The NFL season is upon us, so it’s time for some prognostication. Below I’ve made my picks for team win over/unders, which I grabbed from an offshore gambling site of questionable legality as well as division/playoff predictions and some key stats*.
Buffalo Bills (over/under 6 wins – UNDER) Hard to be optimistic about a team with a tough schedule and only two rookie quarterbacks on the roster. The Bills announced that EJ Manuel will play Week 1, which is a good sign (although disappointing for me since I was looking forward to the Jeff Tuel era), but I still see them struggling this season. Key stat: 0 – combined career NFL starts of current Bills quarterbacks.
Miami Dolphins (7.5 – UNDER) – This was a tough one, but I’ll take the under. The Dolphins face the AFC North and NFC South divisions this year. That plus two games against the Pats will make it hard for them to improve on last season’s 7-9 mark, unless Ryan Tannehill shows a huge improvement over last season and they can finish better than 27th in points scored.
New England Patriots (11 – PUSH) There are questions about the Patriots offensive weapons, and they face a tough schedule against the AFC North and NFC South, but the Belichick-Brady combo has earned the benefit of the doubt. 11 wins feels right. Key stat: The Patriots have finished with fewer than 11 wins only twice since 2003 (10 in 2005 and 2009).
New York Jets (6 – UNDER) The Jets recently announced that Geno Smith will be the starter to begin the season. Don’t expect to him to be the next rookie quarterbacking phenom and given that Rex Ryan is on the hot seat, any struggles will lead to a Mark Buttfumble sighting. Teams with quarterback issues have a hard time getting to 6 wins. Key stat: 1000 – combined weight, in pounds, of Rex and Rob Ryan.
DIVISION PICK: Patriots
Baltimore Ravens (8.5 – OVER) This number seems really low for the defending champs, even though recently history suggests they won’t be reappearing in the Super Bowl. The offense might struggle this season at times with the losses of Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta, but despite the personel losses on defense, I believe they’ll be a better unit statistically than last season with their draft/free agency additions and a healthy Ngata/Suggs/Webb. Harbaugh and Flacco have made the playoffs in each of the 5 years together and I don’t expect that to change. (Full disclosure: I’m a huge Ravens fan) Key stat: 15 TD, 1 INT for Joe Flacco after Jim Caldwell became offensive coordinator.
Cincinnati Bengals (8.5 – OVER) The Bengals are a popular pick to win the AFC North this season. To do that, I think they’ll have to beat the defending-champion Ravens in a meaningful game, which they haven’t proven they can do. Nonetheless, you can’t help but be impressed with what Andy Dalton and A.J. Green have done in their first two seasons and they’ll have a good defense yet again, so I expect them to grab one of the wild card spots in the AFC and have another early playoff exit. Key Stat: 0 – Number of playoff wins in Marvin Lewis’ 10-year tenure with the Browns (0-4 in the postseason).
Cleveland Browns (6.5 – UNDER) These are the Browns’ win totals the past 10 seasons: 5, 4, 6, 4, 10, 4, 5, 5, 4, 5. So, yeah, I’ll take the under. I think they’ll be competitive, as they were last year, but its hard to see them cracking the top 3 in a tough division. Key stat: 57 – Age, in years, of Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden.
Pittsburgh Steelers (9.5 – UNDER) Feels like an 8-9 win team to me. Why their number is higher than the Ravens’ is beyond me. The departure of Mike Wallace, preseason injury to Le’Veon Bell and the always-shaky offensive line mean they’ll have to rely on the defense if they want to compete for the division title. I think they’ll be the 3rd best team in the division and I wouldn’t be shocked if they snuck into the playoffs if a 9-7 record will do. Key stat: 56 – points scored by Pittsburgh in the preseason (I know its preseason, but that’s not a good sign).
DIVISION PICK: Ravens – WILD CARD: Bengals
Houston Texans (10.5 – OVER) I’m not a fan of the Texans’ playoff chances, but they’ve proven they can win in the regular season. I think we could start to see a decline in Arian Foster’s numbers this year (over 1200 touches the last 3 seasons), but a solid defense and a fairly light schedule (games against Chargers, Titans (x2), Cardinals, Raiders and Jaguars (x2) are gimmes). Key stat: Arian Foster yards per carry: 4.9 (2010), 4.5 (2011), 4.1 (2012).
Indianapolis Colts (8.5 – UNDER) The Colts were the most improved team last season, fueled by Chuckstrong, a nice rookie season from Andrew Luck and an easy schedule. I think they’ll come back to earth this year, with a tougher schedule, and probably a little less magic in close games. Key stat: 7 – number of game-winning drives led by Andrew Luck last season, tied with Matt Ryan for league lead.
Jacksonville Jaguars (5 – UNDER) The Jaguars won 2 games last year, and I see no reason to belive that they’ll more than double that. I saw a report that Blaine Gabbert is “uncomfortable throwing the football”. That’s not a good sign if your job is to throw the football.
Tennessee Titans (6.5 – UNDER) Who is on this team? Do they still exist? Key stat: 0 – times this offseason I read or saw anything about the Tennessee Titans.
DIVISION PICK: Texans
Denver Broncos (11.5 – UNDER) Everyone seems to be lauding the Wes Welker signing. Broncos fans better hope he can rush the passer. The Broncos finished fourth in total yards last year, so I’m not really sure they needed any offensive upgrades. The loss of Elvis Dumervil, suspension of Von Miller and the already-banged-up Champ Bailey (who got torched by Torrey Smith in the playoffs anyway) are going to create defensive issues that will cost them games. Key stat: 29.5 sacks, 12 forced fumbles – last year’s combined totals for Elvis Dumervil (signed with Ravens) and Von Miller (suspended six games to start season).
Kansas City Chiefs (7.5 – OVER) Despite a talented roster, the Chiefs have struggled the past two seasons due to injuries, poor coaching and Matt Cassel. I think they’ll grab the final Wild Card spot behind Alex Smith, Jamaal Charles and a monster season from Dwayne Bowe. Key Stat: 2167 – Pounds of BBQ consumed by Andy Reid since January. I heard he likes brisket.
Oakland Raiders (5 – UNDER) The Raiders quarterback options are Matt Flynn, Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin. That’s all you need to know.
San Diego Chargers (7.5 – OVER) Phillip Rivers may will the Chargers to 8 or 9 wins this season, but no more than that. If his receivers will perform at a higher level, there’s no reason Rivers won’t get back to being a solid QB.
DIVISION PICK: Broncos – WILD CARD: Chiefs
Dallas Cowboys (8.5 – OVER) This division is really, really tough to predict. I could see any of the four teams finishing in any order. I like the Cowboys this year, even though I know it will probably come back to haunt me.
New York Giants (8.5 – OVER) – I think the Giants will be 9-7 again this season and possibly sneak into the playoffs, in large part due to the schedule they’ll be facing in the division. It seems mediocre, but they’ve proven they don’t need to be 12-4 to make deep playoff runs.
Philadelphia Eagles (7.5 – UNDER) – The Eagles were pretty bad on both sides of the ball last year, and not even Chip Kelly can turn it around in one offseason. Vick is always an injury liability (13 or fewer games played each season since he came back to the league) and the defense doesn’t look to be much improved.
Washington Redskins – (8.5 – UNDER) Robert Griffin, III will start in week 1, but whether or not he’ll start all 16 games is the bigger question. After the huge year that read-option quarterbacks like RG3 and Colin Kaepernick had last season, I’d be shocked if NFL defenses don’t come out of the gate this season better prepared to defend those systems, so I expect the Redskins to take a small step back this season. The future’s still bright.
DIVISION PICK: Cowboys
Chicago Bears (8.5 – UNDER) The Bears have a pretty tough schedule this year with their division opponents, the AFC North and the NFC South. The new coach and the absence of longtime defense leader Brian Urlacher make me think this might be an 8-8 transition year for them.
Detroit Lions (7.5 – OVER) Every year, at least one team makes the jump from worst to first in an NFL division. If I had to pick one this season in the NFC, it would be the Lions, though if I had to bet my life on it I’d go with the Packers still. They’ll have the offensive firepower to outscore almost anyone and the defensive front to make things tough on quarterbacks.
Green Bay Packers (10.5 – OVER) The Packers have averaged almost 12 wins per season the last 4 years and I see no reason to expect that to change. Aaron Rodgers is the best QB in the league and as long as he’s healthy they’re the clear favorite in the division.
Minnesota Vikings (7 – PUSH) If Christian Ponder doesn’t work out, the Vikings can always fall back on future Hall of Famer Matt Cassel. If Adrian Peterson can match last seasons’ production, they might have a chance to finish above .500 again, but no back who rushed for 2000 yards has ever come close the following year.
DIVISION PICK: Packers
Atlanta Falcons (9.5 – OVER) Home field advantage and offensive efficiency make the Falcons a near lock to hit 10 wins for the foreseeable future. I’m not sure the addition of Steven Jackson will be a big deal, but the Jones-White-Gonzalez receiving trio is a force to be reckoned with. Key stat: 33-6 – Atlanta’s home record the last 5 years.
Carolina Panthers (7.5 – OVER) Cam Newton has been progressing nicely the last 2 years and I think that will continue. My only concern is the relative lack of receiving and rushing options for the offense, but Cam is dynamic enough to carry them to at least 8-8.
New Orleans Saints (9.5 – OVER) The Saints are an easy pick to have a comeback year now that coach Sean Payton is back to
reinstate the bounty system coach the team. Drew Brees is as consistent as they come, so if the Saints can improve the defense even slightly they’ll be back in the playoff hunt.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7.5 – UNDER) I don’t have a lot of faith in Josh Freeman, and while Doug Martin will probably have a good year, it’ll be hard to repeat the production of his rookie campaign. With the Saints’ likely return to prominence, the Bucs will struggle to get to .500.
DIVISION PICK: Falcons – WILD CARD: Saints
Arizona Cardinals (5.5 – OVER) I’m no Carson Palmer lover, but there’s no way he won’t be better than Skelton-Kolb-Lindley disaster. Expect Larry Fitzgerald to have a much improved season, similar to those he had before Kurt Warner abandoned him. The running back situation might still be an issue, but having a decent passing game should help open things up for whoever they put back there. Key stat: 798 – receiving yards for Larry Fitzgerald last year, his lowest since 2004 (his rookie year).
San Francisco 49ers (11 – UNDER) According to this post, Super Bowl runner-ups average about 10 wins the following season and I expect the 49ers to be right in that range. As I mentioned with the Redskins, I think their opponents will be better at defending against dual-threat quarterbacks like Colin Kaepernick. He won’t be taking anyone by surprise this year.
Seattle Seahawks (10.5 – OVER) I’m picking the Seahawks to win the division this year, even without Percy Harvin. They came on strong at the end of the year, and their home field advantage is huge when it comes to getting to 11 wins.
St. Louis Rams (7.5 – UNDER) They’ll probably lose all 4 to the Seahawks and 49ers, which makes it tough for them to get to 8-8. I’m still not sold on Sam Bradford and until Jeff Fisher turns him into a top-15 quarterback, I don’t see them contending in this division.
DIVISION PICK: Seahawks – WILD CARD: 49ers
Wild Card Round
AFC: (3) Ravens over (6) Chiefs
AFC: (4) Broncos over (5) Bengals
NFC: (3) Seahawks over (6) 49ers
NFC: (5) Saints over (4) Cowboys
AFC: (1) Patriots over (4) Broncos
AFC: (3) Ravens over (2) Texans
NFC: (1) Packers over (5) Saints
NFC: (2) Falcons over (3) Seahawks
AFC: (3) Ravens over (4) Broncos
NFC: (2) Falcons over (1) Packers
Ravens over Falcons in the battle of 2008 first round QBs.
It’s definitely a semi-homer pick, but I won’t apologize.
* Key stats may or not be accurate, properly sourced, or even remotely useful.