NFL futures, season prop bets: Making sense of the NFC West

To start any discussion in the preseason about the NFC West, one must first lament about the difficulty of schedule. Taking care of business, then: Oh, boy, is the schedule for these NFC West teams *difficult*! They’ve got games against not only the super-tough teams in their own tough division but also the super-tough AFC West! And they all play Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers! And, and, the Rams, Cardinals and 49ers have the first, second and sixth-most difficult schedules (by the “strength of schedule” metric, a pretty weak forecasting tool)!

Now that we’re all on the same page regarding the schedule, dig these two seemingly contradictory ideas:

• The Los Angeles Rams, Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers could all be among the NFC’s better all-around teams.

• All three could have 9 wins or fewer.

Heck, we could throw in a third seemingly contrary idea:

• All three could get into the playoffs at 9-8.

For the sake of speculation, we’ll assume that Trey Lance learns the 49ers offense well enough and Kyle Shanahan learns how to run it without Jimmy Garoppolo (though NFLbets doesn’t think so) to at least resemble the contender most NFL bettors think they are. Let’s also assume that the Cardinals perform at their typical excellence in the season’s first half before the typical swoon in the second (which NFLbets does believe). Finally, with most starters returning, let’s assume the Rams play up to a reasonable facsimile of 2021.

All things being equal, give each a split against the division, including versus Seattle, which has proven dangerous to Los Angeles and San Francisco often enough in the past, albeit with Russell Wilson at quarterback. Give them each a split against the AFC West. Figure one of them beats the Buccaneers (say the Rams in L.A. in week 9) but then loses to the Carolina Panthers in an upset. That puts L.A., Arizona and San Francisco each at 6-6. Three wins in the remaining five games earns a 9-8 record.

This may seem a little too neat, but NFL bettors can’t exactly forecast for the literally thousands of variables determining the outcome of every game – just saying that these numbers trend to the mean – and the mean for the NFC West powerhouses is seriously looking like 9-8. Take the Los Angeles Rams at under-10½ (-130), the Arizona Cardinals at over-8½ (+110), and the San Francisco 49ers at under-10 (-120). A parlay of all three would net odds of about +580.

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