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Handicapping the draft: Who needs defensive help?

Jeff Fogle
VSiN.com

It’s NFL Draft Day! We continue our preview coverage of “team need” by studying pro pass defenses. Plus more from the frantic championship chases in the NBA and NHL.

NFL: Which teams need to shore up pass defense?
Yesterday we studied pass offense. Today it’s pass defense. Success in pro football isn’t reserved only for teams who can move the ball through the air on offense. Stopping opponents from doing that (or at least slowing them down) is paramount if you want to have a chance to lift the Lombardi Trophy. 

We’ve compiled the same stats as yesterday, but from the defensive perspective. That means…

  • Yards-ALLOWED-per-pass-attempt
  • Touchdown/interception ratio for OPPONENTS

The mainstream media is very fond of TD/INT ratio for quarterbacks. But they rarely mention that same ratio for defenses. Some stop units are so good that they make almost every opposing quarterback look like an inept rookie. Some are so bad they make everyone look like a Pro Bowler. 

Let’s start with the elites…

Stingiest pass defenses:

  • Denver: 5.8 yards-allowed-per-pass-attempt, 13/14 opponent’s TD/INT ratio
  • Minnesota: 6.6 yards-allowed-per-pass-attempt, 22/14 opponent’s TD/INT ratio
  • Jacksonville: 6.6 yards-allowed-per-pass-attempt, 20/7 opponent’s TD/INT ratio
  • Houston: 6.6 yards-allowed-per-pass-attempt, 20/11 opponent’s TD/INT ratio
  • Cincinnati: 6.7 yards-allowed-per-pass-attempt, 22/17 opponent’s TD/INT ratio
  • NY Giants: 6.8 yards-allowed-per-pass-attempt, 15/17 opponent’s TD/INT ratio
  • New England: 6.8 yards-allowed-per-pass-attempt, 21/13 opponent’s TD/INT ratio
  • Arizona: 6.8 yards-allowed-per-pass-attempt, 21/14 opponent’s TD/INT ratio
  • Kansas City: 6.9 yards-allowed-per-pass-attempt, 23/18 opponent’s TD/INT ratio
  • Pittsburgh: 7.0 yards-allowed-per-pass-attempt, 20/13 opponent’s TD/INT ratio

This stat combo isn’t best suited for a straight line run from lowest to highest YPA allowed. You’ll see in a moment that some defenses were OK on yards-per-pass-play but still allowed a lot of touchdowns. This group of 10 teams were all at 7.0 YPA or better, while also allowing 23 TD’s or worse and typically swiping double digits in interceptions (all but Jacksonville).

You can see that Denver was on a whole different level…arguably deserving their own one-team category labelled “fantastic” (though the Broncos offense was hideous). But, all 10 of those listed made their presence felt in this area. Super Bowl champion New England deserved a lot more credit than they got for this skill set. Yes, Tom Brady had another Hall of Fame season. New England’s defense made their regular-season opponents look like they had Denver’s dismal pass offense (6.9, 20/11 as you saw yesterday).

Stingy with yards, but too many TD’s allowed 

  • LA Rams: 6.7 yards-allowed-per-pass-attempt, 32/10 opponent’s TD/INT ratio
  • Baltimore: 6.8 yards-allowed-per-pass-attempt, 28/18 opponent’s TD/INT ratio
  • Miami: 6.9 yards-allowed-per-pass-attempt, 30/16 opponent’s TD/INT ratio
  • Dallas: 6.9 yards-allowed-per-pass-attempt, 25/9 opponent’s TD/INT ratio
  • Atlanta: 6.9 yards-allowed-per-pass-attempt, 31/12 opponent’s TD/INT ratio

The Rams somehow managed to have quality yardage stats while still letting teams throw touchdown passes like they were facing a doormat. Atlanta’s tendency to allow TD passes was their undoing in the second half of the Super Bowl. Dallas can’t really be taken seriously as a championship threat until the defense shrinks that TD/INT differential. 

Parity hunk near league average

  • Tennessee: 7.2 yards-allowed-per-pass-attempt, 25/12 opponent’s TD/INT ratio
  • Seattle: 7.2 yards-allowed-per-pass-attempt, 16/11 opponent’s TD/INT ratio
  • Chicago: 7.2 yards-allowed-per-pass-attempt, 22/8 opponent’s TD/INT ratio
  • LA Chargers: 7.3 yards-allowed-per-pass-attempt, 23/18 opponent’s TD/INT ratio
  • Philadelphia: 7.3 yards-allowed-per-pass-attempt, 25/16 opponent’s TD/INT ratio
  • Washington: 7.4 yards-allowed-per-pass-attempt, 22/13 opponent’s TD/INT ratio

Seattle used to be at a level that the Denver defense owns now. You can see the TD/INT ratio is still excellent. But, opponents are moving the chains more easily than they used to. Any of these teams could make a meaningful leap forward defensively if they draft a star on this side of the ball. And, those are the kinds of defenses that can offer value to bettors game-by-game or on futures prices. 

Worst pass defenses

  • NY Jets: 7.5 yards-allowed-per-pass-attempt, 30/8 opponent’s TD/INT ratio
  • Detroit: 7.5 yards-allowed-per-pass-attempt, 33/10 opponent’s TD/INT ratio
  • Carolina: 7.5 yards-allowed-per-pass-attempt, 27/17 opponent’s TD/INT ratio
  • Buffalo: 7.5 yards-allowed-per-pass-attempt, 19/12 opponent’s TD/INT ratio
  • Indianapolis: 7.6 yards-allowed-per-pass-attempt, 27/8 opponent’s TD/INT ratio
  • Tampa Bay: 7.7 yards-allowed-per-pass-attempt, 24/17 opponent’s TD/INT ratio
  • San Francisco: 7.7 yards-allowed-per-pass-attempt, 30/10 opponent’s TD/INT ratio
  • Cleveland: 7.7 yards-allowed-per-pass-attempt, 36/10 opponent’s TD/INT ratio
  • Oakland: 7.9 yards-allowed-per-pass-attempt, 27/16 opponent’s TD/INT ratio
  • New Orleans: 7.9 yards-allowed-per-pass-attempt, 27/9 opponent’s TD/INT ratio
  • Green Bay: 8.1 yards-allowed-per-pass-attempt, 32/17 opponent’s TD/INT ratio

Everyone in this hunk allowed 7.5 yards or more per pass, and most allowed 25 or more TD passes. Clearly these are teams that need help in the most important area of modern defense. Right now, the bottom three are all capable of making runs at a conference title just by curing these ills. Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees have already won Super Bowls. Derek Carr of Oakland is producing like an imminent star. 

Cleveland’s pass defense was so bad it made everybody look like they could throw downfield like Andrew Luck, but with Matt Ryan’s stellar TD/INT ratio. The mainstream media made a lot of fun of the Browns and 49ers last season. But, for a variety of reasons, the focus was on poor quarterback play and struggling offenses. The defenses of those two teams were horrendous. Solving their QB issues probably won’t be enough to lift them to respectability. 

Enjoy tonight’s draft coverage! We’ll set the stage all day with Mitch and Pauly at 2 p.m. ET, Gill Alexander at 4 p.m. ET, and Brent Musburger at 6 p.m. ET. Then, at 8 p.m. ET (5 p.m. here in Las Vegas), Brent will lead the VSiN team through a four-hour extravaganza that will cover the 2017 NFL Draft’s opening round from a sports betting perspective. The props…the futures prices…the potential impact on Regular Season Win totals. And fantasy football players will find helpful information all through the night as well.

For bonus draft analysis:

*Listen to Wednesday’s “Follow the Money” chat Mitch Moss and Pauly Howard had with NFL draft evaluator Mike Detillier

*Read “mock” draft assessments from Mitch, Pauly, and Senior Editor Matt Youmans

*Learn about the surprising popularity of these brand new props from Matt

NBA: Wizards, Celtics take 3-2 series leads Wednesday
Home teams held serve in the NBA playoffs Wednesday night, as the Washington Wizards and Boston Celtics both moved closer to a likely second round meeting in the Eastern brackets. 

Washington (-6) 103, Atlanta 99

  • Two-Point Pct: Atlanta 47%, Washington 52%
  • Free Throws: Atlanta 14/21, Washington 22/27
  • Turnovers: Atlanta 11, Washington 6

This one broke the prior series mold in a few ways. The road team covered the spread. It was the lowest-scoring game of the series by far at 202 points (after 221-210-214-212), and had the lowest tempo by far at 94 (after 100-99-104-99). Here, we also had the refs swallowing their whistles more than they had early on. You might recall that Atlanta attempted 39 and 38 free throws in the first two games in DC. You see above they only reached 21 attempts Wednesday, while losing the number of makes by more than the final scoreboard margin. 

In common with earlier action:

  • The home team won straight up (hosts are 5-0 thus far)
  • Atlanta was outclassed in turnovers on the road, (19-12, 18-11, 11-6)
  • Washington was lousy on three-pointers (8/28, 7/22, 7/29, 11/32, 7/24)

That’s 40 of 135 for 30% from long range for the Wizards, which is an issue because of their -16 in rebound differential for the series. Many missed bombs are virtual turnovers.

We head back to Atlanta for Game 6 on Friday night. Atlanta will be a popular betting choice in the must-win bounce back spot after home victories of 18 and 10 points a few days ago. Winning two-in-a-row to rally for the series seems a much taller task given those road turnover issues and the likely lack of friendly officiating in a Game 7 decider. 

Boston (-7.5) 108, Chicago 97

  • Free Throws: Chicago 14/17, Boston 23/23
  • Turnovers: Chicago 16, Boston 6

Chicago actually led entering the fourth quarter. But the Bulls lost their legs and their composure in a 29-16 final stanza failure. The Bulls missed a chance to steal one, as Celtics star Isaiah Thomas was just 6 of 17 from the field (1 of 11 on treys) while dishing out only four assists. 

That’s three straight wins for Boston. In the final minutes, Chicago didn’t have the look or body language of a team that believed it can come back to win the series. We saw a continuation of the decrease in tempo and raw scoring with the loss of Rondo after two games, and an increase in Chicago slop…

  • Possession counts: 95-93-92-90-92 (down to 91.3 w/out Rondo)
  • Total Points: 208-208-191-199-205 (now at 198.3 w/out Rondo, 3 unders)
  • Chicago Scoring: 106-111-87-95-97 (now at 93 w/out Rondo)
  • Chicago Turnovers: 16-10-17-12-16 (now at 15.0 w/out Rondo)

Game 6 will be Friday in Chicago. Before we get to that…

Thursday’s point spreads (Toronto and San Antonio lead 3-2)

  • Toronto at Milwaukee (-1.5, 195.5); 7 p.m. ET on TNT
  • San Antonio (-4/190) at Memphis; 9:35 p.m. ET on TNT

NHL: Visitors Nashville and Edmonton snatch home ice
After a long layoff, Round 2 of the NHL playoffs is under way. The West opened things up Wednesday with a pair of high scoring powderkegs.

Nashville (even) 4, St. Louis 3

  • Shots: Nashville 32, St. Louis 30

A higher scoring and more wide open game than expected. Nashville jumped to a 3-1 lead, and it looked like the Predators were going to continue their domination of the Western brackets. St. Louis stormed back to tie, only to see Nashville notch the game winner on a broken play. Nashville is still undefeated in the postseason after sweeping the Chicago Blackhawks.  

Edmonton (plus 115) 5, Anaheim 3

  • Shots: Edmonton 32, Anaheim 36

Even more high scoring! Just 1-1 entering the third period. Edmonton tallied twice to make it 3-1...but the Ducks struck right back twice to tie it. The Oilers went ahead for good at 15:20 of the third period, then locked it in with just over a minute to go. Edmonton has won five of its last six after dropping the Round 1 opener to San Jose. Two red-hot teams now only have to win their home games to advance to the Western finals.  

NHL: Thursday series previews in the East
Two series have started, two begin tonight. Quick previews for the Eastern Conference matchups…

NY Rangers vs. Ottawa

  • Series Price: NY Rangers -155, Ottawa 135
  • Game One Price: NY Rangers -115, total of 5 (Under -120)
  • Offensive Ranking: NY Rangers #4, Ottawa #22
  • Defensive Ranking: NY Rangers #12, Ottawa #10
  • Pace Estimate: Slightly below average

Like Boston in the prior round vs. this opponent, the Rangers are a fairly impressive series favorite for not having home-ice advantage. They’re a short favorite on the road in the opener…which means they’ll likely be at least -150 at home pending changes in perception. And, that’s enough to have them at -155 for the series because they’re likely to get at least one road win. The defenses are virtually the same in stat ranking, with the clear NYR edge coming on offense.  

Pittsburgh vs. Washington

  • Series Price: Washington -125, Pittsburgh 105
  • Game One Price: Washington -135, total of 5.5
  • Offensive Ranking: Pittsburgh #1, Washington #3
  • Defensive Ranking: Pittsburgh #17, Washington #1
  • Pace Estimate: Above average (Pittsburgh is very fast, but Washington is slow)

This is the one everyone’s waiting for. Washington had a fantastic regular season that showed off high quality balance on both sides of the rink. Pittsburgh had an explosive offense with just a league average defense. As we mentioned prior to the first round…basically the Houston Rockets of the NHL. If you place extra weight on recent form, Pittsburgh was very impressive in its five-game run through Columbus, while Washington struggled much more than anticipated with borderline playoff team Toronto. The stage is set for an epic battle…one that should have come later in the brackets. 

March Madness means big money month for Nevada sports books
A reader requested after March Madness that we post an industry wagering summary once the information became available. Time to deliver!

Popular VSiN guest David Payne Purdum of ESPN Chalk reported yesterday that the Nevada Gaming Control Board announced almost $440 million was bet on basketball (college and pro) in the month of March. Of that total, sportsbooks earned $41.2 million. The final profit for sportsbooks was less than that because several million dollars in winning football tickets from prior months weren’t cashed until March. 

Here’s how sports betting stacked up against other casino offerings in March, ranked by profit:

  • Penny Slots $273.5 million
  • Blackjack $112.7 million
  • Baccarat $58.4 million
  • Craps $35.1 million
  • Sports Betting $31.4 million
  • Roulette $28.6 million

Thanks for your Thursday visit to VSiN City! Enjoy all the draft coverage tonight at vsin.com or on SiriusXM radio. We’ll see you again tomorrow to close out the week.

Do you have any topics you'd like us to discuss in future editions? Drop us an email.

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