The nature of sports gambling futures markets is a double-edged sword. Futures bets require bettors to not only make predictions months in advance but also require them to tie up a chunk of their bankroll for that same length of time.
Of course, the possibility of a high payoff is what makes futures bets so attractive to bettors. Some bettors don’t want to do research and make decisions each week on which games to bet and will make a futures play on their favorite team since they will be cheering for them regardless.
More serious bettors tend to stay away from the clear and obvious favorites and will try to find opportunities in the futures market when they think a team is undervalued and can get favorable odds. This type of bet is typically referred to as a “value play.” Below are five futures plays for 2020 that fall into that category and one chalk play that, despite short odds, is still the prudent way to go.
Houston Astros Under 94.5 Wins
Since the news of the Astros sign-stealing scandal broke, the hole they’ve dug for themselves gets deeper by the day and spring training is just starting. Granted, the Astros have plenty of talent on their roster but has the value of that talent been overrated based on the success they’ve had while stealing other teams’ signs? The ‘Stros may find that it’s not quite so easy to win if they don’t know what pitches are coming.
The Astros also lost starting pitcher Gerrit Cole to the Yankees. Cole was one of two aces in their rotation, which means they now have to replace as many as 20 wins, which is what Cole posted in 2019.
The Astros still have a very good pitching staff anchored by Justin Verlander and Zach Greinke but will that staff look quite so good when they aren’t getting as much run support by stealing signs? Plus, pitching in high-pressure situations presumably becomes easier with the knowledge that you’re going to get artificially inflated offensive support.
Lastly, the distraction factor has been turned up to 11. Former Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch are both gone and now Dusty Baker has been brought in to clean up a mess that can’t be cleaned overnight. This season, the Astros are going to have to deal with intense scrutiny as well as a barrage of vitriol when they play on the road. Some sportsbooks have actually posted a total for the number of times an Astros player will be hit by a pitch. At last check, it was 82.5, which is basically one every other game and nearly 20 more than last season.
The Astros are likely in for a rough season, so 94.5 wins seems ambitious.
Florida Gators Football 15-1 to Win CFP National Championship
As stated previously, a good futures bet is rarely about taking the favorite. This is where the Gators have the potential to shine at 15-1. They are essentially returning 11 starters from last season with quarterback Kyle Trask and tight end Kyle Pitts headlining that group. Pitts has clear All-American potential and Trask showed he could rise to the occasion after taking over for Felipe Franks last season. On the defensive side, the Gators’ already-solid secondary will stay mostly intact, receiving a big boost from defensive back Marco Wilson opting to return to school rather than enter the NFL draft.
Florida did lose a quality tailback in Lamical Perine but will look to pick up where he left off with Miami transfer and former 5-star recruit Lorenzo Lingard, as well as junior tailback Dameon Pierce, who seems to have the same type of explosiveness that Perine showed last season. These backs will have the luxury of running behind an offensive line that is only losing starting center Nick Buchanan from their 11-win campaign last season.
Not only are the Gators in good shape as a team, but the SEC — specifically the SEC-East — is shaping up to present an opportunity for them. Florida rival Georgia loses a considerable number of players from last season’s team, most notably star quarterback Jake Fromm and the majority of their starting offensive line to the NFL draft. The rest of the SEC-East teams are projected to be muddling somewhere between 4-8 and 8-5, so Florida is in good shape to at least win the East.
In the SEC-West, reigning national champs LSU will not be the juggernaut they were last season without quarterback Joe Burrow, who graduated and is entering the NFL draft. Alabama, who won six out of the last 11 SEC titles, showed last season that they are occasionally fallible and are also losing starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to the NFL. So an SEC title may be Florida’s for the taking and winning the SEC championship virtually guarantees a College Football Playoff spot.
An SEC representative has won the national title three out of the six seasons since the College Football Playoff replaced the BCS. Therefore, the 15-1 odds on the Gators winning the national championship are a great value.
Jason Day 35-1 to Win the Masters
For the majority of his career, Jason Day has had to deal with health problems, causing him to fall in and out of the golfing spotlight at different times, so he’s currently flying a bit under the radar. However, his strong showing at the recent AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am is a very encouraging sign that his health and game are coming back to form. This makes the 35-1 odds that he’s getting to win The Masters all the more enticing.
With its generous fairways and lack of high rough, Augusta National is the type of course where short game and putting are at a premium. If his back holds up, Day is exactly the type of player who could take advantage of Augusta with his wedge play and putting.
There are plenty of great players in the field that you could make a similar case for, like Justin Thomas or Rickie Fowler for example, but they are getting much shorter odds at 14-1 and 20-1, respectively. When healthy, Day has the talent of a Top 10 player in the world, but for The Masters, he is getting the odds of a much lesser player because of the uncertainty. So the 35-1 price on Day is by far the best value on the board.
Seton Hall 16-1 & Maryland 20-1 to Win the NCAA Tournament
The NCAA tournament is an interesting event for sports betting because the field starts off so large. Because of this, it can be advantageous to bet on multiple teams to win it all, so here are two teams currently being undervalued by the oddsmakers to win the national title.
Maryland and Seton Hall both possess the two main components that are crucial to winning the NCAA tournament. First is the fortitude to sustain a six-game winning streak against high-quality competition. They have both been playing high-quality competition all season because the Big East and the Big Ten are by far the deepest conferences.
By comparison, Gonzaga is a great team, but in the WCC they play a tough game or two and then essentially get a month off by playing teams like Portland, Pepperdine and Santa Clara. Teams in the Big Ten and Big East don’t have that luxury. Their tough schedules create a lot of value. If Seton Hall or Maryland played in weaker conferences, their numbers and records would look better on paper and they would most likely be getting roughly 8-1 odds instead of 16-1 and 20-1, respectively.
The second component that makes these teams solid picks in the tourney is that they are both multi-faceted. Maryland has star guard Anthony Cowan and forward Jalen Smith, who can hurt opponents in the post and from the perimeter. Seton Hall can do the same with guard Myles Powell and forward Sandro Mamukelashvili. A couple quick fouls or an off night from one player doesn’t automatically spell defeat for them as it can for a lot of teams.
Both these teams are battle-tested, well-coached, and have multiple players that can take over a game, which are big factors for the teams that are able to win six consecutive games against quality competition.
Los Angeles Lakers 11-4 to Win NBA Title
Most of the time, betting an odds-on favorite is not a great value because it ties up your bankroll for too long for too little of a payoff. In this case, however, if you want to bet on the NBA championship, it has to be the Lakers.
The main reason behind this Lakers bet is simple — LeBron James is still the best player in the game and now that he’s surrounded by players like forwards Anthony Davis and Kyle Kuzma, as well as veterans Danny Green, Rajon Rondo and Dwight Howard, he’s no longer required to score 35 points per night to get wins. James’ game has transitioned into the role of floor general, reminiscent of Magic Johnson.
At slightly better than 2-1, the payoff here isn’t as sexy as some other futures bets, but the oddsmakers have made it clear that there are really only three teams in the running for the title — the Lakers, the Los Angeles Clippers and the Milwaukee Bucks. The Clippers and the Bucks are 11-4 and 9-4 respectively, but then the next closest odds are the Houston Rockets at 14-1. The divide between the Top 3 and the rest of the league is huge.
The reason why the Lakers are the best bet is that even with the occasional off night, it’s hard to imagine any team beating them in a best-of-seven series. The Clippers and Bucks could both steal a game or two in a seven-game series, but they both have just enough flaws that, barring any major Lakers injuries, four wins would be a stretch.
Last season, when the Bucks went down to the Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals, it proved that it takes more than just the incredible talent of forward Giannis Antetokounmpo to win a seven-game series.
The Clippers are also one piece short of truly giving the Lakers a run because Anthony Davis is a match-up nightmare. If they double-team or play aggressive help-side defense on Davis that still leaves the best player in the world on the backside. Clippers guards Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, as talented as they are, just aren’t enough to answer everything that the Lakers can throw at them.
Odds of 11-4 might not seem like a very exciting payoff, but in this case it’s the best play, plus you’re only tying up a piece of your bankroll until June.