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 NFC. Last week, we broke down the AFC.
Arizona Cardinals (7.5): For once, it seems as though people aren't talking about the Cardinals as this year's sleeper team. There are probably two reasons for that.First, the team still hasn't announced who will be its QB; it's a little hard to get excited about a team when you don't know who will be under center a week before the opener. The second is that Arizona has "ascended" from being a completely inept franchise to simply being mediocre. All this is exhibited in their total, which seems to be as good a guess as any.
Atlanta Falcons (4.5): The extreme parity of the NFL makes betting the under on numbers this low a questionable venture, but this team is so bad. Last year's 4-12 mark was not a fluke; the Faclons were outscored by 155 points, third worst in the NFL (Dolphins, Rams). Pass.
Carolina Panthers (7.5): This seems a bit low, but there are probably too many questions to be too confident. Jake Delhomme is coming off Tommy John surgery, so who knows how productive he'll be. Beyond all the QB issues last year, the historically strong defense fell off; it's unclear if they'll be able to make the transition from a D built around linemen to one whose strength is LBs.
Chicago Bears (8): The defense should be improved, since almost everybody in the secondary missed time in '07. But the offense will continue to be awful. The Bears weren't very active in the free-agent market, and their first-round pick, LT Chris Williams, has a herniated disc in his back, and won't return until at least midseason. With a pretty tough schedule, the under looks like the way to go.
Dallas Cowboys (10.5): The under looks good here, but buyer beware. The Cowboys have been, by far, the healthiest team over the past five years. Generally, this sort of thing is fairly random, and Dallas would be expected to regress back to the mean, and have average health, or maybe a bit better, going forward. But the Cowboys' success in this department has been quite extreme, and the anecdotal evidence is there to suggest that their methods are in fact ahead of the pack. With both this issue, and the huge unknown that is Pacman Jones, there are a lot of unknowns here, so while the under is likely the right side, it'd probably be best to stay away.
Detroit Lions (6.5): It isn't often that you'll find value in the under of a team that has been so bad for so long, but that's the case here. Last year's surprising 6-2 start was assisted by an easy early schedule, against a lot of bad QBs; that's a pretty important factor when your secondary is as awful as Detroit's. Their opponents also went 5 for 14 on field goals in the first half of the year; two of those were blocked, but the Lions were extremely lucky on those other 12.
This year, the schedule is much more difficult; Pro Football Prospectus ranks it as the third most challenging in the NFL. They also face a laundry list of departures -- LBs Boss Bailey and Teddy Lehman, LT Damien Woody, DE Kalimba Edwards, RB Kevin Jones and DT Shaun Rogers to a combination of free agency, waivers, and trades. Their early success was the product of an easy schedule, playing over their heads, and just some dumb luck. They're unlikely to be as fortunate in '08, and should breeze to their eighth consecutive losing season.
Green Bay Packers (8.5): This line amounts to what seems like a huge overreaction to the loss of a certain future Hall of Fame QB. The Packers won 13 games last season, and while Favre played a large role in that, he had plenty of help. The offensive line gave him great protection, and the receivers did lead the league in yards after the catch; Donald Driver and Greg Jennings are going to be playmakers regardless of the QB. There is a reason the line is five fewer wins they than they had last year, obviously; going from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers is a significant downgrade. But it's hard to see how the Packers are expected to go from the NFL Championship game to a .500 team after losing Favre, when the rest of the squad is so young and should do nothing but improve.
Minnesota Vikings (8.5): Last year's team was a good deal better than their 8-8 record, as they outscored their opponents by 54 points. The pass rush was their weak link, but they notably fixed that issue by trading for DE Jared Allen. Their total seems to indicate that they'll be about a half win better than last year, which is probably correct, but it means they'll win 10 games, rather than 8-9.
New Orleans Saints (8.5): This would theoretically be a good spot to take the over, as the Saints were actually quite good after their dismal 0-4 start last season, despite injuries to both of their star running backs. They should be improved this season, but this is too high to take the over on a team with such a porous D.
New York Giants (8.5): Well, Vegas certainly doesn't overreact to seemingly fluky postseason success. After their stunning run to the World Series last year, the Rockies' total was set at just 83 wins. This Giants total is similar, although they at least have the rings. The outlook for 2008 looks somewhat bleak after the losses of both Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora; this number is probably about right, although one could probably take advantage of all the people who think this is absurdly low for the defending champs by getting some pretty good juice.
Philadelphia Eagles (8.5): Pro Football Prospectus has famously guessed too high on the Eagles each of the last three years, and they're at it again this year was a projection of 11.7 wins. There's always the question of whether the system is some biased towards a team, but that is doubtful. Most of Philly's issues the last couple years have come because of tougher schedules and poor special teams; their schedule looks pretty soft again this year, so if they can get the ST in order they should contend for the division crown. San Francisco 49ers: (6): San Fran was even worse than their 5-11 record last season, scoring 145 fewer points than their opponents. There's no reason to think the dreadful J.T. O'Sullivan led offense will be improved; five wins seems a good deal more likely than seven.
Seattle Seahawks (8.5): The over is tempting here, since the Seahawks were a legitimate 10 win team last year, and play a similarly easy schedule in '08, but with the loss of D.J. Hackett, and the injuries to Deion Branch and Bobby Engram, there are probably too many question marks to get too comfortable.
St. Louis Rams (6.5): The Rams had more injury problems among their offensive linemen than any other team in recent memory last year, which completely derailed their offense. By default, they'll have fewer problems in that area, so the offense should get better, but the defense is still very poor.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8): Last year's 9-7 mark was misleading, as they finished the regular season with two losses after locking up the division. Even with those last two games, their point differential was more in line with a 10-win team. Their schedule is easy once again; as long as their aging skill players on offense don't break down, they should be able to top .500.
Washington Redskins (7.5): It is hard to get a read on this team, since the 2007 season was obviously played under extenuating circumstances in Washington. If the late season improvement is for real, they could make a run at the playoffs, but it's just hard to know, with such a small sample.
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