After previously covering season-wins handicapping strategies and outlining some high-value win totals to target by division in 2019, it’s time to shift the focus to some bigger-picture themes. With that in mind, here are five things bettors should know heading into the 2019 NFL season.
New faces, new places
Wide receiver relocation was all the rage this past offseason, with Antonio Brown leaving Pittsburgh for Oakland after leading the league in touchdown receptions, while Odell Beckham Jr. is now in Cleveland after averaging 92.8 yards per game over his five seasons with the Giants. Demaryius Thomas joined the Patriots while Golden Tate is now a Giant.
A handful of prominent running backs also have new homes — headlined by Le’Veon Bell, who’s now with the Jets after a protracted holdout with the Steelers resulted in him missing the entire 2018 season. Tevin Coleman (49ers) and Mark Ingram (Ravens) are also noteworthy.
Moving to quarterbacks, Super Bowl LII MVP Nick Foles will assume the reins in Jacksonville, while Super Bowl XLVII MVP Joe Flacco takes over in Denver. And on the defensive side of the ball, Trey Flowers (Lions), Michael Bennett (Patriots), C.J. Mosley (Jets) and Eric Weddle (Rams) all have the potential to be impact players for their new teams.
The most underrated element of success in the NFL — along with the most difficult to quantify — is offensive line play. A competent offensive line is critical to keeping a quarterback upright and opening running lanes.
Philadelphia, Dallas, Pittsburgh and Tennessee enter the 2019 season with the league’s top-rated offensive lines according to Pro Football Focus. The Eagles finished 2018 ranked among the top 10 in both pass and run blocking and spent their first-round pick on tackle Andre Dillard. Teams facing trouble in the trenches include Miami, Houston, Arizona and the Chargers.
Analysis of close games has historically been one of the best indicators for a team’s performance the following season. Teams that over-index in close games tend to be overrated and usually see their performance fall the following season. Teams that under-index in them are typically better than their season win total would indicate.
The Rams (6-1), Chargers (5-1), Saints (5-1), Cowboys (8-2) and Redskins (4-1) all fared exceptionally well in games decided by seven points or less in 2018, while the Jets (1-5), Lions (1-4), Panthers (2-7) and Jaguars (2-6) all struggled in close games.
Schedule ins and outs
Schedules don’t make or break teams. Good teams will be good and bad teams will be bad. They can, however, be the difference between playing in January or sitting home. The concept of home-field advantage is also directly correlated to the slate of opponents a team gets to face.
Per Sharp Football Stats, the teams with the easiest schedules are the Patriots, Jets, Eagles and Browns. Those with the most difficult schedules are Houston, Denver, Oakland and Tennessee.
The market as a crystal ball
A look at the movement of season win totals can be a good indicator of how teams are projected to fare, particularly given that sharp money is driving most of the action. Teams that have seen their win total rise by a half-game include Buffalo (6.5 to 7) and Philadelphia (9.5 to 10). On the other end of that spectrum, the Dolphins (5 to 4.5), Panthers (8 to 7.5) and Bears (9.5 to 9) have all seen their win total drop by a half-game.