We are only a few weeks into summer, but it's already football season for those planning to beat the books in the NFL. Our projections start to take shape as we blend every team's offseason moves with the challenges that await them in September. Of course, a significant factor when evaluating a team's potential success is the schedule. Life isn't fair in the NFL, and the nuances of the schedule each year are a stark reminder. There are many factors to consider, including travel, rest advantages, number of prime-time games, potential weather, and bye-week positioning. With the 17-game format, even the number of home and road games is no longer equal.
Navigating through those challenges can be daunting for a first-time coach, especially in the early part of the season. I am not claiming that instant success is critical, but getting off to a good start can go a long way in establishing credibility with a new organization. Or conversely, it could be tough getting a team to buy in after losses start piling up in September. BetMGM offers a unique market where you can bet on each NFL team's odds of starting 4-0 or 0-4. In reviewing each team's schedule, I noticed the NFL did not do any favors for a few new head coaches. There was one that jumped off the board that might surprise you.
Minnesota Vikings to start the season 0-4 (+1100)
Whoa! The Vikings won eight games last year despite Mike Zimmer's conservative offensive philosophy and have upgraded to Sean McVay protege Kevin O'Connell, who enjoyed success coaching Kirk Cousins as Washington's quarterback coach in 2017. The pairing in Minnesota is widely considered a match made in heaven, resulting in the Vikings' top wideout, Justin Jefferson, becoming a popular bet to lead the NFL in receiving yards. Furthermore, the coaching change is supposed to make all the difference for a team that lost so many close games last season. So how do we justify an 0-4 start?
Before we get started, I want to be clear that I like the hire of O'Connell and the direction the Vikings are heading. But bettors bet on numbers, not names, and +1100 is a big enough number that it might be worth a sprinkle as a long shot. So let's look at Minnesota's first four games of the season.
Week 1: Green Bay
Week 2: at Philadelphia (MNF)
Week 3: Detroit
Week 4: vs. New Orleans (London)
Imagine starting the season as a rookie head coach against Aaron Rodgers and Matt LeFleur in your first game. Talk about pressure. LeFleur is 41-13 as head coach of the Packers and has owned NFC North opponents with a staggering 15-3 record. The Vikings did win last year's matchup in Minnesota, but it's not a stretch to expect Minnesota to start the season with a loss against one the conference favorites.
The next three games are where it gets interesting. Minnesota travels to Philadelphia projected as an underdog for the second straight week. The Eagles were a playoff team in 2021, and with the offseason addition of A.J. Brown, they are positioned higher than the Vikings in the Super Bowl, conference title , and win total markets. Minnesota was 0-5 on the road last season against teams that qualified for the postseason. Philadelphia's home opener on Monday Night Football is a tough spot for a team that doesn't travel well. Rookie head coaches are 6-18 SU since 2017 in their first road games. So it's realistic to see the Vikings fall to 0-2.
After being underdogs the first two weeks, Minnesota finally gets a game it should win, but the schedule makes it more demanding than it should be. The Vikings come back home to face Detroit in O'Connell's first experience preparing on a short week. Barring injury, the Vikings will be clear favorites, but it's important to note that Dan Campbell's Lions' gave them fits last year. The two teams split the season series 1-1, with each game decided by only two points. Detroit at Minnesota in Week 3 is the linchpin to cash this bet. If we get a little luck and the Vikings drop to 0-3, the odds increase dramatically in our favor as they will have put themselves in an awful spot having to travel to London and beat the Saints to avoid an 0-4 start.
The bet isn't an indictment on the Vikings' roster as much as the schedule it faces. Betting any potential playoff team to lose its first four games is a risk, especially one with Minnesota's offensive talent. However, they are still a team with challenges on defense, particularly in the secondary, where they will rely heavily on rookie defensive backs Andrew Booth and Lewis Cline. It's not uncommon to see first-year starters struggle with coverage as they transition to the NFL, so it's fair to expect the worst version of Minnesota's defense at the beginning of the year. Debuting against Rodgers, having your first road game on Monday Night Football and traveling to London make for a brutal first month for O'Connell as he leads Minnesota into a new era. The early season gauntlet should make the Vikings a valuable future bet in October, and you may have a +1100 winner in your pocket by then.