So you’ve wagered on the day’s games, but have something of a longer-term sports betting investment in mind. This is where futures betting comes into play. A futures bet is simply a fancy way of saying, in so many words, that you’re betting on an outcome that’ll play out in the fairly distant future.
There are several types of futures bets to know about before you dive in, and it’s pretty straightforward once you have a basic understanding of the concept. We’ll start with the most commonplace types of futures and work our way toward the finer details from there.
There will be certain preseason props in the major sports that you can wager on, but for now, we're zeroed in on the most widespread team futures bet: to win the championship.
That’s it. That’s all. When you see futures odds at any online sportsbooks worth their salt — and we wouldn’t steer you wrong — it will lead you to a page that provides the odds of all contending teams to win a championship in that sport. Thankfully, with abe's cutting-edge odds comparison engine, you can check out the odds across all the big books and make your bet the best bargain it can possibly be.
Check out our listings for NFL futures, or who's favored to win the Super Bowl. What you'll find by following the link is an updated list of odds, but below, we'll screengrab what was current as of this writing, which was all games through Week 4:
At this point, the Lombardi Trophy defending Kansas City Chiefs (+450) were slightly favored to emerge as Super Bowl champions over the Baltimore Ravens (+650). So early in the season, any team would be fair game. It'd be wise to wager on a team that looks strong to start, but you can always take a shot with a team that began 0-2 but figures to course-correct as the year goes on.
The same championship futures odds are available for NBA, MLB's World Series, the College Football Playoff winner and any other major sport that has a season starting up. Once the Stanley Cup playoffs are over in the NHL and this year's NBA Finals are played, you'll find futures betting available shortly thereafter for the 2021 championship.
Futures bets such as these are the most common by far, but it takes a lot of patience. They're available throughout the season, and the odds will fluctuate based on how the games are playing out. Sometimes, you'll find you can get better odds before the season than during it. More on strategy in a later section. Let's continue digging deeper into the different types of futures betting first.
Before the season, sportsbooks will offer you odds on whether or not a team will make the playoffs, and give you an Over/Under for their win total that you can bet on accordingly. These are technically heads-up bets, not necessarily futures. However, there are other futures odds you can get throughout the season if you're not fully confident in riding your team to a championship.
Division and conference champions are the most commonly listed and bet on team futures props, particularly during the season. Again, we'll reveal what our listings had as of Week 4 for futures to win the AFC in the NFL:
Here's an example of what it looks like for futures odds to win the Chiefs' AFC West division from that same time frame:
Of course, the Chiefs are still the prohibitive favorites to take the crown, yet at this juncture, no one save perhaps the injury-ravaged Denver Broncos could be counted out. How teams start often sets the tone for a season, but again, if a strong team begins the year slow, you can really get them at excellent odds and eventually net yourself a huge payout.
Like the team props, winning bets on player futures are predicated on certain achievements being fulfilled. Prior to the season, individual star players will have certain Over/Under totals they have to reach for the season. For example, PointsBet had Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook with a 9.5 line for rushing touchdowns in 2020.
But like with the team props of either hitting the Over or not, these are 50-50 shots and don't offer in-season action when compared to futures odds for certain awards.
Oddsmakers will constantly be adjusting odds for MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, Offensive Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year and many other awards in all the major sports throughout the season. This is especially true with the NFL and NBA, since they're the most popular and have the most exposure and prestige when it comes to the accolades.
Here's a look at FanDuel's Defensive Player of the Year futures through Week 4 of the 2020 NFL campaign:
Unsurprisingly, Los Angeles Rams lineman Aaron Donald is tied at the top, having won the award two straight times before missing out last year, courtesy of New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who's definitely in the running at this point as the No. 4 co-favorite after a 2019 in which he had six interceptions and allowed a passer rating of just 48.0.
It's the same as reading any other kind of odds, such as a moneyline, point spread, or the line you see attached to an Over/Under. What's great is, because you're investing in something that won't be decided until the rather distant future, the odds are much better, and will result in a much higher payout if you win, as opposed to betting on a single game.
This may seem self-explanatory, yet it's important to understand what you're getting into. The odds may seem jarringly large compared to single-game bets, and they're supposed to be! That's part of the appeal of futures.
Long shots to win a division, conference or league title will have truly astronomical odds to win anything. If you think there's even the faintest chance that one of those Cinderellas stories could come true, why not throw down a buck on it? Even that measly bet could wind up paying off huge.
To go back to the Chiefs, because hey, they're the reigning champs: Say you bet them +550 after Week 2 to win it all, and Patrick Mahomes and Co. pull it off again this coming February. They go back-to-back. Sportsbooks will calculate your payout for you, but the odds aren't going to change from the time you placed your bet.
If you bet $100 on Kansas City to win Super Bowl 55, that'll pay out $550. It's quite a massive return on investment, albeit one that was months in the making. And that's for one of the top contenders. Pick a middle-tier or true dark horse to emerge as champions, and you'll have a serious profit on your hands — and you could even bet smaller than $100 to achieve such a thing.
It's been implicit to a degree in the prior two sections, but bears plain stating. Firstly, the championship and playoff picture will constantly be changing, so you'll have to be mindful before placing a bet that the odds you see won't change. The bet you placed, regardless of when it happened, holds the same odds at the time of your wager, and doesn't budge even as weeks go by and the odds drastically change.
You might get lucky and see that your sportsbook offers you a chance to cash out early on your ticket. If you picked a long shot to win the Super Bowl and they're within a win or two in the playoffs of achieving pro football's ultimate goal, you might consider taking the money and running.
The flip side of that is picking one of the heavy favorites prior to Week 1's kickoff, only to see them miss the postseason. However much their odds balloon, it won't help your ill-fated bet, and your chances of cashing out early and finishing ahead are slim to none.
Generally speaking, to summarize all that in a succinct manner, the pros of futures are bigger payouts than single-game betting, and how you'll have a rooting interest in at least one team for a whole season, provided they're faring well.
But we recommend betting on more than one team. One big con of futures is once you're locked in, you generally can't get out, or won't want to, save for a generous cash-out offer. Plus, the odds are longer for a reason: picking a champ in any sport is a classic "finding a needle in a haystack" proposition. Even picking a division champion is challenging enough, more so in instances where the heavy favorite has such short odds and is in all likelihood going to win anyway (re: the Patriots, 11-time reigning AFC East champions).
If you're unfamiliar with the concept of hedge betting, please visit our "How to Bet" hub, where we have an article on that precise topic. It's key to understanding this next section, but we'll describe it here in a nutshell. Hedging usually applies to when you're betting on opposite sides of the same game to give yourself some insurance in case the side you bet more money on loses.
It's a no-brainer for sports bettors to adopt this strategy for futures bets. Now, the difference is you won't guarantee a profit unless you bet on all teams involved. This is all about not putting all your eggs in one basket, so to speak.
If you use an odds comparison tool like the one we have at abe, you can ensure you find the best odds for any team you want to bet on. We take out the legwork for you, but if you're serious about getting maximum value on futures, it's definitely an aspect of the research you'll want to do. The better odds you can get, you'll feel even better about the teams you're betting on — and they'll win you more if you ultimately have a winning ticket. It's a win-win situation.
If hedging is still a little unclear as it relates to this style of betting, worry not. This daily fantasy paradigm is a different way of looking at it.
Futures are subjective and largely depend on the sport, how you feel about a certain team and what the odds reveal to you. A good analogy is to view a futures bet — or, well, series of futures bets — as if it's a daily fantasy draft, particularly in the case of a wager for a team to win the championship or their conference.
Instead of using the mock money you usually do to buy players and build your DFS lineup, think of futures as using an allotted amount of cash you've set aside to build your "championship roster."
To see this plan of action put into practice, return to abe's NFL futures, just for the sake of continuity, simplicity and the fact that this most popular sport's season is just beginning. Say you're a football expert, it's your favorite sport and you really know the teams. You set aside $200 to play with, and decide to spread it across five teams of your choosing. That covers over 15% of the teams in the league, so your odds are already shorter, as opposed to picking only one of 32 teams.
Incoming, The Fun Part: now you get to assemble your lineup.
You'll need to bet more on the top teams to earn a desirable payout for what the futures market is offering. This is the exact same principle you'd apply when spending top dollar to draft an elite daily fantasy player. Go ahead and take Kansas City at +550, along with, say, the Seattle Seahawks (+1300). Say you spend $75 and $50 on the Chiefs and Seahawks respectively.
With the remaining $75, we'll go two mid-level contenders at $30 apiece, and put the last $15 on a longer shot. Maybe the Aaron Rodgers Revenge Tour continues in Green Bay? We'll go with that. Packers at +2100. Do we like the Buffalo Bills to dethrone New England in the AFC East? Oh, not just that, we're feeling a Bills Super Bowl — and +2300 looks good!
OK, $15 left. Who wouldn't want to see Jon Gruden and the Las Vegas Raiders (+4400) get all amped up on the post-game podium, lifting that beautiful, silver trophy? The screenshot ran out of room for anyone below Las Vegas, which is usually a good rule of thumb as a cutoff point. But seriously, if Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans (+10000) are more your speed, a $15 bet on them would pay a whopping $1,500 profit line!
For players futures, apply this same method. Say for MVP, you want to go with a proven player and a front-runner, such as Mahomes or Lamar Jackson. Remember this, though: Both those young studs took galactic leaps in Year 2 and came out of relative nowhere to earn the NFL's highest individual regular-season honor. Let's see what DraftKings had for us post-Week 4 among the top MVP contenders:
Well, would you look at that? Russell Wilson's hot start for Seattle has him as the favorite at +175, ahead of Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers and Jackson. Chances are, the award is going to go to a quarterback since it's easily the most valuable position, so you can eliminate most of the other contenders who don't play that spot.
If you like five players, maybe go with two to three of the favorites, and then pick a couple long shots. On a $150 budget, the smart move is to pick two out of Wilson, Mahomes and Rodgers at $50 a pop. Then, go ahead and snag the newest dual-threat dynamo in Josh Allen (+1600) at $30 and either Kyler Murray, Tom Brady or Cam Newton (+2000) at $20 and call it a day.
You can apply the same "daily fantasy" model to your futures approach for conference champions, and any longer-runway future bet in all the major sports. It's good to budget yourself and not count on these relative long-shot wagers to be your main source of sustenance in sports betting. Unless you're extraordinarily patient or don't bet often as it is, futures are more of a fun, "hit and hope" sort of ordeal.
Don't fret too much about futures bets. They should be a great time and, if nothing else, give you a rooting interest in a team you might never have otherwise cared about. And if you're a fan of a franchise that continually lets you down, perhaps your fandom might flip if you get a taste of that ultimate winning sensation.
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