Most Overrated NFL Teams Heading into the 2018 Season
Relative to their Super Bowl odds, five teams stand above the rest as being overvalued going into next season.
These teams either punched above their weight last year or did not make significant moves this offseason to change the path they were on in 2017.
Despite that, people still trust the brand of football these teams play entering 2018. We'll take a look at these squads closely and pick apart why their perception doesn't match the on-field reality.
Pittsburgh Steelers (+1100)
Winning close regular-season games can punch your card to the playoffs, but it does not translate year to year. Great teams aren't overwhelmingly better at winning games decided by one score; they're overwhelmingly better at winning games decided by multiple scores.
This is an issue for the Pittsburgh Steelers, whose 8-2 record in games decided by seven points or fewer last season should serve as a red flag for a regression candidate.
Since 2006, 16 of 19 teams (84 percent) with five or more wins than losses in games decided by seven points or fewer had a worse record the next season. On the flip side, all 20 teams with five or more losses than wins over that same period improved their record the next season.
The regression candidates tend to lose 4.2 more games the season after they got "lucky" in close games. The progression candidates tend to win 4.5 more games the season after getting "unlucky" in close games. Both close wins and close losses should be treated much closer to ties, at least when trying to project forward.
The Steelers (8-2) and Carolina Panthers (7-1) will likely disappoint in 2018 if you're expecting their records to repeat. Pittsburgh, which has only made one of the last seven AFC Championship Games, is expected to improve based on the team's second-highest Super Bowl odds in the AFC.
That does not make sense.
Houston Texans (+1600)
Jacksonville was one play from the Super Bowl, while the Houston Texans finished the 2017 season 4-12. Why would Houston have significantly better odds of winning the Super Bowl in 2018?
Sure, quarterback Deshaun Watson should play more games this season, but the Jaguars beat Houston twice by a combined score of 74-14. Is Watson worth more than 30 points per game? Expect some sophomore regression, if nothing else.
Watson posted a 9.3 percent touchdown rate over 204 passes last year. Since 1977, only one passer (2004 Peyton Manning) had a higher touchdown percentage over more passes than Watson's half-season. It would be a major upset if the sophomore repeated his rookie efficiency numbers, and that's without factoring in that he's coming off a season-ending knee injury.
The difference between Watson and backup Tom Savage wasn't the Texans' only flaw last year, either. Their pass-rushing unit has been injured off and on for the better part of the last two seasons, their offensive line struggled to play to NFL standards, and their secondary was one of the worst in the league.
The addition of guard Zach Fulton should help the offensive line, but they still have the worst tackle situation in the league. Taking a flier on safety Tyrann Mathieu and signing Jacksonville slotback Aaron Colvin to play full-time cornerback could pan out, but they aren't the safest bets.
Rarely do we see a team go from 4-12 to a top-three finish in the AFC, like these odds imply, much less after not making a pick in the first two rounds of the draft.
San Francisco 49ers (+2000)
According to oddsmakers, the San Francisco 49ers are more likely to make the Super Bowl than the Jacksonville Jaguars, who lost by four points in the AFC Championship Game last season. Mind you, this 49ers team started off 0-9 last season before the midseason trade of Jimmy Garoppolo pushed San Francisco to a 6-1 finish.
A quality quarterback should give a team optimism, but would you take Garoppolo over Matt Ryan, whose Atlanta Falcons have worse odds to win the Super Bowl? If not, it makes little sense why the 49ers would be thought of as an elite team.
San Francisco can push into the playoffs with the help of a fourth-placed NFC schedule that also includes playing the Arizona Cardinals twice in 2018, but they aren't Super Bowl contenders until we see proof defensively. Last year, the 49ers were 26th in points allowed.
Those pounding the drum for a Super Bowl run are a year or two early.
Oakland Raiders (+4000)
In free agency, the Oakland Raiders' biggest moves were signing linebacker Tahir Whitehead to the 42nd-largest contract in the offseason and replacing wide receiver Michael Crabtree with Jordy Nelson.
In the draft, the team added a first-round offensive tackle (Kolton Miller) to what was already one of the league's best offensive lines and spent its other two picks in the top 65 on FCS players (P.J. Hall and Brandon Parker) who got more reps against future NFL players in all-star games than in their college careers.
Does that move the needle?
Currently, the Raiders are seventh in the AFC in Super Bowl odds. After watching what was basically the same roster in 2017 go 6-10, that's puzzling. This same Raiders team finished third in the AFC West alone last season, while Andy Reid's Kansas City Chiefs have gone 16-2 in the division over the last three years.
Oakland did bring back its former head coach Jon Gruden, but assuming it takes a 10-6 record to get into the playoffs, is Gruden worth four extra wins? There's a lot of optimism around the Gruden hiring, which is somewhat rational considering the Raiders have only won the AFC West once since he first left Oakland after the 2001 season.
Still, ranking only a few AFC teams ahead of the Raiders is the hype train gone awry.
Seattle Seahawks (+6000)
The Seattle Seahawks somehow didn't add any offensive linemen this offseason other than D.J. Fluker, who signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract, and Jamarco Jones, a fifth-round rookie.
If you look across the league at what fifth-round rookies and veterans slated to make less than $2 million do in the NFL, you'll have a sobering realization: The 2017 Seahawks offensive line is the same unit that will start in 2018.
While the offense is more of the same, the defense has a completely different look.
Defensive ends Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril are gone, as is cornerback Richard Sherman, and strong safety Kam Chancellor's career is in jeopardy after a neck injury. The difference-makers left over from those Seattle defenses that you remember dominating the league amount to off-ball linebackers and free safety Earl Thomas, who has been the subject of trade rumors this offseason.
Seattle hasn't made it out of the divisional round in three seasons, and it missed the playoffs completely last year. With a regressing defense and a struggling offensive line, quarterback Russell Wilson will have to shoulder the load in hero-ball fashion for the team to even have a chance at the playoffs this year.
Why should the Seahawks be neck and neck with a 2017 playoff team like the Tennessee Titans odds-wise? Unless a defensive unit or an offensive line group collectively picks up the pace unexpectedly, this isn't a contending team.
Odds provided by OddsShark.