NFL futures betting – how to play the futures market
The full NFL calendar is almost 6 months long, which gives plenty of weekly opportunities for betting point spreads, over/under totals, and moneylines. But there is no need to limit your betting action on the NFL to just these three types of bets in the season window.
Sportsbooks offer several different NFL futures wagering options 12 months out of the year, some hitting the market as soon as the Super Bowl trophy is raised. Betting NFL futures is a fun way to test your predictive abilities and, for skilled and calculated bettors, it can be one of the most profitable wagers to make.
This article will take a look at what NFL futures betting is, the pros and cons of NFL futures bets, and provide some tips and strategies that can be used to make sure you are getting the best value and increasing your chances of cashing big tickets.
What is NFL futures betting?
Before diving into the NFL futures market, it’s important to fully understand what a futures wager is and the type of bets available in the futures market. By definition, a futures wager is a bet that requires a certain result in the future.
Sportsbooks offer odds to futures offerings based on the likelihood of a certain outcome. A result that is more likely to occur will carry shorter odds and be less profitable to bettors. Conversely, a result that is less likely to occur will carry much longer odds and could potentially be very lucrative to bettors.
How to read NFL futures odds
To illustrate NFL futures betting and how the odds work, let’s take a look at the Super Bowl 55 odds for this season, from vegasinsider.com:
The top 5 teams in the NFL have Super Bowl odds as follows:
- Kansas City Chiefs, +600
- Baltimore Ravens, +650
- San Francisco 49ers, +1000
- New Orleans Saints, +1200
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers, +1400
A $100 futures bet on the Chiefs to repeat as Super Bowl champions would result in a $700 return (your $100 initial bet plus $600 for 6/1 odds). A $100 futures bet on Tom Brady and the Buccaneers would result in a $1500 return. These are teams that sportsbooks deem most likely to win the Super Bowl, and therefore the odds for these bets are a little short.
The bottom 5 NFL teams odds, for comparison:
- New York Jets +7000
- Carolina Panthers +10000
- Cincinnati Bengals +10000
- Washington Redksins +10000
- Jacksonville Jaguars +15000
The same $100 bet on the Jets to win the Super Bowl, as unlikely as the sportsbooks deem, would result in a huge payout = $7,100 (your initial bet at $100 plus $7,000 for 70/1 odds). A $100 bet on the team that sportsbooks project to be the least likely to win the Super Bowl this season, the Jaguars, would result in a monster payout of $15,100.
These huge numbers are what makes NFL futures very attractive, particularly to the recreational bettor who can see the huge payout. But even for the experienced NFL bettor, futures bets can be calculated, provide value, and with the right strategies in place, be very profitable.
Pros and cons of futures betting
Pros: high payouts, good value, very fun
There are certain advantages and disadvantages to NFL futures betting. Being aware of both the pros and the cons before jumping into the world of the futures market will give you a better sense of how to bet and ultimately make you a more successful bettor.
The advantages to betting NFL futures starts with the potential for high payouts. Nearly every season there will be longshot winners that provide high payouts. Just last season, in 2019, the odds on the San Francisco 49ers to win the NFC Championship was +1450, and the odds for Lamar Jackson to win the MVP was +8000 in May. Both of these occurrences were considered unlikely at the time, and if you bet on them, you cashed some pretty big tickets.
Another advantage of NFL futures is that you can find good value on certain bets. We will discuss line shopping later on in the strategies portion of this article, but if you shop a futures bet on different sportsbooks, you can often find discrepancies in odds you can exploit. For example, a 12/1 bet on a team to win the AFC can be 14/1 or 16/1 on a different sportsbook.
The final advantage we will discuss in this article is that there are a ton of different options in the NFL futures market. We have mentioned the Super Bowl, conference championships, and the MVP, but you can also bet on teams to make or miss the playoffs, win totals, rookie of the year, coaching awards, among others. We will touch on these other specific futures bets later on in this article.
Cons: level of difficulty, injuries and roster changes, money tied up
With all of the benefits to playing the NFL futures market, there are also some disadvantages a bettor should be aware of. The main disadvantage to the NFL futures market is that it’s just hard to get right. For all of the possibilities of high payouts that the 2019 NFL Super Bowl futures market offered, the Kansas City Chiefs, who were a pre-season team with +750 odds, won. 31 other teams didn’t win. For every 2019 Lamar Jackson MVP longshot futures bet, there are other seasons in which heavy favorites won.
You should tread lightly when playing the NFL futures market, because the NFL is notoriously a league with a ton of parity. Around half of the teams that make the playoffs in a season will miss the playoffs in the next season, according to trends outlined by Bleacher Report.
Bankroll management, a key to being a successful bettor, is also heavily impacted by playing the NFL futures market. Money gets tied up easily – money wagered on a futures bet in the pre-season means that you won’t have that money until the season is over.
Most popular NFL futures bets
While most people think of predicting the Super Bowl winner when they think of the NFL futures market, there are a wide variety of futures bets offered to bettors by sportsbooks. These include:
- Super Bowl winner – bets on a team to win the Super Bowl.
- AFC/NFC Conference Championship winner – bets on a team to win their conference championship game.
- Divisional winners – bets on a team to win their regular-season divisional title.
- Make/Miss the payoffs – bets on a team to either make or miss the playoffs (note that the NFL expanded their playoffs to 14 teams starting this season in 2020).
- Win totals – bets on a team to win over or under a certain fixed total set by the sportsbooks
- Player awards – bets on players to win certain awards, such as MVP, Offensive Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year.
- Coach awards – bets on Coach of the Year, as well as one of my favorite futures bets if your sportsbook offers it – First Coach Fired, where you can bet on the first NFL coach to be fired in the season.
When to bet NFL futures
As noted earlier in this article, the NFL futures market is open essentially the entire calendar year. Opening lines are released soon after the Super Bowl for the previous season ends. When the Kansas City Chiefs won the Super Bowl in February, they were announced as the favorite to win this year’s Super Bowl the same night.
The advantages to early betting lines is that you can project teams before the off-season happens. You can listen to rumors on big free agent signings and try to beat the market before the signing is announced and the NFL futures market moves heavily.
For example, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers opened at +4000 to win the Super Bowl at the beginning of the off-season, depending on which sportsbook you used. As the Bucs courted marquee free agent ex-New England Patriot Tom Brady, the line for the Bucs to win the Super Bowl started to drop, and by the end of the signing and the addition of future hall-of-fame tight end Rob Gronkowski now sit at +1400. I have friends who played the Brady news and now sit with Bucs +4000 Super Bowl tickets that now look like tremendous value
Playing pre-offseason NFL futures lines can also provide some disadvantages. Teams still need to re-sign players, hire coaches, and draft rookies. Regular season schedules still have to be released. External factors also can play a role – in a 2020 season that will likely still be dealing with a global pandemic – certain usual home-field advantages with potentially no fans or travel precautions might affect a team’s projections.
Personally, I like to bet NFL futures closer to the start of the season. Rosters are set, injuries from training camp and the pre-season are more likely to be accounted for, and you can project the feel of the season a lot easier.
You can also bet NFL futures at any point during the season. Maybe there is a team that you love on paper before the season starts that you think will exceed expectations, and they lose their first two games. If you still believe in them, the odds will likely be a lot longer come Week 3 at 0-2 than before the season. Sportsbooks can overcorrect for poor starts to a season, an injury, or any other change that might not be in a team’s ideal roadmap once the season starts.
Last year, I bet on the Chiefs to win the AFC Championship at +650 in Week 10 last season. I liked how the Chiefs looked, even without Patrick Mahomes who was out with a leg injury, and there were rumors about his potential return. I liked the number, and it turned out to be a winner. Betting NFL futures in-season can be profitable.
Futures betting strategies
Now that we’ve discussed the NFL futures market at length, there are a few strategies we should talk about in order to give you the best bankroll management and chance at maximizing your NFL futures portfolio.
First, always be sure to shop for the best line. Sportsbooks offer different odds for different futures bets, depending on how much money they are taking for each bet.
A second strategy that is key for in-season NFL futures betting is hedging. Hedging is a betting strategy used to diminish the chances of losing a futures bet at the cost of losing some of your potential return. I like to use hedging when there are significant stakes involved for a longshot bet.
We’ll use a hypothetical to explain, let’s say I bet $100 on the Dallas Cowboys to win the Super Bowl at +1700, and they end up playing in the NFC Championship game against a lesser team, let’s say the Rams, and are favored by 10 points. They are heavily favored in both the NFC Championship game and the Super Bowl futures market. They are +150 to win the Super Bowl, while the two AFC teams are +280. I can place a smaller bet on both AFC teams to hedge against a Cowboys loss in the Super Bowl, guaranteeing profits if the Cowboys win the NFC Championship game.
There are multiple factors to look in placing NFL futures bets. You should look at the loss of key players, continuity in coaching, additions of draft picks, key players, strength of schedule, strength of division, and others. The list is long. Anything you can think of in betting a regular NFL game should be considered in betting NFL Futures.
There is risk in playing the NFL futures market, yes. But if you do your research, don’t bet over your head, and are calculated and can find good value, it can be one of the most fun and profitable endeavors in sports betting.