When Sam Bradford was traded to Minnesota for a first round pick in next year’s draft and a 2018 fourth rounder, the entire league stopped. Almost literally.
Just after the blockbuster trade was announced this weekend, both the Eagles and Vikings were taken off the board in Las Vegas. For a brief time on the Saturday of a huge holiday weekend for casinos, less than a week before the kickoff of the NFL season, people couldn’t bet on two of the highest-profile teams, including one with a legitimate chance to make the Super Bowl. (Note: Not the Eagles.)
There’s a lesson here, and one bigger than “never gamble on the NFL.” It’s that when Vegas sets their lines for win totals and Super Bowl odds, they can change with the twist of a knee, or the crack of a back. Nothing is guaranteed in the NFL (not even the contracts) so it’s impossible to guess what will happen from week to week, let alone trade to blockbuster trade. That’s how the Eagles can go from 40-to-1 odds to 100-to-1. That’s how Dallas’ odds can nearly double. That’s how, going from Teddy Bridgewater to Sam Bradford, the Vikings’ odds of winning the Super Bowl can…stay exactly the same. Huh?!?!
Each February, Vegas oddsmakers put out a list of NFL favorites for the following year, ranked by their chances (odds) of winning the Super Bowl.
RJ Bell, a noted Vegas insider and controversial founder of Pregame.com, had the Vikings listed at 25-to-1 favorites to win the Super Bowl, with Dallas at 24-to-1 and the Eagles a distant 35-to-1.
Just a day later, Westgate Superbook published their odds for the 2017 Super Bowl, with Dallas at 16-to-1 and Minnesota at 20-to-1. Westgate, which has become an industry standard for futures odds, had Seattle, New England and Pittsburgh as favorites at 8-to-1, with Green Bay — division rival of the Vikings — at 10-to-1 alongside Arizona and Carolina.
The Eagles were 50-to-1.
Back in late February, when Vegas put out its win totals, the Eagles were slated for 7.5 wins. The Vikings (and Dallas) were pegged at an over/under of 9 wins, per CG Technology, one of the largest bookmakers in the world.
The Patriots had jumped to 6-to-1 favorites in the early off-season, but when Tom Brady’s suspension for four games was reinstated by a U.S. appeals court in April, Vegas knocked the Pats back down to 8-to-1. Just prior to that announcement, on April 21 — the day after the Eagles pulled off a trade to move to the second pick in the NFL Draft — CG Technology put out an updated list of Super Bowl odds, with Dallas at 20-to-1, Minnesota at 16-to-1 and the Eagles, still, at 50-to-1. The Giants were division favorites at that point, at 15-to-1, with Washington 50-to-1, with the Eagles.
A week later, just a few days after the NFL Draft, the Eagles were still at 50-to-1, per Bovada.lv, but on the popular online wagering site the Vikings and Cowboys were both 22-to-1. The Giants were 25-to-1 — far better odds for the bettors at Bovada after the draft, while Washington was up to 40-to-1.
It’s important to remember something here: When Vegas sets a line for a team’s odds to win the Super Bowl, they do so with two things in mind. First, the oddsmakers want to win, but, second, they want to set a line for each team that will entice gambling action, even if they lose.
Sure, the NFL favorite could be put in at 2-to-1 every year — win two dollars for every dollar you wager — but putting that team at 7-to-1 when there are other viable contenders entices more action on them, which gives Vegas a better payout if the team doesn’t win it all.
Putting the Eagles at 50-to-1 shows that nobody in Vegas thinks the Eagles can win the Super Bowl, but sportsbooks are willing to pay 50 times your investment if you take a flyer on the Birds this year.
The worst example of poor bookmaking odds was last year when Leicester City won the English Premier League title at 5,000-to-1 odds. The team should have been around 1,000 or 2,000-to-1 odds given past history, but, “you’re not going to get money on those teams…unless you offer something in the realm of ridiculousness,” Jay Rood, the vice president of Race and Sports Book for MGM Resorts, told The Wall Street Journal. Oddsmakers had to manipulate their line to entice more money on that bet, in expectation it would never pay off.
It paid off.
Bookmakers lost around $15 million on that mistake after Leicester improbably won the title last season. Don’t expect a mistake like that again.
In the NFL, no team will ever have such long odds. In fact, this year the worst odds are 200-to-1, given to both Cleveland — the Eagles’ opponent in Week 1 — and San Francisco — led by former Eagles coach Chip Kelly.
By comparison, 50-to-1 ain’t bad. Only, that’s not what the Eagles are anymore.
On Aug. 29, Westgate had the Eagles at 60-to-1, down from their opening 40-to-1, with Minnesota at 30-to-1. These odds were updated two days after Tony Romo had broken his back, yet Dallas was still listed at 25-to-1, which either says something about Romo or Cowboys fans who like to bet on their team. Or both.
Bridgewater was hurt on Aug. 30, and at the time, CBS Sportsline dropped the Vikings’ projected wins from 9 to 7.5, cutting their odds to get to the Super Bowl by more than half.
On Aug. 31, the day after Bridgewater’s injury, Sportsbook.ag, via oft-used VegasInsider.com, had the Eagles at 70-to-1, with the Vikings still at 30-to-1 on their board.
What impact did the Bradford trade have on that? On Sept. 3, Westgate put out updated win totals and the Vikings are back up to 9.5 wins (though the money line does favor taking the under at -135 to +115 for the over).
The Eagles? They’re at 6.5 wins now, with the over at +130 — you bet $100 to win $130 — and the under at -150 — if you think the Eagles will win six or fewer games it will cost you $150 to win an additional $100.
Dallas, with Dak Prescott and Mark Sanchez replacing Romo, are tied with the Giants with 8.5 wins, though the payout is better for Dallas, making New York perhaps a slight favorite to win the division.
On Monday, the odds changed again.
Westgate put out new odds to win the Super Bowl, via ESPN.com, and for Minnesota, their odds of making the Super Bowl are the same as when the line opened in February. Set at 20-to-1 as the season is about to begin, Vegas insiders think Bradford gives the Vikes the same chance of getting to the Super Bowl and winning as Bridgewater did. Neither line considers Minnesota a Super Bowl favorite, mind you, but Bradford’s inclusion hasn’t hurt their chances at all.
For the Eagles, that’s not the case. As of Sept. 5, the Eagles are now 100-to-1 to win the Super Bowl, tied with the Los Angeles Rams and ahead of only San Francisco and Cleveland for the worst chances in the league.
In February, the Eagles were 40-to-1. Three days before the NFL Draft, they were 60-to-1. Now, with Bradford gone and Carson Wentz at the helm, the Eagles are 100-to-1.
With a solid defense, the Eagles could surprise teams this year, especially if Wentz is as good right away as the team thinks he can be. But will they?
Don’t bet on it. At least not now.