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Seasons are long, events are random, the ball bounces in funny ways.
However you want to explain it, what the Washington Nationals have done, and what the St. Louis Blues did before them is the kind of thing that turns coincidences into hope. And maybe some cash.
In early January, the St. Louis Blues were in last place in the NHL — 250-1 shots to win the Stanley Cup. By June, they were hoisting the coolest trophy in sports.
The Nats are not all that different. On May 23 they were tied for last place with the Marlins in the NL East, with a record of 19-31. For some perspective, on the same date, the Tigers, who finished with a league-worst 114 losses, had only 30 losses.
Washington’s odds to win the World Series back then were 60-1.
This got us thinking: We are nearly halfway through the NFL season. And while it’s not exactly a ball-to-ball comparison, is there a team lingering near the bottom of its division or conference right now that could offer value?
The Pats have a stranglehold on the AFC, the Niners are flirting with being really good, the Saints are proving it every week with a backup, and the Packers are a surprising 5-1. There must be some teams bringing up the rear that believe in magic, luck, randomness and Tom Brady aging, right?
And it’s not entirely unprecedented. The 2015 Chiefs lost All-Pro running back Jamaal Charles to a torn ACL in Week 5. They started the season 1-5. And then they won 10 games in a row, eventually losing to the Pats in the divisional round of the playoffs.
The randomness of refs, injury luck, and the way an oddly shaped ball bounces give credence to the idea that a miracle could actually happen in the NFL. Perhaps the only major sport in which long shots can’t win it all is the NBA.
Who can do it in the NFL?
First, we looked at the teams in last place (duh). Then we overlaid these things with The Action Network’s projected percentage chance to win it all.
We then looked at their current Super Bowl odds, because who doesn’t like a little value. Fourth, we examined each team’s health and whether they had top-flight players returning. Lastly, we broke down every team’s remaining schedule.
We settled on two teams.
Detroit Lions (2-2-1, last in NFC North)
Current Super Bowl odds: 60-1
Call it recency bias if you want. But the truth is we bet on the Lions the past two weeks against the Eagles and the Packers. Shame on us for not also betting them as home dogs to the Chiefs.
But other than a stinker of a quarter against the Cardinals in Week 1, this team has been sneaky competitive.
The Lions’ 2-2-1 record means they have just a .28 percent chance to win at all, which is right where we want them. They’re relatively healthy and their sked sets up nicely.
Other than division games against the Vikes, Bears and Packers (at home), their stiffest competition is Dallas in Week 11. That game is at Ford Field where the Lions play six of their final 11 games.
Cleveland Browns (2-4, T-3rd in AFC North)
Current Super Bowl odds: 50-1
First, let’s get the Pats game after the Browns’ Week 7 bye out of the way. That’s an L. But that’s good for this concept. Right now they have only a .46 percent chance to win it all. It likely will be worse after the Pats game.
Then the Browns will really be out of it. And their remaining opponents include the Bengals (twice), Dolphins, Cardinals and Broncos.
We’ve bet against the overhyped Browns all year, but we were on them (futilely) against Seattle in Week 6. And the second half of the season is going to be a Brown-out.
You laugh. But we’ve seen longer odds.
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