Youmans: Hurts, Eagles worth look as long shots in NFC

May 16, 2022 06:16 PM
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It would be easy to dismiss the Eagles as Super Bowl contenders simply because their quarterback is a mysterious question mark. Jalen Hurts is no star and his grip on the starting job is not exactly tight heading into the 2022 season.

This is viewed as a make-or-break year for Hurts, who has a 9-10 record as a starter in the NFL and needs to prove he can be the future in Philadelphia. The odds are stacked against him.

At the South Point sportsbook, 17 teams are listed above the Eagles on the Super Bowl futures board. As a 50-1 shot, Philadelphia is a middle-of-the-pack team and far from a title threat.

“I think the Eagles can be a surprise team, but they are going to go as the quarterback goes,” VSiN oddsmaker Vinny Magliulo said. “I do think Hurts is a gamer.”

If the jockey is a gamer, the horse can contend. Using last weekend’s Kentucky Derby as a lesson, don’t rush to dismiss all of the long shots. No experts touted Rich Strike as the likely Derby winner before the 80-1 shot pulled off the race’s biggest upset in the last century.

If a surprise team emerges in the NFL, it’s probably coming from the NFC, which is more of a wide-open race behind the Buccaneers, Rams, 49ers and Packers. If any one of at least 10 teams won the AFC, it would not be stunning.

“The AFC is so deep, it’s crazy,” said Ed Salmons, the top NFL oddsmaker at the Westgate SuperBook. “In the AFC, you could say 11 teams can make an argument to go to the Super Bowl.”

Hurts, who’s not facing a Super Bowl-or-bust season in Philadelphia, could show he’s the future by clearing lower hurdles. Looking at the best prices available in the betting market, the Eagles are + 275 to win the NFC East (Westgate), -115 to make the playoffs (DraftKings) and 25-1 to win the NFC (South Point).

Most bookmakers are waiting for Thursday’s schedule release to post season win totals, but DraftKings opened the numbers early and set the Eagles’ total at 8.5 (Over -140). The Cowboys have the highest win total in the division at 10.5.

“I think that division is up for grabs,” Salmons said. “The Cowboys have a lot of question marks, and I don’t think anybody is crazy about their coach.”

Salmons said he’s confident Eagles coach Nick Sirianni will be better in his second season, which is a reasonable expectation. At this point, expecting Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy to get sharper is the equivalent of beating a dead horse.

Philadelphia finished last season 9-8, three games behind Dallas, but the gap between the teams seems to have closed this offseason. The Eagles had a strong draft, led by Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis in the first round, and traded with the Titans to acquire star wide receiver A.J. Brown.

Hurts was a winner in college at Alabama and Oklahoma and went 8-7 as the starter last season to help lift the Eagles to the playoffs. He completed 61.3 percent of his passes for 3,144 yards with 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions, while also rushing for 784 yards and 10 TDs. Hurts’ passing accuracy is not where it needs to be, but he turns 24 in August and has the potential to improve.

“I like everything about the Eagles except I don’t know if Hurts is ready to win a big game against another big-time quarterback,” Salmons said. “Obviously, the whole key is the quarterback position. It’s almost impossible to win without a good QB. Hurts had his moments last year and he’s got a lot of motivation to be good this year.”

In the same division, the Giants are longer shots — 8-1 to win the NFC East and 150-1 to win the Super Bowl — and also deserving of consideration. Brian Daboll, the Bills’ former offensive coordinator, takes over as coach and his primary task will be trying to turn quarterback Daniel Jones into a winner.

“On paper, the Giants have a ton of talent,” Salmons said. “Their draft was good, and they have a new attitude with a new coach and general manager. The Giants are a team that could definitely surprise this year.”

Veteran quarterbacks — Kirk Cousins of the Vikings and Jameis Winston of the Saints — jockey two other dark-horse picks.

It’s a new era in New Orleans. Dennis Allen replaces Sean Payton as coach and Winston enters his second year as the quarterback to follow Drew Brees. A knee injury suffered in Week 8 against the Buccaneers ended Winston’s 2021 season. Winston’s new backup is Andy Dalton, and the Saints will have a new look at receiver with Michael Thomas returning from injury and Chris Olave arriving from Ohio State as a first-round pick.

The Saints are getting 60-1 odds on the Super Bowl futures board at South Point compared to only 30-1 at Westgate. Winning the NFC South would be surprising enough — Tampa Bay is the -400 favorite, with New Orleans the second choice at + 450 — but the Buccaneers’ quarterback is turning 45 in August, so there’s a chance.

“If Tom Brady finally gets old — and at times that showed last season when he faced the better defenses — the Saints could win that division,” Salmons said.

In Minnesota, it’s out with the old coach (Mike Zimmer) and in with a new philosophy as Kevin O’Connell takes over after serving as offensive coordinator for the Super Bowl champion Rams. O’Connell has elite playmakers to work with in wide receiver Justin Jefferson and running back Dalvin Cook.

“Zimmer was always about defense, defense, defense,” Magliulo said. “Maybe it is time for a new voice.”

Maybe the Packers are vulnerable in the NFC North with Aaron Rodgers’ favorite receiver, Davante Adams, relocating to Las Vegas. Green Bay remains the division favorite at -180, and the Vikings are priced at + 230 in what should be a two-horse race.

“The Vikings are a wild-card team, and you could be surprised at how good they look,” said Salmons, who’s dealing Minnesota’s Super Bowl odds at 40-1.

With a 59-59-2 career record, the Vikings’ Kirk Cousins does not jump off the page as a quarterback to tout. Still, last week’s Derby winner was a longer shot.

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