NFL Handicapping: High-Value Teams
by Trevor Whenham - 8/21/2009
Every year there are NFL teams that perform significantly better than they are expected to coming into the season. Two years ago, few people saw the Browns turning things around so dramatically. Last year Tennessee was a pleasant surprise. Being able to spot those teams that are better than expected is a good way to make your bankroll grow. Here's a look at five teams that have the potential to be surprisingly good:
New York Jets - It would be easy to get down on the Jets this year. They have a new coaching staff, a new quarterback (regardless of who it is), and some issues around the field. There are a couple of reasons to be positive, though. The team has a decent foundation to build upon - lines, running game, secondary, and so on. They have issues at quarterback, but even that seems to be going well. It's too early to know for sure, but Mark Sanchez seems to be establishing himself as the starter. Having a rookie start can be rough, but we learned last year that a rookie can perform miracles if he has a good team around him. Beyond that, though, there is a tone around the team that I really like. Under Eric Mangini the team seemed self conscious and tense. The first play of the first game of the Rex Ryan era was a 48 yard bomb from a rookie QB. That's exciting to see, and is the kind of thing that can build real momentum and excitement for a team. The division and the schedule aren't easy, but there is a chance that this team could be a pleasant surprise.
Philadelphia - The Eagles only sort of belong on this list because people already expect them to be solid. I really think that this team has the opportunity to take it to the next level this year, though. I don't want to overestimate the impact of Michael Vick. On the field he could be limited once he is finally able to play. What I like so much about his signing, though, is the tone it brings to the team. This kind of move shows that Andy Reid is serious about taking risks to win, and the way that Donovan McNabb has bought into the move provides real leadership for the team. This team has always had some nice offensive pieces, but it hasn't been as exciting and explosive as it should be much of the time. This new offensive tone could make the offense even more effective, and coupled with a strong defense this team could be the class of their division.
San Francisco - I like the core of this team - they have some seriously impressive players on both sides of the ball. One key factor here is who is going to be quarterback. It's a wide-open race between Shaun Hill and Alex Smith, and neither guy seems to have a significant edge right now. The good news, though, is that both guys are putting up a heck of a fight. Sometimes quarterback battles are won by the player that struggles the least. In this case, though, both guys are performing very well and are both having their best training camp. Combine that with the best coaching situation they have had in a long while and you have the potential for a surprisingly good team.
St. Louis - I don't want to suggest that the Rams are a playoff team or anything of the sort. There are a couple of reasons to be somewhat optimistic that they will take real steps forward, though. First, they have better QB depth than they have had for a while. Marc Bulger is a decent player, but he would benefit from being pushed, and Kyle Boller can certainly push him. Far more significantly than that, though, the team finally has competent coaching. Scott Linehan was an absolute disaster, and last year was a lost year after Linehan was fired midseason. Steve Spagnuolo is unproven as a head coach, but the steps he has taken already to change the attitude of the team already makes me think that he's going to be better than his predecessor. The Rams aren't the most talented team in the league, but they certainly haven't gotten all the benefit from the talent they have.
Tampa Bay - It's been popular this offseason to kick on the Bucs. I don't think that they'll be among the elite, but I'm not convinced that they'll be as bad as most people seem to think, either. This is unquestionably a transition year, but it could be one that isn't particularly rough. There are a lot of reasons for that, but the biggest, contrary to public opinion, is their quarterback situation. They don't have a clear situation, but they do have enviable depth. Byron Leftwich was once a top starter, and he has shown signs of life again. Luke McCown is no superstar, but he has been with the team for years and will be comfortable in his role. Those two will both push each other, and if either falter then impressive rookie Josh Freeman is waiting in the wings to shine. I really think that the depth and the intensity of competition is a positive for this team, and one that will help the team win a few more games than people think they will.
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