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2018 NFL Playoff Futures

Why NFL Playoff futures betting is giving the house more $$, and a few other playoff tidbits.

Playoff season is here folks. Although it very likely had nothing to do with your team’s actual on-field success this year, get that lucky underwear locked and loaded for another weekend just in case. And if you don’t have any lucky underwear, then I just feel sorry for you.

The playoffs bring a different set of challenges when it comes to the betting landscape, and Plan Z Sports is here to help you navigate it as profitably as possible. We simulated each and every possible playoff matchup 5,000 times through our predictive models to provide you with any possible edge or insight. This week we will take a look at the futures odds ahead of Wild Card weekend, but before we do I must begin with a couple general points to remember when wading through the NFL Playoff waters.

Teams are here for a reason.

I cannot emphasize this enough, but it is still a common misconception that many bettors make. Playoff teams make it to the final 12 largely because they are roughly in the top third of the NFL. Yes, there are bubble teams that make it in (and some that miss out) which are more borderline, but generally narrowing the field means that your confidence level in a team winning (and moreover covering) will decrease facing stronger opponents. Thus, between stronger opponents and far fewer games, the high-confidence plays are not nearly as common come playoff time.

Fewer games should not necessarily equal increased wagers.

Listen, I get it. Fresh off of a couple nice betting weeks (or vice versa, trying to play catch up) you want the same level of action, so with less games available that means ramp up those wagers, right? Probably not. Your bankroll and betting strategy should generally dictate how much you can afford to lay on any one event, so couple this with the previous point about expecting to get far fewer high-confidence plays in the playoffs and the smart move is to temper the temptation to make it rain at the betting window.

Lean towards the over… slightly.

This comes with the usual caveat that you need to be shopping your Sportsbooks for the most favorable line/price given your angle. That said, overs have gone 58-51-1 (53.2%) in the last 10 years of playoff games, and have hit at least 54.5% in 7 of the 10 seasons including each of the last two. With NFL scoring at an all-time high, the A-Team is coming out of the gate betting that 3 of the 4 opening weekend games will go over. See which 3 games here…

Back to the Future(s)

Below is a table that reflects each playoff team’s probability to move on to each successive round based on 5,000 simulations of our playoff models. Additionally, the implied probability of the current futures odds as of this writing are reflected for the most available bets – getting to the Super Bowl, and of course winning the Super Bowl. Further, the color coding of this section is a heat map of sorts where darker red means worse implied odds compared to the simulation probability, and darker green means better odds.

Predicted probabilities of advancing vs. Futures odds

Let me point out an important item regarding this conditional probability. A #1 or #2 seed having a higher likelihood of making it to the Super Bowl (or similarly winning the Super Bowl) does not necessarily mean that I am predicting them to beat every lower seeded team in a head-to-head matchup. For example, our model does not actually reflect the Patriots as the second-best team in the AFC playoffs, but they still have the second-best odds to win the AFC simply due to the bye. So while we predict that the Texans and Ravens have almost a 2-1 edge in the opening round, that chance of losing before even getting to the divisional round severely dampens their overall Super Bowl odds (and thus boosts the futures odds).

Next, while I still tend to see futures as a comparatively risky endeavor, if you are going to bet them then make sure that you fully understand the implied odds. You don’t need to be a math major nor a self-proclaimed badass sports data analyst to get this, as I am both so I have you covered. The implied probability is simply the chance of the outcome coming true as determined by the price that the sportsbook set. For example, at the time of this writing one sportsbook had the Eagles as +3000 to win the Super Bowl again. So a $100 bet would pay out $3,000 if Jason Kelce is once again getting smashed on the parade route in his Mardi Gras best. What this means is that this sportsbook believes that the Eagles have a 3.2% chance of winning it all: (100) / (3000 + 100) = 0.0322581. This means that if you have an angle that the Eagles have better than a 3.2% shot, that becomes a technically sound bet.

So why am I down on futures betting? It is because the sportsbooks give themselves a better edge than they already have on a standard cover, and it is not really even that close. Take, for example, your standard bet where both teams are getting a -110 price. This formula is slightly different than the +### bets, so: (110) / (110 + 100) = 52.4%. Hence, the house generally holds a 2.4% edge on what they deem as a true coin flip. If you add these two opponents’ chances of winning based on the -110 implied odds, then you get 52.4% + 52.4% = 104.8%. Clearly only 100% is possible, thus the house holds almost a 5% edge when equal money goes to each side of the bet.

Now let’s revisit our table of implied probabilities for playoff teams from earlier. Since there can only be one Super Bowl winner, the simulation probabilities must add up to 100%. But the implied odds for the futures bets is 115%! That is a staggering 10% more than the standard cover bet. Note also that these futures odds were based on the best available from a couple different sportsbooks, so this house edge would be even greater through one book. Futures betting can be lucrative from the big payout perspective, especially early in the season, but unless you have a very strong angle then futures are better off left alone… but what fun is that? So if you must, by far the strongest play from a pure percentage standpoint is in taking the Rams to win it all. As a lifelong Bears fan this is painful given that they may face each other in the Divisional Round, but with a predicted 7% edge against the futures implied odds and a Rams team that matches up favorably against every AFC team this is the most reasonable futures bet in an otherwise unfavorable setting.

Good luck this weekend!


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