Even With JJ Watt, Don’t Expect Major Shifts In Arizona Cardinals Super Bowl Odds (Yet)

Written By Derek Helling on March 1, 2021 - Last Updated on March 5, 2021

JJ Watt may have a long reach, but it seems even he may not have arms long enough to shift the Super Bowl futures odds for the Arizona Cardinals.

Oddsmakers at various sportsbooks are at odds over whether Arizona’s free-agent acquisition of the defensive end changes the trajectory for the Cardinals in the 2021-22 NFL season. And if so, how much.

It’s a good lesson for novice sports bettors that what is newsworthy for fans isn’t necessarily actionable for sports betting. It’s also a reminder that sportsbooks are businesses first and foremost.

Cardinals Super Bowl odds after the JJ Watt announcement

Whether this moved the needle at all depends on who you talk to. John Ewing, a data analyst for BetMGM, said that the sportsbook wouldn’t be moving the lines at all after Watt announced he had reached terms on a two-year deal with Arizona.

“JJ Watt is a nice addition for Arizona but defensive players rarely move future odds,” Ewing said. “BetMGM moves lines/odds based on liability or significant player/team updates. So, if we got enough bets that our liability increased significantly on the Cardinals, then we would adjust the team’s odds.”

Before the announcement, BetMGM listed the Cardinals at +4,000 to win Super Bowl LVI and at +2,000 to win the NFC championship game.

Depending on what lens you use to focus on this move for this team, leaving the lines where they are makes sense. The Cardinals finished the 2020-21 NFL regular season tied for the fifth-most sacks in the league. So, another pass rusher wasn’t a desperate need for Arizona in the offseason.

However, the Cardinals’ pass defense was pedestrian by other measures. For example, opposing offenses’ completed passes at a 64% clip, which tied for 14th in the league. All but 10 NFL teams intercepted more passes last season.

Adding Watt to the defensive line could improve those measurements. That could be an argument for why some sportsbooks did choose to shorten the odds on Arizona. However, it could also be about capitalizing on the moment.

Sportsbooks use their odds as advertising tools

While sports betting remains illegal in Arizona, residents who travel to other places such as Las Vegas know that sportsbooks like to advertise themselves. Many times, that marketing includes the primary product of the betting markets.

Within regulatory limits, sportsbook operators are pretty free to set their lines as they wish. Like any other business, sportsbooks try to catch on to popular trends among their likely customers. The hope is that will lead to sales.

Watt carries a lot of name recognition, so NFL fans likely noticed when the news broke. It makes sense, then, to take advantage of the buzz currently swirling around the news of his signing. That includes shortening the futures odds of the Cardinals.

Those sportsbooks didn’t do anything illegal or immoral by doing so, even if their primary motivation was just to get some more eyes on the product. Bettors need to do their homework and consider the probabilities in futures betting, Watt or not.

The key lesson for bettors here is that when you see sportsbooks take disparate actions like this, it’s not always just about a difference of opinion. Like how NFL teams sign big-name players for their marketing potential, sportsbooks are also constantly on the lookout for ways to market themselves.

Photo by AP / David Seelig
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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a lead writer for PlayUSA and the manager of BetHer. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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