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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

2011 NFL Season Win Totals: AFC Predictions

The numbers for season win totals have changes significantly ever since the MGM Grand set the market last week. Strong trends have emerged and the lines continue to adjust as the whirlwind of sharp money, public hysteria, and roster moves shake things up.

I have enough information to make my predictions for both conferences so let's take a look at what I like in the AFC for 2011.

Check out Bodog or 5 Dimes for the latest lines and the best prices.

Houston Texans: OVER 8

New defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is downplaying the difficulty of transitioning to the 3-4 defense, but there will be a learning curve that includes bumps n' bruises.  They bowed out of the Asomugha sweepstakes early so they could lockdown deals with Manning and Joseph.  This should go a long way in balancing out their team.  Pass defense was far and away the biggest weakness heading into free agency.   Foster will miss Leach at FB, but he won't need to win the rushing title this year to make this offense dangerous.  Let's not forget the dynamic duo of Schaub and Johnson.  Last year they faced the 7th toughest schedule, but things get much easier for 2011.  Prediction: Bank the OVER.

Jacksonville Jaguars: OVER 6

JAX actually opened up in Vegas at 6.5, but early action on the under dropped them to 6.   Is this justified?  One could make the case it is.  They have the 2nd toughest schedule in 2011 according to my custom SoS and they overperformed in 2010.  The passing offense was already bad and then they lost Mike Sims-Walker in free agency.  Gabbert might be the QB of the future, but for now they are sticking with Garrard.  MJD is still a stud in the back field and Lewis is one of the more underrated receiving tight ends in the NFL.  But the real news came on the defense this offseason.   Poluszny was a major steal from BUF and then they went out and added Session, Coleman, and Landry to improve the back 7.  It's very unlikely this team competes for a wild card spot, but 7 wins is well within reach. UPDATE: David Garrard was released in a surprising move.  This obviously hurts this play, so if you are looking for late season win totals, skip this selection.   Prediction: Bank the OVER.

Tennessee Titans: UNDER 7 

It wasn't too long ago that I thought Hasselbeck was an underrated option at QB, but his injuries caught up with him and he tried to hard to make things happen on a bad team.  The QB position is so bleak around the league that people are now saying he was a great addition to a team that needed help.  I couldn't disagree more.  I really don't like what's happening in TEN these days and it started when they lost Fisher and Washburn in the offseason.  Adding insult to injury is Babin jumping ship for PHI.  They will battle with JAX for 3rd place in the AFC South, but pricing them at 7 wins is much too high.  Even if I was forced to bet 6.5 I'd take the under.  Mike Manchak has a lot on his plate and it starts with the O-line.  Hasselbeck is a guy you need to keep upright and doesn't have the same escapability that he did in seasons past.  They were lucky to get 6 wins last year as they got great special teams play and overperformed their yardage output.  I dropped them 5 spots in my power rankings and fully expect them to finish in the basement of the division.  Prediction: Bank the UNDER.

Miami Dolphins: UNDER 8

Kyle Orton or not, this team isn't winning 9 games this season.  Fans at practice began chanting his name, but if that's the goal of your fanbase how promising could your season be?  Orton isn't terrible, but he is what he is--a serviceable guy who can run your offense.  He does have Marshall to throw to, but what are they expecting out of Bush?  He never could and never will be an every down back because he doesn't have the low center of gravity needed to run between the tackles.  Bush is a specialty player that can compliment a running game, not be the running game.  They brought in new offensive coordinator Daboll from CLE, but I don't know anyone who is too excited about that.  Once again they will need to rely on their defense to keep them in (and win) a lot of their games.  This is not a winning formula to win 9 games in a division with the Jets and the Patriots.  Prediction: Bank the UNDER.

Buffalo Bills: UNDER 5.5 

BUF is a team that a lot of people are betting on the over, but when a 4 win team drops in my power rankings it's a no-brainer to side with the under.  Barnett was a key addition to offset the loss of Posluszny and adding Smith was a smart under-the-radar acquisition.  The only problem is most free agents don't have Buffalo very high on the list.  As a result this squad is left with a lot of holes up and down the roster.  The O-line was in depserate need of an upgrade and more players should have been brought in to improve the newly installed 3-4 defense.  That transition didn't go over well in 2010.  I really like Chan Gailey and his players respect him, but it's hard to turn around a losing program when the cupboard is bare.  Who is going to lead this team at QB?  Fitzpatrick has his backers, but don't get too excited about his prospects.  Tyler Thigpen is a journeyman and doesn't offer much if he needs to come in, either.  The one consideration I would give this team was if they had an easier schedule, but for the second year in a row they are facing an a top-half slate of games.  Prediction: Bank the UNDER.

San Diego Chargers: OVER 9.5

It took some time, but 9.5 finally became available for SD.   Rich Bisaccia was hired in January to fix the special teams problems and it's a safe assumption to say it won't be nearly as bad as it was last year.  Even Nick Kaeding is working to improve his range in camp.  Going into free agency there were a lot of questions about which guys they would retain and what would happen to V-Jax.  They brought back a lot of key players, including V-Jax, and parted ways with Sproles and Burnett.  In return,  Spikes and Robinson were brought in to patch things up.  The key though was retaining Weddle even if they did overpay for him.  New defensive coordinator Greg Manusky is a former SD coach and will be implementing the same system as Ron Rivera.  Throw in the exciting rookies from the draft and an expected improvement (and health) of Ryan Mathews and the Bolts are going to be ready to roll for 2011--especially with the 9th easiest schedule in the NFL.  All this and I didn't even mention guys like Rivers and Gates.  10 wins should be the minimum.  Prediction: Bank the OVER.

Oakland Raiders: UNDER 7

The best thing about OAK winning 8 games last year is the fact that they are being overvalued heading into 2011.  7 wins is too high of a mark.   Over the offseason I dropped them 4 spots down to 24th in my power rankings.  They had a lot of holes to fill coming into this season and instead of fixing them, they made them bigger.  Losing Asomugha is the obvious biggy and this will open up the entire field for opposing offenses to attack.   Sticking with Campbell at QB isn't going to pay dividends and he'll need to use every ounce of escabability because the offensive line is in flux.  They drafted a center and led Gallery walk.  Jackson, Bresnahan, and Saunders are all new coaches, but have some familiarity with the system/players so that isn't a total overhaul.  At the same time we aren't talking about established winners either.  Adding to the problems is a much more difficult schedule.  OAK won't be sweeping the division this time around. UPDATE#2: OAK lost out on the Zack Miller sweepstakes, but managed to get Boss. It won't be enough for an 8 win season.  Prediction: Bank the UNDER.

Pittsburgh Steelers: OVER 10.5 

PIT opened up at 11 wins and remains there at some books.  That number is getting a lot of action on the under, but at 10.5 I'm going the other way.  They didn't do a lot in free agency, but they didn't lose a lot either.  They resigned Taylor, Colon, Moore, Gay, Scott, and Suisham.  I made the mistake of overrating the Big Ben suspension last year and paid the price.  They managed to snag 12 wins despite a top-heavy schedule and now come into 2011 with the single easiest schedule in the NFL.  If people think this mix of factors isn't good enough for 11 wins then you must know something I don't.  Yes, the O-line is still a concern and some guys on defense are longer in the tooth, but they addressed both of those areas at the top of the draft.  Their formula for success should be good for at least one more season.  Prediction: Bank the OVER.

Cincinnati Bengals: UNDER 6.5

Can you believe the MGM Grand opened CIN at 7.5???  Neither can I.  Even with the drop in the line I like the under here.  Things were bad in 2010 so what makes bookmakers think things will be better in 2011?  Ok so they go from having the toughest schedule in the NFL to one of the easiest, but they were 2-4 against the bottom half of the league last year.  Zimmer provides some stability for a defense that should be better, but where is the pass rush going to come from?  Replacing Joseph with Clements was also a downgrade.  Dalton, Green, Gresham, and Shipley are nice pieces on offense to build on, but Jay Gruden is trying to install the West Coast Offense this year.  That is going to be a painful transition only made worse by the lockout.  They brought back Benson, but he's no longer running for a contract.  Prediction: Bank the UNDER.

Denver Broncos: UNDER 6

The line on DEN opened at 5.5 and I was prepared the bet the under.  Now that it's gone up to 6 I couldn't have placed my wager fast enough.  This was one of the 4 worst teams in 2010 and I don't care how smart John Fox is, he is not pulling 7 wins out of his hat with this cast of characters.  I'm a fan of Dumervil and getting him back healthy will drastically improve the pass rush, but it doesn't get much better after that.  This team is rebuilding, but still carry a lot of veterans on the roster.  They are using their 6th defensive coordinator in 6 years.  Free agency hasn't brought anything worth mentioning and Tim Tebow has to prove that he belongs in the NFL.  It would be nice if he had a strong running game to rely on, but the Moreno experiment failed and McGahee was signed out of desperation.  Schedule makers didn't give them any breaks either.  DEN will need to earn every win the get. UPDATE: The Kyle Orton situation continues to baffle the NFL world, but whether they keep him or not my opinion doesn't change on their prospects.    Prediction: Bank the UNDER.

NFC Season Win Totals Predictions
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