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How to bet the NFL: Handicapping Red Zone offense

06.22.2010     11:17 AM     Teddy Covers     Printer Friendly

Part I of II

Last week, I took a first look at the upcoming NFL campaign in an effort to get an early gauge on the season win totals that have started to pop up at Vegas sportsbooks over the last few weeks. Today, we’ll pick up right where we left off. Here’s how I closed the last piece:

“Next time, we’ll take a look at some more stats that don’t tend to carry over from year to year – red zone efficiency, offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency – in our effort to gauge which teams are under and overvalued at their current season win total numbers.”

Let’s start in the red zone, looking at teams that converted chances into touchdowns last year. The Arizona Cardinals led the NFL in red zone touchdown percentage, converting at a better than 70% clip. Indianapolis, Minnesota and Miami all had conversion percentages of better than 60%.

Quality quarterback play is the key for red zone efficiency. The Colts will have Peyton Manning back. The Vikings are widely expected to have Brett Favre back. Miami has one of the most innovative offenses in the league, with coordinator Dan Henning calling the shots once again this year.

The team most likely to take a tumble down in the ‘red zone offensive efficiency’ category is Arizona, following Kurt Warner’s retirement. With a retooled offensive line and all kinds of question marks surrounding Warner’s expected replacement, Matt Leinart, look for the Cardinals red zone numbers to drop significantly in 2010, resulting in a significant decline in points scored.

On the other end of the spectrum lie the bottom feeders. Buffalo, St Louis, Seattle, Oakland and Cleveland were the five worst teams when it came to offensive red zone efficiency last year. No surprise, then, that the best of the bunch (Buffalo) finished at 6-10. When you can’t score touchdowns, you can’t win, plain and simple.

Again, we look at quarterback play – not the running game – as the key to red zone offense. Buffalo’s QB situation is a mess heading into training camp. St Louis is likely to start rookie QB Sam Bradford from Day 1. The Browns are counting on a bounce back season from 35 year old Jake Delhomme, who was positively awful last year in Carolina. Don’t count on big jumps from any of those three squads.

Oakland made a significant upgrade at QB, acquiring Jason Campbell from Washington in the offseason. Campbell had an 86.4 QB rating for the Redskins last year, in sharp contrast to JaMarcus Russell’s QB rating of 50 with the Raiders. Tom Cable’s squad should be better at scoring touchdowns when they have the chance in 2010.

It’s a similar story in Seattle. Matt Hasselbeck battled through an injury plagued season in ’09, but he’s reportedly healthy and ready to go for new head coach Pete Carroll in 2010. If Hasselbeck struggles again, the Seahawks finally have a decent backup in Charlie Whitehurst. Again, we should expect red zone improvement from this squad.

Part II tomorrow...

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