When Futures Go Wild

When Futures Go Wild

Jason Scavone
August 24, 2023

A question mark painted into a football field


The days are shortening up, Halloween candy has been on the shelves for weeks, and there’s a non-zero chance you’re sleeping on your old NFL sheets between now and kickoff Sept. 7. 

With less than two weeks to go before the NFL returns it is, in short, futures season.

Unabated’s NFL Season Simulator is a major weapon in your arsenal for finding value on season-long plays. But, as we’ve mentioned with other tools, what you get out of it depends on the quality of projections you input. 

If your projections are off, you may find yourself completely out of line with the market. You could be betting into numbers with no basis in reality. Good projections can help you find solid edges on futures bets. They can also give you a foundation for weekly plays.

While you can upload your own, we also provide projection sets you can use out of the box. Predictive analytics expert Ed Feng’s Power Rank is one of them.

Feng drew on his math background when he started designing his projections, and tried to incorporate big-picture context to get past surface-level reads.

“It’s an algorithm that adjusts for strength of schedule. That’s what it does well,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s gotten more sophisticated (over the years), but I’ve applied the same ideas to more accurate metrics. Things that you should look at such as success rate and yards per play. It constantly evolves.”

Accounting for Volatility

Using success rate – how often teams accumulate percentages of the total yards they need to get a first down – led Feng to eventually focus his algorithm and refine it around quarterbacks. 

It’s a concept that should be familiar to users of the NFL Season Simulator. In Unabated Mode, the simulator lets you adjust individual ratings for quarterbacks and their backups. 

Because QBs have such an outside impact on the game, questions around the position are one area in which the Season Simulator’s Ratings Update Function shines. 

The RUF allows you to tell the simulator how aggressively it should adjust a team’s rating over the course of a simulated season by using the slider to adjust team ratings more conservatively or more aggressively. 

You know what you’re getting with the Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes. You might then tell the simulator to stick to the overall game plan and not adjust Kansas City too far down even if simulations land on outlier events. 

The Colts, on the other hand, are starting rookie Anthony Richardson at quarterback, He may be a high-ceiling, low-floor guy. Then there’s the Commanders, who are turning to Sam Howell. And if you’re leery about trusting a young Washington QB, that just makes you someone who’s paid attention to football in the last 20 years. Setting those teams to lean on simulated outcomes more than prior assumptions makes sense. 

Here’s what Power Rank ratings look like with every team set to a neutral RUF.


NFL simulation with less volatility


And after running the simulation, here’s what we get for projected Super Bowl prices.


Fair market on the Chiefs is +600, the Colts are at +49900 and the Commanders are at +35614.

Now we can adjust the ratings based on where we think the volatility may be in the league this year. We’ve set Kansas City to the most conservative RUF, while Indianapolis and Washington update more aggressively.


NFL simulation with volatility

Here’s how Super Bowl prices look (though the simulator will output prices for conference winners, season wins and more). The Chiefs actually adjust upward a bit, to +681.



That’s because that implied probability is going elsewhere on the board. For starters, to the Commanders, who are +9900 after this simulation. It’s improvement in Washington’s outlook, but the market had them anywhere from +6500 to +8000. We still don’t have a bet. 

In our first simulation, the Colts weren’t anywhere near close enough to bet. The market that had them from +9000 to +15000. But with more volatility, the simulator lands on Indianapolis +11263. If you believe in the ratings and simulation settings, you could be getting a potentially plus-EV play at some shops. 

Experimenting with different RUF settings for various teams can help you account for the unpredictability that can come with an NFL season – especially in a year with several high-profile young quarterbacks leading their offenses.

It’s a way to finesse your ratings for futures plays, but futures aren’t the only place ratings prove useful.


Beyond Futures

Obviously, a good set of ratings will help you determine what a fair spread is between teams. But they’ll also help you zero in on the games you need to give further attention to.

“I believe that success in betting is a combination of the quantitative and the subjective,” Feng said. “And I think the quantitative is good for getting you an accurate prediction, but it’s also really good for just saving you time. A lot of these analytics are tools that can help you figure out which games you want to attack in the NFL.”

It’s especially useful early in the season when markets are somewhat more volatile. 

“I strongly believe in what my metrics say early in the season,” he said. “If you’re willing to put in the time in August to be up on the teams, I think there’s a lot of value to be had in those first couple weeks.”

Whether you’re checking in on futures as the season progresses or using ratings to find value on the board every week, ratings help you make a quantitative analysis of the league at a point in time. We’ll be updating our available ratings every week at the NFL Season Simulator.

The simulator is available to Unabated Premium subscribers. Become a member today!

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