Best Bets: NFL Team Win Totals

Analyzing 2017 results and offseason changes to select the best 2018 NFL win total props

In May, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a federal ban on sports gambling was unconstitutional. Now, states are evaluating whether to make gambling legal, with a number of them already passing legislation.

There will be many ways to legally gamble on the NFL this season in those states. One of the more fun ways to get in on the action in the preseason is with team win totals. Looking back at 2017 results and taking note of changes teams made heading into 2018 can help us take positions on certain teams.

What's New?

Changes at head coach and the coordinator positions can change a team's culture and result in fast turnarounds. Let's look at the new coaches in the NFL in 2018. These are only coaches who replaced fired or retired coaches. For example, former Carolina Defensive Coordinator Steve Wilks is now the Head Coach in Arizona. That leaves a void in Carolina, but we didn't highlight their new coordinator, as it wasn't a decision driven by Carolina.

Team
Head Coach
Off. Coordinator
Def. Coordinator
Arizona Cardinals
Steve Wilks
Mike McCoy
Al Holcomb
Buffalo Bills
--
Brian Daboll
--
Carolina Panthers
--
Norv Turner
--
Chicago Bears
Matt Nagy
Mark Helfrich
--
Cincinnati Bengals
--
--
Teryl Austin
Cleveland Browns
--
Todd Haley
--
Detroit Lions
Matt Patricia
--
Paul Pasqualoni
Green Bay Packers
--
--
Mike Pettine
Indianapolis Colts
Frank Reich
Nick Sirianni
Matt Eberflus
Miami Dolphins
--
Dowell Loggains
--
New York Giants
Pat Shurmur
Mike Shula
James Bettcher
New York Jets
--
Jeremy Bates
--
Oakland Raiders
Jon Gruden
Greg Olson
Paul Guenther
Seattle Seahawks
--
Brian Schottenheimer
Ken Norton Jr.
Tennessee Titans
Mike Vrabel
Matt LaFleur
Dean Pees

Nagy's hire in Chicago sticks out as a potential culture-changer. Nagy also brought in former Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich to be his offensive coordinator. The Bears will go from a bland, vanilla, old-school, defensive-minded team to a young, fresh, innovative squad in 2018. Similarly, Mike Vrabel and Matt LaFleur should inject life and excitement into Tennessee.

Not all coaching changes should be seen as positives, though. For instance, a coach who took a 10-year hiatus from football might not be in touch with how the league has developed over time and the new ways that offenses are succeeding.

Close Game Regression?

The following charts look at records in games decided by seven points or fewer and are sorted by win percentage is such games. You know the "game of inches" cliche; the difference between a win and a loss can be narrow.

Team
Wins
Losses
Carolina Panthers
7
1
Pittsburgh Steelers
8
2
Washington Redskins
4
1
Arizona Cardinals
6
2
Buffalo Bills
5
2

The teams that stick out here are Carolina and Pittsburgh. Here are some observations from that duo.

Carolina

Carolina did play a lot of close games and won the majority of them, but they did so primarily against quality competition. Some of their close wins include a win at New England, a win at Detroit, a home win by a field goal vs. Atlanta, and a seven-point home win vs. Minnesota. The same can't be said for...

Pittsburgh

An eight-game win streak included four wins by a field goal or less, with all of those winning field goals occurring after the two-minute warning. Two of Pittsburgh's close wins were more excusable (at Kansas City, at Detroit). But this was a team whose 13-3 record included skin-of-their-teeth wins over 4-12 Indianapolis, a Green Bay team that was 3-7 post-Aaron Rodgers, and 7-9 Cincinnati. They also lost to 5-11 Chicago. 13 wins could have easily been 9 or 10 instead.

Team
Wins
Losses
Chicago Bears
2
5
Kansas City Chiefs
2
5
New York Jets
1
3
Houston Texans
1
4
New England Patriots
1
5
Cleveland Browns
0
6

On the other side, it's interesting to see a couple of good teams (Kansas City and New England) with bad close-game records. At the risk of spoiling the last section of the article, we also see Chicago again.

Kansas City

A last-second, one-point loss on the road in the division on a Thursday night (at Oakland) is hardly a bad result. Nor is a loss to Pittsburgh. Oddly, Kansas City suffered consecutive close-game losses at the Giants, vs. the Bills, and at the Jets. Between close losses to good teams and a mid-season funk that resulted in unexpected losses, Kansas City had a close-game record that suggests regression towards .500 in close games could be in the cards for 2018.

Chicago

The Bears kept games close vs. Atlanta, vs. Minnesota, at Baltimore, and vs. a Jimmy Garoppolo-led San Francisco team. Not shown here is an eight-point loss at 11-5 New Orleans. A team that finished poorly but played close games against quality competition? And that team changed coaches? Sign me up.

A New Way to Look at Strength of Schedule

Taking the mantra of "Vegas Knows Best" to a new level, let's look at each team's strength of schedule by adding up the Vegas over/unders for each team's 2018 opponents. We'll call it "Vegas Strength of Schedule."

Easiest Vegas SOS

Team
Opponent Total
Division Total
Team Total
Houston Texans
121.5
32
8.5
New England Patriots
122.5
29.5
11
Los Angeles Chargers
124.5
32.5
9
Oakland Raiders
124.5
32.5
8
San Francisco 49ers
126
32
9

Hardest Vegas SOS

Team
Opponent Total
Division Total
Team Total
Washington Redskins
132.5
32.5
7
Seattle Seahawks
132.5
32
8
New York Giants
133.5
32.5
6.5
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
134
34
6.5
Arizona Cardinals
136
32
5.5

Commentary

  • Notice that Arizona, Tampa Bay, and N.Y. Giants' opponents are expected to have the most wins. This makes sense given the fact that these teams are projected to be bad, thus contributing to their opponents' win totals.
  • The AFC East has the lowest cumulative total despite New England's projection of 11. The Patriots have the second-lowest cumulative total of projected opponent wins.

Now that we've covered some of the ways to evaluate certain teams' 2018 prospects, let's take a look at some of the over/under bets I like the most.

Bullish

Below are three teams whose totals look like they could go OVER the Vegas projected line.

Chicago OVER 6.5 (-140)

Kansas City OVER 8.5

  • They have a quarterback change but not a head coaching change; Andy Reid still knows how to win.
  • They were 2-5 in close games last year and still won 10 games.

New England OVER 11 (-130)

  • It seems like a "square" pick, but it's hard to see anything except 6-0 in the division.
  • The rest of the schedule isn't very difficult either.

Bearish

Below are three teams whose totals look like they could go UNDER the Vegas projected line.

Pittsburgh UNDER 10.5

  • They overachieved in close games last year.
  • They had great injury luck (the offensive stars left the season unscathed except for Antonio Brown missing a couple of games).
  • They lose Ryan Shazier, which was noticeable last season.

Oakland UNDER 8

  • The division is going to be good, particularly Los Angeles and Kansas City.
  • Gruden's philosophies and the way he's building the team aren't inspiring.

Carolina UNDER 9 (-120)

  • Losing both coordinators can be difficult to overcome.
  • The division is still good and continues to improve.

Questions, comments, suggestions, and other feedback on this piece are always welcome via e-mail hester@footballguys.com