NFL expert Kyle Brown (@Kyleianbrown) pinpoints his favourite value bets from each conference ahead of the 2019/20 campaign.
AFC: Indianapolis Colts – Over 7.5 Wins (13/10 SkyBet)
Pre-season can always be a risky time for teams. Injuries can happen to anyone at any time so there’s always reservations from coaches to send out their stars, even if they’re new to the team or scheme.
That said, it’s not often that you’ll start a preseason match with one QB and by the third quarter news has broke that he’s decided to retire. As unlikely as that seems, that’s exactly what the fans of Indianapolis Colts were put through when Andrew Luck opted to call time on his career, citing his constant injuries.
The Colts’ loss is Jacoby Brissett’s gain, and it could be ours too.
Before the news broke, the regular season win total was set around 9.5 with the majority of bookmakers. Now, if you’re looking for even money you’ll find it around 7.5. Nobody can influence an entire team as much as a QB does, but let’s look at what else the Colts have and see why they’re still going to notch the eight wins this season at a minimum.
The aforementioned Brissett is now at the helm. His stats aren’t flattering, in all honesty. The only season he got the starting job (because of a Luck injury) was 2017 – he finished with a 13-7 TD-INT ratio, completing an uninspiring 58.8% of his 469 pass attempts.
But the difference between now and then is that he has one of the best offensive lines protecting him from opposition players. To put it simply, more protection equates to more time to release the pass, which in turn should improve his accuracy: arguably one of his more questionable attributes.
That offensive line is made up from Anthony Castonzo (LT), Zach Martin (LG), Ryan Kelly (C), Mark Glowinski (RG) and Braden Smith (RT). Collectively, they are ranked as the #5 (ProFootballFocus), #4 (Sportingnews) and #3 (NBC) offensive line going into the new season. While the top football outlets will argue about where in the top 5 they rank, there is the absolute consensus that they are indeed a top five offensive line. That will benefit the entirety of the offense, including both Brissett and running back Marlon Mack.
Mack was a rotation option during his rookie year, playing in (but not starting) 14 games. He didn’t dazzle, but he did enough to make the starting role his own going into last season and he made the most of the opportunity.
Three touchdowns in 2017 was trebled to 9 in 2018. His yards per-attempt rose from 3.8 to 4.7 and in the starting role he averaged ~16 touches per-game, enough to suggest the coaching staff have given him their vote of confidence. He’ll be an effective and reliable option for Brissett to lean into until he finds his confidence and swagger.
On the other side of the ball, the defence went from being ranked 27th in 2017 to 10th in 2018. And I can only that number improving this year too. They spent seven of their 10 draft picks on defence, including three from the first three rounds. They also made a big move for former Kansas OLB Justin Houston, who should make an easy enough transition to team also running a 4-3 defensive scheme. In short, their defence is quick, athletic and on the rise. There won’t be any fear, even against the top sides.
In a division alongside the Jags, Texans and Titans, there is, to me, no runaway winner. Texans are quite rightly favourites, but I don’t think they’re going to find it easy. 3-3 or 4-2 is an entirely reasonable W/L ratio to expect from this Colts team against divisional rivalries. They have favourable games against the Broncos, Dolphins and Raiders (all at home), and there is no reason to suggest that they wouldn’t be a match for the better teams on their schedule either.
The 7.5 line is best priced on Sky Bet at 13/10. I’d go as far as saying they could replicate their 10-6 year from last year if they have (pardon the pun) luck on their side. From top to bottom this is an extremely talented roster and one that would have been in serious Super Bowl contention just a few weeks ago.
NFC: Green Bay Packers – Under 9.5 Wins (8/11 SkyBet)
Being upfront, I’m a Chicago Bears fan, so bare that in mind before reading on. That said, there isn’t a claim here I can’t back up with statistics.
In 2017 the Packers went 7-9. In 2018 it was 6-9-1 – a regression, albeit small. Their win total for the season is set at 9.5 and the reason is purely down to the man that just about every NFL team would love to have, Aaron Rodgers.
Now, Rodgers is a great QB. Unfortunately, he’s been let down by the front office year in, year out, who have failed to build a genuinely worth Super Bowl contending team around the gunslinger. New head coach Matt LeFleur has been appointed in the hopes of getting the best out of the team in front of him – but is that reasonable to expect?
LeFleur is entering his first full season as a head coach. As a play-calling offensive coordinator last year at the Tennessee Titans he guided them to the lowly rank of 25th in the NFL offense rankings – hardly anything to shout about.
The year before, he was part of Sean McVay’s L.A. Rams, who, in the space of a season, went from being the worst ranked offense to the best. I’ve no doubt LeFleur played a role in that transformation but given the fact he’s since left and the Rams have continued to improve… perhaps he was just in the right place at the right time.
Keep an eye on any HC/QB rift that develops over the season given that there will be a bigger emphasis placed on the run game in Green Bay this year. That, topped with Rodgers changing the play at the line of scrimmage, may lead to an uneasy relationship.
While LeFleur is a bright offensive mind, he is being looked at to emulate the success that McVay had with the Rams. The difference being that McVay could mould his young QB (Goff) into what he wanted. LeFleur is entering a team that already has one of the best to ever throw the ball, it’s the rest of the team he must transform.
Green Bay don’t have a top end defence to help get the ball back in Rodgers’ hand, either. In 2018, they ranked 22nd in points allowed and 18th in total yards allowed. More worryingly however, they averaged less than one turnover per game (15 in 16). Their divisional rivals, the Chicago Bears, had more than double (36), for comparisons sake.
Their offensive line is, well, good enough, and with Devante Adams at WR they have a true stud who is always a shout to haul in a touchdown or two, regardless of the opponent. Mason Crosby is a reliable kicker, so no issues in that department either. But I find it hard to really be ‘excited’ about this team. If we compare them with the Colts, for example, who’s line is set at 8.5, then QB aside they’re a remarkably weaker team.
Rodgers will undoubtedly singlehandedly win them games, but I don’t believe he can do enough to make this team a playoff contender, and that won’t be helped by having to play the Bears and Vikings twice. In reality, they’re an injury (or an out-the-blue retirement) away from a season worse than 2018’s 6-9-1.
You can get the Packers to win nine games or fewer at most bookmakers, with SkyBet showing the best price at 8/11.