NFL Futures Bets You Need to Make

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The NFL playoffs start in a month. With both conferences bunched up like never before, it’s still anyone’s year. 

Okay, the Lions, Jets, Jaguars and Giants never had a shot from the day training camp broke. Plenty of other teams have shown they aren’t a real Super Bowl contender. So who is?

Draftkings has a clear answer: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, followed closely by the Kansas City Chiefs. The betting public, aka “Vegas”, is showing some respect to two legendary quarterbacks, but also showing some recency bias toward last year’s Super Bowl matchup. 

Most statistical models estimate the Chiefs have a 10% chance to win it all, up slightly after dismantling Denver on Sunday Night Football. In sports betting terms, their odds should be around +1000. 

But “Vegas” has the Chiefs at +650 to win Super Bowl LVI. If you trust the numbers, that is a terrible bet.

And after 13 weeks, you can trust the numbers! That’s a significant sample size in the NFL. Models like 538's quarterback-adjusted Elo (a rating system borrowed from chess that weighs margin of victory and strength of schedule) are designed to turn 13 games of data into an accurate projection, calculating every team’s probability to make the postseason and win the Super Bowl. No projection is perfect, but year after year, these models outsmart the average sports bettor.

The betting public has driven Kansas City’s and Tampa Bay’s odds up higher than they should be. It has also dropped others lower than they should be. Here are the bets you need to make—and the ones you need to avoid. 

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Simon Lehrer

According to the numbers, Arizona has a 16 percent chance to win the Super Bowl. According to your sportsbook, they have a 12.5 percent chance. Who do you trust more?

The Cardinals, Packers, and Patriots are all great bets at around +700. Elo projects them as the three most likely Super Bowl champions. Even if a sportsbook were just trying to break even, the Cardinals should be listed at +525, the Packers around +570, and the Patriots just over +610. The books are handing you an easy line for those teams. Take your pick. 

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Simon Lehrer

Here, we have three teams in the playoff hunt: Indianapolis, Cincinnati, and Washington. Draftkings tells us that the Bengals are the most likely of the trio to make the playoffs. But Elo says the Colts are actually much more likely to make the playoffs than their +100 line implies, while the Bengals are much more likely to miss the playoffs than their odds suggest. 

At those lines, I’m throwing serious money on a Colts playoff future. Washington is a great bet too, with higher Elo odds than sportsbook odds. Maybe the betting public doesn’t trust Taylor Heinicke, but numbers say the Football Team is probably a playoff team. 

I’ll leave you with one more line to hammer. Cooper Kupp is obviously having a monster season, and he should lead the league in receiving touchdowns when all is said and done. Here are the current leaders:

Cooper Kupp: 11 touchdowns (+250)

Mike Evans: 10 touchdowns (+550)

Adam Thielen: 10 touchdowns (+900)

DeAndre Hopkins: 8 touchdowns (+1100)

JaMarr Chase: 8 touchdowns (+1200)

If reports out of Minnesota are accurate, Adam Thielen will miss at least the next three weeks with a high ankle sprain. That injury takes Thielen out of the picture, leaving Kupp and Evans as the only receivers with a real shot at the touchdown title. 

The Bucs have a tough remaining schedule, with four top defenses in their last five games –– Buffalo, New Orleans, and Carolina twice. But the Rams are playing multiple suspect defenses in the final stretch, most notably Seattle and Minnesota. I fully expect Cooper Kupp to continue his historic season as the league’s undisputed best receiver. Evans is an elite red zone target, but he’s sharing a loaded pass-catching corps in Tampa with Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski, and occasionally Antonio Brown.

In summary, the following lines are a layup: 

- Arizona (+700), Green Bay (+750), and New England (+700) to win Super Bowl LVI 

- Indianapolis (+100) and Washington (+125) to make the playoffs

- Cooper Kupp (+250) to lead the league in receiving TD

Your sportsbook has every one of those odds way too low. Time to make them pay.

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