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NFL Betting 2022: Market-implied power rankings and ELO strength of schedule

Orchard Park, New York, USA; Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) throws during the third quarter of the AFC Wild Card playoff game against the New England Patriots at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The 2022 NFL schedule release set off a chain of events, culminating in DraftKings offering spreads for almost every 2022 NFL regular-season game leading up to Week 18. Last year, Westgate blessed us with spreads and totals for every regular-season game, allowing us to reverse-engineer betting market power rankings to see how bookmakers evaluated each team heading into the season. This is the best and most accurate way to power rank teams and provides us with a framework to evaluate both offensive and defensive team strength. 

Unfortunately, Westgate hasn’t taken the same approach this year, so we are left with using spreads and league-average totals to derive power rankings from the betting market. We'll also have to wait for spreads on games involving the Cleveland Browns as Deshaun Watson's legal situation continues to play out.

Without totals, some of the top-defensive units are downranked using this particular approach, with the expectation being that those teams are slightly undervalued in this type of power ranking right now. As more totals trickle and Week 1 approaches, these power rankings will become more and more accurate.

BETTING MARKET-IMPLIED POWER RANKINGS

The power rankings provide relatively clear tiers on the market assessment of each NFL team’s outlook in 2022. 

Looking at it from a conference level and going week by week shows the relative uncertainty that the betting market incorporates as we move toward the latter half of the season. The level of uncertainty baked into the extremes will dissipate throughout the course of the season, but it's the most accurate and justifiable approach one can take right now. 

Taking some cues from the betting market, we can attempt to assess how the order of games could impact a team's record in 2022 and highlight the most difficult stretches on each franchise’s schedule. We do this by calculating a moving average of each opponent’s preseason ELO ranking and factoring in rest differential and net travel distance.

Below is a box plot of each team’s opposing ELO for each game of the 2022 regular season, sorted by the team’s mean ELO ranking faced. The box shows the teams' first-quartile opposing ELO, median opposing ELO and third-quartile opposing ELO.

For a top-level view, this gives an initial idea of each team's strength of schedule in 2022. It highlights how difficult certain schedules will be and how they may impact outcomes in the win total market

Let’s take a closer look at each team’s market-implied power ranking by assigning a spread-point value over an average team on a neutral field. We can then examine the most difficult stretches, along with some points on why it will impact whether that team goes over or under their current win total and how best to approach betting teams against the spread to start the 2022 NFL season. 

1. BUFFALO BILLS

  • Spread Points Above Average: 4.99
  • Opponent ELO Ranking: 5th
  • Toughest Schedule Stretch: Weeks 4-7

Buffalo is the current class of the NFL, carrying the shortest odds to win the Super Bowl and the best market-implied power ranking to start the season. The Bills do have a difficult schedule, with their toughest stretch starting with a second straight road game against the Baltimore Ravens, followed by a home matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers and a trip to Kansas City before returning home to play the Green Bay Packers. The Bills fell just short of playing in the conference championship game last year, but the betting market projects them as the team to beat in 2022. 

2. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

  • Spread Points Above Average: 4.43
  • Opponent ELO Ranking: 1st
  • Toughest Schedule Stretch: Weeks 4-7

Kansas City easily could have gotten worse this offseason after falling short of its Lombardi Trophy goals for the second straight year. 2022 could be more of the same as the Chiefs take on the toughest schedule based on current ELO rankings. 

They begin with three road games in the first four weeks, including a Week 4 tilt against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after playing games in all three major U.S. time zones. They do get two straight home games against the Las Vegas Raiders and Buffalo Bills, but that Monday night divisional matchup leads to a short week against the top-ranked team in football. They then travel to San Francisco before finally hitting their bye in Week 8. 

Given the schedules of the other AFC West contenders, waiting on Kansas City into its bye could offer the best price if looking to play the team to win the division in 2022. 

3. LOS ANGELES RAMS

  • Spread Points Above Average: 4.14
  • Opponent ELO Ranking: 9th
  • Toughest Schedule Stretch: Weeks 8-12

The defending Super Bowl champions check in as the top team in a lackluster NFC conference. The Rams' division remains relatively difficult, and their midseason stretch against the San Francisco 49ers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Arizona Cardinals, alongside road games against the New Orleans Saints and Kansas City Chiefs, sits as their toughest test this season. Things broke really well for the Rams last season as they received top-of-position performances at a number of key positions. They'll need similar good fortune in 2022 if they are to repeat as Super Bowl champs. 

4. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

  • Spread Points Above Average: 4.12
  • Opponent ELO Ranking: 31st
  • Toughest Schedule Stretch: Weeks 1-4

No one runs better than Tom Brady. The Buccaneers' schedule is good fortune and the biggest reason why Brady couldn’t stay retired for longer than a month. It sets up so well that Tampa Bay is priced as the favorite to emerge from the NFC despite being fourth in these power rankings. They are the most likely team to receive home-field advantage throughout the playoffs — at 24.25%, according to PFF’s season-long simulation. Their opening sequence of games allows for hiccups, as the rest of the schedule lacks little punch.

5. LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

  • Spread Points Above Average: 4.01
  • Opponent ELO Ranking: 15th
  • Toughest Schedule Stretch: Weeks 15-18

The Chargers easily take the biggest leap in the eyes of oddsmakers, moving from not making the playoffs in 2021 to a top-five team in 2022. Their divisional odds moved by 12.6 percentage points of implied probability this offseason, as they appear to be the public’s favorite team to back in the futures market. An opening week victory as -4 favorites over the Raiders could lead to a 4-1 start, but Los Angeles' closing sequence of games also sets up well for another late-season collapse.

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