Finding Value in NFL Divisional Odds

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October 5, 2017

Finding Value in NFL Divisional Odds

An article about NFL divisional simulations by Bet Labs came across my Twitter timeline last night, so I decided to check it out. According to it, they ran 10,000 simulations to figure out the probabilities of each team winning their division this season, no matter if they’re the 4-0 Kansas City Chiefs or the 0-4 New York Giants.

The website gave us probabilities in percentages. For example, the Pittsburgh Steelers are the most likely team to win their division this season with a percentage of 87.44%. Knowing that number, we can cross-reference these percentages with odds from books far and wide. For the sake of using a big #brand, we’ll just cross-reference Bet Labs’ simulations vs. Bovada’s current divisional odds.

The first (and really only) step we needed to take was turning odds (+400) into implied odds (20%.) There are a million odds calculators online. I used Odds Sharks.

Here are the results:

Team% to win div. (Bet Labs)div. odds (Bovada)% to win div. (Bovada)Value

Of the 32 divisional bets on Bovada, according to Bet Labs’ simulations, there are only nine bets that are profitable. That tells you how significant the cuts books are taking. Profitable is also a strong term, considering the fact that only four of these bets have a five percent difference between Bovada’s implied odds and Bet Labs’ simulation odds.

Let’s look at those four bets:

1: Kansas City to win the AFC West

  • 66.44% to win the division per Bet Labs
  • Even to win the division per Bovada
  • 16.44% value in comparison
  • Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr is out with a back injury for a few weeks, likely takes them out of the race
  • Los Angeles Chargers (Bad News Bolts) are 0-4, likely takes them out of the race
  • This is an even bet that the 4-0 Kansas City Chiefs beat the 3-1 Denver Broncos dot an AFC West Title
  • Remember, it’s impossible to play in Denver to start the season, and the Broncos’ three wins have all come at home

2: Buffalo to win the AFC East

  • 31.24% to win the division per Bet Labs
  • 16.67% to win the division per Bovada
  • 14.57% value in comparison
  • 3-1 record, current leader of the AFC East
  • The “tanking” New York Jets and 1-2 Miami Dolphins (who play Atlanta next week, coming off a bye, in their fifth city in five games with no break) are a tier behind them in terms of talent
  • We’ll talk about the New England Patriots later on
  • Buffalo has the most well-rounded defense in the NFL at the moment

3: Jacksonville to win the AFC South

  • 29.25% to win the division per Bet Labs
  • 20% to win the division per Bovada
  • 9.25% value in comparison
  • The Tennessee Titans are out Marcus Mariota, the Houston Texans looked like one of the worst teams in the NFL two weeks ago and the 1-3 Indianapolis Colts haven’t been able to put together a full half of quality play this season
  • Counterpoint: Blake Bortles winning a division

4: Carolina to win the NFC South

  • 30.22% to win the division per Bet Labs
  • 23.09% to win the division per Bovada
  • 7.13% value in comparison
  • Carolina only scored 39 points in the first three weeks of the season, but they managed to put up 33 points in a win against the New England Patriots to get them to 3-1
  • Currently, the Panthers are tied for first place with the Atlanta Falcons, who are an odd rule in Detroit and a dropped touchdown in Chicago away from being 1-3

What about the bad bets? The bottom five are:

  • Oakland to win the AFC West (-9.97% value)
  • Tennessee to win the AFC South (-14.13% value)
  • Atlanta to win the NFC South (-14.13% value)
  • Denver to win the AFC West (-15.05% value)
  • New England to win the AFC East (-21.37% value)

I did not expect that betting on the Patriots to win the AFC East, something they’ve done from 2003 to 2016 all but once (finished second in the AFC East at 11-5 in 2008 when Tom Brady was injured) would be the worst bet based on the numbers.

Here’s some food for thought, though. The New England Patriots are -245 right now in a Thursday Night Football matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That implies that the Patriots are going to win 71.01% of the time (and lose 29.99% of the time inversely.) According to FiveThirtyEight, only 22% of 2-3 teams make the playoffs (78% don’t make the playoffs inversely), dating back to 1995. That means there’s about a 23.39% chance that the Patriots’ season ends tonight. If New England loses tonight, the Bills’ odds in the AFC East should skyrocket.