The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

These are the NFL power ratings that actually matter

The Buffalo Bills have chased down the Kansas City Chiefs as the best team in the NFL, according to offseason point spreads. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Placeholder while article actions load

The NFL regular season is still a few months away, but oddsmakers have already started posting opening point spreads for the entire 2022 schedule. The SuperBook at Westgate, for example, released the point spreads for every game on the schedule, giving us insight into how one respected book judges each team at this point in the offseason.

These lines are an important clue, because we can reverse-engineer them to figure out exactly how many points each team is worth in the spread, according to the SuperBook. We can also figure out how much home-field advantage is valued, further insight into the offseason analysis of one of the sharper books in the market.

(I won’t bore you with the spreadsheet gymnastics needed to reverse-engineer point spreads into power ratings, but it involves using a solver tool to go through each game and minimize the error between the known point spread for each game and what we might estimate it to be based on the teams involved.)

The hardest (and easiest) projected NFL schedules

Once we’re done, we get a list of teams and their standard point-spread value, plus the aforementioned look at home-field advantage, which is estimated to be 1.8 points this season based on the early spreads.

The top team in the NFL, by this analysis, is the Buffalo Bills, projected to be 5.9 points per game better than an average team. Next come the Kansas City Chiefs (5.0), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4.8), Los Angeles Rams (4.2) and Green Bay Packers (4.0). While all five of those teams made the playoffs last season, three were eliminated in the divisional round.

The bottom teams, according to the SuperBook, are the Atlanta Falcons (-5.6), Houston Texans (-5.1) and Detroit Lions (-4.5). Judging teams by this metric isn’t perfect, but the results certainly pass the smell test, providing a measuring stick for the upcoming season.

Using the power ratings to come up with weekly point spreads is then just simple addition and subtraction. Subtract the visiting team’s rating from the home team’s rating, then add in home-field advantage and you have your estimated point spread. For example, the Baltimore Ravens (2.4) will travel to New Jersey to take on the Jets (-3.8) in Week 1. We would estimate the point spread for this game to have the Ravens favored by 4.4 points (2.4 plus 3.8 minus 1.8, because the game is on the road for Baltimore). FanDuel is offering Ravens -5½, and DraftKings is offering Ravens -4½.

The power ratings are especially useful for bettors in Week 2. Many people will overreact to results from the opening week, yet barring key injuries, a one-game sample shouldn’t affect the overall rankings much. In fact, analytical researcher Mike Beuoy found you would only take 15 percent of the actual result into account for a revised spread if two teams were to repeat a matchup in the following week.

As for now, these power ratings can prove useful for anyone scanning the NFL futures markets. Since 2002, an NFL team that averaged a point spread of -1 — being a slight favorite — won 9½ games, while a team favored by an average of four points won 11½ games. That helps us evaluate regular season win total wagers available in the offseason.

The Washington Commanders, for example, are expected to be underdogs of almost two points per game, according to the SuperGate, projecting a 7-10 season. The win total being offered by DraftKings is under eight wins at -110 odds (wager $110 to win $100). That makes the under an intriguing wager.

If we look at those estimated win totals by division, some additional interesting opportunities develop. The Bills are expected to win 12 or 13 games — three or four more than either the New England Patriots or Miami Dolphins. Yet FanDuel is offering the Bills at only -180 odds to win the AFC East. The Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans are each expected to win nine or 10 games, yet FanDuel is offering the Colts at -105 to win the AFC South, while DraftKings is offering the Titans at +175 to win the division.

Here are all of the divisions, with teams listed in order of most expected wins. As always, it pays to shop around and get the best price for any futures bet.

You also could use the expected win totals to figure out which teams should make the playoffs, or at the least which teams should have similar odds. The Minnesota Vikings and Arizona Cardinals are estimated to win nine games apiece based on these point spreads, but the price for the Vikings to make the playoffs (+100 at DraftKings) is inferior to that of Cardinals (+125). There are divisional elements at play — the NFC West is more competitive than the NFC North — but it is one more illustration of how you can attempt to price the market during the offseason using these implied power ratings.

Loading...