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2017 NFL Props: Predicting Starting Quarterbacks in Denver and New York

By Matthew Reese in Sports
| August 7, 2017 12:00 am PDT
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Who says the NFL preseason is meaningless? Certainly no one in Denver or New York, where the Broncos and Jets are still trying to determine who their starting quarterback will be when the regular season kicks off in a month.

Denver is wrestling between going with incumbent Trevor Siemian or promising sophomore Paxton Lynch, believing that pairing competent quarterback play with its all-world defense may just be enough to make another Super Bowl run.

Expectations are much lower in New York, but the Jets still have to choose between trying to win now and building towards tomorrow. Veteran Josh McCown may give the team a better shot at a Week 1 victory, but Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty need to be given a chance at some point to show whether or not they’re a part of the Jets’ future.

According to Bookmaker, which is offering betting props on both quarterback battles, we should expect McCown and Siemian to be under center on September 10 and 11. McCown is a -250 favorite to land the Jets’ starting job, with Hackenberg at +200 and Petty a +4500 longshot. Siemian is listed at -200 odds to be Denver’s opening-day starter for the second straight season, while Lynch is a +155 underdog.

Is there value on these betting lines? Let’s dive into each team’s quarterback situation a little deeper to see what we can find.

Denver Broncos

Time for some bad Broncos puns here. It’s not only a two-horse race for Denver’s starting quarterback position, it’s also neck and neck and will go down to the wire.

At least, that’s the sense you get from reading most media reports. Denver’s front office and coaching staff have also been tight-lipped on the subject, with first-year head coach Vance Joseph telling reporters that both Siemian and Lynch will see equal snaps with the first team offense when Denver holds its first team scrimmage on Saturday.

Siemian may simply be the favorite because he held the role last year. The Broncos were victorious in each of his first 4 starts and Siemian boasted a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 8:3 through his first 6 outings. But he was also sacked 18 times in a 4-game stretch late in the season and threw just 3 touchdown passes in his final 4 games.

Siemian suffered 2 separate injuries last season, opening the door for Lynch to see action in 3 games (including 2 starts). Lynch was solid in relief of Siemian versus Tampa Bay, completing 14 of 24 passes for 170 yards and a touchdown, and then completed 66% of his passes for 223 yards, a touchdown and an interception the following week versus Atlanta. The Broncos kept the kid gloves on him in Lynch’s other start of the season, when he was 12-of-24 for 104 yards, didn’t throw a touchdown or an interception, and was sacked twice in a win at Jacksonville.

If the Broncos were to award the starting quarterback role based on potential and upside, Lynch would be the clear winner. The Broncos took him in the first round of the 2016 draft, lured by his athleticism and his strong arm. Siemian, meanwhile, was a seventh-round pick out of Northwestern in 2015, known more for his smarts and game management.

Ultimately, who begins the season as Denver’s starting quarterback may come down to who’s making the call. If it’s up to Joseph, as Broncos general manager John Elway has said, the former defensive coordinator would probably prefer to take the more conservative player in Siemian. But many believe Elway will push for Lynch to be his starting QB, noting the parallels in their styles and that Elway traded up in the draft to select Lynch.

Seeing both quarterbacks go up against Denver’s vaunted defense in practice may help Joseph and Elway make up their mind, but Joseph has routinely sat out veterans in the first week of practice. All of Denver’s star defensive players are expected to suit up in Saturday’s team scrimmage, however, which may help us get a better sense of which QB has the early edge.

New York Jets

Head coach Todd Bowles has held his cards tight to his vest when it comes to his quarterback competition. But through 4 practices, it was pretty apparent that McCown was the front runner.

The veteran received 89 snaps during team drills, Hackenberg got 79 and Petty got 45. Almost all of McCown’s snaps were with the first-team offense, and Bowles said Hackenberg and Petty will only see more action “when they start to impress me.”

If the Jets go the McCown route, it’s only because they don’t think youngsters Hackenberg or Petty are ready for the bright lights of being an NFL starter. At 38 years old, McCown obviously isn’t the future in New York, and this is his 8th team. He’s 18-42 in his career as a starter, and an abysmal 2-20 over the past 3 seasons.

Bowles has said that he’ll choose the quarterback that gives him the best chance at winning, but that he also values “production, command, intelligence, toughness, being vocal.” That may also favor McCown, who impressed many by playing through a serious injury last year in Cleveland and has also expressed interest in coaching when he retires.

However, McCown’s ceiling is also extremely limited, and the Jets aren’t expected to contend. Those are the arguments for starting Hackenberg, the fourth-highest QB selected in the 2016 draft and the only 1 of 8 pivots from that draft not to start a game last season.

“Any week McCown starts in the regular season is a wasted week,” wrote Gary Myers of the New York Daily News. “If the Jets are going to be all-in with the kids this season, they have to give the ball to Christian Hackenberg.”

The Jets don’t exactly run the most complicated offense in the NFL, featuring plenty of short passes and dump-offs into the flat. Hackenberg got to watch a full season from the sidelines last year and was the only New York QB not to throw an interception in 11-on-11 drills over the first 4 practices.

And if the Jets are as bad this year as expected (their season wins total at Bookmaker is 4.5, with +140 juice on the Over), they’ll have a high draft pick on their hands. As Myers pointed out in his column, they need to see what Hackenberg is capable of before deciding whether or not to draft one of the top quarterbacks available.

Petty looks like an afterthought at this point. Even though he saw some regular-season action last year (completing 60% of his passes but throwing just 3 TD passes and 7 interceptions), he’s a distant third on the depth chart. In New York’s fourth practice of training camp, he saw only 9 reps, compared to 27 for McCown and 18 for Hackenberg.

To have any chance of earning the starting job, Petty will have to light it up in the preseason. “That’s where you get your chance to play and show,” he told reporters. Even so, dominating third-string defenses in exhibition games doesn’t guarantee that he’ll be successful against first-teamers in the regular season.

Betting Predictions

Of these 2 prop bets, I see the most value in the Denver situation. That’s because I think Lynch has at least a 50% chance of winning the job, making him a no-brainer bet at +155 odds.

Elway may say the choice is Joseph’s, but I’m not buying it. Neither are the fans, with 52% of voters in a poll at MileHighReport.com believing the QB competition is real but stacked in Lynch’s favor, and another 17% feeling Lynch has already won the job.

“I don’t want to manage the game. I want to score points,” Joseph recently told CBS’ Pete Prisco. “I want to have an explosive offense.” That doesn’t sound like a head coach with a defensive coordinator’s background, that sounds like a puppet with Elway pulling the strings.

In New York, it’s more of a gut feeling. Bowles is coaching for his job (in the third year of a 4-year contract) and needs to put some wins on the board. I do expect McCown to get the nod for Week 1, then for Hackenberg to steal that spot away once the Jets are out of serious playoff contention (it shouldn’t take long.)

But I can’t lay the -250 price on McCown, and +200 isn’t quite enough for me to roll the dice on Hackenberg being New York’s starter to open the year.

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