Best NFL Playoff Bets: Has the Market Overreacted to Andrew Luck’s Retirement?

Best NFL Playoff Bets: Has the Market Overreacted to Andrew Luck’s Retirement? article feature image
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Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett

  • The Patriots (-1150) and Saints (-320) are two of the most likely teams to make the NFL playoffs.
  • We ran 10,000 simulations of the 2019 NFL season and found four teams worth betting right now to make or miss the postseason.

Every NFL team wants to win the Super Bowl, but first has to make the playoffs.

According to the oddsmakers at FanDuel, the Patriots (-1150) and Saints (-320) are two of the most likely teams to reach the postseason, while the Cardinals (+790) and Dolphins (+790) are longshots.

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are postseason staples but that doesn’t mean there is value wagering on them to make the playoffs. At -1150 odds, the Pats would need to make the playoffs 92.0% (1150/(100+1150)) of the time for us to feel comfortable making that wager.

Based on The Action Network’s 10,000 simulations of the 2019 NFL season using player and team statistics adjusted for Strength of Schedule, we can expect to see Brady & Co. in the playoffs 87.3% of the time, which means there is no value in placing a bet at -1150 odds.

Which teams are offering bettors value to make or miss the playoffs?

Based on the difference in implied probability and projected chance, 11 of the 32 teams have value to either make or miss the playoffs. The analysis below looks at the two best bets to make and miss the playoffs.

Make the Playoffs

Indianapolis Colts

  • Current odds: +360, Implied Probability: 21.7%
  • Colts make the playoffs 40.1% of the time

Andrew Luck stunned the sports world with his decision to retire from the NFL. Before Luck’s shocking announcement, the Colts were favorites to win the AFC South and Super Bowl contenders. Now Indy is a longshot to make the playoffs.

When Luck missed all of the 2017 season the Colts were a disaster, going 4-12 with Jacoby Brissett starting in 15 games. However, there are reasons to believe Brissett and Indy will be better this time around.

For starters, Brissett was forced into the lineup in 2017 eight days after being acquired from the Patriots. He has been preparing this offseason to start Week 1 in the likelihood that Luck would miss the opener with an ankle injury.

Also, Frank Reich has shown himself to be a more capable coach than Chuck Pagano, which means the Colts will have more success utilizing Brissett’s strengths.

The offensive line is a stronger unit than what we saw in 2017 with All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson leading the way. The Colts’ big guys upfront allowed only 18 sacks in 2018 — the second fewest in the league. With proper protection, Brissett will be able to take full advantage of his offensive weapons that include receiver T.Y. Hilton, running back Marlon Mack and tight ends Eric Ebron and Jack Doyle.

The defense was a major issue in 2017 allowing 25.3 points per game — third worst in the NFL. The 2018 version conceded only 21.5 points per game (10th) and was 10th in defensive DVOA. The defense should be strong once again this season with All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard anchoring the unit and the addition of Pro Bowler Justin Houston.

Most people are writing the Colts off without Luck. However, our simulations give Indianapolis a 40.1% chance to make the playoffs — eighth-best odds in the AFC. Luck surprised football fans with his retirement, but don’t be shocked if the Colts make the playoffs without their star quarterback.

Baltimore Ravens

  • Current odds: +184, Implied Probability: 35.2%
  • Ravens make the playoffs 49.6% of the time

The Lamar Jackson era has begun. Taking over for an injured Joe Flacco, Jackson went 6-1 as a starter and guided the Ravens to their first AFC North title in six years. Jackson rushed for 695 yards and had 11 runs of 15 or more yards — best among quarterbacks.

Jackson needs to develop as a passer, producing only one game with over 200 yards, for Baltimore’s offense to make a leap. But with a defense that ranked third in DVOA and a special team’s unit that was sixth, the Ravens can have success even if Jackson doesn’t play like a Pro Bowler.

The oddsmakers have listed the Browns as the favorites to win the AFC North. Our model disagrees. The Ravens have a better chance to win the division (30.0%) and have a 49.6% chance of making the playoffs.

Other teams with at least a 5% difference in implied probability and projected chance to make the playoffs: Chiefs (-304), Steelers (+104), Texans (+116), Giants (+500) and Bengals (+680).

Miss the Playoffs

Dallas Cowboys

  • Current odds: -134, Implied Probability: 57.3%
  • Cowboys miss the playoffs 71.7% of the time

After a 3-5 start to the 2018 season, it looked as though the Cowboys would miss the playoffs for a second consecutive season. The Amari Cooper trade helped spark an offense that was averaging 20.0 points per game. Dallas finished the season winning seven of its last eight and topped the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Wild Card game.

The team will bring back a majority of players on offense that got it to the playoffs, including Pro Bowl center Travis Fredrick, who missed all of last season after being diagnosed with Gullian-Barre Syndrome. The defense is the team’s strength, finishing ninth in DVOA a year ago.

So why is Dallas favored to miss the playoffs? In 2018, the Cowboys were 8-2 in games decided by seven or fewer points. Records in one-score games tend to regress from season to season. Under Jason Garrett, the ‘Boys were 34-29 in one-score games before last season. It is unlikely they continue to win 80% of games decided by a touchdown or less.

The Cowboys had a point differential of a .500 team in 2018 and while they did score more points once adding Cooper, the team finished 22nd in scoring and was 21st overall in DVOA.

There is only a 17.7% chance the team repeats as NFC East champions and a 28.3% chance of reaching the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.

Minnesota Vikings

  • Current odds: -166, Implied Probability: 62.4%
  • Vikings miss the playoffs 71.7% of the time

The Vikings are a talented offensive team, no one would deny that. Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Dalvin Cook and Kyle Rudolph combine to create one of the top offensive arsenals in the NFL. But even with all that firepower Minnesota took a step back last season, falling from fifth in offensive DVOA in 2017 to 18th in 2018.

After signing Kirk Cousins a three-year, $84 million deal that was fully guaranteed, the quarterback was expected to be a difference maker. Cousins did set career highs in completion percentage (70.1%) and touchdowns (30), but ranked only 10th in the NFL in passer rating.

According to Pro Football Focus, Cousins failed to produce when it mattered most, recording a grade of over 71.0 only once during the team’s final seven games. Over the final five games of the season, Cousins averaged just 201.8 passing yards per game. Minnesota went 2-3 down the stretch, costing it a playoff spot.

Minnesota does have a talented roster, so if everything clicks the team could find itself back in the playoffs. However, with inconsistent play from Cousins our projections have the Vikings winning 7.7 games, on average, and missing the playoffs 71.7% of the time.

Other teams with at least a 5% difference in implied probability and projected chance to miss the playoffs: Jaguars (-230) and Titans (-270).

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