1. The Patriots’ dominance
Sports bettors’ nearly decades-long dedication to betting on New England paid off like never before last season. En route to winning the Super Bowl, the Patriots went 16-3 against the spread, which tied the 1989 San Francisco 49ers as the best betting record in NFL history. Bookmakers could never catch up to the Patriots, and they’re still scrambling heading into the 2017 season. New England is currently plus-250 (risking $1 to win $2.50) at William Hill sports books to win next February’s Super Bowl 52. That’s the lowest future odds on a team in the preseason since 2007 when the Patriots held the same price and went undefeated before getting upset by the Giants in the championship.
2. The Browns’ incompetence
Many sports book directors reported that it wasn’t the Patriots that caused them the most headaches last season. It was the team on the other end of the spectrum—the Browns. Cleveland went 3-13 against the spread, the worst betting record since the 2007 Baltimore Ravens. Gamblers got comfortable betting against the Browns every week, and the approach proved profitable. Cleveland had lost eight straight games against the spread before a week 16 upset of San Diego, a win that allowed the Browns to avoid becoming the second team in NFL history to go 0-16 straight-up. The Browns are priced as the worst team in the league again this season, and they will need do something surprising to turn the tide.
3. The Raiders obsession
Before the Browns, there were the Raiders. From roughly 2005 to 2015, no team was more popular to bet against than the Raiders, as the franchise suffered through a decade of futility with no winning seasons. Now everything has changed. Partly because of their breakthrough playoff berth last year and partly because of their imminent move to Las Vegas, the Raiders are drawing more offseason bets in sports books than any other team. At William Hill, bettors have trimmed the Raiders’ odds from 12-to-1 to 7-to-1 to win the Super Bowl. Twelve percent of all future bets have come in on the Raiders, five percent higher than on the second-place Cowboys or Packers.
4. The crowded AFC West
If the Raiders do win their first Super Bowl since 1984, they will have surely earned it by navigating one of the toughest paths in the league. Betting odds paint the Raiders’ AFC West as far and away the NFL’s best division. The Chiefs, not the Raiders, are the division’s defending champions and return one of the NFL’s most well-rounded teams. The Broncos are only two years removed from winning the Super Bowl and have fielded the NFL’s best defense for two straight seasons. Even the Chargers were better than last year’s 5-11 record indicates and are ranked in the top half of the NFL by many analytic-based power ratings. At the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook, all four teams are posted at 60-to-1 or less to win the Super Bowl.
5 The wide-open NFC
The NFC seems to produce a surprise champion every year—having sent eight different representatives to the last nine Super Bowls—and the conference looks as unpredictable as ever this season. Eleven teams are listed at odds at 20-to-1 or less to win the NFC at the Superbook, compared with only six in the AFC. But it would be foolish to stop the list of contenders there after what happened last season. The Falcons were 50-to-1 to win the NFC in the offseason—ahead of only the Rams and 49ers—and went on to reach the Super Bowl.