Two Weeks for Two Teams: A Look at the Odds for the Raiders and 49ers
Both Bay Area football teams have opened the 2015 season 1-1. (Getty Images)
For the first time in years, there is parity in the world of Bay Area pro football. Sadly, it is not because both the Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers are top-notch NFL teams. Instead, after two weeks, both are 1-1.
But the ways they got there are strikingly different.
Coming into the season, the general prediction for the 49ers, especially from media pundits, was that dark days were ahead. Several unexpected retirements, player defections to other teams and high-profile releases doomed the 49ers to a rebuilding year, or so the narrative went.
Then the squad, playing in the season's first Monday Night Football game at the still-shiny Levi’s Stadium, beat the Minnesota Vikings, a team predicted to be very solid this year. In fact, the 49ers dominated the game.
Talk of a dismal season was changed, at least for one week.
The day before the Niners' win, the Oakland Raiders looked like the worst team in the league against the Cincinnati Bengals. It took the Raiders until the fourth quarter just to get into Bengals territory.
It wasn’t supposed to be that way. There was preseason optimism around the Raiders this year. Jack Del Rio was now head coach. Players and commentators said the Hayward-raised Del Rio brought a professionalism to the team, and an excitement to the players. He brought hope.
But the Raiders lost that opening game, 33-13. And talk of a decent season was put on the back burner, at least for a week.
In sports, we sometimes like to say the game was closer than the score indicates -- not this time. It was that bad. And the pundits, who a week earlier had retracted the notion of a dreadful 49ers team, now had to retract their retractions.
Meanwhile, Oakland rallied in the final minute to beat the Baltimore Ravens, 37-33. The national media's main question after the game: "What happened to Baltimore?"
In other words, Baltimore must have blown the game because the Raiders are such a bad team. True, the Raiders have been losing for a long time. The team hasn’t made the playoffs since 2002, when they lost in the Super Bowl to Tampa Bay. So no one wants to buy in too quickly and get burned.
Not getting burned is the philosophy of professional bettors and those who make the betting lines. Going into the 16-game regular season, the over-versus-under win total for the 49ers was 7.5 at the Westgate Race and Sports Superbook in Las Vegas. That means if you thought the team would go 8-8, you would bet the over.
But so many people bet the under that the number dropped to 7 wins, then 6.5 wins. A rather large and rare move of a win total line. And it was all because the bettors (both those who know what they are doing and those who don’t) couldn't stop betting for losses.
It’s a different story for the Raiders. The win total was just 5.5. So a 6-10 season gives you a win on the over. In reality, a 6-10 season is still pretty bad. But the bettors played the over. It didn’t move so much that sports books moved the number, like with the 49ers, but the rate of return for betting the over dropped dramatically.
Months before the season, a $100 bet on the Raiders over would have won you about $90 or an overall return of about $190. Right before the season began, the odds changed so much that a $100 bet on the over would have won about $62 or an overall return of about $162.
The website FiveThirtyEight, which uses stats to make predictions about all sorts of things, predicted on Sept. 10 a paltry 5.6 wins for the Raiders and 7.9 wins for the 49ers. And the odds of winning the Super Bowl? The 49ers were deemed 2 percent, while the Raiders were one of several bottom dwellers at less than 1 percent.
“I think you have to be more optimistic about the Raiders,” said senior analyst Larry Hartstein, who writes about sports betting on the NFL for Sportsline.com. “This is a new regime, a professional coaching staff, so I see a bright future. I definitely think they’re going to pass their [predicted] win total.”
As for the 49ers' season-long outlook, Hartstein said the team’s second game -- where the squad got blown out by Pittsburgh -- is very telling.
“I’m kind of believing more of what I saw Week Two than Week One,” he said.
So maybe whatever excitement was generated around these teams is contingent on our expectations. If we take the approach of expecting them to underperform, we may be pleasantly surprised.
That way, if either team ends up 7-9 or 8-8, we won’t be disappointed because they missed the playoffs but happy because they overachieved.