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Evaluating the NFL Playoff Odds
Whenever you are betting on sports or anything else, besides picking to win, you’re also trying to figure out the odds.
For example, you can bet on the Kansas City Chiefs to make the playoffs, but their odds are -360. The implied probability is 78.26%, and you need to bet $360 to win $100. It might be worth putting some money into it, but you’re not really getting value.
On the other hand, sometimes the odds are based on public perception rather than actual analysis. When I provide best bets, I’m trying to find value, meaning odds that I feel undersell the likelihood that something is going to happen.
This does not mean I believe that the particular wager will definitely happen. It just means I believe it is more likely than the odds say. I usually attempt to provide my reasoning, as well.
DraftKings currently has team playoff and win/loss odds up, and there are some interesting choices to make. There have been at least six new playoff teams each year for the last number of seasons, so picking based on the previous year’s expectations is a dangerous proposition.
Here are the picks that may beat the odds.
Carolina Panthers to Make the Playoffs: Yes +165 / No -210
The Panthers traded a boatload of picks to get their quarterback. Because I believe in both C.J. Stroud and Bryce Young (though I believe they’re going to take Stroud), I can see the Panthers becoming the upstart team in the NFL.
Obviously, Carolina needs more receivers. They signed D.J. Chark as a deep threat and Adam Thielen to be the veteran grinder, but there’s not much else.
Still, this team has the chance to be really good in the trenches. Ikem Ekwonu improved as his rookie season went on and was above-average in pressure rate allowed at 4.8%. However, he gave up six sacks and was called for a whopping 13 penalties. On the other side, Taylor Moton was really solid, allowing just a 3.8% pressure rate and three sacks. Austin Corbett was a good pickup at guard.
Carolina was also ninth in the NFL in adjusted line yards last season at 4.56, which indicates a good push in the run game. They certainly did not miss a beat after the Christian McCaffrey trade. They tied for seventh-best in stuff rate at 16%. The Panthers have the makings of a strong offensive line.
On the defensive side of the ball, Derrick Brown is a strong two-way nose tackle. Brian Burns tied for ninth among edge rushers with 68 pressures and put up an impressive 13% pressure rate.
Between strong lines, one of the best young cornerbacks in the game in Jaycee Horn, a highly underrated but strong linebacker in Frankie Luvu, and a top QB prospect, this team is definitely a sneaky playoff threat.
Chicago Bears to Make the Playoffs: Yes +160 / No -200
I’m not necessarily a believer in Justin Fields, but I think his athleticism, when coupled with a good run game and some good receiving weapons, will make for an above-average Bears offense. D.J. Moore was a great add, pairing with Darnell Mooney in the slot and making Chase Claypool a good third target.
Chicago still has some work to do on defense and the offensive line, but I think the draft will be a good place for that. They certainly beefed up their linebacking corps with Tremaine Edmunds and D.J. Edwards. They still have holes in pass rush and the secondary.
In a division that will be up for grabs, I can see Chicago pulling out a playoff spot.
Denver Broncos to Make the Playoffs: Yes +175 / No -225
This is a contrarian pick. Last season, I picked the Broncos not to make the playoffs despite the widespread hype. This year, when the odds are against the Broncos, I’d put money on a rebound.
Here’s why: I believe in Sean Payton’s ability to run a competent offense. Even if Russell Wilson really is no longer a top quarterback, I don’t believe he’s close to the 28th quarterback in the NFL, as he was ranked by DVOA last season.
Even if Wilson plays as a mediocre QB, Denver should have enough weapons to be a mid-ranked offense. Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton remain good receivers, and Wilson still ranked 13th among quarterbacks with a 4.4% big-time throw rate.
Additionally, the returns of Garrett Bolles, Javonte Williams, and Tim Patrick from injury should give the team a boost.
Defensively, the loss of Dre’Mont Jones will hurt, but Zach Allen is a competent replacement.
Denver’s biggest issue is their lack of draft picks. They don’t pick before the third round and have only five total picks.
I’m not very confident about this pick, but I think it’s worth a flier. As difficult as the division is, their five division losses last year came by an average of 5.4 points per game.
Baltimore Ravens to Win the AFC North: +400
Obviously, the Lamar Jackson situation is a big part of this. But remember, until Jackson got hurt last season, Baltimore was leading Cincinnati in the division. If not for a goal-line fumble returned for a touchdown, they would have beaten the Bengals in the playoffs with Tyler Huntley at quarterback.
I believe that Jackson will end up working things out with the Ravens. They are still the best setup for him. They have a strong offensive line that allows interchangeable parts in the backfield. Obviously, they still haven’t prioritized their receivers, but Jackson won his MVP with Hollywood Brown and not much else at WR.
The main reason for this pick is value. Cincinnati is +110 to win the division, with implied odds of 47.62%. Baltimore is +400, which is 20%. I believe it’s a lot more than 20% likely that the Ravens win the division.