Some have screamed louder than others on this subject in recent years, but using NFL Win Totals to better gauge NFL strength of schedule has always been a tool professional bettors used since their inception. While mainstream media continues to base strength of schedule on the number of wins earned from the previous season, savvy bettors have long understood that method is far less accurate when forecasting future schedule strength.
Why? The largest reasons are injury and roster turnover.
A deep-dive on why injuries are impactful isn’t needed; we can best articulate that with a singular question: Does it make sense to value Green Bay the very same with and without Aaron Rodgers? In the two seasons Mr. Discount Double-Check missed significant time (2013 and 2017), oddsmakers were forced to make as much as 10-point adjustments to the betting line some* weeks. Assessing the Packers as a 7-win team truly distorts the accuracy of its NFC North division members schedule strength, and to a slightly lesser degree, anyone else on the Packers 2018 schedule.
The other key factor is roster turnover; whether it comes from shortened careers or organizational incompetence. Even with modern medicine, the average NFL career lasts 3.3 years according to the NFL Players Association. In addition to early retirement, organizational intelligence plays an even larger role. Ask yourself these key questions: Is your favorite team over-spending to retain its own players, or treating free agency like an Orange County housewife on a shopping spree? Is your favorite team struggling to build through the draft with cheaper labor?
In 2016, the Cleveland Browns lost 35.4% of the previous seasons snaps. Years of organizational incompetence required house cleaning and a new approach. In 2017, the Arizona Cardinals lost 26.2% of its snaps because the front office was far too aggressive in the contracts it previously doled out. As a result that forced Calais Campbell, Tony Jefferson, Kevin Minter and Marcus Cooper out the door before last season — and early this off-season that reared its head again when Arizona couldn’t afford to retain Tyrann Mathieu.
When some teams turnover as much as 1/3rd of its roster annually, how smart is it to forecast future wins based on the previous seasons results? Not very…
So, let’s do it the right way.
This past Saturday, sports book BetOnline.AG released the world’s first NFL Win Totals for the 2018 season. Here they are:
WAS 5½ pic.twitter.com/B4mP2U2a7a
— Payneinsider.com (@PayneInsider) April 21, 2018
Using BetOnline.AG win totals, we created a chart below in alphabetical order to best depict schedule strength (total wins faced, average total wins faced, and the number of stronger and weaker opponents faced). Keep in mind, this is the first iteration released anywhere publicly for the 2018 season. The win totals market will surely adjust as respected money enters throughout the off-season. Rosters will start to fully take shape after the NFL draft and free agency settles. At that point, we’ll have a far better understanding of each team’s strengths and weaknesses, and how they’ll matchup with the opponents on their respective schedules. Because of those factors, this list won’t be as accurate one week from now, and it wouldn’t be as accurate a week from now as it will be on September 1st when rosters are trimmed to 53.
Chart Notes: Both New Orleans o/u 8½ and Miami o/u 5½ have -200 juice shaded to the OVER. In terms of both true market value and schedule strength accuracy, we used 9 wins for the Saints and 6 wins for the Dolphins. Orange chart shading indicates the 5 toughest schedules for each category, and yellow shading the 5 easiest.
The 5 toughest NFL schedules in 2018:
1 – Arizona Cardinals (136)
2 – Washington Redskins (135.5)
3 – Detroit Lions (133.5)
4 – Los Angeles Rams (132.5)
5 – Chicago Bears (132.5)
The 5 easiest NFL schedules in 2018:
1 – Houston Texans (120.5)
2 – Baltimore Ravens (121.5)
3 – Los Angeles Chargers (122)
4 – Oakland Raiders (123.5)
5 – Pittsburgh Steelers (123.5)
I wanted to share some quick thoughts that came to mind as we put the graphic above together. Don’t fret, we’ll have a deep dive of all 32 NFL teams on our Bet The Board preview podcast soon; pummel that subscribe button on iTunes so you don’t miss it.
Schedule makers did first-year head coach, Steven Wilks no favors. The Arizona Cardinals have the toughest schedule in the NFL, and from Week 4 on don’t face an opponent projected to win less than 7.5 games. Former coach, Bruce Arians lives by a wildly popular quote among gamblers; “No Risk it, No Biscuit”. Whether Wilks employs a similarly aggressive style, or takes a more conservative approach, nobody will be eating fluffy goodness in Arizona this season.
In 2015, I divulged a story on our Bet The Board Podcast that came across my desk from a very credible source about Jay Gruden. It went like this: October 15th, 2015, the Washington Redskins are trailing late in the first half, 24-0 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as 3-point favorites. ‘Skins owner, Daniel Snyder is fuming mad and throwing a temper tantrum in his box. Snyder’s fully intent on storming into the locker room and firing Jay Gruden at halftime. Other folks in upper management encouraged Snyder to do it professionally by waiting until after the game, or during the upcoming bye. That never transpired because the Redskins stormed back as Kirk Cousins hit Jordan Reed for a touchdown with 0:24 left to win, 31-30. The Redskins went on to win 6 of their final 9 games in 2015. The long-winded point to that story is Daniel Snyder is still irritable, doesn’t have realistic expectations, doesn’t have Kirk Cousins, and now his Redskins face the 2nd toughest schedule in 2018. Regardless of Gruden’s recently signed extension through 2020, if Washington wins as many games as oddsmakers project, there’s likely a new coach in The District come 2019. There is at least one positive heading into the season, the Redskins can’t go anywhere but up as it pertains to injuries. Washington was dead last in Adjusted Games Lost by a wide margin in 2017. Although, playing thirteen straight weeks could put Washington towards the bottom of the AGL list again.
New York Giants fans seem to be overly optimistic heading into the season. Odell Beckham Jr. is healthy again, Evan Engram looks electric, and GM Dave Gettleman finally addressed Eli’s blindside by signing Nate Solder to a contract worth more than the entire country of Cameroon. Oh, and all indicators point to Saquon Barkley trading in Nittany Lion blue for a different shade in 2018. While that all sounds great, the Giants aren’t projected to be favored in a game until right around the time you’re answering the door for trick-or-treateers. That’s right, the G-Men are projected to be underdogs their first 7 games; by far the toughest opening stretch facing 5 teams in 7 weeks projected to win 9 or more games (and no team projected to win less than 8.5).
The Buffalo Bills made the playoffs for the first time in 18-seasons despite professional bettors
thinking knowing they were a fraud. Oddsmakers share that thought process by projecting the Bills to be a 6½ win team in 2018. Buffalo faces 4 teams with a projected 39 combined wins before Week 5. If that wasn’t bad enough, schedule-makers force Buffalo to hit the highway for 5 of its first 7 games. On a bright note, with a poor start, there could be value on the Bills late in the season when a dome team in Detroit and the warm-weather Dolphins travel to Buffalo weeks 15 and 17.
We’re going to find out quickly if Patrick Mahomes has improved his footwork, accuracy, pocket presence, and overall fundamentals this off-season. The Kansas City Chiefs come out of the gate facing the toughest schedule through 6 weeks; squaring off against teams with a combined projection of 56 wins! FIFTY-SIX! If Andy Reid can somehow navigate his Chiefs to a 3-3 start, there’s a nice mid-season lull where Kansas City plays 3 of 4 games at Arrowhead Stadium against teams with win projections of 5½, 7½, 4½ and 5½.
If this were a podcast and my colleague Todd Fuhrman was hosting, this would be the exact time I tell him; “alright, let’s wrap this sh*t up”.
So here’s my outro:
You’ll notice on the chart above, an average wins faced of 8.04. If you multiply 8.04 by 32 NFL teams, you get 257.3 total wins. There’s only 256 regular season games. While it might not seem significant, there’s an overall market inflation if you want to bet teams OVER their win total. When you combined that premium with a sport greatly impacted by attrition, you can see why professional bettors historically play more season-long win totals UNDER. That doesn’t mean there isn’t value playing teams OVER, but make sure you truly have an edge. When recreational bettors think about the prospects of a team, they typically only envision positives. Rarely ever do they consider the possible negatives. Rarely, if ever, do they consider NFL teams will never be as healthy after Week 1 — and that there’s a far greater chance significant injury occurs to a crucial player than said player having a career year.
Unless you can play on credit, you’re giving sports books a 4.5-month interest free loan on win totals. Because of that, your edge needs to be greater when investing in win totals than it would be regular season games played on Thursday, Saturday, Sunday, or Monday.