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Regular season win totals have been released for each NFL team. Over the next month, we’ll preview each division and provide a ‘best bet’. Today, we’ll focus on the NFC East division.

Last season, the Dallas Cowboys went 12-4 en-route to their first division championship since 2009. Dallas’ NFC East foes Philadelphia (10-6), New York Giants (6-10), and Washington (4-12) all missed the playoffs. As we enter the 2015 season, several key players have switched teams and changed the landscape of the division. Last year’s rushing champion, DeMarco Murray, left Dallas and signed with Philadelphia. Murray will replace LeSean McCoy, a player that Philadelphia jettisoned to the Buffalo Bills. Philadelphia is hoping that rookie wide receiver, Nelson Agholor can replace the production of Jeremy Maclin, who signed with the Kansas City Chiefs. Philadelphia traded last year’s starting quarterback, Nick Foles to St. Louis for the oft-injured, Sam Bradford. New York and Washington have not made moves during the off-season, but Washington head coach, Jay Gruden is clearly on the hot season after last season’s disappointing showing. 

According to 5Dimes, season win totals for each of the NFC East teams is presented below:

  • Dallas: 9.5 wins (o -140, u +120);
  • New York: 8.5 wins (o +120, u -140);
  • Philadelphia: 9.5 wins (o +125, u -145); and
  • Washington: 6.5 wins (o +130, u -150).

Philadelphia has the sixth highest win total on the board, but one thing separates Philadelphia from the other top contenders; quarterback play. While other top contenders have Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Peyton Manning, etc. leading their team, fans aren’t sure who will play quarterback for Philadelphia. Bradford is penciled in as the starting quarterback, but due to numerous injuries, hasn’t played 16 games since 2012 and can’t be trusted. Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow are also on the roster, but neither player could pilot this team to a 10-win season. I don’t think any of these players are what Chip Kelly wants as a quarterback.  Murray was the NFL’s top running back last year, but there are numerous red flags after his 400+ carry campaign. Philadelphia has not replaced DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin yet, either. The personnel turnover plus Kelly’s lackluster 3-10 records against top teams makes Philadelphia an easy fade candidate. There are too many question marks surrounding this team, which makes this an easy decision. 

Best Bet: Philadelphia UNDER 9.5 wins

 

Sportsbooks have begun offering prop bets for numerous NFL categories. Today, we will focus on pass catchers. Last season, Antonio Brown (1,698 yards) led the league in receiving yards. As the catalyst of Pittsburgh’s offense, Brown set career highs in yards, catches (129), and touchdowns (13). Top receivers need strong quarterback play to buoy their totals, so it’s no surprise that Ben Roethlisberger led the league in passing yards last season. We profiled passing yardage leader odds on Sunday and the odds makers think Ben will be among the league leaders again. This bodes well for Brown’s chances of once again leading the league in receiving yards. The list below highlights the current odds among the receivers with the best odds.

  • Brown (+500);
  • Jones (+600);
  • Thomas (+700);
  • Beckham Jr (+750);
  • Johnson (+800);
  • Nelson (+800);
  • Bryant (+800);
  • Green (+1200);
  • Hilton (+1600);
  • Hopkins (+1800).

There’s not a ton of value here, but if I had to pick one, I’d take Calvin Johnson. It may seem surprising to some, but Calvin Johnson has become overlooked. Marred by injuries last season, Johnson saw 128 targets over 13 games and still managed to amass 1,077 yards. His 2014 campaign was arguably his most disappointing since his rookie season in 2008. Johnson’s 2012 and 2013 campaigns were ridiculous and Johnson averaged 180 targets, 104 catches, 1,700 yards, and eight touchdowns. At +800, Johnson offers some value to lead the league in receiving yards. As a second pick, I like Julio Jones due the change in offensive coordinator. New offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan tends to favor his top wide receiver and that tendency should make Jones a strong bet to be among the league leaders in targets. Jones does have some injury concerns, but outside of Roddy White, there isn’t much competition for targets. 

The Picks:

  • Johnson (+800); and
  • Jones (+650).

Sportsbooks have begun offering prop bets for numerous NFL categories. Picking the league leader in rushing yardage is normally a difficult task due to numerous variables associated with the running back position. Last season, DeMarco Murray (1,845 yards) shook off the injury bug to easily led the league in rushing yardage. Murray left Dallas during free agency to sign with the Philadelphia Eagles. The current betting market believes that there will be a lot of competition among the game’s top rushers. Of note, five running backs currently has odds of 6-to-1. The list below highlights the running backs with the best odds to lead the league in rushing. 

  • Murray (+600);
  • Peterson (+600);
  • Foster (+600);
  • Charles (+600);
  • Lynch (+600);
  • Hill (+750);
  • Lacy (+850);
  • McCoy (+1000);
  • Anderson (+1500); and
  • Morris (+1600).

It’s very interesting to see that oddsmakers believe Adrian Peterson, who basically missed last season and is approaching 30-years-old, has the same odds as Murray. It would be wise to grab the odds on Peterson if you believe he’ll return with a vengeance despite his age. While any of the five favorites could lead the league in rushing, I’m going to focus on two players with lessor odds, but equal chances and are younger in age. My bold prediction for the 2015 NFL season is that Jeremy Hill will lead the league in rushing yardage. As a rookie, Hill averaged 5.1 yards per carry on just 221 carries. The Bengals have made it known that they want to run the ball behind their offensive line. Last season, Cincinnati’s offensive line ranked among the Top-1o units and added offensive linemen in the first and second rounds of the NFL Draft. The public loves to pile on Andy Dalton, but armed with skilled players at every position, Dalton has the ability to quietly lead one of the best offenses in football. The other player that warrants consideration is Eddie Lacy. Lacy rushed for 1,139 yards last season and benefits from playing with the best quarterback in football. Alike Hill, Lacy is another young running back (25) and does not have much trend on his tires. When in doubt, favor the younger running backs in good offenses.

The Picks:

  • Hill (+750); and
  • Lacy (+850).

Sportsbooks have begun offering prop bets for numerous NFL categories. While picking rushing and receiving leaders may be more fun, the NFL is a quarterback driven league and the league leader in passing yards will likely be a playoff participant. Last season, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger (4,762 yards) led the league in passing. Brees led the league for the third time in the last four years and currently has the third best odds (+750) to once again lead the league in passing. The list below highlights the current odds among the passers with the best odds.

  • Luck (+375);
  • Rodgers (+500);
  • Brees (+750);
  • Peyton (+750);
  • Ryan (+800);
  • Ben (+1000);
  • Stafford (+1000);
  • Eli (+2500);
  • Rivers (+2500); and
  • Brady (+2500).

It’s pretty easy to see why Luck has the best odds to lead the league in passing. Last season, Luck posted career highs in completions (380), completion percentage (61.7%), passing yards (4,761), and passing touchdowns (40). Indianapolis added pieces to help improve the offense around Luck, including stalwart running back, Frank Gore, and wide receiver, Andre Johnson. Despite their age, Gore and Johnson have been top-tier NFL talents for their entire careers. Adding Gore and subtracting Trent Richardson will provide a big boost to the offense, which should make things even easier for Luck. 

While Luck has the best odds to lead the league in passing, Brady and Rivers present the most value. There are rumblings that Brady’s suspension may be completely overturned and angry Tom may take his aggression out on the rest of the league. San Diego’s offense has gotten more dynamic with the additions of Melvin Gordon and Stevie Johnson. Don’t forget that Danny Woodhead will return for injury as well. San Diego may quietly have a Top-7 offense in football, which could vault Rivers among the league leaders in passing yards.

The Picks:

  • Brady (+2500); and
  • Rivers (+2500).

Some sports books have released MLB win totals. Over the next few days, we’ll analyze the win totals by division and comments where we see some value. Today, we’ll focus on the National League Central:

The odds-makers are expecting St. Louis’s division dominance to continue. St. Louis traded for Jason Heyward to bolster its outfield. Adam Wainwright may miss Opening Day, but St. Louis has the talent and depth behind him. Many are expecting Chicago to take a big step forward this season, so Chicago is the team to watch in this division.

St. Louis

There’s not much to say about the Cardinals. They’ve been to the NLCS in three straight seasons. They got younger by adding Heyward to an already stocked line-up. Lance Lynn, John Lackey, and Michael Wacha will need to step-up if Wainwright misses significant time. 

Pittsburgh

The Pirates didn’t make many moves, but lost Russell Martin to the Toronto Blue Jays. The odds-makers are projecting a slight win reduction. Despite some recent success, Pittsburgh hasn’t been able to get over the hump in the playoffs. Fans are hoping Starling Marte can take another step forward in 2015.

Chicago

Chicago signed Jon Lester and added Joe Maddon to manage the team. Are these additions worth 10+ wins? 

Milwaukee

Milwaukee is an interesting team. Adam Lind was added to give the line-up more left-handed power. Milwaukee opted to trade away Yovani Gallardo a year before his free agency. Milwaukee also collapsed during September as St. Louis and Pittsburgh passed them.

Cincinnati

Joey Votto  will return and will be the key to Cincinnati’s offense. When healthy, Votto is an MVP candidate. Ace Johnny Cueto will need to have another big season to keep Cincinnati in playoff contention.

Observations:

  • I’m not buying the optimism for Chicago. Chicago has some really good young bats, but will Lester replace (and surpass) the production posted by Sarmardijza? I think Chicago is a year away and don’t expect him to challenge St. Louis, Pittsburgh, or even Milwaukee

Best Bet:

  • Cubs Under 82.5 Wins

Some sports books have released MLB win totals. Over the next few days, we’ll analyze the win totals by division and comments where we see some value. Today, we’ll focus on the National League East:

The odds-makers believe that Washington will run away with the National League East title. After adding Max Scherzer to an already loaded rotation, it’s hard not to envision Washington not only winning the NL East, but winning the National League itself. 

Washington

As mentioned above, Washington is easily the best team in the National League. Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg can match-up against any team. Washington’s offense, which is led by Ian Desmond and Bryce Harper, is very solid. The rest of the NL East isn’t in Washington’s class.

New York

Hopes are very high for the Mets. Matt Harvey will return, Michael Cuddyer was signed to provide veteran leadership, and David Wright is 100% healthy after a pesky shoulder injury limited him last season. It’s been a very long-time since the Yankees and Mets were projected to win the same amount of games. The Mets have a golden opportunity to be the toast of the town.

Miami

Miami made Giancarlo Stanton its $325 million man, but its other moves have gone surprisingly unnoticed. Miami traded for Martin Prado and Mat Latos while inking Michael Morse in free agency. Its ace, Jose Fernandez, will be out until mid-June. 

Atlanta

With the exception of Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta lost nearly all of its talented players. Justin Upton and Jason Heyward were traded away while Aaron Harang and Ervin Santana, who threw nearly 400 innings, left via free agency. Julio Teheran and Alex Wood will be expected to lead this rotation.

Philadelphia

The Phillies are years away from competing. The Phillies may trade away Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee,  which would push Philadelphia deeper into its rebuilding process.

Observations:

  • Despite adding Scherzer, the odds-makers are projecting Washington to win fewer games. The odds-makers are still bullish on Miami even without the presence of Fernandez. None of these lines offer a lot of value, but I would bet on our hometown, New York Mets. The Mets may not make the playoffs, but winning 82-85 games would be a huge improvement and a building block for next season.

Best Bet:

  • Mets Over 81.5 Wins

Some sports books have released MLB win totals. Over the next few days, we’ll analyze the win totals by division and comments where we see some value. Today, we’ll focus on the American League West:

The odds-makers believe that Los Angeles will repeat as AL West champions, but Seattle is not far behind. Oakland traded away five of its seven All-Stars and lost the American League Wildcard game. Texas was completely derailed by injuries last season while Houston is building towards the future. 

Los Angeles

Los Angeles won 97 games last season, so the odds-makers are expecting a nine-win reduction. That win reduction can be attributed to its starting rotation. Jered Weaver struggled last season while CJ Wilson had the worst season of his career. Matt Shoemaker had a great rookie season, but can he repeat it as a 28-year-old, second-year player? Add in the Josh Hamilton drama and there are a lot of question marks surrounding this team.

Seattle

Seattle won 87 games last season, so the odds-makers are expecting a similar result. Robinson Cano was a welcomed addition and Felix Hernandez had the best season of his career. The key to getting to the next level will be the maturation of James Paxton and Taijuan Walker. 

Oakland

Oakland always finds a way to compete, so some way see some value after winning 88 games last season. Still, Oakland is betting on Brett Lawrie to replace the production of Josh Donaldson. Jon Lester and Jeff Sarmardizja are also gone. Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar are experienced players that should help keep Oakland competitive.

Texas

Odds-makers are expecting a big bounce back campaign by Texas. Texas won just 67 games last season, so an 11-win jump seems lofty. Texas is hoping to get full seasons from Prince Fielder, Shin Soo Choo, Mitch Moreland, and Yu Darvish. Texas also traded for Yovani Gallardo to bolster its rotation.

Houston

Houston traded for Evan Gattis to bolster its line-up, but lacks the starting pitching to compete. 

Observations:

The odds-makers are expecting a lot of change in this division. Texas and Houston are projected to win 11 and 5 more games, respectively while Los Angeles and Oakland are expected to regress.

Best Bets:

  • Angels Under 88.5 Wins
  • Astros Under 75.5 Wins

Some sports books have released MLB win totals. Over the next few days, we’ll analyze the win totals by division and comments where we see some value. Today, we’ll focus on the American League Central:

The odds-makers believe that the Cleveland Indians and the Detroit Tigers will compete for the AL Central Crown. These two teams, however, have starkly different compositions. Detroit features three top pitchers atop its rotation while Cleveland has the reigning Cy Young award winner, Cory Kluber.

Detroit

Fans are hoping that Justin Verlander is healthy after two injuries derailed his 2015 campaign. David Price and Anibal Sanchez will help take some of the pressure off Verlander, but as the staff ace, Detroit needs Verlander to return to his dominant ways. Detroit also got younger by trading for Yoenis Cespedes to replace Torii Hunter.

Cleveland

Terry Francona has restored order to the Indians. Kluber is arguably the best pitcher in the American League while outfielder Michael Brantley broke out last season. Cleveland does not have much depth behind Kluber, but its offense is stocked with power bats.

Chicago

Chicago re-tooled its roster by trading for Jeff Samardjiza and signing David Robertson, Adam LaRoche, and Melky Cabrera in free agency. Sale was injured last week and is expected to miss the first few weeks, so Samaradjiza and Jose Quintana will be expected to carry the rotation. 

Kansas City

Despite winning the American League last season, the odds-makers are not expecting much from Kansas City. James Shields left for San Diego and Kansas City’s offense does not present many great hitters. 

Minnesota

Minnesota has one of the best minor league systems, but that system isn’t expected to produce any players in 2015. 

Observations:

  • I think there are a few plays here. I was pretty bullish on the White Sox, but the injury to Sale is concerning. Plus, this team has been very inconsistent under manager, Robin Ventura. I don’t think Kansas City will be nearly as good after losing Shields. Detroit is still the class of this division and I don’t think Cleveland has the horses to stick with Detroit. I’m not a believer in Brantley, either.

Best Bets:

  • Tigers Over 84.5 Wins
  • Royals Under 81.5 Wins

Some sports books have released MLB win totals. Over the next few days, we’ll analyze the win totals by division and comments where we see some value. Today, we’ll focus on the American League East:

After adding Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, the odds-makers believe that the Boston Red Sox are American League East favorites. Boston, however, does not have a bonafide Ace atop its rotation. Boston was unable to re-sign starting pitcher (and fan favorite), Jon Lester. Boston has been discussing a trade for Cole Hamels, but it doesn’t look like it will happen before the season. The American League East features some great hitters, so Boston will need the starting pitchers to compete.

Toronto also added some more offensive firepower by signing Russell Martin and trading for Josh Donaldson. Toronto’s offense features a lot of right-handed power hitters, but alike Boston, does not have depth in its starting rotation. R.A. Dickey will be asked to lead this rotation, but Toronto has the uncanny ability to under-perform annually.

The Baltimore Orioles won the AL East last season, but the odds-makers aren’t expecting a second straight title. Nelson Cruz, who hit 41 home runs last season, signed with the Seattle Mariners. Baltimore is hoping Chris Davis can bounce back, but he’s an unknown entering the 2015 season. Baltimore also lacks rotation depth.

The New York Yankees are projected to finish fourth. The Yankees have gotten younger and are expecting bounce back campaigns from Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, and Ivan Nova. Chase Headley re-signed and the Yankees traded for shortstop, Didi Gregorious. Fans are also expecting respectable seasons from A-Rod and Mark Teixeira

Tampa Bay is expected to take a step-back after manager Joe Maddon left and Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar, and David Price were traded away. Tampa Bay is expecting its younger players to step-up and fill the void.

Observations:

  • I don’t think there’s a ton of value in any of these totals. I think the Yankees are better than the Blue Jays and Orioles, so I would want to bet Yankees (OVER). I think Tampa Bay is in for a rude awakening and should falter in a tight race for the AL East crowd. I’d bet Tampa Bay (UNDER).

Best Bets:

Yankees Over 81.5 Wins

Rays Under 78.5 Wins

The table below compares two quarterbacks from the 2014 NFL draft class. Statistics were sourced from their 2013-2014 college seasons. 

Player QB A QB B
Draft Year 2014 2014
Height 6’1″ 5’11”
Weight 206 207
Hand Size 9.25 9.75
40-Yard Dash 4.66 4.68
3-Cone Drill 7.07 6.75
Short Shuttle 4.33 4.03
Broad Jump 116 113
Vertical Jump 34 31.5
Adjusted Yards/Attempt 10.1 (3rd highest) 10.0 (4th)
Completion % 63% 70%
INT/Attempt 0.35% 3.03%
College Regression? No Yes
Wonderlic 23 32

Athletic Profile

Quarterback A is a more explosive player, producing higher broad and vertical jump marks while benefiting from better straight line speed. Quarterback B is more elusive, posting 3-Cone and Short Shuttle marks that rival some of the more highly touted running backs in the 2014 NFL Draft. 

Passing Skills

Quarterback A has a slightly higher AY/A, which measures adjusted yards gained per pass attempt while Quarterback B posted a better completion percentage. Quarterback A was much better at limiting turnovers than Quarterback B was. Quarterback A threw just one interception in 284 pass attempts while Quarterback B threw 13 interceptions in 429 pass attempts. 

Other

Other factors, such as breakout age, college regression, hand size, and Wonderlic scores were considered. There has been a ton of analysis completed on QB-hand size relative to NFL success, so Quarterback B has a natural advantage. Quarterback B also scored higher on the Wonderlic test. 

Quarterback A’s last college season was his best season, by measure of his passer rating, while Quarterback B slightly regressed during his final college season. This may be one of the most telling signs yet as the nearly all current NFL starting quarterbacks had their best collegiate season during their final college season. 

So Who is Quarterback A and Quarterback B?

Both quarterbacks are members of the Cleveland Browns.

During 2014, quarterback Brian Hoyer started 13 games for Cleveland as Manziel and Shaw worked as his understudies. Both rookie quarterbacks had opportunities to start, but the results were less than inspiring.

Johnny Manziel

Manziel started in Weeks 15 and 16, but failed to produce. During Week 15, Manziel was completely shut down as the Cincinnati Bengals embarassed Cleveland, 30-0. Manziel completed 10-of-18 passes for 80 yards and two interceptions. He averaged 4.4 yards per pass attempt and posted a dismal a QBR of 1.0. Both of Manziel’s interceptions were thrown into double coverage. Manziel faced Carolina in Week 16 and left with an injury. He was placed onto season-ending Injured Reserve. He completed just 3-of-8 passes for 28 yards against Carolina, averaging 4.0 yards per pass attempt.

In fairness, Manziel’s first two starts were late in the season against two teams that eventually secured playoff berths. 

Connor Shaw

After spending 16 weeks as a member of the practice squad, Shaw was called up to the 53-man active roster after Manziel was placed on Injured Reserve. Shaw’s Week 17 opponent? A meeting in Baltimore against a Ravens team vying for a playoff spot. Shaw turned in a respectable performance, completing 14-0f-28 passes for 177 yards and one interception. Baltimore scored 17 unanswered fourth quarter points to rally and beat Cleveland, 20-10. Shaw kept his team in the game, something that Manziel was unable to do.

Observations

Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s game plan was pretty conservative for both quarterbacks. The game plan called for a lot of short throws in an effort to develop rhythm. Simply put, Manziel looked really, really bad and some of his mistakes from his last year at Texas A&M resurfaced in Cleveland. Manziel had trouble looking off defenders and his tendencies to wildly throw jump balls into double coverage continued. Instead of having 6’5″ Mike Evans vs. undersized defenders at his disposal, NFL defenders made Manziel pay for his reckless play.

Shaw was put into a really tough spot in Baltimore, but played well for someone coming off the practice squad. He utilized his rushing attack to stymie Baltimore’s ferocious pass rush while working the middle of the field by hitting tight end Jordan Cameron on a seam routes. Some of his throws were a little short and he threw a costly interception during the fourth quarter, which led to seven points.

If given more time and reps during the course of the season, Shaw may have had a chance to develop, hang on and knock Baltimore out of the playoffs.

Verdict: Is Connor Shaw Better Than Johnny Manziel? 

Simply put: The jury is still out. With Hoyer set to leave as a free agent, expect Cleveland to bring in a seasoned back-up quarterback. The battle for the starting role, however, will probably come down to Manziel and Shaw.

It may seem outlandish to suggest an undrafted rookie is better than the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner, but Shaw has the raw skills and make-up to be an NFL quarterback. At the NFL Combine, Shaw demonstrated above average athleticism for a quarterback. At South Carolina, he posted a high AY/A (which suggests the ability to throw the ball down the field) coupled with a low interception rate, which highlights his skill and ability to throw down field with success. Given his ‘undrafted rookie’ label, Shaw did not receive a fair opportunity to compete for the starting quarterback job. 

It’s troubling that Manziel could not beat out Hoyer, a career back-up, for the starting quarterback role during training camp. Manziel has a lot of the raw skills needed to be a NFL quarterback, but he has to convince coaches, his team mates, and more importantly, Cleveland fans, that he can quickly go through his progressions, not bail out of the pocket when the first read isn’t open, and stop making stupid decisions when receivers aren’t open. That’s purely the football side of it.

The off-the-field side of Manziel is the troubling part. I’ve never met Manziel, so I don’t know what it’s like to be him. What I do know, however, is that he has a large cult following and isn’t shy about posting his off-the-field activity on social media. He also likes to host and attend parties, which always seem to find a way into the headlines. Is he committed to becoming a better NFL quarterback in the off-season? We’ll know if he did his homework next fall.

Final Thoughts

Let’s not forget that egos come into play when deciding which player starts. Let’s not forget that General Manager Ray Farmer gave into Manziel-Mania by trading up for him in the 2014 NFL Draft. If Manziel doesn’t succeed and Cleveland continues to sputter, Farmer will probably lose his job. Manziel getting beaten out by an undrafted rookie will not look good. Head coach Mike Pettine, however, will play the best quarterback. Will that be Manziel, Shaw, or someone else? It’s too early to tell, but don’t be surprised if Shaw out-right wins the job. He has the raw skills and make-up to challenge Johnny Football, if given the opportunity.