For the fandoms of 30 NFL teams, it is already on to the next season when the Super Bowl kicks off in early February. Fans of even the worst NFL teams are already spooling out scenarios in their minds about how their beloved team will be the one hoisting the Lombardi Trophy when next February rolls around.
And sportsbooks in Las Vegas and around the world are thinking the exact same thing on Super Sunday. Even as the final Big Game is being played, it’s already time to look ahead to the next season, and for casual and hardcore gamblers alike, that means Futures Bets are right around the corner.

Unlike traditional game betting, with point spreads and over/unders and parlays all hinging on the outcome of a specific game or set of games, the futures bet is about an outcome, a championship, and which NFL are most – or least – likely to achieve that goal in the upcoming season.

If you are looking for instant gratification, this is not your kind of action. But if the long game appeals to you – as well as some pretty impressive odds that could lead a Cinderella story to a huge payday – then the futures bet is right up your alley.

The premise is actually quite simple. Shortly after the Super Bowl concludes on the first Sunday night in February, sportsbooks put out odds for all 32 teams to win the next season’s Super Bowl. The favorite – usually one or both of the teams having just played in the just-completed Super Bowl – might have odds in the neighborhood of 6-to-1 like the odds you might expect for a favored horse in the Kentucky Derby.

From there the odds for each team get longer. Teams that reached the playoffs in the season just ended might see odds in the 12-to-1 range. Teams that finished just outside the postseason start to creep into double-digit odds against. Teams with .500 or slightly worse records find themselves around 25- or 30-to-1. And the basement dwellers can see odds around 999-to-1, if you believe in the impossible dream.

Much like over-under win totals, you will need to wait for the entire season to conclude itself to know if you have a chance to win. In this case, however, you are not rooting for any other outcome than winning the Super Bowl. It’s an all-or-nothing proposition.

What makes futures bets so intriguing, and so popular, is the odds involved. You bet an individual game, and you are wedded to the moneyline. Even the biggest underdog bet, usually a +300, is only going to pay like it’s 3-to-1 odds.

But a futures bet, even for the biggest favorites, you are likely to get 6-to-1 and double your money if your team wins the big one. And when the slipper fits? In 2007, the New York Giants opened the season at 30-to-1 to win the Super Bowl. Thank you, David Tyree.

The 1999 Rams are still the standard-bearer for the miracle futures win. The Trent Green-less Rams were 300-to-1 to win Super Bowl XXXIV. But where there’s a Warner, there’s a way.

The large variance in odds makes it easier for the bettor to take multiple shots at a big payout without crippling their bankroll. Five $10 bets on five different stages of odds – a clear favorite, a couple mid-range shots and two longshots – gives you an 18.8-percent chance of winning, and even if it’s the heavy favorite at 6-to-1, you’ve still turned a profit.

And, like any prideful sports fan, picking the Super Bowl winner before the season even starts brings with it some nice bragging rights to hammer your buddies with. “I told you so” … priceless.

Just remember to keep your bankroll management under consideration when betting your futures in all sports. It is easy to get carried away with so many possible big scores on the board. Manage your futures bets the same you would with regular bets, as to not over-extend yourself.

Timing your futures bets is also an important factor in trying to maximize your expenditures. Betting on the next season’s Super Bowl winner prior to coaching changes, free agency and the draft is going to largely be a crapshoot. Even betting the big favorite is no guarantee for success, as teams rarely repeat anymore in the NFL.

Of course, the later you wait to make a futures bet, the more you will find the big odds possibilities have shrunk. Just as your knowledge of the league increases at each stage of the offseason, so does the sportsbook’s. A key free-agent signing, a franchise-altering coaching hire, a big-name draft choice, all of these factors will cause the books to reset their season-long odds, as the number of teams with a legitimate chance to win the Super Bowl starts to dwindle.

You will be more savvy about what you’re doing with each day that passes, but you will likely win less for waiting. But that is not necessarily a bad thing. More confidence in a team’s chances might lend itself to making a bigger wager, thus getting decent bang for your buck if that team fulfills its destiny.

In one instance, betting early can lead to better value. The popular teams will almost certainly see their odds diminish as the season draws closer as more fans put money on them. Grabbing a trendy pick early in the process means getting them at substantially better odds than if you bet the same team right before the season.

How well you know a particular team, understanding the moves it makes as the offseason winds on and gauging things like strength of schedule, divisional foes and moves by its main conference competitors can go a long way toward sharpening your knowledge of whether that team’s future odds are a value or not. Perhaps a team’s odds get longer because a competitor signs a flashy free agent. If your analysis convinces you that the team was just as championship-worthy at 20-to-1 as it is in its current 30-to-1 slot, then that’s a value to chase.

Perhaps the best time to jump on board is two or three games into the regular season. Teams’ identities will have been revealed by then, and it will be even easier to determine the contenders from the pretenders. Again, the odds on the favorites will tighten, but we also know that a six-seed is just as capable of making a Super Bowl run as the team with the best record. Taking a shot on a likely Wild Card entry likely means getting a team with double-digit odds and the chance for a nice payout.

That said, it still takes a certain amount of luck – a good bounce, a bad call, weather – to reach the Super Bowl. Fortunately, the big game isn’t the only futures bet available for wagering. Books will also offer odds on winning the conference and even winning the division. Again, the odds for these bets will be tighter than Super Bowl odds, but offer a bit more safety in trying to hunt for winners. These bets are best for right before the season, when a surprise team has yet to fully flower or a big favorite might be a paper tiger ready to get knocked off.

As mentioned above, another type of futures bet are the over-under wins totals that asks the bettor to wager on the total win amounts over the 16-game regular season for each team.

These are great bets for the casual fan looking for some football action in the months where there is no football. These win over-under lines generally get released around the time of the April NFL Draft, and give even the least gambling-savvy fan an extra reason to root for their favorite team over the course of the season – or root against their bitter rivals.

A typical NFL wins over-under wager would look something like this:

Pittsburgh Steelers 9.5 Wins
Over (-110)
Under (-110)

Bettors can wager on the over and under on Pittsburgh’s wins, which includes the 16-game regular season only. Like any other bet, a total represented by an even number can result in a “tie,” or “push” which would result in the bettor getting his original wager back. For example. If the Steelers win total was 9.0 and they finished 9-7, that would be a push.

Unlike a straight game over-under wager, where the specific teams and their strengths and weaknesses help inform the likely outcome, betting on a season total of wins requires a bit more research for the serious bettor.

As with any futures bet, when to make over-under season win total wager depends largely on your tolerance for risk. Bets very soon after the Super Bowl and before teams make coaching changes and free agency likely generates better odds, but the data informing those decisions is often incomplete or downright misleading.

The later into the offseason, the more likely the betting lines will reflect the actual strengths and weaknesses of each team. A team listed at -170 to win 5 games in March might be +110 for that same win total come August.

The most informed decisions will come in August, when teams have played preseason games and their strengths and weaknesses are defined. Any major injuries that occur in the preseason will be baked into any line movement by the sportsbooks, but can also save the bettor from a potential disaster by betting the over on a team that loses its best player before the season starts.

Strength of schedule is a key factor in helping to gauge the likely win total for a particular team. Strength of schedule information is usually available shortly after the completion of the previous season. Team opponents are known well in advance – six in-division games, plus rotating divisions to fill out the other ten games.
The overall strength of a team’s divisional foes can be key to assessing a team’s chances for its win target. For instance, the Patriots have generally had a win total of around 11-12 wins in the Tom Brady era, largely because the AFC East has consistently been one of the weakest NFL divisions over the past two decades.

Sportsbooks anticipate the Patriots will win 5 or 6 division games each year, roughly half of their expected win total in slightly less than half of their overall schedule.

Coaching and personnel changes will also factor into a team’s expected win total. Anticipating certain free-agent movements after win totals are released, but before the moves become official, could give a bettor a nice edge against the field.