2019 Week 9 Betting: New England Patriots @ Baltimore Ravens

2019 Week 9 Betting: New England Patriots @ Baltimore Ravens

Market opener: Ravens +3.5, 45

Suuma line: Ravens +4.5, total range of 41-43

Market Study

Wow. It seems like everyone, and their mother in law is on the Ravens. And I am talking about sharp bettors and betting groups because the public rarely moves a line this drastically. The reasons why groups like the Ravens are the following: they are coming off a bye, their defense has been improving, the Pats offense is overrated, and Lamar Jackson on the ground is a good matchup against that Pats defense. There is so much sharp money on the 3.5 that we shouldn’t anticipate that number crawling back. I couldn’t bet against the Pats at this number. We are on the Under, and I disagree entirely with the first total of 45. I anticipated this number shorter, and I would be surprised if it closed at 45 or higher.

Matchup Analysis

Look at DVOA, EPA or simply at the tape: this is the worst Patriots offense since 2004. They rank 15th in DVOA and 16th in EPA. They also rank 14th in points per drive and 17th in net drive success rate. But it’s flying under the radar. They are still playing with two backup offensive linemen at the center and left tackle positions, they have no tight ends and their receiving threats are Julian Edelman and Mo Sanu, two guys who work the inside rather than the outside. Their offensive line cannot run-block this year either. They are meeting with a Ravens defense that looked horribly lousy at the start of the season but has been improving since. And they get Jimmy Smith back, their second-best cornerback.

This month, the Ravens defense ranks 4th in EPA per dropback and the number, of -0.177 would have ranked first in 2018. The Ravens have two quality cornerbacks who can take away anything the Pats are going to run on the outside, which allows Earl Thomas to play his free safety position not as deep in cover-1 and cover-3. He can come down and help his mates against inside routes on Sanu and Edelman. I don’t see a way this Pats offense is going to move the chains consistently.

The Ravens passing offense has been explosive to start the year, but they have been getting cold lately. If we take away the 59-point Miami game, Baltimore ranks only 16th in EPA per dropback. On the season, they rank 17th in pass DVOA. For your information: DVOA smoothes outliers (big plays) and emphasizes consistency. EPA can get skewed by big plays. Now the Ravens face the best passing defense in league with a genius at head coach. Rookie receiver Marquise Brown is cleared to play on Sunday, but if he does, he probably won’t be 100%, and he will play against Stephon Gilmore, arguably the best cornerback in the league right now.

Lamar Jackson and company have the best rushing offense in the league, and that’s where they can gain ground against the Pats. Bill Belichick will most likely come up with a good game plan to contain Lamar on the ground. He’s going to stack the line of scrimmage and will probably send linebackers or safeties in spy. This is not going to work out properly for Lamar Jackson if he’s forced to throw the ball on this defense, no matter how improved he looks as a passer.

We have a struggling passing offense (Ravens) against the best passing defense in the league (Pats) and the worst Pats offense since 2004 against an improving Ravens defense. Sign me up on the Under!

The Play: Patriots/Ravens UNDER 45.5 -105 (LowVig, 10/31 10.30 AM ET)

Seattle Seahawks 2019: Need Some Russell Magic

Seattle Seahawks 2019: Need Some Russell Magic
Seattle Seahawks 2019: Need Some Russell Magic

Seattle Seahawks 2018 Stats Review:

Record: 10-6

Pythagorean Wins: 10.1

ATS: 10-5-1; average line -0.8

Over/Under: 9-7; average total 46.0

Close Games Record: 5-6

Turnover Differential: 0.9

Adjusted Games Lost (injuries): 65.7 (10th)

Offense: 9th in EPA per play (0.102);  5.77 yards per play

Defense:  11th in EPA per play (+0.006);  6.0 yards per play

Become a member for the 2019 season and get all team previews, win totals, weekly game analysis, and picks until the Super Bowl. Since I started this service in 2017, we beat the closing line 70.6% of the time for an average closing line value of 4.0%. The record is 136-104 (56.7%) for +27.46 units at 10.5% ROI. Find all the picks with closing line reports on the records page.

Process Over Results

Elite quarterbacks can win you a lot of games. That’s what I underrated last season. The Seattle Seahawks played EXACTLY as I thought they would – a run-first approach which puts the quarterback under constant duress. But Russell Wilson cleaned house on third downs which saved Seattle’s season. Running the ball on early downs is generally minus expected value (-EV), and Brian Schottenheimer and Pete Carroll made an art out of it. On first down, Schotty called the most runs (64%) in the league, the second-most (54%) on second down. As a result, the Hawks faced the second-most third downs (200), even though it’s a smarter idea to avoid third down entirely. In first halves, the Hawks had the highest rush rate on early downs. The only reason they didn’t get killed with that strategy was the genius of Russell Wilson.

Against the Cowboys, the Hawks averaged 2.9 yards per run but called 36 runs on early downs. Against Carolina, they had 2.7 yards and called 28 runs. Wilson saved them with 9.7 yards per pass. Their playoff game plan was mind-blowing. I had a bet on the Cowboys, and the biggest reason was that Schottenheimer would desperately attempt to run against a top-notch run defense. You could telegraph their game plan from Canada. Wilson crushed the Dallas defense through the air, but Schottenheimer handcuffed his elite quarterback in a playoff game – like he did all season.

It’s questionable whether Schotty and Pete are going to go the same route, especially without Doug Baldwin. On the season, the Seahawks matched their Pythagorean win expectation of 10.1, had neutral luck in close games (5-6) and a positive turnover differential of 0.9. They also benefited from a surprising defense that I didn’t expect at all. In the wake of defensive regression, they need to keep their offensive level and let Russell Wilson throw the ball early and often. They were excellent at play-action last year. They better use that more without establishing the run.

Is it DK Metcalf SZN yet?

The Seahawks offensive line is going to return four starters and added Mike Iupati at left guard who is a much better run-blocker than he is a pass-blocker, which fits the Hawks philosophy. In my opinion, the offensive line is not a real issue going into 2019. Under offensive line coach Mike Solari, the unit took a step forward, and that’s enough for a quarterback like Russell Wilson to move the chains. Pro Football Focus has this unit ranked 23rd going into the season, which seems fair. Guys like DJ Fluker, Mike Iupati, and Germain Ifedi will deal with problems in pass-blocking often, which is another argument for Schottenheimer to call quicker and play-action passes on early downs. Schottenheimer has mentioned that they are going to feed running back Chris Carson through the or way more than last year. If that replaces some runs, it’s a smart idea.

Seattle Seahawks Offensive Depth Chart Projection
Seattle Seahawks Offensive Depth Chart Projection

With Doug Baldwin’s retirement, the Seahawks lost one of the most-nuanced route runners in the league. And he had a special connection with Russell Wilson. Since 2009, among 459 receivers with at least 100 catches, Doug Baldwin ranks 6th in EPA per target (0.49). Fortunately for Seattle, they still have the guy who ranks third on that list and first among wide receivers – Tyler Lockett. The latter is going to be the featured receiver and the number one option for Wilson.

Rookie DK Metcalf is a big-bodied speedster who took care for a lot of highlights in practice camp. It’s hard to predict rookie seasons, but if he can create separation on go-routes and slants, he has the perfect quarterback to excel. Chris Carson is an underrated running back who can do some damage in the passing game, too. Nick Vannett and Will Dissly are primary threats in the play-action game. Overall, this offense should suffer from the Baldwin loss, but they have the potential to not miss a beat, depending on the development and the field-stretching ability by Metcalf. And by Schottenheimer’s play-calling.

Where is the Pass Rush?

Pete Carroll is one of the best defensive coaches out there, but can he create an above-average unit with the current roster? I ultimately agreed with the move to trade Frank Clark away, but their contemporary edge rushers are Ziggy Ansah coming off an injury, rookie LJ Collier and Cassius Marsh. Collier missed significant camp time with a sprained ankle. Their best interior rusher, Jarran Reed, won’t see the field until week seven due to suspension. DT Earl Mitchell doesn’t move the needle much, Poona Ford is a primary run-defender. I don’t know how this group is going to create pressure out of four-person rushes.

As bad as the defensive line looks on paper, as excellent is the linebacking corps which is hands down the best in the league. Bobby Wagner is the best linebacker in my opinion, whereas KJ Wright isn’t far away and Mychal Kendricks is an excellent third option. Besides, last year’s rookie Shaqueem Griffin is a versatile player who can cover some ground and rush the passer.

Seattle Seahawks Defensive Depth Chart Projection
Seattle Seahawks Defensive Depth Chart Projection

I struggled to put together the secondary depth chart at slot corner and some backup positions. They lost nickel corner Justin Coleman towards Detroit, and it looks like it’s Akeem King’s job to lose. But according to reports, Deshawn Shead and rookie Ugochukwu Amadi are also in the mix. King was a seventh-round pick in 2015 and didn’t play significant snaps before last year. He didn’t grade out well by PFF. The safety-tandem is questionable at best, while cornerbacks Shaquill Griffin and Tre Flowers ranked 116th and 103rd in PFF’s coverage grade, out of 131.

This secondary is highly questionable and should be considered as a bottom-five unit. The pass rush is weak on paper but also deals with injuries to start the season. It would be a big surprise if Pete Carroll can get average efficiency out of this unit. He’s good, but he isn’t a magician.

2019 Schedule

Taking 2018 offensive EPA per play numbers can give you a solid glimpse at what direction a schedule for any defense is heading. The Seahawks are expected to play the 17th-hardest  schedule (0.0306) by that metric. But as for other NFC West teams: with the apparent improvement of the Cardinals and Niners offenses, that projection is too soft on the Seahawks. Four games against the Cardinals and Niners will be different from 2018. Those improvements are better captured in the win totals markets. Seattle is projected to play the 8th-hardest schedule at .5091, according to Pinnacle win totals.

With Seattle’s defense, these six matchups within the NFC West aren’t going to be easy. Also, they face the NFC South, likely the best division in terms of offensive potential. The AFC North features three teams that could be serious threats to a playoff berth: Browns, Steelers, and Ravens. Four of their road games are going to be played at 7 PM Eastern, where Pete Carroll’s team hasn’t been good historically. It should be described as a top-10 schedule.

Seattle Seahawks 2019: Need Some Russell Magic

My projection for the Seattle Seahawks is nearly the same as it was in 2018. They are going to play a robust program, against some outstanding offenses, with a below-average defense that preferably has downside than upside. The attack will likely rely on Russell Wilson to play hero-ball again because I am not on the Brian-Schottenheimer-Will-Change-Bandwagon. Against that many decent offenses, their run-first approach could be disturbed in a lot of matchups. With Russell Wilson, the passing attack will be fine. But it depends on the development of DK Metcalf, what their ceiling is going to be. From a betting standpoint, look out for some underpriced total lines against good offenses.

Russell Wilson should be enough to carry the Seahawks to .500 football once again, but I am having a hard time believing in double-digit wins. The win totals markets seem to be spot on, pricing this game at 8.5. The number reached a high of 8.9 at some point during June but came back to 8.5. I don’t have a lean either way.

 

San Francisco 49ers 2019: Wide Range of Outcomes

San Francisco 49ers 2019: Wide Range of Outcomes
San Francisco 49ers 2019: Wide Range of Outcomes

San Francisco 49ers 2018 Stats Review:

Record: 4-12

Pythagorean Wins: 5.6

ATS: 5-11; average line 3.8

Over/Under: 9-7; average total 46.7

Close Games Record: 3-6

Turnover Differential: -1.6

Adjusted Games Lost (injuries): 105.5 (29th)

Offense: 24th in EPA per play (-0.021);  5.87 yards per play

Defense:  26th in EPA per play (+0.084);  5.58 yards per play

Become a member for the 2019 season and get all team previews, win totals, weekly game analysis, and picks until the Super Bowl. Since I started this service in 2017, we beat the closing line 70.6% of the time for an average closing line value of 4.0%. The record is 136-104 (56.7%) for +27.46 units at 10.5% ROI. Find all the picks with closing line reports on the records page.

Same Procedure as in 2017

I could easily take my write-up from last year and plug it in. The 49ers were once again the victim of bad injury luck and lousy defense.  Sometimes I think John Lynch has no clue how to build that team – a lot of questionable moves, especially signing so many players with injury histories. But never mind. The Niners season was over when Jimmy Garoppolo tore his ACL, but we still don’t know whether he’s consistently good or not because we don’t have enough data.

Even though it was a bad season, we also got to see the genius of Kyle Shanahan. Quarterback Nick Mullens was an undrafted free agent in 2017 who can’t throw the ball outside the numbers. But he finished the season ranked 21st out of 33 qualifying players in QBR and – I am not kidding – 11th in EPA per drop back among 34 qualifying signal-callers. The gap can be explained, too: QBR includes any rushing/scrambling attempt and tries to separate QB performance from receiver performance, by weighing air yards and yards after the catch. Nick Mullens benefited from a lot of yards after the catch while the Niners also suffered from injuries. Kendrick Bourne had the second-most receptions (42), full back Kyle Jusczyk had the third-most.

The reasons the Niners didn’t win more than four games are as follows: 1) it was still Nick Mullens. 2) They were one of the most injury-plagued teams. 3) Their defense was historically bad at producing turnovers. The Niners defense had six (!) takeaways and two (!) interceptions on the year. I couldn’t find worse numbers in a database going back to 2001. And it wasn’t even close. The second-worst defense since 2001 had eleven turnovers. Without the slightest help from your defense, it’s nearly impossible to win eight games with Nick Mullens and a depleted receiving corps. As a result, San Francisco had a league-worst -1.6 turnover margin. Also, the Niners had terrible luck in close games, going 3-6 in matchups decided by one possession.

Many Unproven Players

The sample size for Jimmy Garoppolo is still too small to draw any real conclusions. Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold have thrown more NFL passes than Jimmy who has only 439 career plays under his belt.  Surprisingly, it’s not all that easy to distinguish between Jimmy’s and Nick Mullens’ numbers over the past two years. Garoppolo was slightly better but not by a mile. He has posted a QBR of 62.5 which is better than Mullens’ 54.2, the EPA differential is 0.08. We could argue that Jimmy has been the better signal-caller and the upside is there, but there is a lot of uncertainty involved. Especially coming off an ACL tear with little on-field experience. That’s the biggest reason the Niners have a wide range of outcomes, in my opinion.

Kyle Shanahan will do his best to get his offense prepared to attack opposing defenses, and he is one of the best at his job. My only critics on him are his obsession with a high run rate. I understand that the staple of his offense is to run play-action off particular run looks and use formations in multiple ways. But last season, Kyle Shanahan called the 9th-most runs in the first half, despite the 49ers offense being the 3rd-worst at running before halftime, as measured by EPA per run (non-scrambles). But they ranked 4th in play-action yards per play. The Niners establish the run when they leave the locker room, so I think 120 first-half runs would have been enough, instead of 190. However, his scheme and the way he attacks opposing defenses is unique.

San Francisco 49ers Offensive Depth Chart Projection
San Francisco 49ers Offensive Depth Chart Projection

The offensive line is strong at tackle with Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey, but weak at the interior. I would pencil that group in as a slightly below-average unit that shouldn’t prevent the Niners from winning a lot of games but doesn’t whip defenses around either. At wide receiver, the Niners are already dealing with an injury to Trent Taylor, Garappolo’s favorite receiver. Rookie Deebo Samuel has a way to go whereas Dante Pettis – who was expected to have a breakout season – hasn’t been having a good camp and didn’t see many first-team snaps in the pre-season.

The Niners have a bunch of promising, but unproven receivers. I didn’t even list Jordan Matthews because I had to cut somewhere. My best-educated guess is that we are going to see three-receiver sets with Marquise Goodwin, Kendrick Bourne, and rookie Jalen Hurd in week one. Aside from that, tight end George Kittle is a stud, and guys like Matt Breida, Tevin Coleman and Kyle Jusczyk will somehow contribute in the passing game.

Kyle Shanahan is a proven play-caller; the offensive line is stable enough. Jimmy Garoppolo and the receiving corps are unproven. The latter combination will be responsible for the offensive upside this year.

It Can Only Go Up

The 49ers defense will inevitably contribute more this time. They have an improved pass rush, and simple regression should take care for more turnovers. Nick Bosa is a stud who should turn into one of the premier edge rushers like his brother Joey did. SF acquired Dee Ford via trade – he’s a good pass rusher but lacks run-defending ability, which is one of the reasons the Chiefs got rid of him. On the interior, DeForest Buckner has established himself as one of the best defenders in the NFL, Arik Armstead is good, too. In full strength, this can be a top-five defensive line. But Nick Bosa is most likely going to miss week one, and Dee Ford has been dealing with a knee injury. It might take a couple of weeks until we see that unit in full strength.

San Francisco 49ers Defensive Depth Chart Projection
San Francisco 49ers Defensive Depth Chart Projection

Kwon Alexander is a high-priced acquisition who doesn’t fit the eye-test as he leads the league in missed tackles since his draft, despite missing 18 games in four years. He barely excelled in coverage. There’s a chance that second-year linebacker Fred Warner is going to be the better player in 2019.

The best case for the secondary is the following: Jason Verrett plays like his former self before his injuries and locks down opposing wide receiver opposite of Richard Sherman who doesn’t show any age decline. As a whole, this bunch collects several interceptions. The worst case is that Verrett can’t stay healthy or doesn’t reach his former performance level at all. That way, this secondary is still a massive problem for the Niners and will get shredded by pass-first teams who avoid the pass rush. All in all, it can only go up for this defense. The ceiling is the question mark. A below-average defense would probably be enough for a Shanahan offense.

2019 Schedule

The schedule for the San Francisco 49ers is going to be the 21st-hardest by Pinnacle win totals at .4964. It’s going to be the 10th-hardest in terms of 2018 offensive EPA per play. When you consider that it includes two matchups against the Cardinals who are inevitably going to be more efficient on offense, that’s a concern for their defense. With the AFC North, the NFC South plus Green Bay, they drew a tight schedule. Four road games will be played at 1 PM, and the 49ers are going to travel the 5th-most miles. A lot of those offenses will test Their defense, and Jimmy Garoppolo needs to keep pace. Keep their second road game in a row in week two in mind, teams have a lower win rate than usual in these games.

San Francisco 49ers 2019: Wide Range of Outcomes

The ceiling of the Niners offense with Jimmy Garoppolo will define the wide range of outcomes for the 49ers this year. I can honestly see everything from 6-10 to 11-5 and see them as an 8-8 team. They are set for positive regression in close games and on defense. Their defense expects to grab more interceptions and get more fumble recoveries this year which should help the offense. However, there are some teams on their schedule like the Bucs, Steelers, Rams or Packers – to name a few – that could force this defense into a shootout. Jimmy Garappolo barely played from behind thus far, and it remains to be seen how this offense can deliver in shootouts. The floor should be six wins; the ceiling is a playoff ticket. I think the market has the regular-season win total right at around 8.1.

Oakland Raiders 2019: Better Prepare for Vegas

Oakland Raiders 2019: Better Prepare for Vegas
Oakland Raiders 2019: Better Prepare for Vegas

Oakland Raiders 2018 Stats Review:

Record: 4-12

Pythagorean Wins: 3.7

ATS: 6-10; average line 6.0

Over/Under: 6-9-1; average total 47.6

Close Games Record: 3-3

Turnover Differential: -0.4

Adjusted Games Lost (injuries): 81.7 (19th)

Offense: 25th in EPA per play (-0.041);  5.52 yards per play

Defense:  32nd in EPA per play (+0.165);  6.44 yards per play

Become a member for the 2019 season and get all team previews, win totals, weekly game analysis, and picks until the Super Bowl. Since I started this service in 2017, we beat the closing line 70.6% of the time for an average closing line value of 4.0%. The record is 136-104 (56.7%) for +27.46 units at 10.5% ROI. Find all the picks with closing line reports on the records page.

The Bad and the Ugly

The only reason the Oakland Raiders didn’t hold the first overall pick in the 2019 draft was their head-to-head win against the Arizona Cardinals. When studying a 4-12 team, we would usually find substantial positive regression factors, as we did with the Jets. But not so much with the 2018 Raiders. They were just atrocious and didn’t underperform by a lot against the second-hardest schedule (.547). Their Pythagorean win expectation of 3.7 was the second-lowest number in the league, and they had a record of 3-3 in close games. Their injury luck was slightly below average, and their turnover margin of -0.4 was not extraordinarily bad.

Winning four games or less in consecutive seasons is as hard as winning twelve or more. Based on that fact alone, the Raiders should somehow improve. But there aren’t a lot of indicators pointing towards a massive improvement. Their historically weak defense should improve, but the room for improvement is limited due to their schedule (we will get to that).

They also ranked 25th in offensive EPA per play and offense is more sticky from year to year than defense – especially when the quarterback remains the same. As much as he tries to be that guy on Hard Knocks, Derek Carr isn’t a competent signal-caller. He isn’t even average. He had one good season in a great environment, that’s it. In what was supposed to be a friendlier environment for the quarterback, Derek Carr finished 27th in QBR out of 33 qualifying players.

Except for some more defensive contribution, the Raiders can’t count on lousy luck to shift to their side.

The Former Incredible Offensive Line is Incognito

I didn’t think the Raiders offensive design was terrible last year. But if you don’t have a quarterback who can execute your offense and preferably checks it down to avoid a sack, you are in trouble. Carr had his best season when the offensive line was the best in the league, and he could throw from clean platforms. As soon as he feels pressure, he gets frantic.

In my 2018 Raiders preview, I criticized the hiring of offensive line coach Tom Cable who his hands down the worst position coach in the NFL based on his track records. Cable left the Seahawks, and suddenly they had solid line play. Cable came to Oakland, and suddenly a top-five unit turned into a below-average group. Kolton Miller was a disaster as a rookie, giving up 16 sacks himself, according to Pro Football Focus. He never was an excellent prospect coming out of college.

Miller will start at left tackle, and Oakland shouldn’t be optimistic about a massive improvement, especially not under Cable. The Raiders made Trent Brown the highest-paid tackle, but he was only the 59th-graded tackle out of 85 by PFF. Their most significant reasoning was that he benefited a lot from Tom Brady and a quick passing game and didn’t play well on a per-play basis.

In a shocking move, the Oakland Raiders traded away left guard Kelechi Osemele, one of the league’s best at his position until he played under Cable. His replacement is Richie Incognito, a former Pro Bowler who will miss the first two weeks of 2019 due to a suspension. Right, guard Gabe Jackson will miss at least half of the season due to injury. Center Rodney Hudson will probably be the lone quality starter in week one. For a quarterback who gets frantic and seeks his check-down with the slightest sign of pressure, this is a nightmare setup.

Oakland Raiders Offensive Depth Chart Projection
Oakland Raiders Offensive Depth Chart Projection

Trading for wide receiver Antonio Brown, who is coming off his least efficient season, was one of the biggest storylines during the off-season, but it’s uncertain whether he is going to be a full go for the Raiders. Brown dealt with a foot issue and left training camp because he is not allowed to play with his standard helmet. He only practiced with the team twice thus far. And he also goes from Ben Roethlisberger to Derek Carr.

Without Brown, that would leave the Raiders with speedsters JJ Nelson, Tyrell Williams, and rookie slot receiver Hunter Renfrow. You could dream of a better wide receiving depth chart. Oakland also needs to replace 101 targets, 68 receptions, 896 yards, and six touchdowns from tight end Jared Cook. The 6’2″ Darren Waller, who had a good camp, is the frontrunner for the job. However, Waller has 18 receptions through his four-year NFL career.

Without Antonio Brown, this offense looks worse on paper than its 2018 version. With him, I doubt that they are vastly improved.

Defense

The scheme of defensive coordinator Paul Guenther relies on creating pressure with four rushers while playing disciplined coverage on the backend. That wasn’t a good recipe in 2018. The Raiders rushed with four guys almost 75 percent of the time but ranked dead-last in creating pressure. With such a bad pass rush, it could have been a smart idea to call more blitzes to create pressure via the scheme. But Guenther refused it – the Raiders had the fourth-lowest blitz rate. And they got shredded.

The only additions to the worst defensive line in 2018 are rookie defensive ends Clelin Ferrell and Maxx Crosby. Guenther is hoping to get a second-year leap out of defensive tackles PJ Hall and Maurice Hurst. The defense looks improved at linebacker where Vontaze Burfict and Brandon Marshall are joining Tahir Whitehead in 4-3 base sets.  Veteran experience and communication ability will always help, but Burfict and Marshall aren’t blessed with great athleticism or coverage ability at this stage of their respective careers.

Oakland Raiders Defensive Depth Chart Projection
Oakland Raiders Defensive Depth Chart Projection

The secondary is filled with question marks. On paper, the Raiders improved their middle-of-the-field-coverage with Lamarcus Joyner and added mad-tackling rookie Johnathan Abraham for the box. But their cornerback group remains a problem. Their highest-graded cornerback – Gareon Conley – ranked 76th among 125 qualifying cornerbacks. Daryl Worley (112th), Nevin Lawson (108th) and Nick Nelson (124th) don’t keep opposing offensive coordinators up at night, either. I see this defense slightly improved due to the linebackers and the Joyner addition, but the pass rush remains a work in progress, and the cornerbacks should once again be overmatched against a tight schedule.

2019 Schedule

Now it’s getting hideous for Jon Gruden and his team. We would expect the strength of their plan to regress, but it’s not getting more comfortable. According to current Pinnacle win totals, the Oakland Raiders are projected to play the third-toughest schedule at .5224. Using 2018 EPA per offensive play numbers, their program projects to be the 7th-hardest. It makes sense when looking at their program. Playing four games against the Chiefs and Bolts does a lot. Teams like the Vikings, Jets, Lions, and Packers will likely feature improved passing attacks. We should also expect a guy like Broncos coach Vic Fangio to get the best out of Carr.

But it gets even uglier. At 32,000, the Raiders will travel the most miles of all teams. As a team from the Pacific time zone, they are going to play six road games at 1 PM ET plus a London game. From weeks three to eight, the Raiders will play five straight games outside of California. The NFL scheduling committee crushed the Raiders.

Oakland Raiders 2019: Better Prepare for Vegas

I think the Jets and the Raiders make up for a very cool comparison. Both teams won four matchups last year, but enter the 2019 season under entirely different circumstances. The Jets have a quarterback who enters year two and has a lot of upside in an improved environment whereas Derek Carr has no hidden potential left. The Jets also have a lot of positive regression going for them like a better record in close games. The third argument is the schedule. Gang Green is expected to face one of the most relaxed programs in the league, whereas Oakland will deal with one of the hardest.

I can hardly see the Raiders win more than six games and I would go with seven wins as their absolute ceiling if they land on the positive side of variance. The Raiders look like a 5-11 to 6-10 team on paper, and I would lean towards the under on their win total of 6. But the timing for the best market entry is already gone as markets have bet this total down from 6.2 to as low as 5.8 now. Maybe the over gets some money entering the market with more positive Antonio Brown news the upcoming days. At a better price, I would consider a play on the under.

However, the Raiders shouldn’t do anything this year. Oakland’s goal should be to get ready for Las Vegas in 2020. Maybe they will also think about a new quarterback.

New York Jets 2019: Glass Half-Full or Half-Empty?

New York Jets 2019: Glass Half-Full or Half-Empty?
New York Jets 2019: Glass Half-Full or Half-Empty?

New York Jets 2018 Stats Review:

Record: 4-12

Pythagorean Wins: 5.3

ATS: 5-11; average line 4.2

Over/Under: 10-6; average total 43.0

Close Games Record: 2-6

Turnover Differential: -0.6

Adjusted Games Lost (injuries): 74.6 (13th)

Offense: 30th in EPA per play (-0.111);  5.04 yards per play

Defense:  21st in EPA per play (+0.062);  5.88 yards per play

Become a member for the 2019 season and get all team previews, win totals, weekly game analysis, and picks until the Super Bowl. Since I started this service in 2017, we beat the closing line 70.6% of the time for an average closing line value of 4.0%. The record is 136-104 (56.7%) for +27.46 units at 10.5% ROI. Find all the picks with closing line reports on the records page.

Disastrous Setup

The New York Jets had no chance to survive in 2018: a mistake-prone rookie at quarterback, a lousy offensive line, injuries at wide receiver and a defensive-minded head coach who didn’t do his offense any favors. Sam Darnold played as advertised: young and inexperienced, lousy footwork, many interceptions but also incredible Mahomes-Esque throws out of the structure and out of his mechanical platform. He has been one of the worst signal-callers up to his injury but had a durable finish. From weeks 10 to 17, Sam Darnold had the highest QBR of all quarterbacks, even though playing only four games. That’s a reason to be optimistic, but it was just a four-game sample.

On the season, the New York Jets had some bad luck. They went 2-6 in close games and had a Pythagorean win expectation of 5.3. A dumb penalty decision by Todd Bowles likely cost the Jets a win at Tennessee. Sam Darnold lit up the Packers, but on the most critical drive, the Jets trusted their run game that produced 2.3 yards per rush. On back-to-back long downs. They led 35-20 entering the fourth, but never got the ball in overtime. Those were two games they should have won. They had a -0.6 turnover differential, and it could have been worse if defenders hadn’t dropped a lot of Darnold’s interceptable passes

Gang Green was more like a 5-11 team and their close game differential along with some significant changes on the offensive side point towards positive regression.

Adam Gase and Le’Veon Bell

The priority for the Jets this year was giving Darnold an offensive-minded coaching staff and improve his supporting cast. In theory, they achieved that. But I am having a hard time predicting the impact of Adam Gase on this team. On the one side, he’s an offensive-minded coach who has orchestrated incredible offenses with Peyton Manning and guided Jay Cutler and Ryan Tannehill to career years in 2015 and 2016. He also made the best out of an atrocious Dolphins roster, at least win-loss-wise. However, of the 23 games, Miami won since 2016, 20 were by one possession. But out of the 26 losses, 20 were by more than one score. His situational play-calling was questionable, too. Depends on how you see it: glass half-full or half-empty?

I disagreed with the expensive signing of Le’Veon Bell because teams tend to call too many inefficient runs to justify a high running-back salary. At least he provides a security blanket for Darnold, proper pass protection and is one of the best pass-catching backs in the league. According to camp reports, Gase is using Bell and Ty Montgomery creatively:

Montgomery and Bell are regularly on the field together. Gase lines them up in the backfield, or one in the backfield with the other split wide, in the slot or at H-back. From there, it’s anyone’s guess as to what happens. The Jets had one play where Darnold pitched the ball to Montgomery with Bell as the lead blocker. It’s going to be fascinating to watch Bell and Montgomery work together during the season.

If Gase uses running back passes on early downs, gets creative with Bell and Montgomery and stays unpredictable, I’m okay with it. Ty Montgomery is a former receiver, so lining him or Bell out wide often makes sense. But it’s an if. Glass half-full or half-empty?

The Offensive Line

Aside from an expected second-year leap for Darnold and an offensive-minded head coach, the offensive line could propel the whole team. First of all, the Jets signed Frank Pollack as their new offensive line coach who is a very underrated signing. Pollack orchestrated one of the best offensive lines for the Dallas Cowboys from 2013 to 2017. At the center, Spencer Long, who was a disaster in 2018, gets replaced by the unretired Ryan Kalil.  The older Kalil-brother has been dealing with injuries lately but should be a significant upgrade for Sam Darnold and the whole unit. Left guard Kelechi Osemele has been one of the best guards in the NFL before joining Tom Cable at Oakland. He’s a significant upgrade over James Carpenter.

Kelvin Beachum, by far the best offensive lineman last year, will stay at left tackle. His injury is something to monitor. Brian Winters should stick at right guard, but at right tackle, there could be a battle between Brandon Shell and rookie Chuma Edoga, the latter who looked good in his first pre-season game. If Edoga can provide an upgrade over Shell, this offensive line is a vastly improved unit over 2018. For an offense, the jump from bad to average is much more valuable than a leap from average to elite. This Jets offensive line looks to be an average unit.

New York Jets Offensive Depth Chart Projection
New York Jets Offensive Depth Chart Projection

Robby Anderson played 68 percent of snaps, Quincy Enunwa played 53 percent last year, many of those being banged up. Both guys are healthy and get joined by Jamison Crowder, who has already built a connection with Sam Darnold during training camp. Chris Herndon could have a breakout season, but not before week five because he is suspended for the first four matchups.

Overall, this offense looks much improved from last season. Sam Darnold is entering year two under an offensive-minded coach, with an improved offensive line and potent weapons in the passing game. The delta between 2018 and 2019 performance will define the season.

The Defense is Stacked with Holes

The Jets had two massive holes on their defense, going into the off-season: cornerback and edge rush. They didn’t address corner at all and drafted edge-rusher Jachai Polite in the third round. Polite got some first-round grades but fell because of off-field issues. He’s currently running with the second team in training camp. With rookie Quinnen Williams, Leonard Williams and nose tackle Steve McLendon, the New York Jets have a strong interior line but almost zero pass rush outside. With expensive acquisition CJ Mosley, Jamal Adams, and Marcus Maye, they also have at least decent coverage over the middle of the field. But their cornerback depth chart reads like one of the worst in the league.

New York Jets Defensive Depth Chart Projection
New York Jets Defensive Depth Chart Projection

Trumaine Johnson is the best cornerback on the roster, but he doesn’t belong to the elite. He is currently sidelined with a hamstring issue. Therefore, the Jets have the worst cornerback depth right now. Also, Gregg Williams is a very aggressive defensive coordinator, who likes to call many high-risk blitzes and loves to line up his free safeties deeper on the moon. That will inevitably lead to some massive space for opposing offenses. As bullish as I am on the Jets offense, as bearish I am on their defense. They played one of the easier schedules last year, but couldn’t finish higher than 21st in EPA per play.

2019 Schedule

The New York Jets have one significant advantage: they play one of the most relaxed schedules in the league. According to current Pinnacle win totals markets, they are supposed to represent the second-most manageable program (.4695) after playing the 13th-hardest in 2018 (.506). Considering 2018 EPA per offensive play numbers, the Jets are projected to face the third-easiest slate of opposing offenses (-0.0053). The Jets will travel the fewest miles and won’t play outside of the eastern time zone once. They go to Miami in November, when the heat the humidity have cooled down. They have a bye week to prepare for their opponent with the highest win total outside of New England – a road game at Philadelphia.

Because of their fourth-place finish, Gang Green gets to play Oakland and Jacksonville. The Miami Dolphins are in rebuild mode, and they are the consensus-worst team in the NFL. The Bills are almost in the same position as the Jets, just that folks are higher on Buffalo’s defense than their quarterback, opposite of the Jets. The Patriots and 42-year-old Tom Brady will play their first season without Rob Gronkowski and might need some time to adjust early in the season – both matchups are before week eight. Maybe they can sneak out a win against New England. The AFC North is a tough division to face, but there are some winnable games against the NFC East with teams like the Redskins or Giants.

It could hands down shape up as the most relaxed schedule in the league.

New York Jets 2019: Glass Half-Full or Half-Empty?

The New York Jets are primed for a massive improvement on offense, but at the same time, this improvement dictates how far they can go in 2019. Therefore, they have an exciting range of outcomes this year. Will the offense overcome the other question marks on the team? Is the glass half-full or half-empty? It is the first year since 2015 that I am optimistic about a Jets season. With Gregg Williams at DC, minimal pass rush and a weak cornerback group, this defense will be mostly dependent on the schedule – which is very relaxed. But I am not counting on this defense to contribute a lot.

Do I think the Jets are a playoff team on paper? Not at all. But their schedule could mask a lot of weaknesses and propel them into playoff contention in December. The win total for the Jets opened around 7.3 and got bet up to 7.5, with the original Pinnacle number being priced at -163 on the Over. That means the Jets need to win eight or more games 62 percent of the time. If things go south quickly, it could be another transition year, but I don’t think 9-7 or 10-6 is out of reach either. It could be boom or playoffs for Gang Green. The common projection is probably in the 8-8 range. Tiny lean is on the over, but I would instead grab a much better priced 7.5, risking the push opportunity.

New York Giants 2019: Regression and Schedule Matters

New York Giants 2019: Regression and Schedule Matters
New York Giants 2019: Regression and Schedule Matters

New York Giants 2018 Stats Review:

Record: 5-11

Pythagorean Wins: 6.9

ATS: 9-7; average line 2.6

Over/Under: 9-7; average total 45.9

Close Games Record: 4-8

Turnover Differential: +0.1

Adjusted Games Lost (injuries): 53.3 (8th)

Offense: 18th in EPA per play (+0.030);  5.82 yards per play

Defense:  23rd in EPA per play (0.076);  5.92 yards per play

Become a member for the 2019 season and get all team previews, win totals, weekly game analysis, and picks until the Super Bowl. Since I started this service in 2017, we beat the closing line 70.6% of the time for an average closing line value of 4.0%. The record is 136-104 (56.7%) for +27.46 units at 10.5% ROI. Find all the picks with closing line reports on the records page.

New York Football Underperformers

I’ve been a critic of the New York Giants and their general manager Dave Gettleman. I still don’t understand the pick of Saquon Barkley when a guy like Sam Darnold was on the board. I completely disagree with some of the big moves they have made, especially trading away Odell Beckham. However, all that doesn’t matter anymore. It’s about what the Giants can do in 2019 and what conclusions we draw from the last year.

The Giants, as poorly advertised as they were, had a Pythagorean win expectation of 6.9, which means they underperformed their win total by 1.9 games. They had a close game differential of -4 and lost half of their games by one possession. In week 16, they led 17-7, 24-14 and 27-21 at Indianapolis, but couldn’t get the job done when Eli Manning had a QBR of 92.4. They lost 27-28. In week 17, they lost 35-36 against the Cowboys, when Dak Prescott threw a late touchdown pass on 4th & 15, additionally converting the two-point conversion. These were two games that could have gone either way to give the Giants a 7-9 record and a neutral differential in close games.

Now take into consideration that the G-Men played the 4th-hardest schedule at .527 which will get substantially easier. Everything is screaming positive regression.

Eli Manning SZN?

I think Eli Manning should have been replaced already. And I believe the Giants should have drafted Sam Darnold last year. However, from 2009 to 2017, Eli averaged 0.0364 expected points added per dropback. Last season, he dropped back for 0.0353 EPA per play, almost precisely his average from the nine years before. A lot of quarterbacks were worse than Eli last year. Having Odell Beckham helped, right? Well, after week twelve, without Odell, Eli Manning averaged +0.0917 EPA per dropback. That’s almost mind-blowing.

I think it’s time for a change, and I cannot imagine Eli Manning anywhere close to a playoff quarterback. But maybe there’s a possibility that you can still play .500 football or at least come close to it with the younger Manning-brother. With the help outside of his position. And with an easy schedule. And with some luck. Let’s check on their supporting cast.

Losing Odell Beckham hurts. Some people say he’s a diva, but I mean he’s one of the best receivers in the league and makes a quarterback like Eli Manning instantly better. With Odell Beckham gone, Corey Coleman on IR, Golden Tate suspended for four games and Sterling Shepard dealing with a broken thumb, it’s not hard to imagine where targets will go to early in the season: Tight end Evan Engram and RB Saquon Barkley. To get a solid floor out of a nursing Shepard, Cody Latimer, and Bennie Fowler – that’s too much to ask. I expect a breakout season by Engram but to get more efficiency out of targets to Barkley, the Giants need to target him behind the line of scrimmage, not in front of it.

The Offensive Line Can Be Good

On a positive note, the New York Giants will feature the best offensive line in years. Nate Solder is an overpaid, but solid left tackle. Left guard Will Hernandez was probably the best rookie offensive lineman not named Quenton Nelson. Hernandez will pair with RG Kevin Zeitler, one of the best guards in the league. Pro Football Focus ranked the guard-tandem fifth overall going into the season.

New York Giants Offensive Depth Chart Projection
New York Giants Offensive Depth Chart Projection

At the center, Spencer Pulley started eleven games, but he has been one of the league’s worst centers since 2017. He gets replaced by Jon Halapio, the original starter, whom PFF projects to have a breakout season, after not giving up a single pressure in 117 snaps last year. At right tackle, Mike Remmers looks like the only weak spot. But, ironically, he should be an instant upgrade over Chad Wheeler, who graded out as the 82nd-ranked tackle out of 85 last season. Remmers’ career grade at tackle would have ranked slightly above average in 2018.

Eli Manning is a below-average starter who has to deal with a lack of targets early in the season. But it’s the second year in Pat Shurmur’s offense, with a much improved offensive line. We have no clue when Daniel Jones is going to overtake Manning and how well he can replace him.

James Bettcher and a Bunch of Wildcards

Dave Gettleman made two fascinating moves in the draft. He took a two-down nose tackle in the first round, which was completely stupid. But then he stacked the secondary that desperately needed an overhaul. As a result. Defensive coordinator James Bettcher has a very young defense to work with this year, and it’s safe to say that his unit will mainly be dependent on turnovers and high-leverage swings. They seem to be too inexperienced to play well on a per-play basis consistently. In the projected starting formation, there are currently two rookies and four second-year players.

New York Giants Offensive Depth Chart Projection
New York Giants Defensive Depth Chart Projection

Janoris Jenkins is the only cornerback who has more than one year of experience in the NFL. Slot cornerback Grant Haley has played 429 snaps in his rookie season. Deandre Baker, Julian Love, Sam Beal, and Corey Ballentine have never seen an NFL field during the regular season. Everything points towards a starting nickel formation with Jenkins, first-round pick Baker and Haley. Jabrill Peppers, who the Giants acquired in the Odell trade, will start in the box, with Bethea starting at free safety. With Bethea, Kareem Martin, Olsen Pierre and Markus Golden, James Bettcher got four former Cardinals players with him.

Tae Davis and Ryan Connelly will battle for snaps alongside captain Alec Ogletree and BJ Goodson, but neither of the group screams “I’m a coverage beast.” The front-four lacks quality pass rush ability, that’s why Bettcher will try his best to create pressure via the scheme.

Overall, this defense is young, inexperienced, and lacks players who can consistently get to the passer. They are dependent on young players stepping up in the secondary and create some turnovers. However, they have a significant advantage: they are going to play one of the most relaxed schedules of all teams.

2019 Schedule

After playing the fourth-hardest schedule last year, the New York Giants will have a much easier road this time. According to the current win totals marketplace at Pinnacle, the G-Men are projected to play the fifth-easiest schedule in the NFL, at .4873. It gets even more impressive when we check their schedule against 2018 efficiency numbers by offensive EPA. They are projected to face the most manageable program in the league at -0.009. The offenses on the Giants’ schedule averaged negative EPA last year. What that number doesn’t account for – and that’s why it’s far from a perfect prediction – are noticeable improvements or declines.

Outside of New England, there is not a single offense that ranked in the top-10 in offensive EPA last season. But we can make the case that teams like the Eagles with a healthy Wentz, the Vikings, the Cardinals or the Jets are going to have improved offenses. However, the Giants schedule is more probable to finish in the bottom-10 than around average. Also, New York will travel the second-fewest miles, play a road game against the Jets in their stadium and have four home games against teams who play back-to-back road games.

New York Giants 2019: Regression and Schedule Matters

I believe the Giants will get carried by positive regression, a relaxed schedule, and their offensive line. That way, Daniel Jones’ debut as a Giant could be delayed. There are some significant question marks around Eli Manning, the quality of Daniel Jones, the receiving corps and the inexperienced defense. That makes it hard to pull the trigger on their win total, but I would lean over. The number got bet down to 5.4 and Pinnacle is currently offering +138 on the over. Six wins would push, and 43% of the time, the Giants need to win seven matchups.

I expect them to improve from 2018, even if they don’t play much more efficiently on either side of the ball. That’s exclusively due to positive regression and their schedule. They should be able to win at least five games, but at the same time, it’s hard to trust that team to win eight or more games. 6-10 or 7-9 sounds like a fair projection to me. Maybe it’s enough for Dave Gettleman to sell us even more on Eli Manning and the Barkley-pick.

 

New England Patriots 2019: Same Procedure as Every Year

New England Patriots 2019: Same Procedure as Every Year
New England Patriots 2019: Same Procedure as Every Year

New England Patriots 2018 Stats Review:

Record: 11-5

Pythagorean Wins: 10.8

ATS: 9-7; average line -7.4

Over/Under: 5-11; average total 49.5

Close Games Record: 3-2-1

Turnover Differential: +0.6

Adjusted Games Lost (injuries): 78.6 (18th)

Offense: 6th in EPA per play (+0.110);  6.02 yards per play

Defense:  5th in EPA per play (-0.025);  5.76 yards per play

Become a member for the 2019 season and get all team previews, win totals, weekly game analysis, and picks until the Super Bowl. Since I started this service in 2017, we beat the closing line 70.6% of the time for an average closing line value of 4.0%. The record is 136-104 (56.7%) for +27.46 units at 10.5% ROI. Find all the picks with closing line reports on the records page.

The Smartest Team

The New England Patriots weren’t the best offensive team, but they got the job done. They weren’t the best defensive team on a play-by-play basis, but they once again were one of the smartest. Since 2010, this defense ranked in the top-7 of opponent yards per point. Bill Belichick never has the best personnel, but they have a unique ability to limit opponent’s scores. Offense, defense, and field position. The Patriots were an 11-5 team by all means. They gave up a few games but went 4-1 against playoff teams. They had a Pythagorean win expectation of 10.8 and were on the right side of the turnover margin (0.6) while playing the 8th-easiest win-loss schedule (0.482).

Rob Gronkowski has dealt with a back injury the whole season, Julian Edelman was suspended for the first four games, and the Pats lacked some receiving weapons on the outside early in the season. With a cheat code – offensive line coach Dante Scarneccia, the pickup of Josh Gordon and their running backs, the Pats built a slightly alternative way to attack opposing defenses throughout the year. Early in the season, some teams like the Jaguars, Titans, and Lions were able to capitalize on the Pats’ weaknesses. But that didn’t last long as soon as Josh Gordon got to speed up and Edelman was back to full strength.

Gronk is Gone

Rob Gronkowski has retired. And that’s inevitably going to be a problem for the New England Patriots. Gronk has been the best tight end over the past decade, and it’s not close. Since 2009, 459 players saw targets 100 times or more. Rob Gronkowski had 792 targets and ranked second in expected points added per target (0.60). Hunter Henry (115 targets) ranks first. Every time a Patriots quarterback targeted Gronk, the offense had 0.6 expected points more after the play than pre-snap. It is crazy. Also, Gronk was a special run-blocker at his position.

It’s impossible to replace such a player, and the Patriots understand that. Instead of trying to replace Gronk, they went a different route. They signed and drafted Demaryius Thomas (6’3″), Dontrelle Inman (6’3″), N’Keal Harry (6’4″) and Cameron Meredith (6’3″). Josh Gordon (6’3″) is appealing for reinstatement. The current front-runner for the TE-position, Matt LaCosse, is 6’6″ tall. The Patriots are going to spread out opposing defenses and create targets with higher catch radiuses for Tom Brady. That is why the Patriots are the most exceptional team of the past decade – they are always one step ahead. Where defenses are trying to build nickel and dime defenses with shifty cornerbacks and safeties in the box, the Pats create height advantages.

Imagine the Patriots audibling to five-wide with James White, Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon, N’Keal Harry and Demaryius Thomas in space. It’s hard to defend Edelman and White over the middle, but now Brady has alternatives with higher catch radiuses than he had last year with guys like Chris Hogan (6’1″), Phillip Dorsett (5’10”) or Cordarrelle Patterson (6’2″).

New England Patriots Offensive Depth Chart Projection
New England Patriots Offensive Depth Chart Projection

The Patriots have Tom Brady, OC Josh McDaniels, and Bill Belichick. They will continue to find ways to attack opposing defenses. Both tackle spots might be the weak links on this offense, but with coaching guru Dante Scarneccia, I wouldn’t be much concerned. Without Gronk and with a redshirt sophomore (Isaiah Wynn) coming off an injury at left tackle I am not expecting the Pats to blow away teams early in the year. They are usually ‘slow’ starters, too. But we should expect the Pats to be okay and to continue to be a top-10 offense. But they are not the 2018 Chiefs.

The Genius of Bill Belichick

Bill Belichick lost defensive end Trey Flowers, but instead of overpaying he replaced him with former Eagle and Seahawk Michael Bennett. He should be able to contribute about 80 to 90 percent of what Flowers did, and that’s enough. With rookie Chase Winovich and linebacker/edge rush hybrid Jamie Collins, Belichick will find enough ways to create pressure by scheme and concepts. When Collins spent his first four years with the Patriots, where he had defensive grades of 72.2, 85.3, 85.2 and 82.9 that ranked 20th, 5th, 7th, and 10th. In Cleveland, he didn’t rank higher than 58th. Bill Belichick knows how to use his players. With linebackers Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts, Belichick has enough personnel

New England Patriots Offensive Depth Chart Projection
New England Patriots Offensive Depth Chart Projection

Stephon Gilmore had a fantastic 2018 season, but cornerback performance tends to be volatile. It’s not far-stretched to expect some regression. Jason McCourty, brother of safety Devin, was a tremendous low-cost pick-up last year. With an excellent safety group consisting of Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, and Duran Harmon, Bill Belichick can keep one of the best secondaries together from last year. The only weak spot might be at the slot-cornerback position, but it’s not a surprise that three safeties played at least 695 snaps last season. This defense is going to be good again, and they are going to benefit from one of the easier schedules still.

2019 Schedule

Same procedure as every year: by Pinnacle regular-season win totals, the New England Patriots are projected to play the most relaxed schedule in the league at .4616. And that includes four games against the Bills and Jets who are expected to make jumps. The markets are at 7.5 wins for the Jets and 7.1 wins for the Bills. By offensive EPA per play numbers from 2018, the Pats are projected to play the 2nd-easiest program at -0.0057.

The average offense the Pats will face this year averaged negative EPA per play last year which is bogus. But before people cry about the AFC East: Over the past ten years, the Patriots have the NFL-best record against non-divisional opponents. Only two of their opponents (KC, PIT) ranked top-10 offensively. But we might also expect improvements from teams like the Eagles, Browns, Ravens, and Jets whereas teams like the Dolphins, Giants, and Redskins don’t look to surpass their 2018 performances.

New England Patriots 2019: Same Procedure as Every Year

Same procedure as every year. If not for a substantial offensive improvement from the Jets or Bills, we shouldn’t expect the Patriots to be challenged for the division title. They will suffer from the loss of Gronkowski at least early in the year. But the Patriots will always evolve and find ways to win. It’s hard to believe the Pats are going to earn less than ten victories, but I don’t think they will cruise towards twelve wins comfortably either. The markets have cooled down a bit on them, pushing the win total from 11.4 to 11.1. That seems very fair, repeating their 11-5 record should be on the horizon.

Miami Dolphins 2019: Tank for Tua?

Miami Dolphins 2019: Tank for Tua?
Miami Dolphins 2019: Tank for Tua?

Miami Dolphins 2018 Stats Review

Record: 7-9

Pythagorean Wins: 5.1

ATS: 7-9; average line 3.5

Over/Under: 8-7-1; average total 44.9

Close Games Record: 7-1

Turnover Differential: +0.3

Adjusted Games Lost (injuries): 95.3 (23rd)

Offense: 28th in EPA per play (-0.070);  5.38 yards per play

Defense:  27th in EPA per play (+0.087);  6.26 yards per play

The Enigma

There are some enigmas in life. One is the question about how the Miami Dolphins won seven games in 2018 and held the 13th pick in the draft instead of a top-6 one. They ranked bottom-six in both offensive and defensive EPA per play, and QBs Ryan Tannehill and Brock Osweiler had the worst seasons of their careers. And that means something. How was it possible that the Dolphins didn’t finish with a much higher draft pick? There are three reasons: the league-wide best record in close games along with Dallas, the third-easiest win-loss schedule (.469) and incredible turnover contribution by their defense.

Their defense was very lousy on a per-play basis, but that unit collected 29 takeaways (4th-most) for 322 percent of total win probability added (3rd-most). Only the Rams and Bears added more win probability via takeaways. Either the Fins defense gave up a big play, or they forced a turnover. Those had a significant impact on the game script. The last-second lateral touchdown against the Pats, the goal line fumble recovery against the Bears – there are the two games the Dolphins could have easily lost which would have represented their season performance a lot better.

Overall, the Miami Dolphins played more like a 4-12 or 5-11 team, which is also mirrored by their Pythagorean win expectation of 5.1.

Let’s Rebuild!

Miami cleaned up their coaching staff and roster to start a rebuilding process. Nobody can fault them for this. Brian Flores, their new head coach, spent the last three years as the linebacker’s coach at New England. Hiring someone from the Belichick coaching tree is probably not the worst idea. However, Flores is a defensive mind who is coaching to coach a team and call plays for the first time. That’s a little red flag, at least for the upcoming season.

New offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea spent the past ten years as the wide receivers coach for New England. He has never called plays before, which is another red flag for 2019. First-year play-callers tend to struggle. The offensive personnel matters, but even geniuses like Andy Reid, Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay, Bruce Arians or Pat Shurmur weren’t able to orchestrate offenses that ranked higher than 23rd in pass DVOA in their rookie seasons.

O’Shea will likely implement the Patriots Erhardt-Perkins system. But we have no clue how that’s going to look like, especially with questionable personnel at quarterback and along the offensive line. The optimistic part of off-season reports was that O’Shea is interested in fitting the scheme towards the skill set of his players.

Points Out of Nowhere for the Miami Dolphins?

It’s going to be a battle between journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick and newly acquired sophomore Josh Rosen for the Miami Dolphins starting quarterback job. According to camp reports, Fitzpatrick is ahead of the young Rosen. The latter had an abysmal rookie season, and any severe prediction for 2019 would be a blind guess at most. Fitzpatrick has been a below-average starter who had a couple of solid seasons in sound systems (2014, 2015, 2018), but his career has been up and down. During those seasons mentioned, he always had a better supporting cast than this year: DeAndre Hopkins & Andre Johnson, Eric Decker & Brandon Marshall, Mike Evans & DeSean Jackson.

Miami Dolphins Offensive Depth Chart Projection
Miami Dolphins Offensive Depth Chart Projection

A few days into training camp, the Miami Dolphins already replaced their offensive line coach. New coach Dave DeGuglielmo used a starting combination of Laremy Tunsil, rookie Michael Deiter, Daniel Kilgore, Will Holden and Jesse Davis from left to right. On paper, this is most likely the worst offensive line in the NFL. Only Tunsil should be considered an adequate starter. According to The Draft Network, Deiter is such a refined prospect that he could be a solid NFL starter right out of the gateway. But rookie offensive linemen are wild cards.  It’s hard to believe that either Fitzmagic or Josh Rosen are going to have success behind this unit.

Kenny Stills is as reliable as it gets and might be a trade asset at some point in August. DeVante Parker, who never lived up to his first-round status, should battle with newly acquired Allen Hurns for the second WR spot. Albert Wilson has been the NFL’s best screen-receiver at Kansas City, but he missed most of 2018. Jakeem Grant is the guy for screens and gimmick plays. Tight end Mike Gesicki is looking to take the expected step forward. I wouldn’t rank this receiving corps at the bottom. But it’s hard to see where points will come from in combination with Ryan Fitzpatrick and a weak offensive line.

Improvements Needed on Defense

Flores will likely bring Belichick’s modern defensive approach to South Beach. That means multiple fronts, various blitz packages, a lot of man coverage, and opponent-adjusted game plans. Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham approves:

“The pass rush is going to come from us game-planning it,” Graham said. “Just like anything we do on defense, we’re going to try to exploit the weaknesses of the offense.

Whether they have the right players in place, remains to be seen. As mentioned, this defense was terrible on a per-play basis but had a lot of high-leverage turnovers. The latter is very likely going to regress. Flores and Graham need this defense to take a big step forward to contribute to winning games next season.

Miami Dolphins Defensive Depth Chart Projection
Miami Dolphins Defensive Depth Chart Projection

I have no clue about how the front-seven is going to look like in week one, and I think it’s a waste of time thinking about it. We will likely see many various formations and rotations until Flores and Graham find the guys they trust. The secondary, however, looks to be very decent on paper. The unit had 17 interceptions. For comparison, the 49ers had two as a whole. But they cannot rely on turnovers. According to camp reports, Torry McTyer has a chance for the second outside cornerback spot opposite of Xavien Howard. TJ McDonald and Reshad Jones are a decent safety tandem, Xavien Howard is a stud, and Minkah Fitzpatrick has a lot of potentials. But even with solid secondary play, I am having a hard time seeing a jump from bottom-five to the average for the Fins defense.

2019 Schedule

Everything comes together. Despite playing in the AFC East, the Miami Dolphins are projected to face the fourth-hardest schedule (.5172), according to Pinnacle win totals markets. Markets are considering the Bills and the Jets to be vastly improved teams. Their win totals are currently sitting at 7.0 and 7.4 wins, respectively. Two games against the Patriots, a second-place schedule against the Chargers and Colts, and three matchups versus Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Cleveland don’t help. In the NFC it could be worse than facing the East, but it’s far from reality to project victories over the Eagles and Cowboys.

Become a member for the 2019 season and get all team previews, win totals, weekly game analysis, and picks until the Super Bowl. Since I started this service in 2017, we beat the closing line 70.6% of the time for an average closing line value of 4.0%. The record is 136-104 (56.7%) for +27.46 units at 10.5% ROI. Find all the picks with closing line reports on the records page.

Their defensive schedule is projected to be the 9th-easiest, according to 2018 EPA numbers. But that takes into consideration that a team like the Jets (two matchups) isn’t going to improve offensively.

Miami Dolphins 2019: Tank for Tua?

“#Tank4Tua” is a hashtag that’s already making the rounds on Twitter, even though we don’t even know whether Alabama signal-caller Tua Tagovailoa is going to be the consensus number one pick in next year’s draft. The Dolphins are in rebuild mode, and they already have 13 picks in next year’s draft. Ryan Fitzmagic is not the answer. If Josh Rosen isn’t the answer either, the Fins are going to lose many games. That could inevitably lead to the worst record in football and the number one draft pick.

The Dolphins will feature a rookie head coach, two first-year play-callers, and either a below-average Ryan Fitzpatrick or Josh Rosen at quarterback. Rosen had a horrible situation last year, but the current doesn’t seem like an upgrade. Also, they probably have the worst offensive line in football and an underwhelming receiving corps. I think there is a reason why the season wins total at a juiced 4.5 number is the lowest across the board. It’s hard to find more than five wins on that schedule. If you can shop around and find a 5, that doesn’t seem like a bad bet on the Under, depending on the price.

Los Angeles Chargers 2019: More Wins Than Children?

Los Angeles Chargers 2019: More Wins Than Children?
Los Angeles Chargers 2019: More Wins Than Children?

Los Angeles Chargers 2018 Stats Review

Record: 12-4

Pythagorean Wins: 10.6

ATS: 9-7; average line -4.8

Over/Under: 8-8; average total 47.8

Close Games Record: 6-1

Turnover Differential: 0.1

Adjusted Games Lost (injuries): 100.0 (25th)

Offense: 4th in EPA per play (+0.146);  6.37 yards per play

Defense:  8th in EPA per play (-0.015);  5.49 yards per play

Masters of Close Games

Finally, the Los Angeles Chargers had the luck they deserved – after so many years stacked with injuries, and collapses from their special teams. They still ranked in the bottom-eight of injury luck, but they went a terrific 6-1 in close games.  They ranked top-10 on both sides of the ball, and Philip Rivers was awesome – he played a decent mile above his career path. However,  their season ended how some folks predicted it would end: Anthony Lynn and DC Gus Bradley got outcoached by a mile against a great coaching staff at Foxboro.

Since 2009, 38 teams had a close game differential of -5 or worse, or +5 or higher. These 38 teams saw an average absolute change of 4.34 wins the next season.  Only two sides were able to win the same amount of games again; not a single team overcame the regression. The Chargers have a very talented roster, so they will likely land on the positive side of the distribution. But we should expect them to lose more games in 2019.

Against the Cardinals, the Bolts were down 10 (lol) and won. At Kansas City, they were down 14 and won. At Pittsburgh? Down 16 and won. Titans head coach Mike Vrabel randomly decided to go for two after the late touchdown that made the score 19-20, Tennessee failed. Going for it a couple of drives earlier at 12-17 would have been the better option mathematically. They had a two-point win against CJ Beathard.

On top of that, the Bolts were expected to play the second-easiest schedule. They ended up playing the fifth-easiest schedule in terms of wins and losses. Expect some regression going forward.

The Return of Hunter Henry

The biggest problem for the Chargers remains the coaching staff. I have no faith in Anthony Lynn and DC Gus Bradley played zone coverage exclusively against Tom Brady, until the game was over. The Bolts lost deep-threat Tyrell Williams, but they get TE Hunter Henry back. Over the 2016 and 2017 seasons, 232 receivers saw 50 or more targets. Hunter Henry ranked second in receiving expected points added per target. Rob Gronkowski ranked first. Even regressing from that performance level, Henry will be an incredible addition to this offense. Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Hunter Henry look like a top-10 receiving trio on paper, maybe even better.

Los Angeles Chargers Offensive Depth Chart Projection
Los Angeles Chargers Offensive Depth Chart Projection

Melvin Gordon could hold out the season, but that shouldn’t be that big of a deal. Austin Ekeler is the more talented receiver, and Ekeler and Justin Jackson can replace a fair share of Gordon’s rush production. The biggest concern, in my opinion, is the offensive line that didn’t get addressed at all. Chargers GM Tom Telesco got a lot of praise for the picks of Jerry Tillery and Nasir Adderley, but he didn’t upgrade a lousy offensive line, whether in free agency or the draft.

Right tackle Sam Tevi and left guard Dan Feeney were among the worst at their respective positions last year and allowed a combined 125 pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. Right guard Michael Schofield wasn’t much better either. Center Mike Pouncey played worse as advertised. Left tackle Russell Okung, the unit’s best player, has dealt with a severe medical condition and it’s uncertain whether he will or want to continue his career. The Bolts should give 2017 second-round pick Forrest Lamp a shot at left or right guard this year; it can’t get worse. Philip Rivers is a good quarterback, and his receiving weapons are deadly. But this offensive line is going to cause trouble, especially when the coaching staff doesn’t try to optimize play-calling tendencies.

The Defense is Loaded

There shouldn’t be a debate about the defense, which is top-10 material on paper. With Tillery and Adderley, the Bolts filled needs, but it’s not easy to predict rookie impact. Because of a lack of alternatives, I expect both guys to see significant playtime. The Draft Network sees Tillery as a pass rush specialist which is extremely intriguing when considering the lack of interior rush last year. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram are one of the best edge-rushing duos in the league. Last year’s rookie Uchenna Nwosu played a little over 300 snaps as a rotational pass rusher and did a stable job. Add some contribution by Tillery and blitzes by All-Pro Derwin James, and you have a terrific pass rush together.

Los Angeles Chargers Offensive Depth Chart Projection
Los Angeles Chargers Offensive Depth Chart Projection

Mike linebacker Denzel Perryman’s season was over after nine games. He returns and gets help by 36-year old Thomas Davis (Pro Bowl 2015-2017) who brings a lot of experience and game intelligence to this unit. Last year’s fourth-round-pick, linebacker Kyzir White, who instantly became a starter, went to IR after week three. Anthony Lynn raved about his “speed and explosiveness” during the off-season. It could be the best linebacking group the Los Angeles Chargers have had in a while.

The cornerback group consisting of Casey Hayward, Trevor Williams, and Desmond King is outstanding. Derwin James was the steal of the 2018 draft, getting All-Pro honors in his first season. He can do everything – playing in coverage, stopping the run and blitzing. Adrian Philip will likely get the start at free safety, but Nasir Adderley could see significant playing time depending on his development.

Last year, this defense gave up 30 points to the Steelers, 28 to the Rams, 31 and 28 to the Chiefs, and 41 to New England. Offenses dictate matchups, but if the Chargers defense wants elite status, they need to take a step forward against good attacks.

2019 Schedule

After playing an extremely relaxed program last season, it will get slightly harder this time. According to the current Pinnacle season win totals, the implied strength of schedule for the Los Angeles Chargers is 0.4915 which would rank 25th. As measured by 2018 EPA per offensive play, their defense is projected to face the 15th-hardest schedule (+0.0394).

Become a member for the 2019 season and get all team previews, win totals, weekly game analysis, and picks until the Super Bowl. Since I started this service in 2017, we beat the closing line 70.6% of the time for an average closing line value of 4.0%. The record is 136-104 (56.7%) for +27.46 units at 10.5% ROI. Find all the picks with closing line reports on the records page.

Their 3-1 record against the NFC West could get replaced by 2-2 against the NFC North along with two early eastern time matchups at Chicago and Detroit. Will the Raiders be able to sneak out a win with an improved receiving corps? One of their home games gets replaced by a neutral field matchup against the Chiefs in Mexico City, and the Bolts will play two cold-weather games in December at Arrowhead and Mile High. All in all, other teams play significantly more brutal programs.

Los Angeles Chargers 2019: More Wins Than Children?

The positives: the Los Angeles Chargers have a good quarterback, a good receiving corps and a good pass defense. On the negative side: Philip Rivers could regress a little bit, they could feature one of the worst offensive lines, their coaching staff doesn’t seem to put them over the top, and they must expect negative regression in close games. But the overall talent level is too good to expect a massive regression of four or more wins and the strength of their schedule will likely be in the bottom half.

I expect the Chargers to win around ten games, which would be one more than Philip Rivers has children. And I expect them to battle with the Chiefs for the division title once again which should be a close race. It’s hard to win 12+ games back-to-back in this league, and I doubt the Bolts will be able to achieve that. But they should be able to provide Philip Rivers with another playoff ticket.

The season wins total opened at 9.8 (adjusted for juice) and betting markets cautiously attacked the over to push the number to 9.9. I think the current line is spot on, but the Over is priced heavily. The Chargers need to win 10 or more games 60 percent of the time to cash that ticket.

Kansas City Chiefs 2019: Fight for the Playoffs

Kansas City Chiefs 2019: Fight for the Playoffs
Kansas City Chiefs 2019: Fight for the Playoffs

Kansas City Chiefs 2018 Stats Review

Record: 12-4

Pythagorean Wins: 11

ATS: 8-6-2; average line -5.0

Over/Under: 9-6-1; average total 54.0

Close Games Record: 5-4

Turnover Differential: 0.6

Adjusted Games Lost (injuries): 60.8 (9th)

Offense: 1st in EPA per play (+0.258);  6.94 yards per play

Defense:  24th in EPA per play (+0.079);  5.86 yards per play

Most Valuable Player For a Reason

Sir Patrick Mahomes was the league’s MVP for a reason. He took the NFL by storm and posted fantastic numbers with the help of Sir Andy Reid and a good supporting cast. Their 0.365 expected points added per pass was the second-highest number of any offense since 2009, right behind the 2011 Packers and in front of the 2013 Broncos. It’s safe to say that the Chiefs offense played on an unsustainable level. Since 2009, five other offenses averaged more than 0.30 EPA per dropback in a single season. Here are the list and the number from the upcoming season they regressed to:

  • GB 2011: 0.371 -> 0.153
  • DEN 2013: 0.347 -> 0.240
  • NO 2011: 0.343 -> 0.176
  • ATL 2016: 0.336 -> 0.183
  • LAC 2009: 0.305 -> 0.200

These five offenses saw an average decrease of 0.15 EPA per pass the following season. Assuming that average regression, the Chiefs would drop to 0.215, which would have ranked fourth in 2018. The Rams had that spot with 0.207. I expect the Chiefs to be at least a top-five offense once again this year, but we should expect regression from these astronomic numbers last year. It’s also worth noting that Mahomes had incredible interception luck in 2018, according to Football Outsiders. He had ten potential interceptions dropped by defenders or defense by his receivers. His adjusted interception rate ranked 25th out of 34 qualifying signal-callers.

On the season, the Kansas City Chiefs rightfully went 12-4 because of their offensive efficiency, but we could have argued about 11-5. They didn’t have any extraordinary luck in close games, but their Pythagorean win expectation was 11.0 wins, and Mahomes had a lot of interceptions dropped. Incredible offense, lousy defense. Surprisingly, the defense contributed with 27 turnovers, collecting the fourth-highest total win probability added.

Speed, Speed, and Speed.

I’ll make it quick and straightforward: the Chiefs offense is elite. They will be elite again next year. It’s just highly probable that they are going to regress from their unsustainable 2018 performance. Andy Reid is likely the greatest offensive mind in the NFL. His situational play-calling is plus expected value (+EV) and gives his offense a head start over opposing defenses. His passing concepts are superb. In addition to the reigning NFL MVP, the Kansas City Chiefs will also return their three best receivers – Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, and Travis Kelce – and added another speedster in the second round of the draft: Georgia product Mecole Hardman.

Become a member for the 2019 season and get all team previews, win totals, weekly game analysis, and picks until the Super Bowl. Since I started this service in 2017, we beat the closing line 70.6% of the time for an average closing line value of 4.0%. The record is 136-104 (56.7%) for +27.46 units at 10.5% ROI. Find all the picks with closing line reports on the records page.

Sammy Watkins had a 40-dash time of 4.43, Hardman had 4.33, and Tyreek Hill had 4.29. Also, running back Damien Williams clocked 4.45. Tight end Travis Kelce belongs among the elite group of tight ends in the NFL. It’s is not only the receiving corps with the most speed, but it may also be the best receiving corps in the league – depending on Hardman’s development as a route-runner. Early in the season, Hardman will likely battle with Demarcus Robinson for snaps. This offense is loaded, and I bet that Andy Reid cannot wait for the new season.

If There’s One Weakness…

…for the Kansas City Chiefs, it is the offensive line. But weakness in this context means that it’s an average unit that relies more on Patrick Mahomes maneuvring the pocket than providing clean platforms consistently. Pro Football Focus ranked this unit at 17th going into the season which seems fair. Projected starting center Austin Reiter, who replaced the departed Mitch Morse, is 27 years old but has played only 335 snaps during his four-year career. In limited playtime, right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif ranked 47th out of 88 qualifying guards in PFF’s pass-blocking grade last year. Left guard Cameron Erving ranked 67th. Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz is one of the best right tackles, left tackle Eric Fisher settled near league-average.

Kansas City Chiefs Offensive Depth Chart Projection
Kansas City Chiefs Offensive Depth Chart Projection

Most of the teams have a problem with depth on their offensive line, but I could hardly name any backups except for Andrew Wylie who played significant snaps in the absence of Duvernay-Tardif last year. And Wylie graded poorly. The Chiefs need to pray for offensive line health more than other teams.

Did They Forget the Secondary?

The Kansas City Chiefs hired Steve Spagnuolo as their new defensive coordinator who emphasizes switching this defense from a 3-4 to a 4-3. That was the biggest reason why they got rid of Dee Ford and Justin Houston. But that hardly matters in an age where defenses stay in their base defense on only 20 percent of their snaps. In a shocking event, the Chiefs traded away their first-round pick to give former Seahawks edge rusher Frank Clark a monster contract.

That trade still doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. After ranking top-10 in pressure rate, they could have kept Ford for a big contract and also Justin Houston while saving their first-round pick. In my opinion, that package is more valuable than Clark and free-agent acquisition Alex Okafor. I’m not sure whether the Chiefs upgraded from Ford and Houston. Chris Jones remains a stud on the interior and should cash big time soon.

Kansas City Chiefs Defensive Depth Chart Projection
Kansas City Chiefs Defensive Depth Chart Projection

Former Jet Darron Lee – who improved in 2018 – could be an upgrade at the linebacking position, but the secondary still looks very lousy on paper. Safety Tyrann Mathieu is a big name and likely a fabulous presence in the locker room. But he’s no Earl Thomas or Jamal Adams. Rookie free safety Juan Thornhill is a wild card, especially since he has been playing that position for only one year. Both outside cornerbacks are underwhelming, too. It seems like GM Brett Veach had little interest in upgrading the secondary. I am not expecting any improvements from this defense over 2018.

2019 Schedule

Using the wisdom of the crowd – Pinnacle regular-season win totals – the Kansas City Chiefs are projected to play the 8th-hardest schedule with an SOS prediction of 0.5119. Their defensive schedule prediction looks more relaxed, using the EPA per offensive play metric from 2018 which ranks 16th. That’s a small advantage because we shouldn’t expect the defense to put the offense in favorable game scripts. There are some teams on their schedule like the Jags, Broncos (2x), Raiders (2x) and Lions, but also a lot stronger opponents on paper, like the Chargers (2x), Ravens, Pats, or Colts. The NFC North and the Texans aren’t a cakewalk, either. Kansas City will open their season with back-to-back road games, including a flight to the west coast.

Kansas City Chiefs 2019: Fight for the Playoffs

Here are the things I am looking at when forecasting the Chiefs season: last year, they were closer to an 11-5 team than a 13-3 squad. Their offense is very likely going to regress from their historic 2018 campaign, even though they will still be elite. Probably a lower touchdown rate but a higher interception rate for Mahomes. I don’t see how the defense is significantly improved personnel-wise, and they have to replace 27 takeaways as well. Last season, they went 2-4 against playoff teams, and they will probably have at least six such teams on their schedule again this year.

With the current setup, it will be hard to reproduce a 12-4 record. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw the Chiefs fighting for their tenth win and a playoff spot against the Bolts in Week 17. That’s likely a bold prediction for some folks, especially for Chiefs fans. The betting markets agree with my prediction, the win total is set at 10.5 and saw action on the Under across the board. Pinnacle prices it at -118 currently, Bookmaker and CRIS already moved to -149.