For many years the only football bets you could make aside from betting on individual games was on teams to win the Super Bowl or their respective conference titles. In some sports books you could also bet on teams to win a division title.
That changed slightly more than 20 years ago when a handful of Las Vegas sportsbooks introduced a new type of futures wager – season win totals. In this wager, the oddsmakers set a number of projected wins for each NFL team and the bettor could wager on a teams to either exceed that specific number of wins or fall short. Depending on the sentiment held by the oddsmakers varying vigs were attached.
For example, if the total wins for Dallas was set at 9.5 and the oddsmakers felt Dallas was more likely to win 10 or more games than to win 9 games or less the bettor might have to lay -140 to bet “Over 9.5.” or take +120 to bet “Under 9.5.”
It took a few seasons for the concept to catch on. But in today’s world virtually every sports book offers this type of wager. There are two key factors that make this type of future attractive.
First, it allows you to bet on a team without that team having to win a Division, Conference or Super Bowl title. If, for example, you think the San Francisco 49ers will be an improved team this season but not improved enough to warrant a bet to win the NFC West title you can wager that the Niners will exceed their season total of 8, laying -140.
The second key factor is that this type of wager is effectively the only way you can wager against a team having a successful season. As a rule you cannot wager that the 49ers will not win the Super Bowl but you can wager they will fall short of expectations.
For 2019 if you believe San Francisco will not win fewer than their projection of 8 wins you can get +120 by wagering the “Under 8.”
My database goes back to 1998 so I have 21 seasons of information from which to draw some conclusions and that will be the focus of next week’s column.
In the past few seasons a similar type of futures wagers has started to be offered at sports books in Las Vegas which allows you to wager on whether or not a team will make the playoffs (regardless of whether it does so as a Division champion or as a Wild Card). This is a simple Yes/No wager with vig attached to each part of the wager related to the oddsmakers assessment of each team’s chances.
There is some correlation to a team’s Season Wins Total. For example, the New England Patriots have the highest Wins Total of any team, 11, with the Over priced at -140 and the Under at +120. Not surprisingly, the Patriots are also the biggest favorite to make the playoffs with a price of -900 on the Yes (the takeback on the No is +600).
In contrast, the two teams with the lowest Season Win Totals are Miami at 4.5 wins and Arizona at 5. To wager on Miami to not make the playoffs you will have to lay -2500. The takeback for Miami optimists is +1400.
Arizona is priced at -1600 to not make the playoffs with the Yes priced at +900.
In setting the stage for the analysis of both types of wagers it is important to understand the constraints the oddsmakers work under and how that relates to reality. By this, I mean you will rarely see a Season Win Total above 11 or below 5. Miami’s Total opened at 5 but the Under received enough action for the Total to be lowered to 4.5.
Overall since I began tracking season wins in 1998 the oddsmakers have done an excellent job in producing balanced results. In the 897 “team seasons” from 1998 through 2018 the results have been nearly 50/50 with 312 teams cashing Over tickets, 326 cashing Unders and 29 teams Pushing their Totals.
Yet despite the overall results that are basically 50/50, there have been significant variances in the amounts by which teams exceeded or fell short of their win totals in certain seasons. And that information can be useful in betting a creative variation of the traditional prop that has been introduced by Circa Sports this season.