The NFL Gambling Preview

The NFL season is coming up soon. Woohoo! With that American pastime coming up, let’s take a look at another one of our favorite things to do: gambling.

Now, most of you are probably aware of game lines, (i.e. Team X -7) but although you can bet on individual games at this point, it’s a crapshoot for the most part because the games are too far away.

Luckily, before the season starts, you can bet on bets called “Futures Bets”.

Note for people who know all this stuff already (either geniuses or degenerate gamblers): the next paragraph is just explaining about betting so you can skip it if you want to.

What are futures bets? I’m glad you asked. Futures bets, as the name implies, are bets on the future (I’m happy I could clear that up for you). Specifically, you bet on something to happen far in the future. Also, futures bets aren’t on specific games, but on overall events. A future bet wouldn’t be predicting the Jets to win a game in Week 17, but picking the Jets to make the playoffs would be.

As an example of futures bets in practice, some of my regular readers might remember that I mentioned a few weeks ago that if I had followed my hunch on Germany before the World Cup, a futures bet on them to win the World Cup would pay out something like 1100$ for a 200$ bet. Another example is betting on the, let’s say, the Athletics to win the World Series. Again, you’re gambling on something for the future.

Okay gamblers (and geniuses)! Come back for this paragraph!

So we’re going to go through the best futures bets that are available right now. For the fun of it, let’s pretend I’ve got 2500$ with which to make bets (I end up using 2320$ of my allotment). At the end of the season we can check back with these picks to see how much money I would’ve lost and what lessons we can learn from my failures (other than the fact that I’m an idiot).

Just so you know, in the third to last paragraph of this column, there’s information on a football games picking pool for Sushi on Sports, if you want to check it out before reading the rest of the article.

(All lines are according to Bovada. All lines are accurate as of the writing of this article.)

Let’s start with a sample bet, just to show you how it works:

Kansas City Chiefs: 8 wins

Over: +105

Under: +135

Now that we have this sample line let’s take each part step by step.

The first part says that the over/under win total for the Chiefs is 8 wins. The next two lines show the odds on each bet. Let’s say I bet the under. If the Chiefs win more than 8 games, I lose. If they win less than 8 games, I win. If they win exactly 8 games, it’s a push, and the casino would give me my money back.

The numbers next to over and under refer to the odds on the bet. It’s pretty simple. The odds refer to a bet of 100$. If you bet the over, you’d bet 100$ to win 105$, because of the plus sign in front of the 105. If you bet the under, because of the minus sign, you’d have to put 135$ to win 100$. Not too hard, huh? With that, let’s get started!

Oakland Raiders

UNDER 5 wins: +105

500$ to win 525$

The logic is simple here: the Raiders have a crappy team, are stuck in a division with three good teams, and they play the NFC West this year. Then the casino gives you +105 odds to take them? Count me in. This, for me, is one of the easiest bets of the year, which is why I’m betting a lot of my (admittedly, fake) money on them.

Saint Louis Rams

UNDER 7.5 wins: +120

150$ to win 180$

In almost any other division, I’d take the over, but in the NFC West, every team’s win total is pushed down by having four good teams in the division. Sam Bradford is shaky and usually gets injured, when combined with the odds of +120 makes this a pretty easy call.

Dallas Cowboys

OVER 7.5 wins: +105

100$ to win 105$

The Cowboys have gone 8-8 for the past three years and always seem to be competitive down the end of the season. The NFC East is always wide open and has a lot of parity, meaning that it’s more likely than not that the Cowboys will win about 7 to 9 games. If a couple of bounces go their way, then they win 8 or 9 games and I win my bet.

Detroit Lions

UNDER 8.5 wins: -125

125$ to win 100$

Let’s just put it this way: it’ll be a lot more fun to watch Detroit self-destruct when I’m winning money (albeit nonexistent) out of it.

Pittsburgh Steelers

UNDER 8.5 wins: +120

100$ to win 120$

Pittsburgh’s old, with a QB who always misses at least two games a year. In their division are three solid teams. The Steelers have been on a downward trend for a couple of years, now, and it’d be surprising if they turn it around.

Also, Pittsburgh has to be over .500 for me to lose this bet, something I find laughable. I suspect that this is an instance of where the public has shifted the lines. The Steelers are a recognizable brand with recent success, meaning that the public is more likely to bet in their favor. That much is clear; the over on this bet is all the way up to -150. Anyways, here’s a gambling rule of thumb: always go against the public. They’re the ones who let bookies drive expensive cars. Always go against the grain when gambling.

Green Bay Packers

OVER 10.5 wins: -115

115$ to win 100$

Put simply: as long as Green Bay has Aaron Rodgers, they’ll be fine.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

WILL make the playoffs: +400

50$ to win 200$

I like this bet for two reasons:

  1. The odds are great, especially for a wide-open division and
  2. The Buccos have a sneaky-good team, with a great defense and a decent offense.

See, gun to my head, I’d say that Tampa Bay won’t make the playoffs. However, gambling isn’t always about what you think is going to happen. Instead, it’s about finding value in bets. Let’s say Tampa Bay wins their division 25% of the time, an average projection. Then, let’s say that the Bucs win a wild card 10% of the time. That adds up to 35% for those of you out there who aren’t exactly math geniuses. Now, the odds of +400 say that Tampa Bay has 4:1 odds to make the playoffs, implying that the Buccaneers will make the playoffs 25% of the time. Well, 35%>25%, which means that we’ve found value in this bet. Now, you can quibble with the specific numbers (which were rough guesses), but the overarching idea is the same.

Quick side note: I wrote this section one day and then a couple of days later I checked back for the odds to see if they had changed. They had. The line on this bet was moved down from +400 to +350. What does that mean? Glad you asked. It means that the bettors are betting heavily on Tampa Bay, meaning that they need to adjust the lines in an attempt to spread the bet evenly on both sides in order to ensure a profit, or at the very least not a huge loss.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

WILL win the NFC South: +550

100$ to win 550$

The biggest reasons are the same as before: a wide-open division and great value. Going back to the last section, the odds of +550 imply that Tampa Bay will win the division just over 18% of the time. That means that if the likelihood of the Bucs making the playoffs that we stated earlier was correct (or at least reasonably close), then we’ll have found value.

My secondary reasons are the strong defense led by Lavonte David and Lovie Smith and the offense filled with playmakers, although it’s led by a prime candidate for regression: Josh McCown.

By the way, you may be wondering why I didn’t bet on the Tampa Bay over/under for wins if I’m so confident in their ability. To answer the question you didn’t ask, the main reason why is because of the odds. For the making the playoffs and winning the NFC South bets, I feel like I’m getting good value. However, the over/under is 7 wins, which I don’t feel great about in the first place, but the line is -140 to take the over. Those odds are too steep for my taste, especially as I’m not exactly enamored with Tampa Bay.

Indianapolis Colts

WILL NOT make the playoffs: +175

40$ to win 70$

As with the bet on Tampa Bay, if pressed, I would pick Indy to make it to the playoffs. However, I think that there’s a decent shot they don’t, for two reasons:

  1. Houston will be rejuvenated and as long as Ryan Fitzpatrick doesn’t suck, they’ll ride a great defense and a solid running game to a playoff spot. Now, the caveat of needing Ryan Fitzpatrick to not suck is a rather big one, but on the off chance that he’s half-decent, I want to be there to take advantage of it.
  2. The Colts have been incredibly good in one-touchdown games, going 14-2 over the last two years. Teams are expected to win 50% of one-touchdown games over the long run. No matter how much of Indy’s success in one-touchdown games you attribute to Andrew Luck, they’re due for some regression to the mean, which could push their record down a couple of games.
  3. Outside of Luck, the Colts are horrible. Their horrible-ness includes their offensive line which has done everything other than put out a welcome mat for marauding defensive ends to get past them to maul Luck. If Luck gets injured for any significant period of time, they’re screwed. Now, you might say something like “Oh, Luck isn’t injury-prone. He’ll be fine”. However, even QBs that are considered to be healthy can get hurt in the violent game of football (see: Rodgers, Aaron, 2013 season). If Luck gets hurt for six games, the Colts will not make the playoffs.

Overall, I think those two concerns combined are enough to make it a decent bet to gamble against the Colts making the playoffs. However, the odds aren’t that great which is why I’m not making this bet a very big one.

Philadelphia Eagles

WILL NOT make the playoffs: +120

100$ to win 120$

Here are five reasons why I don’t think the Eagles will make the playoffs:

  1. They lost their biggest offensive weapon (outside of LeSean McCoy) over the offseason when Washington signed DeSean Jackson.
  2. Nick Foles, owner of an impressive 27-2 TD/INT rate last season, is guaranteed to get worse, due to the Plexiglass Principle and regression to the mean. It took that superhuman effort to pull Philadelphia into the playoffs, an effort that’s unlikely to be repeated. When Foles gets worse (even if he’s still a good quarterback overall) the Eagles will have to have other players on their roster get better. With Jackson gone, that task gets harder and harder.
  3. They play the NFC West.
  4. The NFC East, as it usually is, is pretty much a tossup. All four teams are more or less equal. If a couple of bounces don’t go their way, Philadelphia won’t win the division, meaning that they’ll have to win a wild card to get into the playoffs but…
  5. The wild card race is STACKED. One of the two spots is going to the loser of the dogfight in the NFC West between San Francisco and Seattle. That leaves one spot for the other two teams in the NFC West, the loser of the Chicago/Green Bay battle for the NFC North, and the second place team of the NFC South. If they don’t win the division crown, Philadelphia has almost no shot at winning a wild card, making this a great bet for me.

Miami Dolphins

WILL make the playoffs: +250

200$ to win 500$

This is a pretty high confidence bet for me. If you look at the AFC, you’ll see that it’s very top heavy and after the two or three elite teams, it’s a scrum for the rest of the playoff spots. As far as I can tell, Denver will win their division, New England and Indianapolis almost certainly will, and… well, that’s it for guaranteed playoff participants in the AFC. That leaves three spots for the rest of the teams, although one is earmarked for the AFC North. For the sake of this exercise, let’s say that the Bengals win the AFC North. That means that four teams (Houston, San Diego, Kansas City, and Miami) are competing for the two wild card spots.

By the way, I’m counting out the rest of the teams because they’re either too old (Pittsburgh, Baltimore) inexperienced and counting on an unproven QB (New York, Buffalo, Cleveland), or because they just plain suck (Tennessee, Jacksonville, Oakland).

Anyways, of those four teams in realistic contention, let’s pick nits with each of them:

San Diego: Tough schedule, facing the NFC West and KC and Denver twice.

Kansas City: Ditto, except they (obviously) play San Diego twice instead of themselves.

Houston: Relying on an unreliable QB (Ryan Fitzpatrick) and are unlikely to rebound from last year by winning eight extra games that they’d need to win to go 10-6 to win a wild card.

Miami: Relying on a porous offensive line, had a negative point differential last year, are starting an unproven QB.

All of these concerns are valid and warranted, but I believe that Miami’s are more easily surmounted.

Cleveland Browns

WIN the AFC North: +500

20$ to win 100$

The Browns, along with Tampa Bay, are my two big sleepers for this year. I doubt that Cleveland ends up winning their division but I think they’re the second best team in the AFC North (behind Cincinnati) and the odds were too good to pass up.

Cincinnati Bengals

WIN the AFC: +1600

30$ to win 480$

Again, if I were betting my life, I’d bet on the Broncos to win the AFC, however, the Bengals offer the most appealing combination of good odds and a good team…

Denver Broncos

WIN the AFC: +225

200$ to win 450$

…But I might as well go with the almost sure thing too, just to cover my bases.

San Francisco 49ers

WIN the NFC: +450

100$ to win 450$

Seattle Seahawks

WIN the NFC: +375

100$ to win 375$

I know that it’s uninventive to pick the two best teams in the league to win the league, but the main tenet of gambling is that you’re just there to make money. There’s no need to be a hero by betting on the huge underdog. If you do that then you’re just throwing your money away. Here’s a good tip for life: don’t throw your money away.

Anyways, the road to the Super Bowl runs through the NFC West. Whichever team comes in first place in the division will have the upper hand and will be favored to advance to the Super Bowl. Because of the importance of the division title, the two games between Seattle and San Fran will be even more hard-fought than usual (if that’s possible). It’ll be like having an extra two playoff games.

However, while I’ll bet anything that it’s one of those two teams that represents the NFC in the Super Bowl, the question is which one. To eliminate that question, I bet on both. Now, it doesn’t matter who wins; I make money either way.

Denver Broncos

WIN the Super Bowl: +650

100$ to win 650$

Seattle Seahawks

WIN the Super Bowl: +700

100$ to win 700$

San Francisco 49ers

WIN the Super Bowl: +750

100$ to win 750$

As far as I can tell, there are three genuine Super Bowl contenders: Seattle, San Francisco, and Denver. I’m almost completely certain that the eventual Super Bowl winner will be one of those three teams. There are no underdogs this year that I like enough to back them for a Cinderella run. There’s little parity at the top; after the top three teams, there’s a steep drop off to teams like New England, Indianapolis, and Green Bay. I figure that one of my bets will hit, which means that I’ll win between 450$ and 550$.

For the player props I don’t really like any of the choices. I feel like player props are even more of a crapshoot than the other kinds of bets. However, for the sake of completeness, here are my favorite bets for each of the player props, which combine a chance at winning with good odds:. Just keep in mind that I’m not making these bets personally because I don’t think they’re very good, I just think that these are the best of the bunch. Anyways, here they are:
MVP: Matthew Stafford +2800

If he cuts down on his interceptions and his team has a good season, then he’ll have a decent shot at the MVP. The odds make this a good bet, though.

Most Passing Yards: Matthew Stafford +750

It’s either Stafford or Drew Brees for this (with Peyton Manning looming as a dark horse), except that Stafford’s odds are at +750 and Brees’ are at +275, making Stafford a decent value play.

Most Rushing Yards: C.J. Spiller +3300

In a bet like this one, you’re looking for an explosive back who’s indisputably the starter and who plays for a team that won’t be a throwing very much. Spiller checks all those boxes and has decent odds to boot.

Most Receiving Yards: Antonio Brown +2000

Checks the same boxes as Spiller: explosive, the clear number one on the depth chart with no close competitors on a team with a good quarterback who throws a lot.

I was also intrigued by A.J. Green (+1600), Larry Fitzgerald (+4000), and T.Y. Hilton (+4000) before ultimately deciding against them.

At the end of the season we’ll follow up on these bets and see what happened, where we went wrong, and what we did right.

The next NFL related article to come out on this site is probably going to be some massive NFL Preview. That’ll be out by the end of the month.

Throughout the football season, I’ll be keeping our betting tradition alive. Each week I’ll pick each game against the spread. At the end of the season we’ll tally up the score and see whether I know nothing about football or almost nothing about football.

Speaking of which, I’m starting a Pigskin Pick‘em tourney on ESPN for Sushi on Sports. If you’d like to join (so you can show me how much smarter you are than me), the name of the pool is “Sushi on Sports Pool”. The passcode is (inventively, I know) SushiOnSports. If you’d like to join, feel free. It should be a lot of fun.

Anyways, if you enjoyed this article, a great thing you could do is merely click follow (I think it’s on the right hand side) and to share the link to this site with your friends, family, coworkers, and random people on the street.

Thanks for your help and I hope you enjoyed the column!




1 thought on “The NFL Gambling Preview

  1. Pingback: Sushi’s Week 2 Picks | Sushi on Sports

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