A Look at the Super Bowl Futures Market Ahead of the NFL Divisional Round
The NFL postseason claimed its first four victims last weekend as the Bills, Patriots, Saints, and Eagles were each eliminated. With the remaining field narrowed to only eight teams, now is typically the time when casual football fans and sports bettors alike develop a gut feeling about which team will be the team that ultimately emerges to win the Super Bowl. That being said, now is also the perfect time to assess the current Super Bowl odds market in search of value plays.
Here are some brief thoughts on each of the eight remaining NFL postseason teams and how I rank them in terms of overall value on the futures market. These rankings aren’t based alone on the overall likelihood of which team will win it all. Rather, these rankings reflect my overall sense of each team’s value based on my assessment of matchups, path, and market prices in relation to forecast models.
Teams Worth a Look
Baltimore Ravens +195
Ranking the overall favorite first—brave, I know. But facts are facts.
The Ravens head into the divisional round riding a 12-game winning streak and unsurprisingly possess the best odds to win the Super Bowl. It’s not hard to see why. Led by likely NFL MVP Lamar Jackson, Baltimore is currently a heavy 9.5-point favorite over Tennessee on Saturday night. It would be a flat-out stunner if the Ravens stumbled in their opening playoff game, particularly since they haven’t lost since the end of September and possess a 7-1 record at M&T Bank Stadium this season.
While some believe the upstart Titans could make things close, No. 1 seeds are 23-10 straight up in the divisional round and are 7-1 straight up in the divisional round when more than a -400 moneyline favorite. Ultimately, the true value of betting on the Ravens is the comfort of home-field advantage and the knowledge that they will be favored in any game they play this postseason--barring catastrophic injury, of course. In fact, in relation to FiveThirtyEight’s ELO forecast, the Ravens’ +195 market odds are a flat-out steal as the model projects a 48% probability of John Harbaugh’s team winning the Super Bowl. For the sake of comparison, a +108 moneyline price is more in line with the forecast probability.
Kansas City Chiefs +340
The Chiefs currently have the third-best odds to win the Super Bowl, behind only the Ravens and 49ers, but they are my second pick in terms of overall betting value. Not only are the Chiefs a substantial 9.5-point favorite over the Texans, there’s a good chance they will the favorite in the Super Bowl should they advance. There are some concerns with the Chiefs—they are only 5-3 at Arrowhead Stadium this season, and then there’s that whole Andy Reid can’t win the big one angle. Also worth consideration is that though No. 2 seeds are 20-11 straight up in the divisional round of the postseason, they’re only 2-3 when more than a -400 moneyline favorite, so there’s a precedent of similar teams faltering in their first postseason game.
Fortunately for the Chiefs, Reid teams typically excel with extra rest, while the Texans are arguably the field’s weakest remaining team. Kansas City would be an underdog in Baltimore should both teams advance, but the Chiefs are 7-1 on the road this season and my pick as the team most likely to derail the Ravens’ dream season. FiveThirtyEight’s ELO forecast gives the Chiefs a 17% chance to win the Super Bowl, so a +340 payout isn’t quite as generous as I would like in this situation. That’s why the Chiefs aren’t my top play.
Green Bay Packers +750
I guess it’s time to mix in an NFC squad, so here we go. It’s not that I love the Packers, but at +750 odds, they present massive value in relation to the No. 1 seed 49ers (+320).
Here’s what the Packers have working in their favor—a 7-1 home record the good fortune of hosting a Seahawks team that outscored its regular season opponents by only eight points. Seattle was also outgained in the regular season and struggled to outlast an already injury-ravaged Eagles squad that played most of last week's game without starting quarterback Carson Wentz.
That being said, the Seahawks were outstanding on the road this season with an 8-1 mark (including playoffs) and Russell Wilson has excelled in the role of road underdog throughout his career.
Though the Packers have demonstrated in recent postseasons that they aren’t invincible at Lambeau Field, I expect that they advance to the NFC Championship Game. I also don’t foresee the 49ers simply rolling over a feisty Vikings team that can run the football and get after the opposing quarterback, so it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that the NFC’s road to the Super Bowl goes through Green Bay. Of course, there are roadblocks:
- Rookie head coaches rarely win the Super Bowl.
- If the 49ers beat the Vikings this week, the Packers would need to find a way to avenge the late-November blowout loss they suffered in San Francisco.
- They would likely be a Super Bowl underdog.
Still, this price creates enough relative value that they’re worth a look. In terms of the ELO forecast, Green Bay has a 10% chance to win the Super Bowl, so the +750 odds are a bit short of the +900 odds that are in line with such a probability but not egregiously so.
Minnesota Vikings +1500
Nobody outside of the state of Minnesota had the Vikings pulling off a massive upset in New Orleans last Sunday. Yet, here we are.
The Vikings were +4000 to win it all heading into the postseason, so we’re seeing a significant jump in their odds. Yes, the Vikings are a big underdog once again this week, but their pass rush, explosive running game paced by Dalvin Cook, and dare I say the efficient and clutch play demonstrated by Kirk Cousins against the Saints makes them dangerous.
All right, maybe that last part is a bit much.
I don’t know if I’m ready to say that I trust Cousins to pull off three straight upsets on the road to reach the Super Bowl (where his team will almost certainly also be an underdog) but hear me out. Minnesota, which was favored to win the NFC Championship Game just two seasons ago, is capable of knocking off a 49ers squad that showed some leaks down the stretch, one led by a quarterback making his first postseason start. I’m also not convinced the Packers are markedly superior to the point it is a foregone conclusion that they will knock off the Vikings three times in one season. From there, anything is possible. Minnesota would be the likely underdog in Miami, but they would also be riding insane momentum as the next great underdog story.
ELO forecasts the Vikings as the fifth-most likely team to win the Super Bowl with a 5% chance, meaning their +1500 odds are a bit short of the +1900 payout suggested by such a probability, but this is a fairly healthy payout on a very dangerous team.
San Francisco 49ers +320
San Francisco is the NFC’s No. 1 seed and should knock off the Vikings to reach the NFC Championship game where it will have home-field advantage over either a Green Bay team it destroyed in November or a Seattle team it beat on the road in Week 17. The 49ers also showed that they are more than capable of hanging with the Ravens, the AFC’s likely Super Bowl representative, in a 20-17 late-season road loss. The 49ers can run the football and flashed a dominant defense during stretches in the regular season.
There’s a reason why San Francisco, which ELO forecasts with a 14% chance to win the Super Bowl, currently has the market’s second-best odds to win it all. Still, I have questions about Jimmy Garappolo potentially going up against the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, and Lamar Jackson (if they beat the Vikings). For that reason, I am not in love with backing this team at a relatively modest payout.
No Thanks. I’ll Pass.
Seattle Seahawks +1400
Russell Wilson is as good as any quarterback in the league, but I can make an argument that Seattle is the weakest remaining team in the field (at least outside of Houston). The Seahawks’ point-differential is unimpressive, they were outgained in yardage this season, and they didn’t look particularly good in their win at Philly last week. Seattle is dangerous enough to win at Green Bay this weekend, I guess, but I don’t think they’re winning in San Francisco for the second time this season, and I most certainly don’t think they’re anywhere on the level of teams like the Ravens or Chiefs. ELO hates the Seahawks (2% chance to win the Super Bowl), and with a relatively modest +1400 payout, I don’t see the value here.
Tennessee Titans +3000
I can talk myself into Derrick Henry dominating in Baltimore as the Titans keep things close this weekend. I guess I can even see some crazy scenario in which the Titans somehow shock the Ravens—Baltimore comes out flat, Ryan Tannehill makes a couple of big throws, some goofy turnovers happen—I just wouldn’t count on it. More than anything, really, I don’t see Tennessee then going on the road and winning at Arrowhead Stadium, followed by a victory over either of the likely NFC representatives. I expect the Titans’ season to end this weekend, so I can’t back them—not even at a +3000 payout.
Houston Texans +3300
Houston is lucky to have made it this far and had it not been for Deshaun Watson’s late-game heroics last week against Buffalo, it wouldn’t have. I love Watson, but this is a rather ordinary team by almost every measure and I anticipate that the Chiefs are going to blow their doors off this weekend. Even if the Texans somehow survive in Kansas City, I don’t think they can win in Baltimore as a heavy underdog, while a potential third meeting with the Titans would be a virtual toss-up. This is nothing more than a lottery ticket play, and I’ve already bought enough of those in my lifetime.