Buy/Sell: 2014 NFL regular-season win projections for Jaguars, Cowboys, more
The house always wins. The house also, from time to time, makes mistakes.
In its initial release of projected win totals prior to the 2013 season, Bovada set the Cardinals' over/under at 5.5 wins (they went 10-6), Atlanta at 10 wins (4-12) and Houston at a whopping 10.5 victories (2-14 and the No. 1 pick). For as scary accurate as the NFL oddsmakers can be on a game-by-game basis, the preseason betting lines for each team have proved erratic at best.
With that in mind, here are a few numbers (for entertainment purposes, of course) that appear skewed in one direction or the other off Bovada's 2014 team win props:
Jacksonville (4.5 wins): Gus Bradley's Jaguars won four games last year, and this year will carry an improved roster into a fairly weak AFC South. And speaking of the AFC South, its intra-conference crossover foe in 2014 is the NFC East, which featured one team above .500 last season, so those games are up for grabs.
Jacksonville will head into the season as a work in progress at ... well, more or less every position. Chad Henne does provide some stability at QB -- he was 4-9 there in '13 -- but the fan base may want to see No. 3 overall pick Blake Bortles sooner rather than later if Henne slips early. Toby Gerhart is in for Maurice Jones-Drew at running back; Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson will try to offset Justin Blackmon's suspension-induced absence at WR; Luke Joeckel's return from injury and Zane Beadles' arrival via free agency will dictate the O-line's success.
And that doesn't even touch on the defense, where the Jaguars added several pieces up front.
Add it all up and the Jaguars may be far more competitive over the second half of the season than the first, which is how last season played out (0-8 before their bye, 4-4 afterward). The steps forward ought to be substantial enough to dodge another lengthy winless stretch, putting at least five wins firmly in the picture.
New York Jets (7 wins): The Jets managed to scuffle together an 8-8 record last season, impressive considering they quite frankly weren't even that good. The offense finished 29th in points -- Geno Smith's 12-to-21 TD-to-interception differential proving too much to overcome at times. The defense, true to form on a Rex Ryan team, held its own more effectively but was mediocre against the pass and failed to generate enough meaningful turnovers.
The offense should (and absolutely has to) be more productive this season, especially if Michael Vick bumps Smith from the No. 1 job. Vick's ceiling is limited at this point in his career, in part because he never stays healthy for long, but he still is more of an all-around threat than the second-year Smith. Whoever plays QB will have the benefit of Eric Decker at WR, Jace Amaro at TE and Chris Johnson at RB. Debate if you must Johnson's remaining talent or a potential Decker drop-off outside Denver. The pieces still are an improvement over what was there last season.
Based on the win-total lines alone, the Jets rank third in the AFC East: Miami's over/under stands at eight wins, Buffalo's at 6.5. A price skewed toward the over for New York (-135 on the over, +105 on the under) hints that the number could tick up in the near future. It should.
New Orleans (9.5 wins): Let's assume that the reasoning behind this total is twofold. One, that the Buccaneers and Falcons are expected to be far improved from 2013, when they combined for eight wins; and two, that the NFC South drew the NFC North and AFC North, two divisions with at least three playoff contenders each, for its schedule this year.
Of course, last season the Saints posted a 2-2 record against the brutal NFC West and also went 2-2 against an AFC East that had three teams at .500 or better. They finished with 11 wins in all last season, one back of the Panthers. On paper, at least, Carolina could be in line for a step back, thereby making New Orleans the team to beat in this division. (Carolina and Atlanta were slapped with matching over/under totals of 8.5 wins.)
It's fair to assume another huge year is coming from Drew Brees. This may be an even better defense than 2013's fourth-ranked unit, too -- Jairus Byrd at safety and the return of LB Victor Butler from a knee injury.
Dallas (8 wins): How much do you trust Tony Romo? The question is odd given how much grief Dallas' QB takes annually, but can you imagine this team even treading water without him? Romo's connection with Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams and TE Jason Witten is the only thing keeping the Cowboys from being looked at as the NFC East's whipping boy.
They may wind up in the cellar this year anyway, regardless of how well Romo plays. The main culprit for that doom and gloom: a defense which allowed more yards than any other team last season ... and could be worse in 2014. Aside from signing free agent DT Henry Melton, the cash-strapped Cowboys barely made a dent in their defensive needs. This team has finished 8-8 each of the past three seasons (so the eight-win projection makes sense), but this squad sets up as the worst of the bunch.
Houston (7.5 wins): Keep coming back to the same refrain with the Texans -- they wouldn't have been a two-win team last season if they had a decent quarterback. We're in the second week of June and it remains anyone's guess who will start at QB come Week 1. Expecting more than a six-win improvement over 2013 is really asking a lot of rookie head coach Bill O'Brien.
The oddsmakers are on board, at least. Bovada has a -150 line on Houston's over, meaning that laying cash on the Texans getting to eight or more wins is supposed to be considered the safer play.
Detroit (8.5 wins): Basically, just playing the odds here. Comparing this current Lions team to the dregs that took the field in the early 2000s is a disservice, but you know how many seasons with nine or more wins the Lions have had since 2001? One. Their lone breakthrough came in 2011, when a 10-6 mark pushed them into a wild-card spot. They had a golden opportunity to claim a postseason berth last year via the NFC North title, with a sweep of Chicago and Rodgers down for much of the year. Instead, they lost six of their last seven to wind up 7-9, outside the playoffs.
New head coach Jim Caldwell should offer a steadier hand than the man he replaced, Jim Schwartz. Caldwell gets the benefit of a stockpiled offense, one that should be even more deadly in 2014 thanks to Golden Tate and Eric Ebron. The defense -- and particularly the secondary -- could hold this team back again. The Lions are counting on many of the same faces that failed them last season, plus a couple of veteran retreads like ex-Ravens safety James Ihedigbo.
On top of dealing with Aaron Rodgers' Packers and Jay Cutler's Bears, the Lions also face New Orleans, Atlanta, New England and an Arizona team that's beaten them each of the past two seasons. Detroit may need a surprise or two just to break even. Soaring past the eight-win mark and into the playoffs could make Caldwell a Coach of the Year favorite.
Another NFC North team that may fall short of its win total: Green Bay, at 10.5 wins. I'll be picking the Packers to win the division, but considering how tough the competition is and when factoring in games against Seattle and New England, getting to 11-5 will be a chore.
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