2017 may have been the greatest year in the history of sports.
In this age of hot takes and hyperbole, you can be forgiven for immediately dismissing that. But think about it for a second.
We were treated to the most dramatic Super Bowl in history, with the NFL championship game going to overtime for the first time ever and the Patriots staging an unprecedented comeback. The World Series went 7 games. The college football final was decided on a touchdown with 1 second left. We saw legendary athletes say goodbye (Usain Bolt), win an improbable title (Roger Federer) and set the stage for an unlikely return (Tiger Woods).
But don’t be sad that it’s over. Be glad that it happened. Besides, 2018 promises to have plenty of great things in store as well.
Here are just 16 of the events we can all look forward to betting on in 2018.
1. College Football Playoff National Championship (January 7)
The 2018 sports betting calendar will kick off with a doozy just one week into the year as Georgia and Alabama meet up in the NCAA football title game.
Despite being the fourth-ranked team in the playoff, Alabama was the favorite to win the national championship going into the semifinals, and the Crimson Tide only reinforced that with a convincing 24-6 victory over #1 Clemson in the Sugar Bowl. Georgia, meanwhile, is coming off a thrilling 54-48 overtime victory over Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl.
Last year’s title game was decided on a touchdown pass by NFL-bound Deshaun Watson with 1 second remaining on the clock, and the final 2 years ago between Alabama and Clemson saw 40 points scored in the fourth quarter alone. So even if you’re not that excited about an all-SEC national final, make sure you’re tuned in. Alabama is a 4-point favorite to win its third NCAA football title in 4 years, and the Over/Under has been set at 45.
2. Super Bowl LII (February 4)
Super Bowl LII will have a tough time living up to the standards of last year’s big game when the New England Patriots posted the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history by erasing a 28-3 deficit to clip the Atlanta Falcons 34-28 in overtime. The betting public had a field day as the Pats’ overtime touchdown enabled them to cover the 3-point spread, and many live bettors cashed in on New England moneyline bets of +1000 or higher as well.
But although this year’s Super Bowl may not end up being as exciting or as profitable, there are tons of intriguing storylines going into the playoffs. The Bills, Jaguars, Rams and Titans are all making rare post-season appearances (those 4 franchises have combined to go 59 years without a playoff victory), the NFC favorite Vikings have an opportunity to play in the Super Bowl at their own stadium, and the Patriots and Steelers will be one heck of an AFC Championship Game if it happens. New England (+220) and Minnesota (+425) are the top Super Bowl favorites, while last year’s NFC champion Falcons are paying a fat sleeper price of +2000.
3. Winter Olympics (February 9-25)
Some of the best winter-sport athletes in the world will gather in Pyeongchang, South Korea for the 23rd edition of the Olympic Winter Games
I say some because, frustratingly for hockey fans, the National Hockey League is not allowing its players to participate in what would have been a tremendous men’s hockey tournament. There is also the possibility that some of Russia’s top amateur athletes won’t participate in this year’s Games after the IOC took sanctions against their country for “systemic manipulation of anti-doping rules.”
Regardless of which athletes are participating and from what countries, the Olympics are still a must-bet event. The time zone difference (14 hours for those of us on the east coast and 17 hours difference on the west coast) will present some challenges, but when else are you going to get a chance to bet on the luge, Nordic skiing or the skeleton?
The United States is expected to do pretty well at these Games, too. Bovada makes the U.S. a slight +250 underdog to Germany (+225) for the most medals won by a country, and Americans are ranked third (+500) when it comes to most gold medals won. The Over/Under on gold medals won by American athletes is set at 10.5, with -130 juice on the Over.
4. Daytona 500 (February 18)
The Daytona 500 is just one of 30-plus races on the NASCAR 2018 schedule, but it’s a special one to bettors for a couple of reasons.
First, it’s the opening race of the regular season, making it like Week 1 of the NFL season for racing enthusiasts. Second, it’s also arguably the most unpredictable race of the NASCAR circuit, partly because we haven’t seen the drivers in action yet but mostly because Daytona is a restrictor plate track. That means that luck plays a huge part in determining the winner, opening up lots of value on the darkhorse drivers.
The 2018 edition of the Daytona 500 will have a different feel without 4-time winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the field. Westgate Las Vegas Sportsbook made Brad Keselowski the +800 favorite when it posted Daytona 500 odds on December 1, while Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick and Chase Elliott each paid +1000 to take the checkered flag.
5. Oscars (March 4)
You won’t find betting odds on the Oscars in Las Vegas. But online betting sites have taken wagers on the Academy Awards for years, and the Oscars are by far the most popular entertainment event when it comes to betting.
Don’t just assume that since the Oscars are voted on that the favorites are locks, either.
In fact, one of the bigger “upsets” in recent Oscars betting history came last year, when Moonlight beat out La La Land to win the 2017 Best Picture award. La La Land was a -700 favorite at Bovada a few days before the Oscars took place, while Moonlight paid around +800 in early January and was still as high as +550 in mid-February.
This year’s Best Picture category is wide open, with BetOnline offering +800 odds or less on 7 different films (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Dunkirk, The Post, Lady Bird, The Shape of Water, Call Me By Your Name and Get Out). Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour) is currently -225 chalk to bring home the best actor award, while Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside) is a slight +140 favorite over the +225 price for Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water) in the race for best actress.
6. March Madness (March 13-April 2)
Want some perspective on how popular betting on the NCAA basketball tournament has become? According to ESPN, more than $10 billion dollars were wagered on last year’s NCAA basketball tournament, matching the total before-tax profit generated by Ford Motor Company in 2016.
While it’s true that college’s blue-blood programs are the only ones cutting down the nets each spring (including North Carolina last year), March Madness never fails to provide us with Cinderella stories and buzzer-beaters. I literally jumped out of my chair when my Florida Gators beat Wisconsin on this last-second shot by Chris Chiozza in overtime of last year’s Sweet 16:
As of January 3, Bovada made Duke the +450 favorite to win the 2018 March Madness tournament. It’s also no surprise to see Michigan State (+400), Villanova (+600), Arizona (+900), Kentucky (+1200) and Kansas (+1200) rounding out the top 6 on the NCAA futures odds. But even if the pedigree of the eventual national champion might seem predictable, Warren Buffett has never had to pay out on the $1-million-per-year-for-life prize he’s promised to any Berkshire Hathaway employee who fills out a perfect bracket.
7. The Masters (April 5-8)
After a few long months of cold winter, those of us in northern climates are champing at the bit to get outside and enjoy the spring weather. Maybe that’s why the Masters has become such a popular television spectacle, because nothing says spring is coming more than seeing the Azaleas in full bloom at Augusta National.
Though the PGA Tour season technically gets started in December, many of us view the Masters as the unofficial start of golf season. And there may have been no more heart-warming story last year in golf than to see Sergio Garcia finally nab his elusive first major championship, coming from 2 shots down in the final 6 holes to force a playoff, then beat Justin Rose on the first sudden-death hole.
This year’s Masters tournament could be even more special if Tiger Woods is able to tee it up in a major for the first time since 2015. Woods reportedly is on track to compete in this year’s Masters, and 5Dimes makes him +2200 to win his first major title since the 2008 U.S. Open. He’ll have to beat out favorites like Jordan Spieth (+700), Dustin Johnson (+750) and Rory McIlroy (+900) to do it, but I’m already looking forward to putting a few bucks down on Tiger and cheering for another feel-good story.
8. Kentucky Derby (May 5)
Just one horse – American Pharoah in 2015 – has won the Triple Crown in the last 40 years. But hopes of another dominant thoroughbred sweeping horse racing’s crown-jewel events spring up every year before the Kentucky Derby, making the Lexington event “the greatest 2 minutes in sports” and the most anticipated race on the American horse-racing calendar.
Always Dreaming delivered on his favorite status in last year’s event, cashing +400 tickets for his backers by winning by two-and-three-quarter lengths. That marked the fifth time in as many years that the favorite won the Kentucky Derby, something you’ll want to keep in mind for this year’s race. Fivethirtyeight.com attributes the recent dominance of favorites (the top-rated horse won the Derby just 12 times in the previous 46 years before the current 5-year streak) to a change in how horses qualify for the Kentucky Derby, a change that just happened to be implemented 5 years ago.
According to Bovada at the time of writing, Bolt Doro was the most likely to win this year’s Derby, paying +700. Good Magic (+1000) was the only other horse currently paying +1200 or less.
9. Canelo vs. Golovkin (May 5)
Who says boxing is a dying sport? Sure, participation may be down due to our increasing concerns and knowledge about concussions and head injuries, but the appetite for watching two guys fight it out in the boxing ring is still alive and well. Exhibit A: last year’s bout between Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather, which was estimated to produce more than $100 million in betting volume at Nevada sportsbooks, similar to the handle they get on Super Bowls.
If McGregor and Mayweather take the ring again in the next 12 months, it’ll once again be the fight of the year. But even though BetOnline has already posted odds for any fight the two might have in 2018 (Mayweather is a -2000 favorite), reports suggest Mayweather might never fight again.
Instead, let’s circle another possible rematch as the boxing match to look forward to betting the most in 2018: Mexican superstar Canelo Alvarez vs. IBF, WBA, WBC and IBO middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin, a fight that is tentatively scheduled for Cinco de Mayo. The two boxers battled to a controversial draw last September, and BetOnline makes Golovkin a -170 favorite to beat Alvarez if the two meet again.
10. NBA Finals (June 1)
Even though last year’s NBA Finals proved to be little more than a formality as the Kevin Durant-led Golden State Warriors cruised to a 4-1 series win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, there was still plenty of betting interest. Gamblers capitalized on how the addition of Durant just stacked the deck that much more in favor of the Dubs, with more than half of the NBA futures money coming in on Golden State.
All signs point to a record amount of money being wagered on the 2018 NBA Finals. Not only does sports betting continue to grow in popularity each year, there’s also the potential for a more dramatic playoffs this year on the hardcourt. Golden State remains a -165 favorite to claim its third title in 4 years, but the Houston Rockets (+880) could give them some headaches on the way to the final, as long as Chris Paul is healthy enough to play. San Antonio (+1800) and the Westbrook-George-Anthony trifecta in Oklahoma City (+3000) also can’t be ignored in the West, while the Cavaliers (+500) will only get better with Isaiah Thomas in the lineup and the Celtics (+1250) will be a tough out as well.
11. Stanley Cup Finals (early June)
The Pittsburgh Penguins, Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings have combined to win 7 of the last 8 Stanley Cups, but we should see some fresh faces hoist Lord Stanley’s mug this spring.
Pittsburgh and Chicago are both in danger of missing the playoffs entirely after poor starts to their years, and though the Kings began the new year near the top of the Western Conference standings, they’re also a squad that didn’t make the post-season a year ago.
The Tampa Bay Lightning opened 2018 as the Stanley Cup favorites at BetOnline, paying just +600. But given how grueling the Cup playoffs are and that the Nashville Predators made the final last year as the lowest seed in the post-season, you’re better off looking for some value with darkhorses instead. The Anaheim Ducks (+2800) are flying under a lot of people’s radar after being hammered by injuries in the first half of the campaign. And in the East, don’t sleep on the potential of the Boston Bruins (+1200), a team that outplays its opponent most nights.
Since this is an article about betting, we’d also be remiss not to mention the Vegas Golden Knights, who are seeking to become the first expansion team since 1967 to make the playoffs in their first year of existence. Unfortunately, if you didn’t jump on the Golden Knights train a long time ago, the value on them is essentially gone. Vegas paid +1200 to win the Cup at BetOnline as of early January, compared to the +20000 you could have had in your pocket at the start of the season.
12. FIFA World Cup (June 14-July 15)
It’s going to be a great year for soccer bettors. In addition to the usual fixtures like the FA Cup Final and Champions League final, lovers of the beautiful game will also get treated to the FIFA World Cup this summer in Russia.
The 2018 World Cup has already drawn plenty of headlines for who will not be there, with perennial participants like Italy, the Netherlands and the United States failing to qualify. But there is still plenty of familiar talent, led by defending champion Germany, which is a +460 favorite to retain the FIFA World Cup Trophy. Brazil (+490), France (+570), Spain (+695) and Argentina (+895) round out the other top contenders for World Cup glory.
With soccer being the world’s most popular sport and the World Cup being its marquee event that takes place just once every 4 years, this year’s FIFA tournament may just go down as the most bet-on sporting event in history.
13. Wimbledon (July 2-15)
Even though the Australian Open and French Open precede Wimbledon on the calendar of professional tennis majors, there’s something undeniably special and prestigious about the tournament at the Old England Club. The oldest tennis tournament in the world has managed to maintain its charm by still being competed on grass surfaces and prohibiting advertising around the court, and waking up to “Breakfast at Wimbledon” is always a nice way to start your day.
Roger Federer’s renaissance season last year was highlighted by the 35-year-old’s victory at Wimbledon (when he reached the final without dropping a set, then downed Marin Cilic to become the oldest Wimbledon men’s champion in the Open era). On the women’s side, Garbine Muguruza defeated Venus Williams 7-5, 6-0 in the 2017 final to claim her second Grand Slam singles title, possibly taking advantage of the absence of 2-time defending champion Serena Williams, who was pregnant at the time.
According to Bovada, Serena is expected to reclaim her spot on the Wimbledon throne this year, as the 36-year-old is +300 to win the women’s title. Bovada also likes the odds of Federer to repeat as men’s champion, listing the Swiss superstar at +275 with Andy Murray (+400), Novak Djokovic (+400) and Rafael Nadal (+600) in hot pursuit.
14. Australian Football League Grand Final (September 29)
If one Super Bowl per year isn’t enough for you, you should give the Australian Football League final a go. It’s essentially the Super Bowl for Australia, where Aussie rules football is the most popular spectator sport (more than 6 million fans attend games every season) in the country.
The AFL Grand Final is the culmination of the Australian Football League playoffs, which run over 4 weekends every fall. More than 100,000 people attended Richmond’s 108-60 victory over Adelaide in the 2017 championship game, the largest crowd in more than 30 years.
Oddsmakers like Adelaide to bounce back to win this year’s AFL title. At the time of writing, Bovada ranked the Crows as co-favorites with Greater Western Sydney, each at +450 odds. Richmond’s odds of repeating as champions were +650.
15. World Series (October 23)
No major professional sport in North America provides the unpredictability of baseball, which has crowned 5 different World Series champions in the last 5 years and 14 different ones since the turn of the century.
The World Series is also earning itself quite the reputation for dramatic finishes. 3 of the last 4 Fall Classics have needed a seventh game to decide, including last year when the Houston Astros defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers. The previous season, the Cubs ended a 107-year World Series drought with a thrilling extra-inning victory over the Cleveland Indians in Game 7.
Seven playoff teams from last year currently comprise the top 7 World Series favorites at 5Dimes, led by the Dodgers (+350) and Yankees (+500). But if history has taught us anything in baseball, it’s to expect the unexpected. The Los Angeles Angels are a tempting proposition at +2000 odds after signing two-way Japanese superstar Shohei Otani over the offseason, while the Colorado Rockies offer tons of value in the National League (+4000) as a 2017 playoff participant that has improved its bullpen this winter.
16. Miss Universe Pageant (late November)
It’s possible that no Miss Universe Pageant will ever match the drama served up by Steve Harvey in 2015, when the long-time Family Feud host hilariously announced the wrong contestant as the winner, then had to walk back out with his tail between his legs to correct his mistake.
But there’s always intrigue and suspense when the most beautiful women in the world take the stage together, including last year when eventual champion Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters of South Africa was accused of receiving preferential treatment during the Miss South Africa competition.
We won’t see betting odds for the 2018 Miss Universe pageant until all of the national competitions have been concluded. But no matter who the final 92 competitors will be, you can bet that it’ll be worth watching – and having a few dollars riding on the outcome always makes it more interesting.