The NFL preseason is typically a time for optimism but we're looking at a few teams and players to bet against in 2023.
The Cleveland Browns and New England Patriots find themselves middling in an AFC loaded with elite talent. We're fading both of their win totals and have also picked a trio of players due for a downturn in production.
Check out five of our top NFL fades for the upcoming season.
Top NFL fades
Cleveland put its future — and goodwill — on the line when it traded a haul of draft picks for Deshaun Watson and signed him to a fully guaranteed contract last offseason. We're skeptical that the return on investment will pan out.
Mac Jones and the Patriots, meanwhile, find themselves staring down the barrel of a stacked AFC East. After dominating the league for two decades it's looking like New England is destined to be a basement dweller.
Our top NFL fades also feature a big-name tight end and a receiver who fell just short of his second consecutive 1,000-yard season.
The team to fade
Best Bet: Cleveland Browns under 9.5 wins (-130)
It's sink or swim time for Kevin Stefanski and the Browns.
Cleveland has fallen under this win total in all but one of the past 15 seasons. The outlier was an 11-5 campaign in 2020 where the Browns made the playoffs for the first time since 2002. Since then, the team has gone 15-19, missing the dance in each of the past two seasons.
Sign up now to receive NorthStar's Best Bets newsletter.
Sure, Watson was unavailable for the first 11 games last year, but things were ugly when he came back. Cleveland averaged just 16.3 points and 298.0 yards per game with Watson under centre and had a measly 35.4 third-down conversion rate.
Jessie Bates III intercepting Deshaun Watson on repeat pic.twitter.com/dVHZCts2LN— Willie Lutz (@willie_lutz) December 12, 2022
A full offseason of preparation should be a boon for Watson and the Browns but we can't see this team ripping off double-digit wins in an ultra-competitive AFC North.
The Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals are Super Bowl contenders and the new-look Pittsburgh Steelers shouldn't be taken lightly, either.
Kareem Hunt has left the team, meaning Nick Chubb will have to shoulder an increased load at running back. He's a bonafide horse but Hunt's loss shouldn't be understated.
With no 2023 NFL draft picks until No. 74, the Browns had to turn elsewhere to reload the roster. They picked up some solid players like Za'Darius Smith but that shouldn't be enough to turn around a defence that ranked 28th in rush DVOA (+4.4%), per Football Outsiders.
The QB to fade
Best Bet: Mac Jones under 18.5 touchdown passes (+100)
In a division with Josh Allen, Aaron Rodgers and Tua Tagovailoa under centre, Jones certainly looks like the outcast of the group.
Jones started 14 games for the Pats last season, putting up 14 touchdowns to 11 interceptions while averaging just 230.5 passing yards per game. New England ranked dead last in red zone scoring percentage (42.22%) and 24th in offensive DVOA (-8.5%).
In fairness, he had the tandem of Matt Patricia and Joe Judge calling plays. Watching that duo try to run an offence was like getting teeth pulled. Bill O'Brien has stepped in as offensive coordinator, providing a clear upgrade. But we still don't think the Patriots have the pieces necessary for a big turnaround.
JuJu Smith-Schuster is the team's WR1 and he's put up a total of 2,445 yards across the past four seasons (49 games played). DeVante Parker and Kendrick Bourne fill out an underwhelming receiving core.
If New England's offence somehow cooks, it will almost certainly be thanks to the run game. The team has a tandem of Rhamondre Stevenson and Ezekiel Elliott at RB and Belichick loves to pound the rock.
All that plus the fact that Jones will be on a short leash with Bailey Zappe in waiting makes him a prime fade candidate.
Top NFL fades: Don't trust the Pats... period
We don't think the starting quarterback can throw 19 touchdowns so it shouldn't be a surprise we're fading New England's win total, too.
A lot of that has to do with the Patriots playing the Bills, Dolphins and Jets twice this season.
The Patriots' bedrock has always been its defence and that unit should remain strong. Belichick used each of the team's first three draft picks on defensive players, including Christian Gonzalez, a standout cornerback from Oregon, at No. 17.
But little has been invested into an already anemic offence and that's going to be a huge problem, especially in this division.
It's incredibly difficult to win games in today's NFL if you can't score and the Patriots were allergic to finding the end zone last season.
Receiver to bet against
This bet has more to do with the situation than the player himself.
Michael Pittman Jr. is coming off a season where he put up 925 receiving yards in 16 games. The season before that, the fourth-year receiver notched 1,082 yards in 17 games.
But it's no secret that the Indianapolis Colts are going to lean on the run and that should hamper the wide receiver's production. Indy brought in Shane Steichen as head coach and he was responsible for a Philadelphia Eagles' offence predicated on a strong ground game and vertical shots.
Alec Pierce — who could take over as Indy's WR1 — is the deep threat in this offence. He averaged 11.7 yards before catch per reception last season while Pittman averaged 5.7.
The team also drafted Anthony Richardson fourth overall and named him the Week 1 starter. Richardson is a freak athlete but is raw. He only threw for 212.4 yards per game for the Florida Gators last season with a 53.8 completion percentage.
Richardson's arm is a serious question mark but his legs are not. The Colts have begun fielding trades for running back Jonathan Taylor, but it remains to be seen if he'll be moved.
Either way, this should be a run-dominant scheme behind a solid O-line.
Tight end to bet against
There's a saying in football: The best ability is availability.
Waller has fallen below this mark in each of the past two seasons largely thanks to a laundry list of injuries keeping him sidelined. But even when he was on the field last season, he wasn't productive.
The tight end put up 388 yards across eight games (six starts), hauling in a total of 28 catches on 43 targets. He wasn't at 100% often and the Las Vegas Raiders were a complete mess so you could argue he's due for a bounce back with the New York Giants this year.
Only 560 of the G-Men's 3,431 passing yards went to tight ends last season, and that's a big reason why they brought Waller into the fold. But he's only started 17 games across the past two seasons and is now on the wrong side of 30. Don't expect a career renaissance.
Looking to get started? Sign up here.