Who are NFL bettors targeting ahead of the season?

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The first game of the NFL season is finally here, ending a busy preseason for bettors and bookmakers alike. Which teams are drawing the most activity in the market? Are sharps buying any dark-horse contenders?

We caught up with Jay Rood, theScore Bet's head trader, to discuss the biggest liabilities and betting favorites entering the 2021 season.

49ers, Bills earn preseason love

As expected, preseason bettors hammered the two Super Bowl favorites and reigning conference champion. The Chiefs (+430) and Buccaneers (+600) rank first and second in cash wagered, respectively, despite the relatively small payoff.

The third-most bet team? That would be the 49ers (+1300), who finished 6-10 a year ago but reached the Super Bowl in 2019. Those early to the window are expecting a similar result in 2021 despite questions about whether rookie Trey Lance will replace starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo at some point during the season.

“Early on, going back to the draft, the public has really backed hard the 49ers to bounce back," Rood said. "There's some uncertainty there, but that's a team that the public has been all over.”

Another preseason darling is the Bills (+1000), who were priced as high as 33-1 to win the Super Bowl a year ago but enter this season as the third-favorites behind the Chiefs and Bucs. It's not just in the Super Bowl market - Buffalo is also drawing heavy action to win the AFC and to repeat in the AFC East.

"A lot of people are looking toward the Bills to solidify the change in the guard (in the AFC)," Rood said. "They're getting a lot of play to be the main rival to the Chiefs."

QB questions shaping futures markets

While the Super Bowl favorites drew the most early money, those teams aren't the ones that bookmakers are most worried about.

Rood says his book's biggest liability is the Broncos (+3300), who drew speculation wagers this summer as trade rumors swirled around reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers. Denver was dealing as short as 15-1 this summer before settling near the middle of the oddsboard, though a Super Bowl run isn't out of the question if its talented defense can bounce back.

The Broncos aren't the only team affected by quarterback rumors and moves. Washington (+3700) opened at 60-1 but is now theScore Bet's second-biggest liability after signing Ryan Fitzpatrick in the offseason. The Colts (+3800) drew sharp action after acquiring former Eagles starter Carson Wentz in March. The Panthers (+8000) attracted some speculative wagers before eventually dealing for former Jets quarterback Sam Darnold.

And, naturally, the Packers' price yo-yoed this summer while Rodgers pondered his future with the club. They've since settled at 14-1, though there haven't been as many tickets written to them as predicted for such a public team.

"The Rodgers saga dragged on, and I think that defused some of the play that we would have normally seen to the Packers," Rood said. "Nobody was willing to take a shot on the Jordan Love-led Packers early on.”

Stafford an early MVP darling

The MVP market doesn't normally heat up until a few weeks into the season, Rood said, but that hasn't stopped bettors from targeting former Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (+1700) in his first season with the Rams.

Stafford has been among bettors' favorites to win the award after Los Angeles dealt Jared Goff and three draft picks for the former No. 1 pick, who is also our favorite play to win MVP this season. The rest of the activity has mostly centered around the three betting favorites - Patrick Mahomes (+450), Rodgers (+900), and Josh Allen (+1100) - though last year's winner hasn't gotten as much love as you might expect.

"You'd think Rodgers would get more action considering he's the defending MVP," Rood said, "but I think there's a little bit of hesitation on what that team's going to look like."

That's been a theme in all futures markets, Rood says. Many big bettors took a "wait and see" approach, though he anticipates sizable wagers in the coming weeks as sharps get a sense for certain teams after a busy summer. That's when we'll see significant movement in the futures market.

"Last week was probably the strongest week from a handle perspective that theScore Bet has had in its existence," he said, "so that bodes well coming into the first full week of NFL.”

C Jackson Cowart is a sports betting writer at theScore. You can follow him on Twitter (@CJacksonCowart) or email him at cjackson.cowart@thescore.com.

Who are NFL bettors targeting ahead of the season?
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