Bodog Team Rushing Props - Picks and Odds
by Trevor Whenham - 07/27/2007
One team is going to lead the league in total rushing yards. That's a certainty. If it's going to happen anyway, then we might as well bet on it. The trick, then, is figuring out which team it is going to be. The first thing we can say with quite a bit of confidence is that we are not going to have a defending champion. With Michael Vick gone at least for the start of the season, and quite likely for the whole year, the Falcons lose not only a 1,000-yard rusher, but also the difficult match-up that Vick was for defenses. Joey Harrington is not a risk to tuck and run, so the defense can be more focused on a traditional running game. Atlanta had almost 25 more yards per game than any other team last year. They are the third choice in early betting at 5/1 this year, but it will be much harder for them without Vick, and I don't see it happening. As an added challenge, Warrick Dunn will miss the start of camp after back surgery, so the team may be without two 1,000-yard rushers to start the year.
If the Falcons can't do it then someone else will. Before we look at who that may be, we can rule out several teams that just don't stand a chance. Cleveland was abysmal last year, they haven't upgraded nearly enough, and they have big questions on the O-line and at QB. No chance. It's even worse for Green Bay. It would take a fairly committed, well-studied football fan to come up with the names of two running backs on their roster. Most people would struggle to get one. Oakland and Houston are similarly doomed. Arizona should be better than their last place showing last year, but they would have to more than double their output from last year to reach the top. That's a big task, and not likely. Tatum Bell upgrades the Detroit running game that was worst in the league last year, but they would need to improve by about 100 yards per game, and they will likely be throwing it all over the place as much as they can, so a worst-to-first story isn't likely to come about.
With all those teams out of the way, here's a look at how the rest of it sets up (all odds are from Bodog):
San Diego (5/2) - The Chargers are the obvious choice. They were second last year, and have been in the top 10 since 2002. LaDainian Tomlinson is the biggest freak in pads, and the second choice, Michael Turner, could probably start for at least half the teams in the league. Norv Turner takes over an already potent team. Last year in San Francisco he improved their running game by more than 30 yards per game, and he will add an overall level of aggressiveness to offense that San Diego has lacked at times. It''s obviously not a sure thing that the Chargers will come out on top, but it's not hard to make the argument that this race is theirs to lose.
Washington (4/1) - If the Chargers falter then the Redskins should be the team ready to take the top perch. They were the fourth best team on the ground last year, and they could be significantly better this season. Jason Campbell should take over from Mark Brunell from the outset of the season, and he is much more dangerous when he tucks and runs then the veteran is at this stage of his career. Ladell Betts was a huge revelation last season when Clinton Portis was out with an injury. There's no reason not to expect him to be solid again this year, and he's joined by a healthy Portis to create perhaps the most fearsome two-headed monster in the league.
Jacksonville (7/1) - The Jaguars were the third best rushing team last year thanks to the consistency of Fred Taylor (when he's healthy) and the emergence of mighty-mite Maurice Jones-Drew. Both are back and ready to go again this year. It will be interesting to see how opposing teams react to Jones-Drew now that he is more familiar and won't be able to sneak up on teams like he did last year. Given that those two players are back, some would argue that the Jags present value at this price, but there are three reasons why I don't think they do. First, the two teams ahead of them on this list are just plain better on the ground. Next, Taylor was healthy last year, but he wasn't the year before, and he has a reputation for being fragile. If he goes down then the team will struggle because Jones-Drew may not be the best every-down choice. Finally, the quarterback situation is unsettled. David Garrard is a threat to run, but Byron Leftwich really isn't, and Daunte Culpepper, if he were to sign as rumored, is a huge question mark given his knee problems. Jacksonville could win, but everything would have to go exactly right for that to happen.
New Orleans (15/1) - Teams that run for a pile of yards usually have two legitimate rushing threats so that the defense can never completely ignore the run. The Saints have a top back in Deuce McAllister, and the most exciting and potential-rich player in the league in Reggie Bush. Bush struggled to adapt last season, and the coaching staff had trouble figuring out the best way to use this unique talent. His rushing average increased impressively by the end of the season, though, so it doesn't take much an imagination to see Bush really exploding this year. The receiving corps is strong enough that the passing game could be even more dangerous than last year, which would give the running game the room they need.
Kansas City Chiefs (25/1) - There are a lot of problems with this pick, but at this price it at least needs to be talked about. The biggest obstacle the Chiefs face is getting Larry Johnson onto the field. He wants a contract extension and seems unlikely to report until he gets one. It may take a while, but I don't see how the Chiefs could not give him one eventually. They need him too badly, and both sides know it. If Johnson returns he will have a big year. To add another twist, Priest Holmes has surprised many by returning to the Chiefs. I don't like him as an alternative to Johnson because of his age and injuries, but as a second choice he could be deadly. If both of those players find their way onto the field they should get a lot of opportunities to show their stuff. The team seems determined to break Brodie Croyle in at QB, which means that the running game will be relied upon for a good portion of the offense.