The next NFL season kicks off on September 9th with reigning Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay hosting Dallas at Raymond James Stadium. The regular season ends eighteen weeks later, on January 9th, 2022.
Getting ready to bet on any upcoming sports season requires effort. I think the NFL is generally a tough league to handicap, but the upcoming 2021-2022 season will test gamblers even more than usual. During the months and weeks leading up to the season, I have a lot of work to do. I need to be absorbing league news, researching player trades and acquisitions, staying on top of draft predictions, watching interviews and preseason game tape, and preparing my gambling budget.
In this post, I’ll talk about my preparations for the upcoming NFL season. I’ll share some tips based on experience, describe a few pitfalls I can identify for you ahead of time, and show some of the messiness that’s built in to the process of preparing to place sports bets.
Complications in the 2021-2022 NFL Season
The 2021 season is the NFL’s first using a 17-game regular season schedule. That’s a big change for the sports betting industry. Adding a regular season game affect bankrolls and handicapping. The industry hasn’t seen a 17-game regular season before, so it’s not easy to say what’s going to happen.
The NFL is a high-drama league, but the 2021-2022 offseason has been feistier than ever. After an entire offseason of Deshaun Watson stories, Houston has decided they’re willing to trade him. One of the best quarterbacks in a generation, Watson is suddenly on the trading block – and no team seems likely to make a serious offer. Will he stay? If he stays, will he play at peak? If Watson is traded, his presence on the new roster completely alters that team’s story. And this is just one thread of a complex offseason story.
Between the added regular season game, all the Watson drama, Tom Brady’s injury revelation, big offseason trades and acquisitions by the league’s most powerful teams, and a few COVID unknowns still hovering, the upcoming 2021-2022 NFL season is set to be one of the shakiest in years.
Preparations for Betting on the 2021 NFL Season
I’m making a few big changes to my sports betting preparations to deal with the weirdness of the 2021 NFL season. Below, I’ve detailed them. Pick what works for you and ignore what doesn’t.
Adjust Your Budget
You’re going to have an extra week of regular season play. That means an extra week of betting. If you’re a completionist, like most of the writers here, you’re going to want to adjust your bets to prepare for a new round.
In years past, I would take my total NFL budget (let’s say it was $10,000 for the sake of discussion) and divide it by the total number of bets I wanted to make. Every year that I’ve bet on the NFL, I’ve had 16 weeks to budget for. Now that I’ve got 17, my unit bet is a little smaller.
I like to bet two games a week – that’s now 34 bets. Splitting that $10k up among 34 bets gives me $294 or so per bet. I’ll round that down to $250 and give myself a couple of chances throughout the season to double up when I feel confident. I’m used to betting $300 – with just 32 bets per season, I could afford that larger bet.
I’m not that upset about it. For me, betting is more about adding excitement to a game I already love to watch, and it lets me practice a little statistics math from time to time. When I win, that’s just icing on the cake. Putting up $50 less per wager isn’t a big deal.
Watch (and Read) Even More News & Analysis
I know it’s shocking that a sports betting blogger would recommend that you read more sports betting blog posts, but that’s what I’m doing. Seriously, a season surrounded by so much uncertainty isn’t something you’re going to be able to analyze and absorb on your own.
Find sources you trust, stuff as much ESPN and other sports news as you can into your downtime, check out more modern spaces like Reddit and Substack for tips and insight beyond what’s available to the public, and make yourself a student of the game.
Watch Out for these Draft Picks
Justin Fields (QB, Chicago Bears) has ROTY written all over him. Don’t believe the Andy Dalton rumors – Fields will start in Chicago. He’s an elite-level deep passer that can run the ball. Look for a huge season.
Elijah Moore (WR, NY Jets) is a slot receiver with a ton of potential very much in the mode of Tyreek Hill. With the Jets, Moore has an untested QB and needs TE Chris Herndon to play above his ability. But lightning could strike.
Jaylen Waddle (WR, Miami) is coming in with a chip on his shoulder – when the Dolphins traded to draft Waddle, ignoring standout TE Kyle Pitts, some fans in Miami were immediately against him. As goes Tua Tagovailoa’s 2021 season, so go Waddle’s prospects. Keep your eyes on Miami’s young offense this year.
Other Teams & Players to Watch in the Upcoming NFL Season
Winner of the Deshaun Watson Sweepstakes
I’m not going anywhere near the story behind Deshaun Watson’s sudden pariah status – anything I could say at this point would be based on hearsay and rumor, and I’m not a judge or a jury. So, let’s stick to the sports. No matter where Watson ends up, he changes the face of the league. If he goes to a new team, he’s automatically QB1. And for good reason – he could throw 5,000+ yards and 40 TDs next year. Even if he stays in Houston, will he be at his best? Watch the Texans QB drama closely.
Vikings WR’s (Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, Dede Westbrook)
A few things to consider here. Kirk Cousins is going to be protected better than in any year he’s spent in a Minnesota uniform, thanks in large part to their brilliant draft-day grab of OT Christian Darrisaw in the first round. Their third-round pick, two-time All-American Wyatt Davis, will also provide much-needed spark in that area of the field. Secondly, Westbrook is new to the squad, looking to prove himself and gain a spot in a burgeoning powerhouse WR core. Competition (especially among younger players) breeds brilliance.
Patrick Mahomes (QB, Kansas City Chiefs)
I don’t need to tell you to watch Mahomes – he’s the biggest story in the game, a young phenom ready to take up the slack left by the league’s last crop of great QBs. The reason I’m putting him in this list is simple – the kid is positioned to set all kinds of records, and I think he may have a shot at backing up his “20-0” prediction. A big reason for this is the Chiefs’ acquisition of OT Orlando Brown, Jr. from the Ravens. Brown is young (25 years old on day one of the 2021 season), talented (a two-time Pro Bowl pick), and ready to protect Mahomes. He makes Mahomes better, immediately.
Haason Reddick (DE, Carolina Panthers)
Reddick posted superhuman numbers in the last quarter of the 2020 season. Those 7.5 sacks and 6 forced fumbles are two of the three reasons you’re seeing his name anywhere in this post. The other reason – his new home. Reddick was almost always on the hot seat in Arizona, with expectations beyond his ability, and a couple of minor scandals that kept him in hot water with fans and management. He has a clean slate with the Panthers, who are fielding a much-improved team that I expect will win 8 games.
The Broncos have an amazing roster if you don’t look at the QB position. No qualms about the O or D lines, their receivers are all at least “pretty good,” do we even need to talk about the LB or secondary positions? Future Hall of Famers all over the place. The big issue in Denver the past couple of seasons has been the QB position, and that remains true. Denver showed some confidence in Drew Lock, not drafting his most obvious replacement in Fields – but they added Teddy Bridgewater as a kind of backup. All that said, I expect Lock to have his breakout season in 2021. It’s easy to see a path to 9 or 10 wins and a wild card spot for the Broncos. Everyone else is selling Denver, so I’m buying.
NFL bettors are in a tough position in 2021 and 2022. We have our work cut out for us. As the league faces COVID, player protests, rule changes, a lengthening regular season, and any number of high-profile news stories, bettors have to adjust.
I want to add that there’s no real harm in placing your 2021 NFL bets exactly like you’ve been placing bets for every other season. That’s a valid response to turmoil. I’ve chosen to work harder, and model for you guys how I’m doing it, but that’s not necessarily going to be everybody’s choice.
Having said that, I think lots of bettors want to do everything they can to get ready for the upcoming season of NFL football. I think that if you follow some of my advice in this post, you’ll feel more prepared for what’s likely to be an otherwise un-preparable-for season.