The College Football and NFL Future Betting Markets

The calendar turns to the summer months and the anticipation of college football begins. The pointspreads for the first games are on the board and more important for our purposes here, the preseason futures market has taken shape. Here's the outline of how it looks and what some moneymaking opportunities may be:

THE FAVORITES
Alabama: 8-1
Clemson: 8-1
Ohio State: 8-1

Comment: Nick Saban and Urban Meyer having their programs on the top line is just par for the course and if any bettors wanted to just bet Alabama and Ohio State, ignore everyone else and hope one of the two wins it all we couldn't blame them.

Clemson is the interesting team on this level. The return of DeShaun Watson, the Heisman frontrunner and possible #1 overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft is the reason. There's no question that Watson is an electric football player, but the Tigers lose an awful lot of defensive talent-Kevin Dodd and Shaq Lawson up front formed an imposing pass-rush combination and cornerback Mackensie Alexander leaves a big void in the secondary.

Head coach Dabo Swinney has built a fantastic program, but this is a lot to lose. College football is a dynastic sport, at least compared to others and these odds suggest the market now believes Clemson is a "they don't rebuild, they reload" program. That could be true, but it's a lot to simply assume if you're going to put a team on the very top rung of the futures odds.


THE CHALLENGERS
Michigan: 10-1
LSU: 12-1
Oklahoma: 14-1
Tennessee: 14-1
Florida State: 15-1
Notre Dame: 18-1

Comment: Successful investing in the futures market requires a certain open-minded optimism about each team and a willingness to envision everything going right for a team that's in the "challengers" area. But having said that, seeing Michigan is the fourth-likeliest team to win the national championship is just a bit much.

We know Jim Harbaugh did a great job in his first season, but did anyone watch the way the Wolverines were manhandled at home by Ohio State-an Ohio State team that had just lost at home to a Michigan State team playing its backup quarterback? That game showed the gap that still exists between Michigan and the nation's best. It's not that the Wolverines wiping that gap out in 2016 is unthinkable, but let us know when the number drops to something more reasonable.

And if there's a lot of blind optimism going on regarding Michigan, how much more is taking place with Tennessee? This is a promising Volunteer team. Butch Jones has made hay on the recruiting trail since arriving in Knoxville and now is supposed to be payoff team.

If by "payoff" you want to talk about the Vols winning the SEC East that makes sense. But they haven't even done that since 2007 and they haven't played in a major bowl game this century. Given all that, declaring them to be the sixth-likeliest team to win a national championship, on a par with Oklahoma and ahead of Florida State, based solely on two good recruiting classes seems a bit over the top.


THE DARKHORSES
Michigan State: 28-1
Stanford: 28-1
Ole Miss: 30-1
Georgia: 33-1
UCLA: 33-1
Auburn: 35-1
TCU: 35-1
Washington: 45-1

Comment: One thing to note here is that we left off Baylor, currently listed at 20-1, until the market has had team to adjust for the firing of Art Briles. College football, as noted above, is generally not for darkhorses. The 2010 Auburn Tigers, who opened the season ranked #22, are the last team to come from this deep in the summer to win a championship.

There have been teams that have gotten close-notably Auburn again in 2013 when they narrowly lost to Florida State, but it's a tough sport for a Cinderella to cash a ticket. Although if you believe that Auburn has some special magic, there they are sitting at 35-1.

A more realistic way to find pricey odds is to wait for a situation like Ohio State had in 2014. You may recall that quarterback Braxton Miller was knocked out for the year just before the season began and the Buckeyes dropped to 28-1. Good college programs absorb these injuries much better than NFL teams, hindered by salary cap considerations can. Ohio State did that year and won the championship. Notre Dame did last year and reached a major bowl game. Rather than fruitlessly betting a longshot, it might be better to wait for the first big injury or upset loss and see how the market reacts.

Watching how the market reacts and finding teams at great value, ensuring that our clients have as many teams under their belt as possible by December, is what we excel at. And the road to a big payday in college football is just starting.

 

NFL Futures

The place to make money in the short-term right now is with daily baseball, the NBA Finals and the Belmont Stakes. But football is never far from the mind of the true sports bettor and the football-only experts on staff here are chomping at the bit to get going. The futures market has taken shape. Let's take an early look at how Las Vegas sees the upcoming NFL season...

This is a very fluid season in the NFL. Typically, we see about 3-5 teams clustered together at the top and then a sharp dropoff. That's not the case this year. There's a natural organic movement of the numbers among the top twelve teams. Here's how they look and some early thoughts on their prospective value...

New England (15-2): Betting the favorite in the preseason is never a good idea in any sport, and it's especially dangerous when it's most important player is (for now) suspended for the first four games. Most observers expect the Tom Brady Deflategate Saga to continue to drag out in the courts while the quarterback still plays. But savvy futures players might be rooting for a Brady suspension to become official - it might be the only thing to ripen this number, if you think New England could split four games without Brady.

Seattle (9-1): The Seahawks go without Marshawn Lynch this season, but the bigger problem is that the offensive line - porous for much of 2015 - doesn't look to be a whole lot better. The good news is that Russell Wilson cures a lot of ills and if the defense can regain some of its mojo and not give up fourth-quarter leads like they did last year, Seattle can get back on top.

Pittsburgh (10-1): Optimism has abounded regarding the Steelers, who were able to get to the playoffs without running back Le'Veon Bell, who is now healthy. Had Antonio Brown not been injured in a first-round win at Cincinnati, the Steelers might have reached the AFC Championship Game. The offensive line and defense has quietly gotten an infusion of some needed young talent.

Green Bay (11-1): The Packers were one of last year's big disappointments, as Aaron Rodgers had an off-year. Unfortunately for futures bettors, the market seems to have kept things in perspective and not overreacted. Green Bay, whose defense ranked in the Top 10 for much of last season, can certainly join the race for a Super Bowl title. It would just be nice to get them a better price.

Denver (12-1): A defending champion having to break in a rookie quarterback is a novel development and the key reason (along with the uncertainty about Brady) that no team is really emerging as a top-heavy favorite. This price looks a bit high for Denver. Even allowing the quality of their defense, it's a lot to ask the D to be that good again and 12-1 puts a lot of confidence in Paxton Lynch that simply can't be justified right now.

Carolina (13-1): How important was cornerback Josh Norman to Carolina's success? If you think he was vital, that dropping the Panthers this far down the list makes sense, as he went to the Redskins in free agency. If you think Carolina's defensive scheme and talent transcends Norman, than this 13-1 price might be the best you'll ever see on Cam Newton & Company.

Cincinnati (16-1): Last season there were serious questions about whether Andy Dalton could get it done at playoff time. Since Dalton was injured for last year's playoffs they never got answered, and given the team's undisciplined meltdown in the postseason defeat to Pittsburgh there are now even more serious questions about the Bengals' mental fortitude. There's little doubt that they're a better buy as a darkhorse than as a favorite. Each handicapper must decide how ripe they want the price to be.

Dallas (18-1): Clearly, the market is bullish on what the return of a healthy Tony Romo and Dez Bryant will do.

Minnesota (18-1): There were great strides last year for Mike Zimmer's defense and the development of Teddy Bridgewater, as they stole the NFC North from Green Bay in the regular season finale. This price is pretty reasonable and as long as the market still loves the Packers, that will keep the value with the Vikings.

Indianapolis (20-1): It was a lost season for Andrew Luck last year and turmoil rocked the organization regarding Chuck Pagano's status. The head coach now has a shiny new four-year contract, the offensive coordinator of his choice and Luck is healthy. If you believe that Luck can have the kind of season this year that Cam Newton did last year, than this price may very well be the best you'll see. Indianapolis in a weak division and if Luck shows signs of life, the market will rush back to him.

The ultimate goal of the savvy NFL futures bettor is to put about 4-5 of the ultimate final eight teams into their back pocket at good prices. That means good money management and smart investing. And the time to start is now.

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