- Which NFC playoff team with a high win total is primed for a stumble this season? How about a few NFC playoff sleepers with a lower win projection from Vegas? Here are all of our favorite bets before the season kicks off.
The NFL preseason is in full force, signaling that meaningful football is rapidly approaching. To help get you prepared for this momentous occasion, The MMQB staff has revealed our seven favorite win total bets for you to consider for this upcoming season, with the current odds from bookmaker William Hill listed.
Arizona Cardinals OVER 5.5 Wins (-170)
Not much juice on this one, but the number is too low to pass up. Sam Bradford is a top-half-of-the-league starter when he’s healthy. The problem is that he’s never healthy. But the Cardinals are backing him up with the most pro-ready rookie QB in this year’s class. Plus, David Johnson returns behind an offensive line that won’t be good, but should be league-average after a couple of horrific seasons. Yes, I know, A.Q. Shipley’s injury is a tough way to start the summer, but Mason Cole was once a Day 1 starter at Michigan, and he should be able to hold his own as a rookie. Throw in Justin Pugh and Andre Smith providing some level of veteran stability on the right side, and another year of growth for D.J. Humphries, and that unit will be all right.
The defense is interesting. It’s loaded with talent, even after losing Tyrann Mathieu (and Budda Baker’s emergence as a star cushions that blow). Then there’s the Steve Wilks factor. Wilks caught opponents off guard early last season by turning the Panthers from one of the least blitz-happy teams in the NFL to the most blitz-happy team in the NFL. (It worked early in the year, though teams caught on by the end of last season.) What will Wilks do with ex-DC James Bettcher’s personnel? We’ll find out in September, which is when the rest of the league will find out too.
With the potential to be above-average on both sides of the ball and a more comfortable QB situation, it’s tough to figure how this team’s number is lower than seven or so. I’d go so far as to call the Cardinals a playoff sleeper in the NFC. –Gary Gramling
New England Patriots OVER 11 Wins (-155)
It's a boring pick, but isn't that what we're looking for? It's been nearly a decade since the Patriots didn't have more than 11 wins (they went 10-6 in 2009). Adding to the fact that they've been the most consistent team in the NFL this century, they have six games in a division that doesn't have a lot of bite to it this year. Plus, Tom Brady will be extra motivated to earn that extra $5 million in performance-based incentives (kidding on that last one). Another good option is the Giants going over 7 wins; with a new coach, improved offensive line and shiny new running back, here's betting they're closer to the 11-5 2016 team than the 3-13 2017 squad. –Jenny Vrentas
Minnesota Vikings OVER 10 Wins (-120)
The Vikings will win more then 10 games this season. Minnesota upgraded at quarterback with Kirk Cousins, and essentially added another important offensive weapon in second-year running back Dalvin Cook, who only played 3.5 games last season before tearing his ACL. Minnesota also hired ex-Eagles QB coach John DeFilippo to be its new OC. He was instrumental to Carson Wentz and Nick Foles’s success last season, which bodes well for Cousins.
The Vikings also added Sheldon Richardson in free agency to a defensive line that already included Linval Joseph and Everson Griffen. Their linebackers and secondary are also loaded with talent, and they drafted cornerback Mike Hughes to build on a unit that ranked as the league’s No.1 defense.
The NFC North is going to be a tough division with a Lions and Bears team that look improved with new coaching staffs and a Packers team featuring a healthy Aaron Rodgers, but the Vikings improved in several spots and I think are still the most complete team in the division. –Kalyn Kahler
Carolina Panthers UNDER 9 Wins (-155)
Let’s make some enemies and talk about an under. Carolina was 11-5 last year, but went 8-1 in games decided by a single score. If it has the exact same season but goes 5-4 in those contests, we’re discussing an 8-8 club. In the offseason, the Panthers lost All-Pro guard Andrew Norwell to free agency and gained new coordinators on both sides of the ball, with 66-year-old Norv Turner brought in to improve the offense and first-time coordinator Eric Washington promoted to keep the defense strong. The team will also be without veteran linebacker Thomas Davis for four games as he serves a suspension. Can you see the doubt piling up?
If the Panthers’ top two picks, wideout D.J. Moore and corner Donte Jackson are difference-makers right away, Carolina has a chance to put together back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in franchise history. But it’s unlikely the NFC South produces three playoff teams once again, and if we’re thinking about which team might get left out this year, I’ve got Carolina in my mind. –Jacob Feldman
Oakland Raiders UNDER 8 Wins (+110)
It’s hard to pick just one favorite here, but I’m having trouble finding five or six wins for the Raiders, let alone nine. It seemed Jon Gruden’s first order of business was to bring in free agents who were just about to enter the league when he last coached in 2008, as though he had a scouting report on all these players that he never got the chance to use. The Raiders signed 33-year-old Breno Giacomini, 34-year-old Jordy Nelson, 34-year-old Leon Hall and 36-year-old Derrick Johnson. This doesn’t seem to be the antidote for a team that went 6-10 last year.
Leading this old, unimpressive roster is a quarterback who has fallen short of league-average yards per attempt in all four of his years in the league. Derek Carr is getting paid like a franchise quarterback, but nothing he has done the last four seasons suggests he is one. Unless Gruden’s offense, which he insists will deploy Amari Cooper in ways the previous scheme failed to do, unlocks something new in Carr, it’s hard to project much growth for the offense.
The defense, meanwhile, returns largely intact from a season in which it ranked 29th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, 23rd in total defense, 26th in passing defense and 20th in scoring defense. That, too, assumes it comes to a détente with Khalil Mack, inarguably the best player on the team.
The Raiders' schedule could prove to be a nightmare. First, no game in the AFC West is a pushover, with the Chargers and Chiefs looking especially dangerous. Their crossover division in the conference is the North, which means games against the Steelers (at home) and Ravens (on the road). They square off with the NFC West, hosting the Rams and Seahawks, and visiting the 49ers and Cardinals. Even if they split in the division, which feels charitable, they’d need to find six wins against those foes, plus the Dolphins and Colts. Little, if anything, about this team has improved from last year’s 6-10 campaign. How and why they would suddenly win nine games is a mystery. –Michael Beller
Seattle Seahawks UNDER 7.5 Wins (+115)
It’s jarring to see the Seahawks have such a low win total, and it’s probably even more shocking to see someone advocating to take the under on it. But this win total is reputation-based only, and it’s a generous one for a team that could face a steep downfall this upcoming campaign.
Let’s start with everyone who left. Gone are leaders on the defense like Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, as well as talented defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson. Russell Wilson also loses two key targets who combined for 16 touchdowns in 2017, tight end Jimmy Graham and underrated departure Paul Richardson—who was key for stretching the field, as Wilson’s 8.8 YPA when targeting Richardson was the highest on the team.
Then there’s the Earl Thomas contract situation. It’s impossible to justify the Seahawks not giving Thomas the contract he wants and deserves, as their pass defense suffers mightily when Thomas isn’t on the field. Before Thomas broke his leg in Week 13, Seattle’s defense was third with a 77.8 opponents’ passer rating and allowed 7.01 YPA. After he went down, opponents’ YPA jumped up to 7.77 (30th in the NFL over that span) and a passer rating of 100.3 (31st).
Seattle also hired two new coordinators over the offseason: defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. and, wait for it, Brian Schottenheimer on offense. Yes, the same Brian Schottenheimer who hasn’t had an offense he’s coordinated finish as a top-20 unit since 2010, the same year as Pete Carroll’s first season in Seattle.
The schedule won’t do the team any favors either, including an absolutely punishing schedule from Week 9 to Week 16 (vs. Chargers, at Rams, vs. Packers, at Panthers, vs. 49ers, vs. Vikings, at 49ers, vs. Chiefs). Russell Wilson is a magician, but not even he can pull eight wins out of his hat this upcoming campaign. –Max Meyer
And one bonus pick from Gary Gramling: New York Giants OVER 7 Wins (-130)
Everyone’s getting the Giants offense all wrong. The past two years, in that Ben McAdoo offense, the plan was to run 11 personnel constantly (so that it could play faster out of no-huddle, presumably) and utilizing iso routes almost exclusively. In other words: Receivers were asked to beat the man in front of them. In that system, they were hopeless after Odell Beckham Jr. went down (and even more so after Brandon Marshall went down), because basically rookie TE Evan Engram was the only guy left capable of winning one-on-one, and there was no running game to speak of.
This season: Pat Shurmur’s scheme is going to be much better, Beckham is back, Engram is ready for a bigger contribution and Saquon Barkley not only single-handedly upgrades the run game (along with Will Hernandez, who could be a monster as a pulling guard), but he’s so good as a receiver that he immediately poses a pick-your-poison dilemma for the defense. Go light, and risk Barkley steamrolling you behind Hernandez and Co. Go heavy and risk Barkley torching a linebacker in the passing game (and no safety help available with Beckham on the field). Eli Manning is fine—he hasn’t fallen off physically, he’s just been hamstrung by an offense that couldn’t function with the personnel this team had. If Beckham and Barkley are healthy, the Giants have a chance to be a top-five offense this season. If those two don’t stay healthy, they can still tread water.
Remember, when this team was healthy last September, they took the Eagles to the brink in Philly, losing on a 61-yard field goal by a rookie kicker. The defense lacks a pass rush, but it won’t be as dysfunctional as it was on the back end last year. The Giants are a playoff-caliber team, and I think the clear-cut second-best team in the NFC East.