2023 NFL betting surprises
With the NFL playoffs ready to begin this weekend, we thought we’d take a look back at the biggest betting surprises from the 2023 regular season.
Last year’s Super Bowl competitors, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles, turned out to be resoundingly underwhelming in 2023, while a decrease in scoring around the league led to wacky results all season.
Here are five of the biggest betting surprises from the 2023 NFL regular season.
#5: Texans triumph as Jaguars collapse
The Houston Texans finished 2022 at 3-13-1, the second-worst record in the entire league. They drafted QB C.J. Stroud with the second overall pick and teamed him up with first-year head coach DeMeco Ryans and several other first-timers on the roster and staff.
Houston went 10-7 and finished with their best record since 2019
Rather than use the excuse of youthful ignorance, Houston went 10-7 and finished with their best record since 2019. Their Week 18 win ensured that they would make the playoffs, but did not guarantee an AFC South title since the Jacksonville Jaguars, who were 9-7 at the time, still needed to play the next day.
Jacksonville had been as low as -1000 (90.9% implied probability) to win the division after beating the Texans in Week 12, but an untimely injury to QB Trevor Lawrence and an overall decline in play plagued them as they lost five of their last six games. Their Week 18 loss to the 6-11 Tennessee Titans meant that they lost not only the division, but missed the playoffs entirely.
#4: Buffalo’s blistering turnaround
The Buffalo Bills had won the AFC East three years straight and were +120 favorites to do so again at the start of the season. However, after falling to 6-6, they found themselves at +950 to claim the title, well behind the Miami Dolphins at -1550, and were +460 to even reach the playoffs.
Buoyed by a change at offensive coordinator and adjustment to their on-field identity, the Bills won five consecutive games and beat the Dolphins 21-14 in the final game of the year to lock up the AFC East title and the second seed in the AFC.
Oddsmakers have positioned the Bills as the third most likely team to win the Super Bowl following their dramatic late-season turnaround. They haven’t made it that far since they lost four straight Super Bowls in the 1990s, but the AFC is wide open and this is as good of a chance as they’ve had in recent years.
#3: Joe Flacco saves the day
Joe Flacco made one of the best playoff runs ever and topped it off with a Super Bowl ring in 2012. Yet early this year, he was sitting on his couch, watching the games like any ordinary fan.
last-ditch effort to save their season
Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns were really struggling at the quarterback spot. Deshaun Watson and rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson both struggled and got injured, while PJ Walker played like the worst QB in the league. The Browns’ desperation led them to call Flacco to come in as a last-ditch effort to save their season.
The Browns unsurprisingly lost his debut and fell to +7000 odds at major sportsbooks, but Flacco then led them to four straight wins and helped guide them to the fifth seed in the playoffs. They are now +3100 to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. While the Browns are still four wins away from a Super Bowl title, the wily veteran already made the magic happen once and might have another run in him.
#2: Prime time prints money
NFL betting is both an art and a science, and nearly impossible to master. That’s why the trick of blindly betting the under in prime time games came as such a surprise during the 2023 NFL regular season.
Prime time unders over the last five years are 149-99-1 (60.1%) and hit at just about a 70% clip in 2023. Using 52.4% as the breakeven mark for lines with -110 odds, the prime time under was well in the green all year.
Possible explanations for this trend include the added pressure of the national stage, varying rest times, and a leaguewide decline in offensive production, but regardless, this proved to be one of the best betting strategies in the NFL.
#1: $5 to $489k touchdown parlay
Winning parlays is really hard. That’s why sportsbooks advertise them so heavily, since the profit margins are much wider and they know people will be willing to take the extra risk because of the excitement.
One DraftKings bettor must have missed that memo, as against all odds, he cashed a 14-leg parlay that turned $5 into $489,383.01. All 14 legs were anytime touchdown scorers, culminating with Christian McCaffrey on Christmas Day.
The bettor recorded himself watching the final game, jubilantly celebrating with his family when McCaffrey crossed the goal line. Safe to say, he had a pretty great Christmas thanks to NFL betting.
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