The 2021 and 2022 NFL seasons are highly anticipated in no small part because they represent a return to normalcy after the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Though the 2020 NFL season was close to normal, we didn’t get any preseason games for the first time since the 1920s. That had an impact on the ability of pundits like me to analyze and handicap, and the books must have suffered as well. The league canceled the Pro Bowl, and though that didn’t have a huge impact on the betting landscape, it was unusual. For the first time since 1951, there was no NFL all-star game.
Anticipation this year has been heightened by Patrick Mahomes’ statement to Bleacher Report during the offseason that he expects the Kansas City Chiefs to go 20-0 and win the Super Bowl undefeated. I’ve seen prop bets offering +3300 or more should Mahomes’ wild prediction come true. Besides that, there’s contract controversy featuring two big-name quarterbacks and the ongoing mascot drama for Washington Football Team.
In this post, I’m going to cover some strategies for finding NFL value bets that apply every year but tailored to focus on different aspects of the 2021 and 2022 NFL seasons. Read along and prepare yourself for looking for and finding NFL value bet opportunities.
Look for Value in Surprise Playoff Teams
Of all the major sports, football leaves the most room for surprise playoff appearances. Since 1980, six teams have won the Super Bowl after playing in a wild card game.
I find a lot of value in researching those teams that will make a surprise appearance in the playoffs. Not only does this open me up to thinking about a wider range of players, but it also helps me handicap games involving higher-profile opponents, which is a crucial skill for bettors late in the sport’s regular season.
Here’s a perfect example. For 2021, I’ve got my eye on the Cincinnati Bengals to shock the NFL world and find themselves playing in February.
At the time of this post, Cincinnati is listed at +475 to make the playoffs.
I think that’s too good a price to pass on. Here’s why.
You can’t look at the 2020 Bengals and make any sane predictions about the 2021 or 2022 NFL season. A healthy Joe Burrow all last season turns in a Rookie of the Year performance and the Bengals record looks quite different. Give him a new WR in Ja’Marr Chase to go along with Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd, and their offense could be explosive.
Sure, the Bengals O-Line is a bunch of nobodies, and I’m not going anywhere near Cincinnati’s defense in my fantasy league. Just remember that when he was healthy Joe Burrow led the Bengals to outscore their opponents overall. I’m hoping that 2021 Joe Burrow looks more like Year 2 Deshaun Watson or Lamar Jackson than Year 2 Tim Couch.
Another reason to focus on taking the Bengals to make the postseason – Cincinnati is the best-positioned bad team in the AFC. Only two other in-conference teams have worse playoff odds, the NY Jets and the Houston Texans. Both of those squads make the Bengals look like an All-Madden team. If any AFC cellar-dweller makes it to the postseason, it’s the beloved Bungles.
Analysis like this will help you prepare your NFL betting strategy in 2021 and 2022. Get your feet wet with Cincinnati in 2021, then apply what you learn to the 2022 NFL season.
Take Advantage of NFL Drama
Thanks to the Internet, the 24-hour news cycle, and America’s never-ending appetite for celebrity gossip, the NFL is now a league heavily influenced by the rumor mill. Twitter has given every athlete a platform from which to make fools of themselves, initiate trade rumors, and break league policy all at the same time if they so desire.
Believe it or not, you can use league drama to find value bets. Here’s a great example for the 2021 NFL season:
I’m really interested in taking the Chicago Bears to win the NFC North. I think the +400 I’m being offered at my favorite books is a real value opportunity.
Why do I think that? Aaron Charles Rodgers.
If you believe, like I do, that Rodgers won’t be playing for the Packers in 2021, or that at very least he won’t be giving it his all, then a bet for the Bears to win the conference begins to make a lot more sense. I’m looking into buying the Bears low now to take advantage of what I think will be a perfect situation for them to outperform their 2020 season and finally knock off Green Bay.
Admittedly, your confidence in this bet is directly proportional to your confidence in Chicago’s new rookie QB Justin Fields. His 4.0 GPA and 285-pound clean & jerk aside, he’s an unproven rookie in a system that’s not exactly designed with him in mind. Still, should he have even an above-average rookie season, he’ll be head and shoulders above Chicago’s recent string of quarterbacks. I’m giving him a vote of confidence … for now.
Think about how Chicago stomped through the last four games of the 2020 season, a pedigree that a hot young QB can easily ride to in-conference dominance.
Even if you don’t want to back Fields et al, take a look at Minnesota at +260, another team that’s likely to take advantage of any Rodgers shenanigans.
Look, if I have to listen to Stephen A. Smith rattle on and on 24 hours a day, the least I can do is use the hot goss I’m constantly exposed to as a key part of my value betting strategy. The best thing about using league drama as a sports bettor – we have a never-ending supply of it, freely available at the click of a mouse or press of a remote-control button.
Look For (and Bet On) New Superstars
You may not be ready to accept it, but the NFL is in a period of transition. As players begin to react to the political landscape in more obvious ways, and as fans demand more from an embattled sport, the NFL has had to institute rule changes and new policies. But I’m not just talking about players taking knees during the anthem.
We’re losing superstars. New ones will pop up to take their place.
Drew Brees is gone. Brady’s half out the door. He may say that he wants to play into his 50s, but that’s not realistic. Other stars are aging. The league is changing, players are getting younger, and the way football is played is in a state of transition.
What’s a bettor to do? Take advantage of the shifting landscape and buy low on guys prepared to blow up. There’s value in propositions that seem unlikely. Nothing is likely in sports until, suddenly, it is. Let’s use what we know about the NFL in 2021 and 2022 to come up with an example of the kind of value betting I’m talking about.
I suggest that value bettors looking at the 2021 NFL season seriously consider taking a longshot bet on Alvin Kamara to win league MVP. If he doesn’t pull it off in 2021, he’s still eligible for a longshot upset in the 2022 season. Here’s why.
My books are offering me +10,000 for Kamara to win the MVP.
Why such a big offer? By traditional analysis, Kamara has basically no chance to win. The modern league is a quarterback’s league, and it takes a really special season for an RB to win the Most Valuable Player award. Over the past twenty years, QBs have won the award 85% of the time. Also, Kamara plays for the New Orleans Saints, one of just a few NFL teams that have never fielded an MVP season.
So, how likely is Kamara to win this award? The retirement of Drew Brees leaves a big hole in New Orleans’ offense, one which Coach Sean Payton has already said will be filled by his two RBs, Kamara and Latavius Murray. Murray is the older player, likely to see far fewer touches than former Rookie of the Year Kamara.
If Kamara rattles of 2,000 yards rushing and a dozen touchdowns, like AP did in his 2012 MVP season, Kamara could easily outshine the league’s fading QB legends and bring the award home. Why not add $100 to the pot and celebrate along with him?
Alternatively, if you want to back an upstart MVP candidate without taking such long odds, look into backing Brady to repeat. I’m seeing +1,200 – obviously because of his offseason surgery and advancing age. Peyton Manning won back-to-back MVP awards in 2008 and 2009 with the Colts – yes, he was ten years younger than Tom is today, but Brady seems to be cut from different cloth.
Look for value in the NFL 2021 and 2022 seasons by looking for surprise award winners available at long odds.
The 2020 NFL season was as normal as any of the major sport seasons during the COVID-19 pandemic. Football remains maybe the least-affected of those sports, but some changes were unavoidable. The lack of a preseason had a big impact on handicapping and sports betting prep in general. The cancelation of the Pro Bowl was mourned by exactly no one, but it was an indicator that things have still not quite returned to normal.
Creating a strategy for value betting in the 2021 and 2022 NFL season will be impacted by the 2020 pandemic season. But if you learn to look for value, you can control your bankroll, make confident bets, and continue with business as usual.