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A few days ago, I was in Vegas with friends and without a car. So I took the chance to shop NFL futures odds to the extent that I felt it was worth it to walk to a given sportsbook. I decided the 3+ mile walk to the Superbook was not worth the opportunity cost in the 105 degree heat, so I didn’t get their numbers. But I did get numbers from three of the major oddsmakers: William Hill, Cantor Gaming, and MGM. Tomorrow, I’ll talk about some bets that seem potentially attractive. As I described recently, the numbers are pretty good now and don’t leave obvious opportunities for the most part, I think.

Yes, I still did like some bets. I only found one season win total I really wanted to bet on, and it’s not one of the ones I would have bet back in March. I made a few bets at the William Hill sportsbook, just a little hole in the wall at the Hooters’ Casino a little ways off the Strip, which could just as easily have been in Nevada towns forgotten by time like Laughlin or Mesquite as in Las Vegas. Then I made a few bets not too far from the beautiful people at the Cantor book in the Cosmopolitan. I spent way too much time thinking about all this stuff, which might not have been necessary if I only had that time machine and could have bet on the initial lines. But there’s also some cool stuff by looking at the teams’ odds that have changed the most in both directions.

Season Win Totals

Some interesting movements have happened in the numbers that Cantor Gaming released in March. Those changes reflect everything that happened in free agency and the draft, but also maybe some numbers that people would have bet on anyway even if nothing had changed personnel-wise.  Below are the opening numbers along with the numbers I gathered during the last week. The Cantor numbers are mostly from 6/18 because their books that I went to would only give me the numbers one at a time. I gathered about eight of those numbers because I was at least considering them as wagers. For those teams, the most recent line is the one that I posted. The other companies’ books gave me complete printouts of all their season win-total lines.

A note on the odds: Lines like -140 mean that you would wager $140 to win $100. Lines like +130 mean you wager $100 to win $130. The numbers are usually split by 20 on either side, which represents the vig, or Vegas’s commission. For example, Denver being at -115 for the over would usually go with -105 on the under. For bigger odds, the over and under can be split by more. Also, the MGM has a slightly larger vig, with a 30 split between the over and under.

The opening numbers are a definite “what might have been” situation. There were four bets I wanted to make: the overs on the Pats, Packers, Raiders, and Jaguars. All of those odds have moved substantially since then and seem like fair prices at this point. My wife was even in Vegas at the time, but I couldn’t convince her to make these bets. She was there for a conference and didn’t have the free time she needed. Getting the Pats at 10 wins and only -125? That would have been very sweet. As the table shows, that opportunity is now totally gone. The Pats are at 10.5 with a big vig on the over.

TeamOpening Line (Cantor)Current Line (Cantor)Current Line (MGM)Current Line (William Hill)
Broncos11 (-115)11 (-145)11.5 (+120)11.5 (+105)
49ers11 (Even)11 (+115)10.5 (-135)10.5 (-135)
Seahawks11 (-110)11 (-125)11.5 (+125)11.5 (+105)
Packers10 (-105)10 (-170)10.5 (-120)10.5 (-110)
Patriots10 (-125)10.5 (-175)11.5 (+130)10.5 (-160)
Saints9.5 (-105)10 (-105)10.5 (+140)9.5 (-180)
Bengals9 (-115)9 (-120)8.5 (-185)9.5 (+120)
Colts9 (-115)9.5 (Even)9.5 (-115)9.5 (-110)
Steelers9 (-110)9 (Even)9 (Even)8.5 (-155)
Bears8.5 (-105)8.5 (-145)8.5 (-160)8.5 (-145)
Eagles8.5 (-125)9 (-140)9.5 (+110)9 (-125)
Panthers8.5 (-120)8.5 (+110)8.5 (+115)8.5 (+115)
Ravens8.5 (-110)8.5 (-120)8.5 (-125)8.5 (-120)
Texans8.5 (-110)8 (+130)7.5 (-145)8 (+115)
Chargers8 (-120)8 (-130)8.5 (+105)8.5 (+115)
Chiefs8 (-125)8 (-125)8.5 (+115)8.5 (+120)
Cowboys8 (-120)8 (+120)8 (+130)8 (+125)
Falcons8 (-120)8.5 (-105)9 (+130)8 (-150)
Lions8 (-115)8 (-150)8 (-150)8 (-145)
Dolphins7.5 (-125)7.5 (-155)7.5 (-135)7.5 (-135)
Cardinals7 (-120)7.5 (-170)7.5 (-165)7.5 (-150)
Giants7 (-110)8 (-110)8.5 (+125)7.5 (-160)
Redskins7 (-110)7 (-145)7.5 (-105)7.5 (Even)
Bills6.5 (-110)6.5 (-180)7 (-150)6.5 (-160)
Browns6.5 (-105)7 (-115)6.5 (-150)6.5 (-150)
Buccaneers6.5 (-130)7 (-130)7 (-160)7.5 (+120)
Jets6.5 (-120)7 (-135)7.5 (Even)6.5 (-200)
Rams6.5 (-120)7.5 (-155)7 (-200)7.5 (-140)
Titans6.5 (-110)7 (-175)7 (-150)7 (-130)
Vikings6.5 (-110)6.5 (+145)5.5 (-165)6 (-110)
Raiders5 (+110)5 (-120)5.5 (+150)5.5 (+140)
Jaguars4.5 (Even)5 (-120)5 (-130)4.5 (-165)

Those big moves, though, say something interesting about those teams. So let’s split teams up into groups according to how their odds have or haven’t moved since March. We’ll do this according to famous literary characters.

Group 1: The Boo Radleys

Teams: Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, San Diego Chargers, Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins

Like Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird, these teams have mostly stayed put. Five of the six have stayed on the same number at the Cantor books and moved no more than 10 on the vig. The sixth (Miami) moved 30 on the vig at the Cantor, but is within 10 of the opening price at the other two books. The Chiefs win the inertia award for being at the same exact price at Cantor as in March.

These teams have in common middling season win totals. All went off at a number between 7.5 and 9. Three of them are the AFC North teams other than Cleveland, all of which are priced at slightly above average. The two AFC West teams also fit that description. None of these teams made huge splashes in free agency or the draft, with the biggest changes being Cincinnati losing Michael Johnson and the Dolphins signing Branden Albert away from the Chiefs.

Group 2: The Chippers

Teams: Oakland Raiders, Washington Redskins, Detroit Lions, Atlanta Falcons, Chicago Bears, Indianapolis Colts, New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos

Like Chip in The Corrections, this group has made some clear progress in the positive direction. Money has come in on these teams, but only so much to move the price noticeably rather than dramatically. The small moves are jumps of about 30 on the price for the over for the Raiders, Redskins, Lions, and Broncos. For other teams in this group, the number has moved or the price has moved more substantially. The Packers and Saints had two of the largest jumps.

Group 3: The Owen Meanys

Teams: Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans, St. Louis Rams, New York Jets, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cleveland Browns, Buffalo Bills, New York Giants, Arizona Cardinals, Philadelphia Eagles, New England Patriots

This set of teams has made big upwards moves, mostly from humble beginnings, kind of like Owen Meany in A Prayer for Owen Meany.1 All but the last two of these teams went off at numbers of 7 or below. Most of these teams have had movement in the number and a shift in the price at the new higher number. Consider these seven teams:

TeamOpening Line (Cantor)Current Line (Cantor)Current Line (MGM)Current Line (William Hill)
Patriots10 (-125)10.5 (-175)11.5 (+130)10.5 (-160)
Cardinals7 (-120)7.5 (-170)7.5 (-165)7.5 (-150)
Browns6.5 (-105)7 (-115)6.5 (-150)6.5 (-150)
Jets6.5 (-120)7 (-135)7.5 (Even)6.5 (-200)
Rams6.5 (-120)7.5 (-155)7 (-200)7.5 (-140)
Titans6.5 (-110)7 (-175)7 (-150)7 (-130)
Jaguars4.5 (Even)5 (-120)5 (-130)4.5 (-165)

Some of these seven teams have received particularly huge amounts of attention from bettors seeing them as opportunities. The Patriots started at 10 (-125) and now are at 10.5 (-175). The improvements in the secondary (Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner) are a big part of that, but the initial Cantor number also seems a bit low given that the Pats have won at least ten games for eleven consecutive years. The Cardinals started at 7 (-120) and now are at 7.5 (-170) at the Cantor books. Part of that is probably excitement at the Cards getting a competent left tackle in Jared Veldheer in free agency, and potentially getting Jonathan Cooper back for a good chunk of this season, but this move seems in part a response to Cantor’s aggressive initial pricing at 7 wins.

The two biggest moves are the Titans and the Rams. The Titans opened at 6.5 (-110) and now are at 7 with heavy juice on the over (-175). The Rams are the single biggest climber, moving from 6.5 (-120) to a full game higher with juice on the over: 7.5 (-155). I’m a little confused why the Titans moved so dramatically. It would be great to hear any thoughts on why this happened. The Titans lost Alterraun Verner to the Bucs and their biggest signings didn’t compare (Shaun Phillips and Wesley Woodyard). They got Taylor Lewan in the first round of the draft and Bishop Sankey in the second, with no third round pick. I don’t see much there, but perhaps there’s some response to Tennessee having an easy schedule (although see the discussion on the Texans below).

The Rams maybe make more sense. Still reaping the bonanza of the RGIII trade, they got Greg Robinson #2 overall, and Aaron Donald #13 to boost the interior of their already scary defensive line. They also were better than their record would indicate last year, finishing 14th in DVOA, just behind the 11-5 Colts. At the same time, the movement in their number is bigger than I would have guessed given their division and their quarterback.

Group 4: The Anna Kareninas

Teams: San Francisco 49ers, Houston Texans, Dallas Cowboys, Carolina Panthers, Minnesota Vikings

Without giving away the ending, it’s safe to say that Anna Karenina follows a downward trend in her eponymous book, and these teams are on the downturn in Vegas. Amazingly, they are the only five teams that have fallen substantially, and none have fallen as dramatically as teams like the Rams and Titans have gone up. The 49ers almost belong with the Boo Radleys, having fallen just a little bit. The Texans have fallen more substantially. That fall seems likely to have come from people reacting to a 2-14 team initially going off at 8.5 and the unfilled QB spot now being occupied by a player (Ryan Fitzpatrick) who does well on the Wonderlic but less well at throwing footballs. At the same time, the Texans have perhaps the easiest schedule in football, so it’s not obvious that 8.5 was too high a number.

The Cowboys and Panthers seem to make sense as fallers, too, given that free agency led to more losses than gains for each (Dallas also since lost Sean Lee for the season). The Vikings’ fall is not even there in the slightly older Cantor lines, but would also be harder to explain. They lost Jared Allen, but they also signed Linval Joseph and they may have gotten an upgrade at QB at a pretty good spot in the draft. Overall, given all the upwards movement for teams with initial numbers that were low, we might have expected the Vikings to go up, too.

Why So Few Anna Kareninas?

Most remarkable about these trends is that 21 teams have clear moves upwards and only 4 or 5 teams that have clear moves downwards. That would seem to indicate that Vegas is getting a lot more money bet on overs than on unders. The book setting those initial lines is not exactly trying to even out wagers like a traditional sportsbook. Initially, they only took bets of up to $1000 on these numbers, so they did want to see how the market would react. Still, accounting for those market preferences may have been as much an opportunity to get a good price on bets they were happy to take even at the initial prices. In other words, it seems likely that they were willing to attract substantial wagers on numbers that they figured were likely to draw bets for (e.g. Cardinals) and against (e.g. Texans). Overall, my uninformed guess is that Cantor also guessed that they would get more action on the overs than the unders and were happy to take those bets.

And they will now take very large bets on those lines, willing to not even up the money on either side. They trust their models and assume they will win more than enough, along with pocketing the commission that comes from making the line. This leaves an interesting conundrum. Either the Cantor numbers are a little off, or the public is moving the numbers incorrectly in some instances. My guess is that it’s a little bit of both. Markets aren’t perfect. Even if they’re smarter than the used to be, the herd will get things wrong sometimes. And smart Wall Street quants will, too. Both the oddsmakers and the market are better than they used to be, and are very good, at predicting what will happen in the NFL season. Still, it doesn’t quite add up that four or five times as many teams have moved towards the over than have moved towards the under.

  1. I’m reading this one now, so there’s some small chance that the story turns and the vertically-challenged but big-hearted Owen becomes a Chucky-like character, but he definitely seems to be on an ascendant path on page 150. []
  • Sunrise089

    Wild post, Vegas is the best though.

    Were you staying in one of the MGM-owned south strip properties? Just curious about why no lines from a Caesars sports book.

    As to why the lines moved more up than down, while I hate ‘trying to balance the action’ as the answer to gambling questions, perhaps they tried to set fair lines but knew, at least early, fans would bet systemically on optimistic wagers (every team is Super Bowl bound in the offseason…) in aggregate, and used the early limited betting to better gauge where the optimism lay? Or it could be simple marketing…

  • I was staying at the Vdara. I did get the Caesar’s SB odds and they were so much worse than the other odds that I didn’t bother to go back to get the season win totals (the desk was closed when I was there). I’m not sure why, but they had the Eagles at 15/1, when the other books had them at 27/1 or 28/1. Other teams were similarly bad deals.

    And that sounds like a good idea on the line movements. I like the marketing possibility, too (people getting excited about the number on their favorite team being so low).