Bill Ordine for Bookies.com

By Bill Ordine | | 6 mins

On The Money | NFL Conference Betting Recap: Look to Futures

On The Money | NFL Conference Betting Recap: Look to Futures

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Wagers that sportsbooks usually welcome are so-called “futures” prop bets made before a season on what team will win a league championship. Picking the winner of the Super Bowl is obviously the most popular of such bets.

Frankly, it’s a longshot Joes bet (as in the Average Joes among the betting population) and when all the NFL betting money is counted as the confetti falls on the Super Bowl winning team, the bookmakers almost always make a tidy profit.


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Jeff Stoneback, head of trading for MGM Resorts, said that the futures bets are such a reliable win for the house that he has sometimes kidded that the book could just sit out the game without taking any bets on the Super Bowl itself, count the profit from the futures, and call it a day.

And then there’s this year. This uniquely strange NFL season featuring mostly empty stadiums because of the COVID-19 pandemic will conclude with the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs playing the most-hyped team of the preseason, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, for the Vince Lombardi Trophy on Feb. 7.

Bookmakers find themselves with big Super Bowl betting futures liabilities on both teams. In other words, many books will be paying out on the futures bets at a loss regardless of who wins the game.

Tampa Bay advanced to the Super Bowl by outscoring Green Bay, a 3-point favorite, 31-26. Kansas City will defend its Super Bowl title after beating (and covering as a 3-point favorite) Buffalo, 38-24. The Over came in on both games.

As far as the futures bets are concerned, at BetMGM about 34% of their Super Bowl futures handle was on the explosive Chiefs who opened +650 in the preseason (a $100 bet wins $650). Meanwhile, the Bucs became the No. 2 futures favorite with about 11.2% of the handle after signing quarterback Tom Brady in March and were listed at +1600.

That’s pretty much the Super Bowl futures picture among bookmakers. For instance, FanDuel reported that Tampa Bay has been its biggest liability in the Super Bowl futures market all season.



Other Futures Liabilities

William Hill has some eyebrow-raising futures liability. On Tampa Bay, there’s a $40,000 wager at +1200 placed at William Hill’s Washington, D.C., sportsbook on Jan. 2 with a potential payout of $520,000 and on Kansas City, there’s a $115,000 wager on the Chiefs at +150 with a potential payout for a Nevada customer of $287,500.

“Usually with Super Bowl futures, it doesn’t matter what team is in there,” Stoneback said. “I’d joke that we don’t have to book the game, just sit there and we’d wind up having a nice day. There have been times when we may have a small win on the game and didn’t do so well on the prop bets but then with the futures, we would wind up having a pretty good day.”


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But this year, Stoneback said, “we have a seven-figure liability on either team, the Chiefs or the Buccaneers. It turned out that I was rooting for the Buccaneers to win this game (against Green Bay) because (betting on the game) meant so much that if we won it, it wiped out the liability we have on (the Super Bowl futures bets).”

Johnny Avello, head of sportsbook operations for DraftKings, agreed that the futures situation was problematic.

“That’s not a good match for the books,” Avello said. “But it’s a good match-up for the game itself.”

Upping the Wagers

The two conference championships brought out the huge wagers.

“We’ve taken quite a few six-figure bets but they’ve been all over the place,” Avello said.

One in particular, though, helped DraftKings in the second game of the day when Buffalo took a 9-0 lead in the first quarter before going on to lose.

“We took $400,000 on the first quarter of Kansas City-Buffalo game on the Chiefs, so that worked out for us pretty well. That (muffed) punt (by Kansas City) was a good play for us,” Avello said referring to a bobbled punt by Kansas City’s Mecole Hardman that led to a Buffalo touchdown.

At BetMGM, the early betting on Green Bay was so heavy, it took a mammoth bet on Tampa Bay to offset it.

“We took a $525,000 bet, a $275,000 bet, and a $120,000 bet, all on the Packers. And even though we took a bet for half-a-million on Tampa Bay, the game was still a big win for us,” MGM’s Stoneback said.

Other Big Bet Odds & Ends

In the later game, a BetMGM bettor in Vegas placed a $800,000 money line bet on the Chiefs (-160) to win $500,000.

Similarly, at William Hill, a $705,000 money line bet on Kansas City at -155 netted a profit of $454,839. A $40,000 futures bet on the Chiefs to win the AFC Championship at -120 made back on Dec. 20 was profitable to the tune of $33,333.35.

At BetRivers, the Tampa Bay-Green Bay game was the most bet game of the NFL season, with 76% of the spread handle and 64% of the money line handle on the Packers. For BetRivers.com, the largest wager of the entire weekend was a winner, as an Illinois BetRivers customer hit for a payout of $96,900 on a $38,000 money line bet on Buccaneers at +155.

Not all bets had to come from high rollers in order to pay off handsomely.

At FanDuel, a modest $10 wager produced a payday of $4,207 for a six-leg money line parlay of anytime touchdown scorers that accurately selected, Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans (+138), Tampa Bay’s Leonard Fournette (+138), Green Bay’s Marquez Valdes-Scantling (+285), Green Bay’s Robert Tonyan (+153), Tampa Bay’s Cameron Brate (+396) and Green Bay’s Davante Adams (-187).