Beating the Spread: Vegas Win Projections

Beating the Spread kicks off its season series with a look at over/under team wins, divisional odds, and Super Bowl long shots.

I love talking about betting lines, particularly over/under win projections before the season. The following article is meant to start a conversation and see what can be revealed from sportsbooks and their season-long bets. If you choose to gamble, please do so responsibly. The constructs of this article are meant for entertainment purposes only. 

Here are the rules that I’ve set up for myself. I will choose two over/under bets from each of the eight divisions. I will also place a division winner bet on all eight divisions. We’ll finish up with some super bowl bets for a total of 28 wagers on the season. All bets will be 100 “units,” so I will not be placing any additional emphasis on any of the individual bets even though I personally feel better about some than others. At the end of the year, we’ll revisit these bets to see how it all panned out.

We’ll take each division separately and start off with a table. The table will list the team, the betting line of wins for 2019, the betting odds that team will win more or less than the line, the odds to win the division, wins from 2018, and finally, expected wins from 2018. The expected wins from 2018 were calculated using the Pythagorean Expectation–used by Pro Football Reference and others in season-long projections. If a team’s expected wins were at least one full win different than the actual, there is a greater chance the team will regress or improve the following season, particularly the closer they were to the mean (8 wins).

Finally, if betting odds are negative (-), it means you would need to place a bet of that number to win 100 units. For example, if a line is -150, you would need to bet 150 units to win 100 (plus your initial 100 unit bet). If betting odds are positive (+), you win that amount by betting 100 units. For example, if a line is +275, a 100 unit bet will win 275 units (plus your initial 100 unit bet). I pulled these odds from an online book at the beginning of July. Lines may differ and move depending on where you look. Remember, this is meant for conversation and fun.

 

AFC East

 

Team Line Over Under Win Div 2018 Wins Expected
Bills 7 -140 +110 +1000 6 5
Dolphins 4.5 -145 +115 +2500 7 5.2
Patriots 11 -140 +110 -550 11 10.7
Jets 7 -145 +115 +650 4 5.4

The Patriots have absolutely owned this division for the better part of two decades. They just won another Super Bowl, they have the best coach in league history, and their division rivals are seemingly in a continual state of rebuild. That’s also why the odds for winning the division are so unattractive to pick them. The reverse of that gives rise to some eye-popping numbers, just begging you to take a chance. Of the other teams in the division, I like the Bills the most because they invested heavily in their offensive line and present a unique challenge to defenses with a running QB. At a payout of 10/1 to win the division, I’ll take that chance.

The over/under lines in this division are all begging to take the under, and I’ll oblige. The Jets hired the Dolphins old coach, the Dolphins look like they’re committing to a full rebuild, and the line is offering me a +115 each. I feel really good about shorting the Jets as 7 wins seem pretty aggressively in a division with the Patriots and a Bills team that should at least be better than last season. Betting under 4.5 for the Dolphins is a tough line but a 3 win season might actually be what their leadership is hoping for given the needs on the roster.

 

AFC North

 

Team Line Over Under Win Div 2018 Wins Expected
Ravens 8.5 +100 -130 +270 10 10.8
Bengals 6 -125 -105 +1800 6 6
Browns 9 -130 +100 +130 7.5 7.2
Steelers 9 -130 +100 +185 9.5 9.6

Browns fans are excited as they’ve collected a lot of talent under first-year Head Coach Freddie Kitchens. While they look like they’ll be a ton of fun, I’m going to stay away from their lines. There’s just too much volatility there for me to pick one side. On the other hand, the Steelers appear to be a team on the way down a trough. Big Ben’s style of play leads to frequent injuries and losing both Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown concerns me. I’m happy to take an even-money bet to fade the Steelers.

My other two bets will be doubling down on the Ravens. Baltimore still has an effective defense, they completely invested into the Lamar Jackson experience, and, oh, by the way, won this division last year. Getting a chance to double my money by getting to 9 wins seems like a no-brainer; division odds paying out twice what the Browns are getting is intriguing as well.

 

AFC South

 

Team Line Over Under Win Div 2018 Wins Expected
Texans 8.5 +100 -130 +275 11 10.2
Colts 9.5 -155 +125 +105 10 10.1
Jaguars 8 -105 -125 +375 5 5.7
Titans 8 -115 -115 +600 9 8.2

This is such a weird division. All of the lines are at 8 wins or more with the Colts out in front at 9.5. The line to bet the over on the Colts is -155, which is terrible return for saying they’ll get at least 10 wins. However, I still think they’ve got an excellent chance to get there. Instead, I’ll double down on the Jaguars repeating last year’s disastrous campaign–this time with Nick Foles at the helm. I like Foles, but I think it’s asking a lot for him to lift up an offense without the types of weapons he’s been successful with in the past (tight ends and jump ball wide receivers). There’s just too much room in between last year’s performance and a 9 win season for me to not take an easy call on the under.

On the flip side of it, the Texans line is too tempting to overlook for a team with Deshaun Watson, great offensive weapons, and a strong defense. They’ve got room to regress and still win a straight up +100 bet. I don’t feel strongly about the odds of any of these teams to run away with the division. Maybe the Texans finally put it all together, but I’m going to opt for the longest odds with the Titans. I’m hoping to see a second-year bump under Mike Vrabel, and they have a solid core of players to hang tough in this division. They’re boring, but sometimes boring wins games.

 

AFC West

 

Team Line Over Under Win Div 2018 Wins Expected
Broncos 7 -115 -115 +1100 6 7.4
Chargers 9.5 -140 +110 +200 12 10.4
Raiders 6 -125 -105 +1100 4 3.9
Chiefs 10 105 -125 -155 12 10.7

The AFC West is basically a two-horse division, but the betting lines are much more attractive for the Chargers to win the division over the Chiefs. Essentially, I’m hedging here by taking the over on the Chiefs 10 wins and betting the Chargers win the division at 2/1. Sure, I could win both of those bets, but the more likely outcome is that I win one. The real wildcard here is if Denver comes on as a third strong team under new Head Coach Vic Fangio; that would wreck my party. It could happen, but I think there is simply too much up in the air with the QB situation to get too worried about the Broncos at this point.

I can’t picture a scenario where the Raiders suddenly take a huge leap forward in 2019 as Derek Carr doesn’t seem like the right fit for Jon Gruden’s offense. Even the acquisition of Antonio Brown doesn’t really take advantage of what Carr is good at. In a division with two Super Bowl contenders and a third team that is at least significantly better, it could be tough sledding for the Raiders. Playing a schedule against the NFC North and AFC South, where there are no easy outs, doesn’t exactly inspire confidence either.

 

NFC East

 

Team Line Over Under Win Div 2018 Wins Expected
Cowboys 9 -105 -125 +140 10 8.4
Giants 6 +100 -130 +1200 5 7
Eagles 10 +100 -130 -105 9 8.5
Washington 6.5 +100 -130 +900 7 5.7

I don’t like any of these lines, and there’s a reason all of these teams have such a slanted line on the under–everyone wants to short these teams. I would skip this division if I could, but for the sake of the article I’ll press on with taking a couple under bets. The Giants and Washington are not in any traditional sense ready to compete given the investment in rookie quarterbacks during this year’s draft. The Giants are now basically Saquon Barkley’s team and, as talented as the Penn State product is, he can’t carry an entire offense on his back. Washington seems like they’re one season away from blowing the whole thing up and starting with a new coach.

As for the division, I don’t have strong feelings about either the Cowboys or the Eagles, but I like my return on the Cowboys enough to pick them. I can talk myself into progress from Dak Prescott under new Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore, and they still boast the most talented offensive line in the league with a top 3 running back. With the health of Carson Wentz now a question we need to ask ourselves, the Cowboys somehow seem like the safer pick.

 

NFC North

 

Team Line Over Under Win Div 2018 Wins Expected
Bears 9.5 -105 -125 +170 12 11.5
Lions 6.5 -130 +100 +900 6 7
Packers 9.5 +100 -130 +190 6.5 7.4
Vikings 9 -115 -115 +240 8.5 8.5

Let me be clear right off the top: I’m a Bears fan and you can write off the next section as homerism. I won’t take offense. However, this line is begging to be hit hard at only 9.5 wins. The Bears were one of the best teams in the league last year and lost three starters to free agency–their strong safety, running back, and nickel corner. Everyone else is back and healthy, and there are high expectations for a year two bump in the Matt Nagy system. The Packers are always dangerous with Aaron Rodgers, but a new offensive system often takes time to implement; we have no clue how Rodgers will respond to the first scheme change of his career. The Bears are the clear favorites in this division and are getting similar odds to the Vikings and Packers. Sign me up.

The Lions tend to be easy targets in the NFC North, but I can’t pull the trigger on the under with them. However, they could absolutely implode in their second season under Matt Patricia. I’m going to fade the Packers who had a win expectation of 7.4 and an actual 6.5 wins (tie = .5 wins). While they spent a lot of money on some quality players in free agency, I don’t see a big difference-maker and I’m not sold on their new coach Matt Lafleur–despite his tutelage under Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan. His one year stint in Tennessee did not impress last season, and early conflict with Aaron Rodgers may spell trouble. The division already has two strong teams in Chicago and Minnesota; with tough games against the AFC West (Chargers, Chiefs), can this team get to 10 wins? I don’t see it.

 

NFC South

 

Team Line Over Under Win Div 2018 Wins Expected
Falcons 9 +105 -135 +325 7 7.8
Panthers 7.5 -130 +100 +650 7 7.8
Saints 10.5 -110 -120 -190 13 11.2
Bucs 6.5 -120 -110 +1100 5 6.5

I like Bruce Arians a lot, but I’m not sure if Jameis Winston is the right fit for his offense. Arians likes to push the ball down the field, and Winston’s penchant for taking unnecessary chances is likely to continue his high interception rate. This could easily cause them to fall behind the more polished teams in the division. While the NFC South has traditionally been one of the most volatile divisions, I don’t see Arians providing a large enough boost to catch the Saints and Falcons. He instead may set himself up for a QB in the 2020 draft. The under is an easy play to make here.

I wish I could get better odds on the Panthers over, but as it is I’ll take their +650 to win the division and the -130 to win more than 7.5 games. Again, this division has historically shown a lot of volatility, and I like both the Falcons and Panthers to challenge the Saints to take back the crown. This Panthers squad was rolling early last year before the Cam Newton injuries hit hard. I’d be just as happy to take the Falcons at +325 to win the division, but the Panthers line is hard to pass on. If I was betting this outside of the restraints of this article, I’d bet both the Falcons and Panthers to win the division while fading the Saints.

 

NFC West

 

Team Line Over Under Win Div 2018 Wins Expected
Cardinals 5 -120 -110 +2500 3 2.9
Seahawks 8.5 -135 +105 +275 10 9.9
49ers 8 -120 -110 +550 4 5.8
Rams 10.5 +100 -130 -180 13 10.9

Everyone is on the Rams to fall and fall hard. The team was 13-3 last year and made the Super Bowl; so why all the hate? It seems that the Bears and Patriots showed the blueprint on how to slow down this offense, not to mention the concerns about Todd Gurley’s knee. Then there’s the “Super Bowl Hangover” that has plagued the big game’s loser for years. I’ll take the under.

On the flip side, I like the Seahawks. At a line of only 8.5 wins, the Seahawks performed a full game and a half over that line last year. It’s one of the best running teams in the league, and they still have a maestro under center with an improving set of weapons in the passing game. I’ll take the over and the chance to win a nice chunk at +275 with an NFC West championship.

 

Super Bowl picks

 

None of these picks matter, of course, because it’ll somehow just be the Patriots again and everyone will lose money. However, I want to take a big longshot: a middle-value pick, and someone getting good odds relative to expectations.

Let’s start with the homer pick. The Bears at 14/1 are too tasty to walk away from as they have some of the best odds for a legitimate contender. There is a widespread sentiment that the Bears defense will suffer from regression in 2019 and maybe that’s true. However, there truly are not that many changes on the defense to speak of. With an expected bump in offensive efficiency, this group should be defending more leads; it could actually increase their sack and turnover production.

The middle tier picks are fascinating. I like the 49ers at 40/1, but there’s a little too much unknown about Jimmy Garroppolo’s ability to run this offense (as well as holes throughout the roster) to buy-in. There are the Ravens at 40/1, but I’ve already thrown money on them to win the AFC North. I’m not brave enough to take them all the way. The line that I just absolutely cannot get away from is the Panthers at 60/1. Either Vegas knows more than the rest of us about Cam’s shoulder, or they are an incredible value. They looked great on offense until that injury to Super Cam, and I’ll gladly take the long odds.

It’s a longshot for a reason, but I’ll take the Titans at 100/1 to win it all. They might be the least exciting team in the league, but one hundred to one is simply too high of odds for a team that won nine games last year. I could see a scenario where the Titans take a step forward, win the division, and grind out some close victories in the playoffs.

Finally, I’m going to make one final bet and that’s picking both conference champions by taking Bears vs. Colts at 63/1 in Super Bowl LIV. The last time these teams were in the big game, they faced each other in Super Bowl XLI with a Manning vs. Urlacher headline on a rain-soaked Miami field. Obviously these franchises have completely reset since then, but there is still a bit of sniping from both franchises due to their relative proximity, mutual pursuit of Matt Nagy, and Colts GM Chris Ballard’s connection to Chicago. The Super Bowl this season takes place again in Miami, and I’m all for a rematch.

 

Summary

 

I’ve laid everything out in the table below. All bets are 100 units to make the math easier. The “winnings” column is just the profit, not the 100 unit bet.

Team Bet Type Odds Winnings Team Bet Type Odds Winnings
Ravens Over 8.5 +100 100 Bucs Under 6.5 -110 90.91
Texans Over 8.5 +100 100 Rams Under 10.5 -130 76.92
Chiefs Over 10 -105 95.24 Bills Win Div +1000 1000
Bears Over 9.5 -105 95.24 Ravens Win Div +270 270
Panthers Over 7.5 -130 76.92 Titans Win Div +600 600
Seahawks Over 8.5 -135 74.07 Chargers Win Div +200 200
Dolphins Under 4.5 +115 115 Cowboys Win Div +140 140
Jets Under 7 +115 115 Bears Win Div +170 170
Steelers Under 9 +100 100 Panthers Win Div +650 650
Jags Under 8 -125 80 Seahawks Win Div +275 275
Raiders Under 6 -105 95.24 Bears SB Win +1400 1,400
Giants Under 6 -130 76.92 Panthers SB Win +6000 6,000
Washington Under 6.5 -130 76.92 Titans SB Win +10000 10,000
Packers Under 9.5 -130 76.92 CHI v IND SB Matchup +6300 6,300

Looking over this, all of my “over” bets are for teams that I think are legitimate playoff contenders and will need to be in that hunt for me to cash the bets. I didn’t make any bets on middling teams to beat their projections, and I think I’m okay with that. On the flip side, I took a lot of under wagers on teams I don’t think will be very good. I’m only fading two teams that had winning records last year with under bets (Rams and Steelers), and that’s probably going to burn me. I also believe in my division winners to all have a legit chance (well, outside of Buffalo). The Super Bowl bets are almost certainly handing virtual units over to the house here, but they’re all odds I would consider worthwhile and interesting.

What did I get right? What did I get wrong? What’s your favorite bet on the board this year? Put yourself on record in the comments!

 

(Photo by Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire)

3 responses to “Beating the Spread: Vegas Win Projections”

  1. Andrew says:

    You kinda bashed my sleeper team in here, my top over/under win total bet is the Jets to go over. Darnold looks like the real deal, defense is very good, good weapons on offense. I think they’re a playoff team.

    • Jeff Berckes says:

      You could absolutely be correct. I think 8 wins is going to be tough to get for them with a new coach that I’m not sure is all that good. I like pieces of the defense but wonder if they’ll suffer from the regime change at all. I also really don’t like their offensive line and I think they’ll suffer because of it. They do get to play the Dolphins twice though!

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