The NFL season starts Wednesday, so most folks will be placing their NFL futures bets over the next few days. But how often can the best value actually be found prior to the season rather than a few weeks or even a few months into the year?
Unfortunately, we don’t have the answer to that question. What we do have, though, is the ability to analyze each team’s early-season schedule, and it’s clear that the best odds for some teams won’t be available until later.
As an example, let’s take a look at the AFC West, expected to be one of the most competitive divisions from top to bottom as all four teams—the Chargers, Broncos, Chiefs and Raiders—have win totals between 7 and 9.
Here are the current divisional odds at 5Dimes for each team:
Denver Broncos +155
San Diego Chargers +215
Kansas City Chiefs +320
Oakland Raiders +630
If you think the AFC West will be a two-team race between the Chargers and Broncos, the team you like more probably depends entirely on your view of Peyton Manning and how quickly he’ll be able to return to old form. A healthy and productive Manning makes the Broncos an intriguing bet at about 3-to-2, despite their schedule being one of the league’s toughest.
But what if you like the Chiefs or Raiders? Is there value at +320 or +630? The argument can certainly be made that there is. The Chiefs, for instance, went 7-9 last year despite losing their quarterback (Matt Cassel), their two best players (Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry) and their coach (Todd Haley).
Oakland, meanwhile, finished tied for first at 8-8 but lost the division because of tiebreaker rules.
So, when is the optimal time to bet the Chiefs or Raiders? The guess here is it will come prior to Week 4. Let’s take a look at the early-season schedule for each AFC West team:
|1||@ Oakland (-1)||vs. Pittsburgh (-1)||vs. Atlanta (+2.5)||vs. San Diego (+1)|
|2||vs. Tennesee (-6.5)||at Atlanta (+2)||at Buffalo (+2.5)||at Miami (+3.5)|
|3||vs. Atlanta (-3.5)||vs. Houston (-1)||at New Orleans (+7)||vs. Pittsburgh (+3)|
As you can see, the Chargers are favored in each of their first three games and the Broncos are favored in two of three. The Chiefs and Raiders are listed as underdogs in all three, and the Chiefs are the lone AFC West team to play two of their first three on the road—including a likely loss at New Orleans as 7-point underdogs.
It seems possible, if not likely, that both the Chargers and Broncos will start 2-1 (or even 3-0) while the Chiefs and Raiders seem likely to start 1-2 (or 0-3).
Week 4 schedule:
- Chiefs vs. Chargers
- Raiders at Broncos
By waiting to bet the Chiefs and Raiders, you’ll almost certainly get much better value than you would have gotten prior to the season. Both teams could be 10-to-1 or worse by Week 4 but will have a chance to cut the deficit in heads-up matchups, and they’ll both have softer closing schedules than the other two teams.
From there, anything can happen.