Preseason NFL Betting News and Notes

Preseason NFL Betting News and Notes

Preseason AFC Betting News and Notes
By Teddy Covers
Sportsmemo.com

The LVH Superbook posted their NFL Season Win totals last weekend.  Cantor sportsbooks (CG Technology) have had season win totals posted for months.  Many other books both here in Vegas and offshore have posted season win totals, Week 1 pointspreads and Game of the Year pointspreads.  Most books that haven’t posted NFL numbers yet plan to do so in the near future.  The NFL offseason, at least for sports bettors, is essentially over.  Numbers are up, and they’re moving!

My first step in assessing the upcoming NFL season begins with a thorough look back at last year.  Every team’s power rating is set, in large part, based on where they finished the previous campaign.  Obviously, adjustments are made for injuries, luck, offseason improvements or declines, coaching changes and the like, but those base power rating numbers factor in what happened in 2013 very heavily.

In this week’s Vegas Wiseguy Report, I’ll pass along a tidbit or two from each of the 16 AFC teams in regards to last year.  My focus is on things that are NOT likely to repeat the same way in 2014.  I’ll offer similar analysis for the 16 NFC teams in my column next week.

The Buffalo Bills have the NFL’s longest current postseason drought; dating back to the Music City Miracle game in January 2000. They’re coming off three consecutive 6-10 seasons.  One bright sign: the Bills only got outgained by 0.1 yards per play in 2013, and finished the season with a Top 10 yards per play defense.   Even with safety Jarius Byrd gone to New Orleans in free agency, this defense should be above average once again in 2014.

The Miami Dolphins 2013 campaign was all about offensive line woes, both before and after the Jonathan Martin bullying scandal made national headlines.  QB Ryan Tannehill took 58 sacks, by far the most in the NFL, killing any semblance of offensive efficiency for the squad.  This year, the Dolphins will have four new starters on that offensive line – not necessarily any better, but not likely to get any worse.

The New England Patriots have won ten or more games for eleven straight years, the single most consistent franchise in football during that span.  They’ve been in the top quartile of Football Outsiders special teams rankings seven times in the last eight years, a hidden factor in their success.  The Pats won 12 games last year despite outgaining their foes by only 0.1 yards per play and finishing with a modest +9 turnover margin.

In 2013, New York Jets QB Geno Smith ranked #37 in QB rating out of 37 starting quarterbacks with enough pass attempts to qualify.  The offseason addition of Michael Vick will at least provide some competition!  The Jets also had truly miserable luck with fumbles.  Their defense forced 13 fumbles but recovered only one, a stat primed to regress towards the mean in 2014.

Against one of the easiest schedules in the NFL last year, the Baltimore Ravens 3.1 yards per rush was the worst in the NFL by a wide margin and their 4.5 yards per play on offense was tied with Tampa Bay for last in the league.  Joe Flacco took 48 sacks, second worst in the NFL.

The Cincinnati Bengals outgained their opponents by +0.7 yards per play last year – only Denver, Seattle and Philly were better.  Opposing QB’s had a 74.2 QB rating against the Bengals defense; again elite level numbers. Cinci’s biggest statistical weakness was rushing the football, only 3.6 yards per carry (league average 4.15 ypc).

The Cleveland Browns finished 4-12 last year, yet their outgained their opponents by 0.2 yards per play for the full season.  That’s the type of stat that will get wiseguys attention heading into to 2014, even with a rookie likely to start at QB.  The Browns defense held foes to 4.8 yards per play – only the Super Bowl champion Seahawks were better.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have been the very definition of mediocrity, going 8-8 while missing the playoffs in each of the last two seasons.   Here’s what I wrote about Pittsburgh while taking notes about their offseason moves: “Average offense, awful run game, good QB, average D, average team.”

The Houston Texans were arguably the single biggest disappointment in the NFL last year, declining from two-time AFC South champs to a 2-14 disaster with the worst record in the league.  Their -20 turnover margin was the worst in the NFL; a stat we can expect wiseguys to fixate upon as one that will NOT repeat, despite their uncertainty at quarterback heading into preseason.

The Indianapolis Colts won 11 games for the second consecutive year in 2013 despite facing a very tough schedule and suffering a massive barrage of injuries (only the New York Giants lost more starts to injury).  Indy’s key stat?  A +13 turnover margin (Luck’s luck), third best in the NFL behind KC and Seattle.

The Jacksonville Jaguars doubled their win total between 2012 and 2013, improving from 2-14 to 4-12.  They still have a long, long way to go, based on the numbers.  The Jags -1.0 yards per play was tied with Tampa Bay for the worst in the NFL; way below league averages both passing and defending the pass.

The Tennessee Titans 7-9 season last year off a 6-10 campaign in 2012 wasn’t enough to save head coach Mike Munchak’s job.  Tough luck for Munchak – the Titans faced the single toughest schedule in the AFC last year based on my numbers (not the standard formula, but I’ll save details for another article).

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is 38 years old and he has a career QB rating of 97.2.  Last year, on 659 pass attempts (the most attempts in the league), Manning had a QB rating of 115.1 and the Broncos tied with Philly with an NFL best 6.3 yards per play on offense.  Hard to repeat those kinds of numbers…..

Last year at this time, I called the Kansas City Chiefs the poster child for an NFL team primed to make dramatic improvements.  And the Chiefs certainly did that, going from an NFL worst 2-14 mark in 2012 to an 11-5 record and a Wild Card spot in 2013.  This year, KC might be the poster child of regression.  They finished -0.3 yards per play against the single weakest schedule in the NFL  while benefitting from a +18 turnover margin and staying remarkably healthy.  In 2014, the Chiefs schedule becomes one of the toughest….

The Oakland Raiders haven’t been to the playoffs since losing to Jon Gruden and the Bucs in the Super Bowl more than a decade ago.  Coming off back-to-back 4-12 campaigns, it’s not going to be easy for this sorry franchise to improve.  Oakland’s 105.1 QB rating allowed on defense was dead last in the NFL, even against one of the weaker opposing slates.  And this offseason, the Raiders lost their best offensive lineman and best defensive lineman to free agency.

The San Diego Chargers defense was the only reason they didn’t reach the playoffs last year, a unit that allowed a woeful 6.1 yards per play in 2013 – only the Chicago Bears were worse.  Philip Rivers had a QB rating of 105, but that doesn’t look like an anomaly.  He’s very quietly compiled a career QB rating of 96 with four 100+ QBR seasons in the last six years.

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Re: Preseason NFL Betting News and Notes

Preseason NFC Betting News and Notes
By Teddy Covers
Sportsmemo.com

Last week, I wrote that “the NFL offseason, at least for sports bettors, is essentially over.  Numbers are up, and they’re moving!”

“My first step in assessing the upcoming NFL season begins with a thorough look back at last year.  Every team’s power rating is set, in large part, based on where they finished the previous campaign.  Obviously, adjustments are made for injuries, luck, offseason improvements or declines, coaching changes and the like, but those base power rating numbers factor in what happened in 2013 very heavily.”

Last week, I focused on the 16 teams from the AFC.  In this week’s Vegas Wiseguy Report, I’ll pass along a tidbit or two from each of the 16 NFC teams in regards to last year.  My focus is on things that are NOT likely to repeat the same way in 2014.  And this week, I’ll do my absolute best to avoid egregious errors like my ‘San Diego didn’t make the 2013 playoffs’ mistake from last week.

The Dallas Cowboys have a grand total of one playoff win since 1996; a franchise that has sunk into long term mediocrity over the past decade.  Given their extensive salary cap woes, it’s not going to be easy for Dallas to end that streak in 2014.  Last year, the Cowboys defense allowed a woeful 6.1 yards per play, ranked #31 out of 32 teams.  And Dallas will be hard pressed to repeat their 67% fumble recovery rate from 2013.

The New York Giants were absolutely destroyed by injuries last year, suffering the highest advanced metric ‘adjusted games lost’ total of any team that Football Outsiders has tracked in the 21st century.  The Giants also finished -15 in turnovers against a very tough opposing schedule.  Two-time Super Bowl winning QB Eli Manning ranked #35 out of 37 QB’s with enough pass attempts to qualify – only Terrelle Pryor and Geno Smith were worse.

Things broke right for the Philadelphia Eagles last year, resulting in a division title for Chip Kelly in his first season on the job.   But Nick Foles NFL-best QB rating of 119.2 in his first year as the full time starter is a clear outlier number.  Philly also finished +12 in turnovers against a much weaker than average slate of opponents.

Washington Redskins starting QB Robert Griffin III saw his QB rating drop by more than 20 points between his rookie year and his second season; dropping from ‘elite’ to ‘below average’ following his offseason surgery.  Despite that decline, the Redskins outgained their foes by 0.8 yards per rush attempt last year, elite level rushing numbers.  Washington’s special teams can only improve after ranking among the worst five teams of the last 25 years according to the Football Outsiders advanced metrics.

The Chicago Bears defense was riddled with injuries last year, and it showed in the numbers.  The Bears 6.2 yards per play allowed on defense ranked dead last in the NFL, as did their 5.3 yards per rush attempt allowed.   And those woeful defensive numbers were compiled against a much easier than average slate of foes.  Bettors might want to note that career backup Josh McCown’s QB rating was 20 points higher than starter Jay Cutler’s rating in 2013.

The Detroit Lions didn’t finish with a winning record last year despite facing one of the easiest opposing schedules in the league.  They were -12 in turnovers; a key factor in all six of their ‘tight game’ losses by four points or less.  Franchise QB Matthew Stafford was very mediocre, finishing with 19 interceptions and a QB rating of 84.2.

The Green Bay Packers also benefitted from an easy schedule last year; the single easiest slate in the NFC according to my numbers.  Even against that bottom tier slate, the Packers only outgained their opponents by 0.1 yards per play. And Green Bay’s pass defense was a bottom tier unit, routinely torched by opposing QB’s.

The Minnesota Vikings were one of six teams with a QB rating more than 20 points lower than the QB rating they allowed on defense.  All six squads were sub .500 teams (the Jets, Texans, Jags, Raiders and Redskins were the other five).  Minnesota’s strong rushing game (+0.9 yards per rush compared to their opponents) wasn’t enough for them to overcome their QB woes and -12 turnover margin.

The Atlanta Falcons were every bit as bad as their 4-12 record would indicate last year!  Atlanta was outgained by 0.7 yards per play.  Their pass defense was torched, finishing with the second worst opposing QB rating allowed. Atlanta did finish -7 in turnovers and faced a tougher than average schedule; two factors that point towards at least modest improvement in 2014.

The Carolina Panthers had a truly elite level defense last year, holding foes to 4.9 yards per play (only Seattle, Cinci and Cleveland were better).   But Carolina finished with an ‘unlikely to repeat’ +11 turnover margin.  Their offense was below average in every department – there plenty of room for improvement from their rebuilt offensive line and receiving corps.

Nothing about the New Orleans Saints return to the playoffs last year was fraudulent in any way.  The Saints ranked among the top four teams in the NFL; outgaining their opponents by 0.7 yards per play.  They did it against a brutal slate, top 5 in the NFL in opposing strength of schedule.  And they did it without the benefits of a positive turnover differential, finishing with a net turnover margin of zero.

The scary thing about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 4-12 record last year is that they were awful despite a +10 turnover margin; a true rarity with a rookie starter at QB.  They were outgained by a full yard per play, a true bottom feeder statistically.  And the Bucs faced one of the five toughest opposing slates last year, giving their new coaching staff at least a glint of hope for 2014 improvement.

The 10-win Arizona Cardinals were arguably the biggest surprise in the NFC last year despite facing an above average strength of schedule and finishing with a -1 turnover margin.  Arizona ranked in the top quartile of the league, outgaining their foes by 0.4 yards per play. Behind a rebuilt offensive line, QB Carson Palmer could be even more effective this year with more time to find open receivers downfield.

The San Francisco 49ers finished with a +11 turnover margin in 2013 and their offense didn’t make many egregious errors – the Niners ‘points allowed on offense’ for the entire season consisted of a single safety on Colin Kaepernick.  But the offense was largely a pedestrian unit; only 5.4 yards per play, in large part because of a dearth of big gainers; an area that San Fran will need to improve if they expect to reach their fourth consecutive NFC Championship Game.

The Seattle Seahawks +20 turnover margin in 2013 was the best in the NFL; a stat they’ll be hard-pressed to repeat in 2014.  But the Seahawks +1.2 yards per play differential between what they gained on offense and what they allowed on defense was by far the best in the NFL (only Denver was close); a clear indicator that their Super Bowl title was no accident.

The St. Louis Rams gave up 32 points on offense last year due to safeties, pick sixes and fumble return TD’s; a bottom five team once again in that key statistical category.  The Rams 5.0 yards per play on offense tied for next–to-last in the NFC.  QB Sam Bradford had a solid QB rating of 91 (ranked #11 in the NFL) before getting hurt; facing a ‘make-or-break’ season in 2014.

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