NFL New 17th Game: What Bettors Should Know
NFL Week 18. That’s something I thought I’d never hear in my lifetime. However, it’s a reality now as this offseason the NFL owners approved an extra game for each team starting this season. The move was made, according to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, to “enhance the quality of the NFL experience for our fans” and to give the NFL the ability to “grow our game around the world”. But who are we kidding? The change was made to line the owners’ pockets with more revenue from TV contracts and ticket sales.
Doc’s Sports offers NFL picks for every game on our NFL predictions page.
On the surface, the extra game won’t affect bettors too much. The scheduling of the new 17th game was done in a way to make it as fair as possible for all the teams across the league. However, this is a pretty big change to get used to as a 16-game schedule has been the standard since 1978.
There’s no doubt that sharp NFL bettors have been hard at work since the announcement trying to find a way to take advantage of the new format and stay one step ahead of oddsmakers, who may be slow to adjust to the new betting landscape.
Each team’s schedule is determined, mostly, years in advance. Every NFL squad plays six games, one home and one away, against divisional opponents. They play four games against teams from a division within their conference, determined by a three-year rotating cycle. And they also play four games against teams from a division in the opposite conference. Those matchups are determined by a four-year rotation cycle. These matchups are set in stone for the foreseeable future barring any more major changes to the scheduling format. The only thing that really changes from year to year is the two games against in-conference opponents that are determined by division standings, pitting teams that finished the same place in their division against each other.
And now there’s the 17th game.
This game will feature opponents from opposite conferences that finished the same place in their division. These matchups also rotate on a four-year cycle. So, for example, the Colts finished second in the AFC South for the 2020 season. They get the unfortunate honor of matching up with the second-place team from the NFC South, the World Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. There will also be a rotation for which conference hosts the 17th game each season. For the 2021 season, the AFC conference will host the extra game, while for the 2022 season the NFC will host the 17th game. These games will be spread out throughout the season (to highlight more marquee matchups, no doubt) as the final Week 18 of the season will still feature divisional opponents.
The following are the 17th game matchups for the 2021 season (at the time of this writing the NFL schedules for the upcoming season have not been released yet):
Seattle (NFC West) at Pittsburgh (AFC North), Green Bay (NFC North) at Kansas City (AFC West), Washington (NFC East) at Buffalo (AFC East), New Orleans (NFC South) at Tennessee (AFC South)
LA Rams (NFC West) at Baltimore (AFC North), Chicago (NFC North) at Las Vegas (AFC West), NY Giants (NFC East) at Miami (AFC East), Tampa Bay (NFC South) at Indianapolis (AFC South)
Arizona (NFC West) at Cleveland (AFC North), Minnesota (NFC North) at LA Chargers (AFC West), Dallas (NFC East) at New England (AFC East), Carolina (NFC South) at Houston (AFC South)
San Francisco (NFC West) at Cincinnati (AFC North), Detroit (NFC North) at Denver (AFC West), Philadelphia (NFC East) at NY Jets (AFC East), Atlanta (NFC South) at Jacksonville (AFC South)
While the NFL set up this rotating schedule of 17th game opponents with emphasis on parity and fairness, not all 17th games are created equal. Take the Colts, for example. If they were crossed over with the NFC East this year, instead of the NFC South, they would get a home game against the New York Giants, who finished 6-10 last season. Instead, because of the luck of the draw, they host Tom Brady and the Champion Buccaneers. Every division winner in the AFC was solid last season, but I can guarantee the Packers would rather play the Titans or even Steelers than the Kansas City Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes at Arrowhead Stadium.
There will always be major fluctuations from year to year in the standings. It’s not out of the ordinary for teams to go from worst to first in their division from year to year. And vice versa. Therefore, some teams that look to have an easy 17th game matchup may have a much tougher game by the time that date rolls around. But some teams clearly have it easier than others, and AFC squads are at a big advantage in hosting the extra game this season.
So, that brings us to how the new 17th NFL game could affect bettors. While we don’t think there will be any major effects on bettors, here are some things to look out for:
Season Win Totals
Each season, oddsmakers release a season win total for every team in the NFL. Bettors can decide if they think a team will win more or fewer games than the oddsmakers’ number and bet accordingly. This is one of the most popular futures bets involving NFL football.
With the extra game this season and beyond, of course the numbers are going to rise a bit across the board with each NFL team having an extra chance to score a win. Surprisingly, however, the totals across the board haven’t been affected much. Last season, the Chiefs were on top of the season win total board with an “Over/Under” of 11.5 games. They are listed with an O/U of 12 this season. Last season, there were seven teams at 9.5 wins or above. This season there are 12. Last season, there were seven teams listed at 6.5 or fewer wins. This season there are still six in the same range.
So, oddmakers haven’t overreacted. But bettors might. And surely many square bettors will head into the 2021 NFL season not even knowing about the 17th game.
For bettors looking for an edge on season win totals, AFC teams with that extra home game might be worth looking into for over bets. And some teams with extra tough 17th games, like the Colts in the example above, might be worth looking at going under if the bettor were leaning in that direction anyways.
“Obviously, (the 17th game) affects season win totals as there is now an extra game, so season win totals are all going to be higher this season,” said Matthew Holt, founder and CEO of U.S. Integrity, a company that monitors sportsbook handle to ensure the integrity of games. “In terms of actual futures odds, it has little effect. Making season win totals is a bit tricky. The more games played, the more likely that some division winners will clinch earlier and thus we could see some meaningless games at the end of the year. I think the oddsmakers have done a great job so far. There are only three teams in the NFL with a season total of 11 or higher (Baltimore, Kansas City, and Tampa Bay).”
It’s bad luck to bet for or against injuries, but players getting hurt is an undeniable fact of NFL betting. Many players were staunchly opposed to the 17th NFL game. They are the ones putting their body on the line every week, and an extra game of competitive football (the NFL removed one preseason game to make space for the 17th regular-season game) gives players more of a chance to get injured.
“Athletes are creatures of habit, and now adding a game that they don't want to play could be season changer for some teams,” said Raphael Esparza, expert Doc’s Sports handicapper and global oddsmaker. “Backup QBs, backup OL, and other key positions could be game changers. Look for to teams to carry more depth on the practice squad.”
NFL Week 18
Week 17 is normally a tough week for bettors. It’s often uncertain which teams will give full effort. Some teams’ seasons will be long over. Some will be playing for their playoff lives. Some will be resting starters as they have already solidified their playoff position.
However, with the new NFL Week 18, there could be two weeks, including Week 17, where teams take a different approach than the regular season, An extra playoff team from each conference was added in 2020. And now with the extra week of the regular season, the end of the season will take on a different look from what we have seen in the past. And bettors need to stay on top of any major changes in the NFL wagering landscape.
“The addition of an extra team in the playoffs in each conference has made weeks 17 and 18 more relevant than ever as more and more teams are fighting for playoff spots,” said Holt. “Yet more games will also mean more teams will have clinched spots. I still think the extra playoff team negates the extra game and makes Week 18 a fun one for fans, or at least as fun as you can get for the last week of the regular season.”
Therefore, we think that the season win totals will be the biggest issue for bettors to note involving the new extra 17th NFL game. It will be interesting to see how this big change affects the end of the season with injuries and playoff implications.
Most Recent NFL Handicapping
- 2022 Super Bowl Predictions
- Basic Strategy Teasers: Best Week 1 NFL Betting Options
- First NFL Coach to be Fired Odds and Expert Betting Predictions
- NFL Betting Predictions: Week 1 Opening Line Report and Picks
- 2021 AFC North Predictions with Odds and Expert Betting Picks
- 2021 AFC West Predictions with Odds and Expert Betting Picks
- 2021 AFC South Predictions with Odds and Expert Betting Picks
- 2021 AFC East Predictions with Odds and Expert Betting Picks
- NFL Betting: Turnover Disparity Often Good Indicator of Team Regression or Ascension
- 2021 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Predictions with Odds to Win Super Bowl