NFL Win Futures Review

The regular season is in the books and it’s time to take a look at how each team fared against the NFL win futures posted in Las Vegas every summer. For those unfamiliar, it’s simple—we’re talking about an Over/Under betting number on how many games each team will win. It’s a black-and-white to tell exactly who the disappointments were and who the surprises were, and do it in a quantifiable way.

I’ve grouped the teams in tiers, based on how much they missed their number—be it good or bad by. It’s surely no surprise to anyone that the big loser in this race was the Houston Texans. Opening with a number of 10.5, the Texans won two games. The (-8.5) differential was easily the worst in the NFL, outstripping everyone else by at least three games. And as you can probably guess, and will certainly see below, three games is a significant margin in this exercise.

TheSportsNotebook makes a pick on each team’s NFL win futures as part of our August preseason preview. As we go through each group of teams, I’ll have their plus-minus margin listed in parentheses, and the W-L reflects full disclosure on how my pick did. I had Houston correct with the Under. Now, let’s move to teams whose distribution was a little more normal…

Atlanta (-5.5, L)
Carolina (+4.5, W)
Arizona (+4.5), W)
Washington (-4.5, L)

Congratulations to Ron Rivera at Carolina and Bruce Arians in Arizona, who tie for the honor of exceeding expectations by the most. I’m sure it’s’ no surprise to anyone that Atlanta and Washington were in the category of big losers.

Now we move to larger subset of teams, where the number was off by anywhere from 2.5 to 4 games…

Kansas City: 7.5 (+3.5, L)
Philadelphia 7.5 (+3.5, W)
New England: 10.5 (+2.5, L)
Cincinnati: 8.5 (+2.5, W)
Cleveland: 6.5 (-2.5, W)
Seattle 10.5 (+2.5, L)
Indianapolis: 8.5 (+2.5, L)
Green Bay 10.5 (-2.5, L)
Tampa Bay 7.5 (-2.5, W)

Aaron Rodgers injury might not have cost his team the NFC North title, but on the win futures, the ineptitude of the Bears and Lions couldn’t bail Packer bettors out. New England and Seattle had high expectations and exceeded them decisively, though for the Patriots, that 10.5 number was lower than what we had seen in recent years.

The turnarounds of Chip Kelly and Andy Reid at Kansas City and Philadelphia certainly show here. Although the fact that neither team is in the higher echelons of this review show that there was some lurking optimism for both the Eagles and Chiefs before the season started.

Now we move to the teams that fell within 1.5 to 2 games of the posted number. There was as little bit of luck involved here, but a swing of two games in a 16-game schedule still isn’t insignificant…

Minnesota 7 (-2, L)
NY Giants 9 (-2, L)
NY Jets: 6.5 (+1.5, W)
Pittsburgh: 9.5 (-1.5, W)
San Diego: 7.5 (+1.5, L)
New Orleans 9.5 (+1.5, W)
Denver: 11.5 (+1.5, L)

Very impressive showing by the Broncos. It’s hard for the good teams to meet the number. Not only are the expectations legitimately high, but with most people preferring to bet on popular teams with marquee quarterbacks, all betting numbers—be they pointspreads or win futures—tend to get inflated a little bit. For Denver to pass what was the league’s highest win future and do it with some room to spare speaks well to what they accomplished this season. At least I’m not the only one Peyton Manning handed an “L” to this season.

Two teams fell to within exactly one game of the number. Jacksonville and Oakland were both posted at 5, and each come up 4-12, missing a chance to reward their bettors with a push in Week 17. I split these two teams, correcting having the Jags as an Under, while being a little too optimistic on the Raiders.

Now we come to the teams where Las Vegas basically hit the nail on the head. All of these teams were within a half-game of the number. If you think NFL Week 17 was exciting from a playoff standpoint, it was almost as so in the NFL win futures. 11 teams had their number still up in the air, including these nine…

Miami: 7.5  (+0.5, L)
Buffalo: 6.5 (-0.5, L)
Baltimore: 8.5 (-0.5, L)
Tennessee: 6.5 (+0.5, L)
Dallas 8.5 (-0.5, W)
Chicago 8.5 (-0.5, W)
Detroit 7.5 (-0.5, W)
San Francisco 11.5 (+0.5, L)
St. Louis 7.5 (-0.5, L)

When it comes to the Baltimore Ravens, the pessimism of the betting markets, which had them as a mediocre team was on the money, while the optimism of football experts, which extolled the high talent level that presumably existed in Baltimore, proved to miss the mark.

Speaking of missing the mark, it’s time to wrap up my own handicapping records for this 2013 NFL regular season. I ended up 14-18 on my win props picks. I take some solace in that the worst area for me was the nine teams that ended up within a half-game. Those have the feel of being at the blackjack table and just hoping the right card gets dropped down at the big moment.

But that can’t be the only excuse—my 3-6 record among those nine might have been the prime cause of a tough season, but that still leaves me one game under .500 on the teams where there was room to spare. I do this exercise on baseball and the NBA in addition to the NFL. It started in 2012, and there’s now five full seasons complete, covering all three sports. I’ve got a 3-1-1 record, but in all cases, everything seems to hover around the .500 mark one way or the other.

One that doesn’t hover around .500, is my record picking individual games on the moneyline, which is something I did each week of the regular season. The moneyline is the odds of each team winning the game outright, as expressed in $100 increments. For example, if you pick the favorite and they win, you get (+100). Or if you pick an underdog and they lose, you get (-100). But if you have a favorite lose, and the moneyline is (-175), you lose that amount. An underdog priced, for example, at (+235) rewards you more than double if they win.

So what was my season-long showing? I ended up (-2530) for the year. Week 17 demonstrates the problems. I closed on a good note, going (+370), but I lost with the Dolphins (-230), while upset picks on the Chiefs and Cowboys, each priced in excess of (+200) just missed. All year long, the shots I took at a big payoff didn’t come through, whereas I usually ended up in the wrong side of the big upsets that are too much to overcome. I’m just glad this is only a hypothetical exercise, with no actual money involved.