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4,500+ words of handicapping goodness and delving into various bunny trails. This is the transcript of our chat, forgive any types, etc.
RC: Now that we've dissected our 'Faux' season, we turn to our top 3 over/under win total bets for 2018 (based on today's info) using a fictitious $1,000. Out third year doing this. I believe we're both running a profit the past two years. I'll let you address your three from 2017, but I split my $1K evenly on a Philly 'under' (loss), Cincy 'under' (win) and a breaking-the-rules basket of Rams-Jags-Bears over for all of them that I cashed in on all of them. In 2016, I put everything on the Jets under and they properly collapsed for me.
I love two of my top 3 over/unders this season, and I'm going to start with my #1, which anyone with the FFM site for the past few months knows what's coming. I'm not backing down and feel more confident the confidence I had back in March, April, May, and June -- I think the Bears 6.5 'over' win total is nearly free money. I hate that Vegas is making us pay dearly for it, I think the FFM nation has moved the needle here. Bovada has a terrible -165 to win $100. I hate that, and I'm seeing the new East Coast legal gambling going less than that but we're using Bovada for the sake of the article.
I will spend near half my budget here -- $495 (to win $300) on the Bears.
The Bears have a top 10 O-Line coming. A QB that I think will be a Hall of Famer and will be good+ this season. The most underrated #1 RB in the NFL (Howard) and one of the five most lethal weapon players in Tarik Cohen. They added two nice WRs and the best TE in free agency. The offense is re-made in talent and fresh offensive mindset coaching. This will be a top 10 offense, and they were a top 10 defense last year (despite battered by injury). If the defense holds up and the offense is radical -- this is a 8+ win team. Games with TB, Miami, NYJ, and Buffalo give me hope for at least 3 wins there. If they can split in division (3-3) then I just need one win in the other 6 games to cash in 7 wins. I believe if they win Week 3 at Arizona, they are headed to 9+ wins and the playoffs. If they can shock GB in the opener riding the 'new coach' Week 1 bounce, then this could be a 2017 Rams-like turnaround from joke head coach (John Fox) with no offense to a high-flying team that challenges for the division.
You for or against my incessant Bears 'over' pleas?
XC: I've kept records. From the initial $1,000, I'm at $1,094 and you're at $1,380. I expected your #1 pick to be the Bears. I agree with it, but I'm not as enthusiastic. I want to play the extremes—teams that I think will either be best or worst in the league. I think that the Bears will go over 6.5, but if I think that they're a 7-8 win team, then that's not as good of a value as some other teams. I think that Trubisky is fine and better than he showed last season. It's the prototypical RC pick that aims to be first on the bandwagon and prove the mainstream thought wrong. The -165 odds are unappealing, and so I won't be taking them as a top-3 bet.
My Seahawks Over bet last season lost, but I'm going back to it again this season. Seahawks Over 8 at +130 looks very appealing since I see them as an 11-12 win team. That's what they've always been with Wilson at QB. I guess people are falling for ESPN narratives about chemistry and collapsing defense. It's true that I always project the Seahawks as very strong. But that's what my numbers always say. The Seahawks built their team with the ideal Super Bowl formula. They had the potential to win 4 straight Super Bowls (2012-2015). Was it the players or their ability to evaluate players who fit their system? I am betting on their evaluations, because the Seahawks evaluate players similar to the way I do. I know I'd have the Griffin Bros on my team if I were a GM. And Wilson. 9-7 seems like their worst case unless there are major injuries. I'm putting $350 on this pick (winning payout would be $805).
RC: I'm really interested in how Seattle plays out, to see if your models have it right...and I can see the logic being overlooked by me and others. I'm so into this defense having been corrupted, but also, more importantly, the coaching staff is actively working against this group with terrible game planning around run games and defense, while possessing a great QB they should ride all the way as a focal point. I wonder if Wilson will put the team on his back a la Aaron Rodgers and overcome a bad defense and bad coaching...or whether Seattle will try to be a run-defense unit, start slow and not recover for 8+ wins. I think the coaching interference and the schedule layout is going to get them off to a slow start and then scrambling on the back-end. That at DEN, at CHI Weeks 1-2. They go 0-2 there because of the 'at's' and I think you're going to push or lose the 8 wins. If they can go 2-2 in their first 4, I'm starting believe your case for 8+ because of Wilson is going to at least push. You're winning me over to your side -- because Russell Wilson is more a QB that can carry a team than not. At least Wilson good enough to make them an 8-8 even in times of change/turbulence. That schedule start has me spooked. It just lays out poorly -- that Denver game should be a win, but opening week at Denver, it puts it at risk...then at CHI on a Monday night is bad set up as well.
How much a concern is it if Earl Thomas is gone, however he's gone?
XC: Earl Thomas is a good individual player. I like what the Seahawks are doing, though. Why extend a 29-year-old high-priced safety with a bad attitude? The Seahawks think that they can replace him. They've shown that they can scout DBs in the mid-rounds. Shaquill Griffin was a 3rd-rounder, Chancellor and Sherman were 5th-rounders, and Maxwell was a 6th. Last season they drafted Delano Hill in the 3rd and Tedric Thompson in the 4th. Mid-round picks don't always succeed, but I thought that they were both interesting picks at the time. Hill didn't get much draft buzz and was a surprise top-100 pick, and so I remember looking at him afterward and understanding why the Seahawks took him. Thompson was forgotten somewhat after posting weak SPARQ numbers, but he was excellent in coverage at Colorado. They also have Bradley McDougald starting for sure, and he's pretty solid.
On safeties in general, you've been saying the NFL is completely devaluing safeties (below kickers), but I don't agree. Your reasoning seems to be that no one wants the safeties on the free agent market. That's true, but that's because they're garbage and no one needs them. Eric Reid is blackballed (and that's a good thing). Morgan Burnett is an average 29-year-old. Tre Boston had one decent season. Kenny Vaccaro is not even worth mentioning, I just don't want people to think that I forgot him. Most teams are already set at safety because of the recent draft classes. The demand is still there, but the supply is balancing it out. The 2016-2018 drafts have had a higher number of safeties and CBs in the top 100 than normal, especially 2017. And a lot of starting safeties play close to 100% of the snaps, and so teams can get by with only 2 good ones and a little depth. Their salaries tell you how teams value them. Top safeties get paid a little less than interior DLs and a little more than RBs.
RC: I say safeties are devalued for sure, falling to where RBs are getting paid and will be below RBs in another 1-2 years when teams work off the dumb safety contracts they gave prior...like Tyrann Mathieu or Earl Thomas or Eric Berry. Not saying they aren't good football players, just not critical in the big picture and more easily replaceable.
College football is spitting out quality safety prospects and hybrid prospects all over. CB is a unique skill, coveted. Same with ILB, same with multi-purposed OLBs. Safeties...it's like 'who cares', we'll find someone to put there and move on from them quick and put a young safety in their place without blinking an eye.
Hybrid Safeties are desired, but regular old safeties...too many good ones via the draft and free agency to worry about.
I don't mean Safeties are useless but there's no economic sense in allocating big money (or a high draft pick) to safety (or RB) because of the supply and demand and specific skill uniqueness of the position. If I were an NFL GM, I'd draft them middle of the draft and add UDFAs and every time they were about to hit free agency I'd move them on and rise up my next guys. If I hit a crisis, I could get a decent SAF fairly cheap from free agency. I want happy Earl Thomas on my team in 2018, I just won't give him 3-years/$25M to do it.
My #2 over/under bet is a team with a little money put into its safeties -- your Cincinnati Bengals, a team that you believed in last year and have now turned on...and I've done the opposite. Bet the under last year (won) and now I'm loving the over. I'll bet $300 to win $200 (sadly, -$150 on 6.5 wins).
People don't like it, but Andy Dalton is a winner (a different kind of Alex Smith). 63-44-2 in the NFL, and 57-33-1 when Ken Zampese isn't the O-C. He's a stable NFL QB. Better than average but not elite. This team got to 7-9 last year, and they are much better this season (on paper). We get full year of Will Jackson. They have great DL pass rush with depth. Addressed O-Line pretty impressively (we'll see if it works). Joe Mixon ready to roll (if they fully unleash him). A go-to #1 WR. A defense that didn't give up a 300+ yard passing game in regulation last year. I don't need them to win the Super Bowl, just 7 games again.
I get them with games hosting MIA, TB, DEN...I should get three wins there. If they split the AFC North (3-3), plus my three easy home wins (on paper), I just need one other win in the other 7 games. At Indy Week 1, I'm looking at you. Hosting the Saints in possible cold conditions might be a surprise win. Hosting Oakland in December might be a deemed an 'easy' win.
This is a better than average AFC team with a fairly favorable schedule. I just think they'd have to screw up royally to get below 7 wins. Dalton/Lewis has had 6 or fewer wins in a season once in 7 seasons. This is one of their better teams with young talent emerging. I just think they are an easy 8-8 or better.
You're not as excited on them as I, but you would take the over if forced...right?
XC: I checked my pro-Bengals argument from 2017. I made four main points. (1) Deep CBs, deep EDGE, and solid LBs = top 10 defense. (2) Injuries killed the Bengals in 2016. (3) Underrated Dalton needed help, and Joe Mixon was that help. (4) The schedule wasn't bad. The team hasn't fallen apart, but it has decayed from what I thought it was. Kirkpatrick had a bad year at CB. EDGE rushers were good, not great. The defense became average and still looks that way. The bigger problem is on the offensive side. Injuries didn't hurt them, but their o-line did. Joe Mixon is great but no one knows because he had nowhere to run. I don't think they've done enough to fix the o-line. I'm not a Billy Price fan (drafted at #21); internally I had him ranked #80. Cordy Glenn is unreliable. The schedule is fairly neutral. I have the same view of this pick as the Bears pick. They look like a 7-8 win team, and so I'll slightly agree with the Over 6.5, but I wonder if it's the best value. Especially with the implied probability of 60% in the payout.
The Chargers are 'my' team now. Chargers Over 9.5 at -115 looks good because I think that they are one of the best teams in the league. They're still under-the-radar because the tiebreaker kept them out of the playoffs last season. They would have been 'the team no one wants to play.' I believe in their defense. Jason Verrett is out again, but I didn't project him as anything more than a bonus. Their secondary is already the best without him. Their all-around talent is undeniable. They're an 11/12-win kind of team on paper. It's really more of a gamble on their health and luck. Rivers always stays healthy, but the team around him falls apart.
It's possible that their two opening losses last season were because they hadn't adjusted yet to the new coaching... and new city. There was a lot of 'go back to San Diego' sentiment, and they had hostile fans in their home stadium. Their losses to the Eagles, Patriots, and Jags all went down to the end, and those were 3 of the best teams in the league. But it was the Chiefs that beat them twice. In both of those games, the Chiefs killed them on turnovers. The Chargers otherwise rarely had turnovers. To some degree, the Chargers beat themselves in those games. I also noticed that Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt were torching Tre Boston repeatedly on huge plays. Derwin James is going to make a difference.
RC: I'm not as high on the Chargers, but I definitely see the logic. The Chargers just strike me as the team that looks good on paper and folds under any pressure, and Anthony Lynn is not my favorite coach for the talent. The defense has to drag them through because that offense is not great. Philip Rivers is a high turnover QB, still good but is way overrated compared to his reality. Why Rivers has the utmost respect and Andy Dalton is a rube to the football minds is beyond me. A weak starting running back. A non-threatening, but good Keenan Allen #1 WR, who is not a game changer...he get all the throws as Rivers ignores the other guys too many times. And they have no tight end to speak of. It's a useful enough offense but not one that's going to pull wins out of the fire late -- thus they always fell short/ALMOST beat a number of good teams but never beat them. They almost always lose in a big spot because I don't think they have the offensive firepower to save them when needed. They might Jacksonville/defense their way to the big dance, but I just always assume the negative on the Chargers. It's like never bet against Belichick/Brady...but it feels fine betting against the Chargers.
I don't think they have achieved the 'team you don't want to play' status yet. Until they start beating playoff teams or winning games in big spots, I can't feel comfortable. This should be their year, if they don't capitalize on it, they have to start realizing it's time to gut it and re-build it, starting with Rivers.
I have a feeling we might agree on our #3 bet. I'll put the remainder of my money on the Saints -9.5. I think they're the Chargers you're looking for. Emerging, young defense with a pass rush and a nice secondary. Only the Saints have way more offensive firepower to pull out games the Chargers won't. The Saints have a better running game, receivers, O-Line (both are good), and a much better QB. If there was a 'who will win more games' bet on Saints v. Chargers, I'll take your Super Bowl prediction Saints over Chargers.
The schedule is nice for N.O. The offense is better, the coaching better. The defense not far off the Chargers in young talent and where they are their best (secondary, pass rush). I love the cheaper -125 to play them as well. I could see the Saints at 12+ wins a lot easier than the Chargers.
XC: Rivers wasn't a high turnover QB last season, and he typically isn't. He had 10 INTs, and 6 of them came in the two Chiefs games. He's not on the elite Rodgers/Brady level, but he's in the same tier as Ben. Rivers is underrated. Early in his career he was a top-5 QB, and he's still top-10 now. I believe that your disregard for Melvin Gordon is based on the fact that he was taken at #15 in the same draft that David Johnson was taken #86. Perhaps Gordon was overdrafted, but he is a fine RB. He has been working behind a below-average o-line. Likewise, I sense ongoing saltiness over Tyrell Williams. Rivers throws to Keenan Allen a lot because he's their undisputed best offensive player. My Chargers bet is $325 on Over 9.5 at -115 for a potential winning payout of $608.
My remaining $325 is going on the Saints, as expected. Over 9.5 at -125 for a potential winning payout of $585. It's mostly the same bet as the Chargers for the same reasons. They're potentially the two best teams in the league, but I have the Saints as a little better. The Saints mirror the Chargers in almost every way. Great EDGE and secondary players with solid LBs. A top QB/WR combo. Brees/Thomas is better than Rivers/Allen, but not "much" better. Cameron Meredith and Tre'Quan Smith are better than Mike and Tyrell Williams. The o-line is good enough to get it done. Good running game; the Saints are better because Kamara is so elusive. The appeal of both the Saints and Chargers is that the top teams like the Patriots or Eagles are usually priced at Over 10.5 or 11 wins. I see the Saints and Chargers as top teams but priced at a discount. The only 'Under' bet that I considered a possible value was the Bills, but they have bad -160 odds and they get 4 games against the Jets and Dolphins.
RC: We're both vested with the Saints then, and both going to cash in!!! The first time we had one of the same top 3 (glasses clink together).
I'd say Rivers leading the league in INTs in 2015 and 2017 lends itself to some turnover concerns. Not that he's a bad QB, I just don't ever see him top 10 like many people do. I'd rather have Andy Dalton. And my point being...Rivers is excused from everything, in my mind. The team under-performs, loses in must-win games, always seeming to disappoint to the talent level year after year -- and yet no one questions Rivers. Dalton just keeps winning, mostly, and has really nice seasons, statistically -- and, yet, he's a joke. I don't understand the mainstream's love and hate for certain QBs. And I think the perceptions weigh on the o/u betting lines.
Oh, and of course Rivers INTs came mostly against KC...big games, falls flat.
My beef against Gordon is that if we had a draft of every team's starting RB, you and me starting an NFL expansion team, everything being equal in pay etc., Gordon would be bottom 15, if not bottom 10 among choices...as a gut reaction/inflammatory statement. He's treated like a god, but there are backups better than him all over the NFL. I think Rivers, pure talent, is middle of the pack. Their lead RB is a bottom half talent in the league starters. Allen is a bottom half of the league talent WR. Pure talent terms. It's not an exciting offense. If Dalton and Rivers are similarly OK/flawed, and Mixon is better than Gordon, and Green is better than KAllen, and the Cincy TEs are better than LAC's -- the Cincy defense has emerging youth as well, good against the pass rough v. run like LAC -- why is LAC such a darling and Cincy such a yawn, in general, the the football universe? It's like Cincy always getting to the playoffs and losing is worse than LAC never getting their and disappointing year after year.
LAC a better O-Line but Cincy better everywhere else than LAC on offense potentially. LAC had a nice stretch of beating really bad teams and teams with weird injuries/not their main lineups/key guys last season...and they are lauded for it (and then failed when they faced good+ teams in big spots) while Cincy beat some bad teams too to turn the season around after an 0-3 start...and no one cares (wiht similar near-miss wins at GB, at TEN, PIT).
And it matters to output/results on the Gordon-Allen scouting/evaluation. It's not a fantasy discussion. I'm comforted being skeptical of a coach/QB/team that pushes lesser talents to the exclusion of other things. Tyrell Williams undeveloped further is just proof that LAC is predictable, and will choose lesser talent to get the ball in the hands of. if they had Tyreek Hill, he's be on the LAC bench as a #5 WR and punt returner. When Jeff Fisher had Goff-Gurley it was a disaster. When McVay had them, greatness. I think Anthony Lynn and staff is closer to the Jeff Fisher effect...and then they also like working with less dynamic guys to make it even worse. I don't dispute LAC is a playoff threat and a possible 9-10 win team...I just don't get why people are so good with them and so down on some of the other teams o/u rated below them (like Cincy).
XC: I disagree with a large portion of your assessment. Dalton throws INTs at the same rate as Rivers, but Rivers throws more TDs. Dalton's fine but Rivers is better by any objective measure. I will agree that Joe Mixon is better than Melvin Gordon. But we talked a little about how Mixon isn't used properly. And an important aspect of that is his pass-catching ability. One of the reasons that I was so high on Mixon as a draft pick is that he is an outstanding receiver. But the Bengals gave him only 34 targets last season. That's inexcusable. And you're complaining about the Chargers' coaches? McCaffrey and Kamara both got over 100 targets as rookies. The Chargers have much better receiving options than the Bengals. There's a clear conflict of interest since you are so heavily invested in the success of Tyrell Williams. The Bengals made they playoffs when they had a top-10 defense to carry them there each year, but it seems like a fairly average unit now. Whereas the Chargers have a potential championship defense.
RC: Rivers INT rate same as Dalton's -- which supports my Dalton and Rivers theory as being closer to the same guy. Conveniently you go from rate to total on the TDs. Let's go rate there. The past 6 seasons Dalton has 4.9 TDs per attempt, Rivers 5.2...last year Dalton 5.0 per attempt, Rivers 4.9. They are pretty similar, but I believe Rivers is a better pure talent, I'd take him over Dalton...but it's not night and day. Rivers wins the stats, Dalton wins the 'wins' and playoff appearances the past 7 years Dalton has been in the league. I mean to say/propose Rivers is more in Dalton's class today than anywhere near Brady, Brees, Rodgers, et al. In A-B-C tiers, Rivers is a B-/C+ for me, and I say that to establish Rivers is not an elite or a big-time 'winner' to lead this offense. He's good/fine. Not going to carry an offense to new heights.
The Bengals coaches are just as bad as the Chargers...another way these two teams are pretty similar. I'm not trying to win a Cincy is better than LAC argument, more that LAC and Cincy are a lot closer to be the same team than not...and in that case, as a profiteer, you're betting on LAC -9.5 and I'm betting, a similar if I'm right, Bengals team for -6.5 wins. I'm not arguing a final answer winner of LAC or CIN better as an NFL team, I'm saying they are more similar, or trying to make that case...and, if so, it makes Cincy very attractive for a -6.5 bet, more attractive than LAC -9.5 -- but they both may payoff, both may win 9-10 games, both may go to the playoffs. I just like the -6.5 line if Cincy is in LAC range for talent. If LAC is fairly priced, it means CIN is undervalued. To me.
My interest in players is the ones I think are more talented and not getting used. You just spent two sentences railing on Mixon's stupid low usage, of which we agree, and then turnaround and think your above such things and I'm flawed because I like Tyrell Williams as a talent and think he should be used more?
I think if LAC used Tyrell Williams more, developed him more -- he'd be a weapon of mass destruction...like he already showed signs of. We think the same of Joe Mixon. When Joe Mixon isn't used, we blame the O-C and coach, rightfully so. When Tyrell is ignored, I blame the coach and the QB. Why am I wrong to bark about Tyrell but Mixon barking is acceptable?
The thing I like about the Cincy upside is -- that defense (#18 in yards allowed, #16 in PPG --LAC #15 yards, #3 PPG). If a full year of Will Jackson and Jordan Willis takes a step ahead that we know he should be capable of with an already solid D-Line...this is a Cincy defense on the come. I don't need them to go to the Super Bowl/win the division, I just need them to win 7 games.
The Chargers are better than the Bengals, I agree. I just don't know that the Chargers are 3 games (9.5 v 6.5) better than the Bengals. Nor am I comforted by a team that's always talented, always a sleeper, always led by Philip Rivers...and now needing to win 10 games to payoff on a bet when they last won 10 games in a season in 2009 (the last great L.T. year). Dalton has won 7 or more games in a season six of his 7 seasons, no matter how foolishly Marvin Lewis runs them.
Your LAC 10 wins case is sound...I just think it's a bigger leap than the Cincy 7 wins case. I am hoping we both win them and rejoice/cash out!!
XC: From 2011-2016, the Bengals clearly had a better defense than the Chargers, and that helped the Bengals win. But in 2017, that changed. QBs don't win on their own. The difference between being a top defense and an average defense makes a huge difference. If the Chargers defense weren't elite, then I wouldn't be so high on them.
I don't believe in Tyrell Williams as much as you do. He's an average receiver who belongs in a specialized #2/3 role, where he is. I don't have any problem with Keenan Allen as the clear #1 WR.
I see LAC as an 11.5 win team (v. 9.5 Over) and CIN as a 7.5 win team (v. 6.5 Over). And so I see a bigger gap in favor of LAC, but both bets win.
RC: If we keep this thread open any longer, perhaps LAC's entire secondary will be on I.R. Verrett gone and nice young CB Trevor Williams in a boot. It's not that the Chargers are bad...just cursed. You are now cursed by proxy joining arms with them ;) ! Here's to hoping we both book a 3-for-3 season.