It’s never too early to start talking NFL. While the casual bettor may not pay attention until the start of the preseason in August, the wiseguys here in Vegas have already done their homework, ready to take advantage of early NFL betting opportunities as they present themselves over the next few months.
I’ve been waiting patiently for the NFL Season Wins market to mature, but that isn’t happening quickly – most of the notable offshores have not posted OVER/UNDER win totals yet, leaving Vegas as the only active market right now.
So, instead of writing about season wins over the next two weeks, I’ll focus on two teams setting the tone for the entire market – Kansas City and Baltimore.
The Chiefs and Ravens are the best examples of what the market looks for when adjusting power ratings way up or way down from one season to the next. As to why, read on.
Kansas City Chiefs (2-14 last year): Kansas City is the poster child for the “expected to be the most improved team in the NFL” category. Quite literally, just about every statistic and metric that we have to predict NFL success or failure points towards an immediate turnaround.
When breaking down the personnel moves for KC, the case for dramatic improvement is perfectly clear. Last season, the Chiefs were an injury riddled mess with a lame duck head coach and a consistent void at the quarterback position.
KC was tied for dead last in turnover margin in 2012, finishing with a -1.5 average differential per game. Only five players started all 16 games; fewer than the number of players who finished the season on injured reserve.
QB’s Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn combined for a 63.8 rating and eight touchdown passes between them, truly bottom tier numbers. The defense managed only seven interceptions. Of KC’s 14 losses, 10 came by double digit margins. KC was consistently whipped, right there with Jacksonville and Oakland at the very bottom of both the standings and power ratings.
The debacle came on the heels of a last place AFC West finish in 2011. Idn fact, KC has finished with a losing record five times in the last six years, not exactly an “up and coming” franchise in recent seasons. So why are the markets so high on the Chiefs heading into 2013?
All of that recent losing definitely comes into play. A consistent supply of high draft choices have left the Chiefs with plenty of talent. Unlike Jacksonville and Oakland, KC has drafted reasonably well; not a team in need of an extreme makeover, NFL style. They’ve got playmaking personnel already in place on both sides of the football.
The endless barrage of turnovers last year is certainly a factor pointing towards significant improvement in 2013. The last team -18 or worse was the 2009 Detroit Lions, a team that went 2-14. Detroit improved by four wins the following season.
We hadn’t seen a team finish -20 in turnovers in a single season since the 2006 Raiders, the 2005 Saints and the 2005 Packers. Oakland improved by two wins the following year, Green Bay by four and New Orleans by seven. None finished with a turnover margin as bad as last year’s Chiefs. All improved the following season and three of the four significantly.
Even teams with ongoing quarterback issues tend to dramatically improve their TO ratio following an “off the charts” bad season that KC experienced last year. There’s no QB controversy heading into 2013 after acquiring former 49ers starter and No. 1 overall draft pick Alex Smith to man the position.
Smith’s career has been checkered, but he was an elite, efficient QB before the sudden emergence of Colin Kaepernick made him expendable in San Francisco. In fact, his 104.1 QB rating ranked behind only Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers plus his 70.2% completion rate was tops in the league. He’s no Matt Cassel or Brady Quinn.
All the quotes from KC indicate the team is jelling in offseason workouts under Smith’s leadership. Here’s a quote from star wide receiver Dwayne Bowe: “He’s a leader on and off the field. He’s putting pressure on the defense. He’s running the huddle. When we don’t have a huddle, he’s speeding guys up and the tempo gets us in better shape. He’s pushing the defense, so that’s going to make our team better.”
QB isn’t the only key area that got a dramatic upgrade in the offseason. For as much as Eagles fans loved to bash Andy Reid, the bottom line is that Reid was a consistent winner throughout his extended tenure in Philadelphia. He had only three losing seasons in 14 years in Philly, with a 130-93-1 career record.
Romeo Crennel, in stints with Cleveland and KC was 28-55 all time as a head coach. The team clearly quit on him relatively early last year and the transition to a proven winner like Reid can only help.
Reports say the players are buying into Reid’s message. The Chiefs longest tenured veteran and clear team leader, Derrick Johnson, had this to say following OTA’s last week. “You never look at it as a rebuilding year; that’s college talk. You always reload. Even though we didn’t win a lot of games last year, this team has some good core players that we can reload with, plus some new guys like Alex Smith that can help us win. We have high expectations. Andy Reid has already made it plain to us that if you are playing for anything else but a championship, you are not doing justice to the game.”
Reid’s quotes sound pretty good too: “It’s the work ethic right now, guys trying to get better. There are a lot of little things that determine whether you’re going to be an average team or a good team and are you going to be fundamentally sound against all the different looks, whether you’re on the defensive or offensive side, so you’ve got to spend time at it.”
That’s why a team that finished 2-14 is lined at seven wins this year; the single biggest jump in the NFL between a team’s final record in 2012 and their OVER/UNDER win total in 2013. KC is the poster child for expected improvement.
Next week: Breaking down Baltimore.
Ted Sevransky is one of the nation’s premier sports handicappers and analysts. Follow Teddy on Twitter @teddy_covers or visit his page at experts.covers.com. Contact Ted Sevransky at [email protected]