The NFL's best? Betting markets settle argument

By Jeff Fogle  (VSiN City newsletter) 

Bill Belichick and the Pats are No. 1 based on the betting markets.
© USA Today Sports Images

Who’s the best team in the NFL? The betting markets say New England, but it’s not unanimous in the world of analytics. Details plus a Gasparilla stat-a-rama and bonus basketball right now in VSiN City.

NFL Analytics: Who’s the best team in the NFL?

The market view is that the New England Patriots are the best team in the NFL with two weeks left in the regular season. They’d HAVE to be tops in the markets given that were a three-point favorite on the road at Pittsburgh last time out. Plus, the Pats lead the way in Super Bowl futures prices. 

But not all analytics approaches come to that conclusion. If you watch VSiN programming regularly, you know that a couple of our regular guests have different opinions. Football Outsiders (Aaron Schatz appears often with Gill Alexander on “A Numbers Game”) currently has the Los Angeles Rams as the best team in the NFL. New England is down at #5. John Ewing of Bet Labs is a weekly guest of Mitch and Pauly on “Follow the Money.” Bet Labs currently has Jacksonville as the #1 team in the country, and the Pats #2. 

Many media entities have their own approaches. Even though all are confident they’re using high-end analysis, there’s still a wide range of disagreement on a few contenders. (You’ll recognize some of thee other names from Gill’s show too.)

Jacksonville Jaguars

#1 with Bet Labs

#7 with Football Outsiders

#8 with ESPN’s FPI

#9 with Jeff Sagarin of USA Today

#10 with Ed Feng’s Power Rank

#11 with 538’s ELO

#14 with Massey-Peabody

Whoa…Jacksonville might be best in the league, or might be fractionally above league average. If a selection committee of NFL analytics types had to create an 8-team bracket for a championship tournament, they might not agree to invite the Jags!

Los Angeles Rams

#1 with Football Outsiders

#3 with Bet Labs

#3 with Massey-Peabody

#6 with Jeff Sagarin of USA Today

#6 with ESPN’s FPI

#7 with Ed Feng’s Power Rank

#7 with 538’s ELO

The Rams would definitely be invited to an 8-team tournament, but probably not a 4-team tournament even though three respected sources have them as a top three team. 

What about a team like the Baltimore Ravens? Is it easier to peg somebody like that with a veteran quarterback and a strong defense who should be universally seen as “pretty good?” 

Baltimore Ravens

#4 with Football Outsiders

#6 with Bet Labs

#7 with Massey-Peabody

#10 with Jeff Sagarin of USA Today

#10 with 538’s ELO

#12 with Ed Feng’s Power Rank

#13 with ESPN’s FPI

Not really. They might be as good as top four…they wouldn’t be invited to an 8-team tournament. The Ravens could be anywhere from 4-13, the Rams could be anywhere from 1-7, and the Jags could be anywhere from 1-14. What's it mean when state of the art has such varied opinions?

You may be thinking, “sure, there’s some disagreement…but the smart thing to do is average them all together!” You can do that if you want. But the betting markets basically do that for you already. The markets are the sum of all models. The more respected models carry the most weight because sharps use great models But all are thrown into the blender along with assessments of professional odds makers. 

That’s why we try to estimate “market” Power Ratings for you here in VSiN City. We look at what gets poured out of the blender. That smooths the mixture by reducing the impact of outliers while respecting consensus. 

Here’s an updated look at that project based on Thursday night NFL lines (using a standard three points for home field advantage)…

87: New England

85: Pittsburgh, Minnesota, New Orleans, LA Rams

84: Jacksonville 

83: Atlanta

82: LA Chargers, Philadelphia (with Foles), Dallas (with Elliot), Carolina

81: Kansas City 

80: Baltimore, Seattle

79: Detroit

78: Buffalo

77: San Francisco (with Garappolo)

76: Oakland, Washington 

75: Tennessee, Denver, Tampa Bay, Arizona

74: Miami, NY Giants, Chicago  

73: Houston, Green Bay (with Hundley)

72: Cincinnati, NY Jets (with Petty) 

70: Indianapolis, Cleveland

As the elite start running into each other in January, it will be easier to separate championship contenders with more precision. 

Top Eight Consensus offshore NFL Championship prices: New England plus 225, Minnesota plus 550, Pittsburgh plus 600, Philadelphia plus 800, LA Rams plus 1000, New Orleans plus 1000, Jacksonville plus 1400, Carolina plus 1600.

(And, speaking of all the great guests on VSiN, did you catch Thursday’s loaded menu? Mad Dog Chris Russo in the morning with Mitch and Pauly, along with Brian Windhorst of ESPN. Later with Brent Musburger on “My Guys in the Desert,” legendary poker and gaming expert David Sklansky, and Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts. Check out these video replays if you missed them live. Or, save the link and watch the shows of 12/21 this weekend once your holiday shopping is done.)

College Bowls: Temple grinds out Gasparilla win after FIU quarterback is injured in first series

Alex McGough of Florida International broke his collarbone after a nice run very early in Thursday night’s Gasparilla Bowl (rhymes with “thrilla,” which is something we’re still waiting for in this new week of postseason action). That set the stage for the evening. FIU was forced to compete with an inexperienced backup who wasn’t an accurate thrower. Temple just had to play smart and wear down the undermanned underdog. 

Temple (-7) 28, Florida International 3

Yards-per-Play: Temple 5.7, Florida International 3.4

Total Yardage: Temple 400, Florida International 252

Third Down Pct: Temple 33%, Florida International 24%

Turnovers: Temple 1, Florida International 3

Rushing Yards: Temple 141, Florida International 83

Passing Stats: Temple 19-29-0-259, Florida International 17-34-2-169

TD Drive Lengths: Temple 68-75-93-23, Florida International no TDs

If you didn’t watch the game, be aware that it was closer most of the night than the final score and those stats make it seem. Temple only led 7-3 late in the third quarter, and 14-3 midway through the fourth. FIU’s inability to get anything going on offense led to its own defense running out of gas late. The most important stat of the night is probably FIU’s passing line. Two picks, and fractionally below five yards per pass attempt.

Why did Temple take so long to get going? In addition to a lost fumble, they were 0 for 2 on fourth down tries in the first half. Virtual turnovers that ended drives. 

Bad luck for anyone who had bet the dog. Over bets never had much of a shot. But it’s not like McGough was a superstar. FIU only ranked #62 in total offense and #57 in passing offense while facing the #128 ranked schedule this season. It’s possible the side and total result would have been the same if he hadn’t been hurt. 

Eight bowl games down…great stuff still ahead with so many marquee matchups coming up soon. Read in-depth stats and trends for all remaining matchups in our VSiN “Bowl Guide.” Just $19.99 for this digital publication that’s been earning rave reviews. Compare your selections to those of Brent Musburger, Matt Youmans, Dave Tuley, and Point Spread Weekly Editor Steve Makinen. 

You will also get the “Bowl Guide” if you purchase Point Spread Weekly for the rest of the season. $49.99 takes you through the Super Bowl. Our guide is included at no additional charge.

Thursday NBA: Bulls cover ninth straight as Cavs fall to 2-15-1 ATS at home 

It might seem weird to headline recent market tendencies rather than who won the game. This is a sports betting newsletter! The important things to take from Cleveland’s 115-112 win are that Chicago is still play excellent basketball during this shocking recent surge…and that Cleveland still coasts at home, making it very difficult for the Cavs to cover tall numbers. 

Cleveland (-10) 115, Chicago 112

Two-Point Pct: Chicago 65%, Cleveland 57%

Three Pointers: Chicago 12/31, Cleveland 12/29

Free Throws: Chicago 6/8, Cleveland 19/22

Rebounds: Chicago 35, Cleveland 35

Turnovers: Chicago 12, Cleveland 12

What is “65% shooting inside the arc” if not a combination of an offense moving the ball to get good shots against a defense that’s coasting? Chicago also got its share of open looks outside. A team like Chicago isn’t going to catch free throw breaks on the road. The Bulls won scoring on “2’s and 3’s" by a 106-96 count. This is still a team to back until they show otherwise. 

Click here to read a great article from 538 today about what the Bulls have been doing right during this stretch. And keep in mind a point we made last season and this season…teams going all out to get results midseason in a league where a lot of opponents are coasting is likely to be a moneymaker. Handicappers should look for underdogs and cheap favorites who have established that they're going to bring effort. 

Thursday NBA: Knicks now 15-5 ATS at home, but not playoff material

New York won another home game. They’ve become a great story. And, it’s exciting that the Big Apple has some exciting basketball to cheer about. The good news first. 

New York (plus 2.5) 102, Boston 93

Two-Point Pct: Boston 42%, New York 43%

Three Pointers: Boston 13/38, New York 8/14

Free Throws: Boston 14/19, New York 43%

Rebounds: Boston 35, New York 49

Turnovers: Boston 10, New York 17

New York pulled that off despite Kristaps Porzingis going 0 for 11 from the field and managing just one point. Michael Beasley earned “MVP” chants from the crowd with 32 points in 25 minutes on 13 of 20 shooting from the field. He also grabbed 12 rebounds. Beasley really has been playing very well in the Garden this season. He deserved the love.

The problem with falling in love with the Knicks is that they’ve played an unbalanced schedule. You know they’ve played 20 at home with that 15-5 ATS record. Just 11 on the road (where they’re 3-8 ATS). New York’s overall straight up record is 15-16 even though they’ve played 20 home games and 11 road games! What’s going to happen when that levels out? NYK will be probably be well under the .500 mark. 

Note that Boston, playing Thursday in a back-to-back spot, is now 2-7-1 ATS its last 10. This was its third straight market miss. 

Thursday College Basketball: Arizona pulls away late, still can’t cover vs. UCONN

We’ve checked in periodically with the #18 Arizona Wildcats this season. They were once #2 in the country before suffering three surprising losses in a tournament in the Bahamas. Their boat has settled since then. But, they didn’t impress until very late Thursday against Connecticut.

#18 Arizona (-16) 73, Connecticut 58 

Two-Point Pct: Connecticut 41%, Arizona 52%

Three Pointers: Connecticut 5/13, Arizona 9/19

Free Throws: Connecticut 9/11, Arizona 14/19

Rebounds: Connecticut 33, Arizona 29

Turnovers: Connecticut 18, Arizona 13

Kenpom/Sagarin/BPI Rankings: Connecticut 102-107-160, Arizona 14-19-14

That looks like a blowout (except in rebounding). It was a two-point game with six minutes to go even though UCONN isn’t in the top 100 in the most respected computer assessments (and not in the top 150 with ESPN’s BPI!). That final 15-point margin matched Arizona’s biggest lead of the night. Not a good thing if you’re a 16-point favorite. UCONN had failed to cover its last SIX games this season before getting the money Thursday. 

Everybody’s looking forward to the upcoming matchup featuring #3 Arizona State at Arizona a week from Saturday in Tucson. You’ve heard some debate on our shows and elsewhere about where those two teams should stand in the big picture. Let’s see what the computers have to say…

#3 Arizona State 

#28 according to Ken Pomeroy

#15 according to Jeff Sagarin of USA Today

#25 according to ESPN’s BPI

That’s going to make Sun Devils supporters even angrier! Kenpom isn’t the only one that’s “crazy.” Sagarin is showing more respect…but doesn’t have ASU in his top 10. Still a lot of analytics skepticism about ASU.

#18 Arizona 

#14 according to Ken Pomeroy

#19 according to Jeff Sagarin

#14 according to ESPN’s BPI

That will create an interesting odds making challenge. The AP poll and Sagarin show Arizona State as the better team. Pomeroy and ESPN’s BPI have Arizona as the better team. Are you thinking about “Bracketology” already? Joe Lunardi currently has Arizona State as a #1 seed, out of synch with the computers. He has Arizona as a #5 seed. 

What would YOU make the line between ASU and Arizona in Tucson? We’ll know in about a week what the market thinks.

Back with you Saturday with a special bonus report. We’re 7-days-a-week through the bowls! We’ll run the numbers from Friday's bowl climate extremes in the Bahamas and Boise. And, we’ll outline the most important NFL matchups as the playoff chase continues.  

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