Early NFL Vegas Overs with Borg & Betz (Fantasy Football)
You don’t have to be betting thousands of dollars to benefit from analyzing Vegas Win Totals, which were just released this week on DraftKings Sportsbook. Being able to look at Vegas projected win totals and identify value or mis-priced totals can be extremely beneficial for fantasy players in addition to those who are actually putting some hard-earned dollars on these betting lines, for obvious reasons. But back to fantasy – if we can identify win totals that seem either too high or too low based on projections, we can then be more aggressive in going against average draft position in taking a stance to identify teams (and therefore, players) we want to fade or players we want to be higher than consensus.
Take last year for example: the Buffalo Bills ended up with a projected Vegas win total of 8 games. Clearly, if you either bet the over on this line or invested heavily in Bills offensive skill position players like Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs, you probably won a good amount of money or brought home that #FootClanTitle, or both! The goal of this article is to discuss strategy for identifying some of our favorite win totals that we feel are too low, and therefore, offer some value in the betting markets or in the fantasy and best-ball markets. We will follow up with unders, which honestly are the sharper bets and money makers in the long run.
Before diving into our favorite overs, be sure to check out Kyle’s Vegas Win Totals Primer, which helps to provide a top-level view on win totals strategy. After this article, we also will be using part of the summer to discuss win totals in more detail, division winners, BestBall strategy, and other best practices before running in-season together on the DFS Podcast and the DFS Pass as part of the Ultimate Draft Kit+
General Strategy for Win Totals
Before diving into specific win totals we’re eyeing, let’s start with a general discussion on strategy when betting team win totals. First off, the advantage of betting win totals versus a specific game line (let’s say, Chargers -3 for example) is that we get the advantage of projecting forward a larger sample size, and thus, there is reduced variance on a game-to-game or week-to-week basis. This should give us slightly more confidence because there’s less of a chance of a fluky game here or there. We’re buying into a longer-term outlook, which is easier to predict than a one-week situation. Of course, there will be injuries, suspensions, coaches fired, etc, and that can obviously change how we value a team, but in general, those things are nearly impossible to predict.
When betting an over on a win total, we’re generally trying to identify teams who underperformed the year prior or made significant moves via free agency or the NFL Draft to further improve their roster. Typically, shying away from betting overs on teams who exceeded expectations from the year prior can be a beneficial strategy as there isn’t much room for growth. In other words, you’re essentially “buying high” on the market and investing in a team’s best-case scenario. It can also be beneficial to look at how teams performed in one-score games as these scenarios tend to have more variance year to year.
Along with the current odds, we also will include the “Break Even Percentage” which is another way of saying the “implied odds”. It is the percentage of time that the bet you make (whether over or under) must win over time. It is not the true odds of winning but it does give you more context for which side has more “juice”, or as we like to refer to it as “pulp”. The Break-Even Percentage¹ shows how often you have to win to break-even on a bet that is even money.
Overs We’re Interested In
Atlanta Falcons– OVER 7 Wins
-143, 58.85% Break Even Percentage
Coming out of the gate, it looks like I’m a homer. Geez. I’m trying to put my lifelong Atlanta fandom to the side and look at this team to see if I’m crazy or not. Luckily as you’ll see below, Betz had the same exact thought about Atlanta over seven wins. I’ve heard from a couple of other respected names in the industry that say this line jumps out to them the most out of all 32 teams. So why are we bullish on a team that went 4-12 last year and now has a new coaching staff and an aging core group of players?
Based on Atlanta’s expected win total (7.6) last year, they massively underachieved. Trust me I know. Beyond just being unlucky, if you go back and look at their game logs, Atlanta went 2-8 in one-score games. They played both Tampa Bay and Kansas City competitively and went a shameful 1-5 in the NFC South despite having a shot to win in the majority of them. If you want to use a positive regression argument, that’s fine. But their schedule this year should provide some room to hit the coveted eight wins.
Replacing the NFC North in their schedule is the NFC East which made mediocrity fashionable last year. They also draw the AFC East instead of AFC West. Those swaps by themselves are largely beneficial but because the Falcons were “seeded” as a last-place team in the NFC, their draw for the 17th game was the Jacksonville Jaguars. Yum. The Lions also show up on the schedule so things are looking up on schedule alone. Notice how I didn’t discuss new head coach Arthur Smith’s schemes or the personnel new GM Terry Fontenot wants to bring in. This is simply looking at Atlanta’s schedule and asking the question if there’s room for this team to go 8-9 or better. I’ll let Betz take it from here…. -Borg
I don’t want to piggyback too much on the lovely analysis from my good friend Kyle here, and to be truthful, I looked for other overs that I liked just to be different, but I didn’t want to write something different just to be different. I LOVE the Falcons over seven wins and will personally be putting my hard-earned dollars on this team (yes, that’s terrifying). New head coach, Arthur Smith, did wonders for Ryan Tannehill and the Titans’ offense over the last two years, thanks largely to his heavy play-action scheme. This scheme, combined with excellent weapons and efficient QB play, helped turn the Titans into an 11-win team and a 9-win team each of the last two seasons. Meanwhile, the Titans’ defense wasn’t even that good – in fact, they were one of the worst in the NFL last season.
Even if there are concerns about Atlanta’s defense, there’s confidence that Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense can go 8-9 to help this ticket cash. Ryan, who played under Kyle Shanahan from 2015-2016 as the offensive coordinator, played some of his best football of his career while excelling in Shanahan’s play-action passing attack. In fact, Matt Ryan was named 1st-team All-Pro in 2016 in his second season with Shanny while setting career highs in yards per attempt, TD rate, air yards per attempt, and yards per completion. With Arthur Smith running a similar play-action scheme, look for Ryan to have an outstanding season assuming Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley can stay healthy. – Betz
Denver Broncos– OVER 7.5 Wins
+108, 48.08% Break Even Percentage
Listen, I get it. Drew Lock isn’t great. In fact, he’s not good, but how much worse can it really get for the Broncos? After winning just five games in 2020, betting on the Broncos to bounce back and win three more games in 2021 seems a bit concerning, but we’re getting plus money on this bet, and here’s why I like it. Last season, Denver played last season without Courtland Sutton, an alpha WR1, and arguably the best pass rusher in the NFL in Von Miller, both of which are returning to the lineup in 2021. Top corner, A.J. Bouye was also in and out of the lineup with a shoulder issue, further worsening the on-field performance of the Denver defense, which was forced into negative game scripts thanks to the poor offensive production from Drew Lock. On the offensive side of the ball specifically, Denver was forced into significant playing time for rookies all over the field and while this bet does suggest that we’re buying into a progression for these rookies in year two (a tall task), there’s room for optimism if the QB play can improve, and I think it can.
|New York Giants|
|New York Jets|
Drew Lock isn’t long for the NFL, and with the Carolina Panthers trading for Sam Darnold this week, they seem to be out of the QB market in the NFL Draft. That bodes well for the Broncos, who currently draft at the 9th overall selection, one spot behind the Panthers at the 8th pick. With the top three picks in the NFL Draft presumably going QB-QB-QB, names like Mac Jones, Trey Lance or Justin Fields could be available after the number four selection, and I expect John Elway and the Broncos to be aggressive in getting their guy if he’s available at four or seven. It seems unlikely that the Bengals at five or the Dolphins at six will take a QB, suggesting the Broncos could walk away from Round 1 with their QB of the future. All in all, this is a bet on a young but talented offense with a great defense that could really surprise some people if the QB play can improve.
From a statistical regression standpoint, the Broncos lost five games last year by one score, suggesting that even if Drew Lock is under center this season, and they land on the right side of statistical variance this team could easily go 8-9. At plus money, that’s a bet worth making. – Betz
Seattle Seahawks- OVER 9.5 wins
-110, 52.38% Break Even Percentage
Would you like to bet against Russell Wilson? He’s averaged 10.9 wins in his nine seasons in the league including nine wins or more in all of them. That is an insane stretch and maybe you’re thinking this is the year things fall apart. Any time double-digit wins are on the table it does get me nervous because one injury can certainly tank an entire season. Russ has never missed a game and I don’t think banking on a freak injury needs to go into your analysis.
Seattle’s winning culture is a vote of confidence but their schedule also makes me want to hit the over. They are lined up against arguably the worst division in the AFC South with all four games winnable and two opponents in the NFC North (Chicago & Detroit) that they should be heavily favored. In other words, there are games on the schedule where they should be solid favorites (at least 6 points or more). It wouldn’t shock anyone if they went 6-2 or 7-1 at home considering what they have on the table and Seattle’s track record at home. As a division winner, the Seahawks draw a couple of “division winners” from 2020 that all look like they might have difficulty repeating their success. New Orleans isn’t the same and the Steelers (albeit on the road) are not even close to a 13 win team again. The question is how they perform on the road.
The argument against Seattle is the rest of the NFC West division which is understandable. But even if Seattle goes 3-3 in the division, their path to ten wins is doable going 7-4. Our current schedule-adjusted forecast has Seattle at 10.3 wins and although they outperformed their win expectation last year by two wins, over 9.5 isn’t asking that much for a team historically tied to double-digit wins. -Borg
Arizona Cardinals– OVER 8 Wins
-110, 52.38% Break Even Percentage
The Cardinals are coming off an 8-8 season in 2020, and now Vegas projects this team to be essentially the same .500 level team. However, there’s room for optimism that the Cardinals can sail over this total. I do need to make one thing clear – Kliff Kingsbury does concern me a little bit, but I’m hoping that some of the personnel on the field takes over coaching or ‘Ol Kliff makes some more optimal decisions like not running Kenyan Drake on 1st and 10 and 2nd and 8 when inside the 15-yard line over and over again..but I digress. The reason I’m optimistic about Arizona in 2021 is that this team made some significant improvements on the offensive line by bringing in center Rodney Hudson while also bolstering one of the best bookend pass-rushes in the NFL with J.J. Watt and Chandler Jones. On top of these moves specifically, Kyler Murray is now entering year three in the NFL and possibly even more terrifying for opposing defenses, his second season with DeAndre Hopkins.
The Cardinals and the NFC West have the advantage of playing the weak AFC South this season while also getting some cupcake matchups against the Lions, Bears, and Panthers, three teams with projected win totals of 7.5 or less…a.k.a. losing records. Last year, Arizona went 4-5 in games decided by one score. Assuming they end up on the right side of variance and go 5-4 or 5-3 in these scenarios, and they’re flying over the 8 win total, especially in a 17-game season. – Betz
Minnesota Vikings-OVER 8.5 wins
-125, 55.56% Break Even Percentage
Last year, Minnesota fell short of expectations with only seven wins despite an offense that produced for fantasy a top-5 RB and two top-10 WRs. Kirk Cousins set career-highs in many categories including 35 TD passes. Despite hitting their Pythagorean win expectation (7.1), the Vikings fell short of their pre-season Vegas win total (9) by quite a lot. The current bet at -125 suggests the over is the smart way to go and in true Footballers fashion, how can we ignore their current Break-Even percentage? Ok, on to the real analysis for a Vikings team that looks like a clear cut above Chicago and Detroit in a top-heavy NFC North division. They draw the NFC West and AFC North, two tough divisions that have multiple playoff teams in view. Their 17th game also aligns with the up-and-coming Chargers so I won’t lie: Minnesota’s schedule isn’t a cakewalk by any means.
Apart from Chicago and Detroit, none of those home games are gimmes but also all of them are squarely on the table. If Minnesota is able to go 4-4 at home this year, the question is can they go 5-4 on the road? They should be favored or even odds against Cincinnati and Carolina even on the road and they look competitive enough to go near .500 in the rest of their matchups. Going 9-8 doesn’t feel that comforting but it’s an over with room for Minnesota to hit the high end of their projections and go off for 10 or 11 wins or their median projections which in our schedule-adjusted forecast has them closer to 9.5 wins. (If you want to be precise, it’s more like 9.2) It’s not the strongest vote of confidence but 8.5 wins feel too low in a 17-game season for Minnesota which we have projected as an early WildCard contender in the NFC.
¹Miller, Ed & Davidow, Matthew. The Logic of Sports Betting. 2019.