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2018 NFL Quarterback Battles: Starting Quarterback Odds and Picks

Training camp battles are the NFL’s hottest summer topics. They’re arguably the only reason preseason games are worth watching. They single-handedly pay beat reporters’ salaries this time of year. Chief among the training camp battles are those between quarterbacks and who will receive the starting quarterback position. That is true every year, but 2018 is particularly interesting. Four quarterbacks were chosen in the top 10 of the NFL draft, but none of them is a definite Week 1 starter.

We can almost guarantee that all four will see significant playing time this season. Just look at the quarterbacks chosen in the top-10 since 2008 and how many games they started in their rookie seasons.

2008: Matt Ryan (16)

2009: Matthew Stafford (10), Mark Sanchez (15)

2010: Sam Bradford (16)

2011: Cam Newton (16), Jake Locker (0), Blaine Gabbert (14)

2012: Andrew Luck (16), Robert Griffin III (15), Ryan Tannehill (16)

2013: N/A

2014: Blake Bortles (13)

2015: Jameis Winston (16), Marcus Mariota (12)

2016: Jared Goff (7), Carson Wentz (16)

2017: Mitchell Trubisky (12), Patrick Mahomes (1)

Out of 17 quarterbacks, 13 started at least 12 games. The question, at least for the purposes of this bet, is “were they starting in Week 1?” Mostly, yes. All except Gabbert, Bortles and Trubisky were.

Though history is already on the rookies’ side, circumstances could land this year’s top-10 quarterbacks on the bench, at least for Week 1. Here are the odds for each rookie starting and what the best bet is for each team. 

Arizona Cardinals Quarterback Battle Odds

Starting quarterback odds in Week 1 of 2018 regular season:

Sam Bradford -2500

Josh Rosen +650

Mike Glennon +5000

The veteran Bradford is understandably the favorite after signing for $15 million guaranteed in March.

Teammates are impressed with Rosen, but this is summertime. Everyone is in the best shape of their life, clicking with their new teammates and so on. There may never be a time in Rosen’s career when impressing teammates means less.

Further, Arizona has a complicated playbook and Rosen, fair or unfair, has a reputation for being difficult to coach.

The X-factor here is Bradford’s health. It’s a little disconcerting that he missed most of 2017 due to “wear and tear.” What would lead us to believe that’s no longer a problem?

On the other hand, Bradford’s history of fragility could force the Cardinals to put him in bubble wrap for most of the preseason, meaning he’d be good to go for Week 1 at least. That’s the most likely scenario, but expect to see Rosen sooner rather than later. The Cardinals are tied with Cleveland for the lowest projected win total in the league.

Update: Rosen was always the best bet considering the odds, but the dream appears to be dead. He sat out Arizona’s third preseason game due to a thumb injury and Bradford has remained healthy. Barring the very slim possibility that Bradford gets hurt between now and Week 1, he’s locked in. The winnings will be meager, but better than nothing.

Quarterback Battle Pick: Sam Bradford

Buffalo Bills Quarterback Battle Odds

Starting quarterback odds in Week 1 of 2018 regular season

Josh Allen -250

Nathan Peterman +200

NFL quarterback battles
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A.J. McCarron is technically a veteran, but the career backup doesn’t bring the kind of starting experience that usually comes with signing a veteran stopgap. He went 2-2 as a starter with the Bengals and didn’t have any particularly outstanding outings.

But Allen, the seventh overall pick, is possibly the least pro-ready of any of the top-10 quarterbacks. He has excellent size and arm strength, but he struggled statistically in the Mountain West. Why would the Bills want to set him up for failure by throwing him into the fire less than a year after struggling against every decent college team he went up against?

The dark horse, Peterman, is an interesting bet at +820. He is the only returning Buffalo quarterback, though he did not impress whenever he got an opportunity. He’s a massive underdog for a reason.

As the betting adage goes, “when in doubt, take the points.” That’s a wise strategy here with no good options. McCarron is barely a favorite and it’s unlikely the Bills want to see Peterman on the field again unless there’s an emergency. Better to take the slight underdog who also happens to be a top-10 pick.

Update: Allen’s first start didn’t go so well, to put it mildly. He completed 6-of-12 passes for 34 yards and took five sacks against Cincinnati’s starting defense. Peterman, on the other hand, had no trouble. He completed 16-of-21 passes for 200 yards and a touchdown against the backups. If this was Allen’s job to lose, he has likely lost it. Surely the Bills will start Peterman at first and see how that goes.

Quarterback Battle Pick: Nathan Peterman

Cleveland Browns Quarterback Battle Odds

Starting quarterback odds in Week 1 of 2018 regular season

Tyrod Taylor -1500

Baker Mayfield +370

Since Mayfield was the first overall pick, let’s take another look at the list of top-10 picks since 2008. But this time, let’s only include the first overall picks:

2009: Matthew Stafford (10)

2010: Sam Bradford (16)

2011: Cam Newton (16)

2012: Andrew Luck (16)

2015: Jameis Winston (16)

2016: Jared Goff (7)

Five of the six were Week 1 starters and four played all 16 games. It’s likely Stafford would have done so as well were it not for a knee injury. That leaves Goff as the only outlier in the group.

So, obviously, history points to Mayfield. Another point in his favor is the aforementioned fact that Cleveland is tied with Arizona for the lowest projected win total of 2018. It’s easier to start the rookie when playing for next year.

Working against Mayfield is Tyrod Taylor, who has legitimate starting experience. It was not uncommon for other top picks to beat out veteran competition, though. Stafford beat out Daunte Culpepper, Bradford beat A.J. Feeley, Newton beat Derek Anderson and Jimmy Clausen, and Jameis Winston beat Mike Glennon. Only Luck was virtually unopposed in training camp.

Add it all up and Mayfield could easily become the starter after a good preseason. He’s also a big underdog, so he’s the clear choice regardless of what the coaches are saying about Taylor now.

Update: Mayfield bettors must have rejoiced when Taylor went to the sideline with an injury in Cleveland’s third preseason game. But the injury, a dislocated pinkie and bruised wrist, does not appear serious. Taylor will sit out Cleveland’s final preseason game but is still in line to start Week 1. Barring an injury, we’ll have to wait for Mayfield’s regular season debut.

 Quarterback Battle Pick: Tyrod Taylor

New York Jets Quarterback Battle Odds

Starting quarterback odds in Week 1 of 2018 regular season

Sam Darnold -130

Josh McCown +100

Teddy Bridgewater +5000

NFL Starting Quarterbacks, Quarterback battles
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Darnold was considered the top overall pick until Cleveland surprised us all by picking Mayfield. In a way, it makes sense to treat Darnold as the first pick even though he went third.

The problem is Darnold has two veterans with legitimate starting experience to beat out. McCown is solid and Bridgewater was Minnesota’s future before a devastating leg injury. He’ll be tough to sit if he looks like the old Bridgewater.

Perhaps most importantly, the Jets are a major longshot to make the playoffs. It doesn’t make sense starting solid-yet-unspectacular veterans when there’s a supposed future star who needs reps.

To top it all off, Darnold is the biggest underdog of the group. Considered the most pro-ready quarterback in the draft, he is well-positioned to win the job.

Update: It appears the decision is already made, though the Jets haven’t made the final announcement. Rich Cimini of ESPN quotes an anonymous Jet’s belief that Darnold is the starter. That makes sense considering Darnold started New York’s second and third preseason games. Proof of the end of the competition is the addition of a fourth quarterback in John Wolford, an undrafted rookie out of Wake Forest, who figures to see plenty of action against Philadelphia in a bid for a practice squad spot. With the preseason all but over, go with Darnold.

Quarterback Battle Pick: Sam Darnold

2018 NFL Quarterback Battles: Starting Quarterback Odds and Picks
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2018 NFL Quarterback Battles: Starting Quarterback Odds and Picks
Analysis of all the top quarterback battles leading up to the NFL regular seaon. Includes player odds and picks to becoming the team's starting quarterback.

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