Halfway into a year that already feels more like a decade, the NFL’s 2020 season increasingly comes into focus with each passing day. The league has continued to check off its usual offseason boxes despite the tumult of the last few months.
One of the most prominent is the recent rollout of its full regular season schedule. As customary, that development triggered the release of the first 16 weeks of betting lines by certain sportsbooks.
Any bettor who’s ever placed a futures wager of any type is already familiar with the risk inherent in laying down money on an outcome that won’t be known for months in advance. When it comes to early wagering on individual games, a host of factors – key injuries and underperformance being two of the biggest – can set the initial outlook for that contest on its proverbial ear by kickoff.
The variance that’s part and parcel of the process does present opportunity as well. Heavy underdogs in early June can be at a much lower projected disadvantage by September, for example. Potentially profitable opportunities for “middling” games are also plentiful when making early bets, considering how much movement lines can still be subject to.
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Evaluating offseason turnover from a betting perspective
Professional handicapper Jon Price of Sports Information Traders has plenty of experience modeling strategies for early-line betting, especially on teams that have experienced turnover at key coaching and skill positions.
“Our metrics and variables regarding determining line value and play selection are constantly being evaluated and adjusted before, during, and after any given season for a number of different reasons, whether it be for trends, roster and coaching changes, injuries, etc.,” Price explains.
One of the more vexing challenges for bettors when wagering early-season game lines months in advance is gauging the acclimation curve of a new arrival at a team’s most prominent position. Evaluating a quarterback’s fit with a new supporting cast for betting purposes completely “sight unseen” is a multi-layered process.
“When it comes to betting on a new quarterback of a football team, you have to assess the expected game plan that caters to that quarterback, factor in realistic expectations based on experience, weigh the variables against that week’s opponent and lastly, assess the value of the betting line,” Price said. “The last part is the biggest element because while the oddsmakers are going to set their lines to draw in equal wagering on both sides of a play, their opening line is going to give you an indication of what they expect out of that new quarterback in that matchup.”
However, Price emphasizes not all new quarterbacks and new scenarios are created equal. That also plays into evaluating an early line’s value.
Veteran signal-callers in new situations are going to get more deference from the oddsmakers, even early in the season. Naturally, Tom Brady would be the quintessential example in this and many other years. The fact he’s stepping into an offense that’s more talented — by a fairly wide margin at that — than his final one in New England only furthers the notion that the Buccaneers will get their fair share of respect from sportsbooks right from the jump.
On the other end of the spectrum, first overall pick Joe Burrow and his Bengals could be a particularly good source of betting value in the first several weeks of the season for a multitude of reasons. The most notable is perhaps the fact this year’s Cincinnati squad will have a few x-factors associated with it, beginning with how the coaching staff opts to handle the learning curve of the guy under center.
“No one knows how quickly he’ll adjust to the speed of the NFL but what you can count on is that the Bengals offense will be more wide open than it’s been for years.“ Price says of Burrow and his team. “Like Peyton Manning in Indianapolis his first year, the Bengals are going to have Burrow play smart but also very aggressive. They’ll look at his aggressive mistakes as learning tools and at the same time, Cincinnati might be a team that could surprise a lot of people in the first month of the season because their game plan is new and unseen.”
More early-betting challenges than usual
If the 2020 NFL campaign does indeed start as planned Sept. 10, it will go a long way to establishing a sense of normalcy. Yet that in and of itself will not guarantee everything else is business as usual. One of the expected conditions of holding NFL games this fall will be reduced crowd capacity at minimum. There also remains a possibility of at least part of the season being played without any fans present.
Then, given the unique circumstances of this offseason, there’s an added element to consider when betting early-week lines this year.
With team-organized, on-field activities likely prohibited until training camp, clubs with new coaches, coordinators and/or new key offensive players are missing out on the valuable reps that in-person OTA (Organized Team Activities) and mini-camps provide.
Player-organized workouts – many of which have already been unfolding around the country for several weeks – help fill that vacuum to an extent. Nevertheless, they’re not a substitute for the combination of classroom time and coach-structured practices that a normal offseason affords.
Sub-optimal amount of on-field work in the spring and early summer could subsequently manifest in certain teams taking longer into the regular season to achieve peak chemistry on either side of the ball. Training camp and preseason, if conducted in at least semi-normal fashion, do give teams a solid chunk of time to build some cohesion.
However, any summer injuries – which are usually inevitable for most clubs – can instantly disrupt those plans and set teams with new pieces back. This is especially true when clubs lack OTAs and mini-camp work to fall back on in terms of offsetting any lost training camp/preseason prep time.