The Weekly: Reading the Odds

It’s tough to cover a league with 32 teams spread across such a large country and to speak with intimate knowledge of each off the cuff.  So, like any other pursuit where humans have trouble keeping specific facts straight, pundits paid to offer opinions about NFL teams they have little knowledge of resort to stereotypes and second-hand reports.

As a Jaguars fan, I can tell you, for example, that our quarterback, Blaine Gabbert, is not scared when standing in the pocket in the face of a rushing defense.  Yet anyone outside Jacksonville is led to believe he’s a coward.  This narrative traces back to a single instant replay analysis during a single primetime game last year by Jon Gruden, in which Gruden chastised Gabbert for shrinking against an oncoming blitz, offering an analysis based on a substandard camera angle.  One pass attempt; one slow-motion replay; one poorly considered remark.

Even if one is successful in beating back such unfounded criticism, pundits will simply point to the stats sheet and say that the numbers are on their side: indeed, Blaine Gabbert had the lowest passer rating of any quarterback in the league in 2011.  That’s a tough rap to beat. Still, it lacks context.  Gabbert was the youngest quarterback in NFL history to start as many games as he did, in a season where he was not meant to play a single snap.  Gabbert was to be given time to develop, something that proved impossible when starter David Garrard failed to keep his job and backup Luke McCown threw four interceptions in a game against the New York Jets.  Gabbert was thrust into the job well before his time, coached by a wonderful man with no experience coaching quarterbacks, in a system led by an offensive coordinator and head coach that knew their time was up, throwing to receivers coached by a former high school defensive backs coach, most of whom were picked up off the street mid-season due to injuries.

So, to summarize: a vacant, ill-suited coaching staff, no quality receiving options, youngest quarterback in NFL history and we are to believe Gabbert a coward and a bust.  What’s remarkable is that the same talking heads showered Gabbert with plaudits mere months prior during the NFL Draft, with many believing prior he’d be the first overall pick instead of Cam Newton.

As I said, it can be difficult to keep track of 32 teams and always offer an informed opinion.  But it seems like, so often, the pundits are most inaccurate when it comes to teams like Jacksonville.  The opinions of pundits don’t interest me that much, though, because nothing bad happens to them when they’re wrong; the schadenfreude fans dream of enjoying when pundits are proven wrong never comes to fruition, because the pundits are first in line to laud the new champs, having totally forgotten about their previous opinion. Predictably, that’s exactly what’s already underway following Blaine Gabbert’s strong performance early in the 2012 NFL preseason.

Pundits can get away scott free when proven wrong, simply hopping to a new opinion.  The same can’t be said for sports books.  Every odd offered by a sports book must surely be considered with the deepest level of care.  A carelessly offered wager can result in financial disaster for the house.

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