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What are Futures Sports Bets?

by August 22, 2018
Sony Michel

One of my favorite type of wagers is a futures bet. A futures bet is a bet that spans a longer period of time, typically the entire season. In football, the most common futures bets are:

  • Season win totals, where you bet whether a team will win over or under a certain number of games;
  • Whether a team will make the playoffs;
  • Division winners, where you bet on which team you think will win their division; and
  • Conference/Super Bowl Champions.

You can also bet on a whole host of other season-long futures, such as MVP, yardage leaders by position, touchdown leaders by position, rookies of the year, first coach to be fired, etc.

Advantages of Futures Bets

One of the advantages of futures bets is that they are impacted less by variance. When betting on a team to win one game, the outcome can be heavily swayed by a variety of random events – a ball bounces the wrong way, a bad call, weather, etc. Over the course of a season, there are more opportunities for these things to even out. Sixteen games is still hardly a large enough sample size to guarantee any sort of outcome, but it’s better than one game.

You can also place wagers on multiple options within the same category and still potentially profit. If you were to bet on Aaron Rodgers at +500 and Carson Wentz at +700 to win MVP this year, even though you obviously can’t win both, as long as one of them wins, you would secure a profit (assuming you bet the same amount on each one). The flip side, of course, is that there are many more outcomes than Rodgers or Wentz winning MVP such that the most likely outcome is you lose both.

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Disadvantages of Futures Bets

One of the disadvantages of futures bets is that given the sheer number of outcomes and the inability of oddsmakers to account for future events that would undoubtedly impact the lines if they were known before the season (such as a QB injury), the vig is typically higher than it should be. Right now if you, like me, think the Bills are going to be a disaster this year and want to bet them to go under 6.5 wins, you have to lay -170. If you’re a believer in the Bills, besides having to explain yourself, you’re only getting +135 on over 6.5 wins. The gap in vig between the two sides is usually greater for futures bets than for individual games.

Similarly, when betting on things like the rushing leader or MVP or offensive rookie of the year, you aren’t getting good enough odds. For an individual game, there are two outcomes: team A wins or team B wins. For a futures bet like the three aforementioned, there are dozens of potential outcomes. As a result, the oddsmakers can’t possibly achieve their goal of securing close to equal action on each side. In order to adjust for this impossibility, the books jack up the juice so even when you win, you’re not winning as much as you should. Therefore, they still win.

Shop the Line

One way to combat the price on futures bets is to “line shop.” You are under no obligation to place all of your bets at any particular sportsbook. And there are many sportsbooks. Shop around. Maybe one book will give you Bills under 6.5 wins for -140. Maybe there’s a book offering Bills under 6.0 wins at -110. If you think the team isn’t even getting to five wins, why lay the -140 on under 6.5 when you can just take under 6.0 for better odds? Always try and find the best odds possible.

Focus on Two Outcomes

If you do intend to place a futures bet, I would recommend focusing on the ones with two outcomes such as win totals and whether a team will make the playoffs. Betting on the MVP or rookie of the year may seem like fun, but there’s really no way to predict the winners and you are paying too much in vig to justify the potential reward.

Instead, go through a team’s schedule and predict how many games you think it will win. What I like to do is go through a team’s schedule three times. The first time, I will assign wins and losses based on what I think will happen. The second time, I will go through the schedule assuming the team will win every game they can realistically win. The third time, I will go through the schedule assuming the team will lose every game they can realistically lose. When I’m done, I have a projected record for the team as well as a best and worst case record as well. If a team’s win total is 8.5 and I have a minimum record of 6-10, a maximum record of 13-3, and a projected record of 11-5, that’s probably an over I’m willing to bet. Depending on how deep into the analysis you want to go, you can analyze each game yourself and just decide what you think the outcome will be, or, you can go a step further and use the point spreads for each game. Obviously, things can and will change between now and later in the season, but sportsbooks put out point spreads for every NFL game before the season starts. If you assign a win for every game a team is favored and a loss for every team a game is an underdog, you can get a projected record that way. Then, you can go even deeper and reanalyze the games with a low point spread (say, four or lower) and determine the likelihood of the game going in the other direction. You can then use all of the information you’ve acquired to make a decision on whether to bet the win total and what side.

You can do a similar analysis to determine whether a team will make the playoffs. But that is a little more complex because you have to not only account for a team’s record but also the records of competing teams. Given that talent discrepancy between the conferences, we know that 9-7 is more likely to be good enough to get in the playoffs in the AFC than the NFC. In the NFC, even 10-6 may not be good enough.

Perhaps I went a little too far into a couple specific types of futures there. The NFL season is almost here and I’m getting quite excited. Hopefully, you now have a basic understanding of what a futures bet is and how to best attack it.

As always, wager responsibly and never bet more than you can afford to lose.

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Jason Katz is a featured writer at BettingPros. For more from Jason, check out his archive.