Early NFL Vegas Unders with Borg & Betz (Fantasy Football)
Last week, we wrote up our favorite teams we like to hit the over on their season-long projected win totals according to Vegas. While that article is fantastic (no bias here whatsoever), this article and the strategy associated with betting unders is the real money maker. Why? Because in general, the market tends to skew towards overs and as a result, there isn’t as much value to be had in these scenarios. Bettors and DFS players love to root for things to happen, not for things not to happen. It’s simply not as fun. Sportsbooks know this and as a result, most lines are built to entice gamblers to bet the over despite there being minimal to no edge in this strategy. In reality, trying to identify inefficiencies in the market from an under perspective is a more profitable long-term strategy because it embraces variance and chaos.
In general, under bets typically hit anywhere between 51-55% of the time while overs successfully hit anywhere in the range of 45-49%, depending on what study you read. The reason for this is that the market has a tough time identifying where things can turn sideways. For an over bet to hit, typically a lot needs to go right, whereas for an under bet there’s usually more downside to a scenario than it seems on the surface. This isn’t to say there isn’t value in finding good over bets, but in general, if you’re betting more unders than overs, you’re already gaining an edge.
For more on General Strategy of Win Totals and “Break-Even” Percentages¹, review the introduction in the Overs article. Beginning this Friday, we also will be kicking it back into high gear on the DFS Podcast discussing win totals in more detail, division winners, BestBall strategy, and other best practices before running in-season together with the DFS Pass as part of the Ultimate Draft Kit+
Unders We’re Interested In
Tennessee Titans-UNDER 9.5 wins
-150, 60% Break Even Percentage
Over the last two seasons, the Titans have won 11 and 9 games, so why are betting on them to win less than 10 games in a 17-game season? This team has overachieved each of the last two seasons thanks to insane efficiency, which is bound to regress sooner than later. With a roster that will look vastly different in 2021 compared to 2020 and 2019 and the loss of their offensive coordinator, Arthur Smith, the Titans could really take a step back in 2021. On offense, the Titans lost Corey Davis, Jonnu Smith, and Adam Humphries via free agency and only added Josh Reynolds to replace the void. Reynolds profiles as a fine WR3 for a roster but with the way things stand right now, it’s Ryan Tannehill, A.J. Brown, and Derrick Henry…and a bunch of dudes. The Titans could certainly add talent via the NFL Draft (they need to), but as it stands today, the Titans are one A.J. Brown or Derrick Henry injury away from being one of the worst offenses in football.
On the defensive side of the ball, we’re talking about a defense that ranked 29th in yards allowed per game, 29th in first downs allowed per game, 24th in scoring, and 29th in sack rate last year. Some will say the signing of Bud Dupree will help stabilize the pass rush, but the reality is this signing is probably a bit overrated, at least in year one considering Dupree is coming off a torn ACL. Janoris Jenkins is a nice addition in the secondary, but he’s 32 years old and is now playing on his third team in three years after ranking 49th in coverage grade according to PFF last season. All in all, this looks like an extremely fragile team that will need everything to go right to win double-digit games in 2021, especially considering they’ll be playing a more difficult schedule after winning the AFC South in 2020. – Betz
Ok, I have to jump on this Tennessee “under-train” with Betz so you get the double stamp of approval from Borg & Betz on this one. Just to hammer this home, over the last two years, they’ve ranked 3rd and 1st in terms of yards per TD both hovering around the 103.5-yard mark. That is absurd, over-the-top efficient as Betz mentioned. To give you some context, in Patrick Mahomes‘ magical 50-TD season in 2018, that offense averaged a TD every 103.2 yards.
The overachieving has also hidden the fact Tennessee has underwhelmed recently in the draft apart from swinging for the fences and connecting with A.J. Brown in 2019 and Derrick Henry in 2016. Much of the rest of their drafts have been whiffs or currently not playing for the team. Check out their first-round draft picks over the last six years and their status for 2021:
|1st Round Draft Picks||Overall||Status|
|2020||OT Isaiah Wilson||29th||Free-Agent|
|2019||DT Jeffrey Simmons||19th||2020 PFF Grade: 83.9|
|2018||LB Rashaan Evans||22nd||2020 PFF Grade: 53.7|
|WR Corey Davis||5th||New York Jets|
|CB Adoreé Jackson||18th||New York Giants|
|2016||OT Jack Conklin||8th||Cleveland Browns|
|2015||QB Marcus Mariota||2nd||Las Vegas Raiders|
For an organization recently lauded for being an up-and-comer, this is not the best route for building a sustainable franchise. While this is more of a talent-based critique, their defense that was routinely exposed last year allowing the 8th most points per game yet uber-fortunate forcing the 7th most turnovers despite virtually having no pass rush. In other words, their defense needed an upgrade and the Titans’ big splash in free agency was former Steelers edge rusher, Bud Dupree. He benefitted massively from the rest of that Steelers pass rush (T.J. Watt and company) and PFF recently declared him one of the worst free-agent deals per his low “win-rate” despite high sack totals. Losing Jackson also is a blow for a defense that allowed the 2nd most passing TDs and 4th most yards per game.
Finally, does the Titans’ 2021 schedule invite a double-digit win season? As division winners, they play a “1st-place schedule” including home games versus 2020 division winners Kansas City and New Orleans and games at Pittsburgh and Seattle. The AFC South also draws the NFC West where all four teams have legitimate playoffs aspirations.
|Houston Texans||Houston Texans|
|Arizona Cardinals||New York Jets|
|San Francisco 49ers||Pittsburgh Steelers|
|Kansas City Chiefs|
|New Orleans Saints|
Our initial schedule-adjusted forecast had Tennessee right at 9.5 wins and there is some “pulp” on the under. In our second pass through the schedule adjusted forecast, Tennessee came out to 8.7 wins which are probably more in line with some of their regression narratives we spoke on earlier. The Titans are a fun team and could still be the class of the AFC South, which is like being valedictorian of your 15-person home school network. It’s the worst division in the NFL and we both think nine wins or fewer is the sharpest under bet on the market. -Borg
New England Patriots-UNDER 9 wins
+118, 45.87% Break Even Percentage
Betting against a Bill Belichick team is always a little scary, so this won’t be my strongest stance in this article, but at +118 juice, it seems like a decent bet considering the Pats may have the third most talented roster on paper in the AFC East behind the Bills and Dolphins. The main issue here is that while the Patriots should be much improved on defense after getting several Covid-19 opt-outs back in the lineup, their offense still projects as one of the worst in the NFL. Now, you may be saying “Betz didn’t you see all those signings in free agency?” Yes, yes I did, but do Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne really move the needle on offense?
This team is going to run a ton of 12 personnel with Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry, and while that sounds well and good, Cam Newton is not a good enough passer of the football at this stage of his career for it to matter. He finished as PFF’s 5th worst graded QB when throwing from a clean pocket last season as a result, this offense figures to be one of the run heaviest offenses in football yet again after finishing second in the NFL in run play percentage. As I discussed above with the Ravens, playing ball control has more downside than upside because again, if the Pats fall behind and Newton is forced into obvious drop-back situations, things can get ugly quickly. They simply don’t have the passing offense needed to keep up with opposing offenses in today’s NFL. At plus money, I’m fading the Patriots in 2021. – Betz
Las Vegas Raiders-UNDER 7.5 wins
-110, 52.38% Break Even Percentage
I usually show a bit of trepidation when making any claim due to my desire to show that every single decision and game in the NFL has a range of outcomes. With the Raiders, this is an under I feel strong about on the board for 2021. Do the Raiders have eight wins in their schedule in order to stick it to me? Well, let me give you my best argument so Gruden and company don’t make me look a fool.
The 2020 Raiders finished at a respectable 8-8 and were in the playoff hunt for much of the year after starting 6-3 including a win in Arrowhead against the Chiefs. The offense scored at a shockingly high rate (10th in points per game) but their defense was atrocious. 50.3 percent of opponent drives ended in a score, the highest rate in the NFL. The Raiders ended 5-4 in one-score games although that last-second victory against the Jets needs to have an asterisk next to it for all eternity. In terms of total win expectation, they only slightly overachieved (7.1) so why take the under?
From a talent perspective, these Raiders decided to decimate one of the keys to their offense by switching up three of their five starters. Replacing Nelson Agholor is the oft-injured John Brown and Kenyan Drake‘s signing remains the biggest head-scratcher of the off-season. Our early schedule-adjusted forecast put them at 6.5 wins which makes 7.5 even more enticing. They also play a “second-place” schedule although I doubt any forecasters would put them ahead of the Chargers or even the Broncos in that division.
|New York Giants|
The defense is going to be dog-walked for much of the season because there is a severe lack of talent on that side of the ball. In the same vein, I outlined Tennessee’s low hit rate in the first round, Las Vegas has really put itself in a tough position in terms of team-building. If we go all the back to 2014, you can see the misses and organizational turmoil.
|1st Round Draft Picks||Overall||Status|
|2020||WR Henry Ruggs III||12th||PFF Grade: 54.0|
|DE Clelin Ferrell||4th||PFF Grade: 76.1|
|RB Josh Jacobs||24th||PFF Grade: 76.3|
|S Johnathan Abram||27th||PFF Grade: 35.9|
|2018||OT Kolton Miller||15th||PFF Grade: 72.9|
|2017||CB Gareon Conley||24th||Free Agent|
|2016||S Karl Joseph||14th||PFF Grade: 52.7|
|2015||WR Amari Cooper||4th||Dallas Cowboys|
|2014||LB Khalil Mack||5th||Chicago Bears|
Cooper and Mack were traded before finishing out their rookie contracts, Ruggs and Ferrell were major reaches, and woof that secondary. The front office spending two high draft capital picks on underwhelming safeties seems puzzling. Joseph was in Cleveland for 2020 before signing a cheap one-year deal to come back to the Raiders. Miller was extended this off-season as a franchise cornerstone but with Derek Carr likely having one year left, who will he be protecting? Seriously, this feels like a crash and burn in the near future as the football product John Gruden and Mike Mayock seem to be envisioning is screaming bottom of that AFC West division.
Baltimore Ravens– UNDER 11 wins
+103, 49.26% Break Even Percentage
Lamar Jackson took the NFL by storm in 2019 then regressed significantly as a passer in 2020 after opposing defensive coordinators had time to scheme ways to defend the new-look Ravens offense. Lamar’s TD rate dropped nearly three percentage points, his completion percentage dropped two full points and his QBR dropped a full 10 points from 2019 to 2020. With the offensive philosophy currently in place, this offense lacks the passing attack needed to win in today’s NFL against tough opponents, and we saw them get exposed in the playoffs against Buffalo when they fell behind early. If the Ravens don’t get out to an early lead, things fall apart relatively quickly when they’re forced to abandon their run-heavy game plan.
|Kansas City Chiefs|
|Los Angeles Chargers||Detroit Lions|
|Green Bay Packers|
|Los Angeles Rams|
Now, they’re playing in one of the tougher divisions in football where there are no longer any easy wins in the AFC North (shoutout to you, Cleveland, and Cincinnati). Oh, and that 17th game? Yeah, that’s against the L.A. Rams. It’s not that the Ravens can’t be a good football team in 2021, but there’s a lot that needs to go right for them to finish at 12-5. I’ll happily take the plus money bet on under 11 wins. – Betz
Philadelphia Eagles-UNDER 6.5 wins
+110, 47.26% Break Even Percentage
What’s wild is that every single team we’ve talked about so far is in the AFC. Yes the AFC has some elites at the top (Kansas City & Buffalo) so it shouldn’t shock anyone that there is room in that conference for a top-heavy outcome. But in the NFC, the team that stands out to me as a likely under is going to get a grimace from Betz… it’s his Eagles.
Their home schedule is brutal and ranked as the toughest in all of football according to our metrics. Seriously, if you gave me odds of the Eagles going 2-6 or worse at home in 2021, I’d take that above 50 percent. I’ve sorted by passing yards per game allowed from 2020 and look at the Murderer’s Row in front of Jalen Hurts and company:
|Home||Pass YPG||Away||Pass YPG|
|Dallas Cowboys||11th||Atlanta Falcons||32nd|
|New York Giants||16th||Carolina Panthers||17th|
|12th||New York Giants||16th|
|9th||Las Vegas Raiders||25th|
|4th||Washington Football Team||3rd|
|New York Jets||29th|
Their schedule away from Philadelphia definitely sets them up to at least split those and get four or five wins in a best-case scenario. But when I combine a full-season outlook from an aging roster that is porous in most of the secondary and few playmakers at wideout, I’d lean into six wins or fewer where a tank job could be the game plan if Hurts doesn’t come through. As Andy brought up on the recent Overreaction Episode, overshadowed by his 68 rushing yards per game was the fact he had the worst adjusted completion percentage among QBs over that final 4-game trial run as the starter.
The Eagles will still be paying Carson Wentz $33.8 million to NOT play for them, the largest cap hit for any player in NFL history according to Spotrac. Yikes. The rest of the NFC East has improved this offseason while Philadelphia’s big signings include RB Jordan Howard, QB Joe Flacco, and (hold on… I’m genuinely laughing as I look at their transaction log) the releases of WRs Alshon Jeffrey, DeSean Jackson, and DT Malik Jackson. Ok, so they tendered the great Greg Wards Jr. and Boston Scott. But in all honesty, I cannot see a legitimate argument claiming this team set themselves up well for 2021. Sorry, Betz. -Borg
¹Miller, Ed & Davidow, Matthew. The Logic of Sports Betting. 2019.