ESPN released their NFL predictions, with 64 different people providing their picks for the upcoming season. That’s a lot of people, so you would think there would be quite a diversity of opinion.
It is funny, then, to see that every single person–a perfect 64 of 64– picked the New England Patriots to win the AFC East. This isn’t a ridiculous pick on an individual basis. Most people would pick the Patriots, who have won the AFC East in 11 of the last 13 seasons and are again the favorite. The money line from Bovada is in fact the heaviest on any division favorite. However, it would imply about a 71% chance of winning the division (once we account for the vig on the -400 line), still a far cry from the 100% chance that ESPN writers/contributors have provided.
The Patriots, though, are not the most extreme in terms of difference between the money line odds of winning a division, and how frequently they were picked by ESPN writers/contributors. That honor goes to the Colts. An amazing 63 of the 64 ESPN pickers went with the Colts to win the AFC South, with only Bill Barnwell of Grantland going with the Texans.
The money line would give the Colts about a 56% chance of winning the division, meaning the Texans and Titans are pretty good value picks. More of the ESPN picks had the Colts winning a division compared to any other team, including the Seahawks, Broncos, and Saints.
Of the consensus picks, the AFC is exactly the same division winners and wildcards as last year. The NFC includes 5 of the same 6 playoff teams, with only the Panthers being the exceedingly popular pick not to return (only 7 entries had them in the playoffs), replaced by Chicago.
Needless to say, 11 of 12 playoff teams are not returning, but the chalk is dominating the ESPN picks.
A long running streak in the NFL? At least one team that finished in last getting to first in the division the next year. It has happened 11 straight years. Atlanta is picked to make the playoffs more than any other team that finished tied for last (though technically the Falcons play a 3rd place schedule winning the tiebreaker with Tampa Bay), and only 9 entries have them. Cleveland, Jacksonville, and Oakland are the only teams that no one picked to make the postseason. Only K.C. Joyner picked Dallas as a wildcard, so just know that no one thinks Dallas will be any good (and they could surprise).
In fact, when comparing the playoff odds from Bovada to the percentage of ESPN picks for the playoffs, Dallas is the most undervalued playoff pick (3% by ESPN versus 29% chance by Bovada odds).
Meanwhile, Seattle seems a little undervalued when it comes to advancing deep in the postseason, perhaps a boredom with picking the best team? Five teams are picked to reach the Super Bowl more frequently than the defending champs.