NFL Odds and Picks: Wes Welker & Reggie Bush Props
by Alan Matthews - 3/14/2013
There have been some very curious free-agent decisions made in recent years, but I can't remember one that has drawn more scrutiny and surprise than New England Patriots receiver Wes Welker deciding on Wednesday to sign with the Denver Broncos. The only move I could see in this year's free agency rivaling that as a surprise is Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher, who is an unrestricted free agent, choosing to finish his Hall of Fame career with the hated Packers.
Are the Broncos and Patriots blood rivals like Chicago and Green Bay? Certainly not. But Broncos QB Peyton Manning and Patriots counterpart Tom Brady are certainly big-time, albeit friendly, rivals. They are the two best players of this century to date. Welker's decision also could shift the balance of power a bit more in the AFC, with Denver and New England considered the two teams to beat -- they were the top two seeds last season.
Welker apparently was tired of being played contractually by New England. The team famously has a "Patriots Way" in that it offers a player a salary the team -- i.e. Bill Belichick -- deems fair and won't move off it. It's what has led several player to leave; in a somewhat similar situation, it's why the team chose not to pay holdout top receiver Deion Branch before the 2006 season and traded Brady's favorite target to Seattle. Welker was franchised last year and reportedly was offered just a two-year, $10 million deal this time for the Pats. He got only two million total more from Denver and was swayed by a recruiting call from Manning.
By the way, the Broncos visit the Patriots again this season. Think that might be in prime time?
Clearly Brady will miss Welker, who In six seasons with the Patriots averaged 112 receptions per year. His 672 receptions are the most in NFL history over a six-year span, and his five 100-catch seasons are an NFL record. Over the last four seasons, Brady completed 72.7 percent of his passes to Welker. I expect similar numbers for Welker as Manning's No. 1 slot receiver.
Here are Bovada's “over/under” props for Welker in the 2013 season: 1,000.5 yards, 90.5 receptions and 7.5 touchdowns. The receptions seem like a lock as Manning doesn't have a ton of downfield arm strength these days, and the Denver offense is similar to New England's in many ways. Welker led the league in receptions, receiving yards and receiving first downs out of the slot last season. Manning completed 71.7 percent of all his passes to slot receivers a year ago. Barring injury, the receptions and yards will be easily attained. I don't like the touchdowns, however. Welker has topped that total just once in the past five years. Welker is only 5-foot-9 and generally catches the ball between 6-8 yards from the line of scrimmage, so the only way he scores is if he worms his way into the end zone. Big targets Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas combined for 23 TD catches from Manning last year, and I expect them to hog the majority again in 2013.
The Patriots let Welker go not just out of stubbornness but because they believed the system created him -- he didn't do much in Miami -- and because Welker will be 32 this season (he also had a ton of drops last year). New England chose instead to hand a five-year, $31 million deal to Welker clone Danny Amendola, formerly of the Rams.
Amendola is a few inches taller than Welker but really is almost the same exact player and is only 27 -- both Welker and Amendola went to Texas Tech. Pats offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels knows Amendola well from his 2011 days in St. Louis. The problem with Amendola is that he has proven injury-prone, playing just one game in 2011 and 11 last year. He had 63 catches for 666 yards and three scores a year ago playing for a far inferior QB in Sam Bradford.
I believe the Patriots offense makes the player, at least a slot receiver. Troy Brown played the same position early this century and also put up big numbers in an era when teams didn't pass nearly as much. Bovada has only a receptions over/under prop for Amendola: 90.5. He had a career-high 85 catches while playing 16 games with a rookie QB in Bradford in 2010, so over 90.5 should be a cinch as long as Amendola plays at least 15 games.
The Broncos and Patriots weren't the only teams to make a big offensive splash Wednesday. The Lions added the top free-agent running back in former Dolphin Reggie Bush. He was a bit of a flop in New Orleans after a strong 2006 rookie season as the No. 2 overall pick. Bush definitely rejuvenated his career in Miami, rushing for a career-high 1,086 yards in 2011 and adding 986 a year ago. He also played at least 15 games each season, a total he hadn't reached since '06.
Bush's numbers in 2013 could more resemble his early Saints days in that he figures to be used more as a receiver. Don't get me wrong, Bush will get his carries, but the Lions also have a solid young back in Mikel Leshoure, who will be the thunder to Bush's lightning. No team threw the ball more in 2012 than Detroit, with Matthew Stafford setting an NFL record for pass attempts. Think Bush might do some damage with Calvin Johnson clearing out the middle of the field?
Bovada's over/under props for Bush are: 1050.5 combined rushing & receiving yards and 7.5 combined touchdowns. Bush hasn't had more than 300 yards receiving in the past three seasons, but I expect him to at least double that in 2012 and probably catch at least 65-70 balls. I also presume he rushes for at least 700 yards in that high-powered offense. Playing indoors at least nine times (eight at home, one in Minnesota, maybe one in Arizona) also helps the speedy Bush. I completely love the over yards but probably under touchdowns as Leshoure probably vultures all the goal-line scores.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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