NFL futures: Take the Seahawks, fade the Bills

The Seattle Seahawks are in first place, but they needed a little luck to get there. After squandering an early 14-0 home lead Sunday against the Cleveland Browns and at one point falling behind 20-17, the Seahawks caught a break when Browns quarterback PJ Walker’s pass, intended for Amari Cooper, was deflected into the arms of safety Julian Love. Seattle needed just five plays to go 57 yards for the eventual game-winning touchdown, improving its record to 5-2 and cementing the Seahawks’ spot as one of the young season’s most surprising teams.

The victory, and a home loss by the San Francisco 49ers to the Cincinnati Bengals, pushed the Seahawks to the top of the NFC West — and they have a real chance to solidify that spot and earn all the playoff advantages that come with it. Overlooked by many NFL fans, the Seahawks also appear to be a solid value in the betting markets.

The win against Cleveland might have required a fluky break, but this Seattle team is anything but lucky. The Seahawks have been the NFL’s eighth-best team using one metric, expected points added, netting almost four points more per game than expected based on the down, distance and field position of each play on offense and defense. Using another metric, and after adjusting their efficiency for opponents, they have been the 10th-best team per analyst Aaron Schatz’s defense-adjusted value over average. Seattle also ranks seventh in net success rate — the rate of plays that improve a team’s chances of scoring — and oddsmakers peg the Seahawks as about a point per game better than an average team on a neutral field, placing them in the top third of the NFL.

Plus, they already improved their roster in advance of the trade deadline by acquiring defensive tackle Leonard Williams from the New York Giants in exchange for a pair of draft picks. Williams has 21 combined tackles and assists plus 22 total pressures this season, and is ranked as the 28th-best interior lineman (among 50 players at the position) by the game charters at Pro Football Focus. Before the trade, Jarran Reed was Seattle’s highest rated interior defenseman at No. 34.

Yet there is still some value in the futures markets for Seattle to win the division, NFC conference and Super Bowl. Based on 10,000 simulations using all the current data we have to forecast the rest of the season, the 49ers should still be favored to win the division, but the model gives the Seahawks a 36 percent chance at unseating San Francisco. This implies a fair-value price of +180 to win the division — wager $100 to win $180 — but you can find prices between +200 and +250 among various regulated sportsbooks, presenting an edge as high as eight percent. Seattle’s chances to win the NFC conference are, of course, more modest at nine percent, implying a fair price of +1010, yet there are still available futures that will pay up to +1800. As for the Super Bowl, the model gives the Seahawks a four percent chance to win it all, making a +3500 future enticing against a fair-value price of +2400.

Here are two more futures wagers to investigate heading into Week 9:

New Orleans Saints to make the playoffs

Fair-value price is -220 (wager $220 to win $100); prices vary from -140 to -150

The Atlanta Falcons edge out the Saints for the NFC South lead due to the division win percentage tiebreaker, but the teams have identical 4-4 records heading into Week 9. The Saints are also the first team on the bubble in the wild-card hunt behind the Minnesota Vikings, again based on tiebreakers. However, Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins was carted off the field on Sunday with a season-ending Achilles’ tear, further bloating a Vikings injury report that also includes Justin Jefferson, the reigning offensive player of the year.

As for the Saints, they have one of the best defenses in the league, holding opponents to six fewer points per game than expected based on the down, distance and field position of each play, per data from TruMedia. That’s the seventh-best rate in the NFL. The Saints also have the second-easiest remaining schedule (behind only the Falcons), putting their playoff destiny largely in their own hands.

Buffalo Bills under 10½ or 9½ wins

Fair-value price for under 10½ is -280 and prices vary from -130 to -132; fair-value price for under 9½ is +104 and there is at least one sportsbook offering +125

This one is not for the faint of heart, but there is an edge here. The Bills are 5-3, with their bye not arriving until Week 13. Before then, Buffalo will face the Bengals on the road, the Denver Broncos and New York Jets at home and then the Philadelphia Eagles on the road. After the bye, Buffalo will travel to Kansas City to face the Chiefs, then host the Dallas Cowboys before finishing the season in Los Angeles against the Chargers, at home against the New England Patriots and on the road against the Miami Dolphins. That’s the league’s toughest remaining schedule, per the implied betting market ratings.

Using these implied betting market ratings in a simulation to forecast future wins and losses tells us the Bills have a 73 percent chance of finishing the regular season with a record of 10-7 or worse and a 49 percent chance to win nine or fewer games.

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