The Daily Briefing Wednesday, May 2, 2018
AROUND THE NFL
Demand exceeds supply in London. Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:
The good news for the NFL is that its London fan base is big enough that games at Wembley Stadium sell out quickly. The bad news is there’s a growing perception among the UK fan base that the NFL is a greedy interloper fixated on maximizing profits while pricing out average fans.
Tickets for two games at Wembley Stadium went on sale yesterday, and the NFL announced early today that the Eagles-Jaguars game on October 28 has already sold out, while the Titans-Chargers game a week earlier has only “very limited single tickets available.”
That’s a healthy sign that the NFL is profitable in London, and it’s one of the reasons that Jaguars owner Shad Khan is eager to buy Wembley Stadium and put more NFL games there. At the same time, it was frustrating to local fans who couldn’t get tickets, especially when many of those tickets immediately popped up on resale sites for significantly more than the listed price.
“Due to the unprecedented demand for this sale, we understand that fans who missed out on tickets are frustrated,” the NFL said in a statement.
Liz Fox, who writes about the NFL from a UK perspective, noted that tickets on resale sites are priced so high that fans might as well buy a plane ticket and fly to the United States for a game.
“We love the fact we get games here in the UK, but if tickets are ending up on resale sites for £500 [$700] a ticket, fans will opt to save their money and head to America to see the real action,” Fox writes. “Genuine fans are being priced out by greedy individuals and businesses. If this continues, the NFL will see less fans being able to attend games, and in turn fans confidence will be lost when it comes to a franchise.”
The NFL has become popular enough that it can sell out a stadium in London. But it wants to become popular enough to generate big television ratings in the UK. And a perception that it’s catering only to the fans who can afford the expensive tickets at Wembley could hold the league back in the long run.
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If the kickoff survives the spring, it may only do so by looking like a punt. Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com:
The ensuing public discussion, Vincent said, has “incentivized” advocates to forward a number of suggestions for safer alternatives. Details will be discussed Wednesday, when a group of special-teams coaches and players arrive at the league offices. But the likeliest scenario is shifting the alignment to something that resembles a punt, requiring more one-on-one blocking with less contact preceded by running starts. By the end of Wednesday, Vincent said, the league hopes to have a “consensus” to allow the competition committee to write a new kickoff rule. Owners would then vote on the proposal at their May 21-23 spring meeting in Atlanta.
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Will officials be throwing out five players in each game? This from Charean Williams at ProFootballTalk.com:
Everyone still is trying to figure out what type of play exactly officials will throw a flag. The most egregious violations are subject to ejection.
“That’s what I came here for,” Chargers Coach Anthony Lynn said during a break in Tuesday’s meeting, via Maske. “I want to know how the officials are going to officiate this in real speed. We’re sitting here watching all this stuff on video, and that’s easy. I’ve asked six times, ‘Can you rewind that back?’ Well, they [officials] don’t have that option on the field. I just want to see how they’re going to do it — the language and how we’re going to do this and how they’re going to officiate it when it’s full speed on the field.”
NFL officials have not said how often they expect the new rule to come into play. But Maske reports that the league said during the meeting that based on game video from last season they found about five violations per game of the new rule. That doesn’t mean, of course, officials will see all five considering the speed of the game.
Officials attending the meeting told participants they were confident they could spot violations in the open field.
Video of four plays of egregious violations was shown to participants Tuesday, according to Maske. The plays subject to the new rule included Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan‘s on Packers receiver Davante Adams and Bengals safety George Iloka‘s hit on Steelers receiver Antonio Brown.
“This is another challenge to get it taught better,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “There’s definitely plays . . . that, ‘OK, that play needs to leave [the sport], and that play needs to leave.’ Maybe if we start with those plays first to say the egregious fouls [must be addressed], then it’ll kind of trickle itself down.”
Presumably the number will decrease as players become better educated. But still, it’s a fast game with erratically moving bodies…
In its second year of offering odds on draft picks, Vegas took a bath. Doug Kezirian of ESPN.com:
While the Cleveland Browns surprised the football world by selecting Baker Mayfield with the top pick in the NFL draft Thursday night, it was new Giants general manager Dave Gettleman who changed the financial fortune of Las Vegas sportsbooks by taking Penn State running back Saquon Barkley at No. 2.
“I thought there was no way a team with a 37-year-old quarterback (Eli Manning) would be dumb enough to draft a running back,” Ed Salmons, the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook’s head football oddsmaker, told ESPN. “I don’t understand why these guys do what they do. I guess that’s why they get fired all the time.”
Josh Rosen opened as a minus-300 favorite to be drafted ahead of Barkley, and the UCLA quarterback closed as a plus-270 underdog. That head-to-head draft proposition was one of a few props that contributed to a net loss for both the Westgate and William Hill sportsbooks after Round 1.
“Obviously styles make fights. This one had all the quarterbacks and that’s why it was so interesting to everyone,” William Hill director of trading Nick Bogdanovich, who said there was an 800 percent increase in betting handle at his sportsbook from last year, told ESPN.
Nevada Gaming allowed draft betting for just the second year, as it continues to expand its policy of only approving outcomes solely decided on the field of play. MVP and other similar voting options have gradually been added to the betting menu in recent years.
“You basically need a lawyer to submit these things to explain how you’re going to do it,” Salmons said. “We don’t have the manpower or time to petition, so we just look at the gaming website and play by the rules.”
For example, Nevada sportsbooks only can offer binary draft propositions: head-to-head matchups of two particular players; an over/under for the total number of players drafted from a particular school or a conference; or by position in the first round.
“Next year, we will probably do fewer unless things are opened up for us,” Salmons said, who cited a 350 percent betting handle increase at his sportsbook.
Nevada sportsbooks could not offer long shot odds for a large group of players to be chosen with the top overall pick. Specifically, offshore markets offered 10-to-1 odds on Mayfield but that also allows a sportsbook to offset that high payout with all the losing tickets for every other player and still guarantee a hold percentage.
The other proposition bets that sealed a financial loser in Nevada were over 1.5 running backs drafted in the first round; three were taken. Also, Washington’s Vita Vea was selected ahead of Marcus Davenport of UT-San Antonio, as the betting steam suggested.
“It’s not like booking an NBA playoff game. The true odds could be minus-500 or minus-5000. This stuff is inexact,” Bogdanovich said.
As for significant line movement, Louisville’s Lamar Jackson opened as a minus-110 favorite at the Westgate over fellow quarterback Mason Rudolph of Oklahoma State and closed at minus-900. Only the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner was taken in the first round.
Plus, sportsbooks could not weather the storm of the prop bet of 1.5 Notre Dame players drafted in the first round. The Westgate opened the over at minus-240 and closed it at minus-1600. Two Irish players — Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey — were taken within the first nine picks.
“We tried to look at eight mock drafts of guys we trust,” Salmons said of posting the betting lines 11 days in advance of draft night. “It’s hard to do your everyday job and then also read up on draft stuff when you have a certain group of bettors that are tracking this nonstop.”
Time will ultimately tell how each team fared. However, we do know for sure Las Vegas lost on this particular draft night.
They may also take a bath if the hometown Vegas Golden Knights win the Stanley Cup:
Leave it to a team in Las Vegas to defy the odds.
The expansion Vegas Golden Knights have gone from the biggest underdog in NHL preseason wagering to just 12 wins from perhaps the most unexpected championship in pro sports history. They’ve converted hordes of nonbelievers during their 109-point season, a record for a first-year franchise. But Montreal’s Kar Yung Tom believed in them even before a single player had been added to the roster.
He believed in them enough to put $200 on the Golden Knights at 200-1 odds to win the Stanley Cup in their first season. His betting slip is worth $40,000 if they do.
“They have a reasonable shot. They’re insane at home. I just wish they won the Presidents’ Trophy, because that would have made me more confident,” he said, adding that he intends to fly in for a game if they’re close to winning the Cup.
Tom is one of hundreds of people who bet on the Golden Knights at inflated odds to win the Stanley Cup and now look like prophets of profit, with the team entering the second round against the San Jose Sharks as the odds-on favorite to win the Cup at 9-2. Some locked them in at 200-1, others at between 150-1 and 100-1. According to the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, just 13 fans managed to lock in the Golden Knights at 500-1 from Oct. 4 to 8.
Yesterday, we had the story that CB TERENCE NEWMAN was re-signing with the Vikings for 2018. With the announcement, he confirmed that the upcoming campaign would be his swan song. Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press:
“I think this will be my last year,” Newman said Tuesday during a conference call with reporters. “No matter what happens, this will be it for me.”
Newman was asked if he plans to spend any time soaking it all in during his 16th and final NFL season.
“After 15 years, I’ve soaked about as much as I can in,” he said. “It’s been a heck of a ride. I understand when it is time for me, and it is time for me. I am not going to put anything on this or do anything special; I am just going to go out and do the same things I’ve always done.’’
Newman was unsigned when the Vikings began spring drills April 16. He missed the first two weeks before finally signing a contract.
“We were in communication,’’ Newman said. “I had a situation at home, which I’m not going to discuss, but I needed some time at home.”
Newman said he never wavered from his plan to return to Minnesota.
“There wasn’t much of a decision on my part,” he said. “I said after the season that I was going to play. … I just needed to get a deal done.”
Yesterday, Tony Romo backed Dez Bryant the Person as the waived wide receiver seeks a new deal. Today, Clarence Hill of the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram gets a Cowboys scout to dump on the current version of Dez Bryant the Receiver.
While Tony Romo backs his former teammate, one Dallas Cowboys executive isn’t making Dez Bryant’s search for a new squad any easier.
Cowboys vice president of player personnel Will McClay spoke Tuesday on ESPN 103.3 FM explaining one reason for cutting Bryant was the wideout’s diminished ability to beat his defender.
“It was a collective deal,” McClay said, via Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “The (inability) to win one-on-one, to win downfield. There was inconsistency as well as some huge things in his play. So what’s best moving forward for Dez Bryant [and] the Cowboys, we just made that decision. It’s a production-based business.”
It’s not a revelation that Bryant struggled to win on the outside and played on a limited route tree. NFL Network analyst Bucky Brooks has been harping on that particular thread since September. Bryant was reportedly supposed to spend this offseason working with a route-running guru to help solve the problem. Few question that Bryant’s ability — he hasn’t cleared 900 yards since 2014 — didn’t warrant the $12.5 million base salary he was set to make.
The surprising aspect is that the Cowboys are willing to admit their harsh evaluation of Bryant publicly — and subsequently do more damage to his ability to find work.
NEW YORK GIANTS
Giants T ERICK FLOWERS, who the Mara men don’t want around anymore, has hired an agent – a sign he anticipates being waived. Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:
Giants tackle Ereck Flowers went without an agent for his first three years in the NFL, but he’s opted for a different approach as his fourth year unfolds.
Flowers has hired Drew Rosenhaus to represent him at a moment when he is not attending the team’s offseason program after a rough 2017 season and a move to right tackle after the Giants signed Nate Solder. There were multiple reports about a desire to trade Flowers leading up to the draft, but didn’t get an offer to their liking.
“Really the only comment is I have a good relationship with the organization, and I will be speaking with them soon about Ereck,” Rosenhaus said, via the New York Post.
The Giants are on the hook for Flowers’ entire $4.5 million-plus cap hit this year, so it wasn’t a great surprise to hear they plan to keep him rather than cut him without getting anything in return. Rosenhaus could work to get the Giants to change that plan in a way Flowers couldn’t do on his own or at least serve as a conduit that works through the strained lines of communication that currently exist between team and player.
QB CARSON WENTZ has been to the Caribbean recently, but not for a traditional vacation. Cody Benjamin of CBSSports.com:
After his second trip to Haiti in as many years, Carson Wentz is putting his own imprint on the country, and he’s doing it by donating up to $500,000 for the construction of a sports complex that will bring ball fields, dormitories, lights and Internet access to hundreds of local residents.
The Philadelphia Eagles’ third-year quarterback first paid a visit to underprivileged areas of the Caribbean country in the 2017 offseason, when his AO1 Foundation announced a $500,000 commitment to a multipurpose complex. Now, having recently joined teammates Zach Ertz, Nate Sudfeld and Rashard Davis in starting work on the facility back in Haiti, Wentz has announced via Twitter that he’ll match every dollar — up to an additional $500,000 — pledged to his foundation for the completion of the complex.
The sports complex is a product of Wentz’s partnership with Mission of Hope Haiti, a nonprofit that “seeks to bring life transformation to every man, woman, and child in Haiti” through everything from orphan care and nutrition programs to leadership training and Christian church advancement.
As reported by NBC Sports Philadelphia, it’s set to feature “10 soccer fields, two indoor basketball courts, six outdoor basketball courts, (a) 5,000-shaded-seat track and field, dormitories for 200 people, locker rooms and a community park with Wi-Fi, a play space and lighting” — most of which area residents do not currently have at their disposal.
Hmmm. It seems like Bruce Allen is trying to orchestrate a move to the Raiders. Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:
The report that Raiders coach Jon Gruden is making changes to the team’s front office came as news to the team’s front office.
Per a source with knowledge of the situation, no changes have happened in Oakland. This doesn’t mean that changes won’t be coming. They just haven’t occurred yet.
That said, changes are expected, sooner or later. There’s a belief in league circles that Washington president Bruce Allen hopes to eventually return to the Raiders, where he’d reunite with coach Jon Gruden. Both were previously together with the Raiders and, after that, the Buccaneers.
If it happens, the thinking is that Allen would serve in an executive-type role, with no direct input over personnel but a significant role in managing the business — including the team’s new Las Vegas stadium.
The Saints have signed former Ohio State QB J.T. BARRETT, who went undrafted, to a three-year free agent contract.
GM John Elway extends the Broncos life of QB PAXTON LYNCH. Chris Wesseling of NFL.com:
Now that Denver’s draft has come and gone without a marquee quarterback addition, general manager John Elway insists former first-round pick Paxton Lynch has a new lease on life with the Broncos.
Although Lynch has faceplanted in multiple opportunities to beat out Trevor Siemian — now banished to Minneapolis as Kirk Cousins’ backup — Elway isn’t prepared to throw in the towel on a major investment.
“We are not kicking him to the curb,” Elway said, via Mike Klis of KUSA in Denver. “He can still develop. When we drafted him two years ago, as I said, we knew it was going to take some time.”
The coaching staff is running out of development time, however, as Elway has just one more year to decide whether to pick up the fifth-year option on Lynch’s rookie contract.
Entering his third season since the Broncos thwarted the Cowboys’ attempt to trade up for his services, the rocket-armed former Memphis star has no shot to unseat Case Keenum for Denver’s starting job. In fact, Lynch must hold off Chad Kelly — the final pick in the 2017 NFL Draft — just to earn the visor and clipboard this year.
“Paxton is going to compete with Chad for that backup spot,” Elway added. “We are not going to bring another one in for OTAs. We will take a peek at that. It will be those two and Case.”
Lynch has managed an anemic 76.7 passer rating on 128 career attempts, showing a disturbing penchant for taking sacks and failing to move the chains. Even if Elway’s offensive line merits an ample portion of the blame, we now know that sack totals tell us as much about the quarterback as the blocking. Lynch has simply looked lost under center in five NFL appearances.
After reviewing Lynch’s game film early this offseason, the Broncos’ brass aggressively recruited Keenum, handing over $25 million in guaranteed money.
Elway can’t be blamed for maintaining a public display of faith in a first-round draft bust, but his actions speak louder than his words.
A Raiders OL gets a four-game suspension. Matt Schneidmann of BayAreaNewsgroup.com:
Raiders’ offensive lineman Vadal Alexander has been suspended for the first four games of the 2018 season without pay for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances, the Raiders announced Tuesday afternoon.
Alexander is eligible to return to the 53-man roster Monday, Oct. 1, the day after Oakland’s Week 4 game at home against the Cleveland Browns. Alexander is still permitted to participate in all offseason activities and preseason games.
The Raiders took Alexander in the seventh round of the 2016 draft with the 234th overall pick. He started five of the nine games he played in as a rookie, and started four of the 15 games he appeared in last season. Often, he was used as the extra man when the Raiders opted for five-linemen sets.
Alexander was in the mix to start at right tackle, though recent first-round pick Kolton Miller already figured to be the front-runner for that job.
So the Steelers finally reacted to BEN ROETHLISBERGER’s annual drama about whether or not he will return – and the QB gets his back up. Jeremy Bergman of NFL.com:
When the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Mason Rudolph in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft last weekend, it appeared that Pittsburgh was finally selecting the heir to Ben Roethlisberger.
After all, Pittsburgh’s confidence in Rudolph is well-documented now — Steelers GM Kevin Colbert said Rudolph was considered by Pittsburgh in “the group of the top quarterbacks” — and Big Ben, 36, isn’t getting any younger.
But the future Hall of Fame quarterback put a halt Tuesday to talk of Rudolph succeeding him in the next two to three years.
“Well, that’s fine. He can do that,” Roethlisberger told Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about Rudolph eventually taking the reins under center. “But I plan on playing for three to five more years, depending on how the line goes and staying healthy, if I can stay healthy.
“If he’s going to be their guy, that’s great, but in my perfect world it’s not going to be for a while.”
Roethlisberger did hedge his desire to play half a decade more, adding that he’ll still evaluate the length of his career year by year.
“I’ll still take it one year at a time and give it everything I have that one year,” Roethlisberger added, “but that’s what I felt comfortable in telling [the front office].”
A chronic retirement-waffler, this is the first time Big Ben has said outright that he sees himself playing into his 40s. If Roethlisberger plays another five years, he will be 41 at retirement; Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will be 41 by this season’s kickoff.
Rudolph is the latest in a short line of quarterbacks selected at the tail-end of Big Ben’s career who could be considered his heir apparent. The Oklahoma State product joins a QB room already populated by 2013 fourth-round pick Landry Jones and 2017 fourth-rounder Joshua Dobbs, both of whom have combined for just five starts in relief of Roethlisberger. Since Big Ben joined the team in 2004, Pittsburgh also selected 2006 fifth-round pick Omar Jacobs and 2008 fifth-rounder Dennis Dixon.
Rudolph is the highest QB selected by Pittsburgh since Big Ben’s ascendance. Does that make it Roethlisberger’s responsibility to tutor the young thrower?
“You know he’s able to play,” Big Ben said of Rudolph. “Anytime you get guys to come in, you can try to teach him a little bit, it’s a good thing. I’ll do whatever I can to help. I did that with Landry and try to help Dobbs as much as I can. Landry does a great job at that, he did it last year with Dobbs. It’s kind of the backup’s role.”
With Roethlisberger still performing at a Pro Bowl level, the Steelers veteran’s leash deserves to be very long in Pittsburgh, but the real question is how long will he be able to hold off Rudolph?
The Jaguars were thrilled to be able to sit out the early part of the 2018 draft. Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:
The Jaguars had a Top 5 draft pick for six straight years. This year was different, and they liked it that way.
Last week was David Caldwell’s sixth draft as the G.M. of the Jaguars, but it was a very different experience because they were picking 29th. Caldwell is happy to be coming off an AFC Championship Game appearance and hoping to draft even later next year.
“It was actually very enjoyable,” he said. “The goal is to get to No. 32 and we’re getting closer and closer.”
When you’re picking 29th, there are more possibilities for players to be chosen ahead of you, and Caldwell said he had a pretty good idea of who would be remaining on the board when the Jaguars’ pick came up. Caldwell said he does look at mock drafts, which rarely get picks exactly right but often put players in the correct general range.
“There is some validity to those,” Caldwell said. “It’s a good baseline for some checks and balances.”
Once No. 29 came up, Caldwell took defensive tackle Taven Bryan. Although the defensive front isn’t necessarily a need for the Jaguars, Caldwell said Bryan will play plenty of snaps this year.
“There’s a lot more to come from him,” Caldwell said. “He’s big, he’s physical, he’s got excellent quickness off the ball, he uses his hands really well and he can be very disruptive in our defense.”
Perhaps Bryan can help the Jaguars earn the 32nd pick in next year’s draft.
Russ Brandon, who continued to run the Bills after the Pegulas took over a couple of years ago, is out. Mike Rodak of ESPN.com with many lines between which to read:
Russ Brandon, president of both the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres, resigned on Tuesday.
Terry and Kim Pegula — the owners of Pegula Sports and Entertainment, which operates both teams — accepted the resignation. The Buffalo News reported that the move came after the company conducted an internal investigation into Brandon’s workplace behavior and allegations of personal misconduct.
In a statement to media outlets, Brandon said he had been pondering a change for a while.
“I have been contemplating transitioning out of my role for some time,” Brandon wrote. “My goal when the Pegula’s purchased the franchise was to reach 20 years with the Bills in which I achieved this past November. Given where we are from a timing standpoint, particularly with the conclusion of the NFL Draft, now seems like the time to make that transition.
“As grateful as I am for the amazing experience and the incredible people I’ve had the privilege to work with the past two decades, I am just as anxious for the professional opportunities that lie ahead.”
Brandon has been with the Bills in various roles since 1997. He became president in 2013.
He has been president of the Sabres since 2015, after the Pegulas bought the team.
Kim Pegula will take over Brandon’s roles, with her husband continuing to oversee both teams’ operations.
Two paragraphs from Tim Graham’s story in the Buffalo News:
Kim Pegula on Friday informed Brandon an internal investigation was being conducted. Two sources with knowledge of the investigation said it was triggered by allegations of inappropriate relationships with female employees.
When confronted by Kim Pegula, the sources said, Brandon denied any such relationships, but the investigation indicated he was deceitful about that and other job-related issues that were uncovered.
From the wording, possibly consensual, apparently multiple.
THIS AND THAT
Clay Travis with a tweet that reminds us of the power of the NFL.
First day of NFL Draft had over 11 million viewers. Pacers-Cavs Game 7, NBA’s highest rated first round game in 14 years, had 6.8 million.
Phil Rosenthal in the Chicago Tribune fleshes out the numbers:
Over three long days, the NFL attracted an average of 5.5 million viewers from Thursday through Saturday offering nothing more than the chance to watch and second-guess teams divvying up the negotiating rights to 256 players leaving college.
Yes, that number is buoyed by draft coverage being on multiple channels, both broadcast and cable, but that alone speaks to the NFL’s sweep. ESPN, ABC and Fox televised the draft along with NFL Network because they figured there was a buck to be made.
You know how many people watched last year’s NBA draft, which was only two rounds long and wraps up in a single night?
Just 3.4 million.
There were 11.1 million watching the NFL’s first round on Thursday night. The number was fewer than 3 million by Saturday afternoon, but by then the pickings included players from Yale, Maine and Ferris State (the Bulldogs, not Buellers).
That’s without a single catch, run or tackle. There were no fantasy football stats on the line and presumably few friendly wagers on the outcome. It was the NFL’s version of a telethon, complete with special invited guests.
How many of the players picked did the typical fan know? How many will the typical fan remember a year from now?
Viewers nevertheless invest themselves in the pearls of wisdom from experts whose expertise comes into question as their predictions — a blend of bold assumptions and wishful thinking — fall apart like wet tissue practically from the opening chimes.
The NBA had actual playoff basketball that meant something on Sunday. LeBron James and the Cavaliers were on the brink of elimination against the Pacers in a seventh game of their first-round playoff series.
While final numbers weren’t yet available Monday, the Cavs’ victory scored a 5.4 overnight rating of metered markets, which made it the highest-rated first-round NBA playoff telecast on any network in 14 years.
Compare that to the 7.0 rating for the first round of the NFL draft.
It’s more comparable to the 5.3 rating for this year’s Pro Bowl, and nobody watches the Pro Bowl.
The typical NFL game in 2017, even with a 9.7 percent decline in ratings from a season earlier, attracted 14.9 million viewers.
If you want to compare LeBron James and company Sunday to the NFL’s four first-round playoff games last winter, fine. Ratings for those NFL games ranged from 17.5 to 12.8 and viewership from 31.2 million to 22.2 million.
VEGAS WIN TOTALS
The sharp guys in Vegas have taken a look at the makeup of the 32 teams – and they think (or they think the public will think) that the Browns will win the most games more than any team in the league from last year. And the Vikings will fall the most short.
Stephen Ruiz of USA TODAY’s For The Win:
CLEVELAND BROWNS (2017 RECORD: 0-16) +5.5 WINS
The young Browns are a year older, the team has a competent starting QB in Tyrod Taylor (if he can fend off Baker Mayfield, that is) and the secondary is much improved over a season ago. But even with all those upgrades, Vegas doesn’t see Cleveland pushing for a playoff spot just yet, though they should be a lot more competitive.
HOUSTON TEXANS (2017 RECORD: 4-12) +4.5 WINS
The Texans added Aaron Colvin and Tyrann Mathieu to the secondary, but the jump in expected wins is based on injured stars who will return in 2018, including Deshaun Watson and J.J. Watt.
NEW YORK GIANTS (2017 RECORD: 3-13) +3.5 WINS
Odell Beckham should be healthy, and drafting Saquon Barkley and Will Hernandez should help the running game. Will the Giants be able to score over 20 points consistently this season? Vegas seems to think so — though it won’t be good enough to get New York back to the postseason in what could be one of Eli Manning’s final years.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (2017 RECORD: 6-10) +3 WINS
Getting a full year of Jimmy Garoppolo will thrust the 49ers into the playoff race, Vegas seems to think.
GREEN BAY PACKERS (2017 RECORD: 7-9) +3 WINS
Aaron Rodgers is back, which means the Packers should get back to their winning ways. How the Packers offense moves on after losing Jordy Nelson will decide the fate of the offense and this team as a whole.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (2017 RECORD: 4-12) +2.5 WINS
The Colts should be getting Andrew Luck healthy, but we thought the same last offseason. Vegas’ expectations are clearly tempered. Bookmakers see the Colts struggling to get back to .500.
DENVER BRONCOS (2017 RECORD: 5-11) +2 WINS
New quarterback; not-so-different result. The Broncos defense should be better after drafting Bradley Chubb, but the offense could struggle once again with Case Keenum, who needs to prove last year wasn’t a fluke, as the team’s lone option at QB heading into 2018.
OAKLAND RAIDERS (2017 RECORD: 6-10) +2 WINS
Jon Gruden is back in Oakland, but Vegas still isn’t too high on this Raiders team that got a lot older in the offseason. An 8-8 finish seems like a reasonable expectation for this roster.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (2017 RECORD: 5-11) +1.5 WINS
Well, just having Jameis Winston healthy for a full 16-game schedule should help Tampa Bay hit this mark easily. The defensive line has been overhauled for the better, and the run game should get a boost from rookie Ronald Jones. Vegas sees the Bucs as a 6.5-win team, but a big year from Winston could push them into the playoff chase. How many extra W’s will he eat?
CHICAGO BEARS (2017 RECORD: 5-11) +1.5 WINS
The Bears will be a trendy sleeper pick after a busy offseason, but Vegas doesn’t seem to be too impressed. Chicago is still pegged as a 6.5-win team, despite having a promising rookie quarterback and an overhauled receiving corps.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (2017 RECORD: 9-7)
The Chargers looked like one of the AFC’s best teams down the stretch of 2017, but Vegas sees more of the same in Los Angeles’ future.
CINCINNATI BENGALS (2017 RECORD: 7-9)
Speaking of more of the same, Marvin Lewis and Andy Dalton still control Cincy’s destiny, which means another near-.500 season is likely on tap.
WASHINGTON REDSKINS (2017 RECORD: 7-9)
The Redskins traded one slightly above-average quarterback (Kirk Cousins) for another (Alex Smith), and Vegas doesn’t see it having much of an impact on the team’s record.
MIAMI DOLPHINS (2017 RECORD: 6-10)
Yes, the Dolphins are getting the underrated Ryan Tannehill back, but this team also lost its best defensive player and best receiver. Ndamukong Suh and Jarvis Landry will be tough to replace.
DALLAS COWBOYS (2017 RECORD: 9-7) -0.5 WIN
Everything that could go wrong for Dallas in 2017 did. But even with a little more luck, Vegas doesn’t see the Cowboys getting any better.
TENNESSEE TITANS (2017 RECORD: 9-7) -1 WIN
The Titans weren’t as a good as their 2017 record suggests, which means the team could be in for some regression. But Vegas seems to think the coaching change and offseason acquisitions of Dion Lewis and Malcolm Butler will help make up for that.
ATLANTA FALCONS (2017 RECORD: 10-6) -1 WIN
The Falcons young defense is getting better and the offense is still loaded. The only thing that will hold this team back from winning 10 games again is offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. Vegas doesn’t seem to have too much faith in him.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (2017 RECORD: 10-6) -1 WIN
The Jaguars’ playoff run made this team look a lot better than it was in 2017. The Jags had good injury luck, an easy schedule and were still “only” a 10-win team. A reversal of fortune could see this team miss out on the playoffs.
BALTIMORE RAVENS (2017 RECORD: 9-7) -1 WIN
It’s clear that Vegas does not believe Joe Flacco is an elite quarterback. Or it doesn’t have faith in his supporting cast. Both are probably true.
DETROIT LIONS (2017 RECORD: 9-7) -1 WIN
With Aaron Rodgers back healthy for Green Bay, teams in the NFC North are going to have a much tougher time. So even if Detroit has continued to improve the roster, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will lead to a better record, unfortunately.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (2017 RECORD: 9-7) -1 WIN
The Seahawks defense is a lot less recognizable, and the offensive line remains a mess. Vegas must have a lot of faith in Russell Wilson to expect eight wins out of this pared down roster.
NEW YORK JETS (2017 RECORD: 5-11) -1 WIN
The Jets snuck up on some teams last year, winning five games when everyone expected them to be the next 0-16 team. That won’t happen again this year, says Vegas.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (2017 RECORD: 10-6) -1.5 WINS
The Chiefs are banking on a quarterback with one start under his belt. And they lost their best defensive player. Andy Reid is still here, so Kansas City won’t fall too far.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (2017 RECORD: 11-5) -1.5 WINS
The Saints exceeded expectations thanks to big contributions from its young core, which should only get better in 2018. But Drew Brees isn’t getting any younger.
LOS ANGELES RAMS (2017 RECORD: 11-5) -1.5 WINS
This is the biggest shock on the list. On paper, the Rams are a significantly improved team compared to last year. Maybe Vegas isn’t as high on Sean McVay as the rest of us.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (2017 RECORD: 13-3) -2 WINS
This isn’t really an indictment of the Patriots. It’s just really hard to win 12 games in the NFL. And New England did let a lot of talent walk in free agency.
CAROLINA PANTHERS (2017 RECORD: 11-5) -2 WINS
The Panthers gave Cam Newton more weapons in the passing game, but the offensive line is worse and the secondary didn’t get any better.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (2017 RECORD: 13-3) -2.5 WINS
With Carson Wentz’s health still a question mark, a 2.5-game drop isn’t out of the question, even if the Eagles are just as talented as they were last season.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS (2017 RECORD: 13-3) -2.5 WINS
The Steelers should march to another NFC North crown, but Ben Roethlisberger is a year older after showing some signs of decline in 2017. If he regresses, Pittsburgh is in trouble.
BUFFALO BILLS (2017 RECORD: 9-7) -2.5 WINS
The Bills took a step back after their playoff breakthrough last season. A.J. McCarron is a downgrade from Tyrod Taylor and the offensive line lost some key pieces. Buffalo will be lucky to win seven games in 2018.
ARIZONA CARDINALS (2017 RECORD: 8-8) -2.5 WINS
This is a rather pessimistic outlook for Arizona. That defense is a lot better than it gets credit for, and the quarterback situation is vastly improved after last year’s debacle. The Cardinals should be a .500 team next season.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS (2017 RECORD: 13-3) -3 WINS
Apparently, Vegas isn’t as stoked about the Kirk Cousins signing as Minnesota is. Or this could be the “Aaron Rodgers is healthy again” effect. And, as we pointed out with the Patriots, winning 13 games in an NFL season is ridiculously hard.