Youmans: My midseason NFL betting awards

November 9, 2022 03:04 PM
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In early March, the Seattle Seahawks surrendered and declared 2022 to be a rebuilding year. By trading veteran quarterback Russell Wilson to Denver for three players and a pile of draft picks, the team waved a white flag and planned for the distant future.

In early November, it has become clear that one of the biggest trades in NFL history was completely misjudged by the media and almost everyone else who weighed in with an opinion, including the betting public and Las Vegas oddsmakers.

Wilson has been a bust with the Broncos. The quarterback who replaced him, Geno Smith, has been a sensational surprise, along with the Seahawks.

“We thought the Seahawks were going to be terrible, honestly,” Westgate SuperBook director John Murray said. “I’m blown away with the way Geno Smith is playing, and they are flying around on defense. At some point, you have to give a lot of credit to (coach) Pete Carroll. That team is going to make the playoffs.”

Seattle (6-3) is riding a four-game winning streak and sitting atop the NFC West -- 1.5 games ahead of San Francisco (4-4) and 2.5 ahead of the defending Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams (3-5).

In the preseason, the SuperBook offered the Seahawks at 45-1 odds to win the division, and their regular-season win total ranged from 5.5 to 6. The prop price on Seattle to make the playoffs was “No” -600.

Smith leads the league in completion percentage (72.7), ranks fourth in passer rating (107.2) and has 13 touchdown passes with three interceptions.

The Seahawks are also 6-3 against the spread, a run of success that started when they were 6-point home underdogs and upset Wilson and Broncos, 17-16, in Week 1.

It’s time to hand out midseason awards — the NFL betting version of the Oscars — and Seattle would be up for Best Picture and have candidates in the Best Actor (Smith) and Best Director (Carroll) categories, if those were real categories here.

Philadelphia fans are angry and heckling the awards committee right now, but be patient because the 8-0 Eagles will get their due during this awards presentation.

The second half of the 18-week season could get tougher on the Seahawks, who have taken advantage of a soft schedule so far, but they are big winners as we open the first envelope.

Best Surprise Team: Seahawks

As Carroll chews gum, pumps his fist and exits the stage, we move on to nine more awards:

Worst Performance by an Old Quarterback …

With all of the hype surrounding Wilson, oddsmakers set the Broncos’ win total at 10. Denver is 3-5 and on pace for a double-digit loss season. Among quarterbacks who have played in more than half of their team’s games, Wilson ranks 27th in completion percentage (58.8). The 33-year-old Wilson — any quarterback over 30 qualifies for this award — is running in slow motion like a man in his late 40s. And his off-field antics have been corny … to be kind.

Indianapolis was 3-3-1 when coach Frank Reich benched 37-year-old Matt Ryan, who had thrown nine interceptions and taken 24 sacks. The Colts have been worse in back-to-back losses with Ryan’s young replacement, Sam Ehlinger. Ehlinger led the offense to 121 total yards on Sunday in a 26-3 setback at New England.

Tom Brady, 45, is off the hook after leading Tampa Bay to a last-minute comeback victory over the Rams. Brady is not playing poorly anyway, ranking No. 2 in passing yards (2,547) while throwing only one interception in a league-high 398 attempts. He’s overcoming a divorce and keeping the Buccaneers in their division race.

Aaron Rodgers, 38, totaled 85 touchdown passes and nine interceptions during his MVP seasons of 2020 and 2021. He already has seven interceptions this season, and Green Bay has lost five straight to fall to 3-6.

“I think it’s Rodgers,” Murray said. “Ryan is in a new system in his first season with a new team. It looks like there’s something wrong with Rodgers physically, but he’s not there mentally. Green Bay should have been in the Super Bowl last season, and the Packers are not going to come close to making the playoffs. It’s a disaster.”

And the winner (or loser) is: Rodgers, Packers.

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Most Annoying Team to Handicap …

Good luck figuring out the Lions, who generated considerable excitement in training camp due to coach Dan Campbell’s emotional behavior. Campbell is a game-management mistake waiting to happen, and quarterback Jared Goff shows flashes of both brilliance and buffoonery.

In Week 1, Detroit was a 5.5-point dog and trailed by 17 points in the fourth quarter before two late scores produced a backdoor cover in a 38-35 loss to the Eagles. In Week 7, the Lions were 7-point dogs at Dallas and threatened to take the lead in the fourth quarter before fumbling at the goal line, allowing two touchdowns in the final three minutes and losing 24-6.

On Sunday, with the betting public piling on the Packers as 3.5-point road favorites, Goff outplayed Rodgers, who threw three picks, and the Lions pulled off the upset, 15-9, to improve to 2-6 straight up and 4-4 ATS.

There are other annoying teams. The Titans, for example, are baffling to handicappers who continue to bet against them. Tennessee lost its first two games before covering six straight, doing it with smoke, mirrors and pitiful quarterback play.

And the winner is: Lions.

Hottest Dog …

The lowest season win totals belonged to Houston (4.5) and Atlanta (5), and the Texans are living down to expectations at 1-6-1 straight up. Behind the surprisingly competent combination of coach Arthur Smith and quarterback Marcus Mariota, the Falcons (4-5) are tied with the Buccaneers for first in the NFC South.

Atlanta has been an underdog in eight of nine games and is 6-1-1 ATS in that role. The Falcons failed to cover in their only attempt as a favorite, laying four points in a 37-34 victory over Carolina. The New York teams have been good bets getting points too, but more on that coming soon.

And the winner is: Falcons.

Most improbable comeback by an underdog …

Brian Daboll appeared doomed in his coaching debut with the Giants. New York was a 5.5-point dog who trailed by 13 at halftime and by seven with two minutes to go at Tennessee. Daniel Jones led New York on a 73-yard touchdown drive to cut the deficit to 20-19 with 1:06 remaining. Instead of playing for overtime, Daboll gambled, called for a two-point conversion and Jones’ shovel pass to Saquon Barkley produced a 21-20 win.

The Jets, 6.5-point dogs at Cleveland in Week 2, trailed 30-17 with 1:55 to go after the Browns’ Nick Chubb mistakenly scored on a 12-yard run (instead of going down and running out the clock) and the extra-point kick was missed.

“Broadway” Joe Flacco immediately hit on a 66-yard touchdown pass, the Jets recovered the onside kick and Flacco’s 15-yard touchdown pass to Garrett Wilson won it, 31-30. According to ESPN Stats & Info, teams had won 2,229 consecutive games when leading by at least 13 points in the final two minutes.

And the winner is: Jets.

Best comeback story …

The Jets started 1-2 and were mostly left for dead because they are the Jets, and everyone mocked coach Robert Saleh for promising a big turnaround. Saleh is getting the last laugh with his team at 6-3 after a stunning 20-17 upset of Buffalo in Week 9.

The Cowboys dropped their season opener to the Buccaneers 19-3, with quarterback Dak Prescott exiting with a broken right thumb. Dallas’ demise seemed so assured that one sportsbook even prematurely paid out season win total bets Under 10.5.

“I don’t think a whole lot of (coach) Mike McCarthy, and that team just had a terrible showing and lost their starting quarterback,” Murray said. “Dallas somehow pulled it together.”

A dominant defense emerged, led by linebacker Micah Parsons, and backup quarterback Cooper Rush led the Cowboys to four consecutive wins. Prescott is 2-0 since returning, and Dallas (6-2) is a legitimate Super Bowl contender. It’s still a mystery what McCarthy actually does, but he’s not screwing it up … yet.

And the winner is: Cowboys.

Worst coach-quarterback duo …

With touchdown passes of 38 and 25 yards to Davante Adams, Derek Carr triggered Las Vegas to a 17-0 lead 20 minutes into Sunday’s game against Jacksonville. Carr repeatedly misfired in the second half, connecting only once with Adams, and the Raiders turned into a wreck on the road in a 27-20 loss.

“I knew the Raiders were in trouble when they were laughing on the sideline,” ESPN sports betting analyst Doug Kezirian said. “The other issue is Carr is mentally sloppy. Polar opposite of Brady. Every play matters to Brady, who’s so buttoned up and diligent. Carr doesn’t have that mental edge.”

Carr and first-year coach Josh McDaniels were hearing it from critics when Las Vegas started 0-2, and it’s getting worse at 2-6. The Raiders have blown leads of 17 or more points three times in eight games — after blowing only five such leads from 1960 to 2021. The Jaguars were 1-116 in franchise history when falling behind by 17-plus points.

“I really liked the Raiders, and that was my biggest bet of the week in the NFL,” Murray said. “I thought it was the perfect spot. But they got up 17-0 and just stopped playing. It’s just a horrendous loss.”

Carr is nowhere near an elite quarterback. McDaniels inherited a 10-win playoff team and is instilling a losing mentality.

Arizona coach Kliff Kingsbury and quarterback Kyler Murray are throwing their hats into the ring for this award, but it’s a runaway right now.

And the winner is: McDaniels-Carr, Raiders.

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Worst bad beat …

Bad things tend to happen when you bet on bad teams. In Week 1, when the Jaguars faced the Commanders, two bad teams squared off. It was looking good for Jacksonville, a 3.5-point dog which took a 22-14 lead with 11:45 to go. Washington pulled within 22-20 and was in position for the winning field goal late when Carson Wentz hit Jahan Dotson for a 24-yard touchdown pass, and Wentz added a 2-point conversion pass for a 28-22 win.

In Week 3, the Browns led the Steelers 23-17 in the final seconds. Pittsburgh tossed the ball around on the last play, with the last lateral bouncing into the end zone where Cleveland’s Denzel Ward fell on the fumble for a touchdown that ended a 29-17 game and put the score Over the total of 40.5.

In the middle of that bad beat sandwich was a Week 2 game in Las Vegas. Carr steered the Raiders to a 20-0 halftime lead against Arizona, yet it all unraveled and turned into a brutal, gut-wrenching defeat for the 5-point home favorite.

The Cardinals’ Murray went crazy by producing two touchdown drives and a pair of 2-point conversions in the final nine minutes of regulation. When it appeared the Raiders had made a stop to win the game, a ref threw a flag for a phantom defensive holding call in the end zone that gave Murray another shot. Arizona escaped with a 29-23 win in overtime.

And the winner (or loser) is: Raiders.

Best backdoor cover …

Chargers coach Brandon Staley makes some odd game-management decisions, many which aggravate old-school football fans and thrill new-school analytics believers. What he did in Week 2, on a Thursday night in Kansas City, seemed strange to everyone watching. Los Angeles had blown a 17-7 third-quarter lead and trailed 27-17 with two minutes to go when quarterback Justin Herbert was in severe pain, struggling to run and throw after taking a hard hit to his ribs.

The game was out of reach and Herbert should have been pulled to the sideline. Staley left him on the field anyway. On a fourth down, Herbert fired a ridiculously accurate 36-yard pass to put the offense in field-goal position. On another fourth down from the 7-yard line, and needing two scores, Staley opted against the obvious field-goal try and Herbert hit Joshua Palmer for a touchdown pass in the back of the end zone. The Chargers, 3.5-point dogs, covered in the 27-24 loss.

There are several more candidates, including the Eagles-Lions game in Week 1, but Herbert’s heroics highlighted a game with heavy betting action.

And the winner is: Chargers.

Best Super Bowl value bet from the preseason …

BetMGM, Circa Sports, DraftKings and the SuperBook opened Philadelphia’s season win total at 8.5. The number was bet up to 9.5 as the Eagles became a popular sleeper pick in the NFC with many handicappers.

Philadelphia is the last undefeated team in the NFL at 8-0, and quarterback Jalen Hurts is a leading candidate for league MVP. As for Super Bowl odds, the Eagles were as high as 50-1 at the SuperBook during the summer, and 5-1 is the current price at DraftKings.

The Cowboys, 49ers, Seahawks and Vikings are other teams on the rise, but this midseason award is a lock.

And the winner is: Eagles.

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