In the near future, Jon Gruden could get exposed as overpaid and overrated. Of course, there’s also the chance that after a nine-year absence from coaching in the NFL, Gruden will be exactly the presence the Raiders need to return to the playoffs and smooth the transition for their move from Oakland to Las Vegas.
Gruden was lured out of the ESPN broadcast booth and back to the sidelines with a 10-year, $100 million contract. Raiders owner Mark Davis is writing that check partly because he knows Gruden’s big personality will be a public-relations hit. But it’s far more important to win football games than press conferences.
The same goes for Jimmy Garoppolo, the San Francisco 49ers’ $137 million quarterback. Gruden and Garoppolo are both banking on success in a Battle of the Bay.
Will Gruden win now? His return to the Raiders is a polarizing issue for many handicappers and oddsmakers.
“I can tell you we do not think much of the Raiders,” Westgate sports book director John Murray said, “and we think they could be terrible.”
The Westgate posted “Yes/No” playoff props on all 32 teams in late April and early returns on the Raiders are optimistic — 23 “Yes” bets on Oakland to make the playoffs at plus-170 and only two bets on the “No” at -200.
After a 12-4 finish in 2016, the Raiders regressed to 6-10 last season, prompting Davis to fire former coach Jack Del Rio and make Gruden the $100 Million Man.
One of Gruden’s primary goals is to bring the best out of quarterback Derek Carr, who played at an MVP-type level two years ago by passing for 28 touchdowns with six interceptions. Carr’s numbers (22 touchdowns, 13 interceptions) declined last year as the team crumbled around him. Gruden brought in a speed receiver (Martavis Bryant) and possession receiver (Jordy Nelson) to complement Amari Cooper, and he retained battering ram running back Marshawn Lynch as part of Gruden’s old-school commitment to a power running attack.
Gruden is showing he’s a gambler. Several of his offseason personnel moves have been of the high risk-high reward variety. He’s an offensive-oriented coach who’s also faced with the task of retooling a defense that ranked 23rd in the league. To make matters worse, the defense is without training-camp holdout Khalil Mack, one of the league’s dominant pass rushers.
“I wonder if Gruden needs a year to kind of get his stuff together,” said Frank Schwab, NFL columnist for Yahoo Sports. “I don’t like the Raiders, either. I don’t like any of their moves.”
In his first tour with the Raiders from 1998 to 2001, Gruden went 8-8 in each of his first two seasons before going 12-4 and 10-6 with playoff appearances. In 2002, he took over a veteran Tampa Bay team and beat Oakland in the Super Bowl. But in his next six years with the Buccaneers, he failed to win a playoff game.
The Raiders open the regular season on Sept. 10 — with Gruden getting his old “Monday Night Football” stage — as 3-point home underdogs to the Los Angeles Rams before a Week 2 game at division rival Denver.
Oakland’s win total of 8 (Over/Under -110) means it is expected to be the third-best team in the AFC West behind the Los Angeles Chargers (9½) and Kansas City (8½) and ahead of the Broncos (7). The bottom line is oddsmakers are betting against Gruden making the playoffs in his first year.
The Chargers, who finished 9-7 last year after starting 0-4, had the NFL’s No. 3 scoring defense. The Chiefs, 10-6 and division champs, are moving on with Patrick Mahomes as their new quarterback. The Broncos, who slipped to 5-11, signed veteran quarterback Case Keenum and drafted Bradley Chubb to form a fearsome pass-rushing tandem with Von Miller. Denver made multiple major changes and has a shot to be one of the league’s most improved teams.
“We really like the Chargers here,” Murray said. “They have so much talent and so many good players on that defense. But I don’t trust that coach (Anthony Lynn). Denver has a competent quarterback. I like the Chiefs and love the Chargers.”
At the Westgate, the Chargers are -160 favorites to make the playoffs, while the Chiefs (plus-115) are slight underdogs and Broncos (plus-270) are longer shots.
“I think the Chargers are easily the best team in that division, but they always manage to screw things up,” said Schwab, a sharp NFL handicapper who finished in the Top 50 in the Westgate SuperContest last year.
The betting public’s support for the Raiders is a reflection of a trend. “We write so much more money on ‘Yes’ than the ‘No.’ People bet the ‘Yes’ on every team, especially when there is a nice plus-price attached to it,” Murray said.
The New York Giants have attracted 32 “Yes” bets to make the playoffs at plus-300 and zero “No” bets. Chicago has 22 “Yes” tickets at plus-400 and zero on the “No.” Cleveland has drawn 56 “Yes” bets at plus-500 and only one “No” ticket at -700.
“But people are betting on the Patriots to not make the playoffs,” Murray said, “and they did that last year, too.”
The Westgate has written one “Yes” ticket on New England to make the playoffs at -1,600 and 24 “No” tickets at plus-900.
The largest wager on either side is a $240,000 “Yes” play on the Minnesota Vikings at -200, so that’s a $120,000 win if the Vikings reach the playoffs. The Westgate raised the line to -310 after the six-figure wager from a house player.
Last year, Buffalo (plus-550) and Philadelphia (plus-160) cashed by making the playoffs. The Super Bowl champion Eagles are -270 playoff favorites this year.
The largest price difference from last year to this year is on the San Francisco 49ers, who were plus-1,400 to make the playoffs a year ago and are plus-150 now in Garoppolo’s second season.
Garoppolo and Gruden are competing to be the biggest star in the Bay Area.
* Matt Youmans’ Best Bets: Baltimore “Yes” plus-150; Denver “Yes” plus-270; Detroit “No” -310; Houston “No” -110; Seattle “No” -270.
(This story was published in the July 25 edition of Point Spread Weekly.)
NFL “Yes/No” Playoff Props
Will these teams make the playoffs in 2018-19?
Arizona Cardinals Yes plus-600; No -900
Atlanta Falcons Yes -120; No plus-100
Baltimore Ravens Yes plus-150; No -180
Buffalo Bills Yes plus-600; No -900
Carolina Panthers Yes plus-130; No -150
Chicago Bears Yes plus-400; No -550
Cincinnati Bengals Yes plus-425; No -600
Cleveland Browns Yes plus-500; No -700
Dallas Cowboys Yes plus-145; No -170
Denver Broncos Yes plus-270; No -340
Detroit Lions Yes plus-250; No -310
Green Bay Packers Yes -170; No plus-145
Houston Texans Yes -110; No -110
Indianapolis Colts Yes plus-300; No -400
Jacksonville Jaguars Yes -160; No plus-140
Kansas City Chiefs Yes plus-115; No -135
Los Angeles Chargers Yes -160; No plus-140
Los Angeles Rams Yes -180; No plus-150
Miami Dolphins Yes plus-500; No -700
Minnesota Vikings Yes -310; No plus-250
New England Patriots Yes -1,600; No plus-900
New Orleans Saints Yes -140; No plus-120
New York Giants Yes plus-300; No -400
New York Jets Yes plus-500; No -700
Oakland Raiders Yes plus-170; No -200
Philadelphia Eagles Yes -270; No plus-220
Pittsburgh Steelers Yes -450; No plus-350
San Francisco 49ers Yes plus-150; No -180
Seattle Seahawks Yes plus-220; No -270
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Yes plus-500; No -700
Tennessee Titans Yes plus-180; No -220
Washington Redskins Yes plus-300; No -400
Source: Westgate sports book (Updated July 30)