Notebook: Pondering the NFL rushing-title race

Posted July 26, 2012 @ 3:03 p.m.
Posted By Mike Wilkening

Do you believe that Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew eventually will report to the club and again run away with the NFL regular-season rushing title?

If so, and if you are of a gambling mindset, you can place a wager on the very subject at the Caesars Entertainment sportsbooks in Nevada.

Jones-Drew, though, was not the betting favorite as of Monday at the Caesars books, which includes the Caesars Palace, Harrah’s and Paris hotels on the Las Vegas strip. Instead, Texans RB Arian Foster, who led the NFL in rushing two seasons ago, was a 7-2 favorite, with the Ravens’ Ray Rice the second-betting choice at 9-2.

Jones-Drew, who wants a new contract and didn't show up at Jaguars’ training camp Thursday, was the third betting choice at 5-1.

Here’s the full list of rushing-title odds from Caesars:

Texans RB Arian Foster: 7-2
Ravens RB Ray Rice: 9-2
Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew: 5-1
Eagles RB LeSean McCoy: 8-1
Chargers RB Ryan Mathews: 9-1
Titans RB Chris Johnson: 10-1
Browns RB Trent Richardson: 12-1
Vikings RB Adrian Peterson: 12-1
Raiders RB Darren McFadden: 12-1
Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles: 15-1
Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch: 15-1
Rams RB Steven Jackson: 18-1
49ers RB Frank Gore: 20-1
Falcons RB Michael Turner: 20-1
Bears RB Matt Forté: 25-1

Handicappers analyzing such a wager are charged with 1) determining whether a back will get — and do enough with — the necessary carries to win the rushing title and 2) whether the price is right, among other factors.

Below is a chart with each running back's rushing-title odds and his rushing attempts per game, rushing yards per game and total rushing yards in 2011. (In the case of the Chiefs' Jamaal Charles, who played less than two games a season ago, I used 2010 data.)
 

Player

Odds

Attempts/Gm.

Rush Yds./Gm.

Rushing Yds.

Arian Foster (Texans)

 7-2

 21.4

 94.2

 1,224

Ray Rice (Ravens)

 9-2

 18.2

 85.2

 1,364

Maurice Jones-Drew (Jaguars)

 5-1

 21.4

 100.4

 1,606

LeSean McCoy (Eagles)

 8-1

 18.2

 87.3

 1,309

Ryan Mathews (Chargers)

 9-1

 15.9

 77.9

 1,091

Chris Johnson (Titans)

 10-1

 16.4

 65.4

 1,047

Trent Richardson (Browns)

 12-1

 N/A

 N/A

 N/A

Adrian Peterson (Vikings)

 12-1

 17.3

 80.8

 970

Darren McFadden (Raiders)

 12-1

 16.1

 87.7

 614

Jamaal Charles (Chiefs)

 15-1

 14.4

 91.7

 1,467

Marshawn Lynch (Seahawks)

 15-1

 19.0

 80.3

 1,204

Steven Jackson (Rams)

 18-1

 17.3

 76.3

 1,145

Frank Gore (49ers)

 20-1

 17.6

 75.7

 1,211

Michael Turner (Falcons)

 20-1

 18.8

 83.8

 1,340

Matt Forté (Bears)

 25-1

 16.9

 83.1

 997

To me, there are several backs to avoid at their current prices. I respect Peterson and Charles, but both are coming off ACL injuries, and each, even if completely healthy, might not get quite the number of opportunities needed to capture the rushing title. And really, the focus for both players and clubs is to make a full, strong, lasting recovery.

I also would have a hard time taking Johnson at his current price, considering how he played a season ago. Turner might get a little less work this season, as could Gore, so both are hard to take. I also would pass on Lynch until there's more clarity about his recent off-field incident. Moreover, I wouldn't consider Jones-Drew until he reports. Finally, I would have a hard time taking 7-2 odds on Foster. The odds, to me, are fair enough, but it's just a little too short of a price for my liking.

This leaves us with a group of seven: Rice, McCoy, Mathews, McFadden, Richardson, Jackson and Forté. Of this list, I like McCoy the best. He's a brilliant talent who finished just 32 yards short of the NFC rushing title a season ago despite having 28 fewer carries than Turner. The price, in my view, is acceptable.

Of the longer shots, Richardson is most intriguing. He will get a lot of work, and he is very skilled. Those who took him at 18-1 at the opening of betting got good value, and 12-1 is not unreasonable.

Oddsmaker weighs in on Cowboys, NFC East

In a recent conversation, Pat Morrow, head oddsmaker at Bovada.lv, shared an interesting tidbit with me: in games involving the Cowboys and a non-divisional opponent, the money very much shows up on Dallas, he has noticed. However, in divisional games involving the Cowboys, it's no guarantee that Dallas will be the public play, considering the popularity of the other NFC East teams, Morrow said. The Eagles, Morrow said, "have become a really popular" club with the public. And, as Morrow noted, there are "(a) lot of big markets" in the NFC East.