The National Football League (NFL) odds released on September 12 are a sea of green for the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns, with both teams favored to win their respective conference championships and backed at -250, while the Seattle Seahawks are both favored and backed at +500. The Houston Texans are also interesting in that they represent the only other instance in which two different teams are backed at +500.
That represents a massive shift in public perception for the Texans, who were once considered the greatest betting underdogs in the history of the NFL. They shocked the world in the 2015–16 NFL season by winning 11 games and scoring almost 500 points, the most points by any team in a single season!
The winnings from those who bet on the underdogs greatly exceeded the losses from those who bet on the favorites, as the totals for the NFL regular season exceeded the global combined total of all previous years’ NFL regular seasons. So who were the greatest underdogs in NFL history? Let’s take a quick look.
2015 Houston Texans Season
The Houston Texans completed a massive overhaul of their roster in the offseason, trading defensive end J.J. Watt and his mega-bucks for arguably the best defender in the game, Geno Smith. In the 2015 NFL Draft, the Texans selected the LSU safety, Justin Reid, in the first round and Wisconsin linebacker, Joe Hansen, in the second. Both players are considered among the best safeties and linebackers in the NFL. This young defense had a rough start to the season, but a pair of thrilling wins over the New England Patriots and Cleveland Browns have put them back in the national spotlight.
Those two wins over the Pats and Browns alone are worth a near-bye in the playoffs. Even if the Browns had won out, the Texans still would have been in a good spot, as their Week 8 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars was one of only two games this season that gave the Texans an outright lead in the AFC South Division.
2016 Atlanta Falcons Season
The Falcons are one of the most popular teams in the NFL to bet on, currently holding the second-best odds in the league at +350. This is in part due to the team’s incredible success under Joe Montana and his legendary quarterbacking skills. The Montana Brothers’ four Super Bowl wins are still one of the biggest upsets in NFL history. They’ve also become known for their high-powered defenses and ability to pile up yards on the ground. Wide receiver Julio Jones and running back Devonta Freeman are both healthy scratches for this game as their teams gear up for a playoff push. The Falcons have a lot to play for in 2016.
The Dallas Cowboys’ defense was so good that it allowed only 13.2 points per game, the best scoring output by an NFL defense in 2016. The Cowboys could certainly use some help on the offensive side of the ball, as they ranked toward the bottom of the league in both passing and rushing offense, so perhaps the best guard in the NFL could be the key to their future success.
2013 Seattle Seahawks Season
The defending NFL champion Seattle Seahawks were the fourth-favorite team in the NFL to bet on in 2013, mainly due to the team’s big defense and Russell Wilson’s raw but improving passing ability. Russell Wilson surpassed the 4,000-yard passing milestone in Week 7 this season, which earned him the nickname “Matador,” and subsequently moved the needle in the right direction for the Seahawks. The team’s defense carried them again this season, as the unit allowed only 14.8 points per game, the fewest in the league since 2009 and only.8 points per game fewer than last season. While the defense is good, the team is at its best when they can score points as well — they’ve reached the end zone on just 34% of their drives this season compared to 47% in 2012. For a team that was supposed to fade away after the loss of quarterback Matt Flynn to injuries, the Seahawks have pulled off another surprising comeback, making them a popular underdog for the coming months.
This is a team that you’ll want to keep your eyes peeled on in the coming months, as this year’s Super Bowl champions are very likely to be underdogs once more in 2016. This season in particular seems like it will be an interesting one to bet on, as the favorites have not done well at all. The defending champion New England Patriots were only able to muster up 7 points against the Buffalo Bills in Week 4, while the Dallas Cowboys managed only 4 points against the Philadelphia Eagles. The San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders were the only two favorites to score double-digit points, with the former securing victories over the New York Giants and Denver Broncos, respectively. The Pittsburgh Steelers were the only other team to defeat the New England Patriots, doing so in Week 16. This has been a rough year for the favorites, which makes the underdogs that much more appealing, especially now that we know what their record is going to be in the near future.
Which NFL team is going to be the next big upset? One thing is for sure: no matter who it is, the world will be watching.