As the NFL season approaches the halfway point, it’s the perfect time to check the online sports betting odds for the AFC divisions. The BetUS Sportsbook offers wagers for each division, but odds are closing fast. Some teams are already effectively out of contention and off the board.
Math It Up
With six or seven games in the books, the disparity between the have and have-nots seems to widen. Each division has a decided (if not really clear) favorite, but, as the saying goes, “Lotta ballgame left” and what seemed set in October stone often looks different in December. We’ll look to find value in AFC division winners who still have their work cut out for them, but offer good odds for the effort.
In order to measure the teams, we’ll borrow the DVOA metric from Football Outsiders. If you’re unfamiliar, DVOA is a fairly sophisticated team rating based on a percentage, positive for good teams and negative for bad ones. It’s not perfect, of course, no evaluation system is, but it’s one of the better publicly available rating systems.
It also works well to do a quick assessment of a team’s remaining strength of schedule (SOS). The common way to calculate SOS is to add up all the wins and losses of the team’s upcoming opponents, but this method does a miserable job of accounting for early lopsided schedules. Instead, we took the average DVOA rating of each team’s remaining opponents.
To compare NFL teams within each division, here are some tables crammed with info for each. It shows the team, their current odds to win the division, their DVOA rating, their current overall record, their current division record and, finally, their SOS DVOA average.
For their own safety, the sportsbook has removed the Cincinnati Bengals from consideration for the AFC North crown. They were available at a +30000 (!) price last week, just before the Browns snuffed out their comeback. For now, the remaining three teams have available odds.
Between the two leaders, Baltimore and Pittsburgh, the Steelers’ price offers the best value. They have a better record, a near-equal power rating, a much easier schedule and, most importantly, better odds. (Don’t forget, negative is below average for DVOA and positive is above.)
That said, the difference between the two will come down to this Sunday’s head-to-head game, where the markets have the Steelers’ as a +165 underdog. If they lose to the Ravens, their division odds will likely jump to well above +200, so, if you fancy the Steelers, the more valuable wager might be to take them straight up over the Ravens this Sunday. (If they do win, they’ll certainly come back as the favorite to win the division at odds higher than -150.)
The Browns at 10/1 are compelling if only because of their weak slate of pending opponents, though their own power rating is fairly below average. The catch is Cleveland’s previous pair of losses to both other division opponents. In order for them to clinch the division, they would have to beat both the Ravens and Steelers in the conclusion of their series and keep pace with them the rest of the season. While the odds parlayed for that would exceed 10/1, it’s hard to say what kind of line books will set by Week 14 and Week 17, so taking a waiver on +1000 if you believe in Baker isn’t a terrible bet.
The disparity in AFC South teams is quite different in that the runner-up Colts face a brutal schedule. The Titans offer the better value even at a pricey -250. Curiously, the Colts and Titans play out their two games with 17 days of each other next month. Comparing their schedules, it could happen that the Colts struggle to top Tennessee’s record even if Indy sweeps the series.
We’ve tried every way we can think of to back the Texans as an insane 50/1 value bet. That’s the bare minimum you’d need if you believe that the newly-minted coach Romeo Crennel is coming out of the bye week and going on a winning tear that nets him seven of his last nine. If you do bet it at +5000 and they go on to beat Jacksonville and then upset the Browns, that price will definitely shrink even before they face either Tennessee or Indianapolis.
The Jaguars odds of +30000 would imply they have a 0.33% chance of winning the division. This might be overstated by an order of a magnitude. They might even come off the board during their own bye week, no loss necessary.
Should the lead here be that it’s surprising to see the Patriots as 5/1 underdogs to win the division? And, if so, is that because of their long history of divisional dominance or because that price is actually short? Questions abound.
The Bills head the division as a decent favorite of -450 but their upcoming schedule is borderline brutal. They’ve already picked up both of their Jets’ wins, have yet to play the Pats, but do have a win in their pocket already versus Miami. Until those upcoming division games are in the bag, -450 seems too steep.
Both the Dolphins and Patriots are intriguing offerings. If you believe New England will right the ship beginning with a victory over the Bills next Sunday, then +500 might be a better bet than the +170 currently on the moneyline. (It is a better bet, but there’s obviously a long way to go after that.)
Miami has a better price, but their schedule breaks terribly. Coming out of the bye, they face several tough teams before the softer group of opponents. By the time they face the Bills (against whom they already have a loss) or the Pats, their fate and record will already be pretty well known. So even with a slightly better price than New England, they seem like the lesser-value bet. (Not to mention their decision to groom their rookie QB Tua Tagovailoa going forward.)
Are the Jets not yet mathematically eliminated from division contention? What sort of million-to-one shot would it be for them to win nine straight? Either way, they’re off the board for contention in the AFC East.
In the West, the Chiefs’ dominance so far this season makes for a couple of considerations here. Maybe the case can be made that the Chiefs are fairly priced, but this number implies a division-win rate of about 89%, and that screams value for the other teams. Except the Broncos. Sorry Broncos.
First of all, the Raiders at 12/1 is a decent bet considering they have a rather soft schedule ahead and they already have a win against the Chiefs. At two games behind the Chiefs, they would really have to beat them again just to catch up let alone win the tie-breaker. But if you believe in Derek Carr and think they’ll upset the Browns on Sunday, +1200 will be a good price that will be long gone by Monday.
Similarly for the Chargers, but to their advantage and they face an even softer schedule — the softest for an AFC team according to these metrics. Part of their large 33/1 payout is owing to their previous loss to the Chiefs and, of course, the 3½-game deficit in the standings. But if you believe the Chargers are about to engage in a winning streak, having a +3300 ticket in your pocket coming into Week 17 when they face the Chiefs would be lucrative as long as the game is still meaningful.