How Andrew Luck Early Retirement Affects NFL Betting Landscape
It has been about 48 hours since I was watching a very interesting college football game and the news of Andrew Luck's retirement flashed across the bottom of the screen. I was sure it was a joke. A mistake. But, of course, it wasn't. His press conference followed soon after, and it was tough to watch. And since then, the biggest thing we have learned is that a lot of people have really bad hot takes and a total lack of empathy. But we already knew that. What we need to do now, as bettors, is figure out what this means in the short and long term.
The initial impact in terms of futures odds has been immediate and significant. Before the news broke, the Colts were at +1400 to win the Super Bowl, which had them tied with a few teams as the fifth choice. Now they are at +5000, tied with the Raiders and Titans. That's hardly flattering company for a team to be in. They were the third choice to win the AFC, tied with the Browns and Chargers, at +700. Now they are at +2500 - again tied with the Raiders and Titans. And they have gone from the -125 favorites to win the AFC South to the +450 long shots. They were -220 to make the playoffs, and that has climbed all the way to +360.
It's not just team odds that have shifted significantly. Luck was tied with Carson Wentz as the second choice to be MVP at +900, behind only Patrick Mahomes at +600. And he was the second choice to lead in passing yards as well. Those races have obviously been changed significantly. Interestingly, though, the one race that hasn't been impacted is for most receiving yards. Favorite Luck target T.Y. Hilton was at +1400 to top the league before the retirement and is still at that price. Jacoby Brissett is going to have to throw to someone, and there are worse targets for sure than Hilton.
So, both oddsmakers and the betting public have, mostly, reacted strongly to this news. It's interesting, though, to look at the season win total. It has been on a bit of a ride since the bomb was dropped. It was at 10 before the injury, which matched last year's total. Right after the injury, it plummeted to 6.5. It has since bounced back slightly to seven, and the "over" is at -125, so the climbing may not be done. That movement tells us that while things are bleak for the Colts, they aren't quite as bad as they initially seemed. That was my instinct as soon as I had digested the news, so let's explore why things might not be quite as bad as they seem for the Colts:
This was less of a surprise to them than to us: While the news was a complete and utter shock to fans, and most of the players on the team were caught totally off guard as well, this isn't a decision that he made suddenly. Reports are that he had been talking to management and ownership for a couple of weeks, and that he had been all but committed to retiring for much of that time. Frank Reich and his coaching staff were limited in what they could do, and the front office didn't make any big moves in response, but they knew what they were dealing with. And the fact that they didn't make any big moves or show any signs of panic is perhaps a sign that they are less worried than the public thinks that they should be.
This is not new ground: When Luck is good, he is very good. But he missed nine games in 2015 and all of 2017. The Colts haven't been particularly successful playing without Luck, but they have had experience dealing with his absence, and experience will help here.
They could do worse than Brissett: Jacoby Brissett is not Andrew Luck, and he very likely won't ever match that level of performance. He had 15 starts in 2016, though. And while there were things to work on, there he was a long way from awful. And he has had a full year of working with Luck since then, and all of the first team snaps this fall in training camp, to build on what he did back then. They have taken a step back at quarterback for sure, but they are not starting from scratch.
There is still talent: Hilton is, as we mentioned, a very good receiver and a huge asset. And Marlon Mack is a running back who flies a little further under the radar than he probably should. The pass rush should be improved from last year, they added another nice receiver in Devin Funchess at a discount price, and they weren't forced to make a whole lot of changes because things worked well last year. This is a team that lost their best player, but not one that lost their only good player by any means. And the team will have something to rally around now - the seemingly widely held belief that they are doomed without their star QB. That kind of thing doesn't always matter. However, if a coach can channel it effectively, it can have a big impact.
The division is full of questions: The AFC South offers more questions than answers. The Texans have talent, but Bill O'Brien has long struggled to achieve anything close to full potential. The Jaguars should be much improved, but it's the Jaguars, so that is no lock at all. And the Titans are behind the leaders in talent and have suffered a big blow losing left tackle Taylor Lewan to suspension to start the season. The Colts could indeed wind up as the worst team in the division as the price suggests and it wouldn't be too surprising. But the same could be said about any team in the division.
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