Vegas always knows. Except when it doesn’t.
If for no other reason than the unpredictability of injuries, the NFL win total over/under props traditionally include a few misfires. Last year, for example, the Cowboys’ number was initially set by the Bovada sportsbook at 9.5 (they won four) and the Ravens at 9 (they finished 5–11). It works the other way, too, when the league’s upstarts outperform expectations. See: 2015 Washington (9–7 after an initial six-win line) and Cincinnati (12–4 after opening at 8.5).
So, which teams’ early projections seem a little too high or too low? Here is the full list of win totals, as of May 18:
And here are our picks:
Chris Burke: Bears over 7.5 wins.The Bears’ offense will have to find its footing again without former offensive coordinator Adam Gase and longtime star running back Matt Forte—no easy task in either case. The real reason to believe Chicago can be .500 or better, though, lies on defense.
GM Ryan Pace and coordinator Vic Fangio combined to bring that unit back to respectability in 2015, and there are ample reasons to believe it can be above average this fall. The additions of Danny Trevathan, Jerrell Freeman and rookie Leonard Floyd completely rebuilt the linebacking corps around incumbent Pernell McPhee. Even if Floyd struggles through the expected growing pains, that’s a potentially dynamic group behind a line that will be anchored by rising star Eddie Goldman.
The schedule sets up well, too: Chicago plays back-to-back road games just once (Weeks 10 and 11), and those are winnable trips to the Buccaneers and Giants off a bye, followed by a home stretch featuring four of the final six games at Soldier Field. The NFC North will be tough, top to bottom. But the Bears can compete for a playoff spot.
Melissa Jacobs: 49ers under 5.5 wins. Chip Kelly’s Eagles won just six games in 2015. Chip Kelly’s 49ers will win fewer. Who knows the impact Kelly will have, and how players will respond to his methods? But even if Kelly hits his ceiling this season, I don’t think the result will be a lot of wins. This simply boils down to a 49ers roster that is significantly weaker top to bottom than almost every one of its opponents.
Versatile defensive lineman DeForest Buckner was a smart use of the No. 7 pick and should help that depleted unit. The offense line will get a boost from rookie guard Joshua Garnett. Overall, though, this roster lacks the type of firepower, particularly in key spots (ahem, Blaine Gabbert) to do much.
A glance at the schedule and it’s hard to see how San Francisco gets to six wins. Even if they beat the Rams twice and go 1–3 against the Cardinals and Seahawks, which I doubt, there are a multitude of treacherous remaining opponents (the Panthers, post-Brady suspension Patriots, Cowboys and Jets, to name a few.) And unless the trajectory is drastically altered, the 49ers will be ‘dogs to everyone else as well.
Doug Farrar: Jaguars over 7.5 wins. Yes, folks—after all these years of rebuilding, it’s time to take the Jaguars seriously. Maybe not as a division winner or deep playoff contender, but as a team that is putting all the pieces in place over time. Blake Bortles has developed into one of the NFL’s better deep passers, Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson make for a formidable receiver tandem, and the combination of T.J. Yeldon and free-agent acquisition Chris Ivory puts power in the backfield. The offensive line still needs help, but the defense needed more, and the Jags responded with the signings of Malik Jackson, Prince Amukamara and Tashaun Gipson. Add in first-round do-it-all DB Jalen Ramsey (if he’s healthy in time) and last year’s first-rounder Dante Fowler (who lost his rookie season due to injury), and things start to look pretty good.
What doesn’t look quite as good is the schedule: Jacksonville has to tussle with the AFC West, the NFC North and an improved AFC South. But this is a franchise that has been building slowly and doing things the right way, and 2016 could be the year it really starts to pay off. Think of the Raiders in 2015, and this could be a similar track. The Jags may not win 10–12 games just yet, but take the over on 7.5.
Eric Single: Seahawks under 10.5 wins.I can’t find a part of the Seahawks that improved enough this off-season to add one more win on top of last year’s 10–6 finish, which itself may not have been possible without a career year from Russell Wilson. Seattle has put a little more on Wilson’s shoulders each season and he has rarely wavered, but it will be tough to get much out of road trips to Arizona, New Orleans, New England and Green Bay with anything resembling last year’s offense, which got by thanks to white-hot streaks from surprising sources in Thomas Rawls and Doug Baldwin.
The easiest route to 11–5 involves running the table (or coming close) at CenturyLink Field, where the Seahawks have lost five games in the past four seasons. It’s not out of the question this year, with a handful of games Pete Carroll teams don’t typically lose against marginal playoff contenders like Miami, Atlanta, Buffalo and Philadelphia. But the Panthers and Cardinals both come to town in the final five weeks of the season, and I don’t think the Seahawks have tipped the scales in the year since those two NFC heavyweights pulled off key wins in Seattle.
Bette Marston: Falcons under 7.5 wins. After a blazing 6–1 start in 2015, the Falcons crawled to the finish line, finishing 8–8 and missing out on the playoffs. And after the NFL handed them one of 2016’s toughest schedules, coupled with a not-so-great draft (we gave them a D, the lowest grade of any team), finishing above .500 doesn’t seem likely in their final season at the Georgia Dome.
The NFC South drew the short straw in facing the NFC and AFC West this year, and by some horrible stroke of luck, Atlanta hosts the Panthers and visits the Broncos and the Seahawks from Weeks 4 through 6. If they don’t start off perfect, they could easily find themselves below .500 heading into Week 7. Their schedule after a Week 11 bye isn’t a walk in the park either; home dates with the Cardinals and the Chiefs and a visit to the Panthers makes up half of their season’s closing stretch. The Falcons upgraded significantly in several places during free agency, highlighted by the signing of center Alex Mack, but after a lackluster draft, this Atlanta team simply isn’t good enough to emerge from that gantlet with eight wins.