The Model Speaks: NFL 2021 Futures Value Cheat Sheet

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I heavily bet the futures market in the NFL. It is the primary way I try to counter the high degree of variance in a seventeen-game season. Now that we have three weeks of data to work with I want to introduce a new weekly column that I will release every Friday, The Futures Value Cheat Sheet. What follows in the chart below is what the model finds to be the correct price for certain futures bets on every team. You can use this chart to find the fair value for whatever futures side you like, and then compare it to your book’s line. This way you will have a sense of how much you are overpaying, or how much value you are receiving.

Current Value in the Futures Market

The purpose of this chart is not to tell you to bet on one side or another. The model believes only that if we played this season an infinite number of times, you would ultimately break even on any of the sides that follow. To the extent that you can find a better line, you will profit. These numbers and sides will vary dramatically each week.

This first table compares the model’s fair Market prices to readily available prices in the futures market for every team in the NFL. With respect to the primary columns (Win Division, Win Conference, and Win Super Bowl), any number highlighted in green indicates there is value on the bet. 

You can use this chart to make decisions about which futures with value appeal to you. For example, Fan Duel currently lists the Bills at +950 to win the Super Bowl. The model believes the correct price is +733.33. That results in an edge of 2.48%. Again, every position highlighted in green has a positive expected value. 

Of course, many long dogs will have a positive expectation. Use this chart and your discretion to determine which value is worth taking. The model is high on the Browns, Raiders, Chargers, Seahawks, and Rams. All of whom have value. 

If a cell reads “#DIV/0!,” ignore it. It is not an error. Instead, the probability is so low that I discount it entirely. Also note, the table does not automatically check for value in the first two columns, so you will have to check those manually against the numbers offered in your book. 

Strength of Schedule

We all know the strength of the schedule is critical in assessing each team’s performance. It is tremendously valuable for predicting future performance as well. The following chart compares the strength of schedule each team has faced to date and their remaining strength of schedule. A team that has played an easy schedule and will face a challenging schedule can be expected to perform worse as the season progresses. Conversely, a team with a difficult schedule behind them and a relatively easy schedule remaining is expected to perform better as the season progresses. 

When reading the chart that follows, teams want to be on the far right side. Those teams have the easier remaining schedules and the most significant difference in the quality of competition from the games they have played and the remaining games. 

Expect teams with good records on the left side of the chart to struggle moving forward. Teams with good records on the right side of the chart should continue to excel. In short, any team with a negative number on the blue line will perform worse during the rest of the season. The bigger the number, the worse they will perform. Conversely, any team with a positive number on the blue line will perform better.

The model expects Carolina, Denver, NY Giants, Washington, etc., to perform worse as the season progresses. Conversely, it expects Miami, Indianapolis, Chicago, NY Jets, Tennessee, etc., to perform much better. This is critical when trying to evaluate a team’s performance. Carolina, for example, has played the 31st easiest schedule. From this point forward, they will play the 4th most difficult schedule. That matters and should be considered before placing money on them. This results in a net swing of -27 (31 points, plus or minus, would be the highest possible swing for any team).

Futures Update

In the season previews I wrote for each division in the preseason, I suggested 44 futures bets. With three games completed, we can begin checking in on their viability. What follows is a link to the article where the wagers were suggested, each wager, the amount wagered, the total amount returned if successful, the likelihood that the bet prevails (based on currently available odds), and the return on investment. 

To calculate the current expected ROI, I simply multiplied the total payout by the current win probability. Thus, if a wager had a total payout of 2 units and a current win probability of 33%, the expected return would be .66 units. 

As you will see from the table, I placed 44 wagers at a total price of 44.74 units. My current expected return is 59.24 units. That results in an expected ROI of 32.4% and a 14.5 unit profit. 

TEAMSIDEWageredPays OutWin ProbabilityExpected Return
Chiefs & PackersWin Divisions, +13512.356.58%0.15
ChargersOver 9.5 Wins, +11012.1137.24%0.79
ChargersFinish Second, +12512.2510.00%0.23
DenverOver 8.5 Wins, -1101.12.163.00%1.32
AFC West Preview
TitansWin the Division, -1101.12.181.82%1.72
ColtsUnder 9 Wins, -1101.12.137.06%0.78
HoustonWorst Record in the League, +2001310.00%0.30
Texans & DetroitFinish Last in their Divisions, +1001235.29%0.71
AFC South Preview
ClevelandWin the Division, +15512.5545.45%1.16
Pittsburgh6-8 Wins, +16012.645.88%1.19
BaltimoreFinish Second, +18012.849.41%1.38
PittsburghFinish 3rd, +12012.238.82%0.85
BeckhamOver 6 Touchdowns, +1001210.00%0.20
AFC North Preview
BillsWin the Division, -1501.52.580.00%2.00
PatriotsWin over 3.5 Division Games, +17512.7510.00%0.28
WaddleOver 750 Yards +1001235.29%0.71
TuaOver 3899.5 Yards -1121.122.125.00%0.11
AFC East Preview
Gerald EverettOver 4 TD Receptions1.252.2537.00%0.83
49ersOver 10.5 Wins1.12.110.00%0.21
RamsOver 10.5 Wins1.12.137.06%0.78
49ers, Rams, & SeattleMake Playoffs, +31114.117.52%0.31
NFC West Preview
MinnesotaMinnesota to Finish Second, +15012.544.12%1.10
ChicagoChicago to Finish Third, +13512.3541.47%0.97
Minnesota & ChicagoThe Two Selections Above Parlayed (where possible), +48515.8558.50%3.42
GB,MN,CHI,DETAll Four Teams Exact Finish Parlay, +1300114140.00%19.60
Green BayOver 10 Wins, -1201.22.252.00%1.14
ChicagoUnder 7.5 Wins, -1101.12.137.06%0.78
DetroitUnder 4.5 – 1101.12.137.06%0.78
NFC North Preview
New OrleansKamara Over 70.5 Receptions -1201.22.238.82%0.85
AtlantaKyle Pitts Over 775 Yards -1121.122.120.00%0.00
AtlantaKyle Pitts Over 6 Touchdowns -1101.12.10.00%0.00
New OrleansKamara Over 1500 Scrimmage Yards -1251.252.2519.85%0.45
AtlantaAtlanta Over 7.5 Wins -1101.12.115.00%0.32
AtlantaAtlanta to Finish Second, +25013.55.00%0.18
NFC South Preview
WashingtonWashington Under 8.5 wins1.12.137.06%0.78
New York GiantsGiants Under 7 wins, with a push more likely than an over1.12.137.06%0.78
DallasPrescott Comeback Player of the Year +18012.849.41%1.38
WashingtonWashington to finish Second, +22013.256.47%1.81
NFC East Preview
Mac JonesOROY11320.00%2.60
Kyle PittsOROY1105.00%0.50
Asante SamuelDROY1408.50%3.40
Matthew StaffordMVP12012.00%2.40
Total44.74188.661406.81%59.24

About the author:

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I write about data and sports. I created my first model in 1997 using nothing more than Excel. Currently, I have data-driven models for the NFL, NBA, and World Cup Soccer.

Mathematics is the music of reason.
— James Joseph Sylvester, English mathematician

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