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ProfessorMJ

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Posts posted by ProfessorMJ

  1. Many sportsbooks are offering the possibility of betting who will win the MVP title in the NFL this year. In this article, I will unveil 6 players whose odds represent good value, in my opinion.

    In order for a player to make my list, he had to meet two conditions:
    •    Condition #1: There has to be one online sportsbook whose line on this specific player is significantly higher than other bookies.
    •    Condition #2: I believe the player in question does hold a reasonable chance of becoming the 2020 MVP.

    Before we dive into the candidates, here is a vital statistic to be aware of:

    Over the past 30 years, the MVP award was won by: 

    24 quarterbacks (80%) and 6 running backs (20%).

    Keep that in mind when making your pick.

    POTENTIAL MVP #1: Russell Wilson, QB, SEA

    Best odds: +1400 at BetOnline.ag (i.e. 15.0 in decimal format)

    Other online bookies: +580 (Pinnacle), +800 (William Hill), +800 (DraftKings), +700 (FanDuel), +700 (10Bet), +1000 (Jazz), +600 (bwin), +600 (Intertops), +650 (Bet365).
     
    If not for Lamar Jackson’s heroics, Wilson would have won the MVP title in 2019. As a matter of fact, ProFootballFocus named him the MVP last year. He was spectacular with a 66% completion rate, a 31-to-5 TD-to-INT ratio, 4,100 passing yards and 342 more on the ground (while adding 3 rushing TDs).

    His TD-to-INT ratio has been extraordinary, especially over the past three seasons. In this time frame, he has thrown 100 touchdowns while getting intercepted just 23 times. Compare that to Jameis Winston who had 30 picks last year alone!

    Wilson has a couple of good wideouts to throw to: Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf. The latter took huge leap towards the end of his rookie season, including 160 receiving yards in a playoff game.

    At tight end, Will Dissly will be back after playing just six games last year. The organization also signed veteran Greg Olsen. I know, I know, he must be close to 75 years old, but he still caught 52 passes from awful QBs in Carolina last season.

    At the running back position, the team still has Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny. That being said, Penny will probably miss the first six games, but Seattle grabbed Carlos Hyde. Don’t forget he racked up over 1,000 yards on the ground last year with the Texans.

    As you can see above, the vast majority of sportsbook have posted odds between +600 and +800 on Wilson to win the MVP title. At +1400, we are getting a bargain, especially considering the quality of the player.

    POTENTIAL MVP #2: Matthew Stafford, QB, DET

    Best odds: +6600 at William Hill (i.e. 67.0 in decimal format)

    Other online bookies: +2584 (Pinnacle), +4000 (DraftKings), +4400 (FanDuel), +2500 (BetOnline), +4800 (10Bet), +5000 (Jazz), +5000 (bwin), +5000 (Intertops), +5000 (Bet365).
     
    This guy is underrated because he plays for a small-market team who has been in the bottom of the standings for a long time. But don’t sleep on him.

    He’s been very consistent over the years. Over the past five seasons, he has thrown 125 TD passes versus 49 interceptions. His completion rate hovers around 65% every year.

    Last year, he was quietly on pace for 38 TDs, 10 picks and 5,000 passing yards! However, he got hurt and missed the half of the season. It was the first time he missed a game in eight years, which shows how durable he is.

    He has a solid trio of WRs with Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones and Danny Amendola. Golladay is another very underrated NFL player, in my opinion. Did you know he scored 11 TDS and amassed close to 1,200 receiving yards, despite catching balls from David Blough and Jeff Driskell for half the season?

    Rookie tight ends tend to struggle, and that’s what happened to T.J. Hockenson. The former #8 overall pick from the 2019 draft is ready to burst onto the scene.

    At running back, Kerryon Johnson was already a good option to have on your squad, but the team drafted D’Andre Swift out of Georgia. That will be a very nice duo in the backfield.

    The odds on Stafford to be the 2019 MVP vary between +2500 and +5000. I trust Pinnacle’s line accuracy a lot, and their odds on Stafford are +2584. Thefore, grabbing +6600 at William Hill sounds like a wise choice.

    POTENTIAL MVP #3: Josh Allen, QB, BUF

    Best odds: +6000 at DraftKings (i.e. 61.0 in decimal format)

    Other online bookies: +2939 (Pinnacle), +4000 (William Hill), +3800 (FanDuel), +2000 (BetOnline), +5000 (10Bet), +2500 (Jazz), +5000 (bwin), +4000 (Intertops), +3300 (Bet365).
     
    Don’t you see some similarities with Lamar Jackson here? I’m not claiming Josh Allen will have a season comparable to Lamar’s 2019 performance; I’m just saying both guys are in a similar condition.

    The Bills have a top 5 defense, while the Ravens also had a top 5 defense last year. Both Lamar and Josh can do damage with their legs. Both play in a run-oriented offense. And yet, Lamar did win the MVP honors last year.

    I can envision a scenario where Buffalo ends with a 12-4 or even a 13-3 record this year. If that happens, a Bills player is likely to be the recipient of the MVP award, and the most likely player is always the QB.

    The Bills have a stout defense, and their offense is likely to take a big step.

    First, the team acquired Stefon Diggs, a game-breaker on offense. Secondly, they have many young budding stars on offense who have a shot at making a leap in 2020: Josh Allen, Devin Singletary and Dawson Knox. Also, the reports in camp are very optimistic regarding rookie running back Zack Moss.

    Most sportsbooks have odds on Allen between +3000 and +4000. I’ll take my chances at +6000 with DraftKings.

    POTENTIAL MVP #4: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, DAL

    Best odds: +10000 at DraftKings (i.e. 101.0 in decimal format)

    Other online bookies: +6987 (Pinnacle), +5000 (William Hill), +6500 (FanDuel), +7500 (BetOnline), +7000 (10Bet), +4000 (Jazz), +7000 (bwin), +6600 (Intertops), +6600 (Bet365).
     
    This is going to be a bit technical. If you’ve never heard of conditional probabilities, you may not fully grasp what I’m about to discuss.

    As you can see above, the most lines lie between +5000 and +7000. It makes the +10000 odds at DraftKings fairly enticing. That means he is a 100 to 1 underdog to become the 2020 MVP.

    That being said,

    P(Zeke wins MVP) = P(Zeke wins MVP | a RB wins MVP) * P(a RB wins MVP)

    I already showed that about 20% of MVPs were running backs so the above equation becomes:

    P(Zeke wins MVP) = P(Zeke wins MVP | a RB wins MVP) * 20%

    The recommended play above is a good bet if Elliott has at least a 1% chance of winning the award. In order for this to happen, you want P(Zeke wins MVP | a RB wins MVP) to be at least 5%, in which case you’d obtain:

    P(Zeke wins MVP) = 5% * 20% = 1%

    So, the vital question is: if God were to tell you in advance that a running back will be declared the 2020 MVP, do you believe Zeke’s chances are at least 5% (i.e. 1 chance out of 20)?

    Personally, I think so. There are about 12-15 RBs who hold a reasonable chance of being the most valuable player in the league. Now, Elliott is better than most of them. For this reason, I estimate that Zeke would have a 10% chance of winning the MVP under such circumstances.

    So, overall my personal guess is:

    P(Zeke wins MVP) = 10% * 20% = 2%.

    In other words, I believe he should be a 50-to-1 underdog (which is in line with most bookmakers’ odds), not a 100-to-1 underdog.

    Elliott has been great in each of his first four seasons in the NFL. He’s been pretty durable. He now has a good mix of experience and youth (25 years old). What else do you want?

    POTENTIAL MVP #5: Joe Burrow, QB, CIN

    Best odds: +21484 at Pinnacle (i.e. 215.84 in decimal format)

    Other online bookies: +8000 (William Hill), +10000 (DraftKings), +8000 (FanDuel), +9000 (10Bet), +5000 (Jazz), +15000 (bwin), +8000 (Intertops), +8000 (Bet365).
     
    This is a very long shot. But the odds at Pinnacle are so much higher than other bookies, and it’s not impossible that the #1 overall pick pulls off the improbable and wins the MVP award.

    The cast around him is not bad. You could do worse at WR than having A.J. Green, John Ross, Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins. Also, Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard aren’t bad at all.

    I must admit, though, that the offensive line is pretty bad and will make things difficult for Burrow. The tight end position is also a question mark with Uzomah and Sample. But hey, you cannot ask for perfect conditions when betting a 216-to-1 underdog, right?

    Many college football experts have said Burrow was the most accurate passer they have ever seen. He completed 76% of his passes, and we’re not talking about short passes all the time. He was throwing down the field quite often.

    One of his main strengths is above its shoulders. He is very smart, he reads defenses well and he raises his game in big nerve-wracking games. He is poised in the pocket and even though you won’t confuse him with Lamar Jackson, he knows how to avoid the rush.

    Betting Joe Burrow to be the league’s MVP represents much better value than wasting your money on a lottery ticket.

    POTENTIAL MVP #6: Jameis Winston, QB, NO

    Best odds: +20000 at bwin (i.e. 201.0 in decimal format)

    Other online bookies: +5375 (Pinnacle), +10000 (William Hill), +10000 (DraftKings), +10000 (FanDuel), +10000 (BetOnline), +5000 (10Bet), +5000 (Jazz), +10000 (Intertops), +12500 (Bet365).
     
    Here is another very long shot. It basically requires Drew Brees to get hurt within the first five weeks of the season, or else your bet is doomed.

    I certainly don’t wish Brees bad luck, especially considering he seems like such a great human being. However, getting hurt at the QB position is possible, especially when you are 41 years old and not very mobile.

    If Brees gets hurt, this play instantly becomes an awesome bet. Much was said about Winston’s 30 interceptions last year. But don’t forget he still threw for the 8th-most passing yards in league history with 5,109.

    He did have great weapons to work with: Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. But the arsenal at his disposal in New Orleans is not bad either. Michael Thomas may be the best receiver in the NFL. Emmanuel Sanders is a sneaky and smart receiver. Jared Cook showed he still had gas left in the tank last year.

    In the backfield, Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray can be dangerous as well. Add Taysom Hill, who has been the jack-of-all-trades, and you’ve got a very potent offense!

    Oh, and did I mention the Saints had one of the best offensive line last year, and all guys are returning in 2020?

    The conditions would be perfect for Winston: a great supporting cast and perhaps the best mentor he could hope for in Drew Brees to help him cut down on the turnovers. Keep in mind that Winston is a former #1 overall pick with a strong arm in his mid-twenties.

    IMPORTANT WARNING

    I do not recommend betting the players above blindly. As is always the case in sports betting, the odds determine whether a play is a good bet or not. Therefore, I believe the picks above are good value bets, but only at the odds stated!

    Thanks for reading and be ready for more NFL betting tips from me very soon!

    Professor MJ

  2. 2 OFFICIAL PICKS

    PICK #1: Under 6.5 Blackhawks-Oilers @ -109 odds (1.91 decimal)
    PICK #2: Avalanche @ -127 odds (1.79 decimal) vs Stars

    Some explanations about the under 6.5 Chicago-Edmonton pick. The odds on "under 6" was -107 in Game #1, then +102 in Game #2 and now +124 in Game #3. Line clearly inflated due to overreaction to recent results, in my humble opinion. As a contrarian, I'm taking the "under".

    As for the Avs, they should be favored with a -150 line at least. Much stronger team. +46 goal differential this year versus just +3 for the Stars. Give me Colorado in this one.

    2 LEANS (unofficial picks that I like, but maybe not enough to bet)

    LEAN #1: Under 5.5 Bruins-Lightning @ -104 odds (1.96 decimal)
    LEAN #2: Coyotes @ +115 odds (2.15 decimal) vs Predators

    Best of luck fellows!

    Professor MJ

  3. 1. Introduction

    Kyle Shanahan’s first two seasons as San Francisco’s head coach ended with 6-10 and 4-12 records. The team wildly exceeded expectations last year by finishing as the number one seed in the NFC.

    The 49ers rolled pretty easily over the Vikings and the Packers to open the playoffs. However, the Super Bowl left a sour taste in their mouth after squandering a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter.

    Can Shanahan’s squad make it back to the big game this season?

    2. Offensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

    2.1 Quarterbacks (QBs)

    Prior to last year, Jimmy Garoppolo had never started more than five games in a season. He removed all doubts and proved he was definitely a starting NFL caliber quarterback.

    Garoppolo was very efficient by completing 69% of his passes, while coming just 22 yards short of the 4,000 passing-yard mark. He also threw 27 TDs passes versus 13 interceptions.

    He still has some game-manager tendencies, but he had huge performances too, including a 26-for-35 and 349 passing yards, 4 TDs and 1 pick in a wild 48-46 win in New Orleans. Sure, he had a great running game setting up his passing game, but he still delivered when he needed to (except in the Super Bowl where he couldn’t deliver the knockout punch to the Chiefs).

    With one full year of experience in Kyle Shanahan’s system, Garoppolo should be more comfortable in year two.

    Nick Mullens earned #2 duties last year, but he never saw the field since Garoppolo stayed healthy all year long. His only playing experience occurred in 2018 where he competed in eight games, completing 64% of his passes with a 13:10 TD:INT ratio, while averaging an impressive 285 passing yards per game. He’s an undrafted QB from Southern Miss.

    Despite being a former third-rounder, C.J. Beathard lost the backup QB battle in camp last year. He got some playing time both in 2017 and 2018, where he got involved in six and seven games, respectively. His career completion rate is set at just 57% with 12 TDs and 13 interceptions. On average, he has thrown for 206 yards per contest. He is a more capable runner than Mullens, though.

    2.2 Running Backs (RBs)

    San Francisco’s backfield was a three-headed monster last year. The team picked up the second-most rushing yards in the league. Their running game was devastating.

    Raheem Mostert led the team with 772 rushing yards. He had accumulated just 297 yards on the ground in the previous four years!

    He became Kyle Shanahan’s favorite back during the Super Bowl run. His 220 rushing yards performance in the NFC Championship Game was the second-best postseason performance of all-time.

    To me, Tevin Coleman is an overrated running back. First, let’s look at the yards-per-carry average of the team’s three leading backs: Mostert 5.6, Breida 5.1 and Coleman 4.0. That kind of average in such a well-blocked and well-schemed rushing attack is really disappointing. It also marked his career-low.

    Coleman scored six TDs on the ground and one through the air. However, four of them came in Week #8 against the Panthers.

    Breida was lightly used down the stretch last year. He seemed like the odd man out in a crowded backfield, and the team traded him to Miami during the draft.

    The X factor is Jerick McKinnon. Remember him? If you don’t, that’s probably because he has not played a single down in two years.

    After playing four years in Minnesota, he signed a lucrative contract with San Francisco in 2018. He tore his ACL during a team workout, ending his season. In the following year, he suffered a setback from his knee surgery and he missed on the team’s Super Bowl run.

    He took a huge paycut this offseason (deservedly so) to stay with the team. He showed a good burst in his first two seasons with a 4.9 yards per rush average. He was used more often the next two years (racking up 539 and 570 rushing yards), which dropped his average down to just 3.6.

    McKinnon is more dangerous as a pass catcher in open space. The Niners love rotating their running backs, so I expect McKinnon to be used more specifically on passing downs.

    2.3 Wide Receivers (WRs)

    Deebo Samuel’s rookie season was a resounding success. He caught 57 passes for 802 receiving yards and 3 TDs.

    Shanahan had so much confidence in his abilities that he also gave him 14 rushing attempts. Samuel made the most out of those opportunities by scoring three touchdowns on the ground with a whopping 11.4 yards per rush average.

    Samuel was an early second round pick out of South Carolina. All signs point towards him being a bargain pick.

    The 49ers passing attack took a step forward after trading for Emmanuel Sanders. He did a very good job, despite fighting through a rib injury. Unfortunately, the team let him walk in free agency for cap reasons.

    Marquise Goodwin is also gone. He has had an injury-riddled career. After four unsuccessful seasons in Buffalo, he had a breakout year in 2017 with a 56-962-2 receiving line. However, he got hurt again and fell down the depth chart in the two most recent seasons. He was dealt to the Eagles during the draft.

    So who will be the team’s #2 WR then?

    The first potential candidate is Kendrick Bourne. He’s a bit inconsistent, but he was one of Garoppolo’s favorite targets in the red zone. Over the past two seasons he has totaled nine TDs, while averaging 36 receptions and 423 receiving yards per year. He’s a good role player, but I’m not sure the undrafted young receiver can embrace the number two role.

    The team drafted Brandon Aiyuk late in the first round of this year’s draft. He played just two years at Arizona State after transferring from Sierra College. He started just three games with the Sun Devils in 2018 before taking his game to another level last year where he hauled in 65 passes for 1,192 yards and 8 TDs.

    Aiyuk is good at racking up yards after the catch, but needs to be more physical since making contested catches is not his forte. He is viewed as a potential WR3 in the NFL.

    Dante Pettis took a huge step back last year. He only caught 11 passes all year.

    What’s puzzling is the 2018 second-rounder finished his rookie season on a very high note. Indeed, over his final five meetings he posted a 20-359-4 receiving line, which would translate into 64-1149-13 over a full 16-game season.

    Kyle Shanahan ended up criticizing him publicly at some point last year. The team is particularly upset at the mental aspect of his game. 2020 will be a critical season for him.

    Jalen Hurd missed his entire rookie season due to a back injury. He’s more of a gadget player. For your information, he was selected in the 3rd round of the 2019 draft.

    Travis Benjamin was signed as a free agent. He had a few good seasons with the Browns and the Chargers, but he has caught just 18 passes over the last two years. He’s more of a deep threat, but you have to wonder if he can still do it at 30 years old following a year where he had a quad injury.

    Finally, can Trent Taylor have an impact? He was projected to be the team’s starting slot receiver entering the 2019 season, but a foot injury that required five surgeries cost him the season. The former fifth-rounder caught 43 and 26 passes in 2017 and 2018, respectively

    2.4 Tight Ends (TEs)

    George Kittle is as good as it gets. He is an amazing pass catcher, he is hard to bring down after the catch and he is a bone-crushing run blocker.

    His receiving stats have been awesome for the second straight year. In both cases, he topped the 1,000 receiving-yard mark, while catching 88 and 85 passes. He also reached the end zone on five occasions in each of those two seasons.

    He is also a very tough guy. He dealt with knee and ankle issues, while also playing through a torn labrum. Hopefully, he’s be fully healthy when the 2020 season begins.

    Ross Dwelley took over as the starting TE when Kittle missed a couple of games. He did a decent job which included scoring two touchdowns, but the undrafted 25-year-old won’t be confused with Kittle anytime soon

    2.5 Offensive Line (OL)

    Weston Richburg is the favorite to land the starting job at the pivot, but Ben Garland will keep pushing him. Richburg missed a few games due to injuries and his play in his two seasons with the 49ers hasn’t been as good as it used to be with the Giants. He graded out as the number 25 center out of 37 qualifiers last year. Meanwhile, Garland has always been a backup, but he does a very sound job.

    Left tackle Joe Staley was a true warrior for this organization. He spent his whole 13-year career in the Bay area and he was great in each of them. He announced his retirement on the same day that the team acquired Trent Williams via a trade.

    Williams sat out the entire 2019 season after feuding with the Redskins. When he is on the field, he’s a great blindside protector. However, he has not played a complete 16-game season since 2013. And will he be at NFL speed right away after being out of football for a year and a half?

    Mike McGlinchey is entering his third year as a pro at right tackle. He missed four games due to a knee injury. The former #9 overall pick out of Notre Dame has received above-average PFF marks in each of his first two seasons, finishing 35th out of 81 tackles in 2019.

    Left guard Laken Tomlinson has missed just one game in the past three years. The 28-year-old and former first-rounder graded out as the number 20 guard out of 81 guys. His PFF marks have been remarkably stable over his entire five-year career.

    Mike Person played all but two games as the starting right guard in 2019. The team released him during the offseason. He was about to play his age-32 campaign and provided “okay” play last season.

    The team acquired Tom Compton, formerly of the Jets, a seven-year journeyman. Daniel Brunskill may have a better shot at earning the right guard starting job. Even though he lacks experience, he did a solid job filling in at LT, RT and RG last season.

    2020 VS 2019 OFFENSE

    When comparing the 2020 versus 2019 rosters, the only good news I see is at the QB position. Jimmy Garoppolo has a shot to take a leap in his second full season in Shanahan’s offense.

    However, I see a possible downgrade at all remaining positions on offense.

    The team lost Matt Breida, but will (hopefully) finally see Jerick McKinnon on the field. Even though Breida slowed down late last season, he’s less injury-prone than McKinnon and his yards-per-carry average is significantly higher. McKinnon is a bigger threat in the passing game, but overall I believe Breida is a more reliable player.

    At wide receiver, losing Emmanuel Sanders and Marquise Goodwin leaves a glaring hole at the WR #2 spot behind Deebo Samuel. Who will step up? The team has a lot of unproven guys (Kendrick Bourne, Travis Benjamin, Dante Pettis, Jalen Hurd, Trent Taylor and rookie Brandon Aiyuk).

    George Kittle is a monster. He graded out as the top tight end in the entire league last year, according to PFF grades. There is no room for improvement there.

    Finally, on the offensive line, the team’s long-time starting left tackle Joe Staley decided to hang his cleats. Newly acquired Trent Williams certainly has the abilities to fill his shoes, but how will he play after being out of football for a year and a half?

    Another source of concern pertains to the right guard spot, where Mike Person was released without any clear-cut replacement. Expect a dropoff in terms of quality of play at this position in 2020.

    For these reasons, I don’t believe the 49ers offense has a good chance of finishing nearly as high as last year’s second place in terms of points scored. I foresee a middle-of-the-pack 2020 season from this unit.

    Final call (2020 vs 2019): Moderate downgrade

    3. Defensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

    3.1 Defensive Linemen (DLs)

    The 49ers lost a cornerstone of their defense when DeForest Buckner was traded to Indianapolis in return of the number 13 overall pick. Buckner has been good and durable in each of his four seasons as a pro since being drafted 7th overall in 2016. His presence will be missed big time.

    The Niners eventually traded down one spot and took Javon Kinlaw at #14 in this year’s draft. This guy has shown a lot of character, both on and off the field. He was homeless for much of his childhood and football was his way out.

    Kinlaw improved every single year in college with the Gamecocks. He can be a disruptive force along the interior of the line, thanks for elite physical traits. His overall game tends to be inconsistent, though.

    San Francisco also used Sheldon Day and D.J. Jones for about 30% of the defensive snaps last year. Day will be reuniting with Buckner after signing a one-year contract with the Colts. He provided adequate, yet unspectacular play.

    As for Jones, he’s more of a run stuffer whose PFF grades have improved in each of his three seasons in the NFL. The former sixth-round pick graded out as the 50th-best DL among 114 qualifiers. He is likely to see increased usage following the departure of Buckner and Day.

    3.2 Defensive Ends (DEs) / Edge Rushers (ED)

    Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead are literally terrifying opposing quarterbacks. They posted 9 and 10 sacks, respectively.

    Bosa had an immediate impact in the big league as he finished 6th in terms of QB pressures. He was named the Defensive Rookie of the Year. He defends the run well too, which makes him the complete package. He has a bright future ahead of him.

    I’m not a big fan of the lofty five-year, $85 million contract awarded to Arik Armstead. The #17 overall pick from the 2015 draft underachieved for four seasons by posting just 9 sacks during that time frame.

    He exploded last year with 10 sacks. Perhaps he’ll keep playing at a high level, but maybe it was just a flash in the pan.

    If you look at the numbers, Dee Ford had a down year with “just” 6.5 sacks. In his defense, he played part-time due to a few injuries (knee and hamstring). He only played 22% of the defensive snaps last year. When healthy, he’s an excellent pass rusher.

    Solomon Thomas has been a gigantic bust thus far. After being selected with the third overall pick in the 2017 draft, he has picked up just six sacks in three years! He saw a therapist a year ago, which he claimed would help him turn the corner, but it hasn’t been the case.

    The team added depth by acquiring Kerry Hyder. He’s a one-year wonder who got 8 sacks in 2016 with the Lions, then missed the following season with a torn Achilles’, and followed up with two straight seasons where he posted just one sack.

    3.3 Linebackers (LBs)

    The four-year, $54 million contract Kwon Alexander signed prior to the 2019 season was a head scratcher. After his first season with the 49ers, the question marks are even bigger.

    Take a look at his PFF grades from 2015 to 2019: 40.2, 68.5, 65.5, 57.4 and 52.6. As you can see, his effectiveness has decreased in each of the past three years.

    Also, he has played a full 16-game season just once in his career. In other words, he’s injury-prone and when healthy he’s an average linebacker.

    Fred Warner finished at the number 33 spot out of 89 linebackers last year, according to the PFF rating system. His tackle production went from 124 down to 118, but he picked up the first three sacks and the first interception of his young two-year career. The former third-rounder from BYU has made a name for himself.

    Dre Greenlaw came out of nowhere and played 70% of the snaps after getting drafted in the 5th round of last year’s draft. He has sound tackling and coverage skills; hopefully he won’t suffer from the famous “sophomore slump.”

    San Francisco signed Joe Walker, formerly of the Cardinals, to add some depth. He was one of the worst linebackers in the NFL last year. The team hopes they won’t need him on the field in 2020.

    3.4 Cornerbacks (CBs)

    Richard Sherman is the leader of this group. As a matter of fact, he led all NFL cornerbacks with a 90.3 PFF grade last season.

    You may not like him as a person, but he’s a consistent producer on the field. Sherman has 35 career interceptions during his nine-year career.

    He received PFF marks above 90 in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Then, he never got above 80 for the next four years before rebounding nicely last season.

    K’Waun Williams has been a revelation for the Niners. He was one of the league’s top slot corners last season. His 80.3 PFF grade put him in the 7th spot out of 112 cornerbacks. The undrafted 29-year-old has truly found a home in San Francisco.

    As a former third-rounder, Ahkello Witherspoon is supposed to be the superior CB over undrafted Emmanuel Moseley. However, Moseley outperformed Witherspoon last year, and by a good margin. He did well both in coverage and against the run.

    As for Witherspoon, he’s now had two straight so-so seasons after a promising rookie year. The 2020 campaign will be critical for him as he needs to elevate his game. He has also failed to play more than 14 games in each of his three seasons.

    3.5 Safeties (S)

    Both starting safeties, Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt, missed time due to injuries last year. They played 13 and 12 games, respectively.

    Ward has had just one problem thus far in his career: staying healthy. He has missed 3, 7, 9, and 5 games in the four most recent seasons. When he is on the field, he does a good job, although he’s a much better run defender than a coverage man. He played the most snaps of his career last year (989) and he responded nicely with the 6th overall rank among 87 safeties based on PFF grades.

    Jaquiski Tartt has received average PFF marks throughout his five-year career, except in 2017 where he fared significantly better. Much like his teammate, he’s had trouble staying on the field recently. Indeed, he has missed 19 of the team’s past 48 games.

    Tarvarious Moore is an option when any of the starting safeties goes down. He was a third round selection in 2018, he did well in last year’s preseason and did a fine job in backup duties in 2019.

    The team also has Marcell Harris in the mix. He was a 6th round pick in 2018 and he received respectable grades in 2019 (while playing 33% of the snaps) after getting abysmal marks in his rookie season.

    2020 VS 2019 DEFENSE

    I anticipate this group to be significantly weaker in 2020 as they were a year ago.

    First, the interior of the defensive line suffered a big blow with the losses of DeForest Buckner and Sheldon Day. The team hopes rookie Javon Kinlaw can produce immediately, but asking him to fill Bucker’s shoes right away is asking too much.

    At edge, Armstead’s year may turn out to be an outlier. He more than doubled his four-year sack production within one season. Granted, Dee Ford could compensate with more QB pressures if he can stay healthy this time.

    The linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties remain the same. For continuity reasons, that’s a good thing for sure.

    Can Richard Sherman retain the #1 spot among all cornerbacks despite being 32 years old? That’s another unlikely scenario. His play could drop off a little bit.

    For all of the reasons above, I’m calling a moderate downgrade from 2019 to 2020 for Robert Saleh’s unit.

    Final call (2020 vs 2019): Moderate downgrade

    4. Regular Season Wins

    According to sportsbooks, the San Francisco 49ers are expected to win 10.5 games this season. Should we bet the “over” or the “under”?

    I'll answer this question via two different methods.

    4.1 Professor MJ's Prediction

    I won't go into the mathematical details, but here is a summary of my own personal pick (based on my analysis above and my estimated spreads for the Cowboys' 16 games):

    OVER 10.5 WINS

    • Estimated Probability: 69%
    • Best Odds: -103 (Bookmaker.eu)
    • ROI: +36.0%

    UNDER 10.5 WINS

    • Estimated Probability: 31%
    • Best Odds: +105 (William Hill)
    • ROI: -36.5%

    Tip: Bet OVER 10.5 wins

    4.2 Based on BetOnline's Point Spreads

    Here is the methodology I used here:

    • Use BetOnline.ag’s point spreads on all 256 regular season games.
    • Convert those point spreads into win probabilities.
    • Simulate each of the 256 games, according to those win probabilities, via the R statistical software.
    • Repeat the previous step one million times (you get 1M simulated seasons).
    • Count the proportion of seasons where the 49ers won more or less than 10.5 games.

    Here are the results:

    OVER 10.5 WINS

    • Estimated Probability: 60.6%
    • Best Odds: -103 (Bookmaker.eu)
    • ROI: +19.4%

    UNDER 10.5 WINS

    • Estimated Probability: 39.4%
    • Best Odds: +105 (William Hill)
    • ROI: -19.2%

    Tip: Bet OVER 10.5 wins

    In summary, both analyses recommend betting the OVER. That being said, I can't say I'm overly confident about this play. I'm afraid the 2019 season might have been a fluke year for the 49ers. The numbers are pointing in the direction of betting the OVER, but my offensive and defensive breakdown above don't like San Francisco's 2020 outlook so much.

    Here are BetOnline’s point spreads for the 49ers’ 16 regular season games:

    • HOME: -7.5 vs ARI, -7 vs BUF, -6.5 vs GB, -7 vs LAR, -13.5 vs MIA, -5.5 vs PHI, -6.5 vs SEA, -14.5 vs WAS.
    • ROAD: -5 @ ARI, 0 @ DAL, -2.5 @ LAR, 0 @ NE, +2 @ NO, -7.5 @ NYG, -5.5 @ NYJ, 0 @ SEA.

    Note: The “Best odds” from the table above were obtained after looking at 13 well-known online sportsbooks on May 18th, 2020.

    My next post will concern the 2020 Cleveland Browns!

    Professor MJ

  4. 1. Introduction

    Giants fans had hopes of making a playoff push after rookie QB Daniel Jones won his first two NFL games to bring back the team to a 2-2 record. However, the team underwent a nine-game losing skid, while seeing many good players go down to injuries.

    The team fired head coach Pat Shurmur, and the new leader will be Joe Judge, a member of the Patriots coaching staff for eight years.

    There is optimism around this franchise with young budding stars on offense. After six losing seasons over the past seven years, can the Giants finally turn the corner?

    2. Offensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

    2.1 Quarterbacks (QBs)

    Taking Daniel Jones as the #6 overall pick in the 2019 draft was a bit of a head-scratcher. No one is laughing at the Giants’ pick anymore.

    Jones was brilliant during preseason games by going 29-of-34 for 416 passing yards, 2 TDs and no picks. The team still gave Eli Manning the starting nod, but that didn’t last very long. Prior to Week #3, head coach Pat Shurmur announced the Daniel Jones era was about to begin.

    His first NFL game was one to remember. He threw 2 TD passes and rushed for a couple more in a wild 32-31 win in Tampa (thanks to a missed 34-yard chip shot field goal by Matt Gay).

    Jones went on to throw 24 touchdown passes by completing 284-of-459 passes, a subpar 61.9% completion rate. His main issue was turning the ball over too often: he was picked off on 12 occasions, while fumbling 18 times.

    Jones still showed a lot of upside. As a comparison, many considered Kyler Murray’s rookie season as a nice success. Both Murray and Jones threw 12 interceptions, but Jones racked up 4 additional TD passes with three fewer games played.

    Eli Manning retired after an illustrious career, so the team signed free agent Colt McCoy, formerly of the Redskins. Every time I’ve seen him play, he’s been pretty bad as a passer. He can do some damage with his legs once in a while, but that’s about it. He has 29 career TD passes versus 27 interceptions over 10 years. Draw your own conclusions.

    2.2 Running Backs (RBs)

    Saquon Barkley’s numbers were down from his rookie season, even accounting for the fact that he missed three games due to an ankle injury. His yards-per-carry average dropped from 5.0 to 4.6, which was still pretty good. He was also targeted a lot fewer in the passing game.

    I’m not worried about him. He is super talented and he will benefit from having a QB that has now more experience in this league. Defenses won’t be able to stack the line because they’ll know that Daniel Jones can be dangerous. Barkley is one of the best in the business at his position.

    Newly acquired Dion Lewis is the favorite to win the #2 role. He had his best year by far in 2017 with the Pats by rushing for 896 yards and reaching the end zone on nine occasions. His next-best season? 517 rushing yards the following year in Tennessee, but his 3.3 yards-per-carry average was really bad. He is more of a third-down back who can catch passes out of the backfield.

    Last year, Wayne Gallman seemed to be Barkley’s main backup. However, the coaching staff didn’t seem to trust him very much. Gallman even ended up being a healthy scratch for a few games.

    2.3 Wide Receivers (WRs)

    Sterling Shepard received the highest marks from PFF among Giants receivers, but one thing causes some concern about the 27-year old pass catcher: concussions. He suffered many of them during the 2019 season.

    Hopefully he can be healthy in the upcoming season because he’s been very good. If you project his 10-game 2019 season into a full 16-game year, his stat line would have been 91-922-5. He has been a consistent producer in each of his first four years in the NFL.

    Golden Tate missed 5 games last season (4 due to a suspension and 1 because of a concussion). He had missed just two contests in the previous eight seasons!

    Much like Shepard, Tate has always been a consistent player. His “worst” season between 2014 and 2018 was 74 receptions for 795 yards and 4 TDs. He will be 32 years old when the season opens, but he seems to have gas left in the tank, as shown by the fact that he was on pace for a 983-yard season last year.

    The team leader in receiving yards turned out to be a surprise: fifth-round rookie Darius Slayton. He caught 48 passes for 740 yards, while hauling in 8 TD passes. You can’t expect much more out of a fifth-rounder, especially playing with a rookie QB!

    Slayton had three games with a couple of scores. All of them occurred on the road, which shows his great character. With Shepard and Tate with a clean bill of health, I’m not sure he can match his 2019 performance, so I’d be cautious if I were a fantasy owner.

    Cody Latimer was thrown into action following the numerous injuries to the Giants receiving corps. He did a decent job, but he is now off to Washington.

    Losing Latimer won’t hurt very much. Having a trio composed of Shepard-Tate-Slayton is nice.

    2.4 Tight Ends (TEs)

    Evan Engram is certainly an upcoming tight end in the NFL. His main problem has been staying on the field. He missed one game in 2017, then five in 2018 and eight more last year. That’s worrisome.

    He underwent a surgery that requires a lengthy rehab. He is likely to miss many offseason activities.

    Prior to last year’s injury, he was on pace for his best season. If you project his numbers to a full 16-game year, he would have caught 88 passes for 934 yards and 6 TDs. Only Travis Kelce and Darren Waller caught more than 88 passes as tight ends last year.

    Rhett Ellison was mainly used as a blocking TE. He missed a few months with a concussion and decided it was time to hang up his cleats.

    In order to fill the void left by Ellison, the team signed Levine Toilolo. He only caught two passes with the Niners last year and he doesn’t offer much in the passing game. He is expected to be the primary blocking tight end in this offense.

    Kaden Smith was drafted by San Francisco last year, then released and claimed off waivers by the Giants in September. He ended up getting quite a bit of playing time following Engram’s injury. Over the final six games, he averaged 5 receptions for 45 yards. He remains unlikely to be involved very much as long as Engram is healthy since he is limited in terms of talent.

    2.5 Offensive Line (OL)

    The team needed to upgrade this position in order to make it to the next level. Other than Kevin Zeitler, all other 2019 starters were either average, or below-average.

    Zeitler had been one of the best guars in the league throughout his first seven seasons in the NFL. His 8th year, which happened to be his first in a Giants uniform, was no different. He was graded as the number 7 guard in the entire league by the PFF rating system.

    The team’s other guard, Will Hernandez, saw his PFF grade drop from 66.7 to 58.4 after being chosen in the second round of the 2018 draft. He finished as the 53rd guard out of 81 players.

    At center, the team relied on Jon Halapio. He played pretty poorly and tore his Achilles’ in the season finale. The team has yet to re-sign him as they plan to check on his rehab during the summer. If he doesn’t come back, Spencer Pulley is the favorite to get the job, but he’s no better.

    Nate Solder protects Daniel Jones’ blindside. He is now 32 years old and is coming off a year where he received his lowest PFF grade over his 9-year career. That’s a source of concern for sure.

    Finally, we are rounding off the offensive line with right tackle Mike Remmers. He was borderline starting material and he did an adequate job last year. However, he left for the Super Bowl champions Kansas City Chiefs.

    Andrew Thomas was taken with the fourth overall pick last April. He is a lock to get a starting job right away. He played RT as a freshman with Georgia, before moving to LT in the next two years. Will he play RT with the Giants, or will they use him at LT while moving Solder to RT? No matter what, he’s very likely to be an upgrade for this unit.

    The intriguing part is whether third-round rookie Matt Peart can crack the starting lineup or not. He played his first two seasons as a LT with UConn before sliding to the RT spot in his final two years. The word on Peart is he has the physical traits required to succeed, but he lacks aggressiveness and strength at the moment. He should compete with Nate Solder in training camp.

    The team signed Cameron Fleming, who has been primarily a backup during his six-year career with the Patriots and Cowboys.

    2020 VS 2019 OFFENSE

    Will the 2020 Giants offense be better than the 2019 version?

    The first thing that comes to mind is how much this unit suffered from the injury bug last year. Barkley, Tate, Shepard and Engram all missed time due injuries (or suspension). That alone is more likely to diminish than to increase, so this should help the production.

    I see more upside with this offense. Daniel Jones now has one year of experience under the belt. Dion Lewis provides better depth than Wayne Gallman or Buck Allen. The receiving corps is more likely to be healthy.

    The lone question mark concerns the offensive line. They weren’t so good last year. They didn’t address the position in free agency, so all hopes are in Andrew Thomas’ hands (and possibly to a much lesser degree, their 3rd round pick Matt Peart).

    My final conclusion is a moderate upgrade over 2019. The team had the 18th-most points scored last year, and it might go up to the 10th-14th spot.

    Final call (2020 vs 2019): Moderate upgrade

    3. Defensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

    3.1 Defensive Linemen (DLs)

    This is an underrated group. They don’t have big names, but they have been pretty effective. Indeed, all four main guys finished among the top 36 DLs out of 114 qualifiers, based on PFF rankings!

    Leonard Williams was traded from the Jets to the Giants last year. He received his lowest PFF mark of his five-year career, but he was still way above-average. He is now looking at a massive contract extension.

    Dexter Lawrence was the 17th overall pick in last year’s draft. He was good in all aspects of the game and finished as the 20th-best DL in the NFL. A great start to his career!

    Dalvin Tomlinson and B.J Hill are two more young guys who have performed at a high level thus far in their respective NFL careers. Both played roughly 50% of the snaps and they finished as the number 16 and 20 interior defenders based on PFF ratings.

    3.2 Defensive Ends (DEs) / Edge Rushers (ED)

    Markus Golden led the team with 10 sacks. That was great, but he is now asking for $10 million per year, which the cash-strapped Giants cannot afford. For this reason, he is unlikely to re-sign with the team, unfortunately.

    The team found a cheaper option with Kyler Fackrell, who is coming over from Green Bay. He clearly had a down year with just one sack, one year after posting 10.5! His run defense is also very suspect.

    After being selected in third round of the 2018 draft out of Georgia, Lorenzo Carter posted 4 sacks and 41 tackles in his rookie season. He slightly increased those numbers in his sophomore year with 45 tackles and 4.5 sacks. He is an above-average, yet unspectacular, edge defender in this league.

    Rookie Oshane Ximines also recorded 4.5 sacks, but his PFF grade was much lower than Carter’s. Indeed, he wasn’t nearly as good against the run, nor in pass coverage.

    3.3 Linebackers (LBs)

    Alec Ogletree is more name than game. Most fans know him, but he never obtained a PFF mark above 63.3. His skills defending the run are simply not good. His two seasons with the Giants have been disappointing and he won’t be back with the team in 2020.

    New York signed last year’s second leading tackler, Blake Martinez. He has spent his first four years with the Packers and racked up at least 144 tackles in each of his past three years.

    Don’t be misled too much by the numbers, though. He’s not that great. He does the job, but he’s from being a top-20 linebacker.

    After two mediocre seasons and failing to crack San Francisco’s lineup during the 2019 training camp, David Mayo was an unlikely candidate to become a good LB. He had just 51 tackles in four years. Yet, he surprised many with 82 tackles and two sacks, earning surprisingly high marks from PFF. Still, I wouldn’t hold my breath about him matching his 2019 performance.

    Deone Bucannon has been a major bust as a former first-round pick in the 2014 draft. He started the year with the Bucs before being released, and then signed by the Giants. He played nine games with the team. He’s unlikely to make a big impact.

    3.4 Cornerbacks (CBs)

    Last year’s starters were rookie DeAndre Baker and Janoris Jenkins.

    Baker was picked towards the end of the first round in last year’s draft. Coming out of Georgia, he struggled mightily in coverage. PFF graded him as the number 105 CB out of 112 qualifiers. He must clearly up his game in 2020.

    Jenkins was much more solid year on the field, but off-the-field incidents led to his release late in the season. He openly complained about not being used to cover top wideouts, but the icing on the cake was an inappropriate Twitter exchange with a fan.

    The Giants made somewhat of a splash by acquiring one of the top available corners on the market, James Bradberry. He instantly becomes their starting corner opposite of Baker. He has picked up eight interceptions in his first four seasons in the league.

    PFF is not very high on Bradberry, though. He obtained the #68 spot out of 112 CBs last year, and has never received very high marks throughout his career. Don’t expect him to be the savior.

    The team’s depth is great at the position: Sam Beal, Corey Ballentine and Grant Haley aren’t good enough to start in the NFL.

    3.5 Safeties (S)

    Antoine Bethea played 99.6% of the defensive snaps last year. The team was not satisfied with his play and released him in the offseason. According to PFF, he wasn’t horrible since he ended the year as the #40 safety out of 87 guys.

    The other starter was Jabrill Peppers. The former first-round pick has done an “okay” job thus far in his career. He has one interception in each of his first three seasons.

    With a glaring hole at the position, the Giants picked up Xavier McKinney early in the second round in this year’s draft. He was very productive with the Crimson Tide while playing from different spots on defense (from the slot, as a safety, or in the box). He has great instincts, but he could improve as a tackler.

    Julian Love picked up the slack when Peppers down to an injury last year. He was a 2019 fourth-rounder out of Notre Dame and he also did respectable work.

    2020 VS 2019 DEFENSE

    Markus Golden is gone; in comes Kyler Fackrell. That’s a net loss for the Giants. I also believe the team was better off with Janoris Jenkins at CB than newly acquired James Bradberry. Also, getting rid of Antoine Bethea may not be a positive for the team when focusing on the 2020 season, although rookie Xavier McKinney could successfully fill his shoes.

    Granted, the team upgraded the linebacking corps by replacing Alec Ogletree with Blake Martinez.

    As of late February, the team had the lowest cap dollars devoted to the defensive side of the ball. You can’t expect great results under such circumstances.

    The team allowed the third-highest number of points last year, so there is not much room for going down further. Still, to me the talent level dropped a little bit overall in comparison to 2019.

    Final call (2020 vs 2019): Small downgrade

    4. Regular Season Wins

    According to sportsbooks, the New York Giants are expected to win 6.5 games this season. Should we bet the “over” or the “under”?

    I'll answer this question via two different methods.

    4.1 Professor MJ's Prediction

    I won't go into the mathematical details, but here is a summary of my own personal pick (based on my analysis above and my estimated spreads for the Giants' 16 games):

    OVER 6.5 WINS

    • Estimated Probability: 24%
    • Best Odds: +130 (Pinnacle)
    • ROI: -44.8%

    UNDER 6.5 WINS

    • Estimated Probability: 76%
    • Best Odds: -118 (Sports Interaction)
    • ROI: +40.4%

    Tip: Bet UNDER 6.5 wins

    4.2 Based on BetOnline's Point Spreads

    Here is the methodology I used here:

    • Use BetOnline.ag’s point spreads on all 256 regular season games.
    • Convert those point spreads into win probabilities.
    • Simulate each of the 256 games, according to those win probabilities, via the R statistical software.
    • Repeat the previous step one million times (you get 1M simulated seasons).
    • Count the proportion of seasons where the Giants won more or less than 6.5 games.

    Here are the results:

    OVER 6.5 WINS

    • Estimated Probability: 35.4%
    • Best Odds: +130 (Pinnacle)
    • ROI: -18.6%

    UNDER 6.5 WINS

    • Estimated Probability: 64.6%
    • Best Odds: -118 (Sports Interaction)
    • ROI: +19.3%

    Tip: Bet UNDER 6.5 wins

    In summary, both analyses recommend betting the UNDER. I do like this play quite a bit, personally. I believe their offense should be exciting to watch, but their defense is atrocious.

    Here are BetOnline’s point spreads for the Giants’ 16 regular season games:

    • HOME: 0 vs ARI, +1 vs CLE, +3 vs DAL, +3.5 vs PHI, +3 vs PIT, +7.5 vs SF, +3 vs TB, -5 vs WAS.
    • ROAD: +12.5 @ BAL, +5 @ CHI, 0 @ CIN, +7.5 @ DAL, +7.5 @ LAR, +5 @ PHI, +9 @ SEA, 0 @ WAS.

    Note: The “Best odds” from the table above were obtained after looking at 13 well-known online sportsbooks on May 18th, 2020.

    TOMORROW: The 2020 preview for the San Francisco 49ers!

    Professor MJ

  5. 1. Introduction

    It was a strange year for America’s team.

    They started with three easy wins over weak opponents, only to end up missing the playoffs with an 8-8 record.

    I call it a strange season because if you look at their best offensive players’ statistics, they all did very well! The team scored the 6th most points in the league, while their defense allowed the 11th fewer points. How in the heck did they miss the playoffs?

    In their eight wins, the average margin of victory was 20.1 points. In their eight losses, the average margin of defeat was 6.0 points. Indeed, the Cowboys lost six games by one possession or less (i.e. 8 points or less).

    One more reason for missing the playoffs: Jason Garrett’s decisions. He made multiple questionable calls and it ended up costing him his job.

    The former 13-year Packers head coach, Mike McCarthy, is the new sheriff in town. We’ll see what he can do with this talented group.

    2. Offensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

    2.1 Quarterbacks (QBs)

    Dak Prescott has been a very steady force since coming into the league. He hasn’t missed a game in four seasons and has thrown 97 TD passes versus 36 interceptions. He has also rushed for 21 touchdowns.

    Last year, he topped his career-high in passing yards by more than 1,000 yards! He had another solid season and was graded as the tenth-best QB by PFF.

    I thought signing Andy Dalton after the Bengals released him was a very smart move by the Cowboys. Dallas has invested so heavily on its offense; you don’t want to take the risk of this group stalling because of an injury to Prescott. Cooper Rush wasn’t going to be the answer.

    If Dak goes down, Dalton can fill in immediately and provide good play. Sure, he had a down year in 2019. In his defense, the offensive line struggled a lot and his top weapon, A.J. Green, missed the entire season. I do not believe the Dallas offense would crash down with Dalton under center.

    2.2 Running Backs (RBs)

    Ezekiel Elliott has also been a steady performer for the Cowboys over the recent years. He regularly accumulates between 1,700 and 2,000 total yards, while scoring between 9 and 16 TDs every year.

    Tony Pollard got some playing time in blowouts as a rookie. Chosen in the 4th round out of Memphis, he has shown great promise. He ranked extremely well in yards after contact and finished with close to 500 rushing yards despite limited action. If something were to happen to Elliott, he seems ready to shine in a big way.

    2.3 Wide Receivers (WRs)

    Here is one more position where the starters are returning.

    After struggling down the stretch, Amari Cooper seemed like he might leave Dallas in free agency. However, the Cowboys re-signed him to a fat contract.

    In the first nine games, he averaged 5.9 receptions and 94 receiving yards per game, while totaling seven TDs. In the final seven matches, he averaged 3.7 receptions and 49 receiving yards, while hauling in a single TD pass.

    The fact that he played much better at home than on the road was also well-documented. There are rumors that he played the last two months despite knee and ankle injuries, though.

    Hats off to Michael Gallup for largely exceeding the 2019 expectations. He doubled his production in terms of receptions and receiving yards compared to his rookie season, while tripling the number of touchdowns (from 2 to 6). PFF gave him the 34th rank out of 122 wideouts, which is awesome for a second-year pro who was drafted in the third round.

    Randall Cobb signed with Houston, which leaves 55 receptions and more than 800 yards on the table. He was one of the best #3 WR in the league for sure.

    Tavon Austin seems unlikely to assume the role, but #17 overall pick CeeDee Lamb might. This selection will give OC Kellen Moore some nice flexibility. Indeed, Lamb can line up either inside or outside. Moore will then have the possibility to slide Cooper into the slot, where he won’t face press coverage that has given him some trouble.

    Lamb is a physical receiver who breaks tackles very often. He posted some jaw-dropping numbers at Oklahoma:

    • An average of 19 yards per catch;
    • 24 receptions of 40+ yards;
    • 6 games of 160+ receiving yards.

    The Cowboys are in business with Cooper-Gallup-Lamb.

    2.4 Tight Ends (TEs)

    Jason Witten and Blake Jarwin provided a pretty good TE duo. Witten, who caught 63 passes last year, left for Las Vegas. That gives a big opportunity to Jarwin to improve upon his 31 receptions from 2019. As a matter of fact, he signed a three-year, $24.25 million contract extension. That tells me he is the clear number one guy!

    Dallas acquired Blake Bell who played for the Super Bowl champions K.C. Chiefs. He is mostly used as a blocker and will complement Jarwin nicely.

    2.5 Offensive Line (OL)

    The Cowboys offensive line performed admirably well in 2019. Dallas attempted the 10th most passes in the league, and yet only allowed 23 sacks, the second fewest in the NFL! Sure, Prescott is hard to bring down, but that’s still very impressive.

    The PFF rankings are staggering: tackles La’el Collins and Tyron Smith finished at the #5 and #16 spots out of 81 qualifiers. Guards Zack Martin and Connor Williams ranked 3rd and 43rd out of 81 players. Finally, center Travis Frederick ended the year as a slightly above-average guy.

    All of them are returning, except Frederick who surprised everyone by announcing his retirement at age 29. He has made the Pro Bowl on five occasions. Joe Looney is penciled in at center for the time bein. He started all 16 games in 2018 and got pretty bad marks from PFF that year.

    2020 VS 2019 OFFENSE

    Prescott, Elliott, Cooper and Gallup are all back in the Cowboys’ lineup, and they are all pretty young. It bodes well for 2020.

    However, the team took some small hits by losing Randall Cobb and Jason Witten (albeit rookie CeeDee Lamb has a shot to pick up the slack). The bigger loss was the retirement of center Travis Frederick. He will be difficult to replace.

    Adding Andy Dalton as the backup QB provides a great insurance policy in case Prescott gets hurt.

    For these reasons, I envision a 2020 season where the offense does a similar job as 2019.

    Final call (2020 vs 2019): Stable

    3. Defensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

    3.1 Defensive Linemen (DLs)

    Maliek Collins graded as an average interior defender and he is gone to the sin city. Christian Covington played close to 50% of the snaps and was used a rotational lineman. He did okay, but nothing spectacular. He is also off the team.

    The Cowboys vastly improved the position by acquiring a couple of guys from Carolina: Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe.

    McCoy is riding an eight-year streak with at least five sacks. He turned 32 years old, but still graded as the number 30 DL out of 114.

    Meanwhile, Poe finished just two spots below McCoy in PFF’s rankings. Like McCoy, he is a pretty effective run stuffer.

    Those acquisitions will solidify the line tremendously. They are great gets.

    The team added depth via the draft by selecting Neville Gallimore. He is pretty fast for an interior lineman, which suits him well for tracking down running backs or scrambling QBs. However, his college production was unimpressive and he offers a lower ceiling considering he’s an older rookie. He’s projected to be a rotational player in the NFL.

    3.2 Defensive Ends (DEs) / Edge Rushers (ED)

    This position brings a few question marks.

    Demarcus Lawrence had a subpar year with 5 sacks. He had 10.5 and 14.5 the two previous years. However, he is a complete player and still finished at the #13 spot in PFF rankings among edge rushers. I am not worried about him, he should bounce back in 2020.

    The problem stems from the fact that three guys left the team. First, Robert Quinn will leave big shoes to fill. He racked up 11.5 sacks last year and has averaged 8.9 throughout his nine-year career.

    Michael Bennett seems unlikely to come back. He has said he would like to finish his career in Seattle. He recorded 4 sacks in 9 games, which isn’t bad at all.

    Finally, Dallas lost some depth when Kerry Hyder signed with the 49ers. Surprisingly, he finished 51st ouf of 107 edge rushers according to PFF.

    3.3 Linebackers (LBs)

    The Cowboys are set at linebacker. The whole group is back, especially Vander Esch who missed half the season because of an injury. His PFF grade dropped from 85.4 as a rookie to 58.6 as a sophomore. Hopefully, the neck issue won’t be a recurring injury.

    Jaylon Smith had an exceptional season and came close from finishing in the top 10 among NFL linebackers based on PFF grades. He had the sixth-most tackles in the league with 142. He is still young and the former Fighting Irish has a bright future ahead of him.

    Veteran Sean Lee is back for another season in Dallas! Strangely enough, 2019 was the first time in his career where he managed to play the whole season. He saw more action than anticipated because of Vander Esch’s injury and he filled in well. Still, we’re talking about a 34-year old guy that has struggled to stay healthy for his entire career.

    3.4 Cornerbacks (CBs)

    Chidobe Awuzie brings a lot of stability at this position. He’s a pretty reliable corner.

    Losing Byron Jones opposite of Awuzie will clearly hurt the team, though. He received nice marks from PFF and landed the most lucrative contract among all cornerbacks in the NFL from the Dolphins.

    The team signed Maurice Canady. He doesn’t seem to be the answer since he played five games with the Ravens before being waived, and then signed by the Jets a few weeks later.

    Next up we have Jourdan Lewis, who is more of a slot prospect. As for Anthony Brown, he lost starting slot duties before getting hurt. He still got rewarded with a $15.5 million contract for three years.

    Therefore, as of now it seems unclear who will play opposite of Awuzie as the number 2 corner. Another potential candidate is second-round rookie Trevon Diggs. He allowed a low 42% completion rate in coverage last season with Alabama.

    Diggs is a former receiver, so he has a good feel for what his opponent will do. He has a rare combo of size and strength, but his main weakness remains a tendency to grab and hold receivers who get past him (he hits the panic button too often).

    3.5 Safeties (S)

    Xavier Woods enjoyed a third pretty solid season. The sixth-round pick from the 2017 draft turned out to be a very nice late pick for the Cowboys.

    Dallas lost its other starting safety to free agency, as Jeff Heath chose to go with the Raiders. The Cowboys didn’t waste any time replacing him, as they got Ha Ha Clinton-Dix two days later. Overall, I believe that’s a bit of an upgrade. Clinton-Dix is a year and a half younger, and he’s a better player, even more so against the run. Also, he hasn’t missed a single game during his six-year career!

    2020 VS 2019 DEFENSE

    A big upgrade is likely to occur on the interior of the line with the additions of Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe. The safety situation was slightly improved by replacing Heath with Clinton-Dix.

    However, losing their best corner Byron Jones, as well as edge rushers Robert Quinn and Michael Bennett will have a big impact for sure.

    I was torn between calling it a “small” or “moderate” downgrade when comparing the 2019 to 2020 unit. I decided to go with a small one. The team allowed the 11th fewest points in the league, and I expect them to finish in the 13-17 range for the upcoming season.

    Final call (2020 vs 2019): Small downgrade

    4. Regular Season Wins

    According to sportsbooks, the Dallas Cowboys are expected to win 9.5 games this season. Should we bet the “over” or the “under”?

    I'll answer this question via two different methods.

    4.1 Professor MJ's Prediction

    I won't go into the mathematical details, but here is a summary of my own personal pick (based on my analysis above and my estimated spreads for the Cowboys' 16 games):

    OVER 9.5 WINS

    • Estimated Probability: 69%
    • Best Odds: -134 (DraftKings)
    • ROI: +20.6%

    UNDER 9.5 WINS

    • Estimated Probability: 31%
    • Best Odds: +145 (bwin)
    • ROI: -24.1%

    Tip: Bet OVER 9.5 wins

    4.2 Based on BetOnline's Point Spreads

    Here is the methodology I used here:

    • Use BetOnline.ag’s point spreads on all 256 regular season games.
    • Convert those point spreads into win probabilities.
    • Simulate each of the 256 games, according to those win probabilities, via the R statistical software.
    • Repeat the previous step one million times (you get 1M simulated seasons).
    • Count the proportion of seasons where the Vikings won more or less than 8.5 games.

    Here are the results:

    OVER 9.5 WINS

    • Estimated Probability: 52.1%
    • Best Odds: -134 (DraftKings)
    • ROI: -9.0%

    UNDER 9.5 WINS

    • Estimated Probability: 47.9%
    • Best Odds: +145 (bwin)
    • ROI: +17.4%

    Tip: Bet UNDER 9.5 wins

    In summary, my own analysis recommends betting the OVER, while BetOnline's point spreads suggest betting the UNDER.

    Here are BetOnline’s point spreads for the Cowboys’ 16 regular season games:

    • HOME: -6.5 vs ARI, -7 vs ATL, -4.5 vs CLE, -7.5 vs NYG, -2 vs PHI, -3 vs PIT, 0 vs SF, -11 vs WAS.
    • ROAD: +7 @ BAL, -5 @ CIN, -2.5 @ LAR, +2.5 @ MIN, -3 @ NYG, +2.5 @ PHI, +2.5 @ SEA, -6 @ WAS.

    Note: The “Best odds” from the table above were obtained after looking at 13 well-known online sportsbooks on May 18th, 2020.

    Tomorrow I'll preview the New York Giants (over or under 6.5 wins?)!

    Professor MJ

  6. 1. Introduction

    The 2019 season had mitigated success for the Vikings. They secured the #6 seed in the NFC before pulling a huge upset win in overtime in New Orleans. The offense completely stalled the following week in San Francisco, though.

    The franchise has not gone through a losing season in five years. Head coach Mike Zimmer has really done a good job.

    Can the team take a forward leap and make it further into the playoffs? The team has not made it to the Super Bowl since 1976.

    2. Offensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

    2.1 Quarterbacks (QBs)

    Kirk Cousins has received more criticism than praise since signing a huge contract with the Vikings a couple of years ago. Yet, the team posted an 18-13-1 record and Cousins has thrown 56 TD passes versus 16 interceptions. His completion rate has been excellent over those two years: 69.7% (among the best of his career).

    The reprimand concerned more the lack of playoff wins than the level of play itself. He cleared a hurdle by leading his team to a big playoff upset in New Orleans last season, thanks to a 4-year TD pass to Kyle Rudolph in overtime.

    However, he followed it up with a horrific performance in San Francisco. Don’t be misled by his 21-of-29 passes completed during the game. Minnesota flirted with the postseason record for fewest first downs in a game; they only got 7 and totaled 147 yards of offense.

    Still, based on PFF grades, 2019 was Cousins’ best career season. He ranked as the #6 QB in the league with an 84.1 mark.

    Sean Mannion will once again back up Cousins. He’s clearly not the best #2 quarterback in the league. Cousins has been extremely durable throughout his career, and the Vikes hope it stays that way.

    2.2 Running Backs (RBs)

    In my 2019 NFC North preview, I mentioned how I believed Dalvin Cook was one of the most underrated players in the league. He had only rushed for 354 and 615 yards in his first two seasons, but he had passed my eye test. I knew that, barring injuries, he would breakout as one of the top backs in the league.

    He did enjoy a nice 2020 season with 1,135 rushing yards and 519 receiving yards, while racking up 13 touchdowns.

    Two things raise some concerns about him, though. First, his lengthy injury history. He seems to get nicked up often.

    Secondly, his play tailed off quite a bit towards the end of the season. During the first eight games of the season, he rushed 156 times for 823 yards, which was good for a lofty 5.3 average. However, over his final six meetings (including the playoffs) he carried the ball 84 times for 256 yards, a meager 3.0 average.

    After being selected in the 3rd round of the draft out of Boise State, Alexander Mattison showed promise in his first year as a pro. He had 100 rushing attempts for 462 yards, a nice 4.6 yards-per-carry average. It will be interesting to see if he can carry the load if Cook goes down.

    2.3 Wide Receivers (WRs)

    The Vikings had one of the most talented WR duo in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. They caught 113 and 102 passes, respectively, during the 2018 season. Those figures regressed to 30 and 63 last year. Thielen only played 10 games, but he was still on pace for just 48 receptions.

    What was the problem? In 2018, Minnesota had the 6th-highest number of passing attempts. In 2019, that rank dropped to 30th !

    That being said, the team traded Diggs to Buffalo. He expressed frustration with Cousins and they didn’t seem to be on the same page.

    In order to compensate for that loss, GM Rick Spielman signed Tajae Sharpe, formerly of the Titans. He will fight for the #2 role opposite Thielen. The former fifth-rounder posted decent numbers in his first three years in the league. He used to be a starter, but his playing time got cut after Tennessee drafted A.J. Brown and signed Adam Humphries. Sharpe seems to be destined to be a #2 or #3 receiver in the NFL.

    The team also has high hopes for first-round rookie Justin Jefferson. He was very productive at LSU and he ranked second in 15+ yard receptions over the last two seasons (only Jerry Jeudy beat him). He wasn’t spectacular as an outside target, but he had a monster season playing in the slot last year. He’s great with contested catches and has a good shot to become an immediate starter.

    Bisi Johnson took advantage of Chad Beebe’s injury to grab the number three role last year. The 7th round rookie posted a 31-294-3 stat line, which was “okay”, but he seems like a long shot to become a true starter.

    The team finally pulled the plug on the failed Laquon Treadwell experiment. He’s been nothing short of a disappointment since being the #23 overall pick in the 2016 draft. He signed a contract with the Falcons in the offseason.

    2.4 Tight Ends (TEs)

    The Kyle Rudolph – Irv Smith combo is very solid.

    Both guys played all 16 games with Rudolph recording slightly better numbers. He hauled in 39 passes for 367 yards and 6 TDs, while Smith’s numbers were 36-311-2.

    Rudolph made some highlight reel catches, his most important one being the game-winning TD catch in overtime in New Orleans. Smith is expected to expand his role in the offense with one year of experience under his belt and Diggs off the team. He showed very nice potential despite the Vikings relying very often on the running game.

    2.5 Offensive Line (OL)

    This unit allowed the sixth-fewest sacks in the league, but that wasn’t necessarily a great accomplishment given the offense ran the ball so often.

    Overall, this is an average, or slightly above-average, offensive line. Here is a rundown of each starter’s PFF rankings:

    • Garrett Bradbury, 30th out of 37 centers;
    • Brian O’Neill, 33rd out of 81 tackles;
    • Riley Reiff, 38th out of 81 tackles;
    • Pat Elflein, 39th out of 81 guards;
    • Josh Kline, 26th out of 81 guards.

    Bradbury and O’Neill were the youngest guys as first- and second-year players. It’s worth noting that O’Neill definitely improved the quality of his play from year one to year two.

    Riley Reiff was a candidate for release considering his big contract, which is not in sync with his on-field performance. He’s clearly not among the top left tackles in the league.

    After an atrocious 2018 season, Pat Elflein did better last year. He is in his mid-twenties and should remain an adequate starter (albeit, not a great one).

    Josh Kline was let go by the Vikings, possibly because of cap reasons and the fact he was now on the wrong side of 30. Still, this is a bit of a surprising move given the team’s lack of depth.

    2019 fourth-round pick Dru Samia or career journeyman Dakota Dozier will be fighting for Kline’s spot.

    The Vikings selected a late riser in the second round of this year’s draft: Ezra Cleveland. He played over 95% of the snaps in three years with Boise State. He is mobile and very athletic. He seems like Riley Reiff’s heir apparent (who seems likely to be released next offseason).

    2020 VS 2019 OFFENSE

    The starting lineup remains fairly intact with 9-of-11 starters returning.

    The QB, RB and TE positions should provide similar production in 2020.

    The WR position took a hit with the loss of Stefon Diggs, a very dangerous playmaker. He was among the best in contested catches. Acquiring a borderline starter like Tajae Sharpe won’t be enough to replace him. Let’s hope rookie Justin Jefferson can have an impact right away.

    On the offensive line, Bradbury and O’Neill may take a leap given their young age. However, Josh Kline leaving the team is hardly good news.

    Accordingly, I expect Minnesota’s offense to fall a little bit.

    Offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski left the team to take over as Cleveland’s head coach, but the system will remain the same under new OC Gary Kubiak. The latter oversaw the offense from the coaches box last year, so the transition shouldn’t be too difficult.

    Last year, the Vikings offense scored the eight-most points in the league, and I predict this year’s ranking to lie between the 10th and 16th spot.

    Final call (2020 vs 2019): Small downgrade

    3. Defensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

    3.1 Defensive Linemen (DLs)

    The best interior defender for the Vikings was clearly Linval Joseph. Unfortunately, the cash-strapped Vikings had to release him.

    A few days later, Minnesota signed Michael Pierce. The former Raven performed at a very similar level as Joseph, but he is four years younger. The run-stuffing nose tackle’s acquisition has to be viewed as a bit of a positive for the Vikings defense.

    The other guys seeing time on the interior of the defensive line aren’t very good. Both Shamar Stephen and Jaleel Johnson finished way below-average according to the PFF grading system.

    3.2 Defensive Ends (DEs) / Edge Rushers (ED)

    The Vikings had one of the most fearsome DE duo with Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen. They racked up 14.5 and 8 sacks, respectively.

    Casual fans probably know who Danielle Hunter is. But they don’t realize how good he is; he doesn’t get enough credit, possibly due to playing in a smaller market.

    If you look at the numbers, he’s been a beast. Did you know he became the youngest player in NFL history to reach the 50-sack mark? He picked up 14.5 sacks in each of the past two years, and he has averaged 10.9 over his five-year career. The former LSU player was a steal in the 3rd round of the 2015 draft!

    Everson Griffen is getting older at 32 years old. At the time of writing, he has yet to sign with a team. He is very likely to find a suitor, but all signs point towards him leaving Minnesota. That will leave a void for sure.

    Griffen has averaged 8.8 sacks during the last eight seasons. He has spent his entire 10-year career with the Vikings and has missed very few games. He’s a true warrior.

    So, who will take Griffen’s spot? Stephen Weatherly was a key reserve for the team last year, but he left for Carolina. Is Ifeadi Odenigbo ready to pick up the slack? He came out of nowhere to record seven sacks last year!

    After being chosen in the 7th round of the 2017 draft, Odenigbo barely played any snaps in his first two seasons. I seriously doubt he can be the long-term answer and I believe last year’s seven sacks were an outlier.

    3.3 Linebackers (LBs)

    Eric Kendricks had one of the most improbable seasons last year. His PFF marks had varied between 59 and 69 since entering the league five years ago. Then, he earned a jaw-dropping 90.1 grade in 2019, which put him as the second-best linebacker in the entire league. He didn’t do much as a pass rusher, but he was great defending the run and covering people.

    Anthony Barr had a subpar year and finished as a below-average LB according to ProFootballFocus. He’s been a steady producer, but his grades have been all over the place during his six-year career. He received his second-lowest mark in 2019.

    Eric Wilson has been a reserve player since joining the league in 2017. He’ll likely have a similar role in the upcoming season. He did show adequate skills last year.

    3.4 Cornerbacks (CBs)

    Wow, a lot of shuffling has taken place with Minnesota’s secondary during the offseason.

    Both 2019 starters, Trae Waynes and Xavier Rhodes, are gone to other teams. And their primary slot corner, Mackensie Alexander, also signed with another squad. Ouch.

    Waynes never played at the level of a #11 overall pick, but he yielded steady play during his five-year stint with the Vikings. His PFF grades have been very consistent year-over-year, and he repeatedly finished slightly above-average among all CBs. He’s the guy the team will miss the most.

    Let’s face the reality: Xavier Rhodes was one of the worst corners in the league last year. His play took a big hit in 2018, and things got even worse in 2019. He really needed a chance of scenery; perhaps joining the Colts will rejuvenate his career.

    As for Mackensie Alexander, I feel like the team should have tried harder to keep him. His first two seasons were difficult after getting drafted in the 2nd round out of Clemson, but his last couple of years were much more promising. He could have rendered some valuable services to a team that had just lost its two starters.

    The door is now wide open for 2018 first-rounder Mike Hughes. The jury is still out on whether he can assume a starting role in the NFL, but I guess we’ll find out very soon.

    The Vikings decided to address the glaring hole at the position by selecting Jeff Gladney with the 31st overall pick in this year’s draft. Gladney is a sound tackler and a good blitzer too.

    He was a four-year starter out of TCU, where he was one of just two players with at least 15 passes defended in each of the past two years. However, he has a lengthy injury history.

    3.5 Safeties (S)

    Harrison Smith is a perennial All-Pro safety. He’s been racking up tackles and interceptions throughout his eight-year tenure in the NFL. Averaging close to 3 picks per season over such a long span is impressive.

    Talk about defying the odds. Anthony Harris went undrafted five years ago. Fast-forward to today, and he’s received 89.0 and 91.1 grades from PFF the last two seasons. He finished as the top safety in the NFL out of 87 qualifiers.

    In other words, the Vikings may have the best safety duo in the NFL. The only bad news is they lost depth when both Andrew Sendejo and Jayron Kearse left via free agency.

    2020 VS 2019 DEFENSE

    Replacing Linval Joseph with Michael Pierce is a small gain for this Vikings defense, in my opinion. That’s about it for the good news for this unit.

    Stud pass rusher Everson Griffen seems destined to leave the team, and one of their main backups, Stephen Weatherly signed with the Panthers.

    At linebacker, I don’t mean to be a party pooper, but Kendricks is very unlikely to match his 2019 performance. He had been an average LB for four years; I doubt the switch suddenly went on and that he will keep being a top 5 linebacker in the NFL.

    Last year’s top three CBs are gone, as well as two backups at the safety position. As of now, the team hasn’t signed any free agent to replace them. This is not a surprise, considering the bad cap situation the team is in. They drafted a few guys, including Jeff Gladney late in the first round, but their impact remains to be seen.

    Many new faces on defense, plus a drop in talent invariably equals a big downgrade. The team allowed the fifth-fewest points in the league last year; they’ll be lucky if they finish above-average in 2020.

    Final call (2020 vs 2019): Big downgrade

    4. Regular Season Wins

    According to sportsbooks, the Minnesota Vikings are expected to win 8.5 games this season. Should we bet the “over” or the “under”?

    I'll answer this question via two different methods.

    4.1 Professor MJ's Prediction

    I won't go into the mathematical details, but here is a summary of my own personal pick (based on my analysis above and my estimated spreads for the Vikings' 16 games):

    OVER 8.5 WINS
    Estimated Probability: 72%
    Best Odds: -121 (DraftKings)
    ROI: +31.5%

    UNDER 8.5 WINS
    Estimated Probability: 28%
    Best Odds: +139 (Pinnacle)
    ROI: -33.1%

    Tip: Bet OVER 8.5 wins

    4.2 Based on BetOnline's Point Spreads

    Here is the methodology I used here:

    • Use BetOnline.ag’s point spreads on all 256 regular season games.
    • Convert those point spreads into win probabilities.
    • Simulate each of the 256 games, according to those win probabilities, via the R statistical software.
    • Repeat the previous step one million times (you get 1M simulated seasons).
    • Count the proportion of seasons where the Vikings won more or less than 8.5 games.

    Here are the results:

    OVER 8.5 WINS
    Estimated Probability: 63.1%
    Best Odds: -121 (DraftKings)
    ROI: +15.2%

    UNDER 8.5 WINS
    Estimated Probability: 36.9%
    Best Odds: +139 (Pinnacle)
    ROI: -11.8%

    Tip: Bet OVER 8.5 wins

    Here are BetOnline’s point spreads for the Vikings’ 16 regular season games:

    • HOME: -6 vs ATL, -9 vs CAR, -4 vs CHI, -2.5 vs DAL, -7 vs DET, -3 vs GB, -11.5 vs JAX, -3.5 vs TEN.
    • ROAD: 0 @ CHI, -2 @ DET, +3 @ GB, 0 @ HOU, +2 @ IND, +5.5 @ NO, +3 @ SEA, +3 @ TB.

    Note: The “Best odds” from the table above were obtained after looking at 13 well-known online sportsbooks on May 18th, 2020.

    Tomorrow I'll preview the Dallas Cowboys!

    Professor MJ

  7. 1. Introduction

    This franchise has been struggling quite a bit since 2008, except for the 2017 season where they rode a stout defense all the way to the AFC Championship Game. During this 12-year time span, the Jaguars have compiled a 63-129 record, which equates to a mediocre 32.8% winning percentage.

    What puzzling is the team does not seem to have a sound plan in place. From looking at their roster, there does not seem to be much hope for short-term, nor long-term success.

    2. Offensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

    2.1 Quarterbacks (QBs)

    The million-dollar question is whether Gardner Minshew is a starting NFL-caliber quarterback or not.

    Minshew clearly exceeded expectations that you would normally have for a rookie sixth-round pick. He threw 21 TD passes versus just six interceptions, while racking up 3,271 passing yards and 344 more yards on the ground. His 60.6% completion rate wasn’t great, though.

    All in all, he showed nice flashes, but was inconsistent at times. He did develop a nice rapport with second-year receiver D.J. Chark.

    You can tell that the organization is not 100% sold on him. There were strong rumors that the franchise had a lot of interest in Andy Dalton when the Bengals released him. However, he signed with the Cowboys.

    The backup QB role will be settled through a battle in training camp between Joshua Dobbs and Jake Luton.

    Dobbs was acquired via a trade with the Steelers after Nick Foles went down to an injury in the season opener. He was drafted in the 4th round of the 2017 draft out of Tennessee. He has attempted 12 passes in three years.

    As for Luton, the Jags took him in the sixth round in this year’s draft. He played his college ball at Oregon State, where he mostly played the role of a game manager. He repeatedly completed short passes and he completed a very low percentage of his throws under pressure.

    2.2 Running Backs (RBs)

    Leonard Fournette was on the trading block, but the Jags weren’t able to find any suitors. His career got off to a fast start with 1,040 rushing yards, 302 receiving yards and 10 total TDs as a rookie in 2017.

    However, things didn’t go too well for him as a sophomore. His 2018 season was shortened due to an injury and he averaged a dreadful 3.3 yards per rush.

    Last year, he had season-highs in rushing yards (1,152), yards-per-rush average (4.3) and receptions (76). The only problem was that he reached the end zone on only three occasions. For the first time of his career, he stayed relatively healthy by playing 15 games.

    Fournette does not seem like a good three-down back. He is probably best suited as a power back in a committee-approach in the backfield.

    The number two runner last year was Ryquell Armstead. He was a rookie fifth-rounder who had received just 34 touches prior to the season finale. He filled in as the starting RB in Week #17, a game in which he rushed 10 times for 33 yards, while catching 5 passes for 52 yards. He finished the season with a mediocre 3.1 yards per carry average.

    I really like how the team addressed the lack of depth at the position by signing free agent Chris Thompson, who played the first seven years of his pro career with the Reskins. I really liked him early in his career, as he showed great flashes and big-play ability both as a runner and as a receiver. He was a great change-of-pace back.

    However, his production on the ground has dipped many years in a row. Take a look at his yards per carry average since 2015: 6.2, 5.2, 4.6, 4.1 and 3.7. At least his pass catching output has remained consistent, hauling in between 35 and 49 passes in each of those seasons.

    In my own humble opinion, he’s an underrated player who has a chance to revive his career. He’s 29 years old, but he has plenty of gas left in the tank considering the relatively small number of career touches. He has a good burst and nice playing experience. He will be reuniting with OC Jay Gruden who was his head coach in Washington.

    2.3 Wide Receivers (WRs)

    D.J. Chark was the go-to guy in the passing game last year. He really blossomed in his second year after catching just 14 passes as a rookie. In 2019, he posted a nice 73-1008-8 receiving line. He is pretty fast for a 6’4’’ guy. He stumbled a little bit down the stretch, but he was slowed by an ankle injury.

    Starting opposite Chark was Chris Conley. It’s unclear yet whether he can be a good No. 2 WR, but he had a good first season in Jacksonville after spending four years with the Chiefs. He set career marks in receptions (47), receiving yards (775) and 5 TD catches. His 16.5 yards per catch average was very solid.

    Conley is likely to fight with rookie Laviska Shenault for some playing time. Shenault was used in a variety of fashions with the Buffalos. Head coach Doug Marrone said he might also use him in the backfield or as the F tight end. Shenault has been plagued with injuries, so we’ll see how the team uses him if he can stay on the field.

    The starting slot receiver, Dede Westbrook, underwhelmed a little bit last year. His receiving yards and TDs regressed. His 10.0 yards per catch average was fairly disappointing as well. He is still a decent weapon, though.

    Keelan Cole’s time in the NFL could very well be running out. He burst onto the scene as a rookie undrafted free agent in 2017 with 42 catches for 748 yards and 3 TDs. Things have gone in a downward spiral since then. He reeled in just 24 grabs last year and finds himself on the outside looking in, especially after the team drafted Shenault.

    2.4 Tight Ends (TEs)

    James O’Shaughnessy led all Jags tight ends with 14 receptions, despite playing just five games. It seems fair to affirm the position underperformed in 2019.

    If you project O’Shaughnessy’s numbers into a full 16-game season, you would obtain a 45-490-6.4 receiving line, which isn’t bad. He was on pace for his best season before tearing his ACL. Can he really become a starting TE in this league, considering he has never caught more than 24 passes in any of his first five years?

    The most likely starter is Tyler Eifert, who signed a two-year contract with Jacksonville after a seven-year career that has been marred with injuries in Cincinnati. He showed great flashes, especially in 2015 where he scored 13 TDs on 52 grabs. In the following three years, he has played 14 games and he has missed 34 of them. Unreal!

    For the very first time of his career, he played all 16 bouts last year. His workload was reduced, though. He is a big question mark that could either be a boom or a bust in 2020.

    Seth DeValve and Nick O’Leary both left via free agency, but they didn’t play a big role last year anyway.

    How does second-year man Josh Olivier fit in? He was taken early in the 3rd round of the 2019 draft out of San Jose State. He only caught three passes in four games and struggled to make his mark in limited time.

    2.5 Offensive Line (OL)

    Brandon Linder is a much underrated center in this league. He does not get much publicity playing in a small market like Jacksonville, but he has done a phenomenal job at the pivot for six consecutive years for the Jags. Last year’s 75.3 PFF grade was his worst of the past four seasons, and yet he graded as the fifth-best center in the league!

    Minshew’s blindside protector is Cam Robinson. That’s not necessarily good news for the signal caller. Robinson has been among the most terrible tackles in the NFL since he was drafted in the second round of the 2017 draft.

    At the other end of the offensive line, at right tackle, the starter is Jawaan Taylor. He enjoyed a respectable rookie season by finishing 50th out of 81 tackles last year. He slid out of the first round and was a good value pick for the Jaguars during the 2019 draft.

    Left guard Andrew Norwell came out of nowhere and played great in four seasons with the Panthers as an undrafted free agent out of Ohio State. Indeed, his PFF marks during this time frame lied between 73.6 and 81.1, which is well above average. He then signed a hefty contract with the Jags, and his PFF grades dropped to 69.3 in 2018 and 65.5 last year. His pass blocking is very efficient, but he has more trouble opening holes for the running game.

    Right guard A.J. Cann is another guy whose career is going south. He showed promise in his first two seasons as a pro, but has regressed big time in the last three years. Last year, he graded out as the number 60 guard out of 81 qualifiers.

    Will Richardson is ready to step in if an offensive lineman gets hurt. He missed his entire rookie season with a knee injury and was horrendous in spot duties last year.

    2020 VS 2019 OFFENSE

    The Jags scored the 26th most points in the league last year. Can we expect an improvement in the upcoming season?

    The starters remain the same, except at tight end where the team upgraded with the acquisition of Tyler Eifert. Can the often-injured big fellow stay healthy for the second year in a row?

    The team added depth with running back Chris Thompson and rookie WR Laviska Shenault. Both could provide a boost to a suspect offense. The whole receiving corps is pretty young and likely to improve.

    The entire OL is back, which is good for continuity reasons. Some studies have shown that continuity is a key factor to an offensive line’s success. LT Cam Robinson and RG A.J. Cann are a source of concern, though.

    An offense often goes as far as his quarterback takes them. In Jacksonville, that’s a big question mark.

    Will Gardner Minshew grow in his second year? As a former sixth-round pick, that’s not a gimme. The depth at the position is worrisome as well after Nick Foles left for Chicago, leaving Joshua Dobbs and Jake Luton as the lone alternatives (unless GM Dave Caldwell signs a veteran before the season kicks off).

    On paper, I would normally tag this group as a small upgrade over 2019. However, I find it difficult to project them to finish much higher than last year’s 26th rank. If Minshew goes down, things will get even uglier (again, unless the Jags add another QB).

    Final call (2020 vs 2019): Stable

    3. Defensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

    3.1 Defensive Linemen (DLs)

    Abry Jones played the most snaps on the interior of the line last year, and he wasn’t great. He graded out as the 82nd DL out of 114 qualifiers based on PFF rankings. He had a subpar season, receiving a 60.1 mark after getting over 70 in each of his previous three seasons. The undrafted alumni from the Georgia Bulldogs has spent his entire seven-year career with the Jags.

    Taven Bryan was pretty solid against the run last year. The 2018 first-rounder has only picked up three sacks in his two years as a pro, but he’s an efficient run-plugger.

    Marcell Dareus played just six games last year; he underwent core muscle surgery during the offseason. He has yet to sign with any team; Jacksonville GM Dave Caldwell is open to bringing him back if they can agree on a deal. Dareus posted 28.5 sacks in his first four seasons in the NFL compared to just nine over the last five years! He has always been a very good run-stopping force, but even this aspect of the game dipped last year. He would be playing his age-31 campaign.

    The team signed former Cardinal Rodney Gunter to a three year deal. His PFF grades have been very consistent year-over-year; he regularly finishes in the middle of the pack among all interior defenders.

    The Cards also acquired Al Woods via free agency. The 33-year-old is an above average player defending the run, but only has 4.5 sacks in 10 years. He is projected to be a rotational player in this defense.

    Another guy who is likely to be a reserve player is rookie Davon Hamilton, who was taken early in the third round last April. He will be groomed for a starting defensive tackle job in 2021. He is extremely strong, but needs to improve his burst in order to become a disruptive force in the big league.

    3.2 Defensive Ends (DEs) / Edge Rushers (ED)

    Ouch. This group took a big hit during the offseason.

    First, stud DE Calais Campbell was traded to Baltimore in return of a fifth-round pick (!!!). This was clearly a cap-clearing move since Campbell finished as the second-best edge defender in the whole league last year, based on the PFF rating system. He has averaged 8 sacks in the last 11 years, which is quite impressive. He is known for his pass rushing skills, but he was an awesome run defender. A big loss for the Jags.

    Yannick Ngakoue has demanded a trade and has been fighting publicly via Twitter with co-owner Tony Khan. No deal has been done yet. It seems unlikely he will be in a Jaguars uniform again. Ngakoue is in his prime years and has recorded 37.5 sacks in four years as a pro. Another big blow to this defense.

    Josh Allen’s rookie season was a success. He led the team with 10.5 sacks. He could improve against the running game and in coverage, though. Overall, he obtained the number 48 rank out of 107 edge defenders.

    Things weren’t as pretty for Dawuane Smoot last year. Sure, he racked up six sacks, but he graded out as the worst edge defender in the NFL. One of the main reasons was his abysmal run defense performance.

    With the 20th overall pick, the Jags selected K’Lavon Chaisson out of LSU. He’s a great pass rusher with elite burst. He still needs development due to his young age, but his raw talent is impressive. A good get for Jacksonville.

    The team also acquired Cassius Marsh, formerly of the Cardinals. Don’t hold your breath hoping he’ll be a star. This is his fifth team in seven years and he has never received very good PFF grades in his career.

    3.3 Linebackers (LBs)

    The Jaguars had a putrid linebacking corps last year, and it does not bode very well for 2020 either.

    Sure, they signed Joe Schobert away from Cleveland, who has stuffed the score sheet with at last 100 tackles in each of the past three years. He also plays all downs, but his run defense is suspect. He grades out as an average LB in the NFL.

    Myles Jack’s career is not going in the right direction. His PFF grades have deteriorated in each of the past three seasons, going from 79.2 in 2017, down to 68.1 in 2018 before plummeting to 46.1 last year. Following the signing of Schobert, he will slide to outside linebacker, a move that he is excited about. The young former second-rounder is primed for a bounce back year.

    Quincy Williams had an awful rookie season. The 2019 third-round pick was amongt the worst LBs in the league. So was his teammate Donald Payne. 31-year-old Najee Goode isn’t a viable solution either.

    Jacksonville claimed Preston Brown off waivers late last year after getting depleted by injuries at the position. He has not been good in any of his six years in the NFL, so why would it change in 2020?

    Perhaps Leon Jacobs can provide adequate play? He was taken in the 7th round of the 2018 draft, but he has surprised with strong play as a tackler in limited time. He played just 31% of the snaps last year, but we’ll see if the team gives him a heavier workload in 2020.

    3.4 Cornerbacks (CBs)

    Jacksonville made another cap-related trade by getting rid of their No. 1 corner, A.J. Bouye. He had a surprisingly bad 2019 season and he will be looking to rejuvenate his career in Denver.

    In order to compensate for the loss, the Jags took C.J. Henderson with the 8th overall pick in this year’s draft. He is at his best when shadowing the opposing team’s top receiver. He has outstanding athleticism, but his play took a step backward last year.

    A potential starter opposite Henderson is newly acquired Rashaan Melvin, formerly of the Lions. He played every down in the 13 games he played last year. He is great against the run, but struggles in coverage. Overall, he is clearly a below average corner who is joining a 6th team in seven years.

    Let’s not discard Tre Herndon too soon. He played 86% of the snaps last year and picked off three passes last year. He received equally poor PFF grades as Melvin, though.

    D.J. Hayden is the favorite to land starting slot corner duties. After five very ordinary seasons in Oakland and Detroit, he has elevated his game a lot since suiting up with the Jaguars. PFF rated him the 11th-best CB in the league last year, his second straight solid season.

    Fourth-round rookie Josiah Scott might push Hayden for the slot man job, but he is unlikely to supplant him at the moment. He could become the starter next year if Hayden leaves via free agency.

    3.5 Safeties (S)

    This is the lone position on defense where no changes were made during the offseason. Finally some stability!

    Jarrod Wilson was undrafted coming out of Michigan. His snap count increased big time last year; after playing 30 snaps in 2016, 89 snaps in 2017 and 222 snaps in 2018, he saw the field on over 1,000 snaps last season. He responded very well by grading out as the number 25 safety out of 87 players. A very nice story. He has done a nice job in coverage throughout his career.

    The other starting safety is Ronnie Harrison. The 2018 third-round pick out of Alabama received a 61.1 PFF grade as a rookie before receiving a 60.9 mark last year. That put him as the 67th-best safety. There is not much hope he will develop into an upper tier safety in this league.

    Harrison missed two games due to injuries; in those contests, Andrew Wingard stepped in to replace him, but he wasn’t very effective. The undrafted prospect out of Wyoming is more of a reserve player.

    2020 VS 2019 DEFENSE

    The linebacking corps received an upgrade after signing Joe Schobert; he will become the team’s MLB right away. The interior of the line was slightly improved by adding Al Woods and Rodney Gunter, while losing Marcell Dareus who only played six games last year anyway.

    The defense suffered a big hit with the departures of three star players: Calais Campbell, A.J. Bouye and most likely Yannick Ngakoue (although his situation is still up in the air). Drafting K’Lavon Chaisson and C.J. Henderson was smart, but you cannot ask them to fill such big shoes in their rookie season.

    At safety, Ronnie Harrison is a perennial below average player, while Jarrod Wilson did a very fine job last year. He’s an unproven guy and I’m worried he might regress significantly this season.

    For these reasons, I expect a moderate downgrade for the Jaguars defense in 2020.

    Final call (2020 vs 2019): Moderate downgrade

    4. Regular Season Wins

    According to sportsbooks, the Jacksonville Jaguars are expected to win 5 games this season. Should we bet the “over” or the “under”?

    I'll answer this question via two different methods.

    4.1 Professor MJ's Prediction

    I won't go into the mathematical details, but here is a summary of my own personal pick (based on my analysis above and my estimated spreads for the Jags' 16 games):

    OVER 5 WINS

    • Estimated Probability: 35%
    • Best Odds: +154 (Pinnacle)
    • ROI: -11.2%

    UNDER 5 WINS

    • Estimated Probability: 65%
    • Best Odds: -115 (10Bet)
    • ROI: +21.6%

    Tip: Bet UNDER 5 wins

    4.2 Based on BetOnline's Point Spreads

    Here is the methodology I used here:

    • Use BetOnline.ag’s point spreads on all 256 regular season games.
    • Convert those point spreads into win probabilities.
    • Simulate each of the 256 games, according to those win probabilities, via the R statistical software.
    • Repeat the previous step one million times (you get 1M simulated seasons).
    • Count the proportion of seasons where the Jaguars won more or less than 5 games.

    Here are the results:

    OVER 5 WINS

    • Estimated Probability: 38.4%
    • Best Odds: +154 (Pinnacle)
    • ROI: -2.5%

    UNDER 5 WINS

    • Estimated Probability: 61.6%
    • Best Odds: -115 (10Bet)
    • ROI: +15.2%

    Tip: Bet UNDER 5 wins (18th-highest ROI out of 32 teams)

    For your information, here are BetOnline’s point spreads for the Jags’ 16 regular season games:

    • HOME: -1 vs CHI, -1 vs CLE, +1.5 vs DET, +3 vs HOU, +6.5 vs IND, 0 vs MIA, +6 vs PIT, +3.5 vs TEN.
    • ROAD: +16.5 @ BAL, +3.5 @ CIN, +11.5 @ GB, +9 @ HOU, +10.5 @ IND, +7 @ LAC, +11.5 @ MIN, +11 @ TEN.

    Note: The “Best odds” from the table above were obtained after looking at 13 well-known online sportsbooks on May 18th, 2020.

    Thanks for reading my 32 NFL team previews!

    Professor MJ

  8. 1. Introduction

    The Eagles have been a good model of consistency. Over the past 20 years, they have had just four losing seasons.

    It wasn’t always pretty, but Philly managed to secure the NFC East title with a 9-7 record last year. They closed out the regular season with a four-game winning streak to edge the Cowboys atop the division.

    Unfortunately, Carson Wentz exited the wildcard playoff game early and the team couldn’t overcome his absence in a 17-9 home loss to the Seahawks.

    2. Offensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

    2.1 Quarterbacks (QBs)

    Carson Wentz needs to be applauded for his 2019 performance.

    He had to deal with numerous injuries to his receiving corps and yet, he led the team to a playoff spot and he finished with a career-high in passing yards with 4,039. He threw 27 TD passes versus 7 interceptions, while playing all 16 games for the first time since his rookie season in 2016.

    In the season finale, his top targets were Boston Scott, Dallas Goedert, Josh Perkins, Deontay Burnett and Greg Ward. Outside of Goedert, none is an established starter in the NFL. The Eagles still secured the NFC East title with a 34-17 road win in New York.

    Philadelphia selected Jalen Hurts late in the second round of this year’s draft. He transferred from Alabama to Oklahoma for his senior year since Tua Tagovailoa was projected to be the starter. Hurst was actually replacing Kyler Murray who had just been taken as the number one overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft by the Cards.

    Hurts did not disappoint in his lone season with the Sooners. He completed 237-of-340 passes (69.7%) with 3,851 passing yards, along with 32 TD passes and eight interceptions. He also rushed for 1,298 yards with 20 TDs on the ground!

    His weaknesses are an average accuracy, inconsistent decision-making and a tendency to take off as a runner too often (sometimes when a receiver was open). He is likely to be used as a gadget player by Doug Pederson this year.

    Nate Sudfeld will compete for the backup job. He missed the entire 2019 season due to a wrist injury he suffered during preseason. He was a sixth-round pick out of Indiana in the 2016 draft. He has attempted just 25 passes in the NFL in four years, so it’s hard to tell what to expect from him.

    2.2 Running Backs (RBs)

    Miles Sanders’ rookie season was a resounding success. He led all rookies with 1,327 yards from scrimmage.

    He carried a heavier workload as the season went on. During the first eight games, he averaged 8.3 carries per game, as opposed to 14.1 over the last nine contests (including the playoff loss to the Seahawks).

    Jordan Howard’s injury at midseason contributed to the increased usage of Sanders in the backfield. With Howard gone to Miami, the sky’s the limit for second-round pick out of Penn State.

    Darren Sproles retired and Jay Ajayi was waived. That leaves the door wide open for third-year man Boston Scott. He flashed big time last year and unquestionably passed my eye test. The 5’6’’ back is very explosive.

    Scott made a name for himself in Week #17 as he had to step in for Sanders who sprained an ankle in the first quarter against the Giants. Scott went on to rack up 138 total yards and three touchdowns.

    2.3 Wide Receivers (WRs)

    This unit was decimated by injuries last year. DeSean Jackson pretty much played just one game, while Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor missed six and five games, respectively.

    Despite playing under his age-32 campaign, Jackson showed he still has field-stretching abilities in his lone meeting last year. He was spectacular with 8 catches for 154 yards and a couple of scores. He hasn’t played a full 16-game season very often in his career though.

    Jeffery is another aging receiver coming off a significant injury. He underwent Lisfranc surgery, which requires a long rehab period. He’s questionable for the start of training camp.

    Since two outstanding seasons in 2013 and 2014 with the Bears, Jeffery has missed four games per year on average, while showing signs of slowing down on the field as well. His 11.4 yards-per-catch average last year was a career low.

    To be honest, I feel like Jeffery’s time in the league is coming to an end soon. Lisfranc injuries can be tricky for wide receivers, and full recovery is even more difficult for guys above 30 years of age.

    Nelson Agholor was a younger WR who could have provided adequate depth, but he signed with the Raiders. The former first-rounder has not lived up to expectations, but he was still a decent pass catcher, albeit his drops were a big issue last year. Maybe a change of scenery will help rejuvenate his career.

    Philly drafted Jalen Reagor with the #11 pick overall last April. He’s a smallish deep threat who is at his best on straight routes. He was good with contested catches, but will it still be the case in the NFL given his size? That’s a big question mark.

    Reagor opened a lot of eyes by scoring eight touchdowns as a freshman with TCU after being a high recruit out of high school. He followed up with a great 72-1061-9 receiving line as a sophomore.

    Reagor’s numbers dropped quite a bit as a junior (43-611-5), but you can attribute that to having a freshman QB at the helm. He’s an electrifying player who can take it to the house every time he touches the ball.

    The competition for the number three role is also likely to involve Greg Ward and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. These two guys have had completely different paths before making it to the NFL.

    Ward went undrafted before joining the AAF. He eventually was added to the Eagles’ practice squad, and later on promoted to the 53-man roster until a depleted receiving corps forced him onto the field.

    Meanwhile, Arcega-Whiteside had more of a “conventional” journey by being drafted in the second-round of the 2019 draft.

    Such resumes would suggest Arcega-Whiteside would be the superior wideout, but that’s not what we saw on the field. He only caught 10-of-22 targets for a disappointing 45% catch rate. He was rarely targeted down the stretch, despite the numerous injuries at the position.

    On the other hand, Ward filled in admirably late in the season. Over the final four meetings, including the playoff game, he caught 20-of-25 targets (an 80% catch rate). He clearly deserves a shot as a top reserve for the upcoming season.

    2.4 Tight Ends (TEs)

    The Eagles have a nice duo at the tight end position with Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert.

    Ertz is a true warrior. He hasn’t missed more than two games in each of his first seven season in the league. Last year, he played with two rib fractures one week after lacerating his kidney. Talk about a tough guy.

    His numbers are also staggering. His lowest figures in terms of receptions and receiving yards over the past five years are 74 and 816. That’s truly remarkable! Please note that he’ll be turning 30 years old during the season.

    Just like Ertz, Goedert is also a former second-rounder. However, he is four years younger. He caught 58 passes for 607 yards and 5 TDs, all career-highs. He was targeted 4 times per game on average before the team’s bye week versus an average of 7.9 for the remainder of the year. Granted, injuries to other targets probably boosted his numbers, but he still developed nice chemistry with Wentz.

    2.5 Offensive Line (OL)

    The Eagles have a heck of an offensive line.

    You cannot blame Jason Kelce for anything over the past five years. He hasn’t missed any start, while consistently being one of the top centers in the league. As a matter of fact, he was rated as the #1 center in the NFL according to PFF grades last year. He’s now 32 years old.

    Left tackle Jason Peters has been just as good as Kelce. He was nominated to nine Pro Bowls in his career and he finished as the number 6 tackle in the league with his 83.4 PFF mark. Unfortunately, the team decided to let the 38-year old hit the free agency market.

    Peters will be replaced with 2019 first-round pick, Andre Dillard. Is he ready to take on the full-time job? It remains to be seen, but it will be difficult to fill Peters’ shoes.

    As for Lane Johnson, the right tackle finished as the 3rd-best tackle in the league based on the PFF grading system. He’s been very good throughout his seven-year career; the former #4 overall pick has not disappointed at all!

    Brandon Brooks also had a huge 2019 season! He ended the year as the top guard in the NFL with a jaw-dropping 92.9 PFF mark. Much like Lane Johnson, Brooks is another player above 30 years old who’s been reliable his entire career.

    Left guard Isaac Seumalo started all 16 games for the first time of his career. He’s the one that received the lowest grades on this OL, but finishing 17th out of 81 guards is nothing to be ashamed of! The former third-round pick from the 2016 draft is not as talented as his colleagues, but you could do worse than having him as one of your starters.

    The team lost good depth with the departure of Halapoulivaati Vaitai to Detroit. The 2019 season was clearly his best year; it would have been nice to retain him but he signed a huge contract with the Lions.

    2020 VS 2019 OFFENSE

    When comparing the upcoming 2020 season with last year, there are some positives and some negatives.

    Let’s discuss the negative stuff first. I do expect a downgrade on the offensive line. They played at an extremely high level last year with four guys finishing among the 6 players at their respective position (based on PFF rankings). That’s unlikely to happen again, especially with three linemen aged 30 years or above.

    Also, second-year man Andre Dillard has good potential, but it will be difficult to match Jason Peters’ 2019 performance. I do expect a drop-off here.

    At quarterback and tight end, the situation remains stable.

    At the running back position, losing Jordan Howard to free agency won’t hurt too much with the emergence of electrifying Boston Scott. Also, Miles Sanders is expected to take a leap in his sophomore season.

    Finally, how could you not expect better production from the WR group? They were hit by the injury bug a lot last year. Agholor’s departure is a moderate blow; getting DeSean Jackson back is a bonus! Hopefully, speedy rookie Jalen Reagor can provide a spark to an offense that sorely missed game breakers last year.

    The Eagles offense scored the 12th-highest number of points last year. My final conclusion, based on the arguments above, is that I expect similar production in 2020.

    Final call (2020 vs 2019): Stable

    3. Defensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

    3.1 Defensive Linemen (DLs)

    Fletcher Cox is an animal. Plain and simple.

    Despite posting his second-lowest sack output of his illustrious eight-year career, he still graded as the 4th-best interior defenders in the NFL based on PFF rankings. On average, he has recorded 6 sacks per year (he only got 3.5 last year)

    He has also been very durable; he’s missed just three games out 128. He still has good years to come at age 29.

    Tim Jernigan was a decent starter next to Cox, but he clearly wasn’t needed on the team anymore after the Eagles signed stud DT Javon Hargrave. The former Steeler showed steady improvement in each of his first four years in the NFL. His 83.4 PFF mark last year put him in the 8th spot out of 114 DLs.

    With Hargrave entering his prime years and Fletcher Cox being a perennial beast, good luck running the ball inside the tackles against the Eagles in 2020.

    After playing three years in Indy, Hassan Ridgeway had a below-average season in his first year with the Eagles. He’s more of a rotational player, whom you hope won’t be needed as a starter.

    3.2 Defensive Ends (DEs) / Edge Rushers (ED)

    Brandon Graham is 32 years old, but he refuses to slow down. He led the team with 8.5 sacks last year, and he has averaged six sacks over an eight-year period!

    The guy also finds a way to stay on the field. Can you believe he has missed a single game in eight years! He’s been consistently good and remains a force, both against the run and rushing the passer.

    Derek Barnett is a former first-rounder coming off a career-high in sacks with 6.5. However, his 2019 PFF grade was the lowest of his three-year stint in the NFL and he finished as the number 83 edge defender out of 107 qualifiers. He’s an “okay” player.

    Vinny Curry played 38% of the snaps last year, but it does not appear like he will be back with the team. At the time of writing, he was still a free agent. He did pick up five sacks last year, but teams seem reluctant to sign him because he’ll be playing his age-32 campaign. He actually played pretty well when called upon.

    With Curry gone, the team must hope Josh Sweat will elevate his game. The 2018 fourth-round selection posted his first four sacks of his career last year, but his 62.5 overall PFF mark ranked him as the 76th-best edge defender out of 107 guys.

    3.3 Linebackers (LBs)

    After playing four years in Buffalo and four years in Philly, Nigel Bradham was cut by the Eagles, mainly for cap reasons. He provided average play at the LB position; he was good in coverage, but he was a liability defending the run.

    The team also lost Kamu Grugier-Hill, who signed with the Dolphins. You could characterize him as a decent player, albeit far from being great.

    That leaves the team pretty thin at the position.

    Nathan Gerry is the lone 2019 starter that is still with the team. He ranked as the 34th-best linebacker out of 89 players. He does not offer much upside, though. It would be stunning to see him crack the top 25 someday.

    Can Duke Riley and/or T.J Edwards crack the starting lineup? Neither seem to be an up-and-coming star. Riley was acquired for peanuts prior to last year and he played 35 snaps. As for Edwards, he was an undrafted rookie out of Wisconsin that did well in limited time last year. He proved to be stout against the run.

    3.4 Cornerbacks (CBs)

    Philly’s back end has been revamped for the upcoming 2020 season.

    The Eagles signed one of the best slot corners in the league: Nickell Robey-Coleman. He has received consistently good grades from ProFootballFocus over the past four years. At 5’8’’ he is pretty small, but you couldn’t tell from the quality of his game. He’s a nice addition.

    Philly also acquired Darius “Big Play” Slay, who played the first seven years of his career with the Lions. He had a down year in 2019, but I’m not worried he can rebound in a new environment. He’s been covering opponent’s top receivers for a while in this league, and he’s done a good job at it. He has 19 career interceptions.

    Ronald Darby’s career has been plagued with injuries recently and he was let go during the offseason. His PFF grade took an enormous drop last year, all the way from a respectable 70.6 in 2018 down to an abysmal 44.8 last year. He signed a one-year deal with the Redskins.

    Rasul Douglas and Avonte Maddox are still on the team, but neither has proven to be an impactful contributor. Both graded as very below-average corners in 2019.

    3.5 Safeties (S)

    Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod both played the entire 2019 season. They ranked as the 32nd- and 52nd-best out of a bunch of 87 safeties.

    The organization and Jenkins couldn’t agree on a deal, so the Eagles had to let him go after six very successful seasons. He picked off 11 passes during his six-year stint in Philly. He signed with the Saints, with which he spent the first five seasons of his career. Even though he wasn’t getting any younger, his present will be missed.

    McLeod’s 2019 PFF grade was the lowest he had obtained over the past five years, but he still did a decent job.

    Jalen Mills will be one piece of the puzzle in replacing Jenkins. But let’s face the reality: he has been pretty awful throughout his four-year career, except 2017 where he did better.

    Another option will be newly acquired Will Parks, who is coming over from Denver. However, he’s clearly not a long-term solution either. He’s pretty versatile, but he’s a below-average player.

    2020 VS 2019 DEFENSE

    This unit was upgraded quite a bit during the offseason at two positions, but it also suffered a severe downgrade at a couple others.

    First, acquiring Javon Hargrave to team up with Fletcher Cox on the interior of the line was big! At CB, getting Darius Slay and Nickell Robey-Coleman will provide much needed help at a position that has caused headaches for years in Philly.

    Unfortunately, the defense lost its best safety when Malcolm Jenkins signed with the Saints. Also, even though none of them was a true difference maker, losing linebackers Nigel Bradham and Kamu Grugier-Hill creates a hole.

    Since the team acquired some big time players while losing good/average players, I envision a small improvement. In 2019, the Eagles finished in the middle of the pack in terms of points allowed per game (15th out of 32 teams). I envision Philly finishing around the #10-#13 spot this year.

    Final call (2020 vs 2019): Small upgrade

    4. Regular Season Wins

    According to sportsbooks, the Eagles are expected to win 9.5 games this season. Should we bet the “over” or the “under”?

    Here is the methodology I used in order to answer this vital question:

    • Use BetOnline.ag’s point spreads on all 256 regular season games.
    • Convert those point spreads into win probabilities.
    • Simulate each of the 256 games, according to those win probabilities, via the R statistical software.
    • Repeat the previous step one million times (you get 1M simulated seasons).
    • Count the proportion of seasons where the Eagles won more or less than 9.5 games.

    Here are the results:

    OVER 9.5 WINS

    • Estimated Probability: 42.3%
    • Best Odds: -105 (FanDuel)
    • ROI: -17.4%

    UNDER 9.5 WINS

    • Estimated Probability: 57.7%
    • Best Odds: -103 (Pinnacle)
    • ROI: +13.7%

    Tip: Bet UNDER 9.5 wins
    Return On Investment (ROI): +13.7%
    Rank: 19th-highest ROI out of 32 teams
    Minimum odds required to bet (i.e. ROI = 0%): -136

    Here are BetOnline’s point spreads for the Eagles’ 16 regular season games:

    • HOME: +2 vs BAL, -10 vs CIN, -2.5 vs DAL, -4 vs LAR, 0 vs NO, -5 vs NYG, -2 vs SEA, -10.5 vs WAS.
    • ROAD: +1.5 @ ARI, 0 @ CLE, +2 @ DAL, +2.5 @ GB, -3.5 @ NYG, +1.5 @ PIT, +5.5 @ SF, -6 @ WAS.

    Note: The “Best odds” from the table above were obtained after looking at 13 well-known online sportsbooks on May 18th, 2020.

    I invite you to take a look at my other 31 NFL team previews! Good information if you are involved in fantasy football and/or if you want to be up-to-date on player movement and teams' strengths and weaknesses (for betting purposes)!

    Cheers,

    Professor MJ

  9. 1. Introduction

    Franchise QB Andrew Luck stunned the NFL world a few weeks before the 2019 season began by announcing his retirement at age 29. I really felt sorry for Colts fans; that had to be a devastating blow. The timing also prevented the team from drafting accordingly.

    Indianapolis rolled with Jacoby Brissett and they were right in the thick of the playoff race. They were sitting on a 6-4 record before a four-game losing skid crushed their hopes.

    2. Offensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

    2.1 Quarterbacks (QBs)

    After spending 16 seasons with the Chargers (!!!), Philip Rivers will be wearing a Colts uniform in 2020. That’s going to look weird.

    Last year, Rivers had his fourth-highest passing yard output with 4,615, but the problem lied with his poor TD-to-INT ratio. Indeed, 20 interceptions represented the second-most of his career, while his 23 TD passes were its lowest in 12 years.

    Rivers has never been much of a runner. Now in his late thirties, things are looking even worse. He seems to get bottled up easily. Also, he appeared dead armed at numerous times. We’ll see if a change of scenery will rejuvenate his career, but it seems doubtful at this point.

    Jacoby Brissett has to be one of the top backup QB in the league. With Andrew Luck announcing his surprise retirement a few weeks before the 2019 season began, Brissett took over under center.

    Brissett didn’t have a great year. Throwing just six interceptions was nice, but racking up just 18 TD passes just won’t cut it in the NFL. Granted, he didn’t have a lot of weapons at his disposal with the Colts lacking a #2 WR and their top wideout T.Y. Hilton missing six games. He still represents a good insurance policy in case the Rivers experiment doesn’t pan out.

    2.2 Running Backs (RBs)

    After missing to hit the 1,000 rushing-yard mark by 92, Marlon Mack accomplished the feat in 2019 with 1,091 rushing yards. He’s not much of a receiver, though; he caught just 14 passes last year.

    My opinion may not be very popular, but I’m not sold on him. I believe he benefits a lot from the great blocking in front of him. He rarely gets much more than what’s blocked ahead of him. Still, he’ll remain Indy’s top back, while splitting time with a few more guys.

    Jordan Wilkins added a bit over 300 rushing yards by posting a nice 6.0 yards-per-rush average. The year before, that average turned out to be 5.6. Those are great numbers, but the team seems reluctant to increase his workload.

    Nyheim Hines is mainly used as a pass catcher. He might take on an Austin Ekeler-type role with Rivers this year.

    Considering the depth at the position, taking Jonathan Taylor early in the 2nd round of the draft may sound puzzling at first. Perhaps the organization agrees with me about Mack not being as great as he looks. The fact that Mack is set to hit free agency at the end of the year also played a role in the decision as well.

    Taylor carried the ball 926 times for the Wisconsin Badgers. He rushed for at least 1,975 yards in each of his three college years, which is unreal! He is a great runner with cement hands; he fumbles the ball too often and doesn’t catch very well out of the backfield.

    2.3 Wide Receivers (WRs)

    T.Y. Hilton had missed just four games during his first seven seasons in the NFL; he missed six matchups in 2019 alone. He ended with career-lows in receptions (45) and receiving yards (501).

    He stormed out of the gate with 30 receptions, 306 yards and 5 TDs over the first five games. During the next five: 15 catches, 195 yards and 0 TD. He had an injury-riddled season.

    I believe he can revert to his old self. He showed he could still play at a high level early in the season, but injuries got the best of him. We’ll see how his 30-year old body reacts in 2020.

    The undrafted receiver from Old Dominion, Zach Pascal, showed some flashes last year. He led the team with 45 receptions and 5 TDs. I don’t believe he can do much better, though.

    It’s difficult to evaluate Parris Campbell’s first year as a pro. He had a sore hamstring, a sports hernia, a broken hand and a broken foot in 2019. It’s hard to show off your skills under such circumstances.

    The speedy receiver out of Ohio St. will have a chance to prove his worth in the upcoming season. He was selected in the 2nd round of the 2019 draft at the #59 overall spot.

    Another candidate to start opposite Hilton is second-round rookie Michael Pittman from USC. The word on him is he’s a hard worker with a good mix of size and speed. He also does a great job with contested catches and he has reliable hands, as shown by his five drops out of 254 targets in college.

    2.4 Tight Ends (TEs)

    The Colts had a nice combo of pass catching tight ends with Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron. Both finished with similar above-average marks from PFF, but Ebron packed his bags to head to Pittsburgh. His presence will be missed, even though he’s known for his tendency to drop passes.

    Doyle’s numbers decreased last year, but they are likely to shoot up following Ebron’s departure. After catching 59 and 80 balls during the 2016 and 2017 seasons, he missed most of the 2018 season before hauling in “just” 43 passes last year. He struggled down the stretch with just 7 receptions in four contests, but the 6’6’’ guy is likely to bounce back.

    Mo Alie-Cox could see an increased role in 2020. He has only caught 15 passes in two years, but has received great grades as a blocker.

    2.5 Offensive Line (OL)

    This unit has to be one of the strongest in the entire league. They do a great job, both in the running and passing game.

    After pondering about the possibility of retiring, left tackle Anthony Castonzo opted to sign a two-year deal. He graded as the seventh-best tackle in the league according to PFF, but he turns 32 very soon. Keep that in mind.

    Pro Bowler Quenton Nelson has been a star at left guard. The number six overall pick from the 2018 draft out of Notre Dame has not disappointed. He was rated the second-best guard in the league, only behind Brandon Brooks from the Eagles.

    Center Ryan Kelly has been a steady guy during his first four years with the Colts. He’s entering his prime years at age 27. He obtained the #8 spot out of 37 centers based on PFF ratings.

    Braden Smith was a second-round pick in the 2018 draft. After receiving a very respectable 71.8 grade in his rookie season, he improved upon those numbers to reach a 79.8 mark last year. All signs point towards him being a smart selection.

    Right guard Mark Glowinski seems to be the weakest link of the fortress. He was claimed off waivers in 2018 after the Seahawks released him. He has been an average player in his two-year stint in Indy.

    In summary, all five starters are returning which is excellent news for the Colts. Having continuity on the offensive line is critical to success.

    2020 VS 2019 OFFENSE

    The whole QB position received a lift with the addition of Philip Rivers. Whether he’ll be an adequate starter or not remains to be seen, but having Rivers-Brissett has to be viewed as a better alternative than having Brissett-Hoyer, as was the case in 2019.

    The RB and WR positions remain fairly intact with the exceptions of a few backups who won’t be there anymore. The team definitely has good depth in the backfield; the same cannot be said about the receiving corps. However, the WR position is much more likely to see an improvement with Hilton having a clean bill of health and Parris Campbell getting a chance to show what he can do at the pro level (as well as rookie Michael Pittman).

    At tight end, losing Ebron represents a deterioration for the team.

    Finally, how is the 2020 outlook for the offensive line compared to last year? Even though I love the group, you have to expect a downgrade here. These guys played at a high level, and none of them missed a single game last year. Can you really expect them not to miss any game due to injuries in 2020? That seems highly unlikely.

    Therefore, we have an expected upgrade at QB and WR, but a likely downgrade at TE and on the OL. The team finished 16th out of 32 teams in terms of points scored per game. I expect the production to stay approximately the same.

    Final call (2020 vs 2019): Stable

    3. Defensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

    3.1 Defensive Linemen (DLs)

    The best player on the interior of the defensive line for the Colts has been Denico Autry. After posting 10.5 sacks over his first four seasons with the Raiders, he exploded with 9 sacks with the Colts in 2018, but a disappointing 3.5 last year.

    Still, his level of play has been adequate as he finished as the 32nd-best DL among 114 qualifiers. He was a respectable player in all aspects of the game.

    Considering Grover Stewart was a mediocre player, the team reinforced the position by acquiring a couple of 49ers players: DeForest Buckner and Sheldon Day.

    The Colts sacrificed the #13 overall pick in the 2020 draft in order to get Buckner. That’s a fair price to pay for one of the best interior defenders in the league who is also entering his prime years. He’s been good both against the run and the pass; he has averaged 7.1 sacks per season. What a huge boost for this unit!

    As for Sheldon Day, he’s not nearly as good as Buckner. He’s more of a rotational presence. His PFF grades have been a bit below-average thus far in his four-year career.

    3.2 Defensive Ends (DEs) / Edge Rushers (ED)

    Justin Houston was clearly the most dangerous pass rusher the Colts had in 2019. In his first season with Indy after spending eight years in Kansas City, he led the team with 11 sacks.

    Despite missing some games due to injuries during his nine-year career, he has average 9.9 sacks per season. Now on the wrong side of 30, you need to start being concerned about whether his play will tail off or not.

    Jabaal Sheard was used on more than 50% of the defensive snaps. He regularly gets 4-5 sacks per season, as was the case last year. However, poor tackling has penalized him in his PFF grades, making him the 81st-best edge defender out of 107 players. He has yet to be signed by any team so far.

    Al-Quadin Muhammad played 47% of the snaps and had mitigated success. It was his best season over his three-year career, but nothing spectacular either. He’s not a great athlete and was a former sixth-round pick; he has limited upside.

    3.3 Linebackers (LBs)

    I don’t think the Colts regret picking Darius Leonard in the second round of the 2018 draft. As a rookie, he led the league in tackles with 163 (19 more than any other player!). Last year, he picked up 121 tackles in 13 games, on pace for 149.

    He is the total package. He’s efficient in run defense, in coverage and as a pass rusher. As a matter of fact, he has recorded 12 sacks during those two years.

    That being said, Colts fans have to be concerned about some comments he made last year. He was concussed for three weeks following a big collision with Derrick Henry and he experienced painful headaches for a while. During his absence, he debated his NFL future. If he suffers another concussion, he seems to be thinking already about a potential retirement.

    Anthony Walker’s job could be in jeopardy. He played many more snaps than rookie Bobby Okereke, but the latter is definitely breathing down his neck.

    Walker graded as an average linebacker with the number 42 spot out of 89 players. His grade took a huge hit because of poor run defense.

    Meanwhile, the rookie from Stanford obtained the 9th-highest grade in the league! He was an every-down linebacker in college, and is very likely to get an increase workload in 2020.

    3.4 Cornerbacks (CBs)

    Rock Ya-Sin enjoyed a satisfying rookie season. He is an interesting story. After playing three years at a Divison-2 college, he transferred to Temple for his final year. Despite not being particularly fast, his sheer will helped him earn amazing grades. He yielded a meager 53% completion rate and not a single one went above 20 yards. He finished as an average corner in 2019; with one full year of experience under his belt, he is likely to improve this season.

    Pierre Desir obtained the second-highest playing time among the team’s cornerbacks. He took a step back after a breakout 2018 campaign and the team decided to release him. The Jets signed him the next day.

    It remains to be seen which player will benefit the most from Desir’s departure. The Colts acquired T.J. Carrie and Xavier Rhodes, formerly of the Browns and the Vikings, respectively. Both of them are coming off a very disappointing season.

    Rhodes used to be a pretty solid corner, but his play has deteriorated a lot recently. After receiving 73.8 and 72.4 grades from PFF in 2016 and 2017, he earned a disappointing 58.2 mark in 2018 and a dreadful 47.9 last year. Did injuries slow him down, or is he done?

    Carrie was pretty ineffective with the Browns last year. After a few fairly good seasons with the Raiders, his play took a dip in each of his two years in Cleveland. I don’t have much faith he can rebound.

    Don’t count out Kenny Moore though. He was surprisingly good in the slot last year. We’ll see if he can solidify a starting spot in this now crowded secondary.

    3.5 Safeties (S)

    Malik Hooker and Khari Willis finished the 2019 season with an identical PFF grade: 69.5. That mark put them in the number 37 spot out of 87 safeties.

    Hooker is a former first-round pick out of Ohio State that has picked off at least two passes in each of its first three years as a pro. He has done a fine job and is still very young.

    The Colts traded up to select Willis in the 4th round of the 2019 draft. His first season exceeded expectations as he shared time with Clayton Geathers, who has yet to sign a contract.

    2020 VS 2019 DEFENSE

    Will the 2020 defense be superior to the 2019 unit?

    I love the fortification on the interior of the line with the big-time acquisition of DeForest Buckner, and to a lesser level Sheldon Day.

    The CB position may also see an upgrade with Ya-Sin’s sophomore season coming up and the additions of Rhodes and Carrie (with the hopes that one of them will bounce back after a frustrating 2019 season).

    At safety, Hooker and Hillis could also elevate their play because of their young age and added experience.

    However, as a whole I see a downgrade in the edge / linebacking corps. Justin Houston is not getting any younger, and Jabaal Sheard could be missed. The team must also cross its fingers that Darius Leonard won’t suffer another concussion.

    Overall, I see a small upgrade here. Adding Buckner coupled with young talented guys like Leonard, Ya-Sin and Hooker makes me predict they will finish around the 12th-15th place in terms of points allowed (as opposed to 18th last year).

    Final call (2020 vs 2019): Small upgrade

    4. Regular Season Wins

    According to sportsbooks, the Colts are expected to win 8.5 games this season. Should we bet the “over” or the “under”?

    Here is the methodology I used in order to answer this vital question:

    • Use BetOnline.ag’s point spreads on all 256 regular season games.
    • Convert those point spreads into win probabilities.
    • Simulate each of the 256 games, according to those win probabilities, via the R statistical software.
    • Repeat the previous step one million times (you get 1M simulated seasons).
    • Count the proportion of seasons where the Colts won more or less than 8.5 games.

    Here are the results:

    OVER 8.5 WINS
    Estimated Probability: 66.9%
    Best Odds: -143 (DraftKings)
    ROI: +13.7%

    UNDER 8.5 WINS
    Estimated Probability: 33.1%
    Best Odds: +180 (Sports Interaction)
    ROI: -7.3%

    Tip: Bet OVER 8.5 wins
    Return On Investment (ROI): +13.7%
    Rank: 20th-highest ROI out of 32 teams
    Minimum odds required to bet (i.e. ROI = 0%): -202

    Here are BetOnline’s point spreads for the Colts’ 16 regular season games:

    • HOME: +2.5 vs BAL, -9 vs CIN, -2.5 vs GB, -4.5 vs HOU, -10.5 vs JAX, -2 vs MIN, -6.5 vs NYJ, -3 vs TEN.
    • ROAD: +1.5 @ CHI, +1 @ CLE, -1.5 @ DET, +2 @ HOU, -6.5 @ JAX, -2 @ LV, +2.5 @ PIT, +2.5 @ TEN.

    Note: The “Best odds” from the table above were obtained after looking at 13 well-known online sportsbooks on May 18th, 2020.

    Woohoo! You made it through the whole article, thanks for reading my friend! Tomorrow, we'll talk about the Philadelphia Eagles!

    Professor MJ

  10. 1. Introduction

    Upon hiring Pete Carroll as their new head coach back in 2010, the Seahawks had consecutive 7-9 seasons. Since then, the franchise has enjoyed eight winning seasons in a row, compiling an impressive 86-41-1 record (a 67.6% winning percentage).

    Last year, Seattle stayed toe to toe with the 49ers atop the NFC West division by winning 10 of the first 12 games. However, the Seahawks lost three of their final four contests, including the season finale against the Niners that was lost by a matter of inches on fourth and goal.

    The Seahawks opened the playoffs by traveling to Philadelphia. They took advantage of an early injury to QB Carson Wentz to take the game by a 17-to-9 score.

    Seattle’s next stop was at Lambeau Field to face Aaron Rodgers’ squad. The Hawks almost rallied from a 21-to-3 deficit at halftime, but were defeated 28-23.

    2. Offensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

    2.1 Quarterbacks (QBs)

    Russell Wilson is just a phenomenal quarterback. There are so many good things that could be said about him.

    Before diving into the numbers, here’s a stunning fact: he hasn’t missed a single game over his entire 8-year career. That’s incredible considering the number of hits he’s taken and given that he rushes about 90 times per season.

    If not for Lamar Jackson’s heroics, Wilson might have won the MVP honor. He had his second-highest completion percentage (66.1%) and passing yards (4,110) of his career. His 31:5 TD:INT mark was exceptional.

    All of the numbers above are great, but what makes them even more impressive is Wilson didn’t have a top-10 supporting cast. Keep in mind that he had just lost perhaps his top target, Doug Baldwin, who had decided to hang up his cleats at 31 years old. Wilson can clearly embrace the role of carrying a team on his shoulders.

    The backup QB job is still up in the air. Geno Smith has yet to be re-signed, but it’s not impossible that he comes back.

    2.2 Running Backs (RBs)

    Chris Carson has now rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of the past two seasons, while reaching the end zone nine times in each of those years. His career yards-per-rush average of 4.5 is very respectable as well.

    Carson suffered a pretty significant hip injury in the season finale. He avoided surgery during the offseason, but is questionable for training camp.

    The second leading rusher in 2019, Rashaad Penny, also had a severe late-season injury. He went down with a brutal torn ACL and he seems unlikely to be ready in time for Week #1. The number 28 overall pick from the 2018 draft rushed for just 370 yards behind Carson last year, but he improved his yards-per-rush average from 4.9 in 2018 up to 5.7 last year.

    Considering both Carson and Penny are nicked up, can Travis Homer take advantage? Last year’s sixth-round rookie didn’t do much in 2019. He had touched the ball just three times through the first 15 weeks of the season. He had to step in when the injury bug hit Seattle’s backfield. It’s hard to draw any conclusions from his 18-114-0 rushing stat line.

    2.3 Wide Receivers (WRs)

    Tyler Lockett is a very reliable guy. His worst career season has been 41 receptions for 597 yards. Last season he set career-best in receptions (82) and receiving yards (1,057), while also hauling in 8 TD passes.

    Much like his signal caller, Lockett is very durable. He has missed just one game in five years.

    Rookie D.K. Metcalf stepped up in a nice way to grab the number two role. His 58-900-7 receiving line was a resounding success. He has a great mix of size and speed. He set a new league record with 160 receiving yards as a rookie in a playoff game.

    The Patriots finally pulled the plug on the Phillip Dorsett experiment. He packed his bags for Seattle where he’ll be looking to fill a role as a deep threat. He couldn’t get going in New England despite a very thin receiving corps and having Tom Brady throwing the ball his way. It does not bode well for him.

    David Moore had the third-most catches among Seattle WRs last year, but 17 receptions isn’t something to get overly excited about. He can be an occasional deep threat, but he makes bad mistakes at times. As a former seventh-rounder, there is not much upside with him.

    2.4 Tight Ends (TEs)

    Greg Olsen decided to hold off his project to call games on television for at least another year. He signed a $7 million one-year deal to join the Seahawks. He’s clearly not the once-dominant tight end he used to be, but the 35-year-old still caught 52 passes 597 yards despite catching passes from Kyle Allen and Will Grier.

    Jacob Hollister led the position in receptions last year with 41, but that’s unlikely to happen again in 2020. He did his best, but keep in mind he was an undrafted guy who had caught just eight passes in two years. He benefited from Will Dissly’s injury and with the lucrative contract awarded to Olsen, it seems obvious that Hollister will get his playing time cut out.

    Will Dissly got drafted in the 4th round in 2018. He missed most of his rookie season due to a torn right patellar tendon. This time, he tore his left Achilles’ during the sixth game of the 2019 regular season after a promising start. His athletic abilities could be more limited after sustaining a major injury to both legs.

    As for Luke Willson, he will be primarily used as a blocking tight end.

    2.5 Offensive Line (OL)

    Right tackle Germain Ifedi left for Chicago during the offseason, but that’s fine from Seattle’s perspective. The 2016 first-round pick has been a bust and clearly struggled throughout his career. The team will replace him with Brandon Shell, formerly of the Jets. He is a small upgrade, but far from a big-time acquisition.

    Left tackle Duane Brown continues to provide quality play on Russell Wilson’s blindside, but you have to wonder how much longer he can do the job. Brown will be entering his age-35 campaign. He finished as the 23rd-best tackle out of 81 qualifiers last year, which is a nice accomplishment for a player in his mid-thirties.

    The team lost some depth following the departure of their #3 tackle, George Fant, to the Jets. He wasn’t great, but he still represented a good insurance policy.

    Center Justin Britt had started either 15 or 16 games in each of his first five seasons in the NFL. His lucky streak ended on a running play in Week #8 where he tore his ACL and missed the remainder of the year. His play has been uneven, and he graded out as a below-average center. The team decided to release him during the offseason.

    Backup center Joey Hunt did even worse than Britt when called upon to fill in as the starter. He’s not a long-term solution for sure, but he will compete for the starting gig with B.J. Finney, who was complete dust when he stepped on the field for the Steelers last year.

    Guards Mike Iupati and D.J. Fluker received almost identical marks from PFF last year: 60.3 and 59.1 (46th and 48th out of 81 guards).

    Iupati is a 10-year veteran whose play has deteriorated since 2017 when injuries started to plague him. As for Fluker, he’s also a player in decline. His first 3-4 years were good, but the last three not so much. Seattle released him and he found a new home two days later in Baltimore.

    One potential candidate to replace Fluker is third-round rookie Damien Lewis. He is a great fit for Seattle’s run-oriented offense since he’s great in run blocking; he was seen throwing defenders on the ground many times. However, he’s not nearly as good in pass protection.

    Perhaps Ethan Pocic can take advantage of his last shot to play in the NFL. After being picked in the second round of the 2017 draft, he has been bad in all three of his pro years.

    2020 VS 2019 OFFENSE

    Russell Wilson, Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny, Tyler Lockett, D.K. Metcalf and Jacob Hollister are all back for the Seahawks this year.

    Add the return of TE Will Dissly from an injury, along with the acquisitions of Greg Olsen and Phillip Dorsett and you have a recipe for another successful season on offense, right?

    A major potential problem stems from the offensive line. Replacing Ifedi for Shell is fine. However, Duane Brown and Mike Iupati are getting older (35 and 32 years old, respectively) and the team lost some depth following Fant’s departure to New York. There are big question marks at center and right guard following the release of Britt and Fluker without having clear-cut solutions to replace them.

    Russell Wilson has always been great at dealing with suspect offensive lines, but there’s a limit to what he can do. Also, the team’s success relies on the running game quite a bit, so you need guys that will open up holes.

    Don’t forget about Carson and Penny both coming back from significant injuries. Also, Russell Wilson is coming off an amazing season in which PFF rated him as the best QB in the league. As much as I love Wilson, it will be difficult to replicate that kind of success.

    Seattle’s offense posted the 9th-most points in 2019. For the reasons stated above, I envision a slight downgrade in 2020.

    Final call (2020 vs 2019): Small downgrade

    3. Defensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

    3.1 Defensive Linemen (DLs)

    The interior of the defensive line featured a mix of Quinton Jefferson, Poona Ford, Jarran Reed and Al Woods.

    Let’s kick off the analysis with the two guys that left via free agency. Jefferson got drafted in the 5th round and had a slow start to his career. However, he showed nice improvement in each of the past two seasons, even reaching the #27 spot out of 114 DLs based on PFF grades. Seeing him leave for Buffalo wasn’t good news.

    Al Woods also jumped off the ship to sign with the Jaguars. He won’t be missed as much as Jefferson, although he had a respectable 2019 season. He was more of a run-stuffer who turned 33 years old.

    Poona Ford showed promise in limited time as an undrafted rookie in 2018, especially defending the run. He was an “okay” player last year and might see the field more often in the upcoming season.

    Jarran Reed seemed like an up-and-coming star after generating 10.5 sacks in 2018. However, the 2016 second-round pick had a season to forget both on and off the field last year. He was slapped with a six-game suspension for domestic violence before having an ordinary season that included just two sacks.

    He just signed a very lucrative contract, so the team is banking on him to rebound to his 2018 form. The talent is there for sure. Let’s see if he can put it together this year.

    3.2 Defensive Ends (DEs) / Edge Rushers (ED)

    The Seahawks were pretty bad last year rushing the passer. They had the second-fewest sacks in the league.

    The team’s leader in sacks was Rasheem Green with only 4! The third-round pick from the 2018 draft wasn’t super effective, as shown by his 92nd rank out of 107 edge defenders in the NFL. There’s not much hope he will become a game-changer.

    The only guy receiving good grades was Jadeveon Clowney. He’s known for his pass rushing abilities, but he’s an underrated run stuffer. He had his lowest sack output in five years, but he is bound to get rack up more in 2020. The bad news is he left via free agency.

    Ezekiel Ansah was a major bust in his first year as a Seahawk. After averaging 8 sacks per year over his first six seasons, he recorded just 2.5 last year. He was also a liability defending the run. An awful year across the board. Now 31 years old, he has yet to sign with any team.

    As for Branden Jackson, he is a replacement-level player. He has 3.5 sacks in four years.

    The team is attempting to boost the position via a couple of free agent acquisitions: Bruce Irvin and Benson Mayowa.

    Irvin is a nice addition. He is reuniting with the team that selected him in the first round of the 2012 draft. He has 52 career sacks in eight seasons, which amounts to 6.5 on average per year. Not bad!

    It’s harder to figure out what to anticipate from Mayowa. He’s playing for a new team for the 5th time in 7 years. After posting just two sacks in his first three seasons, he now has 18 over the last four years. He is coming off a career year in Oakland with seven sacks and three forced fumbles. He is likely to be used as a rotational pass rusher.

    Why not attempt to boost a position that underwhelmed last year by adding one more piece through the draft? That’s what the Seahawks did when taking Darrell Taylor in the second round. Based on expert evaluations, he has the toolbox necessary to succeed, but he needs quite a bit of development.

    3.3 Linebackers (LBs)

    Bobby Wagner led the NFL with 159 tackles last year. He’s never had less than 104 tackles in a season (and that was over 11 games). I think it’s fair to call him a tackling machine.

    During his eight-year stint in the NFL, Wagner also has 19.5 sacks, 10 interceptions and five forced fumbles. He can do it all! He will be playing his age-30 campaign.

    K.J. Wright had a subpar year. He received his lowest PFF grades of his nine-year career, but still finished in the middle of the pack (46th out of 89 LBs). He missed 11 games in 2018 with lingering knee issues, so you have to wonder if that still affects him.

    Mychal Kendricks is gone after spending two uneven seasons in Seattle. He tore is ACL in the season finale and he pleaded guilty to securities fraud accusations.

    The Seahawks picked a guy that is likely to play a rotational role in 2020: Jordyn Brooks. Some experts thought he was a reach at the 27th overall selection. He is good chasing running backs and scrambling QBs (he can literally fly and won’t miss many tackles), but he is far from a finished product in coverage.

    3.4 Cornerbacks (CBs)

    After two run-of-the-mill seasons, Shaquill Griffin flipped the switch and performed admirably well last year. His coverage skills improved dramatically and he finished at the #10 spot out of 112 corners in the NFL based on PFF rankings. Can the 2017 third-round pick keep it up?

    Tre Flowers received awful marks from PFF after getting burned repeatedly last year. He finished among the worst CBs in the league.

    The team felt a need to upgrade the position, and they did so in a big way. Seattle signed Quinton Dunbar, formerly of the Redskins. He is coming off a career year where he picked off four passes and graded as the second-best corner in the NFL.

    Still, let’s not get exhilarated too much. Dunbar is an undrafted guy that had four decent, yet unspectacular, seasons. He hasn’t proved he can be a top starter yet, but having him over Flowers is definitely an upgrade!

    3.5 Safeties (S)

    Quandre Diggs was acquired from the Lions last year to bolster Seattle’s secondary. He did a great job with three picks in just five games! He was a nice get and an upgrade over Tedric Thompson (who is now off the team).

    The other starting safety is Bradley McDougald. He’s been fairly solid in each of his six seasons in the NFL. He is not a game changer, however.

    2020 VS 2019 DEFENSE

    Let’s evaluate how the 2020 Seattle defense should fare compared to the 2019 unit.

    On the interior of the line, we detect a downgrade following the departure of Quinton Jefferson, and to a lesser degree Al Woods. Granted, there is hope that Jarran Reed might bounce back from his super disappointing 2019 season.

    At edge, Clowney and Ansah are out, while Bruce Irvin and Benson Mayowa are in. What is the net outcome from those moves? I’ll go with a slight loss, in part because Clowney is likely to improve upon his 2019 sack total and he was great against the run.

    At linebacker, Wagner and Wright aren’t young fellows anymore, but they’re not old either. Wright had a subpar year and he certainly has a shot to do better in 2020. However, losing Mychal Kendricks isn’t good news (albeit not a devastating blow either!). We’ll see if rookie Jordyn Brooks can fill his shoes.

    Plugging Quinton Dunbar opposite Shaquill Griffin is an upgrade for sure since Tre Flowers struggled mightily last year.

    At safety, we know what to expect from McDougald: respectable play. Now, having Diggs for a full season instead of Tedric Thompson is a vast improvement.

    For all of those reasons, I am pegging Seattle’s defense to stay around the same level as 2019. They finished 22nd in points allowed last year and I expect them to secure a similar spot in 2020.

    Final call (2020 vs 2019): Stable

    4. Regular Season Wins

    According to sportsbooks, the Seahawks are expected to win 9.5 games this season. Should we bet the “over” or the “under”?

    Here is the methodology I used in order to answer this vital question:

    • Use BetOnline.ag’s point spreads on all 256 regular season games.
    • Convert those point spreads into win probabilities.
    • Simulate each of the 256 games, according to those win probabilities, via the R statistical software.
    • Repeat the previous step one million times (you get 1M simulated seasons).
    • Count the proportion of seasons where the Seahawks won more or less than 9.5 games.

    Here are the results:

    OVER 9.5 WINS

    • Estimated Probability: 49.4%
    • Best Odds: +130 (William Hill)
    • ROI: +13.6%

    UNDER 9.5 WINS

    • Estimated Probability: 50.6%
    • Best Odds: -118 (Pinnacle)
    • ROI: -6.5%

    Tip: Bet OVER 9.5 wins
    Return On Investment (ROI): +13.6%
    Rank: 21st-highest ROI out of 32 teams
    Minimum odds required to bet (i.e. ROI = 0%): +102

    Here are BetOnline’s point spreads for the Seahawks’ 16 regular season games:

    • HOME: -7.5 vs ARI, -2.5 vs DAL, -3.5 vs LAR, -3 vs MIN, -4.5 vs NE, -9 vs NYG, -8.5 vs NYJ, 0 vs SF.
    • ROAD: -2.5 @ ARI, -1.5 @ ATL, +2.5 @ BUF, +1.5 @ LAR, -4 @ MIA, +2 @ PHI, +6.5 @ SF, -6 @ WAS.

    Note: The “Best odds” from the table above were obtained after looking at 13 well-known online sportsbooks on May 18th, 2020.

    Tomorrow, we're previewing the Indianapolis Colts 2020 season! Will they win over/under 8.5 games?

    Cheers!

    Professor MJ

  11. 1. Introduction

    Tennessee’s season completely turned around once they benched quarterback Marcus Mariota in favor of Ryan Tannehill.

    After a 2-4 start, the Titans won seven of their final 10 games to sneak into the playoffs as the 6th seed in the AFC. Fun fact: it was the fourth straight season that the Titans finished with a 9-7 record!

    In the playoffs, they knocked off the defending Super Bowl champions New England Patriots, as well as the top seed in the conference, the Baltimore Ravens. Derrick Henry ran like a mad man in those games, becoming the first player in NFL history to rack up at least 175 rushing yards in two games in the same postseason.

    In the AFC Conference Championship Game, Tennessee grabbed a 17-7 lead in the second quarter, but couldn’t hold off the Chiefs any longer in a 35-to-24 defeat.

    2. Offensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

    2.1 Quarterbacks (QBs)

    Ryan Tannehill was clearly one of the best Cinderella stories in 2019. After taking over as the starting QB over Marcus Mariota, he led the league in QB rating.

    He crushed his previous career-high in completion percentage with as astounding 70.3%; his personal best was 66.4% in 2014.

    During his first six years in Miami, he posted a 123:75 TD:INT mark. That equates to a 1.64 ratio. In 2019, he threw 22 TD passes versus 6 interceptions, which amounts to a 3.7 ratio. As you can see, once again he obliterated his past numbers.

    The team thinks he can keep playing at that level after handing him a hefty contract. I do believe he’ll do a good job in 2020, but not at the 2019 levels, obviously.

    As of now, the backup QB is Logan Woodside since Mariota signed with the Raiders. Woodside was drafted in the 7th round of the 2018 draft out of Toledo. During preseason games, he completed 46-of-76 passes (a 60.5% completion rate) for 539 yards with 4 TDs and no interception. It’s hard to tell what he can bring to the table.

    2.2 Running Backs (RBs)

    Derrick Henry was a true beast last year. He won the rushing title with 1,540 rushing yards and 16 TDs on the ground (he added two more as a receiver). His 5.1 yards-per-carry average is mind-boggling considering the high volume.

    He didn’t slow down in the playoffs. After rushing for 182 yards in New England, he single-handedly destroyed the Ravens with 195 rushing yards. He was quieter in K.C. by accumulating 69 yards on the ground.

    Few people remember how he finished the previous year on a high note as well. In the final four meetings of the 2018 season, he averaged 146 rushing yards and 1.75 rushing TDs per contest. Obviously, he followed up with a season to remember.

    Henry’s numbers have steadily increased every single year since he joined the league in 2016. Now 26 years old, defensive coordinators must be getting up at night to game plan against him.

    Dion Lewis was a nice change-of-pace back, even though he didn’t have a great year. At least he had NFL experience, which is not the case of the remaining potential backup backs. Both Dalyn Dawkins and David Fluellen are undrafted guys who have combined for 19 rushing attempts in the league.

    Tennessee filled a need by drafting Darrynton Evans in last April’s draft. The third-rounder complements Henry’s skillset well, as Evans can spell him on passing third-down situations (a role that used to be played by Dion Lewis). Also, he isn’t great running inside the tackles due to his small size, but he is more of a change-of-pace runner who has home-run hitting capacities.

    2.3 Wide Receivers (WRs)

    Rookie A.J. Brown was hyped as a big-play guy, and he did not disappoint. He didn’t catch that many balls, but when he did he made the most of it.

    The Mississippi product led all receivers that caught at least 50 passes with a jaw-dropping 20.2 yards-per-catch average. He scored 8 TDs, while also topping the 1,000 receiving-yard mark (he had 1,051).

    Will former #5 overall pick Corey Davis live up to his draft status? It seems unlikely after watching his first three years as a pro. He raised hopes by posting a 65-891-4 receiving line in 2018, but he regressed to 43-601-2 last year. Talent and youth play on his side, though. He may not be a true No. 1 wideout, but he can clearly do the job as a number two or three receiver.

    Adam Humphries is an efficient, yet not explosive player. He is good to pick up key first downs. He caught more than 70% of his targets in his final two years in Tampa, and he reached that goal once again in his first season in Tennessee.

    Was he worth a four-year deal worth $36 million? Probably not, but having him as your slot receiver is a bonus. His numbers were down last year, but he will be a useful tool as a 27-year old this year.

    Tajae Sharpe also made a nice contribution last year with 25 receptions, 329 yards and 4 TDs. He was a nice luxury to have on your roster, but he signed with the Vikings during the offseason.

    2.4 Tight Ends (TEs)

    Jonnu Smith and Delanie Walker received the most playing time at tight end.

    Walker did a decent job, but father time seems to have caught up to him. After being very durable for 11 years, he stayed healthy for just one game in 2018 and seven games last year. Accordingly, the team cut ties with him as he was going to enter his age-36 campaign.

    Walker’s absence gave more room for Jonnu Smith to shine. The 2017 third-rounder has seen his numbers increase every year. His 35-439-3 receiving line is nothing to write home about. He could make a jump in 2020, but don’t expect huge steps.

    Anthony Firkser will be back with the squad. He doesn’t have the size and speed to become a great TE, but he does a fine job for a guy that was never drafted.

    MyCole Pruitt will be the #3 TE. He has never caught more than 10 passes in any of his five years in the NFL. Enough said.

    2.5 Offensive Line (OL)

    Ben Jones has done a great job at the pivot throughout his entire eight-year career. He raised his game to a higher level last year by finishing at the second-best center in the NFL according to PFF grades. He’s been an awesome pickup when acquired from the Texas a few years ago.

    Right tackle Jack Conklin broke the bank in Cleveland, which left a glaring hole in Tennessee. He was a very solid player, and Dennis Kelly or Isaiah Wilson will try to fill his shoes.

    Kelly has received his two best PFF grades of his seven-year career in 2018 and 2019, which is a good sign. However, he doesn’t play at the same level as Conklin.

    The organization figures to have a better chance at replacing Conklin adequately with Isaiah Wilson, who was taken late in the first round of this year’s draft. This guy weighted close to 400 pounds coming out of high school! He is a mauler.

    The rookie needs work for both his footwork and technique, which led to uneven play in college. He has exceptional physical traits and high potential, but may not be great right from the start.

    At left tackle, Taylor Lewan is a cornerstone of this offensive line. He’s been good his whole career, never receiving a PFF mark below 76.4, which is remarkable!

    Rodger Saffold is the starting left guard for the Titans. He ranked as the sixth-best guard in the NFL last year; needless to say he’s been a valuable piece of the puzzle for this franchise.

    The weakest link is Nate Davis at right guard. The third-round rookie struggled big-time last year.

    2020 VS 2019 OFFENSE

    The Titans did not make a single free agent acquisition on offense.

    They lost some depth with the departures of RB Dion Lewis and WR Tajae Sharpe. The team hopes 3rd round pick Darrynton Evans can spell Henry appropriately.

    The backup QB will also be weaker due to Mariota leaving for Vegas. And despite his advanced age, Delanie Walker was a decent TE, although he only appeared in seven games last year.

    The biggest loss occurred on the offensive line. Seeing Jack Conklin go to the Jets hurts the team. Rookie Isaiah Wilson will do his best to hold the fort, but he is unlikely to play at the same level as Conklin in his first year as a pro.

    Finally, how could we expect better production out of Ryan Tannehill in 2020 as opposed to his 2019 heroics?

    In conclusion, I am tagging the Titans offense with a moderate downgrade in comparison to 2019.

    Final call (2020 vs 2019): Moderate downgrade

    3. Defensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

    3.1 Defensive Linemen (DLs)

    Jurrell Casey is a strong run stuffer, while also averaging 5.7 sacks per year over a nine-year period. He was traded to Denver for cap reasons, which will hurt Tennessee’s interior of the line a lot.

    With Casey gone, the team will hand a much heavier workload to Jeffery Simmons. After missing the first seven games due to a knee injury, he showed fairly good promise as a #19 overall pick from the 2019 draft. His sophomore year will be critical.

    The team will also rely on DaQuan Jones to step up his game. He is an above-average DL, whose main strength is defending the run. He only has seven sacks in six years.

    The Titans lost some depth as Austin Johnson went to the Giants.

    3.2 Defensive Ends (DEs) / Edge Rushers (ED)

    Harold Landry played twice as many snaps in his sophomore year as his rookie season, and he doubled his sack total (going from 4.5 to 9 to lead the team in that category). He graded as the 62nd-best edge defender in the league out of 107 players. He has the potential to take a leap.

    The team hopes to improve its pass rush by adding Vic Beasley, formerly of the Falcons. His numbers are a bit puzzling. He led the league with 15.5 sacks in his second season back in 2016. Since then, he has posted 5, 5 and 8 sacks.

    Those are not bad numbers, but they are clearly below expectations coming from a fellow that was the 8th overall selection in the 2015 draft. Also, he is a liability in run defense. In other words, he’s been more name than game recently.

    Kamalei Correa racked up five sacks despite playing 39% of the snaps. He had just 3.5 sacks over his first three years as a pro. He’s not a game breaker.

    Reggie Gilbert is a role player. The undrafted guy has 4.5 sacks in three years is no more than depth.

    3.3 Linebackers (LBs)

    Jayon Brown and Rashaan Evans are the leaders of this group. Based on draft status, Evans is supposed to be the superior player, but that wasn’t the case at all last year.

    Evans received poor marks from PFF with a 47.6 grade; he obtained spot #74 out of 89 LBs. He struggled a lot in coverage and wasn’t that great rushing the passer. He does a fine job defending the run though.

    As for Brown, his 68.8 PFF grade allowed him to finish as the 20th-best linebacker in the league. His sack total went from 6 in 2018 down to just one a year ago. The former fifth-rounder will try to bring that number back up this season.

    Wesley Woodyard’s career is clearly on the decline. He lost his starting job, his PFF grades are falling, he’s 34 years old and he is now a free agent after the Titans failed to re-sign him.

    3.4 Cornerbacks (CBs)

    Adoree’ Jackson is the team’s number 1 CB. He was the 18th overall pick from the 2017 draft. Even though he has only two career interceptions, he is still a fairly solid coverage guy. He constantly ranks among the upper tier.

    Logan Ryan played almost all defensive snaps last year and he filled the scoresheet more than ever in his seven-year career. He had career-highs in tackles (113), sacks (4.5) and forced fumbles (4). He also picked off four passes, his second-best performance.

    Yet, he graded as an average corner by taking the 62nd rank out of 112 CBs because of ordinary run defense and coverage skills. The Titans couldn’t meet his salary demands, so he left via free agency.

    Malcolm Butler finished once again in the middle of the pack among all NFL cornerbacks last year. The Super Bowl XLIX hero has seen his PFF grades decrease in each of the past three seasons, but he still manages to intercept 2-4 passes every year. He missed seven games last year with a broken wrist.

    LeShaun Sims played 30% of the snaps, while producing poor play on the field. He’s never been a good corner, but he still found a new home in Cincinnati when the Bengals signed him in March.

    The Titans took Kristian Fulton late in the 2nd round this year. Many reports suggest he’ll be an average NFL starter. He is best in man coverage due to his physicality. He lost the entire 2017 season when he was caught trying to tamper with a PED test sample, where he submitted a friend’s urine.

    3.5 Safeties (S)

    Kevin Byard is one of the league’s highest paid safety and he deserves it. He has 17 interceptions over the last three years. In those seasons, his PFF rankings were 4th, 3rd and 10th among close to 90 qualifiers.

    Byard turned out to be a huge bargain as a former third-round pick out of Middle Tennessee State. Now 27 years old, there is no reason to believe his play will deteriorate in 2020.

    Kenny Vaccaro is well known among fans, even though his play is not great. He probably gets recognition due to his former first-round status, but his best PFF grade was 66.7 back in 2013. Just to give you an idea, such a mark would have yielded him the #48 spot out of 87 safeties last year. And that was his best season.

    Amani Hooker played 30% of the snaps last year as a rookie. The Titans had actually traded up to secure his rights during the 2019 draft. He did a decent job, but the jury is still out about the fourth-rounder’s future.

    2020 VS 2019 DEFENSE

    The Titans allowed the 12th-fewest points in the league last year. Should be expect better or worse play in 2020?

    Jurrell Casey’s presence will be missed in a big way on the interior of the line. Also, not getting CB Logan Ryan back is hardly good news. Overall, he was an above-average corner who was constantly on the field and has been very durable in his career.

    The only good addition is Vic Beasley. I feel like he’s overrated since his sack numbers are lower than what most people think and due to poor run defense, but he still has valuable pass rushing abilities.

    Based on this information, I anticipate a small downgrade from this unit.

    Final call (2020 vs 2019): Small downgrade

    4. Regular Season Wins

    According to sportsbooks, the Titans are expected to win 8.5 games this season. Should we bet the “over” or the “under”?

    Here is the methodology I used in order to answer this vital question:

    • Use BetOnline.ag’s point spreads on all 256 regular season games.
    • Convert those point spreads into win probabilities.
    • Simulate each of the 256 games, according to those win probabilities, via the R statistical software.
    • Repeat the previous step one million times (you get 1M simulated seasons).
    • Count the proportion of seasons where the Titans won more or less than 8.5 games.

    Here are the results:

    OVER 8.5 WINS
    Estimated Probability: 50.9%
    Best Odds: -110 (FanDuel)
    ROI: -2.8%

    UNDER 8.5 WINS
    Estimated Probability: 49.1%
    Best Odds: +129 (Pinnacle)
    ROI: +12.4%

    Tip: Bet UNDER 8.5 wins
    Return On Investment (ROI): +12.4%
    Rank: 22nd-highest ROI out of 32 teams
    Minimum odds required to bet (i.e. ROI = 0%): +104

    Here are BetOnline’s point spreads for the Titans’ 16 regular season games:

    • HOME: -2 vs BUF, -3 vs CHI, -4 vs CLE, -6 vs DET, -4.5 vs HOU, -2.5 vs IND, -11 vs JAX, -2 vs PIT.
    • ROAD: +8.5 @ BAL, -1 @ CIN, +2.5 @ DEN, +3.5 @ GB, +1 @ HOU, +3 @ IND, -3.5 @ JAX, +3.5 @ MIN.

    Note: The “Best odds” from the table above were obtained after looking at 13 well-known online sportsbooks on May 18th, 2020.

    I hope you found this article informative, I've got every NFL team covered so check out my other posts! Have a nice day!

    Professor MJ

  12. 1. Introduction

    Anthony Lynn’s first two seasons as the Chargers head coach were successful with 9-7 and 12-4 records. However, last year was a clear disappointment as the team finished dead last in their division with a 5-11 record. That included losing six of the final seven matchups.

    Obviously, the team is entering a new era with a big QB change. They hope the 10-year drought without a division title is going to get snapped sooner than later.

    2. Offensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

    2.1 Quarterbacks (QBs)

    After spending 16 seasons with the Chargers, Philip Rivers signed with the Colts. His 23-to-20 TD-to-INT ratio last year was the worst of his whole career. He still racked up 4,615 passing yards, though, but his arm looked weaker than ever. He also struggled as soon as he felt the rush coming.

    Before the draft, head coach Anthony Lynn kept repeating that Tyrod Taylor was in the driver’s seat to get the starting nod under center. Does that still hold true after drafting Justin Herbert with the No. 6 overall pick? I doubt it.

    Herbert is one of the most polarizing prospects. Some experts believe he’ll have a great career, while others see bust written all over him.

    He is physically gifted with good size, an elite arm strength and mobility that allows him to elude the rush and pick up first downs with his legs. He is also known for being able to make all types of throws.

    The knocks on him are as follows. First, some people question his leadership ability because he’s an introvert. Also, his decision-making isn’t always the best, he fumbles way too many times and a 64% college career completion rate isn’t all that impressive.

    Tyrod Taylor might still have a shot to start under center, but his chances have clearly diminished with Herbert on the team. He has 54 career TD passes versus 20 interceptions, while adding 16 rushing TDs to his resume.

    Taylor’s best years were with the Bills from 2015 to 2017. Over that time span, he completed 774-of-1236 passes (62.6%) with 51 TD passes and 16 picks. He helped Buffalo reach the playoffs for the first time in 18 years.

    He tends to get blamed for being too conservative. He does limit the turnovers, but throwing 51 touchdown passes in 44 games in Buffalo was far from breathtaking.

    After a bad experience in Cleveland in 2018 and not playing in 2019, can Taylor revive his career? It seems pretty doubtful. He makes for a great backup QB, though.

    2.2 Running Backs (RBs)

    Melvin Gordon left for Denver, which leaves the door wide open for Austin Ekeler to take over as the clear-cut #1 back.

    Ekeler was excellent in both facets of the game: as a runner and as a receiver. For the second straight year, he rushed for about 550 yards with 3 TDs on the ground. However, he did a lot more damage through the air by catching a jaw-dropping 92 balls out of 108 targets, which included 8 receiving TDs and an extremely good 10.8 yards-per-catch average.

    The undrafted runner from Western State has averaged 4.8 yards per carry thus far in his three years in the big league. This figure is likely to go down now that he’ll be the workhorse back, but he’s expected to get a lot more rushing attempts.

    Gordon’s departure inserts Justin Jackson into the #2 RB role. He was picked in the 7th round of the 2018 draft and his main problem has been staying healthy. He missed three games in his rookie season and nine more the following year. In both cases, he rushed for close to 200 yards.

    It’s unclear what Jackson can bring to the table due to his limited time on the field. Based on his draft status it’s hard to expect great things, but the jury is still out about his future.

    2.3 Wide Receivers (WRs)

    This position was dominated by two players: Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. All other guys caught less than 10 passes.

    You can’t say enough about Keenan Allen. He’s just a super reliable target.

    He was often the victim of the injury bug in the past, but he’s now played all 16 games in each of the last three years. During this time period, he has been extremely consistent by averaging 101 receptions for 1,263 yards and 6 TDs. He will be entering his age-28 campaign, so he still has plenty of gas left in the tank.

    Mike Williams was the #7 overall selection in the 2017 draft out of Clemson. His numbers have increased each year, except the TD output which inexplicably dropped from 10 to 2 last year.

    Williams had a whopping 20.4 yards-per-catch average, second-best in the league behind Mecole Hardman. He battled through knee injuries throughout the year.

    The depth at the position is worrisome. The team drafted a couple of guys in later rounds: Joe Reed from Virginia and K.J. Hill from Ohio State.

    2.4 Tight Ends (TEs)

    Hunter Henry is one of the top tight ends in the league when healthy. The problem has been just that: staying healthy.

    He tore his ACL during OTAs in 2018, which caused him to miss the entire regular season.

    Last year, he missed four additional games due to a knee injury but he still set career-highs in receptions (55) and receiving yards (652). He has scored 17 TDs in 41 career games, which amounts to 6.6 per 16 games.

    Virgil Green is the projected backup TE. He couldn’t get anything going even during Henry’s absence last year. It does not bode well for him. The former seventh-rounder has never caught more than 22 passes since joining the league nine years ago.

    2.5 Offensive Line (OL)

    Mike Pouncey’s first five years in the league were pretty good after being selected in the 1st round by the Dolphins nine years ago. Then, his PFF grades started to decline steadily. Things got worse last year when he suffered a career-threatening neck injury. He is on track to return in 2020, but his play has been below-average of late.

    Right tackle Bryan Bulaga is now on the wrong side of 30, but that didn’t scare the Chargers off. They signed him to a three-year deal worth $30 million. He will solidify the line without a doubt. He played very well last year in Green Bay; he secured the #15 spot out of 81 tackles based on PFF rankings.

    With Michael Schofield about to hit the free agent market, the Chargers acquired Trai Turner from the Panthers. Both received very identical PFF marks, but Turner is three years younger. He’s set to play left guard.

    Dan Feeney won the preseason battle for the left guard position during preseason, and he ended up starting all 16 games for the second year in a row. However, once again the quality of his play left a lot to be desired. He rated as the 64th-best guard out of 81 qualifiers.

    The Trent Scott experiment on Philip Rivers’ blind side was a huge failure last year. He was atrocious.

    Can Trey Pipkins be the answer at left tackle? The third-round pick from last year didn’t play many snaps last year, so it’s hard to evaluate.

    Or will it be Sam Tevi taking over at this key position? He did play left tackle as a junior with the Utah Utes. The 6th rounder has never received a PFF grade above 60 in his three-year career, so it’s hard to get excited about him.

    2020 VS 2019 OFFENSE

    Despite all the criticism around Philip Rivers, he still threw for more than 4,600 yards. Can Justin Herbert and/or Tyrod Taylor do better? I doubt it.

    Also, am I the only one worrying about the depth at many positions on offense?

    Instead of having a nice Gordon-Ekeler duo at running back, the team must now rely on unproven Justin Jackson as the backup runner. At wide receiver, what happens if either Keenan Allen or Mike Williams gets hurt? If Hunter Henry misses time at tight end, the team must turn to Virgil Green. We’re talking about HUGE talent dropoff between the starters and the backups at those positions.

    At least the team upgraded its offensive line, but not that much. I like the additions of Bulaga and Turner, but Okung and Schofield left. To me, that represents a small net gain for the team.

    Overall, I believe this unit suffers a small downgrade over 2019.

    Final call (2020 vs 2019): Small downgrade

    3. Defensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

    3.1 Defensive Linemen (DLs)

    All four guys receiving the most playing time on the interior of the line last year received poor PFF grades. Justin Jones finished 93rd, Brandon Mebane 112th, Damion Square 73rd and Jerry Tillery 114th out of 114 qualifiers. That’s awful.

    Two of those players are now off the team: Mebane (who turned 35) and Square. Neither of those losses represent a blow to the defense.

    Justin Jones improved slightly from his rookie to his sophomore year, but he’ll need to take a bigger leap in his third year. The former third-round pick out of N.C. State has not been very impressive thus far.

    As for Tillery, he was the #28 overall pick from the 2019 draft. It’s too early to call him a bust, but ranking dead last among all DLs can hardly be viewed as a successful season. He posted two sacks, but was awful against the run.

    The Chargers hope to boost the position with the acquisition of Linval Joseph. The 10-year veteran received high marks from 2015 to 2017, but his play deteriorated a little bit in the past two years. Granted, he still ranked as the 42nd-best interior defenders out of 114 guys last year. He’ll be playing his age-32 campaign, so hopefully his play won’t drop even further.

    3.2 Defensive Ends (DEs) / Edge Rushers (ED)

    Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram are the team’s clear-cut sack leaders. They recorded 11.5 and 7 sacks respectively last year, while the third-best turned out to be just 2.5 by Desmond King. Ouch.

    Bosa is a beast. Plain and simple. Bosa had 10.5, 12.5, 5.5 and 11.5 sacks during his first four years in the NFL. The 5.5 sacks picked up in 2018 were obtained in seven games; if you project those numbers into a full 16-game season, that equates to 12.5. As can be seen, he’s been very consistent.

    Ingram’s sack output has decreased a little bit recently. After posting 10.5, 8.0 and 10.5 from 2015 to 2017, he got exactly 7 sacks in each of the last two years. He remains clearly an above-average edge rusher and likely has a gas left in the tank at 31 years old.

    Uchenna Nwosu will continue to be a rotational player in this defense. He played 37% of the snaps and the former second-rounder has 5.5 sacks in two years.

    3.3 Linebackers (LBs)

    Thomas Davis provided quality play, especially coming from a 36-year-old linebacker. The team still decided to cut ties with him in order to create cap space and to get younger at the position.

    The team has three guys who all played between 37% and 39% of the snaps last year: Drue Tranquill, Kyzir White and Denzel Perryman.

    Tranquill was picked in the 4th round of last year’s draft and he enjoyed a very respectable rookie season. He ended up as the #25 LB out of 89 players, based on PFF marks. He is a good candidate to improve his game since he converted from safety to linebacker just three years ago.

    White is another former fourth-rounder, but he was taken a year earlier. He has earned 65.6 and 66.6 PFF grades in his first two seasons. His 2019 grade is actually identical to Tranquill’s.

    Perryman is unlikely to become a full-time starter in the NFL. He has yet to establish himself as a true starter in five years, so all signs point towards the former second-rounder to end up no more than a reserve player.

    The Chargers have added two pieces to the group: free agent Nick Vigil and Kenneth Murray via the draft.

    Vigil is no better than what the Chargers already had. As a matter of fact, he has earned weaker marks. He will still get a shot at the starting lineup considering his experience.

    With the 23rd overall selection, the Chargers drafted Kenneth Murray out of Oklahoma. The kid plays with great passion and he started at middle linebacker with the Sooners at 17 years old, which is quite impressive!

    Murray can literally fly on the field; he’s a playmakers who’s willing to take some risks. His style leads to many tackles for a loss. He needs to get better at reading plays and shedding blockers, however.

    3.4 Cornerbacks (CBs)

    Casey Hayward is among the league’s top cover corners. He graded as the third-best CB in the NFL last season, according to PFF rankings. He has 22 interceptions in eight years and figures to have another productive season in 2020. He hasn’t missed a single game in six years!

    Desmond King is most effective in the middle of the field as a slot corner. Strangely enough, the Chargers signed Chris Harris, formerly of the Broncos, who also butters his bread in that position. It remains to be seen how to team juggles with these two guys. Both received above-average grades despite subpar years compared to previous seasons.

    How does Michael Davis fit in the mix? He could be the odd man out. He did pick up his first two interceptions of his young career after signing as an undrafted free agent in 2017, but he wasn’t particularly good.

    3.5 Safeties (S)

    Derwin James missed the first 11 games last season. His presence was sorely missed on the field. The #17 overall pick from the 2018 draft enjoyed a spectacular rookie season with 105 tackles, 3 interceptions and 3.5 sacks. Now with a clean bill of health, James projects to play a big role in 2020.

    The other starting safety is Rayshawn Jenkins. He’s not nearly as good as his fellow teammate. He racked up the first three picks of his career last year, but he only managed to obtain the 60th spot among 87 safeties, according to PFF grades. He has yet to have a big impact, and he’s unlikely to do.

    The team lost some nice depth when Adrian Phillips left for New England. The #3 safety will likely be either Roderic Teamer or sixth-round pick Alohi Gilman. You don’t want either of them to start, so the Chargers must cross their fingers that neither James nor Jenkins gets hurt.

    2020 VS 2019 DEFENSE

    How will the 2020 Chargers defense fare compared to the 2019’s group?

    The team upgraded the interior of the line a little bit with the addition of Linval Joseph.

    Tackle leader Thomas Davis is gone, while the organization acquired Nick Vigil and drafted Kenneth Murray. Vigil isn’t a solid linebacker, so Chargers fans must hope for Murray to develop quickly, or perhaps see Drue Tranquill elevate his game.

    Getting Chris Harris at corner is another good, albeit not spectacular, addition to the team. However, losing Adrian Phillips will put the Chargers in trouble if one of their two starting safeties get hurt.

    Los Angeles allowed the 14th fewest points in the league last year. I expect them to remain around this spot in 2020.

    Final call (2020 vs 2019): Stable

    4. Regular Season Wins

    According to sportsbooks, the Los Angeles Chargers are expected to win 8 games this season. Should we bet the “over” or the “under”?

    Here is the methodology I used in order to answer this vital question:

    • Use BetOnline.ag’s point spreads on all 256 regular season games.
    • Convert those point spreads into win probabilities.
    • Simulate each of the 256 games, according to those win probabilities, via the R statistical software.
    • Repeat the previous step one million times (you get 1M simulated seasons).
    • Count the proportion of seasons where the Chargers won more or less than 8 games.

    Here are the results:

    OVER 8 WINS
    Estimated Probability: 42.6%
    Best Odds: -107 (Bookmaker.eu)
    ROI: -17.6%

    UNDER 8 WINS
    Estimated Probability: 57.4%
    Best Odds: -105
    ROI: +12.1%

    Tip: Bet UNDER 8 wins
    Return On Investment (ROI): +12.1%
    Rank: 23rd-highest ROI out of 32 teams
    Minimum odds required to bet (i.e. ROI = 0%): -135

    Here are BetOnline’s point spreads for the Chargers’ 16 regular season games:
    HOME: -2.5 vs ATL, -6.5 vs CAR, -5 vs DEN, -7 vs JAX, +7 vs KC, +4.5 vs LV, 0 vs NE, -4 vs NYJ.
    ROAD: +5 @ BUF, -3 @ CIN, +2 @ DEN, +11 @ KC, +2 @ LV, 0 @ MIA, +9 @ NO, +6.5 @ TB.

    Note: The “Best odds” from the table above were obtained after looking at 13 well-known online sportsbooks on May 18th, 2020.

    Thank you for reading!

    Professor MJ

  13. 1. Introduction

    Can you believe the Steelers have not had a losing season in 16 years? That’s truly remarkable!

    Under Mike Tomlin, the team has compiled a 133-74-1 record, a 64% win percentage.

    Last year, Pittsburgh lost its starting quarterback in the 2nd game of the season. They got off to a bad 1-4 start, but still found a way to fight back by winning seven of their next eight meetings.

    Sitting on an 8-5 record, the Steelers were right in the thick of the playoff race. Unfortunately, the offense completely sputtered down the stretch by scoring exactly 10 points in each of their remaining three regular season games. All of them were losses, which allowed the Titans to grab the final playoff spot.

    2. Offensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

    2.1 Quarterbacks (QBs)

    Mason Rudolph and Devlin “Duck” Hodges rated as the 35th and 37th-best quarterbacks out of 37 qualifiers last year. I think it’s fair to say that neither delivered.

    When the Steelers drafted Mason Rudolph out of Oklahoma State in the 3rd round of the 2018 draft, he seems destined to be the natural successor to Ben Roethlisberger. The organization is probably left scratching its head after what we saw last year. He completed just 62% of his passes, while throwing 13 TD passes and 9 interceptions in 10 games.

    After Devlin Hodges started his career with a perfect 3-0 record, Duckmania was in full flight in Pittsburgh. The team held an 8-5 record at the time and had a good shot at making the playoffs. However, it all came crashing down as he threw one TD pass and got picked off on six occasions over the final three meetings.

    Considering last year’s abject disaster on offense, 38-year old Ben Roethlisberger will enter training camp as the clear starter. Obviously, the million dollar question will be whether he can still play at a high level or not after missing 14 of the 16 games last season.

    Big Ben has a lengthy injury history and his body has taken a toll over the years. He is a statue in the pocket, so he’s susceptible to taking big hits. To me, he has a high chance of getting hurt during the course of a 16-game schedule.

    The year before, 2018, he did post a career-high in TD passes with 34, but he also threw 16 interceptions (second-highest of his career). He also had a better supporting cast at the time that included Antonio Brown at wide receiver.

    In summary, Roethlisberger will clearly bring better play under center in comparison to what the Steelers had in 2019. I do believe he can still throw the ball pretty well, but he’s unlikely to stay healthy for a good portion of the season.

    2.2 Running Backs (RBs)

    After rushing for close to 1,000 yards, racking up close to 500 receiving yards and getting into the end zone a total of 13 times in 2018, James Conner disappointed a lot last year. He rushed for just 464 yards in 10 games, while his yards-per-rush average dipped from 4.5 to a meager 4.0.

    Conner has trouble staying on the field. Since Le’Veon Bell left the team, Conner has missed nine games in two years. His star is quickly fading.

    That being said, you could make a case for him being slowed with leg injuries. Also, poor quarterback play didn’t help. He could potentially rebound in 2020.

    Jaylen Samuels also had a year to forget. He posted a horrific 2.7 yards-per-carry average; he simply couldn’t run between the tackles. He is pretty good as a pass catcher, though. Mike Tomlin tends to prefer using just one back, but Samuels could turn out to be valuable as a third-down back.

    Benny Snell was the lone guy at the position that didn’t disappoint too much. The rookie fourth-rounder out of Kentucky had a few good outings when called upon to fill in for injured players. His role could expand in 2020.

    2.3 Wide Receivers (WRs)

    JuJu Smith-Schuster is probably the happiest guy in the locker room regarding the return of Ben Roethlisberger to the lineup.

    He had by far his worst career season with 42 catches, 552 receiving yards and 3 TDs. He did miss four games due to injuries, but those are not good numbers at all for a rising star.

    Smith-Schuster will be entering a contract year and he’s still very young at just 23 year old. Injuries and dismal QB play were certainly key factors to explain his down year.

    James Washington took a big step forward in his development despite the struggles at quarterback. After a 16-217-1 receiving line in his rookie season, he posted a nice 44-735-3 line last year. He should be a nice contributor in 2020.

    Diontae Johnson made a name for himself last year after averaging, over the final four meetings of the season, 5.8 catches for 64 yards. The 2019 third-rounder also led the team with 5 TD receptions.

    In other words, the Steelers already had a nice trio of young promising wideouts, which is why they surprised many by selecting Chase Claypool in the middle of the second round last April. He has elite size and explosiveness, while also being tough to bring down. He caught 66 passes for 1,037 yards and 13 TDs as a senior with Notre Dame.

    2.4 Tight Ends (TEs)

    After five mediocre years, Vance McDonald had a breakout 2018 season with the Steelers. He caught 50 passes for 610 yards during that year. However, he regressed to just 38 receptions for 273 yards. That amounts to a pedestrian 7.2 yards-per-catch average, which was BY FAR his lowest of his career.

    The team moved on from Nick Vannett, who was no more than a depth alternative and not much of a threat as a pass catcher. The new TE in town will be Eric Ebron, who has played four years with the Lions and a couple with the Colts.

    Ebron was a #10 overall pick in the 2014 draft and he will be playing his age-27 campaign. He has a lot of talent, even though much has been made of his tendency to drop some passes. He can also make acrobatic catches, though.

    Don’t sleep on Ebron. He had a career year a couple of seasons ago with 66 catches, 750 yards and 13 TDs. His numbers took a big dip last year, but he was repeatedly slowed with ankle problems. He underwent surgery during the offseason, hoping to be back at 100%.

    2.5 Offensive Line (OL)

    Maurkice Pouncey is one of the top paid centers in the league, but he’s not playing like a top center at all.

    Last year, he obtained the lowest PFF grades of his nine-year career. He finished next-to-last among 37 centers with a putrid 51.5 mark. Can he make it among the top 10 players at the position next year? It seems unlikely given he will be playing his age-31 season. Still, it’s hard to believe he won’t do better in the upcoming season.

    Matt Feiler and Alejandro Villanueva finished as the #20 and #24 tackles in the NFL (out of 81 qualifiers), according to PFF grades. Both went undrafted, but have done a fair job in the most recent seasons.

    Ramon Foster retired after 11 seasons. He is likely to be replaced with Stefen Wisniewski, who started as a backup with the Chiefs, but was forced into the starting lineup during their Super Bowl run. He is a very decent player.

    The last piece of the puzzle on the offensive line is David DeCastro. His best years seem past him, but he’s still a serviceable guy. From 2013 to 2017, his PFF grades lied between 77.9 and 89.0. His marks have taken a dip recently: 72.3 and 71.0 in the two most recent years.

    Notice how four out of the five starters are 30 years or older.

    2020 VS 2019 OFFENSE

    On top of Ben Roethlisberger missing almost all of the 2019 season, the Steelers also saw James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster go down to injuries. Having them all on the field when the 2020 season begins will be a huge boost for an offense that struggled mightily last year.

    Also, acquiring the very talented pass-catching tight end Eric Ebron will give Big Ben an additional weapon to work with.

    The aging offensive line worries me, though. Pittsburgh QBs were among the most-pressured QBs in the league last year (adjusting for the number of dropbacks). No other team averaged fewer yards before contact per rush.

    Still, overall I’ve got to go with a moderate upgrade. QB play was awful last year and it will improve dramatically if Roethlisberger stays healthy (a big “if”). I also like their young group of receivers. Pittsburgh’s offense finished 27th in points scored in 2019; a jump to the #13-#18 range is likely.

    Final call (2020 vs 2019): Moderate upgrade

    3. Defensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

    3.1 Defensive Linemen (DLs)

    Only Aaron Donald received a higher PFF grade than Cameron Heyward last year. His play has really peaked over the past three seasons, in which he has averaged 9.7 sacks per year. He’s a dominant force against the run also.

    After three “okay” seasons in which he never got a PFF grade above 70, Stephon Tuitt’s play also peaked in the following three years with marks always above 80. Unfortunately, a torn pec ended his 2019 season after six games.

    Just like Heyward, Tuitt is a good run stuffer and he rushes the passer well. Indeed, he has racked up between 3 and 6.5 sacks in each of his past five seasons. Tuitt was viewed as the 5th-best DL among 114 players by PFF rankings last year.

    The team lost Javon Hargrave who signed with the Eagles. He was also outstanding, but the team could not afford to keep him.

    Tyson Alualu will provide some depth on the interior of the defensive line. He has never played like the #10 overall pick the Jaguars made him to be in the 2010 draft, but he has done a fair job in his three years with the Steelers.

    The Steelers also acquired Chris Wormley from the Ravens. He hasn’t been a difference maker thus far in his three seasons in the league, but he’s been above-average defending the run.

    3.2 Defensive Ends (DEs) / Edge Rushers (ED)

    T.J. Watt blew by the competition to finish as the #1 edge defender in the entire NFL last year. His numbers were breathtaking: 14.5 sacks, two interceptions and eight forced fumbles (that’s right, eight!!!). He topped his 13-sack season the year ago as a sophomore.

    Bud Dupree also enjoyed the best season of his career. I don’t mean to downgrade his accomplishments, but Watt’s presence certainly helped receiving less attention from opponent’s offensive lines.

    Dupree set career-highs in tackles (68), sacks (11.5, which was way higher than his previous personal-best of 6), tackles for a loss (16) and forced fumbles (4). He was a monster and is entering his prime years at 27.

    3.3 Linebackers (LBs)

    Devin Bush was the #10 overall pick in last year’s draft. So far so good for the prospect from Michigan, although there is room for improvement.

    He ranked as the 36th-best linebacker in the league last year out of 89 qualifiers. He struggled against the run early on, but improved this aspect of the game down the stretch.

    Mark Barron has never been a great LB in this league, but his play was adequate until it plummeted in 2018. He bounced back a little bit last year; his PFF ranking was slightly below-average. The team decided to release him in the offseason.

    Following Barron’s release, Vince Williams will probably get more playing time. He was on the field for just 37% of the snaps, but earned high marks from PFF. He only recorded 2.5 sacks, but he significantly improved his game against the run and in coverage. He will be playing his 8th season with Pittsburgh.

    3.4 Cornerbacks (CBs)

    Steven Nelson’s journey in the NFL has been impressive, as shown by his PFF grades improving in each of his first five seasons. It culminated last year with the number 6 spot out of 112 cornerbacks. His coverage skills were very good.

    Starting opposite of Nelson is Joe Haden. He’s a former first-round pick taken by the Browns in 2010. His first five years in Cleveland went smoothly, but his last two were pretty bad.

    He then joined the Steelers in 2017 and has received 69.3, 70.9 and 70.3 PFF marks in his time with Pittsburgh. Such grades put him as an above-average corner. He has picked off eight passes in three years in the Steel City.

    Despite being an undrafted free agent, Mike Hilton is sticking around as a nickel corner. His play has been good enough to keep him with the team.

    Cameron Sutton is also a three-year veteran. As a former third-rounder, you’d expect him to be higher on the depth chart than Hilton, but that has not been the case. He did step up his game last year, but needs to show more in order to get additional playing time.

    3.5 Safeties (S)

    Minkah Fitzpatrick was traded from the Dolphins to the Steelers at mid-September. Many draft picks were involved, but Fitzpatrick was essentially traded for a first-round pick, which turned out to be the #18 selection in the 2020 draft.

    He was phenomenal for the Steelers, including five interceptions and one touchdown. He was also exceptional against the run. In other words, he was everything the Steelers were hoping for.

    The other starting safety is Terrell Edmunds. Just like Fitzpatrick, he was also taken in the 1st round of the 2018 draft (17 spots lower than Minkah). He hasn’t been nearly as good, though.

    Edmunds’ play last year put him in the 59th spot out of 87 safeties, according to PFF grades. He had an almost identical mark the year before. He’s still young, so the organization is hoping he can step up his game a little bit in 2020.

    2020 VS 2019 DEFENSE

    There’s been very few changes to this defense, which is good news for two reasons.

    First, the team allowed the fifth-fewest points last year, so why change a winning formula?

    Secondly, the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to shorten training camps, in which case playing with familiar faces will turn out to be a big advantage. Players won’t have as much time to get accustomed playing with new guys.

    Losing a great player like Javon Hargrave hurts, but the blow will be alleviated by the fact that the team was already loaded on the interior of the line with Heyward and Tuitt.

    The team also lost starting LB Mark Barron, who was an average player.

    I like the fact that many key pieces on this defense are still very young, and therefore likely to improve even more: T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, Devin Bush, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds.

    Last year, the starters missed very few games due to injuries, except Stephon Tuitt. The injury bug is much more likely to cause more damage in 2020, than to cause less of it.

    Based on these reasons, I’ll predict similar production as 2019, which would be fantastic!

    Final call (2020 vs 2019): Stable

    4. Regular Season Wins

    According to sportsbooks, the Steelers are expected to win 9 games this season. Should we bet the “over” or the “under”?

    Here is the methodology I used in order to answer this vital question:

    Use BetOnline.ag’s point spreads on all 256 regular season games.

    • Convert those point spreads into win probabilities.
    • Simulate each of the 256 games, according to those win probabilities, via the R statistical software.
    • Repeat the previous step one million times (you get 1M simulated seasons).
    • Count the proportion of seasons where the Steelers won more or less than 9 games.
    • Here are the results (excluding the simulated years where they won exactly 9 games, in which case your bet would have tied):

    OVER 9 WINS
    Estimated Probability: 58.2%
    Best Odds: -110 (FanDuel)
    ROI: +11.1%

    UNDER 9 WINS
    Estimated Probability: 41.8%
    Best Odds: +120 (Sports Interaction)
    ROI: -8.0%

    Tip: Bet OVER 9 wins
    Return On Investment (ROI): +11.1%
    Rank: 24th-highest ROI out of 32 teams
    Minimum odds required to bet (i.e. ROI = 0%): -139

    Here are BetOnline’s point spreads for the Steelers’ 16 regular season games:

    • HOME: 0 vs BAL, -9.5 vs CIN, -4.5 vs CLE, -6 vs DEN, -5 vs HOU, -2.5 vs IND, -1.5 vs PHI, -10 vs WAS.
    • ROAD: +7 @ BAL, +2.5 @ BUF, -4 @ CIN, +1 @ CLE, +3 @ DAL, -6 @ JAX, -3 @ NYG, +2 @ TEN.

    Note: The “Best odds” from the table above were obtained after looking at 13 well-known online sportsbooks on May 18th, 2020.

    TOMORROW: I'll talk about the team whose ROI is the 23rd-highest in the league, the Los Angeles Chargers!

    Thanks for reading, buddy!

    Professor MJ

  14. 1. Introduction

    Matt LaFleur’s first season as Green Bay’s head coach has to be considered a success. He led the team to a 13-3 record, which secured the NFC North title.

    The Packers held off the Seahawks to a 28-23 home win in the first round of the playoffs, but were ousted by the Niners in a brutal 37-20 thumping (a game in which the Packers dugged themselves into an early 27-0 hole).

    2. Offensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

    2.1 Quarterbacks (QBs)

    Aaron Rodgers will be entering his 16th NFL season. He had another excellent year with a 26-to-4 TD-to-INT ratio and over 4,000 passing yards. He finished as the 7th-best QB in the league according to PFF ratings.

    At 36 years old, he is likely to have a few good years left. After all, Drew Brees and Tom Brady posted nice statistics in their late thirties.

    Rodgers has been very durable throughout his career, but he’s not invincible either. Tim Boyle was the backup plan last year, and the team needed to upgrade the position while starting to think about the post-Rodgers era.

    Still, drafting Jordan Love was the most questionable and talked-about pick in this year’s draft. People expected the Packers to go with a veteran backup QB. Rodgers has mentioned several times he wants to play in his forties; he can still offer a good five years of solid play in the frozen tundra.

    Love has possesses great size, throws with velocity and he’s very mobile. The main knock on him is the decision-making and inconsistency.

    As a sophomore, he threw 32 TD passes versus 6 interceptions. He regressed a lot last year by posting a mediocre 20:17 TD:INT mark. Granted, his surrounding cast was very weak and he had to go through a coaching change.

    Love can throw from many different arm angles; he reminds people of Patrick Mahomes in this regard. He can throw a fastball or a soft touch pass.

    Quick note: he almost quit football when he was 14 years old after his dad committed suicide. However, he knew his dad would want him to keep playing, so he did just that.

    2.2 Running Backs (RBs)

    Aaron Jones is a top running back in this league. Along with Jamaal Williams, they form a lethal duo.

    Including the playoffs, Jones ended up scoring 23 touchdowns in 18 games. His 19 regular season scores were the second most in Packers history. His numbers have increased in each of his first three years as a pro. He is also excellent as a pass catcher.

    Despite playing in the shadow of Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams still finished as the 17th-best RB based on PFF rankings. He does not seem like a lead back, but he’s a perfect change-of-pace guy. Much like Jones, he can do some damage as a receiver as well.

    Williams has been a steady performer thus far in his career. He has rushed for 450-550 yards in each of his three seasons, while catching a minimum of 25 balls. He has 15 total TDs over this three-year span.

    If you thought GM Brian Gutekunst made a strange move by drafting QB Jordan Love in the first round, he doubled down with another head scratcher in the 2nd round when he took A.J. Dillon.

    Message to Mr. Gutekunst: Aaron Rodgers needed pass catchers, not a third running back! I really don’t get this pick either. I’m not saying Dillon won’t be good in the NFL; only time will tell. However, it clearly wasn’t a position of need for the Packers.

    Dillon is a power back who rarely breaks off huge runs. He racked up big numbers in three seasons in Boston College. He’s unlikely to become a three-down starter, especially since he’s not a good pass catcher. He will likely be used sporadically as a rookie.

    2.3 Wide Receivers (WRs)

    Davante Adams is one of the best at his position. He had a streak of three straight seasons with at least 10 TD receptions snapped last year, but he still caught 83 passes for 997 yards in 12 games (he missed four games because of a toe injury).

    Outside of Adams, all pass catchers appeared lost on the field. None of them developed a good chemistry with Rodgers.

    Marquez Valdes-Scantling was a huge disappointment last year. He showed promise as a rookie with over 500 receiving yards. Here’s a jaw-dropping statistic: after Week #7, MVS did not get more than 19 receiving yards in any meeting. That’s awful.

    One of the guys benefiting from Valdes-Scantling’s poor play was Jake Kumerow. He got more playing time than expected, but still only caught 12 passes. He is closing in on 30 years of age and is limited as an athlete, so he’s not a long-term answer for sure.

    Allen Lazard was also thrown into action far more than expected. He finished second in terms of receiving yards for Green Bay, but let’s face the reality: the undrafted guy remains more of a #3 or #4 WR for any team.

    Geronimo Allison was another bust last year. His top performance over the last 12 games (including the playoffs) was a meager 33 receiving yards. He left for another NFC North team, the Detroit Lions.

    In other words, the #2 role is wide open. The team hopes newly acquired Devin Funchess can step into that role. The former second rounder had his best season in 2017 with the Panthers with a 63-840-8 stat line. He signed with the Colts last year, but played just one game before breaking a collarbone. He will be 26 years old this season and provides an interesting prospect for the Packers.

    2.4 Tight Ends (TEs)

    We’re not done talking about 2019 busts. Jimmy Graham was one of them. He clearly looks washed. He received the lowest grades of his 10-year career, and deservedly so. The Packers released him and he signed a few days later with the Bears (a horrible mind-boggling two-year, $16 million contract).

    Marcedes Lewis received surprisingly good marks from PFF. If you look into the numbers, the good grade occurred mainly because of efficient run and pass blocking. He’s not much of a pass catcher and he will be 36 years old when the season begins.

    Robert Tonyan will also be in the mix, but the guy that has the best chance to break out as a receiver in 2020 only caught three passes last year (all in the playoffs): Jace Sternberger. Taken in the third round of the 2019 draft, Sternberger was a threat at Texas A&M in college. He missed most of the regular season because of injuries, but the door is wide open with Graham’s departure.

    We might also see third-round rookie Josiah Deguara. He has a great motor and plays extremely hard. He’s undersized as a tight end, though.

    2.5 Offensive Line (OL)

    The Packers had a pretty solid offensive line in 2019. All five starters managed to play at least 84% of the offensive snaps. And they all finished above-average according to PFF ratings!

    The bad news, however, is the Bryan Bulaga left for the Chargers. Despite turning over 30 years old, he still played at a high level.

    The Packers decided to replace him by signing Rick Wagner, formerly of the Lions. Wagner’s PFF grades from 2016 to 2018 were as follows: 74.0, 75.2 and 71.4. Last year, his play deteriorated a lot and he was tagged with a 59.0 grade. He finished as the #61 tackle among 81 guys.

    I like the fact that the team is returning four out of five guys, but replacing Bulaga with Wagner has to be viewed as a downgrade.

    2020 VS 2019 OFFENSE

    The Packers offense finished in the middle of the pack in points scored per game. Barring major injuries, I expect about the same production in 2020.

    The QB and RB situations remain the same.

    Adding Funchess is not a huge move, but it won’t hurt. The team clearly needs someone to step up opposite of Davante Adams. At tight end, losing Jimmy Graham means close to nothing since he was so ineffective. Sternberger might bring a nice contribution, but we can hardly expect him to be a game-breaker.

    Finally, the OL will take a dip with the loss of Bulaga. I don’t believe Rick Wagner can do better than him.

    All in all, I view the additions/departures as a slight negative for Green Bay, but having so many starters returning to the lineup for a second straight season is always a good thing in the NFL. For these reasons, I expect a similar output as 2019 from this unit.

    Final call (2020 vs 2019): Stable

    3. Defensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

    3.1 Defensive Linemen (DLs)

    Kenny Clark had a fantastic season! He is one of the best interior rushers in the NFL. He recorded six sacks for the second straight year, and PFF ranked him as the 13th-best interior linemen out of 114 qualifiers.

    The same nice comments cannot be made about Dean Lowry. He had the worst season of his four-year career as a pro. He did not post a single sack and wasn’t great against the run either.

    Reserve Tyler Lancaster is only there to provide some depth. He isn’t particularly good in any aspect of the game.

    The team did not make any move regarding this position during the offseason.

    3.2 Defensive Ends (DEs) / Edge Rushers (ED)

    During the last offseason, the Packers acquired two Smiths: Za’Darius and Preston. They burst onto the scene and got 13.5 and 12 sacks, respectively.

    Obviously, both received high marks for their pass rushing abilities, but Preston finished as an average linebacker overall because of mediocre run defense and poor coverage.

    Kyler Fackrell was a huge disappointment in 2019. After racking up 10.5 sacks in 2018, he only got one in 2019! He signed a one-year deal with the Giants.

    First-round pick Rashan Gary wasn’t necessarily impressive during his rookie season. He played 23% of the snaps, while obtaining two sacks but very pedestrian marks from PFF (an overall 55.8 grade, which is near the bottom among edge defenders).

    3.3 Linebackers (LBs)

    Green Bay lost its leader in tackles from the past three years, Blake Martinez. After starting 61 of the last 64 Packers games, Martinez decided to join the New York Giants. He had the second-most tackles in the league last year, but don’t be misled by that number. Martinez still finished slight below-average (52nd out of 89 LBs) because of poor play against the run.

    The Packers also lost some depth at the position when B.J. Goodson left for Cleveland.

    Green Bay picked up a linebacker from the Browns roster: Christian Kirksey. He was picked in the 3rd round of the 2014 before being involved in all 16 games from his first four seasons in the NFL. However, he has been plagued with injuries over the most recent two years; he played 7 games in 2018 and only 2 games in 2019.

    He is also capable of racking up tackles, as shown by his 2016 and 2017 seasons where he obtained 146 and 138. His PFF grades during his first four seasons varied between 61.9 and 69.3. Just to give you a rough idea, a 65.0 rating would have been good for 29th place out of 89 LBs.

    3.4 Cornerbacks (CBs)

    Jaire Alexander has done the job as the #1 corner. He has obtained 72.4 and 71.2 marks from PFF during his first two seasons, which is well-above average. He’s so-so defending the run, but his coverage skills are very good.

    The number two corner, Kevin King had five interceptions last year after getting just one over his first two years as a pro. He did show some improvement after two rocky years. He finished 2019 as a middle-of-the-pack corner.

    Tramon Williams played 74% of the snaps and had a surprisingly good season despite his age. He will be 37 when the 2020 season begins. He is currently a free agent and it remains to be seen if the Packers bring him back or not.

    In summary, Alexander and King are both pretty young and could still be improving, but Tramon Williams provided quality play and it’s uncertain if someone else can pick up the slack.

    3.5 Safeties (S)

    Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage were the top two guys here.

    Along with Za’Darius and Preston Smith, the Adrian Amos was another excellent signing by the Packers during the 2019 offseason. Amos had been a reliable guy in Chicago for four seasons, and he continued to excel in the frozen tundra.

    After being selected as the #21 overall pick in the 2019 draft, Darnell Savage did show some flashes as a rookie last year. He finished as the #47 safety among 87 qualifiers, which is very satisfying for a rookie. He earned nice marks in coverage (77.4), but horrible ones against the run (37.7).

    Will Redmond will be back as the number three safety. He’s not starter material for sure.

    2020 VS 2019 DEFENSE

    Most of the starters are returning in 2020. That’s the good news.

    The team lost their leader in tackles, Blake Martinez, as well as pass rusher Kyler Fackrell and CB Tramon Williams.

    The only acquisition worth of note is Christian Kirksey. Him not having played very much during the last two seasons brings some question marks.

    The Packers defense struggled against the run last year, and there’s no reason to believe that will change in 2020. Green Bay still finished 9th in points allowed, which was a very acceptable result.

    Unfortunately, a decrease in effectiveness is expected and I predict this unit will end 2020 as a middle-of-pack defense (12th – 19th in points allowed).

    Final call (2020 vs 2019): Small downgrade

    4. Regular Season Wins

    According to sportsbooks, the Green Bay Packers are expected to win 9 games this season. Should we bet the “over” or the “under”?

    Here is the methodology I used in order to answer this vital question:

    • Use BetOnline.ag’s point spreads on all 256 regular season games.
    • Convert those point spreads into win probabilities.
    • Simulate each of the 256 games, according to those win probabilities, via the R statistical software.
    • Repeat the previous step one million times (you get 1M simulated seasons).
    • Count the proportion of seasons where the Packers won more or less than 9 games.

    Here are the results (excluding the simulated years where the Pack won exactly 9 games, since in those cases your bet would have tied):

    OVER 9 WINS
    Estimated Probability: 51.4%
    Best Odds: +115 (bwin)
    ROI: +10.5%

    UNDER 9 WINS
    Estimated Probability: 48.6%
    Best Odds: +100 (Heritage Sports)
    ROI: -2.8%

    Tip: Bet OVER 9 wins
    Return On Investment (ROI): +10.5%
    Rank: 25th-highest ROI out of 32 teams
    Minimum odds required to bet (i.e. ROI = 0%): -106

    Here are BetOnline’s point spreads for the Bears’ 16 regular season games:

    • HOME: -6 vs ATL, -10 vs CAR, -4.5 vs CHI, -6.5 vs DET, -11.5 vs JAX, -3 vs MIN, -2.5 vs PHI, -3.5 vs TEN.
    • ROAD: 0 @ CHI, -2 @ DET, 0 @ HOU, +2.5 @ IND, +3 @ MIN, +5.5 @ NO, +6.5 @ SF, +2.5 @ TB.

    Note: The “Best odds” from the table above were obtained after looking at 13 well-known online sportsbooks on May 18th, 2020.

    TOMORROW: I'll talk about the team whose ROI is the 24th-highest in the league, the Pittsburgh Steelers!

    Did you like this write-up? If so, comment below! I'd like to know YOUR opinion on what to expect from the Packers' 2020 season!

    Professor MJ

  15. 1. Introduction

    It was a roller-coaster ride for the Bears last year. They started with a 3-1 record before losing five of their next six meetings. They concluded the season by winning four of the last six games, but it wasn’t enough to qualify for the playoffs.

    After a NFC North title in 2018, Da Bears ended with a disappointing 8-8 record last season.

    The offense was often criticized (deservedly so), and changes needed to be made.


    2. Offensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

    2.1 Quarterbacks (QBs)

    Mitchell Trubisky has had an uncharacteristic journey in the NFL thus far. After being selected as the number two overall pick, he had a rookie season where he threw 7 TD passes versus 7 picks. He took a nice leap in his sophomore year with 24 TDs and 12 interceptions, while leading the team to its first division title since 2010.

    QBs showing such a nice growth from year 1 to year 2 rarely crash down the following season, but that pretty much describes Trubisky’s third year in the league. He graded as the 30th-best QB in the NFL out of 37 qualifiers based on PFF rankings.

    This situation was inexplicable. It’s not like the team had lost many key pieces on offense. What happened to Trubisky?

    GM Ryan Pace has set up nicely a good QB battle in camp between Trubisky and newly acquired Nick Foles.

    What’s interesting is Foles himself has had ups-and-downs in his career. He was outstanding in 2013 by throwing 27 TDs versus just 2 interceptions! He also led the Eagles to a Super Bowl in the 2017 season, after Carson Wentz went down to an injury. Foles also performed well in 2018.

    However, he wasn’t so good in 2014, 2015 and more recently 2019. What type of quarterback will he be in the windy city? Who’s going to get the starting nod?

    My own guess is Foles win the job early on. He is already familiar with the head coach, the QB coach and the offensive coordinator. Learning the playbook won’t be as difficult as if these guys had never worked together in the past.

    Backup QB Chase Daniel left for a division rival: the Detroit Lions.

    Overall, adding Foles over Daniel is clearly an upgrade over 2019, while also keeping in mind the fact that Trubisky may return to his previous form (which is not impossible for a young guy like him).

    2.2 Running Backs (RBs)

    What the heck happened to Tarik Cohen? I have always liked small and fast guys. For this reason, he had become one of my favorite guys to watch. Watching him last year (and the entire offense) was sad.

    His yards per rush average went from 4.5 to 3.3. His yards per catch average went from 10.2 to 5.8. He couldn’t get going all season long.

    In 2017 and 2018, Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen were a great version of the thunder-and-lightning combo. Despite losing Howard, the production wasn’t supposed to drop significantly because of the acquisition of David Montgomery through the draft.

    That’s not how things played out. The team went from 11th to 27th place in terms of rushing yards per game (from 2018 to 2019). Montgomery finished the year with a disappointing 3.7 yards per carry average.

    Both Montgomery and Cohen will be back in 2020. Perhaps they’ll do better this year, but I don’t expect a huge upgrade either.

    2.3 Wide Receivers (WRs)

    Finally a guy that has produced consistent results in this offense: Allen Robinson!

    Catching 98 balls for 1,147 yards and 7 TDs despite such bad QB play was phenomenal! You can count on him to generate good numbers again, especially in a contract year.

    A former second-round pick, Anthony Miller caught 52 passes last season after catching 33 the year before. The only blemish was the number of TD receptions, which went from 7 to 2.

    Miller started the year slowly following an offseason injury that made him miss some time in camp. His role could be increased after the departure of Taylor Gabriel.

    The Bears pulled the plug on the Taylor Gabriel experiment. After showing some flashes with the Falcons, he never lived up to expectations in Chicago.

    Again, the production from this group may be steady in 2020.

    2.4 Tight Ends (TEs)

    I’m sorry Bears fans, but one of the worst free agent acquisitions, in my humble opinion, was Jimmy Graham for two years and $16 million. The price paid versus the production doesn’t make sense at all.

    If you look at his numbers, you can see a clear decline. His first seven seasons were a success; his lowest mark according to PFF during that time span was 74.7. Then, he received a 66.0 grade in 2017. And then 59.6 in 2018, followed by 58.0 last year. To make matters worse, remember that the last two years were with the Packers, who happen to have a quarterback named Aaron Rodgers (have you heard of him?).

    Trey Burton was another huge disappointment last year. After catching 54 passes a couple of years ago, he only caught 14 in eight games. He was released and picked up by the Colts.

    The team drafted Cole Kmet in the second round in this year’s draft. He’s a classic tight end who can do a little bit of everything. He provides good run blocking, albeit sometimes a bit inconsistent. He doesn’t have that much experience as a pass catcher since he only started racking up decent stats last year, but he has a big catch radius. He will likely need time to develop into a solid starter.

    The Bears also have Adam Shaheen in their roster, a 2nd round pick from the 2017 draft. He has bust written all over him.

    As if they didn’t have enough tight ends, Chicago went on to sign Demetrius Harris, formerly of the Browns. He graded as the 66th-best tight end out of 66 qualifiers. Enough said.

    This group did very little last year. A bunch of six guys combined for 46 catches. Despite the questionable moves, I expect a small upgrade. Perhaps Graham can magically rejuvenate his career?

    2.5 Offensive Line (OL)

    Four out of five starters are returning: Cody Whitehair, James Daniels, Charles Leno and Bobby Massie. Only Daniels graded as above-average; the others finished in the middle of the pack (or even lower).

    Kyle Long announced his retirement, while semi-starter Cornelius Lucas left for Washington. The new starter on the OL will be Germain Ifedi, who made at least 13 starts in each of his first four seasons in the league (all with the Seahawks).

    In summary, we have a not-so great starter being replace by a not-so great player. Therefore, we can expect similar results to 2019, which was average play.

    2020 VS 2019 OFFENSE

    Inconsistency is a recurring theme for many players from this unit: Trubisky, Foles and Cohen.

    My final conclusion is a small upgrade over 2019, mainly because of the QB position. The chances are fairly good that either Foles provides a spark, or Trubisky regains his 2018 form. However, don’t expect a MVP-type of season for any one of them.

    The rest of the offense should expect similar output. Acquiring Jimmy Graham and Germain Ifedi is nothing to write home about, just as losing Taylor Gabriel isn’t a big loss either.

    Final call (2020 vs 2019): Small upgrade

    3. Defensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

    3.1 Defensive Linemen (DLs)

    The interior defenders did a fairly good job. Roy Robertson-Harris, Nick Williams and Eddie Goldman all graded as above-average DLs in 2019. Only Bilal Nichols received poor grades, but he played less often.

    Nick Williams left for Detroit, but the Bears expect to get Akiem Hicks in 2020. He suited up for just five games last year. He’s been a dominating force for them the previous three years. His return on the field will make a big difference.

    So, despite Williams’ departure, this group should do better in 2020 than the year before, mainly because of Hicks’ return.

    3.2 Defensive Ends (DEs) / Edge Rushers (ED)

    Khalil Mack’s sack production went down in 2019 with “only” 8.5. He had recorded 12.5, 10.5, 11 and 15 in its previous four campaigns. Still, Mack finished as the #14 edge defender out of 107 guys. He is constantly disrupting plays from opposing offenses.

    The Bears lost Leonard Floyd who went to the Rams, but they quick found a replacement with Robert Quinn, coming over from Dallas. Floyd is two years younger and averaged 4.6 sacks per season, while Quinn has gotten 8.9 sacks per year over his nine-year career. Quinn is a better pass rusher, while Floyd plays the run better.

    All in all, I expect similar results as 2019 from this unit.

    3.3 Linebackers (LBs)

    One more guy who saw a dip in productivity was Roquan Smith. After receiving a 67.0 grade in his rookie season, he only got 52.4 last year. He played the run well, but his coverage and pass rushing weren’t nearly as good in 2019. I do believe the former #8 pick overall can come back very strong in 2020.

    Danny Trevathan missed six games because of an injury, but he played pretty well when he was on the field. I am not worried about him.

    Backups Nick Kwiatkoski and Kevin Pierre-Louis both left in free agency. Both played very well while filling in for injured starters. Their losses take a blow to Chicago’s linebacker depth.

    3.4 Cornerbacks (CBs)

    Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara were the clear starters in 2019. Despite finishing as PFF’s number 41 CB out of 112 qualifiers, Amukamara was released by the Bears for cap reasons.

    Still, the team needs to replace him. Can Buster Skrine or Kevin Toliver assume that #2 role? I’m not so sure about that…

    Chicago hopes to fill the void via the selection of Jaylon Johnson in the 2nd round last April. The number one concern about him is health; he has undergone through three shoulder surgeries over the years.

    Johnson’s speed and explosiveness are below average, but he makes up for it with great competitiveness and smart-play.

    3.5 Safeties (S)

    We are rounding the defensive side of the ball with the safeties. Things were pretty simple in 2019, as both Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Eddie Jackson played 99% of the defensive snaps. They ranked 19th and 46th out of 87 safeties, respectively, according to PFF.

    The problem is Clinton-Dix is gone to Dallas. Last year the Bears vacated the vacancy created at the safety position when Adrian Amos left for Green Bay by acquiring Clinton-Dix, but now that he’s also gone they have a glaring hole at the position.

    2020 VS 2019 DEFENSE

    The Bears allowed the fourth-fewest points in the league last season. Can we expect a similary good 2020 season? I doubt it.

    First, the good news. Akiem Hicks is back from an injury that made him miss 11 games and the team acquired steady sack producer Robert Quinn from Dallas.

    The bad news? Losing DL Nick Williams, DE Leonard Floyd, LBs Nick Kwiatkoski and Kevin Pierre-Louis, CB Prince Amukamara and S Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix. That’s a lot of bodies that need to be replaced. We’re talking about at least 4 new starters and some key depth.

    Overall, my guess is it takes a moderate blow to the Bears’ defense. Their front seven is likely to remain very good, but the secondaries worry me. I wouldn’t fall off my chair if the team went from 4th-best in points allowed to the 10th-12th range.

    Final call (2020 vs 2019): Moderate downgrade

    4. Regular Season Wins

    According to sportsbooks, the Chicago Bears are expected to win 8.5 games this season. Should we bet the “over” or the “under”?

    Here is the methodology I used in order to answer this vital question:

    • Use BetOnline.ag’s point spreads on all 256 regular season games.
    • Convert those point spreads into win probabilities.
    • Simulate each of the 256 games, according to those win probabilities, via the R statistical software.
    • Repeat the previous step one million times (you get 1M simulated seasons).
    • Count the proportion of seasons where the Bears won more or less than 8.5 games.

    Here are the results:

    OVER 8.5 WINS
    Estimated Probability: 38%
    Best Odds: +148 (Pinnacle)
    ROI: -5.8%

    UNDER 8.5 WINS
    Estimated Probability: 62%
    Best Odds: -130 (MyBookie.ag)
    ROI: +9.7%

    Tip: Bet UNDER 8.5 wins
    Return On Investment (ROI): +9.7%
    Rank: 26th-highest ROI out of 32 teams
    Minimum odds required to bet (i.e. ROI = 0%): -163

    Here are BetOnline’s point spreads for the Bears’ 16 regular season games:

    • HOME: -5 vs DET, 0 vs GB, -3.5 vs HOU, -1.5 vs IND, 0 vs MIN, +2.5 vs NO, -5 vs NYG, -1 vs TB.
    • ROAD: +2 @ ATL, -2.5 @ CAR, +1.5 @ DET, +4.5 @ GB, +1 @ JAX, +3.5 @ LAR, +4 @ MIN, +3 @ TEN.

    Note: The “Best odds” from the table above were obtained after looking at 13 well-known online sportsbooks on May 18th, 2020.

    TOMORROW: I'll talk about the team whose ROI is the 25th-highest in the league, the Green Bay Packers!

    I hope you found this article insightful, thanks for reading!

    Professor MJ
     

  16. 1. Introduction

    The Ravens finished as the top team in the NFL with a 14-2 record. However, the season ended on a sour note as they lost 28-to-12 at home against the Titans in the divisional round.

    Baltimore finished 1st in points scored and 3rd in points allowed. It doesn’t get any better than this!

    Their running game was historically great! They racked up 206 rushing yards per game on average, while the second-best in the NFL was San Francisco at “just” 144…

    Can they replicate last year’s success?

    2. Offensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

    2.1 Quarterbacks (QBs)

    Lamar Jackson was nothing short of spectacular. He was a lot of fun to watch. He was only the second unanimous MVP winner ever.

    He ran for 1,206 yards, but he surprised many with his arm. He threw 36 TD passes versus just 6 picks.

    While those numbers are jaw-dropping, I find it hard to believe he can be as good in 2020. Maybe teams will figure him out better and find ways to contain him. You cannot ask Baltimore’s quarterback position to do better in 2020 than they did in 2019.

    Note that Robert Griffin III remains the Ravens’ backup QB this year.

    2.2 Running Backs (RBs)

    Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards were a very good one-two punch (on top of having Lamar Jackson running like crazy). They will be 30 and 25 years old, respectively, so there shouldn’t be too much of a dropoff.

    At first, it was believed that Justice Hill might push Gus Edwards for the number two role in 2020. The fourth-round pick out of Oklahoma State had a good rookie season.

    However, Baltimore’s backfield is pretty stacked with the addition of rookie J.K. Dobbins. He is very likely to pass Edwards and Hill on the depth chart. It won’t be easy to unseat Ingram, though.

    Dobbins rushed for over 2,000 yards last year, while also punching the ball in the end zone 21 times! He can also catch the ball well out of the backfield. He has the tools to become a three-down back in the NFL.

    2.3 Wide Receivers (WRs)

    Not much change at this position either, except for the loss of Seth Roberts who caught 21 passes for 271 yards and 2 TDs. Not a big deal.

    The top two targets will be back in 2020: Marquise Brown and Willie Snead.

    Brown’ rookie season was a success as he caught 46 passes for 584 yards. He finished third among rookies with 7 receiving TDs. However, his college career ended with a foot injury and he says it hampered him at times during the 2019 season. He faded down the stretch, despite nice numbers in the lone playoff game. Indeed, he scored just one touchdown over the last six meetings.

    Snead wasn’t particularly good. He ranked 101st out of 122 wide receivers by PFF. During the regular season, he cleared 50 receiving yards just two times. He caught 4 passes in one game, and hauled in 3 passes or less in the remaining 15 matchups.

    Overall, this is a bit of a shaky group. Given his history, Marquise Brown is a likely candidate for injuries and if that happens, they will be in trouble at the wideout position. As mentioned above, Snead isn’t very strong. Seth Roberts is gone. And Miles Boykin isn’t scaring anyone either. Depth was clearly an issue here.

    Most observers believed the Ravens would address the position in the draft. However, Baltimore waited until late in the 3rd round to pick a WR: Devin Duvernay out of Texas. He’s a slot weapon who caught 106 passes for 1,386 yards and 9 TDs last year. Obviously, the 106 receptions are impressive, but keep in mind that he benefited from 42 screen plays going his way.

    2.4 Tight Ends (TEs)

    The team was loaded at this position with Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle and Hayden Hurst. These guys finished 2nd, 12th, and 14th out of 66 tight ends! Having three of the top 14 TEs in the league within the same team is unbelievable!

    Unfortunately, Hurst left for Atlanta. As good as he was, it won’t be a huge blow to the Ravens considering the depth they had.

    2.5 Offensive Line (OL)

    All guys on the offensive line finished above-average according to PFF. Unreal!

    The bad news is Marshal Yanda announced his retirement, which leaves a glaring hole at right guard. Yanda played 88% of the offensive snaps and finished as the 4th-best guard in the league (out of 81 guys). His replacement will have big shoes to fill.

    One of the main candidates to replace him is free agent D.J. Fluker, who is coming over from Seattle. The 29-year-old’s play has fairly dipped over the past three seasons after four promising years with the Chargers. Fluker graded out as the number 48 guard out of 81 players in 2019.

    Still, this is a very strong group, but expect a dropoff compared to last year.

    2020 VS 2019 OFFENSE

    How can you not expect this unit to decrease its production? They were unbelievably effective last year. They are probably going to regress towards the mean.

    They didn’t add any key players on offense (except maybe rookie J.K. Dobbins?), while losing Hayden Hurst, Marshal Yanda and Seth Roberts. Teams have had several months to find ways to slow down Lamar Jackson and company. It’s highly unlikely that his numbers improve over the 2019 campaign.

    Also notice how the Ravens’ offense didn’t suffer any big injury all season long to key players. It may not be the case once again in 2020. Injuries occur on a regular basis in the NFL.

    Final call (2020 vs 2019): Moderate downgrade

    3. Defensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

    3.1 Defensive Linemen (DLs)

    The Ravens had three guys on the interior of the defensive line: Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce and Chris Wormley. Each of them received “ok” ratings from PFF, as they finished 67th, 45th and 63rd respectively (out of 114 inside defenders).

    Pierce and Wormley are gone. However, the team acquired Derek Wolfe from the Broncos. He recorded 7 sacks in 12 games last year and he ranked as the 46th-best inside defender.

    Justin Madubuike was taken early in the 3rd round of this year’s draft. He seems like a boom-or-bust player. He’s athletic, but he is a bit short and light. He’s more likely to become a backup in the NFL.

    3.2 Defensive Ends (DEs) / Edge Rushers (ED)

    Matthew Judon led the way with 9.5 sacks and Tyus Bowser got a career-high 5 sacks in 2019. Both are above-average rushers.

    As for Jaylon Ferguson and Jihad Ward, they received fairly bad marks from PFF.

    The Ravens made a big splash by acquiring Calais Campbell from the Jaguars. The 33-year old may slow down in 2020, but his numbers have been impressive. He has averaged 8 sacks per season over an 11-year period!

    He’s also been extremely durable; he has not missed a game since 2014. As a matter of fact, he’s played at least 13 games in each of his 12 years in the NFL! He finished the 2019 season as the #2 edge defender according to PFF (only behind T.J. Watt from the Steelers).

    3.3 Linebackers (LBs)

    Patrick Onwuasor and Josh Bynes received a good share of playing time. However, both are gone. Onwuasor was the #73 linebacker while Bynes got a surprisingly high 6th spot out of 89 linebackers.

    The only inside LB left with playing experience is L.J. Fort. He’s a 30-year old veteran who has played for five teams. He doesn’t look to be the long-term answer.

    The good news is the Ravens selected Patrick Queen from LSU with the 28th overall pick last April. The main knock on him is clearly is lack of experience since he’s was a one-year starter in college.

    However, his game film is impressive. He is very fast and he diagnoses plays quickly. He may be the only NFL-caliber linebacker the team has on their roster. It’s not as bad as it looks since Baltimore often plays with six DBs and one LB. Malik Harrison, who was picked late in the third round out of Ohio State, might get some limited playing time.

    3.4 Cornerbacks (CBs)

    The Ravens have a strong group here, even though Brandon Carr was let go.

    The team still has Marlon Humphrey (37th-best CB), Marcus Peters (4th-best CB) and Jimmy Smith (42nd-best CB). Baltimore has a lot of ammunition and don’t need to worry about this position.

    3.5 Safeties (S)

    Earl Thomas is a safe value. He’s been consistently good throughout his career and at 31 years old he still has a few good years left.

    Chuck Clark just signed a three-year contract and he deserved it. He really flourished in 2019 and finished 36th out of 87 safeties according to PFF. He is the main reason the team let Tony Jefferson go.

    2020 VS 2019 DEFENSE

    Baltimore’s defense allowed the third fewest points in the league in 2019. They are still going to be difficult to score against.

    Calais Campbell was a great free agent acquisition. To a lesser degree, Derek Wolfe too.

    However, losing Michael Pierce, Chris Wormley, Patrick Onwuasor, Josh Bynes, Brandon Carr and Tony Jefferson will hurt. Most of these guys played about 50% of the snaps and will need to be replaced.

    The team has little to no depth at linebacker. Patrick Queen has a lot of pressure on his shoulders to step in and perform right away in his rookie season.

    Overall, I believe the Ravens defense will see a slight decrease in its effectiveness to stop opposing offenses.

    Final call (2020 vs 2019): Small downgrade

    4. Regular Season Wins

    According to sportsbooks, the Baltimore Ravens are expected to win 11.5 games this season. Should we bet the “over” or the “under”?

    Here is the methodology I used in order to answer this vital question:

    • Use BetOnline.ag’s point spreads on all 256 regular season games.
    • Convert those point spreads into win probabilities.
    • Simulate each of the 256 games, according to those win probabilities, via the R statistical software.
    • Repeat the previous step one million times (you get 1M simulated seasons).
    • Count the proportion of seasons where the Ravens won more or less than 11.5 games.

    Here are the results:

    OVER 11.5 WINS

    • Estimated Probability: 52.3%
    • Best Odds: +105 (at FanDuel)
    • ROI: +7.2%

    UNDER 11.5 WINS

    • Estimated Probability: 47.7%
    • Best Odds: +100 (at bwin)
    • ROI: -4.6%

    Tip: Bet OVER 11.5 wins
    Return On Investment (ROI): +7.2%
    Rank: 27th-highest ROI out of 32 teams
    Minimum odds required to bet (i.e. ROI = 0%): -110

    Here are BetOnline’s point spreads for the Ravens’ 16 regular season games:

    • HOME: -14 vs CIN, -8.5 vs CLE, -7 vs DAL, -16.5 vs JAX, -2 vs KC, -12.5 vs NYG, -7 vs PIT, -8.5 vs TEN.
    • ROAD: -9 @ CIN, -3.5 @ CLE, -5 @ HOU, -2.5 @ IND, -2.5 @ NE, -2 @ PHI, 0 @ PIT, -10 @ WAS

    Note: The “Best odds” from the table above were obtained after looking at 13 well-known online sportsbooks on May 18th, 2020.

    Thanks for reading, I hope you appreciated this write-up!

    Professor MJ

  17. 1. Introduction

    The Rams looked almost unstoppable in 2018 when they finished with a 13-3 record and the second-highest scoring offense in the league. They made it to the Super Bowl, and that’s when things started to unravel for them.

    New England won Super Bowl LIII by a 13-3 score. The Rams offense was limited to just 260 total yards; they were totally unrecognizable.

    Their two biggest stars, Jared Goff and Todd Gurley, have not looked the same since that game. Their level of play took a big hit last year, and it led to a 9-7 season and missing the playoffs.

    What will 2020 bring?

    2. Offensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

    2.1 Quarterbacks (QBs)

    Jared Goff was a huge disappointment for fantasy owners. He did rack up 4,638 passing yards, but if you omit his rookie season, he had a career-low in TD passes with 22 and a career-high in interceptions with 16.

    Goff graded as the 20th overall QB out of 37 by PFF. A much better production was expected of him, especially with some playmakers around him.

    Its offensive line wasn’t as good as it was in the past. When your quarterback is as mobile as a statue, the results are bad. He struggles a lot when pressured; he doesn’t seem to be able to scramble or avoid the rush.

    The team would love to upgrade the OL, but it’s an almost impossible task considering the team’s lack of cap space. For this reason, Goff is unlikely to match his 2017 and 2018 numbers, but the team hopes he can fare better than last year.

    2.2 Running Backs (RBs)

    Todd Gurley had four magnificent seasons with the Rams from 2015 to 2018. He was widely viewed as one of the best non-QB player in the league. He was racking up rushing yards, receiving yards and also a boatload of touchdowns.

    Then, his play started to decline towards the end of the 2018 season because of knee and ankle injuries. His 2019 play wasn’t so good, including a pedestrian 3.8 yard-per-rush average.

    The team got rid of him even though he’s only 25 years old. His knee issues appear to be chronic, which scared the team. His enormous contract also became a big problem.

    Who is set to replace him?

    The team pulled the trigger on Cam Akers in the 2nd round of this year’s draft. He was the #1 ranked RB coming out of high school. He had a tough time at Florida State running behind a putrid offensive line.

    Akers has a very thick lower body. He has the skillset to become a three-down NFL runner since he showed promise as a pass catcher (albeit not spectacular in that part of the game). He has shown a great understanding at reading defensive fronts.

    The Rams invested a 3rd round pick in 2019 on Darrell Henderson, so they are likely to give him all the opportunities to prove his worth. He only rushed 39 times for 147 yards (an ordinary 3.8 yards-per-carry average), while catching just four balls last year. And that was despite Gurley not playing very well, so I don’t recommend holding your breath hoping he can suddenly break out in 2020.

    As for Malcolm Brown, he had more rushes and yards than Henderson, but his yards-per-rush average was no better. Brown did get into the end zone on five occasions, though. The undrafted runner from Texas seems unlikely to be a lead back in the NFL.

    2.3 Wide Receivers (WRs)

    Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods led the team with 94 and 90 receptions, respectively. Both surpassed the 1,100 receiving yard mark. Kupp hauled in 10 TD passes versus just two for Woods. Both are very reliable and well above-average receivers. A very nice duo to have for Goff.

    The 2019 season was one to forget for Brandin Cooks. He had career-lows in receptions (42) and TDs (2), and pretty close to a career-low as well in terms of receiving yards with just 583. His five concussions as a pro and his bad contract enticed the team to trade him to Houston.

    That opens the door for Josh Reynolds, who is clearly a huge downgrade compared to Cooks. That being said, second round pick Van Jefferson might push Reynolds for the number three role.

    Jefferson is known for his route running prowess, which is something Sean McVay values. However, he doesn’t have extraordinary size, nor speed. His production in college wasn’t very impressive, as he never topped the 700 receiving-yard mark in any college season.

    2.4 Tight Ends (TEs)

    The Rams have a nice TE duo with Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett. They graded as the 3rd and 10th-best tight ends in the league last year, according to PFF ratings.

    Gerald Everett entered 2019 as the #1 tight end for the Rams and he was on his way for a breakout season. In Week #11, he sustained a knee injury and he ended up missing a few games. During that time, Tyler Higbee did an astounding job and the team had no choice but to put Everett in the backseat.

    Both of these guys will be back in 2020 and are entering their prime years. The future is bright at this position.

    2.5 Offensive Line (OL)

    L.A.’s offensive line struggled last year. The only guy who seems to be locked into a spot is left guard Andrew Whitworth. His play dipped last year, but he was still one of the best from this group.

    The Rams have signed some bad deals recently, and they might have done another one this offseason. Why sign Whitworth for three years at an average of $10 million, knowing he’s 38 years old? He’s been very durable, but a 38-year-old body is more likely to get hurt. Also, his play might deteriorate even more this year.

    Austin Blythe started the second half of the season at center following Brian Allen’s injury. Both had a subpar season and it remains to be seen who get the starting nod when the season opens.

    Rob Havenstein was considered as a strong up-and-coming right tackle in the NFL until the wheels came off last year. He eventually got benched in favor of Bobby Evans. Both received marks around 50 from PFF, which is horrible.

    David Edwards seems to have a shot to become the starting right guard. He was taken in the 5th round of the 2019 draft and he ended up starting 10 games last year. He finished as the 44th-best guard in the NFL among 81 guards. That’s not great, but it turns out to be a higher rank than most of his teammates.

    Joseph Noteboom is another guy whose PFF grade cratered in 2019. It went from 70.7 in 2018 to 39.7 last year. He was overmatched and looked nothing like the promising third-round pick.

    Austin Corbett might still be in play as well. He’s been nothing short of bad with the Browns and the Rams. He couldn’t make it into the starting lineup with the OL-desperate Browns.

    2020 VS 2019 OFFENSE

    The Rams didn’t add any offensive player worth of note via free agency.

    However, they lost Todd Gurley and Brandin Cooks. Both disappointed a lot last year, but they still had talent and contributed to some level last year.

    I’m also worried about the team’s depth, except at the tight end position.

    First, the backup WR position is questionable. If either Kupp or Woods get hurt, who will step in at WR? Reynolds isn’t ready to be a #2 receiver. Rookie Van Jefferson isn’t up to the task either.

    Next, we don’t even know if the Rams have a #1 running back, let alone a viable backup. They have to hope for Cam Akers to be pro ready. Finally, the offensive line is a mess.

    Therefore, it’s hard to envision an upgrade from this offense. They scored the 11th highest number of points in 2019 and I can hardly see them finishing above spot 11. Perhaps 14th-19th is more realistic.

    Final call (2020 vs 2019): Moderate downgrade

    3. Defensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

    3.1 Defensive Linemen (DLs)

    The interior of the defensive line is the strength of this defense. Having what may be the best defensive player in the league, Aaron Donald, clearly helps the cause.

    Donald has obtained a PFF grade above 90 in each of his first six seasons in the league, which is unbelievable. For clarity purposes, note that just three DLs obtained a mark above 90 last year.

    His numbers are staggering. He has averaged 12 sacks and 2.5 forced fumbles per year. He has also missed just two games during this 6-year period. It doesn’t get any better than this!

    Michael Brockers agreed to terms with the Ravens, but the deal fell through because he failed a physical exam. Baltimore was too worried about a high-ankle sprain he suffered last year. A few days later, he signed a three-year contract with the Rams.

    The team is glad to have him back. He was the 23rd-best DL out of 114 qualifiers, according to PFF. He will soon turn 30, but still has some gas left in the tank.

    Los Angeles added some nice depth by acquiring A’Shawn Robinson, formerly of the Lions. He never lived up to his round 2 status and he struggled more last year, but his presence might help.

    3.2 Defensive Ends (DEs) / Edge Rushers (ED)

    Dante Fowler and Clay Matthews are gone. There goes 11.5 and 8 sacks.

    Out of the two, Fowler’s departure hurts the most by far. He’ll be 26 years old when the season begins and he was coming off career highs in tackles, sacks and forced fumbles.

    As for Matthews, his eight sacks were deceiving. He still received the lowest PFF grades of his 11-year career; his tackling was particularly horrible.

    In order to alleviate those losses, the Rams signed Leonard Floyd. After being selected as the #9 overall pick in the 2016 draft, he posted seven sacks in 12 games during his rookie season. Things were looking up.

    However, he picked up just 4.5, 4.0 and 3.0 sacks from 2017 to 2019. At least he defends the run well, which allowed him to finish above-average among all edge defenders in the NFL (based on PFF ratings).

    Samson Ebukam has enjoyed three similarly “okay” seasons in the NFL thus far. He’ll be 25 years old so he could improve a little bit. He’s nice depth to have on your team.

    3.3 Linebackers (LBs)

    Cory Littleton leaving to Las Vegas is a huge blow to this defense. A very big loss. He led the team in tackles both in 2018 and 2019. He was a three-down player and it’s unclear how the team plans to replace him.

    Troy Reeder is an undrafted guy who played 27% of the snaps. According to PFF, he finished as the second-worst LB in the league out of 88 guys. Enough said.

    3.4 Cornerbacks (CBs)

    Last October, the Rams made a lot of big moves.

    First, they traded Marcus Peters to the Ravens, whose level of play increased dramatically after the trade. A few hours later, the Rams acquired Jalen Ramsey from the Jaguars, in return of a couple of first-rounders and a 4th round selection. Finally, the Rams shipped Aqib Talib to Miami for cap reasons.

    Ramsey played pretty well in his nine games with the Rams. He’s been very good in each of his first four years in the league.

    After the trade shuffling, Troy Hill became the starter opposite of Ramsey. He received good marks from PFF, but he seems likely to regress in 2020. He’s an undrafted guy who was used as a fill-in during his first four years in the NFL.

    Nickell Robey-Coleman was a slot man for the Rams, and he was good at it. His 74.5 grade from PFF put him in the #16 spot out of 112 CBs. Unfortunately, he left for Philly and he leaves a hole in L.A.’s defense.

    3.5 Safeties (S)

    Eric Weddle was the most used safety in the team, but he decided to retire after an illustrious 13-year career. Hats off to him for missing just seven games during this time frame!

    Last year the team drafted Taylor Rapp out of Washington in the second round. He had a satisfying season with 100 tackles, two interceptions and one TD. Despite such very respectable numbers, he graded as the 57th-best safety out of 87.

    Who will fill the void left by Weddle? As of now, the most probable answer is John Johnson.

    The former Boston College player enjoyed two very good seasons after being drafted in the third round. Indeed, 81.5 and 83.6 grades from PFF during those years was exceptional. However, he crashed down to a 53.5 mark last year, while also missing 10 games due to a shoulder injury. He really struggled early in the 2019 season.

    2020 VS 2019 DEFENSE

    The only defensive position where the Rams improved during the offseason is DL via the acquisition of A’Shawn Robinson. And to be honest, that’s not a huge improvement.

    On the other hand, the team will be hurt big time from the loss of LB Cory Littleton. At edge, replacing Fowler and Matthews with Leonard Floyd won’t cut it.

    More bad news in the secondary. Effective slot corner Nickell Robey-Coleman is gone, while starting safety Eric Weddle decided to hang his cleats. The Rams will be hard-pressed to find suitable replacements.

    Thank God they have big-name players like Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey (and perhaps to a lesser level Michael Brockers) because the rest of the roster is pretty weak. If either player gets hurt, it could be catastrophic for this unit.

    Last year, Los Angeles ranked 17th in terms of points allowed. I expect a severe downfall into the 24-30 range.

    Final call (2020 vs 2019): Big downgrade

    4. Regular Season Wins

    According to sportsbooks, the Los Angeles Rams are expected to win 8.5 games this season. Should we bet the “over” or the “under”?

    Here is the methodology I used in order to answer this vital question:

    • Use BetOnline.ag’s point spreads on all 256 regular season games.
    • Convert those point spreads into win probabilities.
    • Simulate each of the 256 games, according to those win probabilities, via the R statistical software.
    • Repeat the previous step one million times (you get 1M simulated seasons).
    • Count the proportion of seasons where the Rams won more or less than 8.5 games.

    Here are the results:

                                      Estimated Probability   Sportsbook         Odds      ROI
    OVER 8.5 wins                      49.3%             Bookmaker.eu      +116     +6.5%
    UNDER 8.5 wins                   50.7%               William Hill           -110     -3.2%

    • Tip: Bet OVER 8.5 wins
    • Return On Investment (ROI): +6.5%
    • Rank: 28th-highest ROI out of 32 teams
    • Minimum odds required to bet (i.e. ROI = 0%): +103

    Here are BetOnline’s point spreads for the Rams’ 16 regular season games:

    • HOME: -6 vs ARI, -3.5 vs CHI, +2.5 vs DAL, -4 vs NE, -7.5 vs NYG, -7 vs NYJ, -1.5 vs SEA, +2.5 vs SF.
    • ROAD: 0 @ ARI, +3 @ BUF, -3 @ MIA, +4 @ PHI, +3.5 @ SEA, +7 @ SF, +3.5 @ TB, -5 @ WAS.

    Note: The “Best odds” from the table above were obtained after looking at 13 well-known online sportsbooks on May 18th, 2020.

    I hope you found this article and in-depth statistical study insightful!

    Professor MJ

  18. 1. Introduction

    The Texans won the AFC South title for the fourth time in five years. They pulled off a great playoff comeback win over the Bills after being down 16-0 in the third quarter.

    However, they were the victim of a huge comeback themselves in the following contest by squandering a 24-0 lead in Kansas City. They were completely overwhelmed in the last 40 minutes of the game at Arrowhead Stadium and ended up losing 51-31.

    2. Regular Season Wins

    According to sportsbooks, the Houston Texans are expected to win 7.5 games this season. Should we bet the “over” or the “under”?

    Here is the methodology I used in order to answer this vital question:

    • Use BetOnline.ag’s point spreads on all 256 regular season games.
    • Convert those point spreads into win probabilities.
    • Simulate each of the 256 games, according to those win probabilities, via the R statistical software.
    • Repeat the previous step one million times (you get 1M simulated seasons).
    • Count the proportion of seasons where the Texans won more or less than 7.5 games.

    Here are the results:

                                      Estimated Probability     Sportsbook        Odds      ROI
    OVER 7.5 wins                   50.8%                  Jazz Sports        +105     +4.1%
    UNDER 7.5 wins                49.2%                  MyBookie.ag       -105     -3.9%
     

    • Tip: Bet OVER 7.5 wins
    • Return On Investment (ROI): +4.1%
    • Rank: 29th-highest ROI out of 32 teams
    • Minimum odds required to bet (i.e. ROI = 0%): -103

    Here are BetOnline’s point spreads for the Texans’ 16 regular season games:
    HOME: +5 vs BAL, -6.5 vs CIN, 0 vs GB, -2 vs IND, -9 vs JAX, 0 vs MIN, -3 vs NE, -1 vs TEN.
    ROAD: +3.5 @ CHI, +2.5 @ CLE, +1 @ DET, +4.5 @ IND, -3 @ JAX, +9.5 @ KC, +5 @ PIT, +4.5 @ TEN.

    Note: The “Best odds” from the table above were obtained after looking at 13 well-known online sportsbooks on May 18th, 2020.

    3.    Offensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

    QUARTERBACKS (QB)

    DeShaun Watson entrenched his status as a top 10 QB in the league by posting good numbers for a third straight year. He came close from the 4,000-yard mark, while throwing 26 TDs and 12 interceptions. He also added a career-high 7 rushing touchdowns.

    There is no doubt he is one of the top signal callers in the league. He now has a good mix of youth and experience. He has a bright future ahead of him.

    A.J. McCarron will back up Watson, but the team crosses its fingers they won’t need him on the field. He’s clearly not starter material; he has 6 TDs and 3 interceptions over a five-year period.

    RUNNING BACKS (RB)

    The Texans had a very nice duo in 2019 with Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson. Still, Houston decided to shuffle things up a little bit.

    David Johnson was acquired via a trade, even though the 28-year old has shown signs of declining. After racking up more than 2,000 rushing+receiving yards and 20 TDs in 2016, Johnson played just one game in 2017 after dislocating his left wrist in the season opener.

    He simply hasn’t been the same since. His yards per rush average has gone from 4.6 in 2015 to 4.2 in 2016, 3.6 in 2018 and 3.7 last year.

    David Johnson will be the lead back since Hyde has not been re-signed. Hyde rushed for more than 1,000 yards for the first time of his career and will need to find work elsewhere.

    I really like Duke Johnson. He seems to have enough talent to take a heavier workload, but he’s been stuck behind guys like Isaiah Crowell, Nick Chubb and Carlos Hyde.

    He hasn’t missed a single game in five years! He has caught at least 44 balls in each of those seasons, which shows how dangerous he is as a pass catcher. I would love to see what he could do as the workhorse back, but it’s not going to happen this year, unless David Johnson gets hurt.

    WIDE RECEIVERS (WR)

    I’ll do my best to stay polite: the DeAndre Hopkins trade was bad. That’s the nicest I can be when talking about this trade.

    Hopkins is a rare talent. David Johnson isn’t. It’s as simple as that.

    Losing Hopkins is a big blow. He is a game changer and often draws double coverage, which leaves more room for his teammates.

    Will Fuller is a difference-maker when healthy, but the problem has been just that: health. He has missed between 2 and 7 games in each of his first four years as a pro. And when he’s on the field, he tends to play at less than 100%. He graded as the 25th-best WR last year (out of 122 guys).

    Kenny Stills is not a #1 WR in this league, but he can be a competent #2, or a very good #3 wideout. He’s been pretty durable during his first seven years in the NFL, averaging 43 catches, 671 receiving yards and 5.1 TDs.

    The team acquired a couple of WRs during the offseason: Randall Cobb and Brandin Cooks. Both graded as a middle-of-the-pack wideout last year, per PFF.

    Cobb will be 30 when the 2020 season begins. He had a very respectable season in Dallas last year by posting a 55-828-3 stat line.

    Brandin Cooks topped the 1,000-yard mark in each of the 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 seasons. His play took a huge dip last year; he caught 42 passes for 583 yards and just 2 TDs with the Rams.

    The big source of concern about Cooks is his injury history: he has suffered at least five concussions in the NFL. Will he bounce back with Watson as his quarterback? It’s hard to tell. If he goes down, at least the team has nice depth with Fuller, Stills and Cobb.

    TIGHT ENDS (TE)

    Darren Fells used to be viewed as a run blocker throughout his career. He had never caught more than 21 passes in a season. In 2019, he broke out with 34 receptions, but most importantly 7 TDs! Watson made good use of his big 6’7’’ frame.

    Jordan Akins went from 17 to 36 receptions in his second year as a pro. Both Akins and Fells aren’t game breakers. They ranked 50th and 48th out of 66 tight ends based on PFF ratings in 2019.

    OFFENSIVE LINE (OL)

    This has to be the offense’s weakest link. Other than Laremy Tunsil, all starters are either average, or below-average. Tunsil did finish as the #21 tackle out of 81 qualifiers (he wasn’t as good in run blocking). The Texans gave up a lot of draft capital in order to acquire him and Stills, so they need Tunsil to produce.

    The other guys on the line, along with their PFF rankings, are as follows: Nick Martin (18th out of 37 centers), Tytus Howard (60th out of 81 tackles), Zach Fulton (61st out of 81 guards) and Max Scharping (48th out of 81 guards). As for backup Roderick Johnson, who was re-signed to a one-year deal, he finished as the #42 tackle.

    Last year, the Texans attempted the 20th-most passes in the league, and yet allowed the 8th-most sacks. And that’s despite having a pretty mobile quarterback. Those numbers are not re-assuring.

    Since the same guys will be protecting Watson in 2020, you could be concerned about his health. The only good news is continuity is important on the offensive line. Having played a full year together might help improve their play.

    2020 VS 2019 OFFENSE

    It’s difficult not to downgrade this unit after losing such an impactful player like DeAndre Hopkins. At least they picked up adequate receivers like Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb. Along with Fuller and Stills, that will still provide nice weapons for Watson.

    Switching Carlos Hyde for David Johnson isn’t necessarily an upgrade, in my humble opinion. Hyde did well in 2019 by finishing as the 18th-best RB (versus 22nd for Johnson).

    The starting tight ends are the same as last year. The OL remains intact.

    Overall, I’ll go with a small downgrade. Hopkins not only consistently racked up big numbers, but his presence alone opened things up for his teammates. It won’t be the case anymore.

    Final call (2020 vs 2019): Small downgrade


    4. Defensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

    DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (DL)

    The Texans had four guys rotating on the interior of the defensive line. None dominated nearly as much as D.J. Reader. He left for Cincinnati, which is a huge loss for the Texans.

    Reader was not much of a quarterback chaser, but he was an animal as a run stuffer. Despite posting just 2.5 sacks, Reader ranked as the 7th-best interior defender out of 114 qualifiers. The Texans were 25th in rushing yards allowed per game, and things are about to get worse following Reader’s departure.

    Bill O’Brien tried to compensate for that loss by signing Tim Jernigan away from the Eagles. He is an “okay” player, but not nearly as good as Reader was.

    The other three guys obtaining playing time at the position were Charles Omenihu, Angelo Blackson and Brandon Dunn. They all played between 37% and 41% of the snaps last year. Here were their PFF rankings out of 114 interior defenders: 84th, 113th and 97th. Ouch.

    The organization hopes second-round rookie Ross Blacklock can provide a spark right away. He played pretty well as a freshman with TCU, then missed the entire 2018 season due to an Achilles injury and came back leaner and faster as a junior. He’s an agile pass rusher who isn’t super strong.

    Therefore, we’re talking about a pretty weak and worsened group.

    DEFENSIVE ENDS (DE) / EDGE (ED)

    J.J. Watt is the heart and soul of this defense. In his first five seasons in the NFL, he hadn’t missed a single game. Since then, he has played 32-of-64 games (i.e. 50% of them).

    Now 31 years old, Texans fans have to be concerned by the situation. He did get 16 sacks in 2018, though. The big question revolves around his health because the abilities are still there for sure.

    Whitney Mercilus isn’t getting any younger either. He will be 30 years old when the next season begins.

    He led the team with 7.5 sacks last year. As a whole, Houston’s defense posted the sixth-fewest sacks, so thank God Mercilus was there.

    Unlike Watt, Mercilus has not missed many games throughout his career. He’s been involved in 15 games or more in seven of his eight seasons in the NFL. During those seven years, he has averaged 7 sacks per season.

    We do observe a worrisome tendency when watching his PFF grades, though. His marks have gone down quite a bit over the most recent two years. Coupled with his age, I am wary of his 2020 outlook.

    LINEBACKERS (LB)

    Zach Cunningham did a very fine job at linebacker last season. He had the 6th-most tackles in the league with 142, improving upon his 105 the year before. The former second rounder from the 2017 draft out of Vanderbilt has shown some nice steady progress thus far. He graded as the 21st-best LB out of 89 players.

    Benardrick McKinney is another guy that does a good job, despite not receiving much recognition around the league. He’s missed only two games over the past four seasons, while racking up at least 95 tackles in each of them.

    McKinney had his worst PFF grade of his career, and yet finished in spot #30 out of 89 linebackers. Not bad! He’s still young at 27 years old, so a bounce back year is likely.

    CORNERBACKS (CB)

    Bradley Roby was one of the starting corners for the Texans last year, but he missed six games due to a hamstring injury. Prior to this, he had been very durable in five seasons with the Broncos.

    As a former first-round pick, he’s had ups-and-downs in his career. Houston just locked him up with a lucrative three-year contract, so they believe he’s one of the building blocks towards a Super Bowl run. He ranked as an average CB last season based on PFF ratings.

    Johnathan Joseph is done in Houston. Both sides agreed to part ways. He played almost all games last season, and just like Roby he was marked as an average cornerback.

    After getting traded at midseason from the Raiders to the Texans, Gareon Conley significantly improved his play. The former 2017 first-rounder showed some promise and could be Joseph’s replacement.

    Another candidate is Lonnie Johnson. Bill O’Brien took him in the second round of the 2019 draft, but he struggled big time in his rookie season. His 29.0 grade in coverage by PFF was abysmal. He finished as the worst of all 112 qualified cornerbacks in the NFL.

    SAFETIES (S)

    Justin Reid has been a nice pickup so far. In his first two seasons in the NFL, he has received very good marks from PFF. He has intercepted five passes, forced one fumble and recovered three.

    Tashaun Gipson secured the number 71 spot out of 87 safeties in PFF rankings last season. His play tailed off significantly compared to his previous two years in Jacksonville. Entering his age-30 campaign, the team released him this offseason.

    The #3 safety was Jahleel Addae, but he won’t be re-signed. The guy who is most likely to take Gipson’s job is Eric Murray. His three-year, $20.25 million contract is a bit of a head-scratcher (what else can you expect from Bill O’Brien), but the dollar amount indicates he has a good shot to be a starter.

    Murray played his first three seasons with the Chiefs before joining the Browns last year. His PFF grades have been all over the place. As a rookie, his 74.0 mark was awesome! However, he crashed down to an atrocious 49.8 grade in his sophomore year before obtaining 67.5 and 62.5 the most recent two seasons. To me, he looks like a middle-of-the-pack guy (if not below-average).

    2020 VS 2019 DEFENSE

    In the secondary, the Texans let CB Johnathan Joseph and their #2 and #3 safeties Tashaun Gipson and Jahleel Addae go, but picked up Eric Murray. That’s pretty much a wash. For a team that allowed the fourth-most passing yards in 2019, it does not bode very well for 2020.

    Replacing stud DL D.J. Reader with Tim Jernigan is clearly a downgrade. As for the edge rushers and the linebackers, no changes have been made. J.J. Watt missed eight games last year and will be back this year, but his age (and Mercilus’ age) worry me a little bit.

    For these reasons, I expect this already fairly weak unit to decrease even more in terms of production.

    Final call (2020 vs 2019): Small downgrade

    MOST LIKELY RECORD: 8-8
    (based on the one-million simulated seasons using BetOnline’s 2020 point spreads)

    Thanks for reading, savvy sports bettor!!!

    Professor MJ

  19. 30th of out 32.

    NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

    1. Introduction
    The Saints secured the #2 seed in last year’s playoffs following a great 13-3 season, despite Drew Brees missing five games.
    Unfortunately, for the third straight season, the Saints were eliminated in dramatic fashion. After suffering through the “Minneapolis Miracle” in 2018 and the non-call on a critical blatant interference penalty against the Rams in 2019, the Saints lost a 26-20 overtime thriller at home against the Vikings. Once again, officials were questioned when the replay showed Kyle Rudolph possibly pushed P.J. Williams on the game-winning touchdown.

    Bad luck just continues to stick to this franchise. Will it be THE year where they shake it all off?

    2. Regular Season Wins

    According to sportsbooks, the New Orleans Saints are expected to win 10.5 games this season.

    Should we bet the “over” or the “under”?

    Here is the methodology I used in order to answer this vital question:

    - Use BetOnline.ag’s point spreads on all 256 regular season games.

    - Convert those point spreads into win probabilities.

    - Simulate each of the 256 games, according to those win probabilities, via the R statistical software.

    - Repeat the previous step one million times (you get 1M simulated seasons).

    - Count the proportion of seasons where the Saints won more or less than 10.5 games.

    Here are the results

                                           Estimated Probability                         Sportsbook                 Odds                ROI
    OVER 10.5 Wins                        52%                                         Fan Duel                   +100               +4.0%
    UNDER 10.5 Wins                      48%                                       William Hill                  -110                 -8.4%

    Tip: Bet OVER 10.5 wins

    Return On Investment (ROI): +4.0%

    Rank: 30th-highest ROI out of 32 teams

    Minimum odds required to bet (i.e. ROI = 0%): -108

    Note: The “Best odds” from the table above were obtained after looking at 13 well-known online sportsbooks on May 18th, 2020.

    3. Offensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

    QUARTERBACKS (QB)

    Drew Brees is simply unbelievable on the field, and a wonderful human being. He donated $5 million to deliver meals to needy people in the Louisiana state. A great gesture from him and his wife.

    Will he ever slow down or what? He is now 41 years old, but his numbers have kept impressing. He has completed at least 70% of his passes in each of his past four seasons, which is jaw-dropping! He led the league in that category last year.

    His TD-to-INT ratio has also improved of late. Over the past two years, he has thrown 59 TD passes versus just 9 picks.

    Backup QB Teddy Bridgewater left for Carolina during the offseason. Who can blame him? He deserved a chance to be a starter in this league once again. He’s joining a much weaker team, though. He did a very good job when Brees went down to a thumb injury.

    For a moment, the backup QB became Taysom Hill, who has been the jack-of-all-trades in this offense. He can throw, he can run, he can catch.

    However, it’s unclear who gets the #2 role following the signing of Jameis Winston, also known as “The Turnover Machine.”

    Winston threw for 5,109 yards last year, which turned out to be the 8th-most in league history. However, the 30 interceptions (!!!) and five lost fumbles put a big blemish on his 2019 season. A 60.7% completion rate wasn’t all that great, either. He has great weapons to work with, including stud receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.

    Playing for the Saints could end up being the best thing that has ever happened to Winston. He will get great tips from Drew Brees who, unlike Winston, doesn’t turn the ball over often. The former Buc has a great arm and he is in his mid-twenties; not all hope is lost for the former #1 overall pick out of Florida State.

    RUNNING BACKS (RB)

    Alvin Kamara’s numbers have been incredibly steady since entering the league in 2017. He has rushed for 728, 883 and 797 yards during that time frame, while catching exactly 81 balls (!!!) in each of these three seasons. His TD output was his lowest of his career though, as he only scored six total touchdowns in 2019.

    It is worth noting, though, that he battled through injuries last year. He had more trouble breaking tackles down the stretch. He will be back at 100% when the 2020 season begins.

    Latavius Murray is nice luxury as a backup running back. He picked up almost as many rushing yards as Kamara, while posting a nice 4.4 yards-per-carry average. This figure has never been lower than 3.9 in any of his six years in the NFL, which is remarkable.

    Kamara missed two games last year; in those games, Murray racked up 150 and 157 total yards with a couple of touchdowns in each of those contests. The Saints will be in good hands if Kamara gets hurt.

    WIDE RECEIVERS (WR)

    Michael Thomas broke Marvin Harrison’s single-season record for receptions by catching 149 balls. He caught a minimum of four passes in all games and cleared the 100-receiving yard mark on 10 occasions.

    Thomas was truly dominant. What’s even more incredible is he caught 149-of-185, which amounts to a mind-boggling 80.5% catch rate (an unbelievable percentage given the high volume)

    .With Thomas and Kamara catching so many passes, that didn’t leave many targets to the other receivers. Ted Ginn’s play seemed to drop off quite a bit, as he caught 30-of-56 balls thrown his way. He has his second-worst PFF grade over his 13-year career. At 35 years old, you have to wonder whether he has some gas left in the tank or not. I don’t believe he can rebound in 2020.

    Meanwhile, Tre’Quan Smith was a disappointment last year. He did catch 5 TD passes for the second straight year after being selected in the 2nd round of the 2018 draft, but catching 18 passes for 234 yards won’t be anyone very excited.

    As if the team needed more playmakers, they went on to get Emmanuel Sanders who started the year in Denver before getting traded to San Francisco.

    Sanders suffered a brutal Achilles injury in 2018, but that did not prevent him from having a very nice 2019 season. He totaled 66 receptions for 869 yards and 5 TDs. He’s a nice get considering Ginn is getting older and Smith has yet to pan out.

    TIGHT ENDS (TE)

    Jared Cook is another aging player who has done surprisingly well. He hauled in 43 passes for 705 yards, which was not that close from being career-highs. However, his 9 TD receptions and his 16.4 yards-per-catch average were his career best. He started the season slowly, but seemed to develop a great chemistry with Drew Brees down the stretch.

    Josh Hill is not much of a receiver, but he does the job as a blocker. He’s been with the team for seven years and 2019 was his best season in terms of receptions (25) and receiving yards (226). He is not a threat to take away Cook’s number one role.

    The team traded four picks in order to select Adam Trautman out of Dayton in the third round of this year’s draft. His receiving production increased in each of his four years in college; it culminated with a 70-916-14 receiving line in 11 starts. Wow, 14 TDs in 11 games?!?

    The only question surrounding Trautman is: can he handle a much higher level of competition than what he faced with Dayton? He could become a starter in 2021, considering Jared Cook’s age.

    OFFENSIVE LINE (OL)

    This is an exceptional group and all players are returning for the 2020 season, which does not bode well for opposing defenses.

    Center Erik McCoy was picked in the second round of the draft last year and he competed with Nick Easton and Cameron Tom during training camp. McCoy won the job and finished as the number 4 center out of 37 guys, based on PFF ratings. I think it’s fair to say it was a great season for him.

    Left tackle Terron Armstead made it to the Pro Bowl for the second consecutive year. He has received good marks in each of his seven seasons with the Saints. Drew Brees can rest easy with his blindside being protected by Armstead.

    At right tackle the Saints have Ryan Ramczyk. PFF made him the #1 tackle in the entire league with a 90.9 grade last year. He has improved in each of his three seasons and has started all games but one.

    At guard, New Orleans has Larry Warford and Andrus Peat. Warford was the 8th-best guard in the NFL according to ProFootballFocus ratings, while Peat was the only guy to struggle on this offensive line. Indeed, he finished at spot #70.

    We observe a weird tendency regarding Peat. His PFF grades in his first three seasons were 68.0, 71.5 and 68.3, which is decent. Then, his marks took a huge dip in 2018: an abysmal 39.8. He followed it up with a 48.5 grade last year. The team doesn’t seem too concern about his level of play since they re-signed him to a lucrative five-year, $57.5 million contract.

    Taking center Cesar Ruiz in the first round last April was a bit surprising. New Orleans already has a great center with McCoy. Head coach Sean Payton already claimed that right guard Larry Warford will have to compete for his job with either Ruiz or McCoy. Even though Warford played well last year, he is entering the final year of his contract.For your information, Ruiz did not allow a single sack as a junior with Michigan last year. He also does a good job run blocking.

    2020 VS 2019 OFFENSE

    My opinion won’t be popular, but I do see a downgrade here. Sure, returning pretty much the entire 2019 lineup is great, but I’m wary of a few things.

    First, the age factor. Brees is 41 years old and your body gets hurt more easily when you reach your forties. You can’t deny he has a higher likelihood of getting injured this season. If that happens, losing Teddy Bridgewater is going to hurt the offense, although Winston might pick up the slack if he can cut down on the turnovers.

    Jared Cook, Emmanuel Sanders and Ted Ginn are also getting up there in age. Also, how in the world could you expect Michael Thomas to play at a higher level than last year? He is much more likely to regress than to improve upon his 2019 performance.

    Finally, the offensive line did not suffer many injuries last season, except Andrus Peat who missed six games, but he was the weakest link on the line anyway. I don’t wish them bad luck, but one of their top four guys could easily get hurt, due to the physical nature of the game.

    The Saints scored the third-highest number of points last year, and I’ll cautiously put them in the #5 to #8 spot.

    Final call (2020 vs 2019): Small Downgrade

    4. Defensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

    DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (DL)

    Signing a contract extension with David Onyemata was a priority for the organization. They did just that during the offseason. The team clearly likes him, despite a mediocre 55.3 PFF grade last year (he finished as the number 97 DL out of 114 qualifiers).

    Sheldon Rankins is a former first-round pick who had a breakout 2018 campaign, which included a career-high 8 sacks. He was much quieter last year.Rankins tore his Achilles’ in early 2019, and landed on injured reserve in December 2019 after coming close to tearing the other one. That’s a major question mark since such injuries are always tricky for football players.Malcom Brown played close to 50% of the snaps last year.

    After spending four years in New England as a former first-rounder, he had a decent first year in New Orleans. He’s more effective defending the run than he is rushing the passer (he has recorded just two sacks in the past two years).Shy Tuttle is more of a rotational player.

    His rookie season as an undrafted free agent exceeded expectations and he clearly deserves a shot to be back this year.

    DEFENSIVE ENDS (DE) / EDGE (ED)

    The Saints have a fantastic duo with Cameron Jordan and Marcus Davenport, two former 1st round picks.

    Jordan set a career-high with 15.5 sacks last year, after posting 12 and 13 sacks the previous two seasons. He’s an incredibly tough guy; can you believe he hasn’t missed a single game throughout his nine-year professional career? That’s phenomenal!

    Davenport took a nice forward leap in his sophomore year. His PFF grade went up from 69.7 to 84.1. According to this grading system, Davenport was the 18th-best edge defender out of 107 guys.

    Trey Hendrickson provides good depth for the Saints. He has shown improvement in each of his first three years in the league. He sacked opposing QBs on 4.5 occasions last year, after racking up just two in his first two years. The 25-year old is primed for another leap in 2020.

    After a promising rookie season, Mario Edwards has been released a couple of times. He works as a rotational pass-rusher; he played 28% of the snaps last year. He’s been bothered by neck and hip injuries throughout his first five years in the league.

    LINEBACKERS (LB)

    Demario Davis was exceptional in all facets of the game last year. He played so well that he earned the #1 spot out of 89 LBs based on the PFF grading system.

    He seems unlikely to repeat his 2019 performance, though. His PFF marks never exceeded 63 during his first five years. They went up to 73.7 and 75.1 in 2017 and 2018 before exploding to an astounding 90.4 last year. Entering his age-31 campaign, I find it hard to believe he could duplicate his success.

    A.J. Klein’s career has been a roller-coaster ride. He’s had up-and-down years. Most recently, he had horrible 2016, 2017 and 2019 seasons, but above-average years in 2015 and 2018. He signed with Buffalo, so the Saints won’t need to deal with his inconsistencies anymore.

    Is Kiko Alonso ready to embrace a bigger role in this defense? The answer is unclear. He played fairly well last year after two straight dreadful seasons in Miami, but his health is an issue. He tore his ACL during the playoff loss to the Vikings. That required the third ACL surgery of his career, which leaves some doubt about whether his quickness will be affected or not.

    Considering the lack of depth at the position, drafting Zack Baun in the third round made sense. The former Badger has a high chance of starting right away. He collected 19.5 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks as a senior. He’s a bit undersized for the position, which means he could potentially struggle against the run but he’s a fierce pass rusher. Many mock drafts had him going in Round 2, so it seems like a good value pick that also fits a need.

    CORNERBACKS (CB)

    Eli Apple was let go during the offseason. He’s been nothing short of a disappointment since being selected as the No. 10 overall pick in 2016. He’s fine against the run, but his covering skills have been below standard.

    Strangely enough, Marshon Lattimore’s PFF grades have decreased every year: 86.1 as a rookie first-round pick in 2017, 78.5 in his sophomore season and 65.6 last year. Granted, a hamstring injury limited him in 2019.

    Lattimore picked off 5 passes in his rookie season, then just three over the past two years. He does have the potential to make it back among the best corners in the league.

    P.J. Williams was primarily used as a slot corner last year, and things didn’t go so well. Just like Lattimore, his PFF grades have dipped every year. He finished as the 100th-bets CB out of 112 players.

    SAFETIES (S)

    Marcus Williams enjoyed a very successful rookie season before being the victim of the sophomore slump. However, he came back super strong last year. PFF ranked him as the third-best safety in the league, only behind Minnesota’s Anthony Harris and Denver’s Justin Simmons. He has a knack for big plays, as shown by his 10 career interceptions, one TD and two forced fumbles.

    New Orleans lost its other starting safety, Vonn Bell, in the free agency market. His coverage skills were below-average, but he was one of the best in the business defending the run.

    The team figures to replace him with Malcolm Jenkins, formerly of the Philadelphia Eagles. He is seven years older than Bell, but he’s a proven veteran.

    After five rocky seasons with the Saints during the 2009-2013 period, Jenkins had six consecutive good seasons in Philly. Now back with the team that drafted him 11 years ago, Saints fans are crossing their fingers he can keep up his nice level of play. Last year, Jenkins was the 32nd-best safety in the NFL based on PFF rankings.

    I just don’t understand the length of Jenkins’ deal: a four-year deal with a 32-year old guy? Really?

    The Saints traded up during the 2019 draft to secure the rights to Chauncey Gardner-Johnson in the 4th round. He showed promise in his rookie season with very decent grades, especially against the run. He played 51% of the snaps and picked up his first interception and forced fumble of his career.

    2020 VS 2019 DEFENSE

    The Saints allowed the fourth-fewest rushing yards in the league last year. That seems unlikely to happen again in 2020. Rankins’ health concerns me. I don’t believe Onyemata is that good. And Demario Davis’ play is extremely likely to regress after an unexpected phenomenal 2019 season.

    As for the pass defense, I expect similar production as last year. Plugging Malcolm Jenkins instead of Vonn Bell at safety seems like an upgrade to me. However, losing Eli Apple is hardly good news. He was “okay” last season, but he had potential and he still needs to be replaced. Hopefully, plan B is not P.J. Williams because he does not appear to be the answer.

    New Orleans finished 13th in points allowed last year. I expect a small drop, perhaps to a spot ranging between 15 and 19.

    Final call (2020 vs 2019) : Small downgrade

  20. 1. Introduction

    After firing Jim Caldwell following a 9-7 record in 2017, the Lions posted a 6-10 in Matt Patricia’s first year as a head coach. Things got even worse last season with a 3-12-1 record.

    This is a critical year for Patricia. The team has talent for sure. If he does not right the ship, he may be gone sooner rather than later.

    2. Regular Season Wins

    According to sportsbooks, the Detroit Lions are expected to win 6.5 games this season. Should we bet the “over” or the “under”?

    Here is the methodology I used in order to answer this vital question:

    • Use BetOnline.ag’s point spreads on all 256 regular season games.
    • Convert those point spreads into win probabilities.
    • Simulate each of the 256 games, according to those win probabilities, via the R statistical software.
    • Repeat the previous step one million times (you get 1M simulated seasons).
    • Count the proportion of seasons where the Lions won more or less than 6.5 games.

    Here are the results:

                                 Estimated probability     Sportsbook            Odds      ROI
    OVER 6.5 wins         55.9%                     Sports Interaction     -125     +0.6%
    UNDER 6.5 wins        44.1%                   Heritage Sports        +130     +1.4%
     
    Tip: Bet UNDER 6.5 wins
    Return On Investment (ROI): +1.4%
    Rank: 31st-highest ROI out of 32 teams
    Minimum odds required to bet (i.e. ROI = 0%): +127

    Here are BetOnline’s point spreads for the Lions’ 16 regular season games:
    HOME: -1.5 vs CHI, +2 vs GB, -1 vs HOU, +1.5 vs IND, +2 vs MIN, +5.5 vs NO, +2.5 vs TB, -6 vs WAS.
    ROAD: +3 @ ARI, +4 @ ATL, +1 @ CAR, +5 @ CHI, +6.5 @ GB, -1.5 @ JAX, +7 @ MIN, +6 @ TEN.

    Note: The “Best odds” from the table above were obtained after looking at 13 well-known online sportsbooks on May 18th, 2020.

    3. Offensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

    3.1 QUARTERBACKS (QB)

    I feel bad for Matthew Stafford. He has to be one of the best quarterbacks to have never won a playoff game. He’s 0-3 in the postseason and has played for many terrible teams in Detroit during his 11-year career.

    He had yet another good season in 2019. He finished as the 8th-best QB in the league based on PFF rankings. He missed half the season because of injuries, but still threw 19 TD passes versus 5 picks. Prior to last year, he had not missed a single start over eight seasons, which is unbelievable! He’s a durable and tough guy.

    David Blough and Jeff Driskel didn’t do very well in Stafford’s absence. That’s a big reason why the team led Driskel go, while acquiring backup Chase Daniel from the Bears. I was stunned to realize that after spending 10 years in the NFL, Daniel has only thrown 7 TDs and 5 interceptions (most of them in 2018 and 2019 with Chicago). He received decent grades from PFF and he looks to be a definitive improvement over Blough and Driskel.

    3.2 RUNNING BACKS (RB)

    I like what I’ve been from Kerryon Johnson over his first two seasons in the NFL. In each of those years, the former running back from Auburn was on pace to be close to a 1,000 rushing yard season, but his pro career has been marred by injuries thus far.

    Beyond the stats, I thought he passed the eye test. Upon seeing him play several games, he looked like a good back. In his third year, the main goal will be to prove he can make it through a full season.

    Johnson received a 66.7 grade from PFF last year, which put him in the #37 spot out of 58 RBs. I believe he can make a nice jump in 2020.

    Bo Scarbrough finally saw some action last season. He did “okay”, but his main limitation is in the passing game. He’s not much of a receiver. He’s still a decent weapon to have when running between the tackles because of his big frame.

    J.D. McKissic was the opposte of Scarbrough; he is undersized, but a good pass catcher. He still managed to post a lofty 5.4 yard per carry average, while catching 34 balls. However, he left for Washington.

    Considering Detroit’s backfield was already crowded, drafting D’Andre Swift in the 2nd round was a puzzling move. It probably means the Lions will go with a committee approach with Johnson and Swift being the RB 1A and 1B.

    Swift is a smart RB who has good vision and runs with patience; he understands and evaluates block timing very well. He is also pretty good out of the backfield; he caught many passes in college and was tagged with just three drops across 73 receptions.

    3.3 WIDE RECEIVERS (WR)

    Can you believe Kenny Golladay’s salary was under one million last year? What an astonishing bargain for the Lions!

    Golladay solidified his position as one of the top wideouts in the league by posting a second consecutive 1,000-yard season. He also doubled his TD production by catching 11 last year versus 5 the year before.

    He has a great combination of size and athleticism, which allows him to stretch the field and make contested catches in traffic. His numbers have the potential to increase even more if Stafford can stay healthy for the whole season, and considering Golladay is only 26 years old.

    Marvin Jones posted a very nice 62-779-9 stat line despite missing three games. He has been a steady producer in this league, both with the Bengals and now with the Lions. A very reliable guy.

    Danny Amendola has never been a top wideout: his career best is 689 receiving yards back in 2010. However, having him as your #3 receiver is a nice luxury. The main concern pertains to his age, as he is now 34. His level of play has not deteriorated yet, but we should keep an eye on this situation.

    The team added even more depth by signing a younger guy: Geronimo Allison. The former Packer showed flashes during an injury-shortened 2018 season, but he really fell flat last year by catching just 34 balls despite a wide open #2 WR spot in Green Bay. He received poor grades from PFF and finished as the #111 receiver out of 122 qualifiers.

    3.4 TIGHT ENDS (TE)

    Was T.J. Hockenson’s rookie season a success? The jury is still out on that one.

    Everyone got overly excited about his first career game, where he caught 6 passes for 131 yards and 1 TD. However, he surpassed 50 yards just once in his final 11 games (an ankle injury put him on injured reserve for the last four contests).

    He was the #8 overall pick in the 2019 draft, so the expectations were high for the former Hawkeye. The adaptation to the NFL-level is not always easy for rookie tight ends, so let’s cut him some slack. He is a candidate to improve his numbers greatly in his second season, especially with Stafford back under center.

    Both Logan Thomas and Jesse James caught 16 passes last year. Thomas left for Washington, which leaves James as the clear-cut #2 TE. He is an adequate backup for Detroit.

    3.5 OFFENSIVE LINE (OL)

    Right tackle Rick Wagner provided respectable protection to his quarterbacks during his first six seasons, but his play tailed off dramatically last year. The team released him and signed Halapoulivaati Vaitai to replace him.

    Vaitai has only started 20 games in four seasons, but he played pretty well in spots with the Eagles last year and that earned him a jaw-dropping five-year, $50 million contract. That seems like a high price for a career backup, but he did grade as the 22nd-best tackle among 81 qualifiers in 2019. We’ll see if the Lions made a wise investment or not.

    The other four starters all received good marks from PFF: Taylor Decker (19th out of 81 tackles), Frank Ragnow (6th out of 37 centers), Graham Glasgow (12th out of 81 guards) and Joe Dahl (27th out of 81 guards). Yet, the team finished below-average in terms of sacks allowed (19th out of 32 teams).

    The bad news is Detroit also lost Graham Glasgow via free agency. He signed with the Denver Broncos. He has obtained grades above 70 by PFF in each of its past three seasons. His replacement is unlikely to match that performance.

    One potential replacement is third round selection Jonah Jackson. He needs to improve as a run blocker since he tends to struggle sustaining blocks. On the other hand, he’s more comfortable in passing situations, while also excelling at processing blitzes.

    2020 VS 2019 OFFENSE

    The Lions scored the 18th most points in the NFL last season. That output is much more likely to go up than down.

    Except on the offensive line, we notice a potential upgrade over the 2019 season at all positions.

    At quarterback, having Stafford back is obviously a big boost. Also, Chase Daniel is a better back than the Blough-Driskel duo.

    At running back, Kerryon Johnson missed half the season. He also has two years of experience under his belt and is ready to explode. Rookie D’Andre Swift offers an additional potential deadly weapon.

    Adding Geronimo Allison to an already talent WR group won’t hurt. Golladay-Jones-Amendola will provide good targets for Stafford.

    Hockenson is now more familiar with the NFL speed and it was reported he played through some pain before landing on injured reserve. Again, an improvement seems a more likely scenario than a regression here.

    As mentioned above, the OL play will be a source of concern, though. Replacing Wagner with Vaitai could be a plus. However, Glasgow’s loss will be difficult to compensate.

    Still, overall I can see the Lions jumping to the 7th-12th rank on offense in 2020. You read this right; the Lions could have the number 7 offense in the NFL. They have a very talented and underrated group (with nice depth at all positions!).

    Final call (2020 vs 2019): Moderate upgrade

    4. Defensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

    4.1 DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (DL)

    The interior of the line has been completely revamped. That may not be a bad thing.

    Both Damon Harrison and A’Shawn Robinson are gone after a subpar year. They both graded as below-average last year, which was a big surprise in the case of Harrison. He obtained a grade above 90 as a run defender in each of its past four seasons, but cratered to 63.2 last year. What the heck happened?

    The newcomers are Danny Shelton, formerly of the Patriots, and Nick Williams, coming over from the Bears.

    Shelton has done very well in all five of his seasons in the league and is entering his prime. He’s a solid addition and he’s good a plugging up running lanes.

    I’m not so high on the Williams acquisition, though. He didn’t get good grades throughout his career until last year where he finally got some starts and posted six sacks. He could be a one-year wonder. He had been a journeyman thus far and is a former 7th-round pick.

    Mike Daniels is also off the team. The former didn’t do much in his lone season in Motor City.

    4.2 DEFENSIVE ENDS (DE) / EDGE (ED)

    Both Trey Flowers and Devon Kennard recorded seven sacks last season. Kennard left for Arizona; his leadership as team captain will also be missed.

    Flowers is a vital piece of this defense. He will enter his age-27 campaign and he has racked up between 6.5 and 7.5 sacks every year since 2016.

    Who will step up in Kennard’s absence? Romeo Okwara will need to come back to his 2018 form, where he posted 7.5 sacks. Only getting 1.5 last year was a big disappointment.

    Another alternative may come from Romeo’s younger brother, Julian, who was taken in the 3rd round of this year’s draft. Considering Julian’s speed and strength (the bull rush remains his favorite move), you would have expected him to produce more in college. He still needs to learn good techniques to beat experienced offensive linemen.

    4.3 LINEBACKERS (LB)

    Jarrad Davis, Christian Jones and Jahlani Tavai all played a bit above 50% of the defensive snaps last year. They ranked as the #84, #82 and #44 linebackers out of 89 guys. That’s bad.

    The position will get a lift with the acquisition of Jamie Collins. He led the Patriots with seven sacks last season, which was a career-high for him.

    I don’t mean to be disrespectful for him, but I believe he’s overrated. He enjoyed great 2014 and 2015 seasons in New England, but his played tailed off big time in his time away from the Patriots in 2016, 2017 and 2018. He came back with a pretty good season when reuniting with Belichick’s squad last year, but will he revert back to mediocre play in Detroit?

    Super Bowl champion Reggie Ragland also joins Matt Patricia’s team. He adds depth to the team and may play behind Jarrad Davis.

    4.4 CORNERBACKS (CB)

    Last year, the trio made of Darius Slay, Rashaan Melvin and Justin Coleman saw the field pretty often.

    Slay and Melvin are gone to other teams. Slay had a very bad year as opposed to his previous five, but that may have been an outlier. He’s 29 years old and he’s likely to rebound in Philly. He asked to be traded after fights over contract negotiations.

    Unlike Slay, Melvin won’t be missed too much. He was an undrafted guy who is more of a rotational corner.

    In order to alleviate Slay’s loss, the Lions signed Desmond Trufant, formerly of the Falcons. His best days are behind him, but he has never received a grade below 69.5 by PFF over his seven-year career, which is remarkable. Last year’s 70.3 grade put him as the 32nd-best corner out of 112 qualifiers.

    The team’s instant #1 corner is rookie Jefffrey Okudah, who was taken with the third overall selection of this year’s draft. He’s a true lockdown corner who is likely to perform at a high level right away.

    Over the last two seasons at Ohio State, he held every wideout he faced to fewer than 50 receiving yards. He also surrendered just two touchdowns during that time frame. Those are outstanding numbers!

    Okudah is a blue chip prospect whose mental makeup and physical traits are elite.

    4.5 SAFETIES (S)

    Safeties Tracy Walker and Tavon Wilson led the team in tackles last year. They both played close to 75% of the snaps and obtained similar marks from PFF. They finished 22nd and 26th out of 87 safeties in the league. As of now, Wilson has yet to sign with a NFL team. He is open to re-signing with Detroit, but that has yet to happen.

    The team decided to upgrade the position by acquiring Duron Harmon, yet another ex-Patriot. He can play safety or as a corner; he is likely to be on the field often. He may not be the best against the run, but his skills in coverage are way above average.

    2020 VS 2019 DEFENSE

    There’s been a lot of shuffling with this unit during the offseason.

    The biggest acquisitions are Danny Shelton, Nick Williams, Jamie Collins, Desmond Trufant, Duron Harmon, as well as #3 overall pick Jeffrey Okudah. The biggest losses are Damon Harrison, A’Shawn Robinson, Devon Kennard, Darius Slay and Rashaan Melvin.

    My own assessment of those moves is a moderate upgrade.

    However, I value continuity as a key factor in the NFL. Knowing how your teammates are going to react in game-time situations is important in such a fast sport like the NFL.

    Considering the impact of COVID-19 on offseason preparation, having numerous new faces will likely penalize offenses/defenses even more.

    Detroit’s defense finished 26th in points allowed last year. They will remain the team’s Achilles heel, but a significant improvement is doable.

    Final call (2020 vs 2019): Moderate upgrade

    MOST LIKELY RECORD: 7-9
    (based on the one-million simulated seasons using BetOnline’s 2020 point spreads)

    Tomorrow, I'll discuss the team whose ROI is 30th in the league; the New Orleans Saints!

    Thanks for reading, I hope you found it insightful!

    Professor MJ

  21. 1. Introduction

    From 2013 to 2015, the Cardinals won at least 10 games in each of those seasons. They followed up with a couple of years where they finished close to a .500 record. Things got even worse in the past two seasons, during which the franchise compiled an 8-23-1 record.

    Now in year #2 of head coach Kliff Kingsbury and QB Kyler Murray, it’s time for Arizona to make a leap forward.

    2. Regular Season Wins

    According to sportsbooks, the Arizona Cardinals are expected to win 7 games this season. Should we bet the “over” or the “under”?

    Here is the methodology I used in order to answer this vital question:

    • Use BetOnline.ag’s point spreads on all 256 regular season games.
    • Convert those point spreads into win probabilities.
    • Simulate each of the 256 games, according to those win probabilities, via the R statistical software.
    • Repeat the previous step one million times (you get 1M simulated seasons).
    • Count the proportion of seasons where the Cards won more or less than 7 games.


    Here are the results (excluding simulated seasons where they won exactly 7 games, in which case the bet ties):

                                 Estimated probability               Sportsbook              Odds            ROI

    OVER 7 wins                53.1%                                 10Bet                    -110              +1.4%

    UNDER 7 wins             46.9%                             William Hill                +110              -1.5%

    • Tip: Bet OVER 7 wins
    • Return On Investment (ROI): +1.4%
    • Rank: 32nd-highest ROI out of 32 teams
    • Minimum odds required to bet (i.e. ROI = 0%): -113 (i.e. 1.88 in decimal format)


    Note: The “Best odds” from the table above were obtained after looking at 13 well-known online sportsbooks on May 18th, 2020.

    3. Offensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

    3.1 Quarterbacks (QBs)

    Kyler Murray had a very successful rookie campaign as Arizona’s new franchise quarterback.

    Despite a suspect surrounding cast, he posted very respectable numbers with 3,722 passing yards, 20 TDs and 12 interceptions. He was also dangerous as a runner, as shown by his 544 rushing yards.

    Murray was the victim of 48 sacks, but he was hard to catch. Indeed, he finished in 2nd place in terms of average time from snap-to-sack among all QBs in the NFL.

    Now with one full year of experience under his belt, you can expect Murray to take a nice leap and improve his game even more in 2020.

    Brett Hundley will once again back up Murray this season. The Cards must hope they won’t need him because he has never shown he could lead a team to success. The former Packer is clearly no more than a #2 QB in this league.

    3.2 Running Backs (RBs)

    The Cards got a nice bargain last year by trading a sixth-round pick in exchange for Kenyan Drake. He was nothing short of spectacular in his eight appearances in the desert by racking up 643 rushing yards over eight games. He also scored eight touchdowns during that short period.

    During the offseason, the Cards re-signed him to a one-year, $8.5 million contract. The team also traded David Johnson to Houston, which clearly puts Drake as the starter.

    Chase Edmonds will be the main backup runner. He showed some flashes with a nice 5.1 yards per rush average. The third-year pro is good insurance in case Drake gets hurt.

    3.3 Wide Receivers (WRs)

    Kyler Murray probably popped a bottle of champagne when he heard about the acquisition of stud wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins from the Texans.

    Losing David Johnson in the trade isn’t that big of a deal for the Cards, who already had good depth at the running back position. However, acquiring a big-time WR like Hopkins is HUGE!

    Hopkins has played either 15 or 16 games in each of his first seven years in the NFL. He has averaged 1,229 receiving yards and 7.7 TDs during that time span.

    He consistently ranks among the top receivers year in and year out. In 2019, he finished with an 87.8 grade from PFF, which had him ranked as the 5th best WR.

    Unbelievable: Larry Fitzgerald is coming back for a 17th season! He did better than expected last season by catching 75 passes and finishing 53rd out of 122 qualified wide receivers in the league based on PFF.

    Fitzgerald claimed he loved the culture under new head coach Kliff Kingsbury and he wants to help the team both as a player and as a mentor for the younger guys.

    Christian Kirk, a former second-round pick in the 2018 draft, had an okay year. His 62.5 grade by PFF had him ranked as the #91 WR (out of 122). With Hopkins drawing a lot of attention from opposing defenses, Kirk must make a leap in 2020. It remains to be seen if he can do it or not.

    Arizona lost some depth at the position after seeing Damiere Byrd leave for New England, while Pharoh Cooper signed with Carolina. It’s not a huge blow to the team, but worth mentioning.

    3.4 Tight Ends (TEs)

    A young QB like Kyler Murray would certainly welcome some help at the tight end position, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.

    The top target last year was Charles Clay. He only caught 18 passes and is now a free agent.

    All signs point toward Maxx Williams assuming the number one role. You’ll be surprised to hear he ranked as the 7th best tight end in the league according to PFF. His nice 79.1 grade was obtained via outstanding run and pass blocking.

    In summary, the team is pretty thin at this position.

    3.5 Offensive Line (OL)

    One of the team’s biggest weaknesses in 2019 was certainly its offensive line. They allowed the 5th highest number of sacks a year ago, despite Murray being a mobile quarterback.

    The only guy who finished above average based on PFF rankings was Justin Pugh (22nd out of 81 among guards). The other four starters were either average or quite bad.

    The bad news? The team has not addressed the position in free agency. They did select Josh Jones in the third round of this year’s draft, though. He has a high chance of becoming the team’s starting right guard right away, despite many experts calling him a developmental project who needs work.

    I can’t believe D.J. Humphries is going to be the third-highest paid left tackle in the league after signing a hefty contract this offseason. His paycheck is clearly not in line with his production on the field. In five years, he has played 43 games and missed 37 due to numerous injuries. He finally played through a full 16-game season last year, but he PFF gave him the 47th-best grade out of 81 tackles.

    2020 VS 2019 OFFENSE

    Overall, I expect a nice progression from this unit. Kyler Murray is clearly more likely to improve than to regress based on his young age. The running back position is set. The receiving corps got a gigantic boost with the addition of DeAndre Hopkins.

    The tight end and offensive line positions remain problematic. However, if you compare with last year, it can’t get much worse. Building the line should be one of the top priorities for Arizona in the upcoming years.

    Final call (2020 vs 2019): Moderate upgrade

    4. Defensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

    4.1 Defensive Linemen (DLs)

    This was not a position of strength for Arizona last year. Out of 114 DLs, here’s the final PFF ranking of the four guys who got the most playing time: Corey Peters 65th, Rodney Gunter 61st, Zach Kerr 42nd and Jonathan Bullard 94th. Ouch.

    Now, Gunter and Kerr are both gone. Meanwhile, the team acquired Jordan Phillips from the Bills. He probably won’t be a savior as he finished in 104th place.

    4.2 Defensive Ends (DEs) / Edge Rushers (ED)

    Chandler Jones had an exceptional years with 19 sacks! Only Shaquil Barrett from the Bucs recorded more sacks.

    Outside of Jones, Terrell Suggs played 13 games before being released by the Cards. He still managed to record 5.5 sacks.

    Cassius Marsh played 38% of the defensive snaps and finished 70th out of 107 edge defenders. He signed with the Jaguars during the offseason.

    In order to compensate for those losses, Arizona signed Devon Kennard, formerly of the Detroit Lions. He played 82% of the snaps in Detroit and finished 44th (out of 107) at the position. He obtained 7 sacks last year (7 more the year before).

    4.3 Linebackers (LBs)

    Jordan Hicks was a tackling machine with 150; only Bobby Wagner (Seattle) and Blake Martinez (Green Bay) had more in 2019.

    However, Hicks didn’t grade particularly well. He finished 43rd out of 89 linebackers.

    Haason Reddick and Joe Walker both finished in the bottom: 86th and 79th. Walker left for San Francisco, which is not a big loss.

    Arizona signed De’Vondre Campbell who played 89% of the snaps with the Falcons. Can he improve the linebacker play in 2020? I doubt it. His poor 50.1 grade gave him the 70th rank. Here are his grades the previous three seasons: 57.4, 69.1 and 55.7. He is a durable guy, but far from a great player.

    DC Vance Joseph declared #8 overall pick Isaiah Simmons would primarily play at linebacker. Simmons was super versatile in college, playing many positions. He will provide good coverage against TEs and pass-catching RBs, while also defending the run efficiently. He clearly has Pro Bowl talent.

    4.4 Cornerbacks (CBs)

    Patrick Peterson is clearly the leader of this group. He was having a decent season, and was brilliant in the final few games. He finished as the number 39 cornerback out of 112 guys. He missed the first six games of the season because of a suspension.

    There is not much depth behind Peterson, though. Byron Murphy played 98% of the snaps, but finished with an awful 48.8 grade. The 2019 second-round pick will need to elevate his game A LOT this season.

    4.5 Safeties (S)

    Budda Baker and Jalen Thompson provide an adequate duo of safeties. These two guys are still young and we can expect some improvement in 2020. They finished last year as #28 and #57 out of 87 qualified safeties. Baker accumulated 147 tackles, 4th in the NFL.

    2020 VS 2019 DEFENSE

    No major changes for this unit. Given they’ve allowed the 5th highest number of points last year, that’s not good news.

    The lone position where the Cards have improved this offseason is linebacker because of the acquisition of Isaiah Simmons via the draft and De’Vondre Campbell as a free agent from Atlanta.

    Or perhaps the couple of young safeties can take a leap? Maybe, maybe not. It may be wishful thinking.

    To summarize, the team added Jordan Phillips, Devon Kennard, Isaiah Simmons and De’Vondre Campbell. They lost Rodney Gunter, Zach Kerr, Terrell Suggs, Cassius Marsh and Joe Walker. To me, those changes offset. Perhaps it will turn out to be a small upgrade.

    Final call (2020 vs 2019): Stable

    Thanks for reading!

    Professor MJ

  22. NHL System Picks for Monday March 9th

    The BIG 5-star play hit, as the Canucks did pull off the upset over Colorado last Friday!

    RECORD:

    • Bets won = 103
    • Bets lost = 129
    • Profit = +3.91 units (from RISKING 1 unit on every play)

    Today's picks based on my 10 NHL betting systems:

    • 2 STARS = Avalanche (@ -147 or 1.68 odds, at Kings)
    • 1 STAR = Panthers (@ +145 or 2.45 odds, at Blues)

    Good Monday!

    Professor MJ

  23. NHL System Picks for Friday March 6th

    BIG RED ALERT!!! ???

    For just the 2nd time ALL SEASON, we have a play that fits 4 betting systems at a time so keep reading until the end!

    The month of March has been very good to us!

    Another winning day last night with a +1.73-unit profit.

    RECORD:

    • Bets won = 102
    • Bets lost = 129
    • Profit = +2.80 units (from RISKING 1 unit on every play)

    Today's lone pick based on my 10 NHL betting systems:

    • 5 STARS = Canucks (@ +111 or 2.11 odds, vs Avalanche)

    Vancouver meets the criteria for betting under "The Big Upset", "The Porous Defense", "The Snapped Winning Streak" and "The Cold Teams Matchup" betting angles.

    Here are the secrets behing "The Big Upset" betting strategy:

    "Suppose Team A upsets Team B with odds greater than 2.70 in decimal format (i.e. +170 in American format). If Team B's next game is against a different opponent called Team C, bet Team C if its money line is greater than 1.667 in decimal format (i.e. -150 in American format, to avoid betting big favorites which did not prove to be profitable)."

    This sytem led to a 27.81-unit gain over 600 bets.

    Colorado's last game was a 4-3 loss against the Ducks, a huge upset which happened to be one of our picks that day.

    For this reason (and because of the other three systems), we are going to bet AGAINST the Avalanche tonight.

    Have a GREAT weekend!!!

    Professor MJ

  24. NHL System Picks for Thursday March 5th

    Huge upset by the Ducks last night in Colorado! It generated a profit of 2.55 units. ?

    Too bad the Caps lost their big showdown with the Flyers (for a 1-unit loss since we're always risking 1 unit).

    Overall: +1.55 unit yesterday.

    RECORD:

    • Bets won = 99
    • Bets lost = 127
    • Profit = +1.07 unit (from RISKING 1 unit on every play)

    Today's picks based on my 10 NHL betting systems:

    • 4 STARS = Hurricanes (@ +116 or 2.16 odds, at Flyers)
    • 4 STARS = Wild (@ -111 or 1.90 odds, at Sharks)
    • 2 STARS = Rangers (@ +126 or 2.26 odds, vs Capitals)
    • 2 STARS = Kings (@ +157 or 2.57 odds, vs Maple Leafs)
    • 1 STAR = Canadiens (@ +165 or 2.65 odds, at Lightning)

    Happy Thursday everyone!

    Professor MJ

  25. NHL System Picks for Wednesday March 4th

    A loss of 1.05 unit last night. Let's try to rebound right away!

    RECORD:

    • Bets won = 98
    • Bets lost = 126
    • Profit = -0.48 units (from RISKING 1 unit on every play)

    Today's picks based on my 10 NHL betting systems:

    • 5 STARS = Ducks (@ +255 or 3.55 odds, at Avalanche)
    • 2 STARS = Capitals (@ -148 or 1.68 odds, vs Flyers)

    The betting strategies don't pick favorites very often, but we have one tonight. The Flyers-Capitals matchup should be interesting!

    Have a nice day!

    Professor MJ

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