Two years ago on Halloween, the New England Patriots traded Jimmy Garoppolo to the San Francisco 49ers. There are too few true franchise quarterbacks in the NFL, but New England actually had three on its roster at the beginning of the 2017 season.
Garoppolo was acquired by the 49ers to be the future of a franchise spinning its wheels in a cycle of losing. He was out of Tom Brady’s shadow and under the guidance of coach Kyle Shanahan, an offensive whiz kid. It seemed the 49ers had struck gold.
Two years later, San Francisco finally is putting a serious scare into the rest of the NFC. The 49ers are rolling at 7-0, but it’s a dominant defense, not Garoppolo, leading their resurgence.
“The biggest surprise has got to be the 49ers,” Westgate SuperBook director John Murray said. “I don’t know how it could be any other team.”
The NFL regular-season wins market is heavily played all spring and summer, so the numbers should be sharp by September. At the midpoint of the season, it’s obvious most bettors and oddsmakers underrated the 49ers, who were tagged with a win total of eight at the Westgate and 8½ at William Hill.
“I was high on the Niners,” William Hill sportsbook director Nick Bogdanovich said. “I did expect good things because I like the coach, GM and quarterback. I did not think their defense would be this good, so I guess that’s the surprise.”
San Francisco has defeated only two teams with a winning record — the Rams and Carolina Panthers — yet its 51-13 victory over Carolina on Sunday had to convince any remaining skeptics. And there were plenty of skeptics, because money poured in on the Panthers as 4½-point underdogs.
The 49ers rushed for 232 yards. Their defense had three interceptions and seven sacks.
Garoppolo had a solid day, completing 18 of 22 passes for 175 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. His numbers this season are modest — nine touchdown passes, seven interceptions and the league’s No. 18 passer rating (93.5).
A knee injury sidelined Garoppolo three games into last season. The 49ers finished 4-12 and were 10-22 in Shanahan’s first two years. Finally, the puzzle pieces are all in place, and the defense built by general manager John Lynch ranks No. 2 in opponents’ scoring behind the Patriots.
New England and San Francisco are the NFL’s only undefeated teams through eight weeks. The 49ers’ odds to win the Super Bowl have dropped from 30-1 in the preseason to 6-1 today at William Hill.
The week before the 2017 season opener, the Patriots traded another backup quarterback, Jacoby Brissett, to Indianapolis. Two years later, Brissett has 14 touchdown passes for a 5-2 team. The Colts’ win total was lowered from 10 to 7½ after Andrew Luck’s stunning retirement in late August.
“You didn’t really know how big the drop-off was from Luck to Brissett,” Bogdanovich said, “but Brissett is more than serviceable and the Colts look like a playoff team.”
While the 49ers and Colts are the biggest overachievers, Oakland coach Jon Gruden also has earned high grades on the midseason report card.
“The Raiders are a team we are surprised by. They are much better than we thought,” Murray said. “Gruden has done a great job with such a brutal schedule.”
After the Antonio Brown fiasco during training camp, the Raiders appeared to be a lost cause. But Gruden successfully navigated a five-game road trip, and Oakland is halfway to its win total of six with a three-game homestand coming up.
The prop on Green Bay to make the playoffs was a pick ’em, yet the Packers are 7-1 and primed to top their win total of nine. Aaron Rodgers has found his groove in a new offense and is tied for second in the league with 16 touchdown passes.
In early September, the Westgate listed Rodgers as the third choice to win MVP at 12-1 odds, followed by Russell Wilson of Seattle and Deshaun Watson of Houston at 20-1, and Lamar Jackson of Baltimore was a 50-1 shot. One of those four quarterbacks is likely to win the award unless Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, the 4-1 preseason favorite, returns from injury and finishes with a flourish.
Without a doubt, there has been no bigger flop than the Cleveland Browns, the public’s hottest bet of the summer. Cleveland had a win total of nine but is 2-5, and trash-talking quarterback Baker Mayfield has twice as many interceptions (12) as touchdown passes (six).
“I thought the Browns were overvalued coming into the season, but I didn’t expect them to be 2-5,” Murray said. “I bet the Browns under their win total. I didn’t think it would be this bad.”
The Chicago Bears, 3-4 and headed under their win total of nine, are bad news, too. The Atlanta Falcons are 1-7 and dramatically underachieving according to their win total of 8½.
Matt Youmans is senior editor for VSiN.com.