What is a futures bet?
The vast majority of sports betting is done on single games occurring in the near future. Futures bets are wagers on future events and are decided by a large number of games rather than just one. Futures bets are usually on end-of-season results such as a team winning a championship or a player winning an award. It is difficult to win so odds are low and futures bets generally have large payouts.
Types of futures bets
Futures markets offer a wide variety of betting opportunities. They differ between sportsbooks but many sportsbooks offer at least a few of the same type of futures bets. The most common are championship winner, division/conference winner, and end-of-season awards. Sportsbooks also offer season-long win totals and specials such as who will be the first coach fired or who will be the first overall pick. The most popular NFL futures markets are Super Bowl Winner and Most Valuable Player. These odds are released early in the NFL offseason and fluctuate constantly up until the start of the NFL season and after each week of games. The NFL draft has seen a growing futures market that can be very profitable. Sportsbooks give odds on a ton of NFL draft-related events such as over/under pick number, how many cornerbacks will be drafted in the first round, what position will the Patriots select, etc. Another market dripping with value is season-long player props.
Oddsmakers have to assign a probability to every event in the futures market. They use a lot of strategies to do this and the process can be technical and objective or for a market such as “Will Kirk Cousins be the Vikings’ quarterback next year”, the process can be subjective and include a lot of guesswork. This provides opportunities to find value for bettors. If the Buccaneers have implied odds of 15% to win the Super Bowl, but you give them a 20% chance, then there is value on betting the Buccaneers in the futures market.
Strategy for NFL Futures
There are so many different ways to take attack the futures market. The futures market allows you to find edges in areas that single-game betting does not. It is important to assign probabilities to what you are betting and compare those to the implied probability the futures market dictates. Whether that is simply just using your own intuition, having your own power ratings numbers, or creating a model to determine the probability of events occurring, it is vital to do so. Before the 2021 NFL season, the Kansas City Chiefs were +525 to win the Super Bowl.
The implied odds of that is 16%. If you give the Chiefs just a 20% chance to win the Super Bowl, then there is some value to bet that. If you give the Chiefs just a 12% chance, then you may want to look to bet a different team in that market. Futures markets often have heavy juice so there may be no value at all but if you consistently make futures bets with positive expected value, you will win in the long run.
Another strategy for betting NFL futures is by hedging. If you placed a bet on the Chiefs to win the Super Bowl before the 2020 NFL season at +500, then you had the opportunity to hedge against that bet throughout the playoffs and in the Super Bowl. If you had a Chiefs Super Bowl ticket at +500, you could’ve hedged against that bet by betting the Buccaneers’ moneyline in the Super Bowl and ensure that you will win regardless of the game’s outcome.
Projections are also a key to betting futures markets. Creating or finding season-long player projections and comparing them to the market’s numbers can be a very profitable strategy. Betting unders is usually the way to go in this market as sportsbooks’ numbers are often inflated by bettors having a hunger to be the over on their favorite players. These markets are also not as heavily bet as others so they aren’t as sharp which makes it easier to find value.
Another thing to keep in mind when betting futures is tail outcomes. These are outcomes that greatly deviate from the mean projection. An example of this in the NFL is the Urban Meyer era in Jacksonville. The mean projection for Meyer and Jacksonville coming into the 2021 NFL season was a 6.5 win team with around a 10% chance to win the AFC South. Everyone knew the Jaguars were a team depleted of talent but had question marks surrounding how Meyer and Trevor Lawrence would transition to the NFL.
There were many ways you could’ve found value on the Jaguars in the futures market by keeping tail outcomes in mind. The Jaguars were a trendy pick to win the AFC South at +1000 and that number dropped down to around +700 by the time the season started. With a high upside quarterback and unique scheme and approach from their coach, the high-end outcome for the Jaguars was a team that could surprise and win a weak AFC South. As we all saw in 2021, the lowest of all possible Jaguars’ outcomes was what actually hit. Trevor Lawrence did not find immediate success and the college coach they brought in was an absolute disaster who did not fit the NFL at all.
You could’ve bet on the Jaguars’ low-end projection by wagering on the Jaguars to get the first overall pick at +500, and Urban Meyer to be the first coach fired at +3000. You could’ve also bet on their high-end projection by betting the Jaguars +1000 to win the AFC South and Urban Meyer +5000 to win coach of the year. With such a high payout for those bets, it’s worth keeping teams with a wide range of outcomes in mind and taking advantage of their tail outcomes.
Whether you’re new to sports betting or a betting pro, our How To Bet and Sports Betting Strategy and Advice pages are for you. You can get started with our 101 section — including How to Bet on Sports — or head to more advanced strategy — like 10 Tips to Become a Sharper Sports Bettor — to learn more.