For the first time since 1978, the NFL has changed the length of its season. For fans of the league, that means more meaningful football; for bettors and fantasy players, that means adjusting expectations and how we think about 2021 NFL props and totals.
On top of adding one regular season game, the NFL is removing one preseason game. The NFL regular season will now run into January. Last season, they added a Playoff team to the field and shrunk the number of teams that get a bye week to one from each conference. With Playoff battles sure to run past Week 16, we can expect star players to play at least one more meaningful game a year.
In the coming weeks, we will break down position-by-position expectations, props and projections for a 17-game season to best prepare you for the coming NFL season.
First, we start by introducing the process by which we’ll learn how to interpret these new numbers and projections.
What it means for season totals and 2021 NFL props
Let’s start with an example: Jaguars rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence has a projected season passing total of 4,150.5 yards (as of May 4th at DraftKings Sportsbook). That would land him third all-time in rookie passing yards behind Andrew Luck in 2012 (4,374) and Justin Herbert in 202 (4,336)– a lofty projected total for sportsbooks.
It is true that the modern NFL offense is moving toward higher passing volume and higher passing efficiency, giving rookies a better chance at breaking previous records anyway. Of the 25 highest passing yards totals by a rookie ever, 18 have happened in the last 10 seasons. Adding an extra game to the mix will just increase the likelihood of nearly every single-season NFL record falling at some point.
When looking at season totals, remember there’s going to be some numbers that initially look too high.
So, how do we go about re-calibrating our minds?
How to set expectations for 2021 NFL props using math
Don’t worry. We aren’t going to delve into calculus or algorithms here; just simple math.
Until fans are used to the ‘new normal’ that comes with a 17-game season, looking at numbers on a per-game basis might be the best way to gauge player performance to place informed prop bets. Most stat sites like Pro Football Reference, ESPN and NFL.com will already offer these per-game numbers. Simply multiply the per-game figure by 17 (instead of 16) to get an apples-to-apples comparison for 2021 projections and props.
Going the other way, you can take current passing over/unders like Lawrence’s 4,150.5 yards and divide by 17 to get a per-game number. To achieve that pace, Lawrence would have to average just a hair over 244 passing yards per game, assuming he plays all 17 games. That would have been a 16-game pace of 3904 yards, good enough for 15th in the NFL in 2020, just ahead of Ryan Tannehill and Ben Roethlisberger.
While an over/under of 4150.5 yards initially appears to project the third-most passing yards by a rookie all time, an extra game changes how lofty that number actually is. The 244 passing yards per game projection is a little more attainable. That 16-game projection of 3904 yards would be fifth all-time among rookie QBs.
The same method should be used for just about every measurable stat, prop and season-long projection.
How we should gauge overall performance moving forward
The clear-cut answer to that will become more obvious as more seasons progress. Milestones like 1,000 rushing yards, 1,000 receiving yards, and 40 passing touchdowns won’t be as merit-worthy as they have been in the past. Using a simple calculation and rounding to the nearest whole number, here is a brief list of the 17-game equivalent of some past NFL statistical milestones:
- 1,000 yards then = 1,063 yards now
- 1,200 yards then = 1,275 yards now
- 1,500 yards then = 1,594 yards now
- 2,000 yards then = 2,125 yards now
- 100 receptions then = 106 receptions now
- 30 touchdowns then = 32 touchdowns now
- 40 touchdowns then = 43 touchdowns now
- 50 touchdowns then = 53 touchdowns now
- 4,000 passing yards then = 4,250 passing yards now
- 5,000 passing yards then = 5,312 passing yards now
As you can see, the difference isn’t astonishing. Perhaps we just call 1,100 yards the new 1,000 to get a nice round number, or 110 receptions the new 100.
To hit previously-historic milestones like 5,000 yards– a mark only hit by eight different players in history– a quarterback in 2021 would need 294.1 passing yards per game. 294.1 passing yards extrapolates out to a 16-game pace of 4,706 yards, a yardage total reached 38 different times in NFL history.
You can start to see how old milestones are going to die quickly.
Similarly, three players averaged at least 94.4 receiving yards per game in 2020 (Davante Adams, Stefon Diggs and Travis Kelce). At a 17-game pace, those players would all land in the top-15 in single-season receiving yards all-time.
For now, it’s best to compare per-game numbers, not season totals, to measure a players’ success to past years. It’ll be easy to get sucked into coverage that spins season totals as amazing achievements without disclaiming that there was an extra game this year.
Again, we will break down position-by-position props and projections for a 17-game season in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.