Expert NFL Handicapping: Teams with Best ATS Improvement Last Season
Basically, all I do in the time between the end of one NFL season and the beginning of the next is to look for different angles to break down the upcoming season. Some are truly useful, and I hope that this will fall into that category. Others wind up mostly just helping to fill the time until the start of the next season. Today's attempt is to look at the teams that made the biggest move - positive or negative - in their performance against the spread between 2017 and 2018. Once we identify these five biggest movers, we can look at why it happened and what, if anything, it means for this year.
Cleveland Browns (4-12 ATS in 2017, 10-6 ATS in 2018): This one shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. After the Browns had spent much of their existence being a profoundly laughable franchise, they showed real sparks of improvement last year. Hope, even. After firing the mess that was Hue Jackson midseason, they made a real move forward. The team was far from universally praised for taking Baker Mayfield first overall, but after his rookie season it would be really tough to argue against the choice. He was magnetic and explosive, and he led the way for a resurgence that really looks like it could stick.
Now they have stability, with Freddie Kitchens installed as the coach. And they had a very strong offseason. They are better than they were last year, which is much better than they were the year before.
The big issue here, though, is that they certainly aren't going to sneak up on anyone this year. They are the strong even-money favorites to win their division at BetOnline, and they are tied for the fifth choice overall to win the Super Bowl. Expectations are very high, which means that spreads will be tougher to cover as more public money pours onto their backs. If they do better than last year ATS, then we really know that they are a strong team.
Seattle Seahawks (6-9-1 ATS to 9-5-2 ATS): The Seahawks continued a transition from old to new last year as they shed many of the players who won them their Super Bowl. I will admit that I was skeptical last year and really thought that we were watching the Pete Carroll era end before our eyes. But last year was stronger than I expected - much stronger. Now Russell Wilson has been signed for big bucks, and the page has largely been turned. This is one of those teams that exist in the wide middle region of the league. They could be really quite good, or they could disappoint - and nothing would really surprise us.
Chicago Bears (8-7-1 ATS to 12-4 ATS): The Bears pulled off full on theft at the start of the season. It's not often you get to add the best defensive player in the league at his prime. And the defense was still pretty good before Khalil Mack. That unit led the way and combined with a decent step forward from Mitch Trubisky this team took a big leap forward. Much of the pieces are still in place, but they lost Vic Fangio, the defensive coordinator who made all the magic happen. That's a big blow. And the Packers and Vikings should both be better. The Bears are slightly favored to win their division, but it certainly won't be easy. Like the Browns, this team won't sneak up on anyone this year, and that will make it very tough for them to match their league-best betting performance of last year.
San Francisco 49ers (9-7 ATS to 5-11 ATS): Last year was a total mulligan for this team. They invested heavily in Jimmy Garopollo to drive them to a bright future and didn't think to back him up adequately. Or at all, really. So, when he went down in the third game, the season was a total write-off. It's tough to be completely blown away from what we see from this team heading into this season. But they should be solidly improved from that mess of last season as long as Garoppolo is healthy - both ATS and straight up.
Philadelphia Eagles (10-6 ATS to 7-9 ATS): Pick your poison when it comes to what happened last year. Super Bowl hangover? Sure, that works. Carson Wentz missing five games? Ya, that wasn't great. The Super Bowl success causing some contract issues that led to some changes that were more financial than ideal? Yup. It takes a really great team to come back strong after a Super Bowl appearance, and this team proved that they weren't truly great. With some luck, though, they should be back - at least to a higher level than last year.
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