With the first week of NFL preseason action underway, opening kickoff is nigh, and that means it's time to dive into NFL win totals. SI Gambling will be rolling out our favorite over and under bets for both the AFC and NFC using current win totals available at New Jersey sportsbooks (FanDuel, DraftKings, William Hill). Let's begin with two AFC teams that bettors should be fading in 2019.
Houston Texans: 8.5 (Over +110, Under -136 at DraftKings)
There was not a team that benefitted more from the teams it faced—and the quarterbacks under center—last season than the Texans. In the games that Houston won last season, these opposing quarterbacks threw the most passes: Andrew Luck, Dak Prescott, Josh Allen, Cody Kessler, Brock Osweiler, Case Keenum, Alex Smith, Marcus Mariota, Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold and Blake Bortles. In fact, in that 23-21 victory over Washington, the Texans nearly blew a double-digit lead to Colt McCoy after Smith suffered a season-ending injury on the first drive in the third quarter.
Just four of those 11 wins came against QBs with a passer rating of over 90 (Luck, Prescott, Mariota and Mayfield), a mark that 24 different starting signal-callers surpassed last season. In the seven games the Texans played against QB with a passer rating over 90, their pass defense was shredded: Houston allowed 8.9 YPA (higher than Patrick Mahomes’s 8.8 YPA overall last season) and 19 touchdowns versus eight interceptions.
This season, the Texans are expected to face Drew Brees, Nick Foles, Philip Rivers, Cam Newton, Matt Ryan, Patrick Mahomes, Andrew Luck, Derek Carr, Lamar Jackson, Tom Brady, Joe Flacco, Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston. That’s what happens when you go from facing the AFC East and NFC East to the AFC West and NFC South.
The secondary lost cornerback Kareem Jackson (79.5 PFF grade in 2018) and safety Tyrann Mathieu (75.1), replacing them with cornerback Bradley Roby (59.8) and safety Tashaun Gipson (70.7). That group is going to need a lot of help from the front seven in generating heat on the QB. But even with the ferocious pass-rushing duo of J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney, Houston only finished 22nd in pressure rate last season at 29.6%, per Football Outsiders.
There are issues on offense as well. Houston’s offensive line finished with PFF’s second-lowest pass-blocking efficiency last season. Texans quarterbacks have been sacked a combined 116 times over the past two seasons, including a league-worst 62 last season. The run blocking hasn’t been much better, either, with Houston finishing 27th in adjusted line yards and 21st in stuff rate, per Football Outsiders.
Houston has attempted to fix its offensive line this offseason by drafting linemen in the first two rounds of the NFL draft (Tytus Howard and Max Scharping) along with signing veteran left tackle Matt Kalil, who missed all of last season after right knee surgery. Even with those additions, the Texans will likely still field one of the league’s worst offensive lines once again in 2019.
Then there’s head coach Bill O’Brien’s unimaginative play-calling. Per NFL analyst Warren Sharp, the Texans ran the ball on first down in the first half 62% of the time (highest in NFL) and ran the ball on second down following a first-down incompletion 53% of the time (also a league-high mark). The Texans finished 16th in play-action usage per Football Outsiders, a weapon that should be used more often to help out an often mismatched offensive line. O’Brien is also overly conservative, as the Texans had 11 punts inside their opponents’ 42-yard line, while no other team did so more than eight times.
There is no way that an offense featuring Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins should finish 21st in offensive efficiency, but O’Brien’s play calls frequently don’t give this unit the best chance to succeed. With the major upgrade in schedule, I struggle to envision a team with below-average secondary and offensive line units along with uninspired playcalling finishing with a winning record this time around.
PICK: UNDER 8.5 Wins
Oakland Raiders: 6 (Over -115, Under -106 at DraftKings)
Don't fall for the Hard Knocks hype. Jon Gruden’s bunch doesn’t have a great roster to begin with, and the NFL did the Raiders no favors by giving them the toughest schedule imaginable.
Here are some of the highlights:
1. After taking on the Chiefs in the Black Hole on Sept. 15 in Week 2, Oakland does not have another home game until Nov. 3 (Week 9). That grueling stretch consists of back-to-back road games in Minnesota and Indianapolis, a London game against the Bears, a bye and then another back-to-back road set at Green Bay and Houston. All five of those games are 1:00 p.m. EST kickoffs, which is detrimental to a West Coast team. The Raiders lose a home game as they “host” the Bears in London, and Oakland’s flight to London is several hours longer than Chicago’s.
2. The second time the Raiders play the Chiefs is one of the worst spots for any team this season. They get Kansas City off the bye, where Andy Reid has been historically good. It’s the second game of a back-to-back road trip after traveling to the Jets the week before. The game also starts at 1 p.m. EST, another time zone disadvantage for Oakland.
3. The Raiders end the season at the Chargers and at the Broncos, their fourth back-to-back road stretch of the season. No other team has more than three.
4. According to CBS Sports, the Raiders will travel 32,023 miles during their 2019 regular season slate, which is tops in the NFL. The Rams are second at 29,974.
The Raiders are already facing a massive uphill battle with that schedule, and they have to do it with a defense that was downright putrid in 2018. They were last in points allowed per game (29.2) and sacks (13). Every other NFL team accumulated at least 30 sacks. Oakland was so bad at pressuring the quarterback last season that it was PFF’s worst-ever graded pass rush. Despite drafting Clelin Ferrell with the No. 4 pick, Oakland still figures to struggle in that department once again in 2019.
The Raiders do have a couple of promising pieces in the secondary in former first-round picks Gareon Conley and Karl Joseph, and added some reinforcements by drafting safety Johnathan Abram and cornerback Trayvon Mullen in the first two rounds along with signing corner Lamarcus Joyner. However if opposing quarterbacks continue to get clean pockets often, there will be plenty of time to find open pass-catchers.
Adding Antonio Brown (even with his bizarre helmet grievance), Josh Jacobs and Tyrell Williams at least gives Raiders fans some optimism on the offensive side of the ball. But it all comes down to Derek Carr to get the offense’s engine running.
Carr finished with career-highs in completion percentage (68.9) and passing yards (4,049) in his first year under Gruden. That doesn’t nearly paint the whole picture, though. He didn’t stretch the field much, as his 6.7 intended air yards per throw in 2018 was tied for last with Cody Kessler and Nick Foles, per NFL Next Gen Stats. According to PFF, he targeted receivers at least 20 yards downfield just 9.2% of the time, the second-lowest mark in the league.
Carr’s average time to throw (how quickly a QB releases a pass) was 2.55 seconds, the fastest in the league. He’s a quarterback that gets rattled by pressure easily, so he frequently looks short to get the ball out quickly at the expense of attempting bigger plays down the field. Carr’s passer rating was much better with a clean pocket (104.8) compared to when he was under pressure (58.1), per PFF.
So will he receive ample pass protection from his offensive line? After being one of the NFL’s best in 2016, it was still good in ’17 but suffered a big drop-off last year. While Rodney Hudson is one of the best centers in the game, there are still some question marks here. Second-year left tackle Kolton Miller hopes to do a better job blocking Carr’s blind side after a miserable rookie season. Oakland signed Trent Brown to the NFL’s biggest contract for a tackle this offseason and also added Richie Incognito at left guard, though he will be suspended the first two games of the season. Right guard Gabe Jackson will reportedly miss around eight weeks after suffering an MCL injury in his left knee at a preseason practice.
If the offensive line is subpar once again this season and doesn’t minimize the pressure getting to Carr, the Raiders won’t be able to unleash their impressive collection of skill position talent. With oft-maligned offensive line coach Tom Cable still on the staff, it’s tough to buy this unit taking a step forward. Facing the Chargers and Broncos twice along with other teams projected to be elite at pressuring the quarterback this season in the Jaguars and the Bears is more reason to be skeptical.
In their last season playing in Oakland before moving to the shiny new confines of Vegas, expect a forgettable campaign for the Raiders.
PICK: UNDER 6 Wins