The NFL Quarterback Picture

JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

QUARTERBACKS MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER IN CURRENT NFL FRAMEWORK

Ever since the NFL made it easier for offenses to move the ball through the air...while simultaneously doing more to protect the health of star quarterbacks...we've seen a very clear division in the league.

  • If you have a GREAT quarterback, then you're a Super Bowl threat even if the defense isn't great and the running game is just kind of there.
  • If you have a GOOD quarterback, then you're a playoff contender automatically. If you have a strong defense or a great running game, you're among the short list of Super Bowl contenders.
  • If you have a MEDIOCRE quarterback who can at least manage the game, you have a chance to make the playoffs only if your team has a great defense and running game (as the Jets and Ravens showed with rookie quarterbacks).
  • If you have a SUB-PAR quarterback, you're in big trouble.
  • If you have a BAD quarterback, you're not going to beat anybody without getting lucky. Seasons of 0-16 and 1-15 are possible just because your deficit against the rest of the league has become so huge.

There aren't 32 guys capable of thriving as an NFL signal caller right now. So, these splits literally define how a season is going to unfold.

With that in mind, we wanted to set the stage for the season by grouping teams by their starting quarterback. It's a simple exercise...but it forces you to emphasize the single biggest factor in your own handicapping. You won't make the mistake of crossing your fingers with a bad quarterback just because you think the points are appealing. You won't make the mistake of going against a superstar without a very good reason. Some of the most successful professional wagerers in Las Vegas and offshore took some hits since the rules changes because they figured the top quarterbacks had to cool off sometime.

When offensive holding is allowed except on the pull downs...and the defensive secondary has to play with their hands in their pockets...the best quarterbacks just aren't going to cool down. If nobody's blasting quarterbacks with direct shots to the chest or head...or separating their shoulders on hard tackles...or twisting their ankles on a scramble...then the best quarterbacks will stay on the field too.

We'll assume you know the names of the quarterbacks. Today we'll just list the teams in terms of how their set at the position.

SOLID (OR BETTER) AT QB

New England
Indianapolis
Pittsburgh (once Ben Roethlisberger returns)
Houston
San Diego
Dallas
NY Giants
Washington
Minnesota
Green Bay
New Orleans

The usual suspects. Note that an injury to anyone here will knock the team down at least one spot...and possibly much more than that. Job one for you this year is getting a sense of true line value when these teams take the field. Oddsmakers have struggled to capture reality in their Power Ratings since the holding rules were liberalized...particularly in good scoring conditions indoors or in nice September weather.

If you're watching game film, or just the replays during the week of all the games on the NFL Network...note how easily this group of quarterbacks glide down the field. They move the chains. They get to the red zone. They're much more likely to hit paydirt rather than settle for a field goal too. Their success shows up in our DRIVE POINT stats (those scored on drives of 60 yards or more). If you play Fantasy Football, these guys obviously went early in your draft.

As a handicapper, it's your job to find a way to put their talents to work FOR you either with sides or totals. Don't lay dumb spreads of course. Be sure you know what a dumb spread is when you see it. 


GOOD ENOUGH TO GET THE JOB DONE


Baltimore
Cincinnati
Tennessee
Denver
Philadelphia (a blind assumption for now, could go up or down)
Chicago (but Cutler's fading with time)
Atlanta

Baltimore is a popular pick to win the AFC because of defense and rushing. Joe Flacco may soon develop into an elite quarterback as well. We won't put him there until he's earned it. Cincinnati is getting a lot of press.

Really, any of these teams could put the pieces together for a serious run. Until further notice, the quarterbacks aren't superstar pieces. Maybe Kevin Kolb of Philadelphia turns out to be one. Maybe Jay Cutler and Mike Martz can get on the same page. Make it happen before you bet on it happening. 


MEDIOCRE


Miami (with a chance to move up one category if Chad Henne matures)
NY Jets (with a chance to move up if Mark Sanchez matures FAST)
Cleveland (unless Jake Delhomme comes back to life)
Jacksonville
Oakland (though Jason Campbell is an upgrade)
Kansas City
Detroit (Matthew Stafford could go up or down)
San Francisco
Seattle

This group is where a lot of handicappers have been getting into trouble with underdog selections. The quarterback isn't quite a disaster, but he's not going to match up well with Drew Brees, Peyton Manning or Tom Brady either. You take the points looking for value...and you're kicking yourself by halftime unless your defense is playing GREAT. That's fine if you're a Jets fan. Probably the 49ers too. Not so much with everyone else.

These teams can offer true value against each other, or against the lowest group you're about to read. We're not saying to never bet on them. Study the matchups, factor in motivation because of sandwich spots or letdown games, then strike when it makes the most sense.

We'd bet that the biggest key to turning around any 2009 failures would be figuring out how to stop losing your Las Vegas bets with this group...and how to start winning with them.


BIG TROUBLE


Buffalo
Pittsburgh (before Ben Roethlisberger returns)
Carolina
Tampa Bay
Arizona
St. Louis (unless Sam Bradford is a very fast learner)

We're not likely to see explosive offenses with this group unless a few people take big steps forward. You can pick your spots with them at value prices when matched up against the "mediocre" class. Be careful asking for anything more than that until the teams have earned the right to be a part of your portfolio.

The NFL season starts this Thursday Night when Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings return to New Orleans to face Drew Brees and the Saints. It's a rematch of the NFC championship game won by New Orleans when Favre made a huge blunder late in a close game. Will Favre be able to get revenge? Or is he too rusty from fishing in the offseason to find his best form?

JIM HURLEY has been waiting since the Super Bowl for the 2010 pro football season to arrive. He won money for you during the Preseason in August. He's got a read on Thursday's season opener...and several other big play possibilities Sunday and Monday. Among the games of interest this week:

SUNDAY
Green Bay at Philadelphia
Cincinnati at New England
Indianapolis at Houston
Atlanta at Pittsburgh
Dallas at Washington (Sunday Night on NBC)

MONDAY
Baltimore at the NY Jets
San Diego at Kansas City (both on ESPN)

You can sign up for BLUE RIBBON or CLOSED CIRCUIT service online. Game day releases are always available a few hours before kickoff. Don't forget that pennant race baseball is available as well. Baseball lines are the softest when Vegas oddsmakers get swamped in football. Consider them swamped!

If you'd like more information on NETWORK and its exclusive handicapping approach, call the office at 1-800-323-4453. Our leadership position in the industry was earned more than 20 years ago. And, there's nobody even nipping at our heels.

21
Aug

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