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A Gambler's Guide to 2014 NFL Betting

Taking a look at the AFC Over/Under team props in Las Vegas and picking out some of the best bets before the 2014 NFL regular season begins.

"It says eight wins! Eight?!? That's free money, ref."
"It says eight wins! Eight?!? That's free money, ref."
Steve Dykes

I'm not condoning gambling - there are much better ways to spend your hard-earned cash, people - but if I did happen to find myself in Las Vegas on the eve of the NFL season, and I wanted a better way to gamble those few crinkled dollars in my pocket than simply throwing it away at the craps table, here's how I would do it.

Some general rules I follow*:

  1. Don't bet on contradictions. If you're betting the over on every team in the AFC West, you better not be betting the over on every team in the NFC West and AFC East. The AFC West teams play every team in those divisions, so it makes no sense to bet this way. At whose expense would all those extra wins come?
  2. Don't bet on teams simply because you like or dislike them. This should be obvious if your goal is to give yourself the best chance to earn money.
  3. Pay attention to the action bet on each side. Teams with large fan bases are often among the most bet-upon teams. The line is skewed accordingly.
  4. Focus on quarterback play. This is the single most consistent and predictive aspect of a football team, year-to-year.

* Unless you are an incredibly skilled analyst using high-powered software on complex models with excellent, proprietary, derived data features, there is a very low probability that you have a winning system for betting NFL football.

A full list of over/under win totals for each NFL team can be found here.

I'll do my NFC picks in a future post. For now, here are four AFC over/unders I would bet on in 2014/15.

Over Jacksonville Jaguars (5)

Despite having Pac-12 quality quarterbacks, someone has to win games played between the Texans, Titans, and Jaguars.

Why the Jags?

  1. Their over/under line is set the lowest.
  2. Random variance in football means even the worst teams have ~4 wins as the center of their win distribution just due to luck alone.
  3. I actually think Blake Bortles could sway some late season games.
  4. Jacksonville is always among the least bet-upon teams. This means that Vegas lines for Jacksonville are artificially more pessimistic than normal, simply to influence betting in the opposite direction.

If the Jags start the season with a few surprise wins, they're nearly a lock. If they start the season poorly, they'll employ Bortles earlier. He's a complete wild card at a position with the most ability to instantly change the quality of a team.

Under Tennessee Titans (7)

This goes back to rule #1. If I'm going to be betting the over on Jacksonville, that means they'll be picking up wins against other teams on their schedule. Perhaps the most likely team to suffer defeats at the hands of Jacksonville this season will be the Tennessee Titans. So if you're going to bet on Jacksonville, you might as well bet against Tennessee.

The Titans, simply put, are not a good football team. The only thing driving an over/under line of 7 is their 31st ranking strength of schedule, buoyed by multiple games against both Houston and Jacksonville.

However, I'm not a fan of the Ken Whisenhunt, Jake Locker marriage. Whisenhunt's offensive system - emphasizing a quick passing attack - requires basically the opposite skill-set that Jake Locker has. Locker is inaccurate with a strong arm, and is mobile. Quick passes require accuracy, but not a strong arm, and they really don't require much in terms of mobility either.

Even if Locker succeeds, he's always been an injury-prone quarterback, and his backups, Clipboard Jesus and Zach Mettenberger, are about as poor as they get at the NFL level. This is a recipe for a disaster.

Under Miami Dolphins (7.5)

When I saw Miami was at 7.5, I thought it was a typo.

Even when this team went on a nice run last season and won a few games they weren't expected to, they still ended up at only 8 wins.

The Miami Dolphins' top rated wide receivers last season, in DYAR, were Brian Hartline and Rishard Matthews. This offseason, they added no one to that corps. And, wait for it...the Dolphins will spend the most money at wide receiver of any team in the NFL. How does that happen? Mike Wallace's contract, mainly.

More reasons not to like the Dolphins:

  • They replaced 4 of their 5 offensive linemen, which won't be a downgrade based on their ratings from a year ago, but is still a significant question mark.
  • Draft pundits mostly disliked their draft.
  • Below average quarterback play.

There's not much to like here, to be honest, and I still think 7.5 could be a typo. If not, I'm definitely betting the under.

Over San Diego Chargers (8)

Yeah, yeah, call me a homer. I think there are legitimate reasons this will happen.

Two new corners and basically three new pass rushers can't mean bad things defensively. Couple in the fact that both Liuget and Reyes had strange down years last year - making them legitimate rebound candidates in 2014/15 - and I think this is a sleeper defense.

I'm cautiously optimistic regarding Reich's offense, and it isn't like McCoy could get any worse with fourth down decision making. Rivers could certainly regress, but his weapons have improved for a second consecutive offseason. The offense will likely still be a significantly above average one.

I know the NFC West isn't an ideal draw on the NFC side of the schedule, but still: they'll at least face Sam Bradford, Carson Palmer, the Raiders, the Raiders again, Geno Smith, EJ Manuel, Ryan Tannehill, and the aforementioned Henne/Bortles combo. That's a lot of lackluster quarterbacking and it doesn't even include the likely injured QB opponent.