By Lenny Del Genio
NFL Football is king when it comes to sports betting, so when the oddsmakers annually release their projections for all 32 teams season win totals, football bettors step up and take notice. These futures odds have become a popular wager both offshore and in Vegas , so if you don�t mind tying up a portion of your bankroll, they provide an excellent opportunity to make significant money at the end of the NFL betting season.
As you will see, making successful futures wagers is hardly an exact science. However, what we are going to do here is take a look at the results from past seasons and see if they can provide any insight into this year�s projections. We will then provide our three favorite picks for the upcoming 2009 NFL Betting season.
Every year, there are at least two or three teams that come out of nowhere and seem to improve exponentially. Last year, it was the Atlanta Falcons and the Miami Dolphins. Incredibly, these two teams occupied the two lowest future win totals in the entire league heading into the season and both made the playoffs. In the case of the Falcons, they were projected to win 4.5 games and wound up 11-5. The Dolphins, coming off a one-win season (more on this below), were projected to win 5.5 games and also wound up 11-5.
Two other �prime movers� were the Carolina Panthers and Baltimore Ravens. Carolina had a future of 7.5 wins and went 12-4, Baltimore was only supposed to win six games and went 11-5.
How did these oddsmakers misfire so badly on this quartet? Well, two of those teams (Atlanta and Baltimore) had rookie quarterbacks that greatly exceeded expectations. Miami totally cleaned house and hired Bill Parcells to fix things. However, the real reason the Fish won the AFC East was their incredible turnover ratio, something that cannot be predicted before the season starts. Carolina, after years of underachieving, finally developed a competent rushing attack. That�s something else that you cannot predict in August.
Was this a one-year aberration? Last year, there were six teams with futures odds of six wins or less. Four of them (Atlanta, Miami, Baltimore and San Francisco) went Over while two (Kansas City and Oakland) went Under. The year previous there were seven and five went Over. In 2006, there were only four and ALL of them went Over. That means over the last three years, there have been 17 times that an NFL team has had a projected win total of six or less and 13 have gone Over. Therefore, there seems to be significant value with betting these teams Over. Who are the teams to take to look at in 2009? Let�s take a look�.
When the betting odds were released last week, five teams were projected to win six games or less. They are the Detroit Lions (4), St. Louis Rams (5), Oakland Raiders (5.5), Kansas City Chiefs (6) and Cincinnati Bengals (6). This quintet was truly wretched last year in compiling a 13-67 SU mark, which is made worse when you consider Oakland had five of those wins!
Honestly, looking at this group, it is hard to make a case for any of them to exceed expectations. Detroit, coming off the first 0-16 season in NFL history, has the lowest futures odds we�ve seen over the last three years and that seems promising. However, they could conceivably go 0-6 SU in a tough division, meaning they would have to play .500 vs. non-division foes, a tall order. Kansas City and Oakland, on the other hand, play in a horrible division and someone must take second place behind San Diego. St. Louis and Cincinnati are both franchises in flux.
What about teams that fell below expectations? Number one was the aforementioned Lions, who were actually picked to win 6.5 games. Next was Jacksonville, who was picked to win 10 games and came up with just five. NFC West rivals Seattle and St. Louis each finished 4.5 wins below expectations with the Seahawks winning just four games and the Rams just two. Cleveland was a popular pick to go Over the eight win total, but came up with just four instead, going way Under.
Only three teams finished four games or more under the future win total in 2007. They were Baltimore, the Jets and St. Louis, all finishing exactly four under. In 2006, only two teams embarrassed the books by not living up to the hype and they were Oakland (-4.5), who finished 2-14 and Tampa Bay (-4), who went 4-12.
We tried, but there really are no conclusions we can draw from looking at this list. Of the ten teams over the three-year span, all but one was projected to win single digits with none projected to win less than 6.5 games. So, maybe if you are looking to make an Under wager, you should look in the 6.5 to 8.5 win range to identify a potential underachiever.
What about those teams projected to be Super Bowl contenders? We define that as �10.5 wins or higher.� There were four teams last year (Dallas, San Diego, Indianapolis and New England) and three went Under. The only one who went Over (Indy) cashed by .5 a win. However, in 2007, there were two (Colts and Patriots) and both went Over with New England completing the first 16-0 regular season in league history. Those same two squads went Over a future of 10.5 or more in �06, but the Super Bowl participants from the previous year (Pittsburgh and Seattle) failed to do so, so we�re really at a crossroads with this group.
Making matters tougher is that teams that perennially exceed their futures by the widest margin are generally from the same group that fall below expectations. Green Bay was astounding +6 in 2007. Cleveland was +4 with a 10-6 record as was Dallas with a 13-3 mark. Baltimore finished +5 in 2006 (13-3). Chicago (13-3) and the Jets (10-6) both finished +4. San Diego, however, was a league best +5.5 at 14-2.
Ok, so thus far, we�ve talked a lot and only drawn the conclusion that you should probably take a look at playing Over on one or two of the teams with the lowest future odds. Are there anything the oddsmakers do that can tip us off?
Most teams� futures odds do not deviate more than a game or so from their previous year�s win total. Therefore, we wanted to take a special look at teams whose future deviates by 2.5 games or more from the previous year�s win total. Last year, there were three teams who were picked to win 2.5 or fewer games than the previous year (Dallas, Green Bay and New England). All went Under, so that�s encouraging. Conversely, there were three teams predicted to win 2.5 or more games than they did the previous year (Miami, the Jets and St. Louis). Only the Rams failed to go Over from that group. We could be onto something here.
In 2007, it was more of the same. Two of the three teams with a deviation of +2.5 or more went Over. Two of the three teams with a deviation of -2.5 or more went Under. Going back a year, the oddsmakers really showed us their hand. Twelve teams deviated by 2.5 or more from their previous years win total. Of the six that were expected to win 2.5 or more games from the previous year, four went Over. Of the six that were expected to win 2.5 or less games than the previous year, five went Under. Now we have something to work with. In sum, teams that deviated by +/- 2.5 games from their previous year�s win total cashed at a 75% rate if you followed the oddsmakers lead.
With this information in hand, we now present our three initial top futures wagers for the 2009 NFL Betting Season. Remember that a lot can happen between now and August (like injuries!).
Green Bay Packers Over 8.5 - In the first year of the post-Brett Favre era in Green Bay, the Packers suffered innumerable tough losses, seven of them by four points or less. That, not the transition from Favre to Aaron Rodgers at QB, was the main reason we saw the Pack drop from 13 wins in �07 to just six a year ago. Perhaps we should have seen that coming as the sportsbooks set last year�s futures odds at 8.5. Same number this year, but the difference is that 8.5 win total leads itself to higher expectations. A winning record and then some is very do-able this year as Green Bay is projected to have the third easiest schedule in the league. A shift to a 3-4 scheme on defense brings some cause for concern, but DE Cullen Jenkins will be back healthy and they addressed this side of the ball in the draft. Plus, Dom Capers was brought in as the defensive coordinator to lead the change. Rodgers will be better in the 4th quarter simply due to experience. He had a good year last year with a 93.8 passer rating and a better than 2:1 TD to INT ratio. The Packers will win the NFC North.
Miami Dolphins Under 8 - Right off the bat we�re going to make two assumptions about the 2009 Miami Dolphins. One, they will not have a turnover margin of +17. Two, QB Chad Pennington will not start all 16 games. Therefore, it�s ridiculous to think that the Fish can build on last year�s 11-win campaign, the single biggest turnaround from one season to the next in NFL history (+10 wins). Rumors of building towards the future with QB Chad Henne (Michigan) have already surfaced, which means the present will be screwed up. Also, every other team in the AFC East is going to be better than they were a year ago, making things even tougher. Having the most difficult schedule in the league doesn�t help matters either.
Tampa Bay Bucs Under 6.5 - This could be the worst team in football by the time the regular season is said and done. Byron Leftwich enters camp as the leading candidate to take the starting QB job, which is not encouraging. New HC Raheem Morris seems questionable in what will assuredly be a rebuilding year for a team just two years removed from a division title. The Bucs appear to be a lock to finish in the basement of the NFC South. The GM is new as are both coordinators. Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks is gone and there could be as many five new starters on the defensive side of the ball. The Bucs play the fifth most difficult schedule in the league.
And while we�re at it, here are three more futures wagers worth a look:
San Diego Chargers Over 10.5 Wins - Last year, the Lightning Bolts became the first team in league history to start a season 4-8 and come back to win a division title. By the time the playoffs had rolled around they were unquestionably the 2nd best team in the AFC, but had to go on the road and play eventual Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh. Someone needs to wake up Norv Turner and let him know that if you play well during the regular season and get the homefield advantage, you won�t have to go to New England or Pittsburgh in the playoffs. I think they�ll get the hint. The AFC West is an awful division with none of the other three teams even remotely looking like a .500 team. Six division wins is not out of the question, which means a 5-5 record out of the division would give you all the wins you need. Shawne Merriman is back on defense. The offense is loaded with a 4,000 yard passer, a 1,000 yard back and a 1,000 yard receiver. Also, don�t forget about the emergence of RB Darren Sproles last postseason.
Detroit Lions Over 4 Wins - Asking a team to win five games during a regular season doesn�t seem like too much. After all, only six teams failed to do so in 2008. However, at the bottom of that list were the Lions, who won a whopping zero, a league first. This will certainly still not be a good team in �09, but history (see above) suggests they can certainly improve by a considerable margin. Miami went from 1 to 11 wins in just one season. Schedule difficulty ranks in the bottom third of the league.
Kansas City Over 6 Wins - Once again, we�re siding with history with this pick. We can�t see the Chiefs winning much more than six games, but a new QB (Matt Cassel), new GM (Scott Pioli) and a new coach (Todd Haley) worked so well for Atlanta and Baltimore last year (well those teams didn�t change GM�s). Playing in a weak division means that could get as many as three division wins, meaning they would have to go just 4-6 out of the division to reach their goal. A middle of the road schedule will help.