Toughest NFL Teams to Handicap
by Trevor Whenham - 8/21/2013
I am trying to figure out what to expect from some teams before the NFL season starts. The preseason is mostly useless, but if we don’t know what a team is going to be capable of it can at least provide us some insight into what we could see later on. Not in the case of these three teams, though. The expectations of them seem clear in some cases, but the preseason has done nothing to confirm our thoughts or dispel them. We are just as clueless as we were before the preseason started:
All offseason we have heard about how good the Broncos are going to be and how they are the favorites to win the Super Bowl. I have been a little skeptical — or at least uneasy at the odds they are listed at. I was looking for the preseason to give some sense of whether I was right to question the public enthusiasm or if this team was ready to take the next step forward. I have seen neither in this camp. The whole circus act surrounding Von Miller, what he did or didn’t do, and how long he will be suspended for certainly hasn’t helped. More significantly, though, the team has told us absolutely nothing this preseason. They won their opener 10-6 at San Francisco, but neither team really seemed particularly engaged. Then the Broncos basically wasted the cost of their flight to Seattle because they just didn’t care in their 40-10 loss to the Seahawks. They were totally absent of heart. Now, Peyton Manning doesn’t have much reason to work hard in the preseason, and he has long had disdain for these games, but this is noteworthy even for him. I’m not suggesting that the Broncos are doomed by any means. The fog that was surrounding this team in my mind, though, certainly has not lifted. I wasn’t at all convinced that there was value in them at 6/1 to win the Super Bowl (at Bovada). I’m still not.
Jacksonville has been bad for quite a while, and they are expected to be bad again — they are tied with the Raiders for the longest odds to win the Super Bowl at 250/1. I knew the team wasn’t going to be a contender, but I was looking forward to seeing them this fall to see how bad they might be. I think they had a solid offseason. The hiring of Gus Bradley as head coach was very solid, and the team had a good draft. If they showed well in this preseason, and if there was clarity at quarterback, then the team could cover some spreads very handily even if they are losing games. Trying to figure them out has been very frustrating, though. They have been hopelessly bad in the first two games — and against Miami and the Jets, which aren’t exactly the best teams in the league. Of bigger concern from an analytical perspective, though, is that Blaine Gabbert was named the starter for the team and was ruled out for the rest of the preseason due to injury. Even if the team wasn’t looking particularly good on the field, I was really looking to see if the chosen quarterback was anecdotally improving — looking like a solid starter, in other words — and now we are totally robbed of that opportunity.
I like the hiring of Doug Marrone a whole lot, so I am really looking forward to seeing what this team does during the next couple of years. I was as shocked as anyone by the decision to draft E.J. Manuel and hand him the keys to the franchise, though. Because of that, I was really looking forward to getting as many chances as I could during the preseason to see Manuel in action. I didn’t care what the results were. I just wanted to see two things from him — comfort and progress. The reports out of camp were positive, and it seemed as if he was beating out Kevin Kolb for the starting job. But then he got hurt and will miss the rest of camp. That made Buffalo all but impossible to evaluate. Kolb will get the bulk of the snaps, but the team will be invested in getting Manuel in as soon as they can, so watching Kolb will teach us little in the longer term. We also won’t be able to assess what we can expect from Manuel until he is on the field when the game actually matters. This all would be less of a concern for evaluating the Bills if they had hired a different coach. Marrone is offensively focused, though — the offense is clearly his passion — so that side of the ball is where the progress was more likely to happen quickly.
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