It’s been a long six months since Nick Foles and the Eagles shocked the world, but we’re finally (almost) back! Though the NFL opener doesn’t start for another two weeks, that doesn’t mean the action has to wait. Yes – we will be back with our weekly picks starting in Week 1, but in this article, we will be highlighting the eight teams Vegas has gotten wrong with its over/under season win totals.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with over/under win totals, let me fill you in on one of the most fun (and profitable) ways to bet sports. Prior to the season, Vegas decides how many games each team will win, on average. The rest is pretty simple: we, as bettors, can decide to bet “over” or “under” the average set by Vegas.
Without further ado, let’s get to the eight lines Vegas got wrong. (Bets are listed in order of value).
New York Giants UNDER 7.5 Wins (-115) – 3 units
What does one seek out in a best bet on the “under” side, you may ask? Let’s go through the checklist (in order of importance):
- Public Bias: Public bias is very common in instances when a team has a large, rabid fan base, and/or when the average fan irrationally believes in a team based on past results that aren’t necessarily correlated to future outcomes.
- Poor Quarterback Play: This one is self-explanatory, but quarterbacks move the needle more than any another position. Case in point: The game following Aaron Rodgers’ injury last season, the Vegas line moved by a whopping 10 points. Conversely, Vegas claims that less than a dozen non-QBs are worth at least one point to a line, and none of those dozen are worth more than two points.
- Difficult Schedule
- Poor Coaching
While the jury is still out on Pat Shurmur (10-23 lifetime as a head coach, but with a successful stint as Minnesota’s defensive coordinator a year ago), the other three boxes go check, check, check. New York opened at a 6.5-win projection in Vegas back in May, but due to talking heads (I’m looking at you Colin Cowherd) hyping this team up, coupled with the always-strong New York fan base putting their money where their mouth is, the Giants have been bet all the way up to a 7.5-win projection. The reasons people see an improvement brewing is obvious, as there is nowhere to go but up in the coaching department, Odell will be back healthy for a full season, and a shiny new toy has come in, in Saquon Barkley. Additionally, it doesn’t hurt that people have seen Eli Manning lead this very franchise to two Super Bowl rings (albeit zero playoff wins in his 12 other seasons combined). However, as we mentioned above, this is a quarterback-driven league, and from what we’ve seen from Eli Manning in recent years, I find it hard to believe that a bottom-five quarterback should be projected to lead a team to an 8-8 season. I concede that the New York Football Giants should win more than three games as they did a year ago, but they’d be hard-pressed to surpass this public-inflated line and come up with eight.
A couple of other quick notes:
- Though the Giants have a last-place schedule, it is not easy by any means. New York faces both the NFC North (MIN, GB, DET, CHI) and the AFC South (JAX, HOU, TEN, IND), which are likely two of the three best divisions in football this year, in addition to a sneaky-good NFC East (PHI, DAL, WAS).
- Despite such a subpar record in 2017, the Giants actually only had a -3 turnover differential a year ago. One key sign that a team will improve is turnover luck (i.e., the idea that turnovers are random), but this team was pretty average on that front in 2017.
Oakland UNDER 8.5 (-160) OR UNDER 8 (-115) – 2 units
I’ve found Oakland listed at 8 or 8.5 depending on the site, but either bet is more-or-less the same given the vig implications. In any case, similarly to our debrief of the Giants above, the Raiders are quickly becoming America’s ultimate public team. Not only is Raider Nation moving to Las Vegas in the near future, but it also decided to hire Monday Night Football legend John Gruden to a mammoth $100-million contract. I repeat: the Raiders hired a head coach with a .500 career record, who hasn’t coached in 10 years, and has said he’ll exclusively use the ol’ eye test instead of mixing in any advanced analytics to a ONE-HUNDRED MILLION DOLLAR CONTRACT. I get that the size of the contract is irrelevant to the team’s outcome this season, but Gruden as a head coach seems overconfident and outdated (think Phil Jackson trying to run the triangle in New York).
Furthermore, Oakland – talent wise – just isn’t a very good football team. Don’t let Khalil Mack fool you – one man cannot make a defense, and Oakland is severely lacking quality defenders outside of its perennial All-Pro pass rusher, and Derek Carr hasn’t consistently proven himself to be the type of top-10 quarterback you would need to carry that defense on his shoulders. Moreover, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Oakland’s 12-4 finish two seasons ago, but that was with an unrepeatable run of luck in close games (4-0 in games decided by 3 points or less) as well as turnover margin (2nd in the league). I believe the 2016 season, coupled with the splash of Gruden and the flair of Vegas is giving this team an inflated win total. Make sure to jump on it while you can.
Jacksonville UNDER 9 (+110) – 2 units
As the betting idiom goes, “Beware of the team a year after it exceeds expectations”. The Jags won 10 games a season ago with a last-place schedule, the best injury luck in the NFL (seriously, the same 11 defensive starters played in the first 12 games or so), a defense that can’t possibly play any better (#1 in the league last season in nearly every metric), and perhaps most importantly, a division welcoming back a healthy Andrew Luck AND Deshaun Watson (JAX was 4-0 vs. backup quarterbacks in Houston and Indy in 2017). Oftentimes, the best bets are the most obvious ones, and this season’s Jacksonville team is screaming “regression to the mean”.
OTHER BETS I’LL DABBLE WITH:
Miami OVER 6.5 (-130) – 1.5 units
Let’s call this one “The Jay Cutler Addition By Subtraction Effect”, mixed with the “Ryan Tannehill Isn’t That Bad Effect”, crossed with the “Jets Two Games Plus Bills Two Games Effect”. We’ve repeatedly harped on the NFL being a quarterback-driven league, and the upgrade from Tannehill over Cutler is perhaps this season’s most underrated. Want stats to back it up? In Tannehill’s last season (2016), he posted a quarterback rating of 93.5, which would have been good enough for 13th in the NFL last season, ahead of the likes of Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan. Cutler, by contrast, finished with an 80.8 rating in 2017, which placed him in 23rd in the league (though no negative points were awarded for being a toxic locker room presence). Furthermore, as mentioned above, the Dolphins have a very favorable schedule in 2018. Not only do the Fins face Buffalo and New York (the two worst teams in Vegas’ power rankings) twice each, but Miami also has a plethora of winnable home games such as Oakland, Chicago, Detroit, Jacksonville, and Tennessee. No – the Dolphins are not the most talented team in the NFL, but they may have the best chance at hitting an over total of any team this season.
Tennessee UNDER 8 (+110) – 1.5 units
While you’re currently salivating at the potential of Corey Davis in fantasy football this season, I’m going to have to bring in a reality check: The Titans were one of the worst playoff teams in NFL history last season. Similarly to the Jaguars, the Titans finished 3-0 versus the backup quarterbacks in Houston and Indy. However, even in spite of those wins that certainly won’t come as easily in 2018, this team still finished with a negative 22-point differential for the season! (Think 2016 Miami Dolphins – fraudulent playoff team). I believe we’re getting an inflated line due to last season’s playoff appearance, so I like Tennessee under the 8 wins.
Detroit OVER 7.5 (-130) – 1.5 units
Detroit’s win totals the past four seasons (most recent to least recent) are: 9, 9, 7 and 11. That’s an average of 9 wins. So the team must’ve made some poor offseason moves, right? Wrong. The Lions replaced one of the worst NFL corpses (I mean, coaches) in the league this offseason with a guy, who though admittedly a wildcard, can’t possibly be a downgrade versus what Detroit has had. Stafford is consistently one of the most underrated and consistent quarterbacks in the league (6th in quarterback rating last season) and he has weapons to work with once again. The division may be tough, but pegging this team under .500 is going too far. Give me the over on Detroit.
Kansas City UNDER 8.5 (-125) – 1 unit
Anyone see that 70-yard-in-the-air throw from Pat Mahomes in preseason? It was glorious. What about the rest of his preseason – one with a 12-18 passing for 102 yards (barely more than 5 per attempt), 0 touchdowns, and 1 interception? I expect this to be an up-and-down year for the rookie, who certainly looks as though he will mix some spectacular plays with some bone-headed ones. However, our lean toward the under here has less do to with Mahomes than it does with the Kansas City defensive unit. Though historically a high-performing bunch, the Chiefs were 26th in the NFL in yards per play allowed last season, while it finished 2nd in the NFL in yards per play on offense. Based on the change in quarterback, it’s tough to imagine the offense improving, and given the lack of roster overhaul on defense, that unit will likely remain about the same. Oh, and the Chiefs have road games this year at New England, at Pittsburgh, at the LA Rams, and at the LA Chargers (not to mention Denver and Seattle, two teams who traditionally have top-notch fans). As a result, this seems like an easy under bet.
Arizona OVER 5.5 (-170) – 1 unit
Rated the lowest win total of any team, the Cardinals get back a healthy David Johnson, but more importantly, get an upgrade at quarterback as well, with Sam Bradford and Josh Rosen replacing Arizona’s 2017 revolving door of Carson Palmer, Blaine Gabbert, and Drew Stanton. While Bradford isn’t a sexy name, he has been a serviceable quarterback who was traded for a first-round draft pick as recently as two seasons ago, so clearly NFL team consider him somewhat valuable. I get the concern that a rookie comes in and messes this all up midseason, but we only need 6 wins here, and ‘Zona gets a cozy start with home games against Washington, Chicago, and Seattle in 3 of its first 4 overall. Give me a solid defense, a serviceable game manager, and an easy home schedule, and I’ll take the over on 5.5 wins.
I’m looking forward to another winning season, and I’ll see you all again just before Week 1.
Good luck us!