With week one just under a month away, I’m offering my takes on Vegas’ over/under win total odds for the 2017 season. Yesterday I did the AFC. Today is the NFC. Pay particular attention to my best bets for each division. They’re the picks I’m most confident in!
Best Bet: Minnesota Vikings UNDER 8.5
A few too many unknowns with the Vikings. Is their offensive line improved after a dismal 2016? Will their defense, which slumped to 19th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric over the second half of last season, return to its elite ways? Can Sam Bradford stay healthy? Perhaps everything works out for Minnesota and they make the playoffs after a one-year absence. But this line is too high, so I’m confident in the under.
Green Bay Packers: OVER 10.5
This is a high valuation for the Packers. However, they have a manageable schedule and I love what Aaron Rodgers and company did over their last nine games last year, averaging over 31 points. Relax and take Green Bay to win anywhere from 11-13 games.
Detroit Lions: UNDER 8
The Lions are poised to regress–I wrote about a few reasons why in a recent article. The main reason they’re in for a decline, though, is because they ranked only 27th in DVOA last season, yet still made the playoffs. Matthew Stafford, who led Detroit to eight one-score wins in ’16, can’t keep carrying such a huge load. Their roster, as a whole, is weak.
Chicago Bears: UNDER 5.5
A part of me thinks six or seven wins is possible for the Bears. The defense was banged up last year, so that unit should improve. And MitchTrubisky…well, who knows? I think he could be very good. However, Chicago is still rebuilding in many areas. They’re probably a 5-win club.
Best Bet: Carolina Panthers OVER 8.5
The Panthers will take advantage of one of the league’s easiest schedules (in fact, the second-easiest, according to Football Outsiders) to return to the playoffs. Remember that this was a 15-win club only two years ago. Many of their key pieces–Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly, Kawann Short–are still in place. Thanks to a weak schedule, both their offense and defense should bounce back dramatically, which means the Panthers are a great bet to improve by at least three wins.
Atlanta Falcons: OVER 9.5
Many pundits aren’t high on Atlanta this year, saying they’re in for an offensive regression after losing offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan (not to mention a Super Bowl hangover). Sure, they might not put together one of the best offensive seasons in league history again, but I think Matt Ryan and Julio Jones will be just fine. The Falcons are a solid 10-win team.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: OVER 8.5
Jameis Winston is likely to take another step forward with new offensive weapons in DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard. I also like Tampa’s defense, which allowed only 17 points per game over the second half of last season. Their offensive line may be shaky, but I think they’ll win nine games.
New Orleans Saints: UNDER 8
The Saints will finish last in what could be the NFL’s most competitive division. Losing receiver Brandin Cooks is going to hurt. Their defense is still atrocious. I’m also skeptical that they can continue relying so heavily on Drew Brees, who’s 38 and may be at greater risk to injury. This may be the last we see of Sean Payton on the New Orleans sideline.
Best Bet: Philadelphia Eagles OVER 8
The Eagles will take another step forward this season thanks to a top-1o defense and an emerging offense. Philly ranked 4th in DVOA last season despite playing the league’s toughest slate of opposing offenses. Their key pieces–Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, and Jordan Hicks–all return. Meanwhile, Carson Wentz should improve after the Eagles added Alshon Jeffrey and Torrey Smith over the offseason. He’ll also benefit from having Pro Bowl tackle Lane Johnson’s services for a full season (Johnson missed 10 games in 2016). In short, buy stock in the Eagles. I think they’re playoff bound.
Dallas Cowboys: UNDER 9.5
I’m not entirely confident when I say the Cowboys will only nine games. Nonetheless, I’m going with the under for three reasons. 1) Dallas projects to play the league’s toughest schedule, according to Football Outsiders. 2) Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension will hurt, mainly because their offensive line isn’t quite as stout as it was last season. They lost both Doug Free and Ronald Leary, two solid lineman who helped with depth. And 3) Four of Dallas’ five primary defensive backs from last season departed over the offseason. Four out of five. That leaves their secondary thin against many of the top offenses they’ll face this season, including Green Bay, Atlanta, and Seattle. Dallas will go 9-7.
New York Giants: UNDER 9
The Giants’ offense won’t be as good as people think. Eli Manning looks to be in decline and their running game hasn’t improved after finishing 29th in yards per attempt. They’ll need their defense to as great as it was last season, but I doubt that can happen given their exceptional health in ’16. Playing the league’s 7th toughest schedule won’t help, either.
Washington Redskins: OVER 7.5
The Redskins may have lost a few key pieces over the offseason, namely Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson. But let’s not underrate Kirk Cousins: he has finished in the top six of Total QBR each of the past two seasons. Good quarterback play will be enough to get the ‘Skins to at least .500.
Best Bet: Los Angeles Rams OVER 5.5
Before a second-half collapse in which former coach Jeff Fischer completely lost the locker room, the Rams were 4-6, with four of those losses coming by less than a touchdown. Meanwhile, three of those wins came against Seattle, Tampa Bay, and Arizona (the wins over the ‘Bucs and Cardinals also came on the road). Simply put, this team has potential. I’m counting on Jared Goff to improve (he has nowhere else to go) and think that LA’s already-talented defense will benefit from the tutelage of new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. This could be a .500 team, with a little luck.
Seattle Seahawks: UNDER 10.5
The Seahawks are certainly solid enough to be in the playoff hunt. Too much internal strife and questions on the offensive line, though, prevent me from confidently taking them to win at least 11 games.
Arizona Cardinals: OVER 8
With some explosive weapons on offense (i.e. David Johnson) and a solid defense, Arizona will look more like the team that appeared in the 2015 NFC Championship game. They should capitalize on a bottom-10 schedule, too.
San Francisco 49ers: UNDER 4.5
The 49ers are heading in the right direction, but they can’t solve all of their problems after a 2-14 campaign. San Francisco will fall short short of five wins with Brian Hoyer under center, largely due to improvement from the Cardinals and Rams.