Sannes' Win Total Projections: 5 Teams With Tough Early-Season Schedules
Entering last year, one thing was clear: the schedule-makers had had enough of Bill O'Brien.
To open the season, ol' Bob's Houston Texans had the immense pleasure of facing the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens, the two runaway favorites to win the AFC Championship. After that, their reprieve was to face the Pittsburgh Steelers, another team with playoff aspirations.
Shockingly, things didn't go so well! The Texans lost all three of those games and then lost at home the following week to the Minnesota Vikings, pushing O'Brien from looking at a playsheet to looking at the classifieds. It was clear then that their season was toast.
If you had bet any of the Texans' futures markets, you would have wanted that money back. Unfortunately, that's not how this betting thing works, so your lone pleasure was getting to burn the betslips early.
When betting season-long futures, it's just as important to know when to bet a team as it is to know which team to bet. If some team has all of its tough games stacked at the front of its schedule, it's in your best interest to wait. There's a good chance you'll get them at a better number in-season, or you could avoid a Texans repeat where it was clear the wheels had completely come off.
With the schedule out for 2021, I wanted to dig into my win total projections and see which teams had a disproportionate number of tough games early in the year. That way, I could know if it was wise to pull the trigger on futures now or to hold off and see if there was a better time down the road. The added bonus is that holding off allows us to keep that bankroll locked up for a shorter period of time.
So, which teams could have a bumpy road early in 2021, and what does it mean for betting their futures markets? Let's check it out.
The Philadelphia Eagles' four lowest win probabilities all occur within their first six games, per my numbers. If that's not "Texans in 2020" levels of gross, I don't know what is.
Within that six-week stretch, the Eagles face the Chiefs, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Cowboys, and San Francisco 49ers. Three of those teams are +1300 or shorter to win the Super Bowl at FanDuel Sportsbook. Potentially making things even worse is that those games all occur at home, meaning 37.5% of their home games are burned against hyper-tough opponents.
Personally, I don't have a ton of interest in buying Eagles futures. Their actions this offseason have been those of a team with its eyes set on 2022 and beyond, and my numbers are big on the Cowboys within the division. I'm not touching them to begin with.
It does, though, increase my interest in betting them under 6.5 wins, which is currently +120. If they were to struggle out of the gate, they could go all in on planning for the future and abandon ship on gunning for wins in 2021. I'm not pulling the trigger on that yet because it's a bit too narrative-y for my liking, but it's wise to account for this rough stretch to start before you dabble in any markets -- positive or negative -- around the Eagles.
Unlike the Eagles, I do have at least some interest in the Miami Dolphins' futures markets. They check in with 9.6 wins in my projections, which puts them in the thick of the wild card race.
We just might want to wait until mid-season to buy in.
The Dolphins' three lowest win probabilities come within their first eight games. Two of those are against the Buffalo Bills, and they also get the Bucs on the road.
Even more complicating is that they have a trip to London in Week 6 and then play again right away in Week 7. They're the only team playing in London this year with no bye immediately after, which is certainly a drag.
After this stretch, things do lighten up. They get the Houston Texans in Week 9 and then play the New York Jets twice along with the Carolina Panthers and New York Giants once all before Week 15. It shouldn't be a big surprise if the Dolphins rip off a mini heater once they're done with that Bills re-match.
This scheduling quirk is advantageous for other reasons than just letting us keep the bankroll in our possession longer. It also allows us to get a read on Tua Tagovailoa and the rebuilt offense. If they perform decently well despite the tough schedule, it's going to make some playoff futures mighty enticing. But if Tagovailoa struggles or the defense regresses, we'll be able to avoid a potential mistake.
Washington faces the Bills, Chiefs, and Green Bay Packers in that seven-game stretch with the Buffalo and Green Bay games both on the road. I'm currently operating as if Aaron Rodgers will be the Packers' quarterback. If that were to change, then the window to buy Washington would move up a week.
The final eight games are a different story. There, I've got Washington likely to be favored five times, including in a pair of games against the aforementioned Eagles. One complicating factor is that four of those games in which I have them favored are on the road, and I've currently got home-field advantage at 1.5 points. If you're expecting a bigger bump due to the return of fans, that could make this easier stretch more daunting.
Perhaps the big takeaway from this (combined with the Eagles' rough opening month) is that we should buy our Cowboys futures early on. If both Philadelphia and Washington get off to slow starts, it'll be tough to find the Cowboys to win the NFC East at a better number than the current +105.
The Cowboys face the Bucs in Week 1 and the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 2, both on the road. I've got those as their second- and fifth-lowest win probabilities, respectively, before it gets easier. Unless things get wild in those two weeks, that could make a Cowboys divisional ticket entering Week 3 a savvy move.
I'll be honest with you: I've got no idea what to expect from Carson Wentz with the Indianapolis Colts. I have them projected for league-average passing efficiency, but my level of confidence in that is about as high as Wentz's confidence level last year.
Luckily, the schedule means I don't have to decide how I feel just yet.
I've got the Colts as underdogs in each of their first five games. They open with home spots against the Seattle Seahawks (a game in which FanDuel has the Colts as two-point favorites) and Los Angeles Rams before going on the road to face the Tennessee Titans, Dolphins, and Ravens. They'll likely be without new left tackle Eric Fisher in that time as he recovers from a torn Achilles, which may be part of why my numbers deviate from what FanDuel has in Week 1.
This gives us wiggle room. Even if Wentz is back to his old form, it's tough to see the Colts emerging from that stretch undefeated or anything outrageous. So if you like what you see, you can buy in after Week 5 likely without paying a massive tax. But if 2020 Wentz rears its unhinged, hero-ball head again, you can tuck your extra bucks to bed at night, knowing you saved them from imminent doom.
Los Angeles Chargers
As of now, I've got the Chargers as at least slight favorites in 10 of their final 11 games with the lone exception being a date with the Chiefs. Their five road games in that span are all against teams I project for 7.2 or fewer wins this year, so they might get some steam in the second half.
Their pre-bye schedule is much less friendly.
Across the first six weeks, the Chargers face Washington, the Chiefs, and the Ravens on the road. Their home games are more winnable, but even then, two of them come against likely playoff contenders in the Cowboys and Cleveland Browns. I don't have a single game in that stretch with a win probability higher than 64.5%, a mark they top four times after the bye.
I've got the Chargers projected for 9.7 wins, which makes the over on 9.5 at +110 intriguing. They're also currently +126 to make the playoffs, and I've got them clustered right around the Browns, Dolphins, and Colts for a wild card slot. My interest level here is pretty high. But with how the schedule breaks, I'm okay holding off on betting them in hopes of finding a better number as they come out of their Week 7 bye.