NFL futures action about to gain steam

By Matt Youmans  ( senior reporter) 

In the near future, football betting fever will spread through sportsbooks on Sundays. The atmosphere will be electric, and life will feel normal again. Aside from seeing Tom Brady in a Tampa Bay Buccaneers uniform, most things will feel normal.

But last Sunday was strange. With the NFL preseason canceled, football remained an afterthought while small numbers of basketball fans gathered in the books to watch Luka Doncic hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer for the Dallas Mavericks.

August is always a time to evaluate NFL teams. How does Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger look in his return from elbow surgery? If you believe what you read out of training camp, things are looking up in Pittsburgh. There’s nothing to see, though, and the absence of football on TV has meant a lack of futures wagering at the windows and on phone apps.

“The fact that there’s no NFL preseason — and the NBA and NHL playoffs are front and center — has impacted football betting,” said VSiN oddsmaker Vinny Magliulo, a longtime Las Vegas bookmaker. “But I think you will see an uptick soon. Once we get to the first weekend, they will be there betting with both fists, and I think we will see a big spike on futures.”

The action is about to gain steam. After a long summer of uncertainty, nothing indicates the NFL season won’t kick off Sept. 10 as scheduled.

A lot of football betting talk was generated Friday and Saturday during the Westgate SuperContest Weekend and Circa Sports Contest Weekend, and both books are seeing more contest entries start to roll in more than two weeks before the deadline.

NFL futures wagering has been minimal since mid-March, when Brady signed with Tampa Bay. About two weeks earlier, Magliulo said, a bettor showed up at the South Point book to wager $10,000 on the Buccaneers to win the Super Bowl at 60-1. Those odds have dropped to 10-1. The last five months have featured no other major moves on the futures board.

“It was really slow, and people were really skeptical about the football season being played,” Westgate SuperBook Vice President Jay Kornegay said. “As we inch closer to the season, futures action is starting to pick up.”

Kornegay said Kansas City (9-2) and Seattle (12-1) are two of the most popular teams in Super Bowl futures, with the Chiefs drawing the most money.

At the Westgate and South Point, the Raiders (40-1) have the highest number of tickets, which are mostly small wagers from the public. Las Vegas’ win total of 7½ (Under -130) does not indicate a Super Bowl run is coming, and it might require a magic act for coach Jon Gruden to squeeze an 8-8 record from a difficult schedule. The Raiders open with a brutal six-game stretch — at Carolina, New Orleans, at New England, Buffalo, at Kansas City, Tampa Bay.

While fans too often bet with their hearts, the professionals set aside feelings and play value in numbers. Pros typically bet regular-season win totals more than Super Bowl futures, and some patterns are surfacing in win-total wagering.

When the season kicks off, expect the sharps and squares to battle over the Buccaneers. Most pro bettors will see a team that is overhyped and overvalued because of Brady. Tampa Bay’s win total has been bet from 9 to 9½ (Over -120) at the South Point.

“It’s a pretty steady stream of Bucs money from the public,” Magliulo said. “I don’t think that’s a real shock.”

Brady’s former team is not getting a similar level of wagering respect. At the Westgate, the Patriots’ win total is 9 (Under -140), and New England is the second choice (+ 160) to win the AFC East behind the favored Buffalo Bills (-125).

Bill Belichick has had eight players opt out of the 2020 season due to concerns over COVID-19. New England did seem to get a boost in late June by signing veteran quarterback Cam Newton to compete with Jarrett Stidham, but the addition did not impress many oddsmakers.

“There’s more skepticism on Cam than optimism in the football betting world,” Kornegay said. “That did not move the needle at all.”

The Patriots’ fate will be a fascinating story to follow. Magliulo said the South Point had booked two wagers totaling $12,000 to win $10,000 on New England over 9.

“If any team can deal with the opt-outs, it’s the Patriots and Belichick,” Magliulo said. “It’s a slight adjustment and an upgrade with Cam. There is a perception Newton is an upgrade at quarterback.”

Patrick Mahomes definitely moves the needle. Magliulo said the South Point had taken significant money Over the win total for the Chiefs, who are up to 12 after opening 11½. It’s never a surprise when the defending Super Bowl champs attract public action. The pros will be more likely to fade the Chiefs and look Under 12.

While the Cowboys have not won a Super Bowl since the 1995 season, pro and public bettors are optimistic about the team’s change to new coach Mike McCarthy. Dallas’ win total has moved from 9½ to 10 at most books, though PointsBet in New Jersey is still offering 9½ with an Over price of -170.

Professional handicapper Scott Kellen said he’s playing the Cowboys Over the total. I agree yet also advise to move quickly before 9½ disappears. Dallas finished 8-8 last year despite going 0-5 in games decided by seven points or fewer, and this year’s schedule includes five games against teams projected to win fewer than seven games — Cincinnati, Washington and the New York Giants.

The Westgate lists the Cowboys as -140 favorites in the NFC East, followed by the Philadelphia Eagles (+ 150), Giants (14-1) and Washington (25-1). McCarthy’s positive track record working with quarterbacks should benefit Dak Prescott and a potentially explosive offense.

“It’s nothing but Over money on the Cowboys,” Magliulo said. “Dallas has the most talent on both sides of the ball and the best quarterback in the division, so I think that has a lot to do with it.”

Here's a tip: Check out VSiN’s 2020 Pro Football Betting Guide, available next week and featuring opinions on all 32 teams’ win totals. It’s finally time to get serious about NFL futures.


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