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October 21, 2018

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Pounce on these picks: NFL win totals offer value for six teams

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Darron Cummings / AP

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, left, is hit by Chicago Bears inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman on Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016, during the second half of an NFL game in Indianapolis.

Some preseason future bets end up as wasted space on Las Vegas sports books’ betting boards, with gamblers ignoring them out of a desire not to tie up portions of their bankroll for several months.

NFL over/under season win totals don’t have that problem. They’ve become a popular, season-long way for bettors to back a team they like without having to monitor the minutia of the game-by-game market during the season.

Casinos posted win totals on all 32 NFL teams as early as April and have drawn action ever since based on the constantly shifting prices. With win totals going off the board on September 6 when the season begins, we sifted through the odds at four major Las Vegas sports books to find six promising bets.

Indianapolis Colts over 6.5 wins at minus-130 (CG Technology)

Andrew Luck won 11 games and made the Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons as the Colts’ quarterback from 2012 to 2014. He was widely regarded as the NFL’s next transcendent superstar, with a string of MVP trophies and Super Bowl rings expected to follow. Back then, it would have been unimaginable that win totals would imply a Luck-led team would be one of the six worst in the league. This feels like an opportunity to buy low on one of the NFL’s most talented players entering his prime. Sure, the 28-year-old Luck missed all of last season and couldn’t even throw a football as he recovered from shoulder surgery. But the great ones tend to find a way, and it’s too premature to cast Luck off of that distinction.

Cleveland Browns over 6 wins at plus-110 (South Point)

First, a confession: It’s typically not wise to bet over on a total that has moved up significantly, and this is a total that has moved up significantly. Cleveland’s win total opened at 5, before bettors immediately loaded up on the over to force sports books to increase the asking price. But it wasn’t recreational gamblers causing the movement; it was professionals. They see a team poised for a breakout, despite a horrendous 1-31 combined record over the past two seasons. Cleveland struggled through 2016 and 2017 with the youngest roster in the NFL by a wide margin. But it should reap the benefits this year with a stockpile of highly drafted young players — led by 2017 top overall pick defensive end Myles Garrett — nearing their primes together. The Browns also go from not rostering a single competent quarterback to having two. Veteran Tyrod Taylor is more than capable of managing the offense until 2018 top overall pick Baker Mayfield takes over. Statistically, Mayfield is one of the best quarterback prospects this decade.

San Francisco 49ers under 8.5 wins at minus-110 (South Point)

Five games are not a sufficient sample size. That’s what bettors need to remember before joining the mob that has the 49ers bordering as a favorite to make the playoffs in sports books. San Francisco won its final five games last year after acquiring quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in a trade with New England. Scouting reports will now be much improved on Garoppolo, who threw for an unsustainable 8.8 yards per attempt during the run. Even if Garoppolo turns into an MVP candidate, the 49ers still have major problems in the two most important defensive areas — pass rush and secondary.

Dallas Cowboys over 8.5 wins at Even money (Westgate)

Coming off of a breakout 13-win season behind rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys were one of the most popular bets to win the Super Bowl going into last year. That all feels like ancient history now, as bettors have done everything they can to avoid backing Dallas in 2018. That has boosted Dallas’ prices to must-bet territory. The Cowboys, after all, won nine games last season despite everything going against them. In addition to Elliott serving a six-game suspension, equally important left tackle Tyron Smith went down with an injury. With Smith healthy, the Cowboys have the NFL’s best offensive line, and it’s ready to pulverize its way to an unexpected NFC East title.

New York Giants under 7 wins at plus-130 (William Hill)

The Giants have undergone a whirlwind of shifting perceptions in sports books over the past eight months. When the team sat at 2-10 last December and announced the benching of quarterback Eli Manning, the move was viewed as the end of an era and the start of a rebuilding period. But then Manning got back into the lineup, played decently and led a massive upset win over Washington in the final week of the season. Coupled with the drafting of potential generational running back talent Saquon Barkley and the hiring of Minnesota offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, fans started talking themselves into a Giants’ renaissance. The hype has continued into the preseason, where New York’s win total has shot up as much as one victory at some sports books. Don’t buy into it. Even if Barkley is unstoppable, it’s extremely rare for a running back to be a savior in the modern NFL. Manning is now 37 years old, and has regressed each of the past four years. And Shurmur went 9-23 in his only previous stint as an NFL head coach, with the Browns.

Jacksonville Jaguars under 9 wins at plus-115 (South Point)

Jacksonville rode the NFL’s best defense and a place in the NFL’s worst division to arguably the greatest season in franchise history last year, which culminated with a close loss to New England in the AFC Championship Game. Neither the defensive strength nor the divisional weakness are likely to repeat this season. Defensive performance is far more volatile year-to-year than offensive performance, and Jacksonville was particularly fortunate last year. The Jaguars suffered minimal injuries, recovered nearly 60 percent of fumbles and completed an inordinate number of sacks. Meanwhile, AFC South rivals Indianapolis and Houston should rebound with their quarterbacks returning from injury — Andrew Luck and Deshaun Watson, respectively — while Tennessee could take another step forward after reaching the second round of the playoffs.