NFL Futures: Season Over/Under Win Totals Using ELO Ratings
According to thechesspiece.com, the ELO rating system is a zero-sum method for calculating relative skill levels in two player or two team games. The “Vegas Sim Projection” section of the chart above was calculated by using the implied ELO from the wins totals to simulate the season. Next, the “ELO Sim Projection” is based on a typical ELO system which then simulates out the season. Per this methodology, five bets have been identified as team total bets worth attacking prior to the 2020 NFL season. All these teams’ simulated win totals under both methodologies are either below (meaning the under is a strong bet) or above (meaning the over is a strong bet) their Vegas win totals:
Pittsburgh Steelers Under 9.0 Wins
Despite the return of Ben Roethlisberger (PIT) in what will be his age 38 season, the Steelers’ simulated win total is under 9.0 in both projection models. In the ELO simulation, the Steelers’ win projection sits about a half win below 9.0, which is a significant discrepancy. The Bengals are not expected to win double-digit games or anywhere close but the drafting of Joe Burrow (CIN) should lead to them winning more than the two games they did in the 2019 season. Other than the Bengals, both other teams in the division are competitive, creating a difficult setup for the Steelers to overcome if they were to win nine-plus games. Other than JuJu Smith-Schuster (PIT), the receiving core is small, and it remains to be seen what Roethlisberger has left in the tank following elbow surgery last fall. If the arm strength has at all been impacted by the surgery and/or aging, the receiving core around him could be a poor fit for this point in his career. Note: Roethlisberger claims he is throwing without pain for the first time in years. There is so much risk associated with the Steelers and that is not properly baked into their current over/under. Pound the under.
Cleveland Browns Under 8.5 Wins
Another team whose simulation win totals should lead bettors to taking their win total under is the Cleveland Browns. However, bettors will likely want to choose one team to bet between the Steelers and Browns and likely will not want to bet both in a parlay. A poor season from the Steelers would propel the Browns chances of exceeding their Vegas season win total and vice versa. There is some post-hype sleeper appeal to a team that received some public love last year and went on to fail to meet expectations. The front office prioritized surrounding Baker Mayfield (CLE) with as many weapons as possible as the team signed Austin Hooper (CLE) and went on to draft Donovan Peoples-Jones (CLE) despite the fact Odell Beckham (CLE) and Jarvis Landry (CLE) were already locked into starting roles. Maybe the most underrated move of the offseason was the Browns acquisition of Jack Conklin (CLE) who graded as one of the top six run-blocking tackles last season according to Pro Football Focus (PFF). Even with all the positives on offense, the defense that needed significant improvement as well, as they graded 17th in passing defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA) in 2019 and 30th in rushing defense. The team drafted Grant Delpit (CLE) in the second round, Jordan Elliott (CLE) in the third round and Jacob Phillips (CLE) in the third round so they attempted to fix their defense. Will that be enough to turn around a defense that was trounced by opposing running games? That remains to be seen. Between the two AFC North teams, the Steelers bet is the one we prefer, but the Browns over/under is quite optimistic as well.
Las Vegas Raiders Under 7.5 Wins
Jon Gruden is going to do Jon Gruden things and that became evident once again in this year’s draft when he reached on Henry Ruggs III (LVR) at pick 11 with literally every other receiver on the board (including Jerry Jeudy (DEN), CeeDee Lamb (DAL), etc.). Even in the second round, the team reached on Damon Arnette (LVR) whose median draft position in mock drafts was in the middle of the third round. The team drafted similarly reckless last year as they basically reached on players from the NCAA Championship game early and took them over higher graded alternatives. After a year where Derek Carr (LVR) posted the second-best adjusted completion percentage of any starting quarterback (QB), the team decided to pay backup QB Marcus Mariota (LVR) a ridiculous $7.5 million for a one-year deal. Sure, the team added other playmakers/receivers in Bryan Reynolds (LVR) and Lynn Bowden Jr. (LVR), which addressed a serious need, but the Raiders badly need their other picks to pan out to fill their other glaring needs (cornerback, linebacker). Gruden went out of his way to overpay a backup which will put additional pressure on Carr, who was not the problem last season, in a division not includes a revamped Broncos team and the reigning Super Bowl champions. A good outcome for the Raiders this year would be a seven-win season and Vegas has set the line above that number. Simulations feel the same way so feel free to bet against the bunch from Las Vegas.
New York Giants Under 6.0 Wins
The final under bet that our simulations recommend is the Giants even though their offense will undoubtedly be fun to watch. Daniel Jones (NYG) is coming off a year where he threw for over 3,000 yards in just 13 games (12 starts) and a 2:1 TD/INT ratio…and that was with the receiving core extremely banged up (Golden Tate (NYG), Sterling Shepard (NYG) and Evan Engram (NYG) all missed at least five games). Furthermore, Saquon Barkley (NYG) is expected to be back at 100-percent after he missed three games due to injury last year and was slowed down by the ankle issue for most of the year. Still, Jones is a better fantasy QB than is in reality, as he ranked 21st amongst qualified QBs in adjusted completion percentage and posted the eighth worst QB rating on deep passes (min. 50-percent of team snaps played). With a clean pocket, Jones produced a near identical passer rating to both Marcus Mariota (LVR) and Joe Flacco (DEN). All of this is a long-winded way of saying his mechanics need work…and that is before talking about the defense. The team ranked 31st in passing DVOA a season ago and have attempted to rectify by drafting Xavier McKinney (NYG) and Darnay Holmes (NYG) in the first four rounds of the draft. The issue is the team lost safety Michael Thomas (NYG) to the Texans and another cornerback, Antonio Hamilton (KC), in free agency as well. Two rookies cannot be relied upon to fix a unit that was totally broken and the division improved drastically as well (Eagles filled their need at WR, Cowboys offense is now arguably the best in the league). Stiff competition and an overrated QB will hold the Giants back to the point that 6.0 wins is unlikely for this ball club.
Minnesota Vikings Over 8.5 Wins
Last but not least, the Minnesota Vikings stand out like a sore thumb as the sole team whose over/under is too low according to our simulations. The loss of offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski can not be overstated as his run-heavy scheme helped propel to the Vikings from a 8-7-1 team in 2018 to a 10-win playoff team a season ago. Sure, the team traded away Stefon Diggs (MIN), but they immediately replaced him with one of the most accomplished receivers in the draft: Justin Jefferson (MIN). On offense, Kyle Rudolph (MIN) is aging but the team drafted his replacement in Irv Smith Jr. (MIN) last year. Both the Bears and Packers are on their schedule twice and could be in for rough seasons comparatively to their norm. The Bears were severely lacking in draft picks this year and will be relying on the Mitch Trubisky (CHI)/Nick Foles (CHI) duo under center. Instead of enhancing Aaron Rodgers’ (GB) receivers early in this year’s draft, the team instead decided to draft his backup. Dalvin Cook (MIN) emerged as one of the top backs in the league in 2019 which enhanced the success of Kirk Cousins (MIN) in play action. Lastly, the team was likely pleasantly surprised that Jeff Gladney (MIN) fell all the way to pick 31, as cornerback (CB) was a glaring need. Combine all these factors and it is easy to see why simulations believe this team likely wins 9.0-plus games in 2020.