Sannes' Win Total Projections: Teams With Easy Early-Season Schedules

Yesterday, we talked about teams with tough early-season schedules. The thought process was, "These teams have rough starts, so if you want to bet their futures markets, hold off and do it in-season."

That kinda sucks!

It's July. We've got the NBA Finals and The Open Championship, but the sports calendar is drier than usual. We need action! Stop telling us what not to bet, you goon.


Today, we'll go through some teams whose early-season schedules are easier than the rest. In these instances, it's likely that we're getting the best numbers in the futures markets on these teams now. So if you are interested in the teams broadly, this is the time to get some money down.

Admittedly, not all these teams are ones I want to bet. As such, there's still going to be a healthy dose of forward-looking analysis here. But if any of these teams are ones you want to bet, your best window is before Week 1.

So, which teams could start things off with a bang? Let's check it out and analyze what that means for their futures markets.

Baltimore Ravens

Of the teams we're going to discuss, the Baltimore Ravens are easily the one whose futures markets tempt me most. I've got them projected at 10.0 wins, which is short of their 11-win total at FanDuel Sportsbook but enough to put them atop the AFC North.

If you want to bet them to win the division -- or go even bigger -- now's a good time to pull the trigger.

The Ravens do have to face Kansas City Chiefs in Week 2, which is a bummer. But outside of that, they get the Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos, and Detroit Lions all within the first seven games. Two of their tougher matchups -- with the Indianapolis Colts and Los Angeles Chargers -- are in Baltimore. Their projected winning percentage before their bye (61.9%) is a healthy amount higher than their 56.4% mark after the bye.

As of now, the Ravens are +115 to win the division. That's pretty short, given I've got the Cleveland Browns projected for just 0.6 fewer wins. But they are +650 to win the AFC and +1400 to win the Super Bowl. They rank third in the AFC in my power rankings (behind the Chiefs and Buffalo Bills) and fifth overall. If the Ravens take care of business in that opening stretch, they won't be there at the end of October, and they could be borderline favorites if they find a way to knock off the Chiefs.

numberFire's power rankings -- which, to be clear, are different from my win total projections and power rankings -- have the Ravens winning the Super Bowl 7.9% of the time, which is higher than their implied odds of 6.7%. With the way their other numbers break, I think that's the optimal route for betting the Ravens if you want to get ahead of their early-season schedule.

Los Angeles Rams

For the Los Angeles Rams, I'm stretching the definition of "early-season." Their easy stretch comes in Weeks 6 through 8, which isn't exactly right out of the gate. But they're still worth discussing here.

My win projections currently have the Rams sporting at least a 60% win probability in five games. Four of those come across the opening eight weeks, and three of them are in that three-week stretch mentioned above. By Week 8, we're likely going to think Sean McVay is a genius again for bringing on Matthew Stafford.

Unfortunately, it gets tough from there. Their projected winning percentage from Week 9 on dips to 52.6% from 63.5% prior to that. Getting the Green Bay Packers without Aaron Rodgers in Week 12 would change a lot of this, but there's a big difficulty gap between the two halves.

What complicates the futures market is that their schedule is tough as a whole. Although they're seventh in my power rankings and first among NFC West teams, they're ninth in projected wins and trail the San Francisco 49ers in that department. As a result, I'm not all that interested in betting their futures.

Instead, the takeaway could be to monitor the Seattle Seahawks' divisional odds. Three of their four easiest games come across the final five, and they've got a date with the Rams mixed in there, as well. If the Rams get off to a hot start, their divisional odds will drop, and the Seahawks' will likely lengthen. I've got both teams projected for exactly 9.8 wins, so once again, I must disappoint and say, "Hold off on betting this one until later."

Pittsburgh Steelers

Remember the Pittsburgh Steelers' crash down the stretch last year? They might duplicate that in 2021 whether Ben Roethlisberger's play declines or not.

Across their first nine games, I've got the Steelers' win odds higher than 60% five times. Over their final eight games, they never hit that mark and are projected to be at least slight underdogs in all but two. That includes dates with the Chiefs and Ravens across the final three weeks.

To top it all off, my numbers aren't super jazzed about the Steelers to begin with. They're projected for 8.5 wins, right in line with their FanDuel win total. That keeps me from betting them +440 to win the division even with an easy schedule to open.

So, once again, this is a "don't bet this now" scenario. If you don't hate me yet for drawing you in under false pretenses, you should! I accept and welcome your wrath.

The big ripple effect of this -- combined with our discussion on the Ravens -- pertains to Browns futures. They have a couple of easy games in Weeks 2 and 3 against the Houston Texans and Chicago Bears. That could draw you into betting them now, if they fit your fancy.

However, there's a healthy chance the best number we'll get on them comes prior to Week 7 when they face the Denver Broncos. So I'd sit this one out for now, monitor how the Browns play the opening six weeks, and see if you can justify some futures on Baker's buddies at that point.

Carolina Panthers

As you can probably tell, I'm not about to start banging the table, begging you to bet the Carolina Panthers to win the NFC South. Alas, once again, this is a forward-looking note. But it is a big one.

The schedule-makers clearly want Sam Darnold's tenure with his new team to start off on a high note. The Panthers play the Texans, New York Jets, and Philadelphia Eagles all within the first five weeks. Those are all bottom-five teams in my power rankings, so Darnold will be seeing angels in the form of blown coverages and open receivers.

The ghosts come back the final month. In that stretch, the Panthers face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers twice and the Bills and New Orleans Saints once apiece. Three of those four games are on the road, just to make things even more delightful.

I've got the Panthers projected to have a 6.5-6.5 record after their first 13 games. That's likely enough to have them in contention for a wild card spot. But with the way that schedule rounds out, actually getting over that cusp is a tall task.

This is largely a note to keep lodged in the back of your mind, potentially as early as Week 6. If the Panthers start to creep up the odds board -- whether to win the division or make the playoffs -- it's likely time to fade them and look for value elsewhere. Darnold's situation here is much better than it was in New York, but with the way that schedule closes out, it's very possible good early-season vibes won't last.