It’s sometimes easy to forget how good Carson Wentz was two years ago. With some injury luck, it should be time for a reminder.
With Wentz, staying on the feld for an entire season is obviously a major concern. But if that happens, do not be surprised if the Philadelphia Eagles boast the most improved offense in the NFL. In MVP contention in 2017, Wentz passed for 3,296 yards and 33 touchdowns before going down to a knee injury in early December.
The Eagles slipped to 18th in scoring offense (22.9 points per game) last year, but the personnel is in place for a big rebound. The offensive line is an elite force with Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson, Brandon Brooks, Jason Peters and frst-round pick Andre Dillard. Jordan Howard, rookie Miles Sanders and even a few doses of Darren Sproles highlight a loaded backfeld. Wentz will be throwing to a ridiculously talented group of receivers led by DeSean Jackson, Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and tight ends Dallas Goedert and Zach Ertz, who made 116 receptions last season. The potential for offensive explosiveness is scary.
Plays to Consider on Wentz • 25/1 odds (William Hill) to lead the league in passing yards
• Over 4,040½ passing yards (Caesars)
• 16/1 to win MVP (Circa Sports)
“His MVP price seems so short, but the Eagles might be the best team in the NFC,” Caesars sportsbook director Jeff Davis said. “Who’s sure if Wentz is going to stay healthy and play 16 games?” More player props (Caesars odds) and win total recommendations (consensus lines):
Patrick Mahomes Over 38½ pass TDs
In Mahomes’ second season as Kansas City’s starter, the so-called sophomore slump is a minor concern.
It would take a major slump or an injury for him to drop off this much a year after passing for 5,097 yards and 50 touchdowns en route to winning league MVP. Barring injury, those numbers should not decline in a dramatic way this season. (This touchdown total opened at 35½ and has been bet up in recent weeks, so some value is gone.) The Chiefs survived a potentially damaging offseason when Tyreek Hill was not suspended by the NFL, so Mahomes still has his fastest receiver in addition to rookie speedster Mecole Hardman, Pro Bowl tight end Travis Kelce and running backs Damien Williams, Carlos Hyde and LeSean McCoy. Mahomes passed for three or more TDs in 10 games last year. Andy Reid’s offense remains just as powerful, and Mahomes is a dazzling gunslinger in a league where the rules enable quarterbacks to put up infated numbers.
Derek Carr Over 22½ pass TDs
There is a hot debate in Las Vegas about Oakland’s potential to top its win total of six. The Raiders face the league’s toughest travel schedule and are attempting to climb the ladder in an unforgiving division with the Chiefs, Chargers and Broncos. The record might not show it in the end, but coach Jon Gruden should have one of the league’s most improved teams, especially on offense where the Raiders ranked 28th in scoring (18.1 points per game) last year. Antonio Brown made 104 receptions with 15 touchdowns in Pittsburgh and is expected to provide a similar boost for the Oakland offense. Gruden loves the running game, but Carr will be throwing often. Carr passed for 32 touchdowns in 2015 and 28 TDs in 2016 before declining. The Raiders are rising again and Carr’s numbers should surge with the help of Gruden’s play-calling and Brown’s big plays. Carr could approach 30 TD passes.
Vikings Over 9 wins (-120)
Kirk Cousins was overpaid with expectations that he could get Minnesota over the top last season. When everything fell apart, Cousins became a convenient scapegoat. The veteran quarterback did not play well in the biggest games — similar to his story in Washington — but did complete 70.1 percent of his passes with 30 touchdowns to 10 interceptions and was not as bad as public perception. Now that the fan and media sizzle has fzzled, it’s time to buy the Vikings. Most of the hype in the NFC North is about Chicago’s dominant defense and a bounceback year for Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. The Bears are prime candidates to bounce and will miss former defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Rodgers is always capable of greatness, but he’s also fragile.
In 2017, Minnesota was a 13-3 team with the No. 1 scoring defense (15.8 points per game) in the NFL. Injuries had something to do with last year’s decline. Mike Zimmer, the best head coach in the division, made smart changes in his staff that should pay off. Look for Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison to boost the running attack behind a better line. Not to make excuses for Cousins, but a weak line, absent running game and poor offensive coordinator contributed to his failings in 2018. It’s tricky to bet on Cousins to deliver, yet give him a second chance because this Minnesota team is built to win and should be much better.
Colts Over 7.5 wins (-110)
With a healthy Andrew Luck, the Colts power rated as the No. 3 team in the AFC behind the Chiefs and Patriots. Without Luck, Indianapolis slips to seventh in my conference ratings, but still strong enough to contend for a playoff spot. The win total adjustment from 10 is an overreaction. The Colts certainly can win eight or nine games with Jacoby Brissett, who was acquired in a 2017 trade with New England and started 15 games that season with a 4-11 record. Brissett is a better quarterback now, the weapons around him are improved and the offensive line is one of the league’s best. Two years ago, the line was a wreck. Colts coach Frank Reich is a sharp play-caller who worked wonders with Nick Foles in Philadelphia and can do something similar with Brissett.
The defense also has been upgraded in every area, thanks to general manager Chris Ballard’s shrewd moves. Ballard and Reich have cleaned up an organization that was a circus. Considering the Jaguars, Texans and Titans are fawed teams, Indianapolis has a realistic shot to win the AFC South. A record of 8-8 is a conservative projection.
Redskins Under 6 wins (-125) This was a much better bet at 6½, but it’s still playable. Nothing is pointing to the Redskins as a playoff threat. If rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins is starting in the frst half of the season, Washington will be a lost cause. Haskins is not ready, but do the Redskins play him anyway or try to piece together a respectable record by playing veteran Case Keenum? It’s a lose-lose situation for a dysfunctional organization. The focus of coach Jay Gruden’s offense will be running backs Derrius Guice and Adrian Peterson. The quarterbacks are in a tough spot behind a bad line minus elite left tackle Trent Williams and with no big-play receivers. Defense will be the team’s strength. Washington ranked 15th in scoring defense (22.4) last season, when an injury to QB Alex Smith turned a 6-3 start into a 7-9 fnish. Four of the Redskins’ frst fve games — at Philadelphia, Dallas, Chicago, New England — are against 2018 playoff teams and the other game is against the Giants in New York. It should be rough sailing early and speculation will heat up about Gruden going down with the ship. Last season, 12 NFL teams fnished with six or fewer wins. The rebuilding Redskins, not the Giants, will sink to the bottom of the NFC East.
Bengals Under 6 wins (-120)
It was past time for Cincinnati to turn the page and move on from Marvin Lewis. Soon, it will be time to move past Andy Dalton and to a new quarterback. The face of the fresh start is 36-year-old coach Zac Taylor, a former Sean McVay assistant. It will take more than a year for Taylor to turn around the Bengals, who are way off the pace in the threehorse race in the AFC North. Cincinnati went 1-5 in division play last year and should do no better this year.
Top wideout A.J. Green went down with an ankle injury during the opening practice of training camp and is expected to miss time in September. The Bengals’ top draft pick, offensive tackle Jonah Williams from Alabama, had shoulder surgery and is likely to miss the season. It’s mostly bad news for the Bengals, who could challenge Arizona and Miami for the No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft in Las Vegas.