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Models to help simulate NFL season win totals

By Matt Devine  (Point Spread Weekly) 

May 14, 2020 08:13 AM
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Sam Darnold
© Imagn
Born in 1983, I grew up during the era when Nintendo was the gaming console of choice. I was in second grade when I opened the box, pulled out the predominantly bright-orange gun and hooked up the yellow and red AV cords. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was hooked, and my life was changed forever. I swear the reason I wear glasses today is because I sat about 3 feet from the TV for hours on end, much longer than I should have.
 
Tecmo Super Bowl and the multiple versions of R.B.I. Baseball were my go-tos. Before long, I didn’t really play the games as much as I watched them. CPU vs. CPU was a game-changer for me. I had a half-dozen spiral-bound notebooks filled with handmade box scores from simulated R.B.I. Baseball contests and was far more interested in the stats and results of the games than I was in clicking the red A and B buttons.
 
When I inserted the Tecmo cartridge, I’d set up double-elimination tournaments for every team in the game, kick back with a glass of cherry Kool-Aid and get lost in the art of the 8-bit majesty. Along the way I’d fill my notebook with scores and game leaders, so at the end of the tourney I could not only crown a champion but also name an all-tournament team.
 
About that time, I was also figuring out what gambling was. I remember hearing my grandpa talk to other veterans about betting on football when I’d hang out at the American Legion hall that he managed, but I didn’t know what a point spread was. That didn’t matter much, though, as before long, my Tecmo Super Bowl tournaments expanded to a full-on exchange of Monopoly money with my cousins, betting on winners and the total score.
 
I loved being able to simulate these games, watching closely to figure out why one team scored more than another, and ultimately try to predict the outcomes of the tournaments I’d spend hours watching. Fast-forward to today, and besides the small gray console with games being upgraded to a laptop with software, things haven’t changed much.
 
My favorite time of the NFL offseason isn’t the draft but the day when a sportsbook opens a line for every game on the schedule. It earmarks the day I can deploy a few strategies to try to predict the standings, giving me a lean on where to use the season win total portion of my bankroll. One offshore sportsbook, BetOnline, shared its roster of lines Friday for each week of the upcoming season, and I was eager to get to work.
 
As season win totals are released, it's hard not to get involved. But to get involved you must have a place to start. For many bettors, a place to start can be an intimidating, daunting task. I’ll share three strategies to help you determine season win totals, all of which you can replicate easily and repeatedly throughout the offseason.
 
In a few simulations I run, I like to use the opening lines for all 256 games of the season to help create a baseline for wins and losses. Understanding that my initial projections represent only a baseline is important. Many factors go into every point spread, like public perception, perceived home-field advantage and recency bias. Since the point spreads are creating the baseline for the win-loss projections, it’s important to keep your head on a swivel and treat the following as a guide more than a rule. Take the baselines (or create your own), and then I encourage you to listen to the insight provided by experts across the VSiN network to get a well-rounded glimpse of what to expect before making season win total wagers.
 
The three simulations I created are labeled Home Field Splits, Favorite Advantage and Home Field Removed. Each includes an explanation for how the simulation was created. To provide something easy to work with and manipulate on your own, I treated home-field advantage as a base of -3 points.
 
Home Field Splits
When a team was a favorite of -3.5 points or more, I credited it with a win.
When a team was an underdog of + 3.5 or more, I credited it with a loss.
When the line for a game was + 3 to -3, I split the total evenly between wins and losses. For example, five Chargers games were listed with spreads between + 3 and -3, so I split those five games into 2.5 wins and 2.5 losses.
 
Favorite Advantage
When a team was a favorite, I credited it with a win.
When a team was an underdog, I credited it with a loss.
When a line was 0/pick, I credited the home team with a win.
 
Home Field Removed
After removing the home-field advantage (-3 points for these simulations) for each of the 256 games …
When a team was a favorite, I credited it with a win.
When a team was an underdog, I credited it with a loss.
When a line was 0/pick, I credited the home team with a win.
 
Based on the three simulations and combined average of each, and looking at the wagering options offered on the Circa Sports app, I made a list of a few initial leans based on the following analysis.
Season win totals: For teams for which each simulated win total fell at least one game above or below the set line, I included this as lean. For example, my three simulations listed the Jets with 4, 4 and 2 wins, so I leaned Under 6.5 (-115) wins. On the other hand, the Patriots’ season win total was listed at 9 (u-120), and since my three simulations listed them with 9.5, 9 and 9 wins, I did not record an initial lean.
Division winners: As long as a team had at least .5 more wins than any team in the division in each simulation, I listed it as a lean for wagering on a division winner.
Making the playoffs: For each conference, I listed the division winners and the next three teams with the most wins based on averaging all three simulations. Some of these lines are pretty steep, and these lists are less lean and more an outline of the top teams, based on the simulations from each conference.
Props: I wanted to add a few leans based on some of the props offered — again, based on the results of each simulation and overall average of the simulations combined.
 
Season Win Totals
AFC East
Jets Under 6.5 (-115)
Dolphins Under 6.5 (-130)
 
AFC North
Ravens Over 11.5 (-110)
Steelers Over 9 (-130)
Bengals Under 5.5 (-105)
 
AFC South
Colts Over 9 (-120)
Jaguars Under 4.5 (-105)
 
AFC West
Chiefs Over 11.5 (-115)
Broncos Under 7.5 (+ 100)
Raiders Under 7.5 (-125)
 
NFC East
Cowboys Over 9.5 (-130)
Giants Under 6 (-105)
Redskins Under 5.5 (-130)
 
NFC North
None
 
NFC South
Saints Over 10 (-125)
Falcons Under 7.5 (-110)
Panthers Under 5.5 (+ 105)
 
NFC West
49ers Over 10.5 (-130)
Seahawks Over 9.5 (+ 110)
Cardinals Under 7 (+ 110)
 
Division winners
AFC North - Ravens (-280)
AFC South - Colts (+ 110)
AFC West - Chiefs (-500)
NFC East - Cowboys (+ 104)
NFC South - Saints (+ 100)
 
Playoffs
Make AFC playoffs
Bills (-195)
Patriots (-195)
Ravens (-825)
Steelers (-145)
Colts (-185)
Titans (-135)
Chiefs (-1260)
 
Make NFC playoffs
Cowboys (-210)
Eagles (-210)
Packers (-135)
Saints (-285)
Buccaneers (-215)
49ers (-325)
Seahawks (-120)
 
Miss AFC playoffs
Dolphins (-580)
Jets (-580)
Browns (-155)
Bengals (-1010)
Texans (-180)
Jaguars (-1510)
Chargers (-240)
Broncos (-225)
Raiders (-330)
 
Miss NFC playoffs
Giants (-505)
Redskins (-1160)
Vikings (+ 115)
Bears (-160)
Lions (-420)
Falcons (-295)
Panthers (-660)
Rams (-180)
Cardinals (-295)
 
Props
16-0
Chiefs (Yes: + 3000)
49ers (Yes: + 10000)
 
0-16
Jaguars (Yes: + 3500)
Redskins (Yes: No Line Listed)
 
Most regular-season wins
Ravens (+ 425)
Chiefs (+ 425)
49ers (+ 800)
Saints (+ 1000)
 
Most regular-season osses
Jaguars (+ 285)
Redskins (+ 640)
Panthers (+ 800)
Raiders (+ 2500)
 
Raiders’ exact regular-season wins
2 (+ 3500)
3 (+ 1500)
4 (+ 1000)
 
The simulations above are just three of several ways to try and simulate the NFL schedule. For example, issue 32 of Point Spread Weekly explored the ways to make your own power ratings. If you created your own power ratings, put your work to the test and run them against the schedule to project a set of win totals of your own.
 
Good luck as you explore season win totals this offseason.
 
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