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Monday, August 1, 2011

2011 NFL Division Winners Predictions

Lines are beginning to show up at the books and there is some great value on the board.  I like three underdogs, one upset, and one favorite this year.  I also expect the Packers, Patriots, and Chargers to take care of business in their divisions, but I'll be skipping them due to the overpriced juice.  For the latest odds check out Bodog, 5 Dimes, or Intertops.

I'll have more in-depth analysis for each team in my season win totals predictions and week 1 preview.

NFC East - Philadelphia Eagles (EVEN)

PHI already had a slight edge on the division heading into free agency, but with the explosion of moves over the last week they've really separated themselves from the pack.  There are still questions at linebacker and the O-line, but the G-Men and DAL haven't done enough to keep up. As I write this Umenyiora looks like he's on his way out of town via trade.  PHI is on the board at EVEN odds and I expect sharps and squares to bet truckloads on them.  It won't be long until the value is gone.  WSH have once again revamped their roster, but they aren't competing for anything important this year with their current QB situation.

NFC West - St Louis Rams (+195)

The San Francisco 49ers are getting a lot of love from the bookmakers this year.  They expect SF to have a bounce back year with an entirely new coaching staff and an easy schedule.  I do like the change in culture because Singletary coached long past his due date, but it should take some time before this team gels.  In constrast, STL bring a lot more stability into 2011.  I'm a big fan of coach Spags and most NFL players see their biggest leap in development from year one to year two.  This is great new for Bradford.  I really like the additions of Mikell, Dahl, and Sims-Walker as well.  Their schedule isn't very appealing in the first half of the year, but it's not that much tougher than SF's overall.  Jackson isn't the answer at QB for SEA and they still have too many problems on defense.  ARI have made the most changes to their roster in free agency led by the acquisition of Kolb, but it would take a minor miracle for them to win the division this year.

NFC North - Green Bay Packers

I don't see any value in betting on GB to win this division. There is far too much juice to lay to make it worth the risk. CHI were overrated last season and they haven't done enough to challenge the Super Bowl champs for the division crown.   DET is the team to watch as they could challenge CHI for the runner up spot.   MIN is a wild card due to the coaching/QB changes, but I don't expect them to be the doormats that they were last year.  

NFC South - Atlanta Falcons (+110)

There is great value for the reigning NFC South champs.  The Saints got a lot of positive variance in 2009 and a lot of negative variance in 2010.  The books think they'll return to somewhere in the middle and put them as slight favorites to win the South. NO brought back a lot of their important free agents and have Sproles/Ingram to replace Bush, but they still have too many questions at linebacker and their offensive/defensive lines.  ATL should prove to people that 2010 was no fluke.  They did lose Dahl, but retained Clabo and Blalock on the offensive line.  Adding Edwards will give them a legitimate pass rush and rookie WR Jones adds another weapon on offense.  TB was a bit overrated last year and should fall back to earth a bit in 2011.  CAR will need to heavily pray to the football gods and utilize every voodoo doll they can find.  UPDATE: NO added Franklin in free agency today, but it doesn't change my opinion on the division hierarchy. 

AFC East - New England Patriots

Much like the Packers, I won't be laying that much juice on the Patriots to win the East.  There just isn't any value here unless you like the Jets.  Last year I thought the Jets made enough upgrades to pull off the upset, but they didn't pay off until the playoffs.  I would love to take another chance on them this year, but they were far too inconsistent in 2010 and didn't make many changes for 2011.  Can Sanchez improve enough to take them to the next level?  I have my doubts.  Making things even more difficult is the fact that NE retained Mankins and Light and added Ocho and Haynseworth.  The latter two might amount to nothing, but you can bet that at least one of them will pan out.   The defense is young and should take another step this year as well.  MIA and BUF are mere afterthoughts.

AFC West - San Diego Chargers 

I don't see an upset in the West.  There is no value on taking the Chargers either.  If you think KC have the ability to repeat then more power to you, but don't expect SD to suffer from the same kind of special teams disasters that they had last year.  2010 was an anomaly.  SD made the necessary changes in special teams and only lost Sproles to free agency.  The off-field holdouts/suspensions are a thing of the past.  KC will continue to be competitive and adding Breaston was smart, but they didn't improve much on defense and face a much more difficult schedule than SD.   OAK will take a step back and DEN is in a painful rebuild.  

AFC North - Pittsburgh Steelers (+115)

I'm a little surprised at the value offered on PIT.  They pretty much return the same team as 2010.  I don't forsee a Super Bowl hangover for PIT and they have the easiest schedule in the NFL.  In fact, I dropped BAL a couple of spots in my power rankings based on my analysis.  I maintain that they overperformed a little last season and free agency didn't provide any significant upgrades.  Leach was a good pickup from HOU, but it's not as if their running game was in need of an overhaul.  Losing McGahee and Heap isn't a big deal, but Landry and Wilson?   I didn't like those losses.  I'm also not the biggest fan of Flacco.  CLE and CIN will be nothing more than speed-bumps.

AFC South - Houston Texans (+200)

HOU is my upset special for the divisional predictions.  I've banked a lot from IND over the years, but those days might be coming to an end.  I really expected more from them in free agency and losing Session and Johnson was a bit of a surprise.  There are legitimate health concerns for many of their key offensive players including Manning (age, neck), Addai (made of glass), Gonzalez (knee), Collie (concussions), and Clark (age).  Their O-line has some question marks and their defense will continue to be soft up the middle and prone to giving up the big play.  HOU tanked hard last year, but they drafted three defensive players at the top of the draft, should get bounce back seasons at linebacker, and acquired Joseph and Manning to shore up the secondary.  There will be some growing pain on defense as Phillips implements his 3-4, but they don't need to become the Steel Curtain to win this division.  TEN and JAX will be lucky if they aren't mathematically eliminated by November.
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