Football

Futures Faceoff: Is your money on Joe Judge or Matt Rhule?

AP

The National Football League’s head coaching hiring cycle is one of the most exciting times of the year. Front offices in desperate need of a new direction push all their chips in on what becomes franchise-altering decisions. This week’s final edition of the ten-part Futures Faceoff series features two teams who made headlines with the hirings of Joe Judge and Matt Rhule. The New York Giants and Carolina Panthers enter a new era, and I am here to predict which coach will have a bigger impact in 2020.

There is a lot of work in store for these two coaches. I will dive into each team’s roster, schedule, and other factors to see which of these coaches can get their teams off to a winning start. The goal is to determine which team is the better investment, based on the current odds, in the futures win total market.

2020 Future Win Totals odds: 

  • Carolina                  5.5   (-115)
  • New York Giants   6      (-125)

Offensive ranks:

Carolina

  • 20th in scoring offense (21.2)
  • 19th in offensive yards per game (341.8)
  • 2nd Giveaways with 35 (21 INT, 14 fumbles lost)

New York

  • 19th in scoring offense (21.3)
  • 23rd in offensive yards (338.5)
  • 3rd most Giveaways with only 33 (17 INT, 16 fumbles lost)

The Panthers are overhauling both sides of the ball under Rhule. On offense, Joe Brady brings his National Championship winning scheme to Carolina led by Teddy Bridgewater. There isn’t much value in looking at last year’s offense since Ron Rivera and Kyle Allen are now in Washington. Looking forward, the Panthers brought in more speed to complement Brady’s philosophy of getting the ball to his playmakers in space. Robbie Anderson’s vertical presence should open up the middle of the field for Curtis Samuel and Christain McCaffrey. The offense will still run through the best running back in the NFL, but Brady’s scheme should make McCaffrey even more of a threat. Bridgewater’s leadership and accuracy seem like the perfect fit for this new-look offense, which  I expect to be able to score with the best of them.

The Giants offense is going to go as far as Daniel Jones can take them. Judge’s first move was to bring in former Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett, with the hope to put Jones in a better position to succeed. The goal for Garrett should be to build an offense that doesn’t put too much pressure on his young quarterback. Garrett’s offenses in Dallas relied heavily on Ezekiel Elliot, and New York has the perfect player in Saquon Barkley to fill that role. The offense doesn’t have a ton of firepower outside of Barkley as they continued to focus on the offensive line the past two drafts. The Giants secured one of top tackle prospects in Andrew Thomas, so there should be an immediate upgrade in front of Jones. New York’s offensive line ranked 25th in adjusted line yards last season and has to get better in order to keep the pressure off their young quarterback.

Defensive ranks:

Carolina

  • 31st in scoring defense (29.4)
  • 24th in opponent yards allowed (374.5)
  • 17th in Takeaways with 21 (14 int, 7 fumbles recovered)

New York

  • 30th in scoring defense (28.2)
  • 26th in opponent yards allowed (377.3)
  • 30th in Takeaways with 16 (10 Int, 6 fumbles recovered)

Only the Miami Dolphins allowed more points than the Panthers and Giants in 2019. Both teams overhauled their defenses, although with different approaches. The Giants backed up the Brinks truck for Panthers cornerback James Bradbury, while Rhule spent his first NFL draft on the defensive side of the ball. Rhule started with the defensive line by selecting Auburn’s Derrick Brown and Yetur Gross-Matos from Penn St. while Judge beefed up Big Blue’s linebacking corp. Both approaches can be successful long-term, but next year’s success will be dependent on how well they can get previous underachievers to perform.

For the Giants, those underachievers include second-year CB DeAndre Baker. Baker’s performance improved during the last few games of the season, but serious legal troubles this offseason have me wondering if Baker is in Joe Judge’s plans. The Giants will need to see more from linebacker Lorenzo Carter as well. The former Georgia standout was the least productive pass rusher for the G-Men in his second year with the club. Carter is in desperate need of a breakout season in 2020, and Judge’s success in his first season will depend on whether or not he can maximize the potential of the young players he has inherited.

Strength of Schedule

If Judge wants his team to earn every victory, he came to the right place. According to Sharp Football’s strength of schedule, the Giants have the second strongest schedule in the NFL. Washington is the only team that is forecast to win less than eight games in New York’s first ten games. Their maligned secondary faces off against Ben Roethlisberger to open the season at home, and then greets the defending NFC Champion 49ers in Week 3. The Giants also face off against Tom Brady on Monday Night Football in Week 8 and have away games vs. Seattle and Baltimore in the second half.

The Panthers don’t have it much easier, drawing the sixth toughest schedule; Rhule’s squad makes history by facing off against the Las Vegas Raiders to start the season. However, Week 7 is where the schedule heats up. There is a brutal four-game stretch that includes the Saints, Falcons, Chiefs, and Buccaneers – that really caught my attention. The Falcons seem to be the soft spot, but that’s a Thursday Night Football game on a short week. Rhule will quickly learn he is a long way from Baylor.

The odds and why I’m betting on Bridgewater

The odds for both these teams are similar to Carolina’s odds of going over 5.5 wins sitting at -115, while New York’s at -125 to go over six wins. The Panthers would have to get to 6-10, but the Giants have to become a 7-9 team in order to cash. Therefore, the odds are steeper and less profitable to take the Giants in this situation. The difference between payouts, based on the odds (-115 & -125), is only $6 for every $100 wagered. The Giants yielding $80 and the Panthers paying out $86. All things being equal – which they never are in sports betting – Carolina looks like the more acceptable risk on paper.

These two coaches will forever be tied as many connected Rhule and his Manhattan roots to the Giants, who failed to match his market price and zeroed in on Bill Belichick’s recommendation. I will honestly admit, Judge wasn’t a candidate I had on my radar, but my research reveals he has been highly recommended by Belichick for many years as a head coaching candidate. My skeptical side can’t help but wonder if Belichick’s glowing recommendation was a byproduct of his shrewd plan to keep Josh McDaniels in New England for a season when he would need him most.

The Giants’ success in 2020 will be tied to their franchise quarterback, and Jones is a player I am just not comfortable betting on. The Northern version of Jameis Winston, Jone’s inconsistency and carelessness with the football is a major concern. One of the common themes and learning points of this series was the huge impact turnovers can have on determining the winner. The Giants were tied for dead last in turnover margin at -17 in 2019. On average, that’s the equivalent of being -1 in turnovers every single game. It’s very tough to win that way, especially with the roster general manager Dave Gettleman has constructed. The most concerning part – there isn’t just one element of Jones’ propensity to turn the ball over that needs to improve. His fumbles are well-documented, but the Giants also threw more interceptions than 22 other teams. Throw the second toughest schedule in the NFL into the evaluation, and that’s a lot to clean up no matter good Belichick says you are.

Rhule is a program builder. He made Temple Football a winner, then he got Baylor all the way into the College Football Playoff conversation. I have very little doubt he will succeed in Carolina. There is work to be done, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. This team will give up a lot of points, but they are going to be able to score with the best of them as well.

Rhule moves with intent. We saw it at the draft: DEFENSE. Rhule wants guys who he knows will play hard for him. He brought in Brady and signed the perfect quarterback to run his offense. Bridgewater fits this offense like a glove, or two gloves in Teddy’s case. Bridgewater has won everywhere he has played, and Brady’s scheme will take advantage of his decision making and accuracy. The “quick game” will mitigate some of the concerns with the offensive line and allow Bridgewater to get the most out of Carolina’s weapons, led by McCaffrey. Bridgewater has a 22-12 career record as a starter and his 5-0 run last season with a 9-2 touchdown to interception ratio highlights why I am more comfortable with projecting a strong performance in 2020. Bridgewater is Rhule’s type of leader and his career path exemplifies the character and toughness his coach wants to infuse into Carolina’s culture.

Is all that character and culture worth betting on in 2020? Teddy has a proven track record of overachieving. According to Warren Sharp’s 2020 Football Preview, Bridgewater’s teams went over the win total in all four years where he started at least one game. This season will make it five, and I am ready to back what Rhule, Brady, and Bridgewater are building.

Futures Faceoff:

9: Chiefs and Saints

8: Packers and Texans

7: Cardinals and Dolphins

6: Steelers and Colts

5: Bears and Falcons

4: Buccaneers and Bills

3: Eagles and Cowboys 

2: 49ers and Ravens

1: Vikings and Browns


You can follow Mark Drumheller on Twitter (@x_drumheller) and e-mail him at xdrumheller@gmail.com.

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