To round out our 2019 NFL Preview, it’s time to find out who’s overhyped, who’s undervalued and which teams are offering value relative to some of the most popular futures markets.
Cleveland Browns: No team made more big-name splashes than the Browns, who gave Baker Mayfield one of the most dynamic playmakers in the league in Odell Beckham Jr., among others. But this is still a team with a rookie coach and a sophomore quarterback playing in a star-crossed city. The Browns will be improved, but they’ll be hard-pressed to live up to the hype.
Dallas Cowboys: An 8-2 record in close games last year points to a regression in a vacuum. Even if the Cowboys come to terms on a contract with Ezekiel Elliott, the NFL has become a passing league. Other than Amari Cooper, Dallas has very few weapons on the outside for Dak Prescott.
Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jags made arguably the most astute free-agent acquisition in signing former Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles to fill the biggest deficit on their roster. Coming off a season in which they posted a 2-6 record in close games and a minus-13 turnover differential, Jacksonville offers solid value relative to their market price of 8 wins.
New York Jets: Nobody is expecting the Jets to challenge the Patriots for AFC East supremacy, but a big free-agent splash headlined by the additions of Le’Veon Bell and C.J. Mosley — compounded by a bad-luck 2018 that included a 1-5 record in one-score games — would indicate the arrow is pointing up for the Jets.
TO MAKE PLAYOFFS
Useful Nugget: Seven teams made the playoffs last year that didn’t qualify for the postseason in 2017 — an annual theme — so targeting teams that missed the tournament last year is a good place to start when searching for value.
Safe Bet — Steelers (+100): The Steelers had a minus-11 turnover ratio last season and dropped 4.5 wins, and though they lost Antonio Brown, they’re not expected to regress much offensively. Boosted by an improved defense, Pittsburgh should be squarely in the playoff picture.
Value Bet — Panthers (+200): The Panthers project to significantly improve from the 2-7 mark they posted in close games last year. As long as Cam Newton is healthy, the Carolina offense will be just fine.
TO MISS PLAYOFFS
Useful Nugget: The Patriots are the only team in the NFL who haven’t missed the playoffs at least once in the past five years.
Safe Bet — Texans (-130): Despite Andrew Luck’s stunning retirement opening up the AFC South, the Texans nonetheless have red flags everywhere — including a seven-win improvement last season, as well as a plus-13 turnover differential. An overreliance on Deshaun Watson is a recipe for injury-related disaster.
Value Bet — Chargers (+160): There’s no denying the Chargers boast a surplus of talent, but they’ve also been one of the more perennially underperforming teams in the league in recent past. Part of that is attributable to poor injury luck, but the Bolts have nonetheless missed the playoffs in four of the past five years.
Useful Nugget: Quarterbacks have won all but three MVP awards since 2001, including six straight.
Safe Bet — Carson Wentz (+1200): Wentz was the MVP frontrunner in 2017 before a late-season injury not only cost him the award but a Super Bowl start. The fourth-year signal caller improved both his completion percentage and yards per attempt last season.
Value Bet — Jimmy Garoppolo (+5000): After losing the bulk of 2018 to injury, Garoppolo returns to a significantly improved 49ers team. Combined with a full season under Kyle Shanahan, both Garoppolo and the Niners could be primed for a big step forward.
SUPER BOWL CHAMPION
Useful Nugget: The last six Super Bowl champions have all had a bye in the first round of the playoffs.
Safe Bet — Patriots (+650): The Patriots have won three of the last five Super Bowls and have the greatest coach and quarterback in the history of the game. The league’s easiest schedule should have them well-positioned for their 10th straight bye.
Value Bet — Eagles (+1300): The Eagles project as a major rebound team this season in a very winnable division, as they dropped four wins last season and had a minus-6 turnover differential. The addition of Jordan Howard is a huge boost to the run game.