Most of us only have a minor understanding of the stock market.
It may go up as many days as it goes down in a given month. Moreover, one company's stock can still go up while another's goes down.
In fact, a company can be profitable and have its stock go down while another is losing money and sees its stock rise. This is because it is more tied to economic indicators and future potential than current gains and losses.
Only one team in the NFL sells stock—the Green Bay Packers. Because their stock is non-profit, it always holds at the same value.
But what if NFL teams were sold on the open market? And what if their stock value was based entirely on performance?
The best teams of 2010 would have ended last season with the highest stock value. But if I were a stockbroker, I would advise clients to sell some who are likely to take a step back, while taking those funds to buy cheaper stock in some non-playoff teams that will improve.
Just as the value of stock is predicated largely on public perception, so is the value of teams. Anyone can look at the Detroit Lions and see a team on the rise or the Cincinnati Bengals and see a team on the fall.
Public value can largely be seen in betting odds. Many people think they are based on a prediction of results on the field from those setting lines; they are actually made to get an even number of bettors on each side of a line. That is why lines sometimes change throughout a week even if there is no new reports that would affect the outcome.
Based on odds provided by Bodog.com, there are 12 teams favoured to make the 12 playoff spots: Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers and San Diego Chargers.
(A favourite is defined as a team with at most an even payoff if you bet on them and a positive payoff if you bet against them. You will note that there is no NFC West team listed as a favourite, and seven teams in the AFC. Perhaps that would be fair given their accomplishments, but it obviously will not play out that way.)
The way to out-smart the market is to find that stock others are not buying or selling. Thus, here are three teams favoured to make it into the playoffs that one should take the odds to bet against and three more that are underdogs to reach the postseason that are worth the odds to bet on...
The San Diego Chargers are a talented football team. But they are also the single most overrated team in the NFL.
They are a minus-285 payoff to make the playoffs and a plus-225 if they miss it. PredictionMachine.com did 50,000 simulations of the season, and the two most frequent teams to make it to the Super Bowl were the Green Bay Packers and San Diego Chargers.
To me, that means PredictionMachine.com overrates them just like the public.
In my AFC West preview, I outlined how the Chargers lost at least as much talent as they gained. So a team that was not good enough to win their division last year is going to win it with less this year?
Sure, it could easily happen. The Chargers played sloppy football last season, committing turnovers and playing poorly on special teams.
If they clear up those problems, their top-ranked offense and defense in yards will carry them, even with a few losses. To help that effort, the NFL rules changes on kickoffs will give kick returns and coverage less impact.
But this team is coached by Norv Turner, whose teams are known for a lack of discipline everywhere he goes. The rules for punting did not change, and while having one of the bottom five special teams units may matter less, it still matters.
Moreover, their gaudy offensive and defensive statistics were misleading. Yards do not matter as much as points; San Diego may have allowed the fewest yards, but they allowed only the 10th fewest points.
Finally, they got fat off an easy schedule. They played the AFC South and weakest division in the history of the leaguethe NFC West; this year they have the improving NFC North and the stout AFC East.
True, the other teams in their division have the same problem, but two of them are on the rise while the Chargers talent hit a peak in 2006: Since that 14-2 season, they have averaged just over 10 wins a season.
Even if you think this team is going to make the playoffs, my advice is that the strategic choice based on the public inflation of their value is to bet against them.
If the San Diego Chargers are not going to win the AFC West, someone has to. It obviously will not be the Denver Broncos, and so far this preseason, the Oakland Raiders defense looks like it is in big trouble without Nnamdi Asomugha.
How about betting on the team that won it last year?
Considering the Kansas City Chiefs actually gained more talent than they lost (also evident from the AFC West analysis linked in the Chargers slide), they should be the favourite. Instead, the payoff for betting on them is plus-165 while betting against them carries a minus-205 rating.
Not only do the Chiefs have a great running game made for a late season run, but they have a solid quarterback and an improving defense. Arrowhead Stadium is traditionally one of the toughest places to play, only intensifying their ability to finish where they did last season.
With all that tilting the scales toward them, I would almost (not quite) suggest betting on the Chiefs against the field in the AFC West. But since you can get the benefit of having the payoff stacked in your favour, they are a no-brainer to bet on.
Forget his failures in Dallas, Wade Phillips is a defensive genius.
Unfortunately for him and the Houston Texans, he is inheriting terrible defensive personnel.
This team has Mario Williams and Brian Cushing as cornerstones of this unit. But Williams is horribly miscast as an outside linebacker, and since he will have to line up on the line of scrimmage to be effective, the supposed transition to a 3-4 defense effectively remains a 4-3.
That is not a big deal. While the 3-4 has more options, particularly in pass rushes and coverages, there are plenty of great 4-3 defenses out there.
The problem is that the secondary is among the worst in the league. That is why teams were able to pass on the Texans with ease last season, gaining more passing yards against them than any other team.
Sure, they have Peyton Manning in their division. But they also had two teams that finished in the bottom quarter of the league in passing yards despite getting to play Houston twice. And they will likely be facing Manning with a full array of weapons this season.
How exactly is a team that has never made the playoffs and did not improve going to play beyond the first day of January? The heat underneath head coach Gary Kubiak's office chair will increase with every loss.
Add to that Arian Foster entering the season with a hamstring injury and there is no way this team should be a favourite to make the playoffs. Yet, the payoff, if they make it, is minus-150 and if they miss it is plus-120, making betting against the Texans the best wager one could place regarding playoff qualifiers.
Sam Bradford was amazing in his rookie year considering the lack of weapons he had to throw to.
But a lot of players go through a sophomore jinx in their second year. In fact, jinx is not usually the right term for it: Teams adjust to the player's strengths and weaknesses while the player has to adjust to success that makes him expect it again.
My bet is Bradford will suffer few of these issues. He works hard and studies, and he has already shown veteran poise and leadership.
The talent around him is still not very good. Then again, neither is the division he plays in.
The St. Louis Rams nearly won the division last year, and the only team to finish in front of them lost more talent than they gained. The Rams young talent, including Bradford, is developing.
The San Francisco 49ers underachieved horribly last season, and on paper, are at least as good as St. Louis. But their line play has looked even worse so far in the preseason, and they are behind schedule in adjusting to the systems of the new coaching staff because of the lockout.
This is a quarterback-driven league, and the only NFC West team that might have a better quarterback right now than St. Louis is Arizona. The Rams have a better defense, better running game, and probably, even a better offensive line than the Cardinals.
With a plus-150 to pick them to make the playoffs and a minus-180 to pick them to miss, they are the single-best bet to make in the division.
Ray Lewis is one of the best middle linebackers in the history of the league. He has maintained that status on a yearly basis well into his 30s, beating all odds.
Eventually, the odds and his age will catch up with him. I would bet on no more than a slight drop-off in 2011, however.
Still, that will be enough because as much as Ravens fans will hate hearing this, they are a poor-man's Pittsburgh Steelers. That is why they lose to them every time they meet in the playoffs.
Like the Steelers, they are built around a tremendous front-seven but have an exploitable defensive backfield.
The Green Bay Packers showed how to beat the Steelers, and Baltimore will face Indianapolis, Houston, San Diego, Arizona, the New York Jets and Pittsburgh twice, all capable of doing that.
That will make it hard for them. Losing more veteran talent than they gained will make it even harder, as rookie talent will not make up for their losses.
But they are correctly still favourites to make the playoffs, with a payout of minus-180 to make it and plus-150 to miss. They have very winnable games against the four NFC West teams and two more against the AFC South, plus two struggling teams within their division to face twice.
In fact, in my AFC North preview I predicted the Ravens to finish with the same record as last season and drop only one seed. However, if you have to pick a third favourite to not make the playoffs, they are your best choice.
The Arizona Cardinals overpaid for Kevin Kolb, and I am not talking about his contract extension: Giving up Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round pick shows they were desperate.
A starting cornerback is nowhere near the commodity a starting quarterback is. But a proven one is worth every bit as much as an unproven signal-caller with a 3-4 record as a starter.
Adding a second-round pick only shows their desperation all the more. Matt Cassell may not have been considered as high a prospect as Kolb, but was 10-6 as a starter when the Kansas City Chiefs gave up a second-round pick for him.
Hence, they got a quarterback who had a more established resume without giving up a starting player at another position.
But if Kolb turns out to be every bit as good as the Eagles had hoped when they named him their starter last season, and the Cardinals hope by making him their starter this season, he will be worth it. With him throwing to Larry Fitzgerald, this team has a shot in a weak division.
Their chances are not as good as the St. Louis Rams, and they may not even be as good a team as the San Francisco 49ers, but their payoff is better than either team: plus-175 to make it and minus-215 to miss. That makes them the third-best bet to place among teams not favoured to make the playoffs.