Sannes' Win Total Projections: The 6 Most Volatile Teams in 2021
We need to patch up our relationship with the word "volatile."
It's usually thrown out with a negative connotation, and that makes sense. Most of us are risk-averse, so outcomes with a low floor are going to inspire some anxiety.
In betting, though, volatility isn't a bad thing. If a team is volatile, that implies that they've got room for upside in addition to a potentially shaky floor. Identifying where there's increased volatility can allow us to spot teams with the potential to outperform expectations if variance breaks in their favor.
There is a way to quantify this. I've got my win total projections cooked up for this year, a process that involves assigning a win probability for each team in each game they play.
If a team has more close games on their schedule, they're naturally going to be more volatile. It's hard to be volatile when you're wasting teams by 20 points or struggling to keep pace with the opposition. It's the back-and-forth affairs that best bring variance into the equation.
So, in order to identify which teams were the most volatile, I looked at how many games they had that were "toss-ups" or "close" games. The toss-ups are games in which their win probability is between 45% and 55%, and the close games are those with the win probability between 40% and 60%.
Let's run through those teams now and see what it means for the betting market. Interestingly, most of those teams are in the same division.
The Entire Freaking NFC West
Seattle Seahawks Toss-Ups: 9 | Close Games: 12
Los Angeles Rams Toss-Ups: 9 | Close Games: 11
Arizona Cardinals Toss-Ups: 7 | Close Games: 11
San Francisco 49ers Toss-Ups: 7 | Close Games: 10
The NFC West is gonna be nuts.
There are five teams in my win total projections with at least seven toss-up games; four of them are the four teams in this division. All four teams have double-digit close games, and the Seahawks lead the league there with 12.
This isn't a huge surprise. The Seahawks, Rams, and 49ers rank seventh through ninth, respectively in my power rankings, and the Cardinals are a respectable 16th. Given how often they're playing each other, that's naturally going to lead to a bunch of tight ballgames.
To me, this justifies taking a swipe at divisional odds, searching for a team that may have a longer number than they should. The Seahawks fit that bill perfectly at +270 to win the NFC West at FanDuel Sportsbook.
Although the Seahawks lead the division in my power rankings, they're second in projected total wins behind the 49ers. That's due to a hyper-soft schedule that the 49ers will face relative to what the Seahawks get.
But bookmakers are fully accounting for this. The 49ers' win total is half a win higher than the Seahawks', and the 49ers are the favorites to win the division at +185. You're not catching the books napping by citing the 49ers' easy schedule. In fact, it almost seems like it's being over-accounted for.
The Seahawks' floor is low due to the number of tight games they've got and a largely lackluster defense. But they've clearly got upside, and we can exploit that by betting them at +270 to win the division.
The other market I looked at given these volatile teams was the Cardinals' odds to make the playoffs. Unfortunately, they're +176 there (36.2% implied odds), which is too short for me. Although they've got upside, they also have a brutal divisional schedule, and they're most likely gunning for a wild card spot. That keeps the Seahawks' divisional bet the lone big takeaway for me.
Toss-Ups: 7 | Close Games: 10
You'd think with Aaron Rodgers confirmed back to the Green Bay Packers, any optimism around the Minnesota Vikings would dry up. But my win total projections do like them a decent amount, and there's room for some positive volatility.
The Vikings are the lone non-NFC West team with seven toss-ups on the schedule. Three of those come in the first four games as they face the Cardinals, Seahawks, and Cleveland Browns in likely squeakers. They have three more toss-ups before Week 12, and then things start to settle down a bit.
In other words, we're going to know a lot about where the Vikings will break on the volatility scale early. They've got a 6.2% chance of being undefeated through Week 5, or they could enter that Week 5 game with a 1-3 record. The range of outcomes here is quite large.
Unfortunately, there aren't a ton of easy ways to attack this. I've got the Packers projected at 11.5 wins with the Vikings at 9.2, making an NFC North bet tough. The Vikings' playoff odds were intriguing at +128 but have shortened all the way to -106 now. Those two are likely stayaways.
Instead, we may want to turn to some alternate win totals. At FanDuel, they're +120 to go over 9.5 wins and +230 to go over 10.5. My win total projections have them at 9.3, which is fairly in sync with their win total of 8.5 (-160 on the over). As a result, to exploit the volatility, my favorite market here is that alternate market at +120 to go over 9.5 wins, which seems fully in play even with Rodgers back.
Toss-Ups: 6 | Close Games: 9
There is (justifiably) a bunch of optimism around the Browns right now. It's their second year with Kevin Stefanski, and we get to see that fully realized offense with a healthy Odell Beckham. That's why their win total is at 10.5 (-105 on the over).
There appears to be a bit more shakiness in their outlook, though, once you dig in deeper.
The Browns check in behind the Vikings and NFC West with six toss-ups this year. Three of those are divisional games, two of which come in the final five games of the season.
This means the Browns' season will likely hinge on how they perform in a couple of key matches. If you're betting a win total or on them to make the playoffs, that's not what you want to hear.
This isn't even skepticism on the part of my projections. I've got them projected to rank 10th in passing efficiency, and their win total at 9.5 is nothing to sneeze at. Those 9.5 wins, though, put them seventh in the AFC, right on the fringes of the playoff picture.
That'll be one bet here: the Browns at +200 to miss the playoffs. There is, though, a chance that the Browns take advantage of the volatility and absolutely crush this year. That's why I'd also be interested in betting Stefanski at +2400 to be the Coach of the Year.
In order to win an award with voting, you need a good narrative behind you. What better narrative than an AFC North title for a team that has been thirsty for success for so long? Stefanski runs the offense, so any success they have there will be attributed to him and his scheme, and we know the media will happily embrace a good Browns team. This does count as a hedge against our other bet, but given the wide range of outcomes on this team, I do feel that both bets are good individually.