2016 NFL Season Win Totals Released

by Warren Sharp

CG Technology, formerly Cantor Gaming, a Las Vegas based sportsbook, released the first look at 2016 NFL Season Win Totals.  I will have much more analysis on these numbers in the days to follow.  Per Covers.com, betting on these win totals will open to the public at 1pm PT on Thursday, February 25th with limits starting at $500. For now, here are the numbers (h/t to Covers for being the first I saw to post the lines):

A few takeaways:

    • With Tony Romo back for the Dallas Cowboys, linemakers expect a team closer to the 2014 version which produced 12 wins.  The Cowboys won only 4 games last year, but lost 6 games by less than a TD, 4th most of any team in the NFL last year (Giants, Chargers and  Ravens lost more).
    • Other teams projected to win at least 1 more game than they won in 2015:
      • +3 wins = Chargers
      • +2.5 wins = Ravens, Titans
      • +1.5 wins = Browns, Giants
      • +1 win = Jaguars, Dolphins
    • Linemakers hate Chip Kelly and have no faith in the 49ers.  After winning 11 to 13 games from 2011-2013, the 49ers won only 8 games in 2014. Linemakers set their 2015 win total at only 8.5 games, 2.5 fewer than it was set in 2014.  They won only 5 games.  This year, linemakers aren’t taking any undue risk, nor do they believe Chip Kelly will turn the team around.  The 49ers are projected to win only 5 games in 2016.  That projects them as the 2nd worst team in the NFL next year, only a half-game ahead of the Browns (projected to win 4.5 games).
    • The Broncos, despite winning the Super Bowl, are projected to only win 9.5 games in 2016, less than the following 5 teams (including the team they dominated in the Super Bowl), all of which are projected to win 10.5 games:
      • Panthers
      • Packers
      • Patriots
      • Steelers
      • Seahawks
    • While the Panthers were on the verge of going undefeated last year, going 15-1 in the regular season, they are projected to win 10.5 games in 2016.  It is the largest drop in 2015 actual wins vs 2016 projected wins, but is in line with past prescient – not many teams are ever projected to win 11+ games in season win totals.  In addition, at 10.5 wins, its a full 2 win more than their 2015 win total of 8.5, which was bet heavily to the under by sharp groups.
    • Other teams projected to lose substantially more games in 2016 as opposed to 2015:
      • 3.5 more losses = Cardinals
      • 2.5 more losses = Bengals, Broncos
      • 2 more losses = Chiefs, Vikings, Jets
      • 1.5 more losses = Patriots, Redskins
      • 1 more loss = Falcons, Texans
    • Linemakers are very bullish on several teams, setting win totals significantly higher on the following teams as compared to 2015:
      • Raiders: 7.5 projected wins after setting them at 4.5 wins in 2015 and seeing them win 7 games
      • Vikings: 9 projected wins after setting them at 6.5 wins in 2015 and seeing them win 11 games
      • Steelers:  10.5 projected wins after setting them at 8.5 wins in 2015 and seeing them win 10 games
    • While the Jets, Redskins and Bengals are projected to see a worse record in 2016 than they recorded in 2015, their win total is still higher than linemakers set it to start 2015.
    • In addition to selling the 49ers, linemakers are fading the following teams, setting win totals over 1 game lower than what they opened in 2015:
      • Saints:  7 projected wins after seeing them win only 7 games last year vs their predicted 9 win total.
      • Chargers:  7 projected wins after seeing them win only 4 games last year vs their predicted 8.5 win total.
      • Ravens:  7.5 projected wins after seeing them win only 5 games last year vs their predicted 9 win total.
      • Browns:  4.5 projected wins after seeing them win only 3 games last year vs their predicted 6 win total.
      • Eagles:  7.5 projected wins after seeing them win only 7 games last year vs their predicted 7 win total.
      • Lions:  7 projected wins after seeing them win only 7 games last year vs their predicted 8.5 win total.

Immediate Payback

With More Sizzle, Cam Newton Accomplished a Feat Seen Just Once Before in the Salary Cap Era

by Warren Sharp

CAMAsk anyone who has watched a Carolina Panthers game this year about Cam Newton, and the reaction you may get will be polarizing. Either very positive or very negative. Typically, the negative responses don’t relate as much to his performance while the ball is in play as opposed to his performance(s) after the whistle. And for good reason, as Newton’s statistics this year not only have been tremendous, they have come a long way despite losing key pieces around him on offense. As it always is, timing is everything. And Newton did something this year that only one other quarterback has done in the salary cap era. But in typical fashion, Newton did it with far more sizzle.

To appreciate the feat, it’s important to first see the canvas on which the picture was painted. Since Newton came into the NFL in 2011, his leading wide receiver was the savvy veteran Steve Smith, a matchup nightmare with speed and deceptive strength. Carolina released Smith after the 2013 season, and without Smith in 2014, the Panthers won only 7 games. Newton was forced to rely on rookie 1st round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin to be his top wide receiver.

But in training camp last August, Benjamin was lost for the year with a torn ACL. The timing of the injury left the Panthers without the ability to devise a back-up plan with quality replacement personnel, the way they did when drafting Benjamin in the first round to replace Smith. Newton would have to improve on 7 wins from 2014 without Smith and without Benjamin. Of course, Newton had his ever-reliable tight end Greg Olsen, but he would have to turn Ted Ginn into a #1 WR, and make use of Jerricho Cotchery, Corey Brown and Devin Funchess if the passing game had any hope to help the Panthers in 2015. To most across the NFL last summer, the prospect of the Panthers pass offense thriving with that crew seemed unlikely.

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As impressive as individual statistics can be with depleted receiving talent, any quarterback including Newton will tell you they are meaningless if your team is losing. And Newton’s team was losing in 2014. At 7-8-1, they lost more games than they won last year. Newton knew he wanted 2015 to be a different year, with a different ending. But before even the first snap of the season, things changed dramatically for the Panthers franchise, but this time it was not related to injuries at all.

Last summer, the Carolina Panthers gave Cam Newton his 2nd contract of his career, and they did not cut corners. It was a $103.8 million dollar contract with $60 million guaranteed, and an average salary of $20.76 million. Only 4 other quarterbacks have contracts with more guaranteed money, and only 5 other quarterbacks make more on average per year.

Second contracts are very tricky in the NFL, particularly for quarterbacks. The rookie wage scale ensures that even #1 overall quarterbacks like Newton don’t drain a team’s ability to build around the franchise player. Newton’s first contract only occupied between $4 million and $7 million annually of the Panthers salary cap. When a team has a stud franchise quarterback who hits the cap for only a few million dollars per year, it’s far easier to compete against the NFL’s best teams because most of those teams have veteran quarterbacks that occupy far more cap space.

For example, in 2014, while Newton was hitting the Panthers cap for only $7 million (allowing the team to spend more on other positions) eight other starting NFL quarterbacks hit the cap for $10 million MORE than Newton, including two teams in the Panthers own division: Drew Brees occupied $18.4 million and Matt Ryan occupied $17.5 million. As an obvious example of how much of an edge it is to build a team around a stud quarterback when he’s still on his rookie deal, look no further than to Russell Wilson of the Seahawks. When the Seahawks went to back to back Super Bowls, Wilson hit the cap for less than $850,000 each of those years.

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Most NFL teams see no improvement the year after they re-sign their quarterback after his rookie deal. Historical results bear that out. In the salary cap era, when a team re-signed their quarterback to a contract averaging over $3 million per year, the 9-7 average record those quarterbacks delivered the year before the deal stayed at 9-7 the year after the deal. The reasons are obvious, as teams find it far more difficult to develop rosters to excel when a player is now taking up significantly more cap space than he was the prior few years. With that said, what Newton has done in Carolina this year is tremendous. I asked the guys at Spotrac.com to help with the research and the result was remarkable:

Cam Newton is just the second quarterback re-signed in the salary cap era to lead his team to a Super Bowl in year one of his 2nd contract.

The only other quarterback to accomplish such a feat was Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who led the Steelers to the Super Bowl in 2008. Of course, in typical Cam fashion, Newton did it with more flash and sizzle, putting a 7 win team on his back (with less receiving help), marching them to a 14-0 start and currently perching them at 17-1, just days before Super Bowl 50.

2nd Contract for QBs in Cap EraNewton didn’t get carried to that 17-1 record. He led his team to it. Despite a depleted receiving corps, Newton rose to the challenge, and delivered a 100 passer rating this year, dwarfing his prior best of 88 (in 2013, his last year with Steve Smith). Not surprisingly, Newton’s previous best TD:INT season was also 2013 (with Smith), where he posed a 24:13 ratio. This year, that mark improved sharply to 35:10. This year, over 7% of Newton’s passes were touchdown passes. It was the best mark of any quarterback in the NFL.

Immediate payback on a second contract is rare, but Newton is the first quarterback to lead his team to an 8 win improvement in year one of his second contract. Every team enters the season with Super Bowl aspirations, but Newton is just the second quarterback to lead his team to the Super Bowl in year one of his second contract. Even though Newton has outperformed most every other quarterback in year one of their second contract, he wants nothing more than to deliver immediate payback in the form of a Lombardi Trophy. We will soon see if Newton gets his wish, or if the veteran Peyton Manning, playing in his 5th NFL contract, out-duels his hungry, younger peer.