What a 17th game means for NFL bettors and sportsbooks
By Sam Panayotovich
FOX Sports Betting Analyst
When the National Football League owners approved a 17-game regular season earlier this week, most people were pumped about the news.
Fans get another week of tailgating and wall-to-wall games, the NFL gets another week of television money and advertising revenue – and the sportsbooks get another week of customers lining up to place their bets.
Betting handles will surely skyrocket with an extra regular-season game on the schedule. Industry experts estimate that a regular-season NFL game gets 20 or 30 times more money wagered than a preseason game.
"We love it," FOX Bet content integration specialist Jacob Blangsted-Barnor told me about the NFL's decision. "You’ve got an extra week of games to bet. It’s great for us. You’re also gaining some really fun games. Seahawks-Steelers. Chiefs-Packers. Bucs-Colts. Those will be big games for us."
Naturally, I was curious about how an added game will affect the season win totals. I know it’s a glorified math problem, but how exactly does a sportsbook go about spreading all the wins and half-wins across the entire league?
"We look at the percentage chance that a team wins that extra game," JBB explained. "Let’s say that the Chiefs have a 58% chance to beat the Packers. We would add .58 of a win to the Kansas City win total. [FOX Bet would round .58 down to .5 wins for betting purposes.] So if the Chiefs’ total is 12.5, we would bump them up to 13."
After a quick glance at all the added games, I landed on Buffalo hosting Washington in Orchard Park for my personal math exam. I would make the Bills 7-point home favorites, which gives them a moneyline price of about -350. That -350 line implies almost an 80% probability. By JBB’s logic, Buffalo’s win total goes up a win, and Washington’s doesn’t budge.
"A team like the Bills will benefit from the extra game," JBB continued. "They’re playing Washington, who won the NFC East, but it was an awful division. Then you take a team like Cincinnati. They got a pretty tough draw. They finished fourth, and they face San Francisco, who also finished fourth. But the Niners are second in the betting to win the NFC West this year.
"It’s worth noting that the AFC got all the home games, so the AFC teams tend to come out of this formula a little better."
FOX Bet plans to release its NFL season win totals later this week, and there have already been some slight adjustments to the divisional betting markets that are live.
"The divisional markets look very similar, but we made some slight changes," JBB said. "The Packers’ odds went out a little bit because they have to play the Chiefs, whereas the Vikings have a higher probability to beat the Chargers. There was some tweaking to be done, but it was nothing drastic."
The creation of the season win totals market is a fascinating process because it’s so much more than just plugging numbers into a formula. So much of the oddsmaking process relies on science, but making the season win totals is more of an art.
"It’s so hard to statistically model a win total because there are a number of teams that are completely different," JBB explained. "Different head coach, different quarterback, different coordinators, you name it. You can’t just rely on historical data. Making the win total becomes more about opinions, and that’s when it’s the most fun to be in the trading room.
"I like that four or five different people come to the table with all their win totals. I love that comparison process. I might come back and say 10, someone else says 9.5, and someone else says 7.5.
"It almost turns into a courtroom, and you’re defending your point of view in front of everybody else. Then there’s a cross-examination. We welcome more opinions because it helps us get closer to the true number. It’s fun to collaborate on those things."
A team that still has the FOX Bet trading room puzzled is the New England Patriots. Usually, the team that spends a Brinks trunk worth of money on free agents does so out of desperation. But there’s usually a method to the madness for Bill Belichick.
"The Patriots sparked the biggest conversation amongst our trading team," JBB admitted. "When they went out and signed all those players in free agency, we were the slowest to move their numbers. There was a reluctance to shorten them too much whilst they still have Cam Newton at quarterback and essentially the same offense. The guy threw single-digit touchdown passes last year.
"But when the Niners traded for the No. 3 overall pick, that got our attention. Now you’re trying to guess the next three steps that Bill Belichick is going to take. Does it mean that Jimmy Garoppolo will be back in New England? You really start to wonder about the possibilities. As soon as that trade happened, it became clear that the Patriots' path to reacquiring Jimmy G got a lot smoother."
If I can play bookmaker for a second, I think Over/Under 9.5 wins on the Patriots is a pretty fair number. We’ll see what FOX Bet thinks by week’s end.
The bottom line is everybody wins with another NFL regular-season game. The league, the players, the fans, the owners and the sportsbooks all have something to gain from another game on the schedule.
How much longer ‘til September?
Sam Panayotovich is a sports betting analyst for FOX Sports and NESN. He previously worked for WGN Radio, NBC Sports and VSiN. He'll probably pick against your favorite team. Follow him on Twitter @spshoot.