This week, Sportsbook released their early 2013 NFL regular season over/under win totals (here’s an updated link via Bovada). In case you don’t remember, for last year’s NFL Over/Under Wins column, I offered some excellent insight (“A .500 season [for Buffalo] is a lot to ask,” “The stars are perfectly aligned for [Detroit to finish under 9 wins])”) as well as a momentary gaffe or two (“The 2012 Broncos are a disaster waiting to implode” – at least that statement was correct about the last 40 seconds of regulation in their playoff loss to the Ravens). All in all, three out of my five picks were correct, which isn’t bad, since I originally had a paragraph about the 12.5 win total for New England was too high and how the Ravens would probably knock us out of the playoffs as payback for Lee Evans/Billy Cundiff (I swear I wrote this before deciding it looked too negative).
Of course, writing this article in May has its drawbacks. There are still some key free agents (John Abraham, Ahmad Bradsahw, Dallas Clark) that have yet to be signed with a team, and last week’s developments involving Michael Crabtree and Brian Urlacher are indications of how unpredictable the league is during the summer months, and the difficulty of accurately predicting how a team will perform in the upcoming regular season. But there are also upsides. Seattle had an over/under of 7 wins according to my column last year – and I was writing in July. Other ridiculous lines included Oakland (7.5 wins), Washington (6 wins), and most laughable of all, Indianapolis (5 wins) and Philadelphia (10.5 wins). Imagine what these totals must have looked like before the Colts signed Donnie Avery and the Eagles traded Asante Samuel to the Falcons.
In any event, here are five early predictions that, like 32-yard field goals, are automatic cash in your wallet.
Cincinnati Bengals (Over 8.5 wins -135)
$100 bet pays $74.07
The Bengals have made the playoffs in three of the last four seasons. Consider other teams which have failed to do this: The Giants, 49ers, Steelers, Texans, Vikings, Broncos, and Seahawks. Of course, each of those teams (minus the Broncos) have more playoff wins in the last four years than Cincinnati, but this column is about regular season wins. In 2012, Geno Atkins and Michael Johnson spearheaded a fearsome defense that was second in the league in sacks, and ended the year with victories over the Steelers (in Pittsburgh) and the Ravens. They had, by all accounts, a superb draft where they drafted this guy. Where did they find him, Avenger tryouts? In 2013, they have a grand total of one road game versus a winning team (at Baltimore, week 10), three of its first four and final four games are at home, and we all know about the big offseason losses of the Ravens and Steelers. This is the team of the future in the AFC North.
Denver Broncos (Under 11.5 wins -120)
$100 bet pays $120
I’m not going to go crazy and call them a disaster in the making, like I proclaimed them to be in last year’s column. But age is a problem for this team. Depending on how you choose to look at it, the Broncos offense is either too old (Peyton Manning is 37 and Willis McGahee will be 32) or too young and inexperienced (Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas are coming off their first 1,000 yard, injury-free campaigns). In 2012, Denver was blessed with a ridiculously easy schedule (10 of its 13 wins coming against teams sub-.500) and was fortunate enough to play in a division with the Chargers, Chiefs, and Raiders. Now, the Chargers have Manti Te’o and Dwight Freeney, the Chiefs have Andy Reid and Aaron Rodgers, and the Raiders . . . well, I guess that’s two of Denver’s 12 needed wins right there, but where are the Broncos going to find those ten other wins? Admittedly, their 2013 schedule isn’t dramatically difficult, but here’s a question: Can you name the last 13 win, non-New England team to win 12+ games its next season? You would have to go all the way back to 2009, when Manning’s Colts won 14 games after a 12-win 2008. There’s too much parity in the league to rely on good teams to remain consistently good (unless you’re talking about the Patriots). 12 wins is a high total for any team, let alone one which has never won three consecutive division titles.
Detroit Lions (Under 7.5 wins +110)
$100 bet pays $110
Were the Sportsbook prognosticators in Vegas not watching this team last year? Hello? Maybe they were distracted by the free T-shirts in the Part Pit at the Excalibur. In the meantime, the 2012 Lions were one of the most dumbfounding, statistically quirky teams of all time. Matthew Stafford threw for over 4,900 yards and Calvin Johnson set an NFL record with 1,964 receiving yards . . . and yet they could only muster 20 passing TDs and 5 receiving TDs between them. Huh? Only one receiver has ever passed 1,400 yards receiving and had fewer total TDs (interestingly, that receiver was Andre Johnson in 2012). It’s not like the Lions had a great running game in the red zone either; they just didn’t know how to win games. In eight of their 12 losses, they outgained their opponent in total yards. Who does that? Anyway, Detroit will continue doing its best imitation of the mid-1980s Chargers by throwing for a ton of yards, lacking a consistent running game, and forgetting entirely about defense. Oh, and four of its first six games in 2013 are on the road, and ten of their opponents had winning records last season.
San Francisco 49ers (Under 11 wins -105)
$100 bet pays $105
Expect this total to fall to 10.5 or 10 depending on the gravity of the Crabtree situation. But even with a healthy Crabtree, 11+ wins is a tall order for the 49ers. This is not because they don’t have talent; they may be the league’s deepest team on both sides of the ball. Put this squad in another year or another division and 11 wins would be a cakewalk. Unfortunately, the 2013 49ers face serious questions: Can Colin Kaepernick make it through an entire season? Can Kyle Williams and Mario Manningham account for the loss of Crabtree (and Delanie Walker)? On defense, which Nnamdi Asomugha will show up – the Raiders version or the Eagles version? But most significantly, the NFC West has gone from laughingstock of the league to suddenly the NFL’s toughest division, especially with the Seahawks (unbeatable at Qwest Field) and the Rams (excellent draft, unbeaten vs. San Francisco last season). San Francisco’s 2013 schedule gives them no breaks: Seven playoff teams, on top of four games against the improved Rams and Cardinals. Yikes. In fact, an 0-5 start is not inconceivable (especially if you’re a biased Seahawks fan like certain other contributors to this website). I love this team, and I hope they play the Patriots in Super Bowl 48. But the road will be anything but easy.
Washington Redskins (Under 8.5 wins -135)
$100 bet pays $74.07
Let’s even assume, just for a second, that RG3 is telling us the truth and he starts Week 1 fully recovered from his reconstructive knee surgery. Now let’s assume that somehow, miraculously, RG3 is able to make it through the season without injury long enough to reach the plateau of nine wins – a notoriously difficult feat in the NFC East. Now let’s assume that Alfred Morris doesn’t have a sophomore slump, that the offense continues to only turn the ball over a league-leading 14 times all year, and that the defense overcomes its bottom-three passing numbers in 2012. Let’s assume the Redskins can have consecutive winning seasons, something the Washington franchise has not accomplished since Bush watched their games from the White House (not W., but H.W.) Let’s assume that they can beat Green Bay, Denver, and Atlanta on the road, and that the Chip Kelly experiment in Philadelphia is a disaster. Now, even if all of those things end up happening, do you still honestly believe without a doubt the Redskins will reach nine wins? My point exactly.