Wed. Sep 26th, 2018

The Preseason Favorite Is A Good Bet To Lose The Super Bowl

The 2018 NFL season

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The 2018 NFL season kicks off in two weeks, and for the third consecutive year — and eighth time since 2005 — the New England Patriots are the betting markets’ preseason favorites to win the Super Bowl. The Los Angeles Rams, Minnesota Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers are all currently tied as the next most favored, followed by the Green Bay Packers and the defending-champion Philadelphia Eagles. Thanks to a Supreme Court decision in May that struck down a federal law prohibiting sports gambling in most states, topics like Super Bowl odds — and point spreads, money lines, over-unders, prop bets, parlays and teasers — are set to become a bigger part of the mainstream sports experience than ever before. Since the decision, Delaware, Mississippi and New Jersey have joined Nevada in offering full-scale legalized sports betting, with several states poised to follow. Against this backdrop, and as the start of the NFL season nears, we thought it worthwhile to explore how teams’ preseason odds to win the Super Bowl typically play out over the course of the season. Where on the odds board do Super Bowl winners and losers come from? And how do preseason favorites and almost-favorites usually fare? At +600 (6 to 1),3 the Patriots have an implied probability of 14.3 percent to win the Super Bowl,4 highest in the NFL. Last year, the Patriots were +250 (2.5 to 1) before the start of the season, which translated to a 28.6 percent chance — they were, in other words, a considerably heavier favorite than they are today. The 2018 Rams, Vikings and Steelers are all +1000 (10 to 1), which suggests a 9.1 percent probability. Meanwhile, the Buffalo Bills and Tampa Bay Buccaneers currently have this season’s longest odds — 200 to 1, or a 0.5 percent chance at a Super Bowl ring. In the past 17 NFL seasons, only two preseason favorites have gone on to hoist the Lombardi Trophy — the 2006 Indianapolis Colts (+600) and the 2016 Patriots (+650). But preseason favorites haven’t exactly fallen apart, either. Only four since 2001 have missed the playoffs, and in most seasons, the favorite or co-favorite actually made the Super Bowl. They just had a funny habit of losing when they got there.
The preseason favorite tends to lose in the Super Bowl

The preseason Super Bowl favorite has made the Super Bowl nine times since 2001 — but won only twice

PRESEASON ODDS TO WIN SUPER BOWL SEASON RESULTS
SEASON PRESEASON FAVORITE(S) MONEY LINE IMPLIED PROB. WINS PLAYOFFS
2018 New England +600 14%
2017 New England +250 29 13 Lost SB
2016 New England +650 13 14 Won SB
2015 Green Bay +500 17 10 Lost Div
Seattle +500 17 10 Lost Div
2014 Seattle +500 17 12 Lost SB
Denver +500 17 12 Lost Div
2013 Denver +650 13 13 Lost SB
San Francisco +650 13 12 Lost Conf
2012 Green Bay +600 14 11 Lost Div
2011 New England +600 14 13 Lost SB
2010 Indianapolis +800 11 10 Lost WC
2009 New England +500 17 10 Lost WC
2008 New England +350 22 11 Missed
2007 New England +250 29 16 Lost SB
2006 Indianapolis +600 14 12 Won SB
2005 Indianapolis +500 17 14 Lost Div
New England +500 17 10 Lost Div
Philadelphia +500 17 6 Missed
2004 Philadelphia +500 17 13 Lost SB
2003 Tampa Bay +800 11 7 Missed
2002 St. Louis +350 22 7 Missed
2001 St. Louis +400 20 14 Lost SB

Preseason odds as of July and August for season referenced. Exact odds vary by date and sportsbook.

SOURCES: PRO-FOOTBALL-REFERENCE.COM, SPORTS ODDS HISTORY, WESTGATE

That’s made for some pretty good David-vs.-Goliath Super Bowl theater, often featuring Brady and the Pats. New England took down the preseason-favorite Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI after coming into the 2001 season as a 60-to-1 longshot. The Giants upset the preseason-favorite Patriots after the 2007 and 2011 seasons, and the Eagles did it to them again in February. Not bad for NFL scriptwriters — or the NFC East. Oddly, despite being the preseason Super Bowl favorite at least seven other times since 2001, the Patriots won four of their five Super Bowls when they weren’t favored coming into the season. So if preseason favorites don’t win the Super Bowl, who does? It turns out that if you want your favorite NFL team to win it all, you should hope it enters the season as kind of likely to do so. Nine of the past 17 champions — the majority — have had the fourth to ninth best preseason odds, with an average around +1400 (14 to 1). If recent history is any indication, the Packers, Eagles, Saints, Chargers, Falcons and Jaguars are in an attractive position as we near Week 1.
The *kinda* favorites tend to win the Super Bowl

Preseason odds to win the Super Bowl versus season results, 2001-2017

PRESEASON ODDS TO WIN SB MADE SUPER BOWL? AVERAGE WINS
RANK AVERAGE WON LOST PRIOR SEASON NEW SEASON
1 +520 2 7 13.0 11.4
2 +770 1 0 11.7 10.9
3 +875 1 0 11.3 9.9
4-6 +1333 6 3 10.5 8.7
7-9 +1895 3 1 9.6 9.0
10-12 +2414 1 2 8.6 8.4
13-16 +3150 1 0 8.2 8.1
17-20 +4083 1 2 7.4 7.5
21-24 +6101 0 1 6.2 6.8
25-28 +8168 1 1 5.5 6.9
29-32 +14459 0 0 3.8 5.6

SOURCE: PRO-FOOTBALL-REFERENCE.COM, SPORTS ODDS HISTORY

But does recent history really tell us anything? We’re only dealing with 17 seasons here, so the sample size is small. Four champions have still come from among the top three most heavily favored teams heading into a given season. And we could just as well have seen a slew of preseason favorites win the Super Bowl — the 2001 Rams, 2004 Eagles, 2007 Patriots, 2011 Patriots, 2014 Seahawks and 2017 Patriots each came up only a play or drive short.
Where do Super Bowl champions come from?

The majority of champions since 2001 had the fourth to ninth best preseason Super Bowl odds

PRESEASON ODDS TO WIN SUPER BOWL
SEASON SUPER BOWL WINNER MONEY LINE IMPLIED PROB. IMPLIED RANK
2017 Philadelphia +4000 2% 17
2016 New England +650 13 1
2015 Denver +1200 8 5
2014 New England +800 11 4
2013 Seattle +800 11 3
2012 Baltimore +1600 6 6
2011 New York Giants +2000 5 11
2010 Green Bay +1400 7 6
2009 New Orleans +2000 5 9
2008 Pittsburgh +1800 5 8
2007 New York Giants +3000 3 15
2006 Indianapolis +600 14 1
2005 Pittsburgh +1200 8 5
2004 New England +600 14 2
2003 New England +1500 6 8
2002 Tampa Bay +1200 8 5
2001 New England +6000 2 25

Preseason odds as of July and August for season referenced. Exact odds vary by date and sportsbook.

SOURCES: PRO FOOTBALL REFERENCE, SPORTS ODDS HISTORY

Keep this in mind, too: Preseason Super Bowl odds tell us more about the season that just ended than the one that’s about to start.6 There’s a fairly strong negative correlation (-0.75) between teams’ regular-season win totals the previous season and their rankings in the odds before the start of the next season — the more games a team won last year, the lower, or better, their preseason odds rank becomes. And there’s only a modest negative correlation (-0.42) between teams’ preseason odds rankings and their performance in the season that the odds purport to cover. NFL teams generally revert toward the mean, undermining the accuracy of preseason odds that are mostly based on what each team did last season. So have some fun analyzing this year’s preseason Super Bowl odds, agree or disagree, and compare them with FiveThirtyEight’s NFL projections in a couple of weeks if you’re curious to see how the betting markets and Elo differ. But above all, take them with a grain of salt — unless a team with the fourth to ninth best odds wins the Super Bowl. If that happens, you heard it here first.

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