By the time the Super Bowl kicks off in early February, NFL fans’ attention will have already turned to next season. Even those supporting the worst NFL teams have started dreaming about how its players will be the ones hoisting the Lombardi Trophy one year on. And sportsbooks in Las Vegas, and the world over, are doing the exact same thing on Super Sunday. Even as the final Big Game is being played, it’s time to look ahead to the next season, which means NFL futures betting is right around the corner.
What is NFL futures betting?
NFL futures betting isn’t like traditional forms of game wagering such as point spreads, over/unders and NFL parlays, all of which hinge on the result of a specific game or set of games. Rather, it is about an outcome over the course of a season. So, if you are looking for instant gratification, this won’t be your kind of action. But if the long game appeals to you — as well as some pretty impressive odds that could lead to a huge payday — then NFL futures betting might be the wager you’ve been looking for.
NFL futures betting in action
The premise of futures betting is actually quite simple. Shortly after the Super Bowl concludes in February, sportsbooks put out NFL betting odds for all 32 teams to win the next season’s competition. The favorite — usually one or both of the teams that have just played in the Super Bowl — might have odds in the neighborhood of 6-to-1, essentially the odds you might expect for a favored horse in the Kentucky Derby.
From there the NFL betting lines for each team get longer. Those that reached the playoffs might see odds in the 12-to-1 range, while teams that finished just outside 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 of 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 for a bet to come through. In this case, however, you are not rooting for any other outcome than winning the Super Bowl — it’s an all-or-nothing proposition.
Why is NFL futures betting so popular?
What makes NFL futures betting 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. That said, 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 NFL betting 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. 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 some nice bragging rights to hammer your buddies with. “I told you so” … priceless.
NFL futures betting tips
Timing is crucial
Timing your futures bets is incredibly important. Betting on the next season’s Super Bowl winner prior to coaching changes, free agency and the draft is a risky endeavor. Even betting the big favorite is no guarantee for success, as teams rarely win back-to-back titles.
Of course, the later you wait to make a futures bet, the more you will find the odds 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 can bolster a team’s chances of success. And as time goes on, the number of teams with a legitimate chance to win the Super Bowl starts to dwindle and causes the books to reset their season-long odds. 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 bigger wagers, thus getting decent bang for your buck if that team fulfills its destiny. In some instances, betting early can lead to better value. The popular teams will almost certainly see their odds diminish as the season draws closer and 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.
Research is key
Understanding the moves a team makes in the offseason, its strength of schedule, divisional foes and moves by its competitors can go a long way toward determining whether a team’s future odds are good value or not. Perhaps a team’s odds get longer because a competitor signs a flashy free agent, for instance. 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 value to chase.
Perhaps the best time to jump on board is two or three games into the regular season. Teams’ identities and lineups will have been revealed by that point, 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 probable wild card entry will likely mean getting a team with double-digit odds, and the chance for a decent payout.
The Super Bowl isn’t everything
That said, it still takes a certain amount of luck to reach the Super Bowl — seemingly minor details like a good bounce, a bad call, or even the weather can make or break a team’s season. Fortunately, the big game isn’t the only NFL futures bet available. Books will also offer odds on winning the conference and even the division. Again, the odds will be tighter than those for the Super Bowl, but offer a bit more safety in trying to hunt for winners. These wagers are best to make 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.
Over under NFL futures bets
What are over under NFL futures bets?
As touched upon, another type of futures bet is based on the over-under win totals that ask the bettor to wager on the number of wins a team will enjoy over the 16-game regular season. 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.
What do they look like?
A typical NFL over under wager would look something like this:
Pittsburgh Steelers 9.5 Wins
Bettors can wager on the over and under on Pittsburgh’s season win total. Like any other bet, a total can result in a “tie” or “push” which would lead to 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.
Over under NFL futures betting tips
Timing is critical
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. As with any NFL futures bet, when to make an over-under season win total wager depends largely on your tolerance for risk. Bets made very soon after the Super Bowl, and before teams make coaching changes and free agency, will likely generate better odds. However the data informing those decisions is often incomplete or downright misleading.
The later into the offseason, the more likely the NFL betting lines will reflect the actual strengths and weaknesses of each team. A team listed at -170 to win five games in March might be +110 for that same win total a few months later. The most informed NFL futures betting decisions tend to be 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 line movements by the sportsbooks, which can also save bettors from wagering the over on a team that loses its best player before the season starts.
Take into consideration a team’s schedule
Strength of schedule is a key factor for gauging the likely win total for a particular team, with this information usually available shortly after the completion of the previous season. 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. This is largely because the AFC East has consistently been one of the weakest NFL divisions over the past two decades.
Personnel changes affect things
Coaching and player 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 strong edge against the field. After all, when it comes to a whole team’s prospects, just one player can make all the difference.