One Pressing Question for Every NFL Team Entering 2018 Season
NFL Super Bowl odds come via TopBet and are accurate as of Wednesday, July 18. These lines should hold relatively steady between now and training camps and the preseason. Still, make sure you’re confirming them before deciding on a wager, as they are subject to shift on a moment’s notice.
Chicago Bears (+10,000)
Is Matt Nagy the right person for the head-coaching gig?
The Chicago Bears have been entrenched in the sub-floor of mediocrity’s basement for far too long. A lot of their issues have to do with personnel decisions—namely tethering so much of their future to the wrong guy, Jay Cutler, for so long.
Head coach Matt Nagy will be expected to change things up as John Fox’s replacement. He cut his teeth as a quarterbacks coach and then offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs and has the look and feel of someone who can implement an actual system. The Bears aren’t expected to be good, but the development of Mitchell Trubisky next season will say a lot about Nagy’s immediate impact.
Miami Dolphins (+10,000)
Can Ryan Tannehill hold down the QB job post-left knee injury?
People around the Miami Dolphins have been generally raving about Ryan Tannehill’s return to playing under center following a non-contact left knee injury that required surgery and forced him to miss all of last season. His accuracy has been on point, and there has been no reported qualms about the strength and distance of his arm or his foot speed.
But Tannehill was a wild card quarterback to begin with—a fringe offensive captain. Pushing 30, it’s unclear how much he’ll elevate an offense that placed 28th in points scored per game last season. The Dolphins are banking on him having a huge impact. If he doesn’t, they’ll need to lean on Brock Osweiler. Which, yikes.
Arizona Cardinals (+8,000)
Will David Johnson and Sam Bradford stay healthy?
The Arizona Cardinals aren’t receiving a lot of love from oddsmakers or bettors, but they could end up being a nice long-shot option due to their offensive firepower alone—you know, if running back David Johnson and Sam Bradford remain healthy.
That’s a big if on both accounts. Johnson is coming off a wrist injury that limited him to just one appearance last season. Bradford, while a forever-stellar option under center, is an injury magnet; he has failed to play in eight or more games during a single season three times over the past five years. If either he or Johnson missed any time at all, the Cardinals are finished.
New York Jets (+10,000)
How long until Sam Darnold gets the keys to the offense?
As has become an annual tradition, the New York Jets’ quarterback situation is hella weird. Josh McCown, Teddy Bridgewater and rookie Sam Darnold round out the top three of the depth chart, and they’re positioned in the wackiest order.
McCown is considered the starter for now, with Bridgewater, who is working his way back from a career-threatening injury, stationed as the primary backup. That leaves Darnold as the third-stringer, which is beyond bizarre. The Jets aren’t projected to be good on the offensive side of the ball, and he’s the closest thing to a top prospect they’ve had at this position in years. Consigning him to third-string duty feels weird, and yet it’s possible he stays there if head coach Todd Bowles finds himself on the hot seat and is compelled to chase victories New York won’t get anyway.
Cincinnati Bengals (+8,000)
Is the tight end position durable enough?
This isn’t just a shot at Tyler Eifert. The Cincinnati Bengals’ pass-catcher is a pro-bowler and one of the most effective tight ends in the league. But he has problems staying healthy. Ankle injuries have plagued him time and again. Just last season, he missed 14 games following back surgery.
This is problematic for obvious reasons. But the Bengals’ second-string tight end, Tyler Kroft, is no durability billboard. Third-stringer C.J. Uzomah has shown some promise, but he’s not the blocker that either of the two in front of him are. Cincy needs at least one of Eifert and Kroft to remain healthy for the entire year to maximize the openings enjoyed by their running backs.
Cleveland Browns (+8,000)
Do they have their quarterback of the future?
The Cleveland Browns have been searching for a franchise quarterback since, roughly, the beginning of time. Do they finally have one now?
By their own standards, they are loaded with options at the position, with both Tyrod Taylor, formerly of the Buffalo Bills, and rookie Baker Mayfield. The latter should receive the starting gig by season’s end, but the Browns are at risk of trying to win as many games as possible, because they’re the Browns. And so, their quarterback situation remains shrouded in mystery.
Washington Redskins (+8,000)
Is Alex Smith a fitting replacement for Kirk Cousins?
The Washington Redskins have received plenty of criticism for how they handled the Kirk Cousins situation. They signed him to a series of one-year deals rather than ponying up over the long term, which paved the way for him to leave for the Minnesota Vikings this offseason.
Not paying makes sense in a vacuum. Sort of. The Redskins’ defense isn’t good enough to prop up Super Bowl contention. Funneling so much money into a top-shelf quarterback when the offense cannot win games on its own can sting. But so many teams are searching for franchise QBs. The Redskins had one. They let him get away. They’re now less than a blip on the Super Bowl radar, which won’t change unless Cousins’ successor, Alex Smith, plays like a top-10 quarterback—something he’s no stranger to, but also something he’s never done with minimal weapons around him.
Buffalo Bills (+7,500)
Are they committed to rebuilding?
Drafting quarterback Josh Allen implies a certain devotion to starting over. But the Buffalo Bills have A.J. McCarron at quarterback, and they remain infatuated with Nathan Peterman under center. And with veteran weapons like LeSean McCoy and Kelvin Benjamin on the offensive side of the ball, they could be tempted to roll with experience over Allen’s learning curve.
Grooming Allen, though, needs to be the priority. The Bills aren’t making the playoffs as currently constituted. Catering to the bigger picture will ultimately do more for them.
Detroit Lions (+6,000)
Can LeGarrette Blount save the run game?
The Detroit Lions finished with the seventh-best offense in the league last year, and they did so without a strong running game. They ranked right around the bottom in all the important volume metrics, and despite deploying an assortment of players who know how to catch passes out of the backfield, they’ve lacked a playmaker on the ground in hand-off situations for quite some time.
LeGarrette Blount could be the answer to the Lions’ problems. Or maybe not. But he’s their best shot. Theo Riddick ain’t it. Ditto for Ameer Abdullah. They need Blount to serve as a real threat as the ball-carrier so Matthew Stafford and the receiving corps aren’t forced to shoulder the load of an offense that needs to offset an unimpressive defense.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+6,000)
Will the defense make progress?
Apologies for those hoping to see “Will Jameis Winston make the leap under center?” analysis. Been there. Done that. It ain’t happening. He’s a middle-rung quarterback on his best nights.
All of which increases the pressure on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ defense (and running game). They finished 22nd in points allowed per contest last year and have secured just one top-16 ranking since 2010. They need to be better and more consistent against the run game if they’re going to rack up more than six victories.
Tennessee Titans (+5,000)
Will Marcus Mariota make the leap?
Ironically enough, Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota is approaching Jameis Winston territory on the field. We’re running out of time to hope that he has another level. He’s done nothing more than lead a series of lackluster, run-heavy machines since entering the NFL, and the Titans considered his development stunted enough to fire their head coach in favor of Mike Vrabel following a playoff appearance.
If the Titans’ passing numbers don’t come up next season, heads probably won’t roll. Vrabel is too new, and Mariota, despite his shortcomings, isn’t someone you just cut. Nevertheless, Tennessee would find itself scouring the collegiate ranks for a quarterback worth bringing along for the future.
Indianapolis Colts (+4,000)
Can Andrew Luck be the same Andrew Luck?
By now, you’re probably sensing a quarterback-heavy theme. We make no apologies. The NFL is in this awkward era in which the golden arms are aging out, the should-be toasts of the league aren’t that far along in their development, and a buffet of teams are still searching for that franchise option under center.
The Indianapolis Colts are one of the few teams who have that player in tow. We think. Well, we don’t really know. Not anymore. Andrew Luck, once touted as the future of the quarterback position, missed the end of the 2016 season and all of the 2017 campaign dealing with shoulder injuries, and he’s not yet all the way back. If he’s not himself or something close to it upon return, the Colts are in big, long-term trouble.
Kansas City Chiefs (+4,000)
Are they turning to Patrick Mahomes too soon?
At the moment, the Kansas City Chiefs are the rare team preparing to roll out a young quarterback without suffering a typical drop-off in Super Bowl contention appeal. They aren’t being treated as favorites; they’re noticeably lower on the ladder compared to where they were with Alex Smith. But their surrounding offensive weapons have prevented them from encountering a full-on nosedive.
Perhaps this is accurate. Kareem Hunt, Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins are a terrifying quartet. But the Chiefs’ decision-maker under center, Patrick Mahomes, has one NFL start to his resume. They’re rolling the dice while pivoting to him outside a complete rebuilding effort.
Baltimore Ravens (+3,300)
Can the wide receivers and tight ends develop chemistry with Joe Flacco?
While the Baltimore Ravens are working off a season in which they ranked ninth in points per game, their offensive personnel around quarterback Joe Flacco has changed considerably. On the wideout front specifically, Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead and John Brown are all new to the fold.
Between them all, the Ravens have some great deep-ball options. And Flacco, for his all his warts, has always been revered for his arm strength. But when this many new faces are involved, it could take time for everyone to get on the same page—time Baltimore doesn’t really have.
Seattle Seahawks (+3,300)
Is the defense still alive?
This is such a weird inquiry to be lobbing into the Seattle Seahawks. They’ve been the cream of the defensive crop for the better part of decade. The reflexive answer is: yes, their stopping power will retain its cachet.
Except, will it? The Seahawks are welcoming in plenty of new faces on the less glamorous side, and this shuffling comes after they started to show cracks last year. They finished 13th in points allowed per game, up from third in 2016, first in 2015 and first in 2014. It feels like the end of era is being ushered in—a conclusion that would torpedo Seattle’s playoff chances.
Carolina Panthers (+3,000)
Is Devin Funchess ready to be a No. 1 receiver?
Quarterback Cam Newton is being saddled with more pressure than usual by the Carolina Panthers. Jonathan Stewart is no longer operating out of the backfield, which is mostly fine, since he has Christian McCaffrey to rely on. But the Panthers have also tinkered with his wide-receiving ranks.
Devin Funchess is now the No. 1 guy for a pass-catching platoon that ranked 22nd in total touchdowns and 17th in net yards per attempt. The Panthers need him to have a Pro-Bowl-type season for the offense to reach its full potential. If he doesn’t, they’ll be more dependent upon their defense than they’d prefer.
Atlanta Falcons (+2800)
Will the offense make a triumphant comeback?
One year after trotting out one of the most potent offenses in NFL history, the Atlanta Hawks took a demonstrative step back, finishing a lukewarm 15th in points scored per game. They need that to change.
Sure, they showed signs of turning the corner just in time for the playoffs, but the Hawks were far from a points-piling superpower. They struggled to generate touchdowns in the red zone, and Matt Ryan wasn’t afforded the time in the pocket or requisite green light to prop up acceptable output through volume. Whether that changes now remains to be seen. Julio Jones and Ryan are both another year older, and the Hawks haven’t done much to shore up the No. 3 spot behind Mohamed Sanu.
Denver Broncos (+2,800)
Can Case Keenum reinvent the passing attack?
Not since the twilight salad days of Peyton Manning have the Denver Broncos had a legitimate flamethrower under center. Paxton Lynch and Brock Osweiler have been the most prominent fixtures since his retirement, and neither one revealed themselves to be even an adequate game manager.
Case Keenum should be different. He flashed high IQ, decent decision-making on the move and a fair-weather long ball while holding down the fort in Minnesota last year. He’ll have plenty of weapons around him to milk, and if he can turn the offense into more than a run-dependent slog, the Broncos have a puncher’s hope of returning to the postseason discussion.
Oakland Raiders (+2,800)
How much does Jordy Nelson have left in the tank?
The Oakland Raiders are betting a lot on a Jordy Nelson-Amari Cooper tandem lighting up opposing secondaries. It seems like a smart play on surface. Cooper is just entering his prime, and Nelson was Aaron Rodgers’ favorite target while with the Green Bay Packers.
But Nelson’s availability has been wobbly in recent years. He either spends a ton of time on the shelf or suffers a setback later in the season. With the AFC West division expected to be a dog fight, the Raiders can ill-afford for one-half of their receiving duo to spent too much time on the sidelines or submit to a post-prime decline altogether.
Dallas Cowboys (+2,500)
Can Dak Prescott be a passing game unto himself?
The Dallas Cowboys’ primary receivers are as follows: Terrance Williams, Allen Hurns and Cole Beasley. You know what that shows? A lot of faith in quarterback Dak Prescott. And he’s earned it. But now he’ll really need to earn it.
Dallas isn’t giving him much of a safety net anymore. The offensive line is still great, but a little weaker than in recent years. And that receiving corps lacks a true No. 1. Allen Hurns could be the guy, but he’s spent the past two seasons battling hamstring and ankle issues. Prescott will need to bear the lion’s share of the playmaking responsibilities, both to open things up for running back Ezekiel Elliott and keep the offense afloat in general.
Houston Texans (+2,500)
Is DeShaun Watson the real deal?
DeShaun Watson’s rookie season was cut short due to injury last year, but man, oh man, did he look the part through his first seven appearances. He tossed 19 touchdowns, rushed for two more, posted a 103.0 passer rating and had the Houston Texans’ offense on the map.
In the event he’s fine following his recovery from a torn ACL, Houston will be, too. Should he need more time to recapture his form or turn out to be a flash in the plan, the Texans will see their playoff aspirations dashed for a second consecutive season.
Jacksonville Jaguars (+2,500)
Will the Blake Bortles extension pan out?
Many wanted the Jacksonville Jaguars to seek out an upgrade at quarterback over the offseason. They felt Blake Bortles had run his course as a suboptimal game manager who sometimes provided a glimpse into a savvy deep-ball thrower and third- and fourth-down converter.
Well, the Jaguars didn’t upgrade the quarterback slot. They remarried Bortles. And to be fair, with the money being doled out to Kirk Cousins and Case Keenum, they didn’t have a lot of other options. To be even more fair, they have a top-ranked defense and run attack to fall back on. They don’t need much more from Bortles. Then again, if he can pilot even a league-average passing machine, watch out.
Los Angeles Chargers (+2,500)
Can the defense deliver an encore?
No one is all that concerned with the state of the Los Angeles Chargers’ offense. Philip Rivers remains in his prime. They’ll put points on the board if they stay healthy. The defense is a different story.
The Chargers overachieved last year by placing third in points allowed per game. Providing a solid encore to that performance positions them as Super Bowl contenders. Regressing to the bottom-10-ranking mean would leave them in line for another seven-to-nine-win season.
New Orleans Saints (+2,500)
Have they given Drew Brees enough receivers?
Michael Thomas. Ted Ginn. Brandon Coleman. Those are all quality names. Truthfully, though, there isn’t an unequivocal No. 1 among them. That could be a problem for the New Orleans Saints. They’re entrusting the full brunt of their livelihood to a 39-year-old quarterback in Drew Brees. It won’t take much for this continued faith in him to blow up in their face. They’re showing his aging process Tom Brady-levels respect.
On the bright side, they have Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara to make plays out of the backfield. Even so, that’ll only get them so far. They still very much need Brees to perform like a top-seven quarterback.
San Francisco 49ers (+1,800)
Is the offense overrated?
Yes, this is basically a question about quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. It has to be. He went undefeated in his late-season starts with the San Francisco 49ers last year after being traded from the New England Patriots, and he’s now surrounded by an enviable smattering of offensive options.
Still, Garoppolo is on the come-up. Oddsmakers have pegged him and the Niners as contenders. This feels ambitious. His debut in San Fran was no doubt encouraging, but late-season samples are often skewed by opponents who aren’t trying to win. We need to see whether that’s the case here before purchasing too much Niners stock.
Green Bay Packers (+1,400)
Does Aaron Rodgers have enough help?
The early answer to this question is “Hell, no.” The Packers let go of Jordy Nelson, Aaron Rodgers’ favorite target, and their running-back rotation remains an exercise in “Who’s that?” (Not really, but when mixed with the offensive line, it comes close.)
Rodgers needs another leap from Davante Adams, more consistency from Randall Cobb and a resurgence from recently acquired tight end Jimmy Graham to have the weapons he deserves. Otherwise, while the Packers will contend for a playoff berth, they won’t really come close to breaking the Super Bowl bubble.
Minnesota Vikings (+1,200)
Is Kirk Cousins truly an elite quarterback?
Look at the numbers alone, and they’ll tell you that Kirk Cousins is an elite quarterback. Among the 48 players to spend time under center in at least 15 games since the 2015 season, Cousins is seventh in passer rating, behind only Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Matt Ryan, Jimmy Garoppolo, Drew Brees and Tom Brady. That’s objectively ridiculous company to be in.
To be play devil’s advocate, though, it can be difficult to maintain that level of production when switching teams. Cousins is going from having relative carte blanche in Washington to dealing with a more structured, run-oriented attack in Minnesota. How well he adapts, along with how well he fares when not given as many opportunities to get in a high-volume rhythm, will determine whether he was worth the large investment the Vikings made in him.
Pittsburgh Steelers (+1,000)
Will Le’Veon Bell’s contract situation become a problem?
Star running back Le’Veon Bell and the Pittsburgh Steelers have once again been unable to reach terms on a new contract. The end result this time isn’t pretty; Bell’s agent has already come out and said he doesn’t expect his client to be in Pittsburgh beyond the 2018 campaign.
This could become a huge thing. Bell will be incentivized to play well; that’s not a real issue. But the media circus that will follow the Steelers in anticipation of his departure will be. Combine this with the departure of Martavis Bryant and the questionable progression of Ben Roethlisberger’s twilight, and the Steelers could find themselves in hot water pretty quickly. Don’t count out Le’Veon Bell trade rumors as the season soldiers onward, either.
Los Angeles Rams (+900)
Should they be concerned about the offense?
This feels like an awkward thing to focus on for a team that finished first in points scored per game last year. Believe us, though, it’s not. The Los Angeles Rams started showing signs of wear and tear as the schedule progressed.
Maybe a 13-point lay-down against the Niners was an anomaly—a byproduct of the Rams having their playoff fate sewn up. But whenever a team makes the leap that they did almost overnight, it’s our obligation to take a look at how, and why, and whether it’s unsustainable.
Philadelphia Eagles (+800)
Can Carson Wentz return to MVPish form?
Some people have gotten cute and tried painting Nick Foles as a better option for the Philadelphia Eagles than Carson Wentz. He did, after all, lead them to a Super Bowl victory last February.
That’s still crazy talk. Wentz was an MVP candidate and captaining one of the NFL’s premier offenses before tearing his ACL and missing the rest of the season. The starting quarterback job belongs to him. And the Eagles will give it to him. They should be confident in his return to MVPish form. But their future is also banking on it, so if something goes wrong or he takes longer than projected to play or find his groove, they’ll see their standing within the Super Bowl pecking order straight up plummet.
New England Patriots (+600)
Do they have a championship defense?
Curveball alert! Admit it: You were expecting something about Tom Brady. Like, is he immortal? That’s old news. The answer is yes until Father Time proves otherwise. Doubting Brady’s twilight stardom is played out. Maybe you were bracing for something like: “Do they have enough star power around Brady?” Another archaic question. The Patriots’ wide-receiver pool is teeming with talent, and they’ve never needed Pro-Bowl running backs to get the job done.
Zeroing in on the defense is more important. The Patriots were fifth in points allowed per game last year overall, but they struggled during the playoffs—mainly during the Super Bowl, when they coughed up 41 points to the Eagles, but also at times in their conference championship game against the Jaguars. To reclaim their place atop the rest of the NFL, they need the defense to be more of a sure thing. They cannot rank in the bottom 12 of net yards per attempt in both the passing and running games and still expect to win their sixth Super Bowl of the Brady era.
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