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Using Scoring Differential for Best Odds in NFL Futures

Tony Romo, Dez Bryant

Uncovering value in NFL odds on any given Sunday can be tough, particularly with parity dominating the sport’s landscape. The futures market, which has exploded in popularity in recent years, presents fabulous profit potential for bettors. Mired in the doldrums of the sports betting season, now is a great time to start investing in the upcoming 2016-2017 campaign. Wagering options are plenty if you shop around the internet’s top-rated online sports books, including win totals; division, conference, and Super Bowl victors; whether a team makes or misses the playoffs; total points scored, and a slew of other team and player propositions.

The market is at its most volatile this time of year, too, with many bullish bettors stretching the odds at books. Therefore, carve out some time to do a little research and number crunching, and get in on the action. One area worth considering is average scoring margin from the previous season.

There are obviously many different factors to consider when weighing an NFL futures bet. Points differential from the prior season is a substantial building block from which to start. The statistic gives a good indication of the strength of particular teams, and typically the larger the gap between two of them, the more confidence one can make in the outcome.

If employing this metric, one has to assume change comes slowly in the NFL. For the most part, it does. Compare the win totals market from one season to the next for any given back-to-back year. Nearly every team will fall within one-and-a-half games of its last season’s offering. From 2013 to 2014, for example, only four teams (Bears, 49ers, Bills and Vikings) fell outside a range of two games or more. Moreover, in any given year, the real number of wins above or below the betting market’s expectations averages right around two games.

Of course, there are always exceptions. Few predicted last year’s Cowboys to win only four games, slipping 5.5 games below their 9.5-game win total. Obviously, this was due in large part to an offense that generated the league’s second fewest points because of quarterback Tony Romo’s constant injuries. Generally, though, it takes a couple of seasons to make significant gains or losses in the NFL, and using prior points differentials is a great tool for forecasting

Let us look at the Super Bowl market. Over the last 15 years, only two teams have hoisted the Lombardi Trophy after posting a negative scoring differential the previous season: the Patriots in 2002 (with the emergence of Tom Brady under center), and the Giants in 2008. In fact, only five teams have made it to the championship game following a season with a negative margin during this span, including last season’s 17-win Panthers who struggled under a hobbled Cam Newton in 2014. If you combine the point differentials over the course of two seasons, believing it takes even greater time to craft a champion, the Patriots and Giants teams are the only two victors to total less than a 3.5-point margin. This is a significant number, roughly equaling the average margin of victory in an NFL contest.

Using the following logic, in any given year, there are typically 10 or so teams with a legitimate shot to win the Super Bowl. Practical advice: stay away from long shots. Most teams are at 20-to-1 odds or higher for a reason. Headed into 2016, half the league’s teams total a negative scoring differential over the last two seasons. Here is the list: Titans (-19.3), Saints (-5.7), Redskins (-9.0), Rams (-5.0), Raiders (-14.9), Lions (-0.5), Jaguars (-14.7), Giants (-2.6), 49ers (-11.4), Falcons (-2.6), Dolphins (-4.0), Colts (-0.6), Buccaneers (-13.0), and the Bears (-11.0). Only 24 percent of teams in this category even make it to the postseason, with just two reaching the Super Bowl and losing (Carolina 2003; Cardinals 2008).

Do not get caught up in any optimistic team chatter about one of these organizations winning it all. Some may be on the up-and-up, but a realistic shot at a title is far off. Pocket your money. Do not be tempted by the odds. Further analysis, though, say looking into the Yards Per Play the following season, or some other advanced statistic, on top of using average scoring margin trends, can easily reduce realistic Super Bowl contenders down to four or five teams. Get to work and take advantage of valuable NFL futures.


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