. Kansas City is the only one of the three contenders with both an efficient offense and a strong defense.

Green Bay Packers (plus-175 in the NFC North) Don’t let the rash of recent upsets, resulting in the rise of the Lions, fool you. The Vikings and Packers remain the two best teams in the NFC North, and it’s worth backing whichever is at plus money. Minnesota already defeated Green Bay in Week 2 to open its new stadium, but the 17-14 victory was far from overwhelming. The Packers still have a Week 16 rematch upcoming at Lambeau Field, and it’s always ideal to back Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers when the odds are stacked against him.

Baltimore Ravens (plus-250 in the AFC North) This is borderline cheating, since the Ravens and Steelers are tied atop the division, but Baltimore is available at such a high price, it’s a must-take. The Ravens have already beaten Pittsburgh at home and can do it on the road on Christmas. The betting market is down on Baltimore because of its aging roster and lack of explosive playmakers, but the Steelers have issues of their own. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger can be a detriment when playing injured, and Pittsburgh doesn’t have one of its vintage shutdown defenses to carry it when the offense isn’t producing.

New Orleans Saints (plus-600 in the NFC South) Might as well take one long shot and hope for a big payout. The Saints’ defense has been the butt of jokes, but the division-leading Falcons aren’t much better on that side of the ball. Atlanta beat New Orleans 45-32 in Week 3, but the Saints’ other three losses all came by less than a touchdown, to teams with winning records—the Chiefs, Giants and Raiders. Carolina is the team the public is backing at identical odds, plus-600 to catch Atlanta, but New Orleans is in closer striking range.

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