2021 Season-Long Bets

Official Bets

BetOddsUnitsDate PlacedResultNet
LAC Over 9 Wins(+103)23.30.21 (DK)Push0u
BUF Over 10.5 Wins(-110)14.02.21 (DK)Win+0.91u
LAR to Win NFC(+650) (DK)Win+3.25u
TEN to Miss Playoffs*(+129)14.08.21 (MGM)
6.07.21 (FD)
WAS Under 8 Wins(+110)24.10.21 (DK)Win+2.2u
DET Under 5 Wins(-110)0.554.18.21 (MGM)Win+0.5u
ATL Over 7.5 Wins(-110)14.20.21 (MGM)Loss-1u
P. Mahomes MVP(+600) (MGM)
4.29.21 (DK)
NYG to Win NFC East(+500) (MGM)Loss-0.4u
LAR Over 10 Wins(-110)15.01.21 (MGM)Win+0.91u
SF Over 10 Wins(-140) (MGM)Push0u
MIA Under 9.5 Wins(-135)1.355.12.21 (FD)Win+1u
MIA Under 8.5 Wins(+150) (DK)Loss-0.5u
ARI Under 8 Wins(+115)15.14.21 (MGM)Loss-1u
ARI Under 9.5 Wins(+100)19.18.21 (DK)Loss-1u
PIT Over 8.5 Wins(-105) (FD)Win+1u
PIT Over 8.5 Wins(+115)17.17.21 (DK)Win+1.15u
HOU Under 4 Wins(+105) (FD)Push0u
CLE to win AFC (+850) (FD)Loss-0.2u
CLE Over 10.5 Wins(-105) (FD)Loss-0.5u
CHI Under 7.5 Wins(-120) (FD)Win+0.75u
KC to win Super Bowl(+500) (DK)Loss-0.4u
Z. Wilson OROY(+1000) (DK)Loss-0.2u
NO Over 9 Wins(+110)18.23.21 (FD)Push0u
BUF to win AFC(+490)0.412.11.21 (FD)Loss-0.4u
CIN to win AFC(+900) (DK)Win+2.7u
BUF most points in Playoffs(+1200) (DK)Loss-0.3u
AFC to win SB(+105)11.8.22 (MGM)Loss-1u
Net(7-2-4) (win totals)+5.97 Units

*In April I placed a 3-Unit bet on TEN to miss the playoffs (+135) on MGM, but when they signed Julio in June it altered my analysis significantly. But because I got such a good early price on the initial bet I was able to create an offsetting bet using the updated prices to reduce the play to 1 Unit at very little cost, by placing 2.76 Units on TEN to make the playoffs (-138) on FD. The net result of these two bets is 1 Unit on TEN to miss the playoffs at (+129).


I take pride in my work but nobody can guarantee success betting on sports. I offer advice for entertainment purposes only. If you have a gambling problem, finding winning bets is not the answer. The only answer is to stop gambling. For help, call 1-800-522-4700.

Washington Football Team 2020 Team Study


Washington’s 28th-ranked offense lacked an identity in 2020 because they were forced to make a change to their starting quarterback on six different occasions. Poor offensive line play presented a major problem for each of Washington’s quarterbacks. Dwayne Haskins was terrible. Kyle Allen was slightly better. But Alex Smith and Taylor Heinicke were the most successful because they were the only ones able to combat the pressure allowed by the offensive line.

Smith combatted pressure by implementing a quick-hitting passing attack that sought to get his pass catchers the ball with room to run. Heinicke used his mobility to escape the pressure and extend plays. With talented receiving backs, a strong tight end, and Terry McLaurin at their disposal, both had good moments. As a result, the Washington offense was markedly better in games where Haskins did not play.

This chart maps Washington’s offensive performance in games with Haskins playing 49% or more snaps (maroon line) versus games where Haskins did not see the field (yellow line). Outside of two really bad games, every time they fielded Smith, Heinicke, or Allen at quarterback, they were a better offense than in any game in which Haskins played.

Alex Smith did not often threaten deep but was at least able to move the ball up the field. His average depth of target (5.1) was significantly lower than any other NFL quarterback, but he completed a high percentage of his passes (66.7%). And more importantly, he had the 7th-highest yards after catch per completion (5.7). He tried to get the ball in the hands of his playmakers and with his elite accuracy he consistently put the ball in spots where the receiver had room to run after making the catch.

But the problem with any conservative offense is that defenses tend to catch on. If what an offense can do is limited and the quarterback only throws short passes, players in the defensive back 7 can crowd the line of scrimmage, shortening the field of play. As film accrues on an offense like this, it gets easier for defenses to have confidence jamming the receivers and keying in on the run.

*Omitted data points for CIN, DAL, and WAS, who all suffered key quarterback injuries that skewed second-half performance numbers.

This scatter plot shows each NFL team’s 2020 average depth of target (x-axis) compared to that team’s offensive improvement in Adjusted Rating from its first 8 games to its final 8 games of the season (y-axis). A negative number on the y-axis indicates a team that performed worse on offense as the season progressed, and a positive number on the y-axis indicates a team that improved. Offenses with a more conservative approach (lower ADOT) tended to perform worse as the season wore on. Specifically, although a high ADOT did not guarantee improvement, teams with an ADOT under 7.1 all performed significantly worse in the latter half of the season as defenses got wise to their scheme.

Late-Season Decline for Low-ADOT Offenses, 2020

ADOT# TeamsAvg. Difference in Adj. Rating
8.30 + 12+1.10
7.10 to 8.2914-1.28
7.09 or lower6-4.70

While this may not be particularly helpful in predicting Washington’s success next season with gunslinger Ryan Fitzpatrick set to replace Alex Smith, this is a valuable lesson that can help predict which offenses may decline over the course of a season. And it helps explain what happened to the offense under Alex Smith in 2020, in the 7 games he started:

With talent at key skill positions, Washington’s offense played well below its potential due to poor quarterback and offensive line play. Washington won every game in which Antonio Gibson had at least 65 yards rushing in 2020. Unfortunately, he only did this four times. If they can bolster the line and establish him more consistently as a feature back in 2021, this offense can perform significantly better, provided they have a competent quarterback.


Washington’s 10th-ranked defense definitely held up better than its offense in 2020, but benefitted from a series of fortunate occurrences over the season that inflated perception and defensive numbers. They did get fairly good pressure with the defensive line and were okay against the run. But they were not particularly solid outside their front four and reaped the benefit of several key injuries to opponents and other fluky events.

They didn’t face Dak Prescott in either game against Dallas and even knocked out Andy Dalton in Week 7. The Cowboys finished the game with Ben DiNucci. The Bengals were beating Washington in Week 11 and had racked up 267 first half yards before Joe Burrow was injured early in the 3rd quarter. The Bengals were visibly deflated by losing their franchise player and gained only 24 yards in the second half with Ryan Finley at quarterback. Washington also overcame a 14-0 deficit against Pittsburgh in Week 13 only after several key injuries to Steelers. They won a game against San Francisco despite gaining only 3.1 yards per play (to the 49ers’ 4.5 yards per play) on the strength of two defensive touchdowns. And with the playoffs on the line in Week 17, they were famously gifted a win against Philadelphia because the Eagles had nothing to play for and benched Jalen Hurts for Nate Sudfeld in the second half.

These things do happen in football. Washington also suffered injuries and their defensive success should not be dismissed. However, it should be contextualized.

Washington tried to win on defense by getting to the quarterback quickly and ferociously, forcing sacks and mistakes. Predictably, two types of quarterbacks held up against this attack: mobile quarterbacks and smart passers with good vision and decision-making.

This chart shows Washington’s defensive Adjusted Rating against each opponent ranked by the quarterback’s season-long rushing total. Washington’s best performances came against immobile quarterbacks like Ben Roethlisberger (+0.80), Nick Mullens (+0.82), and Andy Dalton (+1.84). But Washington underperformed against Lamar Jackson (-0.25), Russell Wilson (-0.07), Kyler Murray (+0.02), and Daniel Jones (-1.24 and -0.41), who all finished top-7 in rushing yards among quarterbacks.

The chart also shows two outlier poor performances against immobile quarterbacks when they faced the Bucs and Lions. But Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford are both elite quarterbacks in terms of intelligence and experience. They handled the pressure by reading the defense, recognizing the weaknesses in the secondary, and taking advantage before the pass rush was a problem.

Overall, Washington effectively punished bad offenses but were exposed by mobile quarterbacks and some of the better passers in the league. Their defensive production was inflated due to their favorable schedule and weak division. On top of that, they benefitted from several in-game injuries and positive situations. But they are implementing the right approach to building a defense: develop young talent, starting with a pass rush. If they can continue to build out talent in the back 7, Washington can improve defensively.

Putting it All Together

Betting Takeaways

  • Opinions on Washington are split heading into the off-season so on balance they are fairly rated. Their defensive production in 2020 made them look like a team poised for success if they got consistent quarterback production. But this was a bit misleading due to their schedule and circumstances. While they should improve offensively, expect some defensive and schedule regression.
  • Washington’s offense will likely benefit from consistency at the quarterback position. Their offensive identity shifted so much in 2020 that hard predictions for their offense will be difficult early in 2021.
  • Expect Washington’s defense to outperform against inexperienced, immobile quarterbacks who are easily flustered under pressure.
  • Be cautious putting confidence in Washington’s defense against mobile or elite passing quarterbacks until they can put together a strong performance defensively against a good team.

Fantasy and Player Prop Takeaways

  • With Ryan Fitzpatrick coming to town, Washington skill players should see a boost in production. However, Washington’s offense was at its best when converting high-percentage passes and letting receivers work after the catch. The coaching staff may need to implement a new scheme for Fitzpatrick (or Heinecke). This scheme will almost certainly benefit Terry McLaurin.
  • Keep an eye on Washington’s offseason moves to see if they view Antonio Gibson as an every-down back. He was an excellent receiver in college but was often replaced by McKissic in 2020 in passing situations. If they indicate using him more as a pass-catcher, Gibson has elite upside in fantasy.
  • Do not be afraid to play smart quarterbacks or mobile quarterbacks in DFS against Washington as a way to counter the narrative that their defense is strong, when in reality it has not proven to be successful against these types of players.

Application: SharpClarke Bet of the Year

In Week 12 against Dallas, Washington was inexplicably a 3 point underdog against Andy Dalton. Even factoring in the early Haskins performances, Washington projected better than Dallas according to my Ratings. Fully healthy and with Alex Smith orchestrating the offense, I expected them to have no problem moving the ball against Dallas. On the other side, I predicted Andy Dalton would once again succumb to the pressure because he is not an elite passer and is not mobile. I placed 4 Units on Washington as the underdog and they crushed Dallas, 41-16.

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Los Angeles Chargers 2020 Team Study


Justin Herbert is the real deal. As a rookie he showed excellent vision and elite downfield accuracy. He escaped pressure and kept plays alive. He trusted his receivers and put the ball in spots where only they could make a play. If I was starting a franchise and could have any quarterback, Herbert would be in the discussion for 2nd choice if Mahomes was taken. That’s how good he is.

The Chargers were right around league average offensively (17th) but would have finished 14th if you exclude Week 1 before Herbert took over. These modest numbers were weighed down by poor offensive line play and a few rough performances in which Herbert’s rookie growing pains were on display. True rookies usually struggle when forced into the starting role right away. Some of the league’s best quarterbacks showed marked improvement over their first three years as they grew accustomed to NFL speed and defenses.

Passing Improvement, Years 1-3

PlayerYear 1 YPAYear 2 YPAYear 3 YPAYear 1 TD/INT RatioYear 2 TD/INT RatioYear 3 TD/INT Ratio

The defenses that caused Herbert trouble in 2020 were not surprisingly orchestrated by the smartest defensive coaches. The Chargers’ worst offensive performance by Adjusted Rating (-1.69) came against New England, who have famously excelled against rookie quarterbacks under Bill Belichick by using exotic disguised blitzes that confuse inexperienced players. This was the defensive scheme that famously made Sam Darnold “see ghosts” as a rookie. The Chargers also underperformed against Miami (-0.79) and Denver (-0.47), both teams with excellent defensive coaching and creative schemes but some talent gaps (including injuries). By contrast, they performed relatively well against Tampa Bay (+0.12) and New Orleans (+0.31), who were loaded with defensive talent. The best way to stop Herbert as a rookie was to confuse him and abuse the offensive line to get pressure that caught him off guard.

*Omitted Week 1 (Tyrod Taylor game) and Week 17 (KC rested its starters)

Herbert handled pressure really well for a rookie. Nevertheless, teams that exerted pressure had a better chance at stopping the Chargers. This chart shows the Chargers’ offensive Adjusted Rating by each opponent’s season-long pressure rate. Herbert typically did not struggle against any teams in the bottom half of pressure rate and had all of his bad games against teams that could pressure. Getting up to NFL speed was at least challenging behind a porous offensive line.

If you didn’t watch Herbert and just looked at his average depth of target, you might conclude that he wasn’t an aggressive downfield passer. His ADOT (7.4) was below the league average. But I watched every snap and he was one of the most aggressive passers in the league. For some context, only three teams had a higher concentration of passes to running backs than Justin Herbert. These teams had much lower ADOTs because running back targets have very little depth.

J. Herbert ADOT Context

% Throws to RBsADOT
J. Herbert26.0%7.4

Because he was constantly under pressure, Herbert employed a steady combination of short dump offs, screens, intermediate throws, and deep shots. In other words, he mixed it up and played in context. When they needed a big play, he went for it. When they didn’t, he was happy to work the offense through his best weapons. As a result, the Chargers were well above average converting third downs, particularly through the air.

Third Down Conversions

CategoryNumberNFL Rank
3rd Down Conversions992nd
Passing 1st Downs2266th
3rd Down Conversion %44.2%9th

And while many teams show a significant decline in offensive production when their best receiver is unavailable, Herbert played well regardless of his weapons. Late in the season he played several games without Keenan Allen and Hunter Henry but saw little drop off in performance. He spread the ball around arguably better than any quarterback in the NFL. Six different players had around 400 or more receiving yards on the Chargers (Allen, Mike Williams, Henry, Jaylen Guyton, Ekeler, and Tyron Johnson). No other NFL team came close to this level of distribution.

But if Herbert was so good, why did the Chargers finish 7-9? That’s a valid question with a complex answer. They lost three different games in which I think they outplayed their opponent. They also went toe-to-toe with Kansas City and New Orleans, losing both games in overtime due to field goal kicking. They missed a potential game-winning 50-yarder against the Saints and lost to the Chiefs on a 58-yarder by Butker. They also suffered injuries on both sides of the ball and blew several leads. These types of losses usually indicate bad coaching or bad quarterback play in the clutch.

So the Chargers fired Anthony Lynn and hired Brandon Staley, fresh off a strong performance coaching a dominant Rams defense. Staley is saying all the right things about building the offense around Herbert’s strengths. Meanwhile, Herbert and the Chargers won their last 4 games in 2020, including three on game-winning drives orchestrated by Herbert. He doesn’t just put up numbers. He can score with the game on the line. If the new coaching staff can bring a culture of winning, this offense should keep them in any game. And if they improve their offensive line play even a little bit, they could be a very good offense.


Despite suffering several key injuries, the Chargers’ 12th-ranked defense put together a solid season against tough competition in 2020. They faced a formidable set of opposing quarterbacks, including Mahomes, Brady, Brees, Josh Allen, Burrow, and Matt Ryan. And of those six quarterbacks, only Tom Brady had an above-average game against the Chargers.

They primarily exerted pressure with their front four and sat back in a frustrating Cover-3 scheme that made it difficult for opposing quarterbacks to pick up chunk plays. They employed an NFL-low 16.3% blitz rate yet typically performed better against teams that preferred to pass.

This chart shows the Chargers’ defensive Adjusted Rating by each opponent’s tendency to run. With the exception of a bad game against Tampa Bay, every below-average defensive performance by the Chargers came against teams in the top half of the NFL in run rate (LV, NYJ, DEN, and MIA). And in that outlier against Tampa Bay, Chris Harris and Melvin Ingram had both just been placed on the IR.

The Chargers succeeded against passing teams by taking away the big play. They allowed the 6th-fewest 20+ yard passing plays on the season and held several big-name quarterbacks to subpar passing games. They crowded the defensive backfield and stayed home, making it difficult for opposing quarterbacks to pick them apart. This style did lead to several good rushing performances by opposing quarterbacks with the ability to scramble, who took what the defense gave them:

Scrambling QBs v. LAC

QBPass Yds Avg.Pass Yds v. LACRush Yds Avg.Rush Yds. v. LAC

But these rushing tendencies did not typically lead to success. The Chargers defense performed well overall in each of these games (+0.86 v. CIN, +0.45 v. KC, and +0.38 v. BUF). Mahomes, Allen, and Burrow are all at their best when passing. By comparison, teams with quarterbacks who preferred to release the ball quickly instead of scrambling (TB and MIA) performed better against the Chargers.

Despite playing fairly well overall, the Chargers defense had a bad habit of crumbling with the lead. In Week 2, the Chiefs only had 6 points late in the 3rd quarter but scored on their last 4 drives to win in overtime. In Week 4, they blew a 24-7 lead against Tampa Bay by allowing them to score on each of their last 5 drives. In Week 5, they blew a 10 point second half lead against New Orleans by letting them score on 4 of their last 5 drives. And in Week 8, they blew a 24-3 lead against Denver by allowing touchdowns on 4 of their last 5 drives. Losing four of their first seven games in this fashion really deflated them as a team.

They will need to perform better defensively with a lead in 2021 to make the playoffs. They have the talent, and hopefully Brandon Staley will bring the attitude and scheme to get the best out of this defense. Based on some offseason comments they may pivot away from the Cover-3 and into a press man base defense. This may help them hold the lead better. With some key players returning from injury, if they tighten up just a little bit, they could be a force on both sides of the ball.

Putting it All Together

Betting Takeaways

  • Overall, the Chargers are underrated heading into the offseason. Despite dealing with injuries, subpar coaching, and a rookie quarterback’s growing pains, their 7-9 record did not reflect the team’s quality in 2020 as they lost several games they easily could have won.
  • Justin Herbert fits the mold of an elite quarterback. Expect him to improve on his stellar 2020 campaign as he becomes more comfortable with NFL speed and defenses and studies film in the offseason to learn how to anticipate pressure.
  • Due to Herbert’s ability to spread the ball around, do not overreact to individual skill player injuries.
  • Although new Head Coach Brandon Staley implemented a different scheme with the Rams, he has stated he will tailor his defensive scheme to the Chargers’ personnel. Neither the Chargers nor the Rams had a particularly high blitz rate in 2020, but if they switch to press man coverage the defense might look quite different.
  • With upside on offense and defense and potentially a new culture, look to capitalize early by betting on the Chargers before the public catches on to their potential.

Fantasy and Player Prop Takeaways

  • Justin Herbert is legit and should be taken confidently as a stud quarterback. He provides passing and rushing production and will likely improve in 2021 given his style of play. Consider him as early as the #3 quarterback off the board, depending on scoring format.
  • Herbert’s tendency to spread the ball around caps each player’s individual ceiling. However, his willingness to pass to running backs boosts the value of those running backs, particularly in PPR leagues.
  • Depending on how the new defense looks, consider betting the Over on quarterback rushing yards and the Under on passing yards when an adept scrambling quarterback plays the Chargers.

Application: SharpClarke Bet of the Year

In Week 15, the Chargers were 3.5-point underdogs on the road against Las Vegas. The angle was fairly simple: the Raiders did not implement a particularly difficult defensive scheme and did pressure quarterbacks, meaning Herbert would thrive. On the other side, the Raiders’ passing game was built on big plays that the Chargers would be able to limit. All the Chargers needed to do was keep it close with the better quarterback on their side. And I graded the Chargers as the superior team outright. The odds of a Raiders blowout against a strong team were extremely low. I put 4 Units on LAC +3.5 and the Chargers ended up winning in overtime.

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Pittsburgh Steelers 2020 Team Study


The Steelers tried to play to their offensive strengths in 2020 but still stumbled through the season as the 20th-ranked offense. They had one of the best and deepest receiving cores with Diontae Johnson, Juju Smith-Schuster, Chase Claypool, James Washington, and Eric Ebron. They had a reliable quarterback who lacked mobility but still threw accurately. But their offensive line was inconsistent at best. So the Steelers implemented a quick-hitting pass heavy offense to keep the pressure off Ben without relying on the running game.

Roethlisberger got rid of the ball extremely quickly all season. They led the league in pass attempts but recorded the 6th-lowest average depth of target. They threw all day, but not downfield. On the season, Roethlisberger threw 676 passes and was sacked only 13 times. Even in the playoff collapse against Cleveland, Roethlisberger was not sacked once. The 14 total sacks allowed by Pittsburgh was 7 fewer than any other NFL team. After a lost season in 2019 without Roethlisberger, the Steelers made it a priority to keep him clean. They accomplished this.

But the emphasis on quick passes had a negative impact on the Steelers offense down the stretch. First, they simply did not run play-action. When the goal is to throw the ball before the defense has any chance to hit the quarterback, there is not enough time to fake the hand off and climb the pocket to make a throw. The Steelers threw for only 234 yards on play action, almost 400 fewer than any other NFL team.

Play Action Passing Yards

Play Action Pass Yds% of Total Pass Yds
PIT (Lowest)2345.8%
LV (2nd Lowest)62514.8%
League Median96926.7%

As teams watched film on the Steelers they picked up on this tendency. So when Roethlisberger stepped back to hand the ball off to Conner or Snell, opposing defenses collapsed on the running back. It was obvious in the first moment of every play what the Steelers were doing. Over the course of the season, their run game became less effective. They ended up with the fewest rushing yards on an NFL-worst 3.6 yards per carry. And you can see the trend of rushing success go downhill as defenses caught on:

*Omitted Week 17 Game where PIT rested its starters

Despite Pittsburgh’s rushing success early in the season, they were simply pathetic running the ball by season’s end. Offensive line injuries do not account for this discrepancy as one of their best blockers (DeCastro) actually missed Weeks 1, 2, and 5. The primary ball carrier did not seem to matter either, as both Conner and Snell performed well early but struggled late. The only explanation is that teams studied film and learned they could shut down the predictable rushing scheme.

In addition, the short passing offense allowed defensive players to crowd the line of scrimmage and commit to defending the short pass without much fear of getting burned deep. This defensive strategy paid off for the most part, but I think the Steelers were unlucky as they suffered a league-high 43 drops on the season, 19% more than the second highest total of 36. If the receivers had caught even a fraction of these passes they could have extended multiple drives and put more pressure on opposing defenses.

Many analysts claim that Ben Roethlisberger has lost his ability to throw the deep ball based on his low average depth of target in 2020. Age and injury do catch up to quarterbacks. But based on my observation, this was not true. His deep ball accuracy was not off his usual pace. Instead, I think the game plan built around avoiding hits reduced downfield passing opportunities and receivers dropped catchable passes at a crippling rate. We saw Roethlisberger air it out in a 17-point comeback against Indianapolis in Week 16 and when playing catchup in the Wild Card round against Cleveland. His willingness to throw deep also bears out in the defensive pass interference numbers, which do not show up on any other statistical metric such as ADOT because they aren’t technically “targets.”

Teams Who Forced 12+ Defensive PI Calls for 16+ Average Yards

TeamDef. PI CallsYards GainedYards Per PIADOTADOT Rank

Only three teams (TB, PHI, and PIT) forced 12 or more defensive pass interference calls for an average of 16 or more yards. Both Tampa Bay and Philadelphia were top-3 in the NFL in average depth of target, whereas Pittsburgh was 27th. The Steelers’ ADOT was skewed lower by these calls. With rookie Chase Claypool on the receiving end of several of these plays, I anticipate these deep shots to increase in 2021.

Because the Steelers were so pass heavy on offense they outperformed against teams that were more proficient stopping the run relative to the pass.

*Omitted Week 12 v. BAL due to both teams’ Covid outbreaks that week that led to important players sidelined for both teams

This chart tracks Pittsburgh’s offensive Adjusted Rating against each opponent ranked by its pass defense (adjusted yards per pass) relative to its rushing defense (yards per carry). Teams on the left were better at stopping the run than the pass, whereas teams on the right were better at stopping the pass than the run. Pittsburgh’s worst performances came against BUF (-1.20) and CIN (-1.37), who were more vulnerable to opposing ground games. By contrast, Pittsburgh’s best game came against PHI (+1.40), notorious for stopping the run but vulnerable to the pass.

If the Steelers bring back Roethlisberger with all of his weapons, it will be interesting to see if they improve their scheme or stick to the quick-passing offense. They still may be successful if they drop fewer passes but will likely need to work in a more creative run scheme and include some play action to unsettle defenses. This will require better offensive line play or added risk of hits to Roethlisberger. These are relatively small tweaks for a well-established coaching staff and the Steelers should be more dangerous in 2021.


The Steelers have been building a formidable defense for years and entered 2020 with high hopes. They were absolutely dominant early on and finished 1st in Adjusted Rating despite tailing off at the end of the year. They were strong in every facet of the defense, with a strong pass rush, tight coverage, and solid run defense.

When defensive leader and middle linebacker Devin Bush tore his ACL in Week 4 I was concerned they would lose their edge. They did not, as Robert Spillane stepped into the role and the Steelers did not miss a beat. They clawed their way to an 11-0 start on the strength of their defense heading into a Week 13 Monday night game against Washington. The week before, star edge rusher Bud Dupree had torn his ACL. Despite this, the defense absolutely smothered Washington in the first half as they built a 14-0 lead. But when both Spillane and Joe Haden got hurt in the second half, the collective impact was too much and Washington took advantage.

PIT Defense in Week 13 v. WAS

YardsYards Per PlayDrivesPoints
First Half1193.773
Second Half1914.7620

When everyone on a defense handles their responsibility in a well-designed scheme, the trust level allows you to plug a player into one spot and see no real drop in production. But when a defense loses several key players, including the defensive play-caller and leader, holes open up and the trust disappears. Frustration sets in and players no longer pursue their assignment with the same focused intensity. This is why defensive dynasties are so hard to maintain. For Pittsburgh, this crucial Week 13 injury barrage precipitated a late-season fold.

After an 11-0 start, many opined that the Steelers were a fraud. Then, in that Monday afternoon game against Washington that nobody was watching, they succumbed to this onslaught of injuries after dominating in the first half. The crowd of people ready to write off Pittsburgh felt like they had been right all along.

In addition to these crucial injuries, the schedule did them no favors. Instead of playing against the Titans in Week 4, they were forced to take an early bye week due to a Covid outbreak in the Tennessee organization. With such an early bye week, particularly an unplanned bye week in which they likely had to game plan anyway, the long season really took its toll on Pittsburgh. The Steelers were not the only team affected by an early bye. In the 2020 playoffs, teams that had an earlier bye week than their opponent went 3-10 overall. Two of the three wins were KC (v. BUF) and GB (v. LAR), both of whom had a first-round playoff bye to offset this effect. The only other win was NO (v. CHI), which was a total mismatch.

Obviously the combination of injuries and fatigue set in for Pittsburgh and hurt them as the season went on. Their net Adjusted Rating, factoring in both offensive and defensive performance, steadily declined over the season. As the chart below shows, when factoring out a game against Baltimore in which 19 players (including Lamar Jackson) were out due to Covid, each of the Steelers’ 5 best overall performances came in the first 6 games:

*Omitted Week 12 v. BAL because the Ravens had 19 players on the Covid list, including Lamar Jackson and several other key pieces.

Prior to this late season regression, opposing offenses struggled for consistency against the Steelers but did connect on some big plays. As a result, teams paradoxically performed better compared to their season average against Pittsburgh if they were already a turnover-prone team. These teams took more risks, and a conservative offense had no chance against the Steelers.

*Includes Weeks 1-13 before the defensive injuries piled up

This chart ranks each of the Steelers’ first 12 opponents by how frequently they turned the ball over on the season. Some of the Steelers’ worst defensive performances came against turnover-prone DEN (+0.65), PHI (+0.44), and DAL (+0.02). By contrast, their best defensive performances came against the more conservative CLE (+2.44) and TEN (+1.53) offenses. To succeed against Pittsburgh you did not want long, drawn-out drives trying to churn out first downs. You needed to be aggressive and take chances, leading to defensive penalties and big plays.

Depending on how the offseason goes, the Steelers defense in 2021 will likely resemble the early version instead of the late version, which is promising for another solid year. Casual fans will have the late-season swoon in their heads but their defense is stacked with talent and they implement a solid scheme. There is always risk when staking success on the strength of a defensive scheme because a few injuries can knock the team off course, but Pittsburgh should return one of the top defenses in the league in 2021.

Putting it All Together

Betting Takeaways

  • Overall, Pittsburgh is underrated going into the offseason. Naysayers felt vindicated when they performed poorly at the end of the season but injuries and schedule had an outsized impact on their performance.
  • Expect Pittsburgh to outperform offensively against teams that are stronger against the run than the pass.
  • Anticipate a step forward offensively with fewer drops and better offensive line play. With Claypool emerging in his second year and positive target depth regression, expect a more aggressive and successful offense overall.
  • Respect Pittsburgh’s defense as one of the best in the league. Expect them to outperform defensively against more conservative offenses that rely on sustaining drives with consistent first downs and avoiding turnovers.

Fantasy and Player Prop Takeaways

  • Roethlisberger is underrated coming out of 2020 due to the amount of drops his receivers suffered and big defensive pass interference penalties that did not show up on the stat sheet. He provides a safe floor as a late-round quarterback to pair with a high-upside option who may not be proven yet.
  • Roethlisberger spreads the ball around well, limiting the season-long upside of Johnson, Smith-Schuster, and Claypool. However, they will all likely have big games over the course of the season. Claypool flashed the highest upside as a rookie and should emerge as the primary touchdown threat. I would bet on the talent and predict Claypool will be the #1 fantasy WR in this offense in 2021.
  • Avoid running backs in this offense unless they are heavily featured in the passing game. While they do not run much, Ben does like to dump off to his running backs when the receivers are not immediately open.

Application: SharpClarke Bet of the Year

In Week 6, the Steelers brought their 4-0 record into a game against the 4-1 Browns, laying only 3.5 points at home. The defense had been ferocious and they were fully healthy. Cleveland is the type of team that relies on running the ball well, converting key third-down passes, and not turning the ball over offensively. In other words, a perfect matchup for the Steelers. In a game where I predicted the Browns would struggle offensively, the Steelers would only need to score a few touchdowns to force Cleveland to abandon its run game and turn away from its strength. In addition, the Browns were playing without Nick Chubb, their best offensive skill player. I put 4 Units on PIT -3.5 and they crushed Cleveland, 38-7.

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New York Giants 2020 Team Study


The 25th-ranked Giants offense struggled in 2020. Their best offensive player (Barkley) did not play a snap after injuring his knee in Week 2. The offensive line featured several new faces who did not gel right away, including a rookie left tackle (Andrew Thomas) who progressed over the course of the season. Receivers missed games. Evan Engram dropped passes. And just when the offense was playing its best, Daniel Jones got hurt. Without his mobility, the Giants were not the same.

I believe Daniel Jones is a potentially solid NFL quarterback. He is not the caliber of player to carry a team to the Super Bowl in the face of adversity. But not many are. He has reliable downfield accuracy and is not afraid to make difficult throws. He also flashed excellent mobility and decision-making as a runner. He falls into the category of quarterbacks who can be highly successful when given the right circumstances, specifically protection and weapons. We have seen this type of player in Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, and Kirk Cousins. These are players who can thrive in favorable circumstances but can really look bad when given no support. Jones belongs in this tier.

But Jones’ biggest weakness is pocket awareness. When teams can get pressure, particularly on his blind side, Jones makes mistakes. Of the 12 quarterbacks drafted in the last three years with at least 9 NFL starts, only Josh Allen (31) and Lamar Jackson (31) have more fumbles than Daniel Jones (29). Obviously both Allen and Jackson have played more games. Nobody on this list has more fumbles per game than Jones.

Fumbles by Quarterbacks Drafted in 2018-2020

PlayerGamesFumblesFumbles per SackFumbles per Game
D. Jones272934.9%1.07
J. Burrow10928.1%0.90
G. Minshew231830.0%0.78
D. Haskins161224.5%0.75
J. Allen443133.7%0.70
L. Jackson463145.6%0.67
D. Lock181145.8%0.61
J. Herbert15825.0%0.53
S. Darnold382020.4%0.53
B. Mayfield462123.1%0.46
K. Murray321418.7%0.44
T. Tagovailoa915.0%0.11

The schedule did Jones no favors in 2020 given his biggest weakness. The Giants faced teams in the top-10 in pressure rate in 8 of their 16 games. And several teams they faced outside the top-10 in pressure rate still boasted a strong pass rush and overall pass defense (LAR, SF, and CHI). Despite this, Jones did show improvement handling pressure in 2020 relative to his rookie season.

D. Jones Fumbles Year 1 to Year 2

FumblesSacksFumbles Per Sack
D. Jones (2019)18380.47
D. Jones (2020)11450.24

Mistake-prone quarterbacks typically perform better when the team can establish the run and take some of the pressure off the passing game. So losing Barkley was particularly rough on the Giants. Goff was a star with a healthy Gurley and Cousins looks dangerous when he has Dalvin Cook. Forcing this caliber of quarterback to play with only one dimension caps their success. Taking the pressure off the passing game makes a huge difference in performance. Similarly, Daniel Jones performed better when the Giants were able to run.

*Omitted Weeks 12 and 14 where Colt McCoy started due to Daniel Jones’ injury

This chart shows the Giants’ offensive performance ranking each game by the team’s total rushing yards. The Giants did not often establish a successful offense without the ground game, whether through Jones or the running backs. But when they did, they had a pulse. The Giants played below expectation in only 2 of 9 games in which they rushed for at least 85 yards. They were even outperforming in one of these games (against the Bengals) before Jones got hurt. So the only truly disappointing game came against the Rams early on. If an improved offensive line with a healthy Saquon can help the Giants establish a ground game, that could be huge for this offense.

After Jones got hurt against Cincinnati he lost his mobility and it severely limited the Giants offense. After winning 4 of 6 games in which Jones averaged 45.5 rushing yards a game, the Giants struggled against the Cardinals and Ravens without this element, as Jones rushed just 1 time for 3 yards total in those two games. The Giants had no chance.

The Giants’ skill players did not provide a lot of support for Jones. They were 7th in the league in dropped pass % and lacked a receiver who could consistently beat coverage. Engram flashed in moments but dropped several big passes. Shepard was a reliable short target when healthy and Slayton did improve his route tree a little in 2020 but remained an inconsistent deep threat. Each of these players filled a role but the team lacked a go-to guy who could force defenses to focus and open up the field for everyone else.

Overall, the Giants offense showed promise at times but remained a couple of pieces away from sustained success.


Looking only at their fairly decent defensive production, it’s a little surprising that the Giants defense ranked 20th in 2020. But this reveals the importance of factoring in the quality of opponents when evaluating teams. They played bad offenses most of the year. Their average opponent offensive strength was 19th and they played 11 of 16 games against bottom-half opponents. One of their tougher matchups on paper came against a Tampa Bay offense without Chris Godwin or Antonio Brown. Their offensive struggles also meant that opposing offenses did not need to be too aggressive. So despite allowing the 9th-fewest yards per play, the Giants defense was mediocre.

There were some bright spots. Particularly, the defensive line played well and James Bradberry excelled at lockdown coverage. This limited big plays so the Giants performed particularly well against teams that relied on an outside receiver for offensive success.

*Omitted games where James Bradberry did not play

This chart shows the Giants’ defensive Adjusted Rating in games ranked by the yardage share each opponent’s top receiver had of his team’s total offensive yards. The Giants played relatively well against teams that relied more heavily on one receiver because Bradberry was able to have a bigger impact disrupting those teams. For example, the Giants had strong games against CHI (+0.61), who relied on Allen Robinson, and SEA (+0.76), who relied on D.K. Metcalf. They also had a decent game against TB (+0.06), who was playing without Godwin or Antonio Brown, meaning they were reliant on Mike Evans. The (+1.29) against the Bengals was inflated because Cincinnati played without Joe Burrow. Meanwhile the Giants really struggled against SF (-1.49) and BAL (-1.94), two teams that focused on running and passing to the tight ends without featuring a stud outside wide receiver.

Only one top outside receiver had an above-average game against the Giants (DeAndre Hopkins). Every other #1 outside receiver had a subpar game, with several players having outright bad games.

#1 Outside Receivers v. NYG

PlayerRec. Yds Per GameRec. Yds v. NYG
D. Hopkins87.9136
D. Metcalf81.480
A. Robinson78.133
T. McLaurin74.574
A. Cooper69.623
A. Cooper69.641
M. Evans62.955
D. Johnson61.557
R. Woods58.536
T. Higgins56.844
M. Brown48.125

With outside receivers struggling, teams did not make a lot of big plays against the Giants. Therefore, teams that relied on big plays for offensive success tended to struggle. They allowed the 5th-fewest 20+ yard passing plays and the 4th-fewest 40+ yard passing plays. Teams with the consistent ability to grind out first downs had relative success compared to teams that relied on splash plays.

Similarly, the Giants played better against pass-heavy teams. The problem was, with a mediocre offense, the Giants were often playing from behind. So they did not get to press their advantage against the pass. The Giants could perform better defensively if they are able to play with the lead and force teams to pass more frequently.

Putting it All Together

Betting Takeaways

  • Overall, the Giants are underrated heading into the offseason. They arguably should have won the NFC East despite key injuries and taking time to adjust to a new system. Yet all the talk is about how the other teams in the NFC East will improve.
  • Expect the Giants to outperform offensively when they can establish the run and take the pressure off Daniel Jones by reducing the frequency of obvious long passing situations.
  • Avoid big bets on the Giants when facing a team that exerts significant pressure, as turnovers can bury them.
  • Expect the Giants to outperform defensively against teams that rely on an outside receiver for offensive success, provided James Bradberry is healthy.
  • Expect the Giants to underperform defensively against teams that run and feature tight ends in the passing game, particularly if that team can establish a lead.

Fantasy and Player Prop Takeaways

  • Daniel Jones could provide some value as a late-round quarterback but cannot be relied on against strong pressure. He’s a matchup-dependent option who makes a very strong streamer candidate in some weeks, particularly with his rushing upside. He should be paired with another quarterback but has potential to become a weekly starter.
  • The Giants had a very low touchdown total in 2020. Without reason to think this number will increase, skill position fantasy options should be downgraded due to a lack of total scoring potential.
  • Avoid outside receivers who project to face off against James Bradberry. Consider betting the Under on their receiving yard props and avoid them in DFS.

Application: SharpClarke Bet of the Year

The week I first went public with my picks (Week 17), I started with a Game of the Week play in the DAL-NYG matchup taking NYG +3. I played the angle that the Giants would be able to run against Dallas and take away the Cowboys’ big plays. As a team that had relied on big plays for success after Dak Prescott’s injury, the Cowboys were particularly vulnerable to stalled drives. I predicted the Cowboys would struggle to get in the end zone and would settle for too many field goals. I also predicted the Giants would convert enough drives to score 23-27 points and that would be enough to win. The Giants ended up winning outright, 23-19, after the Cowboys settled for 4 field goals.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2020 Team Study


The Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Bucs boasted a top-5 offense and a top-5 defense in 2020, making them the most balanced team in the NFL. Their 5th-ranked offense was built around an aggressive downfield passing game. The Bucs threw deep shots on every down and distance, which forced defenses to play on their heels if they didn’t want to get burned.

Tom Brady has become a master of avoiding hits. If a play did not develop into an open throw right away, Brady did not scramble and he did not often throw the ball away. Instead he would throw it up to whichever receiver had the best matchup in coverage. When he had all of his weapons at his disposal, this usually meant there was a good matchup somewhere, so it was fairly successful. But this aggressive approach led to a lot of bad throws. Brady was 4th in the NFL in bad throw percentage, which excludes spiked balls and throwaways and only factors in truly inaccurate passes. This put him in company with the likes of Drew Lock, Dwayne Haskins, Carson Wentz, and Cam Newton.

NFL QBs with > 19% Bad Throws

Bad Throw %Yards per GameNFL Rank
D. Lock22.9%225.623rd
D. Haskins22.4%205.628th
C. Wentz21.7%218.325th
T. Brady20.6%289.63rd
C. Newton19.7%177.135th

But this table shows that despite throwing poorly on over 20% of his throws, Brady was ultimately very successful moving the ball. The passing statistics don’t even do the Bucs offense justice. Their aggressive offense forced notably more defensive pass interference penalties than any other NFL team. Only four other teams received even half the number of defensive PI calls against them. As frustrating as it was for Chiefs fans to watch the Bucs extend drives with defensive penalties in the Super Bowl, this was nothing new.

NFL Teams with 15+ Beneficial DPI Calls

TeamDef PI AgainstYards Gained

No other team in the NFL had over 14 defensive pass interference calls against them all season. And as the season progressed the Bucs mixed in more high-percentage passes, particularly in key moments. In the playoffs, the Bucs extended several important drives with well-executed and well-timed screen passes to Gronkowski or Godwin. What seemed like an early struggle for offensive identity between Brady’s desire for easy yards and Arians’ famous aggressiveness resolved itself with a healthy balance and led to a Super Bowl victory.

However, they did have one weakness. When a quarterback with almost no mobility orchestrates a deep passing offense, that quarterback requires time in the pocket for sustained success. So when they faced a strong defensive line that could get pressure fast, they often failed.

This chart shows Tampa Bay’s offensive Adjusted Rating by game, ranking their opponents from the strongest defensive line (left side) to weakest (right side). These rankings average each team’s sack total and yards per carry allowed to indicate line strength in particular. Even factoring in the relative strength of their opponents, the Bucs had their worst games against the Rams (-0.47), the Saints (-1.72 and +0.22), and the Bears (-0.32). The Bucs lost all four of these games. Meanwhile, their best relative offensive games came against teams with weaker defensive lines, such as CAR (+1.30), DET (+1.91), ATL (+1.86), and LAC (+1.38).

Tampa Bay did not run frequently. They often only ran once on first or second down. Whether the running back gained two yards or five yards on that carry had a huge impact on the drive. A third-down passing play that needs only five yards opens up the playbook relative to one that needs eight yards. Strong defensive lines had a compounding impact on the Bucs’ offense, making third downs longer and getting to Brady when he needed time for the play to develop.

Overall the Bucs had a very good offense. They posted a raw Rating over 5.0 in all but 4 of their 20 games and a positive Adjusted Rating in all but 3 of their games. But they lost every one of those games where they struggled offensively. It was very difficult to beat the Bucs without winning the line battle on this side of the ball.


The Bucs’ equally impressive 4th-ranked defense absolutely shut down the run. They sold out to ensure nobody could establish a ground game, creating obvious passing situations on third-and-long where they implemented an aggressive blitz. They led the NFL in every defensive rushing category, allowing the fewest yards per carry, yards per game, rushing first downs, and rushing touchdowns. With strong talent across the defensive front they were fierce, particularly against basic offensive sets.

But the Bucs’ aggression against the run left them vulnerable to teams that implemented a more creative offense using motion or gadget plays. Aside from a few games where the Bucs had several key defensive players out due to injury and Covid late in the season, the Bucs had a negative defensive Adjusted Rating only twice all season: In both regular season games against New Orleans. In those two games, with Brees starting, the Saints injected a heavy dose of Taysom Hill into the offense using a variety of creative packages and motion schemes. Mixing up the formations and the play designs neutralized the Bucs’ aggression.

Taysom Hill v. TB

Pass Yds/GameRush Yds/GameRec. Yds/Game
v. TB43.033.517.5
v. Rest of NFL1.615.14.8

Excluding the 4 games he started at quarterback, Taysom Hill was far more involved and successful against the Bucs than in any other games. As a division rival, the Saints knew that it took creativity to beat the Bucs’ front and unleashed their gadget player in full force. Unfortunately for the Saints, Hill was unavailable against Tampa Bay in their playoff matchup due to injury. Lacking this extra dimension, the Saints were unable to beat the Bucs’ defense and lost the game, despite beating them handily the first two outings.

Teams sought to punish Tampa Bay’s aggressive run defense through play-action passing. When opposing quarterbacks successfully coaxed the Bucs’ front to commit to the run and escaped the immediate pressure, they benefitted with single coverage matchups downfield. Proficient play-action passing teams had a slight advantage against the Bucs:

*Omitted regular season games v. NO who used T. Hill as an additional offensive dimension

This chart shows the Bucs’ defensive Adjusted Rating ranked by each opponent’s total passing yards gained on play action over the course of the season. The Bucs played below their defensive standard against ATL (-1.08 and +0.26), MIN (+0.10), CHI (+0.11), and LAC (+0.28), who all successfully employed play action. Most teams who did not feature play action were relatively good matchups for the Bucs’ defense, such as CAR (+1.12 and +0.87) and NO in their game without Taysom Hill (+0.80). The outlier bad game against WAS should be ignored because the Bucs played without several key defensive players in that game.

Teams also tried to offset the Bucs’ aggression by getting the ball to their running backs through the air. The blitz-heavy Bucs were theoretically vulnerable to screens. However, teams were rarely successful. The Bucs allowed the most catches to opposing running backs in the NFL but allowed the 6th-lowest yards per catch. This impressive performance included shutting down some of the NFL’s best receiving backs in Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffery, Austin Ekeler, David Montgomery, and D’Andre Swift.

Whether they were running or receiving, running backs struggled against Tampa Bay. Instead, the Bucs’ vulnerability came against receivers who specialized in abusing single coverage through separation or catching everything thrown their way. Several small but quick receivers had massive games against Tampa Bay’s defensive backs.

Huge Receiving Games v. TB

PlayerStat LineHeight
T. Hill (KC)13/269/35' 10"
C. Ridley (ATL)10/163/16' 1"
C. Kupp (LAR)11/145/06' 2"
R. Woods (LAR)12/130/16' 0"
D. Moore (CAR)8/120/0
6' 0"
N. Agholor (LV)5/107/16' 0"

Overall, when the Bucs defense was healthy, it was among the league’s best. It took a top-tier offense to really expose them, and even then it took some creativity to offset their aggression. If the Bucs keep all the pieces together in 2021, they will be a formidable defense once again.

Putting it All Together

Betting Takeaways

  • Overall, Tampa Bay is fairly rated going into the offseason. Although they were fortunate that several things went their way in the playoffs, they had performed at a high level all year and were worthy Super Bowl champions.
  • The Bucs offense relies on completing high-variance throws, which can add variance and reduce predictability given the small sample size of one NFL game. Be careful risking too much on one game unless faced with several compelling angles.
  • Expect the Bucs to perform well offensively in most games but to perform dramatically worse against the league’s strongest defensive lines.
  • Expect the Bucs’ defense to outperform against teams that employ basic offensive sets without creativity, motion, or effective play action.
  • Given their significant underperformance against teams with a strong defensive line and the general expectation that Brady cannot continue his high performance at this age, the Bucs tend to offer excellent value in rebound spots against favorable matchups after a high profile loss.

Fantasy and Player Prop Takeaways

  • Neither Leonard Fournette nor Ronald Jones separated themselves in 2020. Jones played better all year but Fournette had an extremely solid playoff run. I would hesitate to invest much in either player because it’s a week-to-week gamble when they are both healthy in a low-volume rushing attack. But if one gets hurt, the other offers RB1 upside given the strength of this offense.
  • Tom Brady spreads the ball around when everyone is healthy. Godwin and Evans hold similar value to the Bucs but Godwin makes a better fantasy player because (1) Evans gains a higher portion of his yards through pass interference and (2) Godwin catches more balls. But with so many mouths to feed, nobody will emerge as a top option without injury.
  • Avoid running back player props against Tampa Bay, except maybe total catches. But receivers who rely on quickness and catching in the 5’10” to 6’1″ height range can make for excellent DFS plays or over prop bets, particularly if their team employs play action successfully.

Application: SharpClarke Bet of the Year

In Week 9, New Orleans demolished Tampa Bay, 38-3. The Bucs ran into all of their weaknesses in this game. The Saints employed a creative offense that utilized Taysom Hill and nullified the Bucs’ defensive strengths. On the other side, the Saints’ strong defensive line completely shut down the Bucs’ offense. After the embarassing loss the Bucs were only 5.5-point favorites heading into a Week 10 matchup against Carolina. This presented great value for a team that projected to have a strong advantage on both sides of the ball. Predicting that the Bucs would have no problem moving the ball quickly and scoring a lot of points, and that the Panthers’ lack of creativity on offense (without McCaffery) would cause them problems, I put 5 Units on TB -5.5 and they cruised to a 46-23 victory.

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New York Jets 2020 Team Study


I won’t sugarcoat it. The Jets offense was historically bad in 2020. Each NFL offense is comprised of 4 complementary elements: quarterback, offensive line, skill players, and scheme. The Jets were weak in all 4 elements, creating a compounding effect that rendered them worst in the NFL in offensive performance by a comfortable margin.

Over the course of the 2020 season there were 30 offensive performances where a team with a healthy starting quarterback earned a SharpClarke Rating below 3.8. Sam Darnold and the Jets were responsible for 6 of them, more than any other team.

*Includes only games with starting QB healthy

But Darnold does not deserve all the blame. In fact, I believe he could have been successful in a different situation. To start with, the offensive scheme lacked creativity and hindered any chance the Jets had. Predictably running up the middle on first and second down put Darnold in tough spots, often facing a defense that knew the pass was coming. Mercifully for Jets fans, Adam Gase has been fired and they can hopefully address this problem moving forward.

In addition, wide receiver quality (or lack thereof) played a massive role in limiting the Jets’ offense in 2020. The receivers weren’t great to begin with. Their best three-wide set included a capable slot receiver who has never topped 850 yards in a six-year career (Crowder), a limited route-runner who has never topped 650 yards in a five-year career (Perriman), and a rookie who came into the year injured playing a position with a notoriously steep learning curve (Mims). Even if these three had stayed healthy they would have been one of the worst starting receiver corps in the league. But they didn’t even stay healthy.

The Jets offense was notably better when all three were on the field. Regardless of whether Darnold or Flacco was throwing the ball, the Jets simply performed better with all their “weapons” available:

The green line in this chart tracks the Jets’ offensive Adjusted Rating in the seven games where all three receivers were healthy. The black line tracks the nine games where at least one of the three was injured. The Jets never once posted a positive offensive Adjusted Rating this season, but they got fairly close a few times when they were at full strength at wide receiver. If Darnold had been playing with all three for the full season the Jets may have been at least an NFL-caliber offense.

Darnold flashed in moments but has not put together any consistently good games. His mobility helped him outperform the statuesque Flacco last year, but not by much. Unfortunately when a good quarterback prospect plays on a bad team for a few years he typically loses confidence and establishes bad habits that make it near-impossible to salvage a good NFL career. I don’t think the Jets should give up on Darnold altogether but history is not on his side. Obviously they could (and probably will) look to upgrade at quarterback in the offseason. But if they don’t, Darnold may benefit if they bolster the offense with additional weapons and the new coaching staff designs a better offense.

Predictions about the Jets offense based on 2020 performance can only go so far. They have a decent amount of high-value draft picks, some cap space, and a new coaching staff. But looking back allows us to reflect on a missed opportunity. When a team is really bad it can take the sportsbooks a few weeks to catch on and assign the appropriate spread. There was tremendous value early on betting against the Jets, who were at their worst and simply could not keep up with any halfway decent competition.

Jets Early Struggles

1BUF+6.527-17, BUF
2SF+731-13, SF
3IND+11.536-7, IND
4DEN-137-28, DEN
5ARI+7.530-10, ARI
6MIA+9.524-0, MIA

It was obvious early on how bad this Jets’ offense was, particularly with the wide receiver injuries. A sharp bettor could have cashed in early by going against the Jets before the spreads got higher as the season progressed. A team that struggles to move the ball has a hard time covering the spread.


The 21st-ranked Jets defense was more competitive. Anchored by Quinnen Williams, the interior defensive line routinely disrupted the middle of opposing teams’ offensive lines. As a result, teams struggled to run up the middle against the Jets and quarterbacks that held the ball too long without escaping the pocket eventually ran out of time. But unfortunately for the Jets, this didn’t happen all that often. They were not able to get pressure or contain from the edge rushers and the outside cornerbacks simply couldn’t cover wide receivers.

As a result, opposing quarterbacks abused the Jets through the air, primarily relying on the two outside receivers because the Jets’ best corner (Brian Poole) played in the slot. And the Jets coaches did not help. They appeared to make no effort to take away opposing teams’ best offensive weapons. The Jets’ defensive performance improved steadily against teams that lacked one or two go-to guys on the outside because those teams were not as good at exposing the Jets’ biggest vulnerabilities.

This chart shows the Jets’ defensive Adjusted Rating against each opponent ranked by how much each team concentrated its passing game in its two best receivers over the course of the season. On the right, teams whose passing games were anchored through one or two top targets like SEA (Metcalf and Lockett), BUF (Diggs), and ARI (Hopkins) forced the Jets into very poor games defensively (-0.89, -0.77, -0.95, and -0.71). By contrast, the Jets had their best defensive games against teams that lacked strong outside receivers, such as MIA (+0.69), SF (+0.39), and LV (+0.43). In light of this breakdown, it shouldn’t be surprising that the Jets defense matched up extremely well against a Browns team that had to play without any of its top receivers due to Covid protocols and scored a (+1.36) Adjusted Rating.

The Jets were much better against the run. Only one player – Melvin Gordon – ran for over 100 yards against them, which is particularly impressive considering the typical game script of a 2020 Jets game. They were particularly good against traditional up-the-gut runners, but did get burned by some outside zone runs when backs were able to get the edge. Here is a complete list of every player who averaged 4.8 or more yards per carry on at least 4 carries against the Jets in 2020.

Successful Runners v. NYJ

R. Mostert89211.5
M. Gaskin18915.06
C. Newton11797.18
C. Carson12766.33
J. Allen11615.55
J. Allen12594.92
Z. Moss7476.71

Three of the seven players were quarterbacks. One method to combat a strong interior defensive line is to fabricate an additional blocker by using the quarterback as a running back on a designed run. Both Newton and Allen did this well and succeeded against the Jets. They also beat the edge rushers on scrambles. Similarly, several of the successful running back performances involved getting the edge. Mostert, as well as two players who just missed the cut – Chase Edmonds (3/36) and Jerrick McKinnon (3/77) – beat them with speed on outside runs. On the inside, the Jets’ rushing defense remained solid.

Overall, it was not difficult to beat the Jets defense in 2020. Teams were particularly successful when they used some combination of (1) funneling passes to outside WRs and (2) designing run schemes such as quarterback runs and outside zone runs to neutralize the interior. If teams did not (or could not) do either of these, the Jets posed a stiffer challenge.

Putting it All Together

Betting Takeaways

  • Overall, the Jets are fairly rated going into the offseason. They really were terrible in 2020. But they have replaced the coaching staff and have lots of draft picks and cap room to improve over the offseason. They may become underrated if these improvements are not factored in.
  • If the Jets improve their skill players and implement a more creative scheme offensively, they could outperform on offense with healthy wideouts.
  • Unless they significantly improve their edge rushers and cornerbacks, bet against the Jets when facing teams that feature one or two high-end wideouts.
  • Favor the Jets when facing a team that relies on running up the middle and lacks a go-to outside receiver.
  • Given how much may change in the offseason, be cautious about having strong opinions on the Jets early on.

Fantasy and Player Prop Takeaways

  • Jets offensive players may be popular in fantasy under the narrative that players tend to improve after they move on from Adam Gase. But I rely on observation; not narrative. Without some major changes it is unlikely that this offense will be worth investing in for fantasy purposes.
  • Even so, Chris Herndon makes an intriguing dart throw at tight end. He has the talent to be a productive player and could benefit from a change in coaching staff, particularly a change to the staff that coached George Kittle in San Francisco.
  • Given the Jets’ defensive makeup, target player props on receptions and receiving yards for stud receivers against the Jets and fade rushing yards props on running backs who typically run up the gut.
  • Given the Jets’ vulnerabilities to the pass and to quarterback runs, true dual-threat quarterbacks make good DFS plays against the Jets.

Application: SharpClarke Bet of the Year

Looking back on my bets this year I never once put more than 1 Unit on a Jets game – for or against. Instead of touting a big play I made, I’m forced to recall a big missed opportunity instead. When the Browns played the Jets in Week 16, Cleveland began as a 10-point favorite. Then a positive Covid test took all of the Browns’ receivers out of the game. On that news, the spread only dropped to 7 points. I avoided the game entirely. But I should have predicted that a power running team with no starting wide receivers would be completely unable to take advantage of the Jets’ defensive weaknesses. And on top of that, all three Jets wide receivers were healthy. This was the best spot all season for the Jets and I avoided betting them because I assumed they were trying to lose to lock up the #1 draft pick. This is the type of psychological angle I typically don’t put too much stock in. It turns out NFL players don’t care about tanking because the Jets won outright, 23-16.

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Miami Dolphins 2020 Team Study


You can’t talk about the Dolphins’ 23rd-ranked offense without having an opinion on the quarterback situation. So I’ll start with mine: the Dolphins were a better offense with Ryan Fitzpatrick than with Tua Tagovailoa. This does not mean that Fitzpatrick is necessarily a better player than Tua. But the offensive scheme was entirely different and more productive with Fitzpatrick. He spent more time in the pocket throwing downfield into coverage and letting his receivers win. The plays drawn up for Tua were far more conservative, involving a lot of roll-outs or quick reads with only one or two options. The Dolphins made fewer costly mistakes with Tua, but they were less dangerous on a play-by-play basis. Ultimately, the Dolphins’ offense was simply more successful with Fitzpatrick opening up the field.

This chart shows Miami’s game-by-game offensive Adjusted Rating with Fitzpatrick (teal) versus Tua (orange), from worst to best. The difference between the two was not dramatic. On one hand, 4 of the Dolphins’ 6 best offensive performances were Tua games (+0.56, +0.31, +0.30, and +0.05). But 5 of the Dolphins’ 6 worst offensive performances were also Tua games (-1.32, -1.24, -1.14, -1.07, and -0.75). Fitzpatrick provided more consistency overall and orchestrated their 2 best offensive performances (+1.17, +0.80).

The advanced passing metrics support my claim. Fitzpatrick threw the ball deeper, with more accuracy, and led his receivers to more yards after the catch. And while these statistics only account for passing numbers, Tua’s rushing did not make a meaningful difference. He only rushed for 109 yards in 9 games on a measly 3.0 yards per carry.

Tua v. Fitz Advanced Passing

Avg. Depth of Target7.57.8
Air Yards per Comp.5.66.8
Yards After Catch per Comp.4.14.7
On-Target %74.1%79.9%
Comp. %64.1%68.5%
Bad Throw %18.8%14.0%

Tua’s offense reduced the size of the field. He did not often threaten deep. It really seemed like he couldn’t see the field well from inside the pocket. Many of his plays involved an immediate roll-out left or a pre-set quick pass that did not require him to read the defense on the fly. He frequently utilized his first or second read, often on the same side of the field. Defenses love when they have a smaller area to cover and Tua gave that to them.

He did have some sharp throws. At times he fit the ball into a tiny window where only his receiver could get to it, sometimes throwing while on the run. But even on those impressive plays it seemed a defender was already tackling the receiver as he caught the ball because a smaller field makes it harder for receivers to get separation. And as teams compiled film on Tua’s limited offense, it became easier to game plan against him.

As a rookie quarterback, Dolphins fans would love to have seen Tua improve over the course of the season. But after opening with three straight wins, he ended with what would have been four straight losses if Fitzpatrick had not come in and rescued a miracle win against the Raiders. The team’s offensive performance was on a downward trend that ended with a season-low (-1.32) performance against the Bills in a must-win game. With more and more evidence that Tua was either unwilling or unable to truly threaten deep, defenses played tighter and tighter. This was a problem.

One play really stuck out to me as alarming. In a must-win game, down 28-6 on the Bills’ 9 yards line, Tua scrambled up the middle and slid on the 4 yard line when it looked to me like he had a chance to punch it into the endzone. It felt like he never won his teammates over as a rookie in the way that Fitzpatrick did. I can’t help but think this type of play had a huge impact on how his teammates perceived him. Maybe he would not have scored a touchdown, but shying away from contact in such a critical situation showed a lack of leadership. They ended up getting bailed out by a defensive penalty on 4th down, but it left me feeling that he had a long way to go to earn the respect of his teammates.

The Dolphins were fairly effective on the ground, regardless of who was running. And Tua did show flashes of accuracy on several throws, particularly once coverage softened up in games they were losing. When they needed to just hold the ball and let their defense win, they were successful. But Tua did not often lead his team to victory when the defense did not step up.

Young quarterbacks can make huge strides from year to year. Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, and Kyler Murray all took a huge step forward in their second or third year. For Tua to progress, the Dolphins will need to implement a more challenging scheme that opens up the field and pushes the defense back on its heels. If they attempt to roll out the same vanilla offense in 2021, it will likely not go well.


The Dolphins’ 16th-ranked defense featured a stud cornerback (Xavien Howard) and a diverse blitz-heavy pass rush that involved players all over the field. Flores implemented disguised blitzes with the goal of confusing and disrupting the other team’s quarterback and forcing mistakes. But with inconsistent cornerback play outside of Howard, they were particularly vulnerable to big plays when their pass rush did not immediately fluster the quarterback.

Instead of featuring a stud edge rusher, the Dolphins got to the quarterback with everyone in their front seven (and sometimes defensive backs). This exposed their weaknesses in the secondary, as the Dolphins tied for the highest number of 40+ yard passing plays allowed in the NFL. Howard typically matched up against the opposing team’s number one receiver, so these big plays were often made by the team’s second or third option in the passing game.

Big Receptions Allowed by MIA

PlayerLong CatchRec. Yards Rank on Team
N. Agholor852nd
T. Boyd722nd
T. Patrick612nd
D. Moore (SEA)573rd
G. Davis563rd
C. Kirk562nd
S. Diggs471st
J. Brown464th
I. McKenzie466th
T. Hill442nd

Mobile quarterbacks excelled against the Dolphins. Without an elite player on the defensive line, they relied on complex blitz packages to confuse pocket passers, but this did not work against quarterbacks who could escape the pocket and break the play down. These quarterbacks extended the play past the initial blitz and into the next phase, where they could get creative with both running and backyard-style passing.

This chart shows the Dolphins’ defensive Adjusted Rating against opponents ranked by each quarterback’s average rushing yards per game. Miami outperformed against the least mobile quarterbacks they faced in Jimmy Garoppolo (+0.59), Joe Flacco (+1.06), Brandon Allen (+0.99), and Jared Goff (+0.92). But the Dolphins really struggled against the league’s best rushing quarterbacks, Kyler Murray (-1.16), Cam Newton (-1.41 and -0.07), Russell Wilson (-1.73), and Josh Allen (-0.27 and -0.17). In fact, the Dolphins had a negative Adjusted Rating against every quarterback who averaged more than 21 yards rushing per game and a positive Adjusted Rating against every quarterback who averaged fewer than 21 yards rushing per game, except Drew Lock.

By escaping the initial pass rush, quarterbacks negated Miami’s defensive strength and put the pressure on the secondary. They did not always beat the Dolphins on the ground. For example, Miami’s worst defensive performance of the season came against Russell Wilson, who only had 1 carry for 8 yards outside of kneel downs at the end of the game. Instead, Wilson used his mobility to give his receivers time and completed 6 different 20+ yard passes to wide receivers in the game.

Overall, the Dolphins took a massive step forward defensively from their poor 2019 season and implemented exotic blitz packages that made them less reliant on a single pass-rusher. This bodes well for continued success as the Dolphins bolster the talent on their defensive front to complement their scheme. But they will need to improve at cornerback to prevent big plays if they want to become a top NFL defense.

Putting it All Together

Betting Takeaways

  • Overall, Miami is overrated going into the offseason. They were fortunate to be in playoff contention and have moved on from their better quarterback.
  • Expect Miami to underperform offensively in close games where the defense plays tight coverage, as opposed to games where they are trailing and the defense plays soft. Tua’s accuracy against soft coverage increases the likelihood of a backdoor cover as a big underdog.
  • Watch to see if the Dolphins have opened up their offense in year two with Tua before having any confidence that he can be consistently successful in the NFL.
  • Expect Miami to underperform defensively against mobile quarterbacks, particularly true dual-threat quarterbacks like Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray.
  • Be confident in Miami’s defense against immobile quarterbacks, particularly if they are not proficient at reading complex defenses. For example, rookie quarterbacks likely will struggle with the Dolphins’ scheme (as Justin Herbert did in 2020).

Fantasy and Player Prop Takeaways

  • Many analysts will tout Tua Tagovailoa as the next emergent fantasy quarterback. While players can improve over an offseason, I wouldn’t count on it. Spend your late round capital on higher upside players and target safer late-round quarterbacks.
  • Unless you believe the coaches will revamp the offense, this is a low-upside offense to invest in. Do not overpay for Miami skill players. However, Mike Gesicki is an extremely talented tight end who should be a staple of this offense and has elite tight end potential.
  • Consider prop bets on big plays against Miami if they do not improve their defense against 2nd- and 3rd-option wide receivers. Overs on receiving yards for these secondary players make good bets.

Application: SharpClarke Bet of the Year

I actually performed poorly betting on Miami in 2020. One bet in particular has stuck with me. I read the game correctly for the most part and believe I had the right side. But I missed a key element and ended up losing the bet. In Week 14 against Kansas City, I saw a mismatch. Mahomes is one of the smartest quarterbacks in the league and consistently beats blitzing teams. He’s also fairly mobile. On the other side, I did not think Tua had a chance to keep up offensively. I took KC -7 for 4 Units. I was correct on the matchups. The Chiefs moved the ball at will on the Dolphins but had several uncharacteristic turnovers on drives that looked like sure touchdowns. Despite four turnovers, the Chiefs had a 30-10 lead in the 4th quarter. But with no real pressure the Chiefs’ defense softened and Tua took advantage by driving slowly but steadily up the field for two easy touchdowns. When the game got back within 7 at 30-24, the Chiefs easily marched down the field for the game-sealing field goal at 33-24 with one minute left. Of course, the Dolphins used this minute to drive up the field for a meaningless field goal with 16 seconds left to make the final score 33-27. I lost the bet because I failed to account for Tua’s backdoor ability. Lesson learned.

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Atlanta Falcons 2020 Team Study


The Falcons’ 16th-ranked offense looks perfectly average on the surface but the splits tell a different story. In 2020, they were a completely different offense with Julio Jones healthy. The Falcons struggled to run the ball and keep the pressure off Matt Ryan, who is not a particularly mobile quarterback. As a result, the Falcons’ offense relied too heavily on Ryan making good throws under pressure. With Julio, he was successful enough to move the ball consistently. Without Julio, too many drives stalled.

*For this chart, “Injured Julio” includes two games where he started with an injury tag and was ruled out after playing fewer than 23 snaps.

This chart shows the Falcons’ offensive Adjusted SharpClarke Rating in the 7 games with Julio healthy (the red line) against the 9 games without Julio (the black line). He provided a big, reliable target who could create space and run after the catch, which is an indispensable asset for an under-siege quarterback who cannot rely on the run game. Regardless of individual performance, his mere presence had a substantial impact on the offense. Calvin Ridley did not step up his production noticeably in the games that Julio missed. He made some nice plays but does not profile to replace Julio’s role in the offense. The Falcons’ offense was top-10 with Julio and bottom-10 without Julio.

Julio Transforms the Atlanta Offense

ATL Adjusted Offensive RatingNFL Rank
With Julio+0.318th
Without Julio-0.2723rd

The Falcons’ inability to run meant that everything was on Matt Ryan’s shoulders. Atlanta ranked 2nd in the NFL in passing first downs but 28th in rushing first downs. They were 31st in yards per carry. Ryan actually performed quite well given the lack of support and has long established himself as one of the NFL’s better starting quarterbacks, particularly when Julio is available. He can make all the throws and sees the field well even when under pressure.

But the Falcons only won 4 games in 2020. They continued a longstanding trend of losing games they were in a strong position to win. Falcons fans will never forget the Patriots storming back from a 28-3 deficit in the Super Bowl as Ryan was unable to close out the game. And in 2016, Ryan lost a game by throwing a rare “pick-2” on a 2-point conversion while up by 1 point against the Chiefs. This season they suffered at least four gut-wrenching losses by my count: (1) A Week 2 loss to Dallas on a botched onside kick recovery, (2) a Week 3 loss to the Bears on a 16-point comeback led by Nick Foles, (3) a Week 7 loss to the Lions on a game-winning drive by Stafford after an “accidental” touchdown by Todd Gurley when they could have run out the clock, and (4) a Week 15 loss to Tampa Bay where they blew a 24-7 second-half lead. Ryan obviously does not deserve all the blame, but is at least partially responsible for these losses.

However, Ryan also has the ability and experience to come through in the clutch. These high-profile losses should not offset what he has accomplished in his career. Ryan is tied for 8th all-time in game winning drives by a quarterback. And nobody above him on the list has notched a higher percentage of their total wins in crunch time.

All-Time Leaders in Game-Winning Drives

Game-Winning Drives% of Total Wins

Ultimately the Falcons need to improve their offensive line. If they can upgrade the running game from terrible to average and give Matt Ryan slightly more time in the pocket, they can easily be a top-10 offense, particularly with Julio healthy. They have the talent at quarterback and receiver to beat good defenses, and should be able to maintain leads more confidently with a little improvement in the run game.


The Falcons’ much maligned 19th-ranked defense faced an absurdly tough schedule in terms of opposing quarterbacks. They faced Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, Tom Brady (twice), Justin Herbert, Derek Carr, Matthew Stafford, Dak Prescott, and Kirk Cousins. That’s 10 matchups In 16 games against top-14 PFF rated quarterbacks. They faced a particularly tough schedule in terms of passing quarterbacks, including 10 matchups against quarterbacks in the top 13 in yards per attempt. They also held a lead at some point in 13 out of 16 games, despite winning only 4. This led to a popular surface-level narrative that the Falcons could not defend the pass.

As it turns out, not all surface-level narratives are wrong. Even factoring in the relative strength of each opponent, the Falcons did perform worse against teams that prefer to pass:

*Omitted Week 4 v. GB, who had an artificially high run rate due to leading so many games but obviously ran their offense through MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who predictably tore up the Falcons (-1.22 Adj. Rating)

This chart shows Atlanta’s Defensive Adjusted Rating ranked by each team’s tendency to run, with run-heavy teams on the left side of the chart and pass-heavy teams on the right. With the exception of a solid game against Kansas City, the Falcons struggled against pass-heavy teams TB (-1.67 and -0.16), DET (-0.15), CHI (-0.31), DAL (-0.93), and SEA (-0.91). Meanwhile, they had some of their better games against run-heavy teams NO (+0.68), MIN (+1.33), LV (+1.78), DEN (+0.11), and LAC (+0.50).

Given that the Falcons were notably more vulnerable to the pass, their schedule against the league’s best passing quarterbacks presented a significant matchup problem. This vulnerability led to a dramatic difference between first half and second half performance. The blown leads listed above were primarily a defensive problem as they fell apart too often in the second half.

Atlanta’s First and Second Half Scoring Splits

1st Half PointsNFL Rank2nd Half PointsNFL Rank

No Falcons lead was safe. Even Nick Foles led 3 4th-quarter touchdown drives for the Bears in a shocking comeback. It wasn’t just great quarterbacks taking advantage. They had a true weakness and could not be trusted to hold the lead defensively against any half-competent quarterback.

But the Falcons’ defense did improve steadily over the season. After an 0-5 start they fired Head Coach Dan Quinn and replaced him with interim coach Raheem Morris. Although they finished the season ranked 19th in average Adjusted Rating at -0.10, they put up a very respectable +0.28 average in the 11 games under Morris to end the season. That number would put them at 7th in the NFL defensively. Time will tell whether the new permanent coaching staff will continue this positive trend, but there is certainly reason for optimism.

*Omitted a meaningless Week 17 game v. TB

Atlanta’s defense includes some promising young players and they have proven that they can get to the quarterback at a reasonable (but not exceptional) rate. They were solid against the run (6th in yards per game and 15th in yards per carry). But the great quarterbacks they faced in 2020 could handle Atlanta’s pressure and that’s why the Falcons got burned. They should improve as a defense if they continue their 2020 trajectory and face even a slightly easier slate of opposing quarterbacks.

Putting it All Together

Betting Takeaways

  • Overall, Atlanta is underrated going into the offseason. They proved they can play with any team but their record (4-12) made them look like a bottom-tier team.
  • Expect Atlanta to outperform when Julio Jones is healthy. There is some concern that he could start to lose his edge in his age-32 season, but while on the field in 2020 he showed no sign of decline.
  • The Falcons perform well as an underdog because they have a good quarterback and a defense that performs better against the run than the pass. They are typically a good bet to cover as a medium to large underdog because they keep games close.
  • Unless the Falcons show improvement defensively, be cautious betting them against good passing quarterbacks, especially if the spread is small or Atlanta is favored.
  • If Arthur Smith and the new coaching staff are able to reset Atlanta’s losing culture and the team responds well early on, the Falcons could be an under-the-radar team worth betting on until the betting markets show them respect.
  • I have not yet studied whether a team’s first half v. second half scoring splits are predictive from one season to the next, but I will perform statistical modeling this offseason to determine whether it is a playable angle. If it is, the massive disparity between Atlanta’s first half and second half performance could provide value on Atlanta in first-half bets and going against Atlanta in second-half bets.

Fantasy and Player Prop Takeaways

  • Matt Ryan is significantly more productive when he can throw to a healthy Julio Jones. This makes Ryan a valuable low-cost quarterback option in fantasy football if Jones is healthy. But if you draft him, be prepared with a solid backup in case something happens to Julio.
  • Atlanta’s running backs were all mediocre (at best) last season. They operate a low-volume rushing attack with not much promise for success. It doesn’t help that two of the best run defenses in the league (NO and TB) play in Atlanta’s division. Unless they dramatically overhaul the run game, avoid all running backs in this offense.

Application: SharpClarke Bet of the Year

In Week 2 against Dallas, the Falcons were 4.5-point road underdogs. This is the sweet spot for Atlanta, who thrive as healthy underdogs (over 3 points) against teams with a weak passing defense. Julio Jones was healthy, so I projected Matt Ryan as the better quarterback in the matchup. Getting 4.5 was a no brainer. I put 4 Units on ATL +4.5 and included ATL +10.5 in a 6-point teaser, predicting it would be extremely unlikely for the Falcons to get blown out. They started the game up 20-0 and held a 15-point 4th quarter lead, but famously lost when they watched the Cowboys’ onside kick spin slowly for 10 yards without jumping on it. Still, we got the wins on both bets despite the team’s choke job.

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Tennessee Titans 2020 Team Study


It was no secret that the 9th-ranked Titans’ offense ran through Derrick Henry. Every defense that lined up against Tennessee had to focus on keeping Henry from getting in space and picking up momentum because his long strides and strength make him incredibly difficult to take down. This defensive focus led to successful play action for Tannehill, who took advantage of the single coverage his talented receivers faced as a result.

But Henry is not a particularly versatile player. He wasn’t often used as a pass catcher or set in motion. Game to game, his success heavily depended on whether the Titans’ offensive line could create holes or push the defensive line back to give him space to gain momentum. And if Henry was not successful, the entire offense struggled.

*Omitted the twice-postponed Tuesday game v. BUF. In a weird game, the Titans had 4 TD drives of 12, 16, 18, and 30 yards. Henry averaged 3.0 YPC but scored 2 TDs and they won 42-16.

This chart shows the strong correlation between Henry’s ability to gain yards and the Titans’ overall offensive success. In every game that Henry averaged over 4.7 yards per carry, the Titans had an Adjusted Rating above +0.31. And in every game where Henry averaged fewer than 4.7 yards per carry (other than their weird Tuesday game against Buffalo), the Titans had an Adjusted Rating below +0.17. On average, they were the 4th best offense in the league when Henry got going and the 23rd best offense when he didn’t.

The Titans impressively posted the second-highest red zone efficiency in the NFL at 74.2%. But this statistic can be misleading. When the Titans struggled offensively they had fewer red zone trips. When they moved the ball well, they had more red zone trips. So their numbers were heavily weighted towards favorable matchups because more frequent red zone trips created more data points.

TEN Red Zone Efficiency

GamesRZ Trips Per GameRZ TD %Season RZ TD Pace
+ Adj. Rating114.777%58.3
- Adj. Rating62.364%24.0

As this table shows, the Titans reached the red zone over twice as many times per game when they played above average offensively. The final column shows how many red zone touchdowns the Titans would have scored on the season based on their pace in those games. For context, only 2 teams (the Giants and the Jets) had fewer than 24 red zone touchdowns on the season.

The Titans’ passing offense was heavily concentrated towards A.J. Brown and Corey Davis, who accounted for over half the team’s receiving yards despite playing only 14 games each. With such a concentrated passing attack, the Titans were vulnerable if either of these players – particularly Brown – was taken out of the game. The Titans struggled early in the season when Brown was injured against DEN (-0.27 Adjusted Rating), JAC (+0.02), and MIN (-0.36), and in a crucial Week 16 matchup against Green Bay (-0.38). In that game, Brown faced off against Jaire Alexander, who had arguably the best season of any shutdown corner in the NFL. With Alexander able to handle Brown one-on-one, the rest of the defense focused on stopping Henry.

The Titans’ offensive strengths create a positive feedback loop against bad defenses: If they run well, they get in the red zone. If they get in the red zone, they score. If they score, they keep running. If they keep running, the play action works. All is good.

This was on full display in 2020 because the Titans faced a really easy schedule of defenses. Not only did they play 5 games against the worst 3 defenses in the NFL (DET, JAC, and HOU), but they caught some good defenses at the right time. In Week 11, Baltimore played without Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams, two of their best run-stopping defensive linemen. And in Week 12, Indianapolis played without stud defensive linemen DeForest Buckner and Denico Autry or linebacker Bobby Okereke. The Titans won both of these games despite getting crushed by both Baltimore and Indianapolis at full strength in other weeks.


The Titans’ 27th-ranked defense was a huge liability in 2020. They routinely played below average but were often bailed out by forcing turnovers. Fortunately for the Titans, turnovers have an outsized impact on individual game results so this helped them win the AFC South in 2020.

But turnovers alone are not a sticky stat. Turnovers correlate with getting consistent pressure on the other team’s quarterback. This makes intuitive sense, because a pressured quarterback is more likely to force a bad throw (interception) or get sacked (higher likelihood of a fumble). The Titans did not pressure the quarterback in 2020. In fact, their turnover count was an anomaly given their pitiful pressure rate:

This chart plots each NFL team’s season-long pressure rate and subsequent turnovers forced for each of the last three seasons (creating 96 data points). The big blue dot represents the Titans in 2020, who managed to force 23 turnovers despite pressuring the quarterback at a lower rate (17.6%) than all but two teams in the last three seasons. For comparison, those two teams forced 12 and 16 turnovers. This production helped Tennessee attain the NFL’s best turnover margin in 2020 at +11. I’m skeptical they can maintain that production without significantly improving their pass rush next season.

As a result of their poor pass rush, the Titans were especially susceptible to fast wide receivers. The Titans’ cornerbacks were not especially quick and the low pressure rate allowed fast receivers the time to create space. Seven different pass catchers had their highest yardage total of the season against Tennessee, including some of the fastest receivers in the NFL:

Huge Receiving Games v. TEN

J. Jefferson (MIN)1754.43
B. Cooks (HOU)1664.33
W. Fuller (HOU)1234.32
M. Brown (BAL)1094.33
M. Pittman (IND)1014.52
D. Peoples-Jones (CLE)924.48
N. Fant (DEN)814.50

Although they performed poorly overall, the Titans’ defense generally exceeded expectations against mobile quarterbacks. Building on their playoff success against Lamar Jackson last year, the Titans turned in good performances against Josh Allen (+0.83 Adjusted Rating) and Lamar Jackson (+0.31 and -0.09). Each of these performances was comfortably ahead of the Titans’ average Adjusted Rating of -0.40.

The only truly mobile quarterback who capitalized against the Titans was Deshaun Watson, who exposed them through the air using the speed of his wide receivers. As shown above, Will Fuller and Brandin Cooks each had their best performance of the season against Tennessee. Watson outperformed in the passing game but underperformed in terms of rushing:

D. Watson v. TEN

Pass Yds Per GameRush Yds Per Game
v. TEN350.018.5
Season Avg.301.427.8

Overall, the Titans will need to perform better on defense by implementing a true pass rush if they plan to return to the playoffs in 2021. At first glance, their schedule looks much more difficult, including matchups against the NFC West and non-divisional AFC matchups against KC, PIT, and BUF.

Putting it All Together

Betting Takeaways

  • Overall, Tennessee is overrated going into the offseason. They took advantage of favorable matchups, key injuries against good teams, and an unsustainable turnover margin.
  • Unless the new Offensive Coordinator injects some creativity into the offense, expect the Titans to outperform offensively when they can establish Henry but to struggle when they fail to get the run game going.
  • Bet against the Titans when A.J. Brown is injured or when they face an elite shutdown corner who can match Brown 1-on-1, as their concentrated pass game struggles without him and the defense can focus on stopping Henry.
  • Unless they establish a pass rush, do not rely on Tennessee against strong passing teams, particularly with speedy receivers.
  • Consider betting on Tennessee in games where they are projected to win both sides, even as big favorites. This plays into their positive feedback loop and can lead to convincing wins.
  • Increase confidence slightly in the Titans’ defense against mobile quarterbacks who do not typically throw downfield to fast receivers.

Fantasy and Player Prop Takeaways

  • A.J. Brown is an absolute beast with all the tools to be an elite #1 wide receiver. He has a rare combination of speed, size, and strength. With a new Offensive Coordinator and a bad defense, Tennessee could open up the passing game. If they do, he has true overall WR #1 upside. But he does seem to get banged up easily, so you must factor in the injury risk.
  • Derrick Henry is due for some regression next year. Running backs typically do not get 370+ carries in back-to-back years because of the toll that takes on the body. He also accounted for 100 yards and 2 touchdowns in overtime and played a very soft schedule. I think Henry is a great football player, but if game scripts are not as favorable and the offensive line struggles against tougher defenses, there is nothing he can do to overcome that.
  • Given the positive feedback loop created by the Titans’ offense, they can be expected to outperform across the board in easy matchups and underperform in tough matchups. Consider player props in good spots as a way to avoid relying on their defense, and fade player props when they are projected to lose the offensive line battle.
  • Unless Tennessee improves its pass rush and/or adds speed at defensive back, look to play fast receivers against them in DFS. Avoid mobile quarterbacks who rely on rushing production against Tennessee.

Application: SharpClarke Bet of the Year

In a Week 16 Sunday Night Football matchup against Green Bay, the Titans began the week as 3.5-point underdogs. But other so-called “sharps” were betting on the Titans, forcing the sportsbooks to move the line down to -3. The SharpClarke Rating projected a huge advantage for Green Bay against the overrated Titans, particularly at home. And on top of that, the Packers’ corners had been playing lights out football. I expected the Packers to sell out to stop Henry and let their corners play one-on-one, shutting down Brown with Jaire Alexander. On defense, the Titans had no chance at stopping Rodgers without a pass rush. Playing from behind, I predicted they would have to abandon the run. It was my final week of the season-long DraftKings ATS contest and the line was locked at -3.5. I needed a strong week to have a chance to come 1st and I picked GB -3.5 as my final pick even though I was not getting great line value. The game was a total mismatch and the Packers won 40-14, locking in my 70% record ATS and 1st place in the contest.

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