Every week during the NFL season, VegasWatch.net's Jacob Wheatley-Schaller will break down the odds of each game and examine various trends and statistics. Before the regular season gets started, we're looking at the over/unders for win totals. This week, we're covering the AFC. Next week, we'll break down the NFC.
Baltimore Ravens (6): According to Football Outsiders, the Ravens fumbled 25 times last year, and managed to recover only five, a pathetic ratio. Since that can be mostly attributed to bad luck, they should improve in that category in 2008. The young offensive line should continue to get better, and they'll need to play more to Willis McGahee's strengths offensively. As usual in Baltimore, the defense will be good, but the offense leaves much to be a desired, at least until rookie QB Joe Flacco is ready to take over.
Buffalo Bills (7.5): The Bills were not nearly as good as their 7-9 record last year, as they were outscored by 102 points, a differential more in line with a 5-11 record. But their defense should be improved last year-particularly their very weak pass rush-with the additions of DT Marcus Stroud and LB Kawika Mitchell, and the return of LB Paul Posluszny from injury. That should put them around their total of 7.5, although the continued holdout of Pro Bowl LT Jason Peters is a serious concern; the Bills are saying that they won't even negotiate with him until he returns to camp.
Cincinnati Bengals (7): The Bengals seem to be trying to follow the Colts model-build a powerhouse offense around a franchise QB, and hope your defensive-minded coach can throw something together on the other side of the ball. They've been pretty successful in doing the former, but the defense is still very much a work in progress. This year they'll replace DE Justin Smith with Tennessee's Antwan Odom, and hope that their second-year corners show improvement. .500 seems overly optimistic.
Cleveland Browns (8): With the additions of DTs Corey Williams and Shaun Rogers, the defense will be improved. But that's unlikely to make up for the inevitable offensive decline. Everything broke right last year, especially from a health standpoint; their linemen and receivers were remarkably healthy, which was a big reason for Derek Anderson's surprising success. They weren't quite as good as their record last year; combine that with a decline offensively, and an extremely challenging schedule, and the under looks like the play here.
Denver Broncos (7.5): Denver has one of the easier schedules in football, facing the AFC East and NFC South in the rotation. Unfortunately, they'll be without WR Brandon Marshall for at least two games, including their Week 2 matchup with the Chargers in Denver. Jay Cutler continues to get better, and Selvin Young should be a bigger part of the offense now that Travis Henry is out of the picture; they've got a good chance to improve on last 7-9 mark.
Houston Texans (7.5): The offense was vastly improved last year, despite missing QB Matt Schaub and WR Andre Johnson for a total 12 games. That unit should continue to improve, and if the young defense also gets better-it'd be tough to be worse-they should be able to win at least 8.
Indianapolis Colts (11): The Colts were the second best team in the league despite battling a ton of injuries last year, and it looks like they'll have to battle through some similar problems this season. Bob Sanders and Dwight Freeney are back, but who knows for how long, and Manning is still looking questionable for the opener. There is a bit too much uncertainty for either the over or under to be clearly superior.
Jacksonville Jaguars (10): Rookie DE Derrick Harvey continues to hold out; his presence would help a defensive line that wasn't as good as previous years in '07, and saw Marcus Stroud get traded to the Bills. The offense should be excellent yet again, and they'll be right in the playoff mix, despite the tough division.
Kansas City Chiefs (5.5): They were 4-4 with Larry Johnson last year, and didn't win a game without him; they should be improved if he stays healthy, and with the addition of Glen Dorsey. But, especially if Brandon Albert isn't healthy by the start of the season, the offensive line is still a weakness, and that's a real problem when your QB is Brodie Croyle.
Miami Dolphins (5.5): Chad Pennington isn't exactly a savior, but he's certainly better than John Beck. That upgrade, combined with the return of Ronnie Brown, and Jake Long at LT should make for a significant improvement over last year's 1-15 campaign, although they'd have to go 6-8 in their non-Patriots games to get over the total here.
New England Patriots (12.5): You would've thought the under would be a good move for a team coming off a 16-0 season that's just not the case here. The AFC East isn't a good division, and when you remove the Patriots, it's really not good; New England's schedule, probably the easiest in the league, reflects that. Of course, if Tom Brady's injury turns out to be serious, all bets are off.
New York Jets (8): Incredibly, the Jets' total increase by only half a win after the Brett Favre trade was announced; that should give you some idea of just how absurd all the hype was. The two new faces at guard, Alan Faneca and Damien Woody, should help, but there doesn't look to be much value in either side of this number.
Oakland Raiders (6): Six wins? What, are we expecting Tommy Kelly to single-handedly fix their run defense? That seems like a pretty high total for a team with an inexperienced QB, a WR threatening to retire, and huge question marks on D up front. It doesn't matter how good your secondary is (and theirs should be excellent) if your opponents run the ball every down.
Pittsburgh Steelers (9): The Steelers may have the hardest schedule in the NFL; outside of the division, the rotation has them playing the NFC East and AFC South, and last year's 10-6 record gets them the Patriots and Chargers in the two remaining games. That, combined with their extremely poor play in the second half of last year, and the loss of LG Alan Faneca, seems like enough to take the under here.
San Diego Chargers (10.5): The NFL's best defense in the second half brings back pretty much everyone, with Eric Weddle sliding in at safety to replace Marlon McCree. On one hand, it's hard to see them not winning 11 games with their defense and LaDainan Tomlinson. But on the other, needing Phillip Rivers to win 11 games doesn't seen like a great position to put yourself in.
Tennessee Titans (8): Last year's 10-6 record was somewhat misleading, as they only outscored their opponents by four points. And that was even with a defense that led the league in DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average). This year they'll lose Antwan Odom's eight sacks, and the re-acquisition of Jevon Kearse isn't going to make up for that production. Clearly the third-and possibly the fourth-best team in the division, a sub-.500 finish seems to be in order.
All advanced statistics taken from Pro Football Prospectus 2008.
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