2017 NFL Betting: 5 Defenses You Shouldn’t Bet Against

by Kevin Roberts
on July 20, 2017

Betting on pro football is arguably one of the easier sports betting options. There are just 16 weeks, the elite teams tend to be a little more obvious and the Vegas spreads tell us a lot about the talent gap between two teams and what we can expect from a betting perspective.

That doesn’t mean the Browns can’t upset the Patriots, but usually in that matchup, things are going to break the way we think they will, 9 times out of 10. The same typically goes for elite defenses in good situations, in the sense that they’re probably not going to turn up lame or get ripped up by the team they’re facing.

Sometimes even the best defenses to falter, but it usually takes a brutal matchup, a road game or a key injury to have a beastly defense burn us. Even in 2016 when the Seattle Seahawks weren’t quite themselves defensively, there was often reason for it – especially once star safety Earl Thomas was lost for the year with a broken leg. The same went for the Carolina Panthers, who opted not to bring back shut down corner Josh Norman, and these instances can pop up for even the best of defenses.

Betting against the Seahawks, in general, hasn’t worked out much for NFL bettors lately, but a key reason why has been their defense. Houston’s defense (even without J.J. Watt) was the main reason the Texans won the AFC South and stole a playoff win last year, too, while the the Panthers ended up being a tougher out once they adapted to life without Norman.

The point here is top shelf defenses aren’t to be trifled with, and that rings especially true when they’re healthy, at home, have a supportive offense and don’t have an overly challenging matchup. The reality is a lot of the top defenses are going to give you a problematic out if you bet against them, but if the odds are even remotely in their favor, betting against them ends up being downright silly. Here are the top five NFL defenses we try to refrain from betting against as the 2017 NFL season approaches:

Denver Broncos

Denver Broncos
The Broncos are a pretty good place to start, as they won a title just two years ago, still showcases Von Miller and an elite pass rush (3rd in sacks in 2016) and started last season off strong. The Broncos wilted down the stretch due to injuries and fatigue, but they again have the outside talent to put pressure on the quarterback and the bodies in the secondary to maintain a stingy pass defense.

Denver lost some space-eaters up front and saw a big dip against the run in 2016 (28th!), but they’ve made some adjustments and should be improved in 2017. Even if they’re only a middle of the pack unit on the ground, they still boast a stacked defensive backfield and the pass rushers to give anyone serious pressure from all angles. Great defenses execute in all facets, but pressure and coverage are two huge assets for a top shelf defense.

Offenses feared the Broncos for the better part of the last three years and if Denver can run the ball and get more competent play out of the quarterback position this year, it will only help the defense. That should help the Broncos control the pace of games more and lower their rushing yardage allowed, as well as their points per game. We’re banking on the Broncos making positive steps here, but we also need to respect the talent they have and the fact that even at the start of 2016 this was one of the nastiest groups in the league.

Denver was not a playoff team last year and there is no guarantee they’ll turn back into one in 2017. However, due to the talent they have defensively, they are a bad spot to target for Totals and spreads and might be bad straight up betting targets, as well.

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings started 2016 off on a 5-0 tear and looked like viable Super Bowl threats before falling apart. Part of that was due to an elite defense not staying glued together, but a terrible ground game and an inconsistent passing game certainly didn’t help matters.

Minnesota went just 3-8 to close out the year and went from a playoff contender to just another squad. From a talent perspective, the Vikings are loaded defensively and should be a force to be reckoned with if they can stay healthy, hungry and focused.

We saw what this team is capable of early in 2016, as they completely stifled the Packers and other explosive offenses. Even with a late-season slide, Minnesota still finished 6th in points allowed per game, 5th in sacks and 3rd against the pass. There is a lot going for a Vikings squad that has strong coaching and excellent talent across their defense. The Vikings went out of their way to help their defense out this year by improving a sluggish rushing attack. Signing Latavius Murray and drafting Dalvin Cook could make their offense much more balanced, and in turn, help their defense stay more well rested.

The Vikings showed us just the beginning of their defensive upside in 2016 and if their obvious attempt to balance things out goes well, they’re going to be a tough out on a weekly basis. The Vikes already can get after the quarterback, limit big plays and contain scoring, so if their run defense is remotely better, they’re going to be a very bad team to bet against in 2017.

Houston Texans

We can’t really vouch for the Texans as a whole. They’ve been a middling bunch due to constant issues under center and an offense that rarely seems to know their actual identity. Maybe that’s finally being figured out with rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson in place, and maybe it doesn’t even matter.

The fact is, this was an elite defense in 2016, even though it’s driving force – J.J. Watt – only suited up for three games. Watt’s absence held the Texans back in some ways, but this was still a nasty and stingy unit that finished 2016 as the 11th best scoring defense and ranked 12th against the run and 2nd against the pass. Watt left behind a huge presence in the pass rush, yet this team still got to the quarterback 31 times.

A lot probably hinges on Deshaun Watson not being awful and Watt making a healthy return, and that’s probably how we should measure the upside in betting against the Texans. This defense routinely contains offenses, it is stingy through the air and it can get after the quarterback. Inserting Watt back into the equation could push them into the top-10 or even top-5 in sacks, while it should also dramatically improve their run defense.

Even without Watt, the Texans have a deep and scary defense that is well-coached. With arguably the league’s top defensive player back in the fold, laying bets against Houston just got a little more difficult.

Seattle Seahawks

The Legion of Boom could be slowly eroding and maybe even entering its final year of existence, but the Seahawks were still a strong defense in 2016 and figure to be at least borderline elite again in 2017. There has been a lot of chatter about Earl Thomas retirement and trade rumors surrounding Richard Sherman, but the Seahawks remain intact and could be ready for a big bounce-back campaign.

That’s a pretty frightening idea considering the Seahawks still finished 2016 with strong numbers, ranking 3rd in the NFL in scoring, 3rd in sacks, 7th against the run and 8th against the pass. All of this, with star safety Earl Thomas missing the final five weeks of the year and the defense falling apart because of it.

Thomas will be back, Sherman is still in town and the Seahawks could be headed back to being that feared unit that appeared in two of the last three Super Bowls. This is already a well-coached and balanced team that has the offense to hang with anyone, but when this defense is firing on all cylinders, they’re an awfully difficult team to wager against.

New England Patriots

It’s easy to say we shouldn’t bet against the defending Super Bowl champs, but that’s the beauty of the Pats; they’re not just Tom Brady and an elite offense. Brady does a masterful job of lighting defenses up and/or controlling games, usually molding his attack to his opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. But the Pats also boast an extremely talented defense that stepped up big time in last year’s Super Bowl win.

New England arguably over-achieved to a certain degree last year, yet finished 2016 with the top scoring defense – a unit that also ranked 12th against the pass, 3rd against the run and 16th in sacks. The Pats didn’t really blow the hinges off in terms of defensive production, but we did see the Pats stop the run and limit their opponents at an elite rate.

The scary part is the Patriots are getting even better in 2017, as former Bills star cornerback Stephon Gilmore came over via free agency and New England also tacked on linebacker David Harris and pass rusher Kony Ealy. Always adept at getting the right pieces and putting them in the right spot, New England’s already complementing defense figures to be even more problematic for opposing forces in 2017.

Tom Brady and New England’s offense make the Pats a weekly threat, but their defense pushes them over the top as a team you really have to hunt for betting edges against.

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