Posted Monday, June 23, 2014 10:46 AM
Posted Monday, June 16, 2014 11:14 AM
Two weeks ago, I wrote about the seven NFC teams that are
projected to improve or decline by two wins or more in 2014 based on the
current market numbers for their season win totals. I intended to write Part II of the article
last week, talking about the four AFC teams that are also projected to improve
or decline by two wins or more in 2014, but I got derailed by the College
Football Game of the Year openers at the Golden Nugget; a ‘must report’
event. So, let’s just call it ‘better
late than never’!
The markets are telling us to expect ‘more of the same’ from
12 of the 16 AFC teams. What makes these
four squads different? My goal here is to focus on why these particular teams
are expected to improve or decline significantly compared to last year. I’ll do that by looking at how the broader
market conditions affect the numbers.
What do the markets fixate upon?
What do they largely ignore? Read
on to find out.
Kansas City Chiefs:
11-5 in 2013, O/U 8 wins in 2014.
Last year in this space, I called the Chiefs coming off a
truly dismal 2-14 campaign “the poster child for the ‘expected to be the most
improved team in the NFL’ category.”
Here’s an excerpt:
“Quite literally, just
about every statistic and metric that we have to predict NFL success or failure
points towards an immediate turnaround in Kansas City this fall. It all starts with last year, when KC was an
injury riddled mess with a lame duck head coach and a consistent void at the
quarterback position. The Chiefs were
tied dead last in the NFL in turnover margin in 2012, finishing with an average
of -1.5 turnover differential per game.
Only five players started all 16 games; fewer than the number of players
who finished the season on injured reserve.
“They’ve got talented
personnel in place. They’ve made dramatic
QB and head coaching upgrades, and all reports indicate the transition is going
well. Their turnover margin can only
improve. Their division is among the
weakest in the NFL, and their schedule for 2013 features ten teams lined at
eight wins or less. Put it all together
and you can see why there has been significant early wiseguy money showing for
broke right for KC from the get-go last year.
They got Jacksonville in Week 1 before everyone realized how bad the
Jags actually were. They stole a one
point Week 2 win over Dallas thanks to late game Cowboys turnovers and
penalties. They got the Eagles on a
short week before Philly had truly picked up Chip Kelly’s offense. And that win over the Eagles was the ONLY win
over an opponent with a winning record that KC notched all year – all ten of
their other victories came against .500 or worse level foes. The Chiefs mid-season stretch against
Oakland, Houston, Cleveland and Buffalo – all playing with backup or third
string QB’s – was the easiest stretch of games that any team in the NFL played
over a four game span all season!
playing the easiest schedule in the NFL last year (or perhaps BECAUSE they
faced such an easy slate), the Chiefs also finished the season with a +18 turnover
margin; just one year after finishing with a -24! Let’s not forget that the only two teams KC
beat following their bye week were the 3-13 Redskins and the 4-12 Raiders –
they closed out the campaign on a confidence sapping 2-6 slide. And the Chiefs also had the lowest ‘adjusted
games lost from injuries’ (factors in the importance of injured players, not
just the number of injuries) in the NFL last year – they’re almost assuredly going to suffer more injuries
Whatever first year bump KC
got from the Andy Reid/Alex Smith coach/QB change is no longer a positive for
2014 – now that duo is just the status quo.
The Chiefs go from playing arguably the weakest schedule in the NFL to
one of the hardest. Bettors certainly
don’t expect an outlier stat like their +18 turnover margin to repeat. Put it all together and the projected three
win decline for KC makes perfect sense.
11-5 in 2013, O/U 9 wins in 2014.
Bengals stats from last year show ‘true contender’ type numbers. They finished the season outgaining their
foes by 0.7 yards per play – only Denver, Philly and Seattle were better; all
double digit win teams from 2013. Their
pass defense was truly elite, holding foes below a QB rating of 75 for the
season – not quite in the Seahawks range, but close enough to draw comparisons. These are not numbers that indicate a
significant potential for a substantial drop-off in 2014
frankly, based on personnel alone, Cincinnati looks every bit as talented on
paper as the two AFC elites (Denver and New England), with one notable
exception -- QB Andy Dalton is no Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. And that makes a huge difference in this nine
win number because, quite simply, the markets don’t view Andy Dalton as an
elite level QB, or anything close.
also a strong negative bias about long time Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis in
the markets. The Bengals lost both
coordinators from last year, with Mike Zimmer taking the Vikings head coaching
job while Jay Gruden landed the Redskins gig.
No other team that retained their head coach changed both coordinators
in the offseason; just one more reason why the Bengals are lined as a good
team, not a great one.
4-12 in 2013, O/U 6.5 wins in 2014.
In general, the markets tend to show significant support for
teams that put up decent stats in the midst of dismal campaigns the year
before. That’s why the Browns projected
improvement is not heavily Johnny Manziel related. In fact, if Manziel wins the starting
quarterback job over Brian Hoyer in
training camp, I expect at least a modest move towards the Under on Cleveland.
The markets like the new coaching staff, with former Bills
defensive coordinator Mike Pettine getting his first NFL head coaching job. But
more than anything else, the markets love this defense, a unit that allowed
only 4.8 yards per play last year, second in the NFL behind Seattle. For the season, Cleveland outgained their
foes by 0.2 yards per play; the only team in the league to finish with a sub
.500 record and a positive ypp differential.
That stat alone is driving market support for the Browns; a team that
needs a three win improvement to cash Over bets in 2014.
Houston Texans: 2-14 in 2013, O/U 8 wins in 2014.
Houston was lined as a ten win team last year, but the
bottom dropped out for the Texans early.
They won their first two games of the season, then dropped 14 straight
to close out the campaign, resulting in a major offseason housecleaning. The wiseguys tend to fixate on things like
the Texans -20 turnover margin from 2013, anticipating a dramatic improvement
in that key stat. And the markets also
believe in the ‘Plexiglass Principle’ – teams that underachieve by leaps and
bounds one year tend to rebound the following season. Last, but not least, Houston’s schedule for
2014 is projected to be the single easiest slate in the NFL based on this year’s
win totals. Given that rationale, the
markets are expecting a huge six win improvement for first time NFL head coach Bill
O’Brien even with Ryan Fitzpatrick and his 27-49-1 career record just named as
the starting quarterback heading into training camp.
Posted Monday, June 09, 2014 11:14 AM
The sportsbetting world here in Las Vegas has shifted into
full summer mode over the past week. The
NBA and NHL Finals are now in the rear view mirror with the Spurs and Kings
crowned as champions, leaving a modest sportsbetting void even in the midst of the
Once the Finals end, my focus shifts towards the upcoming
football season, and I’m certainly not alone in that regard. Last week I wrote about NFL Season Win totals
that have begun to proliferate in Las Vegas (still lagging behind offshore,
though). Part 2 of that article will
come next week in this space.
This past Friday, we saw another clear sign that football is
just around the corner, as the Golden Nugget released their lines on 200
‘College Football Games of the Year’. These
GOY pointspreads were posted on about 10-15 high profile marquee games a week,
beginning with the Texas A&M – South Carolina and Boise St – Ole Miss
showdowns on Thursday, August 28th, while running through the likes
of Oklahoma – Oklahoma St, Kansas St – Baylor and Army – Navy in December.
This is the eighth consecutive year that the Nugget has been
the first place in Vegas to post college football game pointspreads. And
there’s always quite a ‘scene’ at the sportsbook when the numbers are posted,
as bettors who have done their homework jostle amongst each other in an effort
to get first crack at the opening numbers.
The Nugget GOY pointspreads are not for syndicates. With $1000 limits and the potential to affect
the ‘real’ numbers when they get released, there’s not enough volume for groups
that routinely move pointspreads with a high volume of wagers. Instead, the
Nugget seems to attract your classic Las Vegas pros; individuals who are plenty
sharp but aren’t generally moving numbers on a global scale.
The Nugget allowed bettors to wager on five games with one
trip to the betting window. Lines were
very reasonable; short waits to place a wager.
As was the case last year, every single ‘wiseguy’ bettor that I talked
too was impressed with the Nugget’s efficiency – they’ve done this before and
they’ve learned from their mistakes.
Last year, the Nugget wrote more than 100k in college
football bets within the first 90 minutes.
Even that number didn’t impress sportsbook supervisor Aaron Kessler, who
said it was “A little higher than last year, but not quite what we
expected.” This year, Kessler reported that opening day
handle was “way down”, and not because bettors were reluctant to make bets on
Friday the 13th. Kessler’s
take was that the Nugget’s team of oddsmakers has simply gotten better at making
these opening numbers: “Lines are a bit sharper now, not much ‘easy money’”.
I heard the exact same quote from bettors at the LVH
Superbook when they released their Super Bowl prop report last year. And I’m sure there’s truth to it. When bettors lose, they either stop betting
or refine their methodology. It’s
exactly the same for sportsbooks, except that sportsbooks will only ‘stop
betting’ if they shut down, something that doesn’t happen very often in this
The books have plenty of hard data that shows where they’ve
lost in the past. And they’re certainly
flexible enough and sharp enough to make adjustments, year by year, to tighten
their numbers. But it’s a Catch-22
(damned if you do, damned if you don’t) – when the books do a great job posting
‘tough to beat’ numbers, their handle goes down, sometimes dramatically!
Kessler’s quote from last year still rings true as well,
talking about why the Nugget works so hard to post these numbers. They’re looking to differentiate themselves
from the pack, and draw handle during the quiet summer months. “We're
more than happy to make a small profit and get people into the book.”
The bettors I
talked too were less concerned about wins and losses from these wagers; more
concerned about the pointspread itself.
The goal was not about picking winners, it was about picking off numbers
that won’t be available when the lines get posted the week of the game.
know that the ONLY reason to lock up your money in June for a game that won’t
be played until the fall is because you’re getting the best of the number. There’s some schedule analysis involved in
the process – looking for potential flat spots ahead of time, or looking for
games where a team has the potential to be gassed. But there was surprisingly little ‘team
analysis’– which squads are going to be good or bad – involved in the thought
process for most bettors that I talked to.
The emphasis was
on betting good numbers, not betting good teams. And bettors I talked too were less concerned
about wins and losses from these wagers; more concerned about the pointspread
itself. The goal was not about picking
winners, it was about picking off numbers that won’t be available when the
lines get posted the week of the game.
While games were
posted all the way through December, the majority of the action came on games
over the first half of the season. Bettors
focused primarily on games played in September and October – there’s less variability
compared to late season games when it comes to injuries and momentum.
And bettors were
far more interested in double digit underdogs than double digit favorites. Of the 20 games featuring opening
pointspreads of -10 or higher that got bet off the opener, the money showed for
the underdog in 14 of those contests.
Enough about the
scene and the background! Which teams
did the first bettors support and who were they fading? Three teams got bet on
in three or more games: Northwestern, Boise St and TCU, the most popular ‘bet-on’
teams over the first 48 hours of betting action. Ole Miss, Louisville, Kansas St, Mississippi
State, Florida, NC State, Nevada, Texas, Notre Dame, Alabama and Baylor were
all bet on in two games.
On the other end
of the spectrum, there were two significant ‘fades’: LSU and Oklahoma; a duo
that was bet against in a combined total of ten games. Boise, UConn, Miami – FL, USC, San Diego St,
Auburn, Alabama, Georgia, Florida State, Missouri, Texas Tech, Nebraska and
Kansas State were all bet against in two games.
I’m not convinced
that the ‘bet on’s’ and ‘bet against’s’ from the Nugget GOY’s are going to have
substantial significance moving forward, especially the list of teams that only
got bet on or against twice. As for the
five teams that bettors had a significant early opinion about (Northwestern,
Boise St, TCU, LSU and Oklahoma), those opinions were more about the
pointspreads and less about the teams themselves.
Posted Monday, June 02, 2014 12:00 PM
I’ve been waiting patiently for the NFL Season Wins market
to mature, but that doesn’t happen quickly here in June. Most of the notable offshores have not posted
Over/Under win totals yet, leaving Vegas as the only active market right now.
As a result, all the numbers used in this article are from right here in Sin
Of the 32 NFL teams, only 11 have Over/Under win totals that
are different from their final record last year by two games or more. In other words, the markets are telling us to
expect ‘more of the same’ from 21 of the 32 teams in the league.
In my Vegas Wiseguy Report article over the next two weeks,
I’m going to focus on those eleven teams that are expected to morph positively
or negatively from last year. The goal
of this discussion is to focus on why these particular teams are expected to
improve or decline significantly compared to last year. I’ll do that by looking at how the broader
market conditions affect the numbers.
What do the markets fixate upon?
What do they largely ignore? Read
on to find out.
This week’s focus will be on the seven NFC teams that are
projected to improve or decline by two wins or more in 2014 based on the current
market numbers for their season win totals.
Teams are listed in alphabetical order.
Next week, I’ll break down the four AFC teams with an extended look at
the team I called the ‘poster child for expected improvement’ last year – the Kansas
3-13 in 2013; O/U 7 in 2014.
Washington was a significant underachiever last year and the
betting markets are expecting a bounceback in the direction of the form that
allowed the Redskins to win the NFC East when RG3 was a rookie in 2012. The concepts here are basic. The new coaching
staff is a positive after the chemistry issues really reared their head last
year. RG3’s QB rating declined by 20 points from 2012 to 2013 while his rushing
yardage and rushing TD’s fell off a cliff as well. No teams in the division made significant
offseason improvements. And the 2014 O/U
number for Washington still prices them as a sub .500 team. Bottom line: the ‘outlier’ performances from
last year (teams that finished with eleven or more wins or five or fewer wins)
always are lined with a ‘return to the mean’ theme. And when a team ‘returns to the mean’ we can
expect a line between 7 wins and 9 wins, where at least half the league is
likely to finish.
Green Bay Packers:
8-7-1 in 2013; O/U 10.5 (10 -170 at Cantor) in 2014
The Packers went 6-2 when Aaron Rodgers started and finished
the game behind center during the regular season last year, and neither loss
was his fault, guiding the team to 28 points in a loss at San Francisco and 30 in
a loss at Cincinnati. Obviously, when
Rodgers was hurt, Green Bay struggled with the likes of Scott Tolzien and Matt
Flynn at QB. The franchise has been very successful in recent seasons, notching
11 and 15 wins the previous two years following their Super Bowl title. So basically, the markets are saying that a
healthy Rodgers should make all the difference for this team; lined in the same
range where they were lined last year.
12-4 in 2013; O/U 8 or 8.5 (Cantor) in 2014
Two major factors come into the Panthers anticipated decline
for 2014. First is a return to the
mean. The Panthers went 6-10 and 7-9 in
2011 and 2012 before last year’s huge five win improvement in the standings. Five of those twelve wins came by four points
or less – the Panthers were luckier than average in close games last year. The markets do not expect ‘more of the same’
in that regard. And secondly, the
Panthers offense was below average last year; saved by their +11 turnover
margin. The markets hate their offseason
moves, with significant attrition on the offensive line and among the receiving
4-12 in 2013; O/U 8.5 (8 at LVH) in 2014
Just about everything that could go wrong, did go wrong for
Atlanta last year following a string of three consecutive double digit win
seasons and playoff appearances. They
got eaten up by a tough schedule and numerous key injuries while coming up
short repeatedly in close games; losing six games by less than a touchdown. Plain and simple – the markets are viewing
last year as an anomaly, not likely to be repeated; a classic ‘return to the
Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
4-12 in 2013; O/U 7 in 2014.
The Bucs were outgained by a full yard per play last year;
tied for last in the NFL with Jacksonville. And they somehow finished +10 in
turnovers with a rookie QB who is not a top prospect primed to be a franchise
savoir. Given those two stats alone, the current level of market support for
the Bucs is somewhat surprising; expecting a three win improvement. But again the theme of ‘returning to the mean’
comes into play – many of the squads that finished worse than 6-10 last year
are expected to notch a few more wins just because the ‘luck’ factor between
winning and losing in the NFL is relatively high. And the Bucs faced a positively brutal slate
of opponents last year. This year their strength of schedule is much weaker; at
least when using the conventional formula to determine SOS (the combined
records from last year for all 16 teams on their slate).
13-3 in 2013; O/U 11 in 2014.
The markets are not expecting any kind of major decline from
the defending Super Bowl champs, just your standard ‘return to the mean’ O/U
wins adjustment between last year and this year. Seattle is still expected to be elite; along
with Denver, New England, Green Bay and San Francisco the only five teams lined
at ten wins or higher at current numbers (New Orleans, Philly, Indy and Cincinnati
are a notch behind). But you won’t see
O/U 12 wins or higher in the modern NFL season wins marketplace – numbers don’t
get higher than 11 or 11.5, regardless of how good a team is supposed to
be. And given the Seahawks very tough
opposing slate this year, ranked as the sixth toughest schedule in the league
by standard formulas, it’s a no-brainer that their win total was going to be
lower than their actual wins from their Super Bowl winning season.
10-6 in 2013; O/U 7.5 in 2014.
I could probably explain the Cardinals expected decline in
2014 in two words: Carson Palmer. While
the pundits applauded Palmer as a dramatic upgrade at the quarterback position
last year, his long term interception issues were problematic once again in
2013 and he isn’t getting any younger. That
being said, this team finished with a negative turnover differential last year
and still won ten games, despite an offense that finished below the league
average in just about every statistical category. The markets are also worried
about Arizona’s strength of schedule in a brutal NFC West division.
Posted Monday, May 26, 2014 11:16 AM
Last week, I wrote that “the
NFL offseason, at least for sportsbettors, 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.
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
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 ten 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.
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
sportsbettors, 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
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
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
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
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-2-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.