How bookmakers and bettors adjusted to the new 17-game NFL season

Kansas City Chiefs running back Darrel Williams (31) runs against Denver Broncos strong safety Kareem Jackson (22) and defensive tackle Sylvester Williams (73) and cornerback Michael Ojemudia.
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Jared Smith

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Jared Smith, a versatile host and analyst with over 10 years of experience in sports media and two decades as a sports bettor, has joined the Pickswise team as a lead betting analyst. Smith will serve as a full-time content creator, producing informative and engaging content every day across multiple platforms.

Change can be tough. In the NFL, it’s been 43 years since teams began playing the modern-day 16-game schedule you all know and are familiar with. But in 2021, the addition of a 17th regular-season game has created a new wrinkle for bettors to consider.

“It’s obviously baked into each team’s win total, but to a minimal degree,” said DraftKings Betting Analyst Julian Edlow. “I have noticed more flat numbers in the market.”

Most bookmakers we talked to felt confident the added game did not impact overall pricing of their win totals.

“The 17-game season doesn’t really change anything,” said Circa Sportsbook Operations Manager Jeff Benson. “You add up each team’s single-game win probabilities to arrive at a season wins number.”

More Games Means Less Volatility

The NFL has the shortest regular season of any major sport, which opens the door for extreme variance on both ends of the market. Going from 16 to 17 games adds 6.06% to the overall length of the season and slightly decreases the value of an underdog pulling off a massive upset to win their division.

“It gives more time and an extra game for a teams’ underlying talent to really show itself,” said PointsBet Head of Trading Jay Croucher. “The idea of Kansas City losing the AFC West is slightly more viable in a 16-game season than in a 17-game season.”

Croucher added the 17th opponent for each team also plays into the handicap. For example, the Broncos get the luxury of hosting the Lions in their extra game, which adds slightly more value to the upside on Denver’s win total.

Could Props Be the Answer?

Kenny Golladay

CREDIT – Kevin R. Wexler (USA Today)

While bookmakers feel confident they have buttoned up all the holes in the overall futures market, some bettors feel the addition of a 17th regular-season game presents an opportunity with season-long props.

“I think the unders market becomes even more valuable, particularly with positions where injuries are more likely,” said Edlow. “The extra game forces books to set player totals at a higher number because the player should play in an extra game, in theory. It also provides an extra game for that player to get hurt and miss some time.”

An example of this is new Giants WR Kenny Golladay, whose receiving yards total was capped at 1,000.5 on DraftKings. Golladay has played four prior seasons in the league, two of which resulted in 1,000 receiving yards or more, but in those two seasons he played in 31 combined games. Golladay’s other two injury-plagued seasons produced just 815 yards combined in 16 total games. He has already suffered a soft-tissue injury in training camp and I wouldn’t be surprised if he missed a handful of games this year. With the overall yards number slightly inflated because of the added game, this is a spot where you can find some hidden injury value to the under.

Finding Value With Win Totals

Jimmy Garoppolo Playing Against Vikings

CREDIT – Kirby Lee (USA Today)

For me, the most important factor to consider with betting a season win total is how fast (or slow) a team will start, especially the first two or three games. If I’m backing an Over, I prefer to lean on teams that have easier opponents early on their schedule. I believe this maximizes my flexibility later in the year and quickly tilts the bookmaker’s power ratings for that team in my favor.

This year I believe that team is the San Francisco 49ers. They should start 2-0 with early games against the Lions and Eagles, plus I’m expecting positive regression after an injury and turnover-riddled 2020 campaign. If you read our best futures bets column earlier this week you know the Niners are at the top of our card.

Pickswise is the home of NFL Picks. Check out our latest playoff picks and round-by-round analysis as well as our free Super Bowl predictions.

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