Bet on Regression, Not the Noise
We are at that wonderful time of year where massive amounts of bets are being placed at sportsbooks all around the country. This timeframe after the preseason ends and before the regular season begins is the hottest time of year for money to be thrown down of Season Win Totals, League MVP, Opening Day Coin Tosses, etc.
But there is an inherent flaw in the public’s betting model. Usually, the wisdom of the crowd prevails and the most common answer is typically the right one. However, when it comes to sports betting, the public usually embraces the noise and hype rather than the facts. They see big trades and splash storylines as indicators of success. This fallacy can be a bettor’s downfall.
I want to take a look at two season long wagers, one from the NFC and one from the AFC, that go counter to public opinion. Every NFL fan loves these teams and believes they will succeed. But if we block out the noise and embrace the facts, there’s big money to be won.
Here are my wagers that may be controversial, but are worth a bet against the public (Odds courtesy of Oddshark).
Chicago Bears Under 9 Wins (-105)
The Chicago Bears’ biggest problem of 2019 will be QB Mitch Trubisky. While he was serviceable in 2018, throwing for roughly 3,200 yards, 24 TDs, and 12 INTs in 14 games, he is bound to regress. There have been reports this season that Trubisky is missing easy throws in camp and Matt Nagy is increasingly frustrated. Trubisky has struggled with accuracy in the NFL, but Matt Nagy’s offensive system gave him easy throws like screens and shovel passes that shot his completion percentage up to 67%. Before last season, Trubisky was completing 59% of his passes and threw as many TDs and INTs. My concern is now that the smoke and mirrors are gone, Trubisky will revert to his normal self and cause his offense to become inept.
Trubisky reminds me of Case Keenum with the 2017 Vikings. Keenum had a great season on the back of a ball-hawking defense. He wasn’t flashy, but the offensive system and skill position players compensated for his lack of talent. Yet, when Keenum was forced to win the game on his own, he either needed a miracle (The Minnesota Miracle versus the Saints to be precise) or failed miserably. In the 4 regular season games after Trubisky returned from his injury, the Bears scored 19 points per game. He threw for 4 TDs and 3 INTs, not once surpassing 250 yards passing. In his lone playoff game, the offense fell apart and only managed to score 15 points at Soldier Field.
His pass-catching weapons are decent, but are hardly game breakers. Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel are castoffs from other teams, while Trey Burton is only known for his throwing ability in the Super Bowl, not his receiving talents. Tarik Cohen is a great pass catcher, but a running back should never be a team’s best receiver. The running game is expected to improve with David Montgomery and Tarik Cohen in the backfield, but high-volume rushing teams are not what wins in today’s league. You need a high-octane passing offense to succeed, and Trubisky can’t sustain that.
The Bears’ defense, although dominant, will also surely regress this season. They had 50 sacks, 27 Interceptions, 20 fumble recoveries, and 5 TDs in 2018. Chicago may still be dominant, but they will play top offenses including the Rams, Chiefs, Eagles, Chargers, and Packers (twice). They also have a new defensive coordinator after Vic Fangio left to coach the Broncos. Top defensive units rarely repeat prior season success year over year. For example, the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2017 were one of the best defensive units we had ever seen, but the ball dropped in 2018 when Bortles threw only 13 TDs to 11 INTs. The defense was on the field more often and became worn down. They had to defend short fields due to the offensive miscues, and thus could not sustain a second dominant season. While I love the Bears defensive talent, Trubisky’s ineptitude, their loss of Fangio, and a tough first place schedule causes me concern.
I can easily see the Bears winning only 7-8 games this year. There may be hype surrounding their defensive talent and Matt Nagy’s play-calling, but they were playing at a level unforeseen last year. The defense will descend into a top ten unit instead of number one, and opposing defensive coordinators will uncover the illusion of Mitch Trubisky’s 2018 success like they did in the latter half of last season. I feel confident in buying the regression, fading the public, and betting the Bears under 9 wins for 2019.
Cleveland Browns Under 9 Wins (-135)
The Cleveland Browns have more noise surrounding their offseason than anybody. The acquisitions of Kareem Hunt, Odell Beckham Jr, and Olivier Vernon have made them “Super Bowl contenders,” posting the 5th highest odds to hoist the Lombardi trophy. These shiny new toys and Baker Mayfield’s impressive final 8 games under HC Freddie Kitchens, where he went 5-3, have made the Browns the talk of the town. Still, let’s dive in to that 8 game performance to see if it is truly an indicator of future performance.
In Mayfield’s eight games under HC Freddie Kitchens, he threw for 245 yards per game, averaging 2.1 TDs and 0.9 INTs per game. This is considerably average for an NFL passer, as it would rank him in the bottom 20 passers in YPG on the season, around players like Derek Carr and Case Keenum. His 14 interceptions on the year would rank him 5th in the NFL, tied with the likes of Jameis Winston and Josh Rosen.
I understand that OBJ will help Mayfield produce as a passer, but I am not sure if it will help considerably. Baker Mayfield has a propensity to spread the ball around, with 5 teammates catching over 39 balls last season. What OBJ brings to the offense as far as speed and separation may be cancelled out by the offensive line. Cleveland’s O-line downgraded this offseason after they traded OG Kevin Zeitler. Pro-Football Focus currently ranks their O-line 20th in the NFL. Without time in the pocket, the Browns may not be able to utilize Beckham’s separation ability.
Inexperience and cohesion will also play a big factor in Cleveland’s downfall. It will take time for the Browns to develop chemistry along the offensive and defensive fronts. While Myles Garrett, Sheldon Richardson, and Oliver Vernon could be a force on the D-line, they will be playing together for the first time in Week 1. They also face great offensive lines to begin the season, including the Titans, Rams, and Ravens in the first four weeks. The Browns back seven also experienced a shake-up, losing Jabrill Peppers and Jamie Collins, while gaining veteran Morgan Burnett and rookie Greedy Williams out of LSU.
I think the Browns will be exciting, but the noise surrounding the team is unwarranted. They currently have an average QB with an oft-injured number one receiver. They have a first-time head coach, new players along the defensive and offensive lines, and high expectations. We are forgetting that less than a year ago, the Browns were the laughing stock of the NFL after going 1-31 under Hue Jackson. People love splashy moves, but offseason winners rarely carry over into the regular season.
I can easily see the Browns getting upset in Week 1 versus the Titans or Week 2 versus the Jets while they try to gain chemistry. Then, they have a 6 game stretch where they play on the road versus the 49ers, Ravens, Patriots, and Broncos, and home versus the Rams and Seahawks. It’s a strong possibility the Browns are unprepared and begin the season at 2-6. At that point, you’ll be praying for an 8 game win streak to win your bet. I don’t buy the hype and see the Browns going 7-9 this season. I believe in blocking out the noise, embracing the facts, and betting the Browns under 9 wins for 2019.