AFC/NFC Championship Futures

Betting on football, especially the NFL comes with distinct advantages/disadvantages. On the “negative side”, with 22 humans on the field on any given play, the amount of chaos leads to variance very few other sports see (when looking through the lens of a sports bettor). However, on the plus side, because of this high level of variance, we can often glean significant opportunities to profit from season-to-season because of the crazy variance, and regression that inevitably follows. With that, today we look at the best strategy/ideal play to bet on current futures in the AFC Championship Futures and NFC Championship Futures.

To kick us off, the odds for each conference’s respective 2021 Championship (3/17/21) are listed at:

TeamOdds
KC225
GB375
TB400
BUF500
BAL600
LAR600
SF700
NO800
IND1000
SEA1000
CLE1100
MIA1200
TEN1200
LAC1400
PIT1400
DAL1500
ARI2000
MIN2000
NE2000
CAR2500
PHI2500
ATL3000
CHI3000
WAS3000
LV3300
NYG3500
CIN4000
DEN4000
DET4000
HOU5000
JAX5000
NYJ5000

Given these odds the place we’ll start is by setting a baseline performance metric. In other words, who were the best teams from 2020. Remember, wins are a mediocre indicator of success, and a terrible predictor of future performance, which is all we care about here. Let’s instead take a look at Football Outsiders DVOA (and variance) from last year to give us that base line.

*Note DVOA teases out variance throughout games, adjusts for opponent strength and gives a performance metric relative to a replacement level.

TeamTotalDVOAVarianceDVOA/Var.
KC619.60%26.10%321%
SEA520.10%66.90%291%
IND1014.20%56.80%209%
GB325.80%2214.30%180%
NO133.30%3018.90%176%
BUF423.80%2114.00%170%
PIT816.80%1511.30%149%
TB231.50%3221.40%147%
BAL718.50%1912.90%143%
LAR915.40%1411.20%138%
MIA124.60%2315.20%30%
SF115.40%2818.30%30%
ARI133.60%1812.70%28%
TEN142.50%1712.50%20%
CHI15-0.60%14.00%-15%
WAS16-2.30%1210.70%-21%
CLE18-5.70%3119.10%-30%
NE22-7.10%2918.50%-38%
ATL17-3.60%77.50%-48%
LV19-6.20%1110.40%-60%
DAL23-11.10%2717.70%-63%
MIN20-6.40%98.50%-75%
CAR21-6.70%46.70%-100%
DET27-15.70%2415.40%-102%
NYG25-13.80%1311.10%-124%
LAC26-14.70%1611.30%-130%
DEN29-21.90%2013.50%-162%
JAX31-28.00%2517.10%-164%
NYJ32-30.50%2617.10%-178%
HOU24-12.60%36.70%-188%
PHI28-18.80%87.80%-241%
CIN30-24.70%1010.00%-247%

2020 DVOA numbers, eliminating garbage that’s not predictive will give us a great place to start, but we need to make adjustments given this is a bet based on 2021 outcomes. Understanding regression is key here. As noted in FPS’ article from last year, there are a few “team level” variables that are especially vulnerable to year-to-year regression. We will include the fol:lowing “regression adjustments” to the above table:

  • PWT – Pythagorean win Theorem. Helps tease out close games won or lost and give a better indicator of performance by a team
  • Fum Rec – Fumble Recovery. Forcing fumbles is a skill, recovering them is not, its 100% luck. Luck changes, hence, teams are likely to move back to 50% overtime (good for low recovery teams from the year before, and bad for high recovery teams)
  • 3DR – Third down Rebound. 3DR is an effect studied by Football Outsiders that notes teams that perform disproportionately well on 3rd down vs. 1st and 2nd typically rebound back to their norm (and vice versa). 
  • YPP – Yards per Point. Somewhat double-dipping with PWT, but still necessary, YPP looks at how many yards you had to “pay” per point. This helps us understand teams that had “easy” scores, vs. difficult ones.

*Note these variables are NOT weighted, but we hope to include that next year. For now, we use this as a solid proxy of “going up or down”

Tm.PWTFum Rec3drypptot
SF8142.53.875
WAS12967.58.625
NYJ361711.59.375
JAX13251410.75
DET92221211.25
LAR20108911.75
LV1951811.513.375
NYG1381913.513.375
HOU4172018.514.875
CIN64321815
ARI1728114.515.125
DAL11122116.515.125
ATL214262015.5
GB30131011.516.125
CHI183021616.5
TB2324514.516.625
NO262531417
LAC16231217.517.125
CLE282171417.5
PHI531132217.75
SEA291991417.75
CAR7321121.517.875
TEN25161515.517.875
BUF3172415.519.375
IND2420161819.5
MIN1515272119.5
DEN1018302420.5
KC3211231720.75
PIT27271420.522.125
BAL21222925.524.375
MIA2226282725.75
NE1429313026

Now that we have a baseline performance from last year, along with where regression is likely to take us (in the aggregate) lets look at how teams have improved (or not) up until this point, knowing the draft has not happened, so we’re only considering free agent and trade changes to the roster. We use Pro Football Focus’ Improvement Index to shed light on this variable, and combine it with the 2020 DVOA.

TeamTotalDVOAWAR ChangeImprovement (%)20 DVOA + FA Change
TB231.50%-0.04-0.70%30.80%
NO133.30%-0.36-6.37%26.93%
GB325.80%-0.1-1.83%23.97%
BUF423.80%-0.02-0.47%23.33%
KC619.60%0.040.69%20.29%
SEA520.10%-0.04-0.74%19.36%
BAL718.50%-0.01-0.09%18.41%
LAR915.40%0.071.26%16.66%
PIT816.80%-0.09-1.73%15.07%
IND1014.20%-0.2-3.89%10.31%
ARI133.60%0.142.93%6.53%
MIA124.60%0.040.79%5.39%
WAS16-2.30%0.36.95%4.65%
SF115.40%-0.06-1.24%4.16%
CHI15-0.60%0.112.43%1.83%
TEN142.50%-0.05-0.94%1.56%
NE22-7.10%0.326.81%-0.29%
ATL17-3.60%-0.06-1.13%-4.73%
CLE18-5.70%0.050.85%-4.85%
MIN20-6.40%0.061.21%-5.19%
LV19-6.20%0-0.10%-6.30%
CAR21-6.70%-0.14-2.87%-9.57%
DAL23-11.10%-0.09-1.99%-13.09%
HOU24-12.60%-0.12-2.31%-14.91%
NYG25-13.80%-0.08-1.70%-15.50%
LAC26-14.70%-0.15-3.35%-18.05%
DEN29-21.90%0.071.33%-20.57%
DET27-15.70%-0.34-6.89%-22.59%
PHI28-18.80%-0.2-4.32%-23.12%
JAX31-28.00%0.153.53%-24.47%
CIN30-24.70%-0.07-1.72%-26.42%
NYJ32-30.50%0.174.03%-26.47%

Tying in regression and bringing it all together, the chart shapes up like this:

Tm.tot20 DVOA + FA ChangeDVOA+Change/Reg
TB16.62531%14
NO1727%10
GB16.12524%8
LAR11.7517%5
BUF19.37523%4
SEA17.7519%2
SF3.8754%0
KC20.7520%0
WAS8.6255%-4
BAL24.37518%-6
PIT22.12515%-7
ARI15.1257%-9
IND19.510%-9
CHI16.52%-15
TEN17.8752%-16
LV13.375-6%-20
ATL15.5-5%-20
MIA25.755%-20
CLE17.5-5%-22
MIN19.5-5%-25
NE260%-26
CAR17.875-10%-27
DAL15.125-13%-28
NYG13.375-16%-29
HOU14.875-15%-30
DET11.25-23%-34
LAC17.125-18%-35
JAX10.75-24%-35
NYJ9.375-26%-36
PHI17.75-23%-41
DEN20.5-21%-41
CIN15-26%-41

Parsing this all in with the odds, with an eye towards positive EV, our chart works out to this:

Tm.tot20 DVOA + FA ChangeDVOA+Change/RegOddsOdds X (D+C)/R
NO1727%108007944
TB16.62531%144005670
LAR11.7517%56002946
GB16.12524%83752942
BUF19.37523%45001978
SEA17.7519%210001610
SF3.8754%0700200
KC20.7520%0225-104
BAL24.37518%-6600-3579
IND19.510%-91000-9190
PIT22.12515%-71400-9877
WAS8.6255%-43000-11925
ARI15.1257%-92000-17190
TEN17.8752%-161200-19578
MIA25.755%-201200-24432
CLE17.5-5%-221100-24585
DAL15.125-13%-281500-42323
CHI16.52%-153000-44010
LAC17.125-18%-351400-49245
MIN19.5-5%-252000-49380
NE260%-262000-52580
ATL15.5-5%-203000-60690
LV13.375-6%-203300-64928
CAR17.875-10%-272500-68613
NYG13.375-16%-293500-101063
PHI17.75-23%-412500-102175
DET11.25-23%-344000-135360
HOU14.875-15%-305000-148925
DEN20.5-21%-414000-164280
CIN15-26%-414000-165680
JAX10.75-24%-355000-176100
NYJ9.375-26%-365000-179225

As you can see, this means when all is said and done the best AFC/NFC Championship futures best bets as of today are:

NFC: New Orleans

AFC: Bufalo

However, if you wanted to wager on the following teams, they all have positive numbers according to our model, and we wouldn’t blame you:

  • Tampa Bay Bucs
  • Los Angeles Rams
  • Green Bay Packers
  • Seattle Seahawks
  • *San Francisco 49ers (semi-dark horse)

If you look closely, you see a bunch of NFC teams up there, and no one besides the Bills. It’s why we believe (across all NFL Championship plays) the Buffalo Bills are the absolute best (most likely to hit x best profit) bet on the board as of today.

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