- The season officially kicks off on Thursday, and we conclude our dive into NFL win totals by looking at our favorite NFC overs.
The NFL's opening kickoff is this Thursday, and that means it's time to conclude our dive into win totals. SI Gambling has been rolling out our favorite over and under bets for both the AFC and NFC using current win totals available at New Jersey sportsbooks (FanDuel, DraftKings, William Hill, PointsBet). After revealing our favorite AFC and NFC unders, along with AFC overs, we finish up with NFC overs.
Carolina Panthers: 7.5 (Over -160, Under +145 at PointsBet)
The Panthers started off 6-2, but then injuries completely derailed their season, highlighted by Cam Newton’s ailing shoulder. Things were so bad that Newton was pulled on a Hail Mary attempt in favor of Taylor Heinicke. But Newton’s arm strength has come back, which obviously elevates the ceiling of this Carolina offense. And it’s a group loaded with exciting young talent in Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner pleasantly surprised in Year 1, and another year of getting acclimated with his players can only mean positive things.
Carolina finished 7-9 last season, including a 2-7 record in one-score games. Five of those one-score losses were part of a seven-game losing streak that knocked the Panthers out of the playoffs. So not only did the team have unfortunate injury luck (the Panthers finished 26th last season in adjusted games lost), it also was unlucky in close games.
The Panthers also figure to be much improved in the trenches. Projected starting left tackle Darryl Williams played in only one game last season. Right tackle Taylor Moton, who started at left tackle in Week 1 with Matt Kalil out for the season, was ranked as the 15th-best tackle in 2018 by Pro Football Focus after having to fill in for Williams at right tackle after the Panthers’ first game. That includes PFF’s third-highest pass-block grade among all right tackles. Offseason acquisition Matt Paradis is an enormous upgrade at center over Ryan Kalil, and Carolina drafted Ole Miss lineman Greg Little in the second round to add depth.
On the defensive line, the Panthers acquired Gerald McCoy this offseason, and also added pass-rushers Bruce Irvin (offseason signing) and Brian Burns (first-round draft pick). Kawann Short and Mario Addison are two anchors along the defensive line, and they’ll have much more help against opposing offensive linemen. The secondary is still a big question mark, but with this group’s ability to generate more pressure than last season, it could make things much easier for the corners and safeties.
The Panthers also have some nice advantages on their schedule. They face an NFL-leading five opponents playing consecutive road games, including the Buccaneers who will be three straight weeks away from home in their London game. Speaking of the London game, with the Bucs being the host there, that means Carolina gets eight true home games compared to seven.
The Panthers face just one team with a rest advantage all season—they go to Atlanta in Week 14 with the Falcons coming off a Thursday night appearance. Carolina hosts the Saints in the final week of the season, where its outdoor stadium could be a big advantage (especially given that Drew Brees has really struggled at the end of regular seasons compared to the start of them in recent years). The Panthers host the Seahawks in Week 15 on an early kickoff, an uphill battle for an NFC West team. And after playing their first nine games in stadiums with roofs, the Falcons’ first outside road game where the weather could actually be a factor is against the Panthers in Week 11—which is Atlanta’s second straight road game after a huge showdown in New Orleans against its hated rival.
The juice is high, but I’m very optimistic about Carolina’s chances of competing for the NFC South crown this season. If Newton can stay healthy, this win total should go over.
Minnesota Vikings: 9 (Over EVEN, Under -120 at FanDuel)
The Vikings were one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl before last season kicked off. After a disappointing 8-7-1 campaign, pretty much the same team that had so much hype surrounding it last year now has a win total of nine, with the over at plus money. Maybe I’m stubbornly refusing to get off the Minnesota bandwagon, but it just seems to me that people have steered clear of this team as a legitimate contender in 2019 too quickly.
Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook, Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen make up a dynamic offense if they can all stay healthy. Sure, Cousins has struggled in big games, but he’s certainly a competent starting quarterback. The offensive line is the biggest weakness on this team, and the Vikings drafted center Garrett Bradbury in the first round to help fix it. Hiring Gary Kubiak as an offensive advisor likely means shifting to a zone-blocking scheme, which could also help out this group.
On the defense, there are stars on all three levels. Losing Sheldon Richardson along the defensive line hurts, but if pass-rusher Everson Griffen can have a bounce-back campaign, that group will be fine. Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr form one of the best linebacking tandems in the league. And while the Vikings’ secondary did take a step back in 2019, the talent is still overflowing there with Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith headlining the back end.
Minnesota has a tricky schedule, especially early on since it plays the other three NFC North teams on the road within the season’s first seven weeks. But hosting the Packers and Bears to end the season rather than having Cousins play those big games in frigid temperatures is a nice break. Thanks to the Vikings’ second-place finish, they get the Eagles and Seahawks on the schedule. The Seahawks game is in Seattle on MNF, a really tough environment to play in, but at least the Vikings have the rest advantage there since they’ll be coming off a bye. Meanwhile, the Vikings get to host the Eagles at home.
Also, a bet on the Vikings over means you’re likely fading the Bears, who won the NFC North last season. The Bears were a great story in 2018, going from worst to first in the NFC North. The big reason behind the turnaround was having the best defense in the league, a unit whose defensive DVOA was the best mark Football Outsiders recorded since the … 2012 Bears, who went 10-6. In 2013, that previously top-ranked Bears defense fell all the way down to 25th in defensive DVOA. Now, I don’t think that the Bears slip that far this season, but it’s tough for defenses to continuously stay elite.
Starting with the Titans in 2000, the 18 teams with the best defensive DVOA finished in the top three the following season just five times. Eight teams made it back into the top five. On the other hand, elite offenses have been more consistent. Since 2000, the 18 teams with the best offensive DVOA finished in the top three the following season 10 times and inside the top five 12 times.
The 2018 Bears defense was so incredible that it was able to carry into the playoffs the 20th-ranked offense in DVOA and 26th-ranked special teams in DVOA. If that defense were to take a step back, like recent history suggests it most likely will, it could be tough for this team to get back to double-digit wins—barring massive improvement from Mitch Trubisky.
The Bears’ win total of nine already has factored regression into the equation since Chicago went 12-4 last season. While I don’t think there’s much value in betting under on the Bears’ win total given that, the Vikings are the more complete team and I like their chances more of winning the NFC North. So whether it’s by betting over the Vikings win total or by betting the Vikings to win the division, I think it’s worth it to invest in a now underrated Vikings team here with a sour taste still in the public’s mouth after a disappointing 2018.
The Vikings still have one of the most talented rosters in the NFC. The schedule isn’t the easiest, but if this team can live up to its potential this time around, it’s the favorite in the NFC North and it should get to double-digit wins.