NFL Betting Advice: Toughest Teams to Handicap in 2019
There are teams that are reasonably easy to predict in the NFL right now as we head into the regular season. Unless Patrick Mahomes pulls an Andrew Luck in the next week, the Chiefs are going to be good, for example, and the two robots that run the show in New England aren't going to suddenly short circuit and forget how to play winning football. It's not just good teams, either - the Giants and Bengals are going to be terrible, and that isn't going to change. But then there are teams that are much, much tougher to deal with. At their best they could be good. Potentially quite good. But they could also really struggle and it wouldn't be a huge surprise. There is a ton of potential variance in the expectations of these teams. Bettors hate variance. Here are the five toughest teams to judge in the league right now:
New York Jets: The Jets have had a lot of attention as a team ready for a big step forward leading into this season. And they could be. But there are all sorts of assumptions we have to make to accept that. Adam Gase has to be a stronger coach than he was in his last year in Miami. Sam Darnold has to go from a flawed rookie with a pile of upside to a guy delivering on that upside - not just statistically, but in a way that actually delivers wins. Le'Veon Bell has to be able to shake off the rust and to be a productive player and a good teammate. Quinnen Williams needs to deliver on the massive potential that made him the third overall pick in the most recent draft. And it goes on and on. If everything falls into line, you could easily see the team finish second in their division and be in the wild card mix. But when was the last time everything fell into place for the Jets?
Jacksonville Jaguars: Nick Foles did wonders for the Eagles, and he was exactly what the team needed when their starter went down. But the last time he was given a team of his own, it didn't work out nearly as well. The team is really counting on a strong season from him to turn things around. If he doesn't deliver, then there are problems. However, if he plays like Super Bowl Foles, then the team will be much improved offensively. The team also needs to go through a pretty significant mental overhaul after a hugely disappointing season last year. They are led by the same head coach, though, and that always makes me nervous - mental changes can certainly happen, but they don't always pan out. And the division is tough and wide open, too. They could win it. They could finish fourth. It's the Jaguars, so anything is possible.
Oakland Raiders: The team underachieved to some extent last year, and they probably improved in a few ways this offseason - though they did that in uniquely Oakland ways, and I don't mean that as a compliment. There is a decent chance that they could be improved. Maybe improved by quite a bit. But Jon Gruden is a walking caricature, and if you trust him as a head coach of great vision and skill at this point then you are a much more generous person than I am. And the quarterback situation has, at this point, some real questions surrounding it. And then there is the distraction of playing in Oakland for a final year. There is a chance that things could really, really come off the rails. I mean, it's going to come off the rails at some point for Gruden - that's a given. But it may not be this year. The upside is somewhat limited because they are in a division with two clearly superior teams. But the range of what is possible is still very wide.
Dallas Cowboys: They have all sorts of questions around contracts to deal with, and that is going to hang over them. Best-case scenario, their best offensive player will return rusty after missing the preseason and with a chip on his shoulder. And the worst-case scenario could be much worse for the team than that. If that's not enough distraction, they also have to deal with the return to action of Jason Witten and all that goes with that. And they have a borderline incompetent coach who somehow can't get himself fired. Add it all up, and there is plenty of downside here. But the division is very weak behind the Eagles, so the upside is solid as well.
Carolina Panthers: With Andrew Luck out of the league now, Cam Newton assumes the undisputed mantle as the hardest QB to trust physically in the league. After yet another offseason surgery, and yet another rosy prognosis for a return to health, he is dealing with yet another injury that is limiting his play - and injury that could again linger. If he is MVP-caliber Newton, as we know he can be, this is a very different team than if he is the banged up, unavailable, clearly hindered Newton that we sadly also know very well that he can be. He is a very key player on this team, and the uncertainty of his status makes this team very hard to judge.
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