Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The NFC is a little bit trickier than the AFC because there is a half a dozen teams that people strongly disagree about.  Some teams improved significantly in 2010, but which ones used smoke and mirrors and which were legit?  How does the schedule and offseason changes impact the prospects for this conference?

Last season Vegas set the over/under win totals at double digits for four teams.  13 teams responded with 10+ win seasons.  This year they've raised the number of double digit teams to 10, but that doesn't mean that we can't find value.  Let's take a look at what I like in the NFC.

Lines have varied a lot depending on what book you use, so it pays to have options and shop around for the best price and number.

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

*Note: I could be adding STL if I can find a good number/price

Philadelphia Eagles: OVER 10.5

PHI opened at 9.5 in Vegas, but by the time the offshore books picked it up free agency was already in full bloom and the number went up to 10.5.  Amazing, I still think there is value to be had.  PHI has a relatively normal schedule to contend with and should be able to live up to their hype and win at least 11 games.  The single biggest weakness of this team was in the defensive red zone, but PHI improved the most on that side of the ball.  Gone is the wannabe defensive coordinator Sean McDermott and in is long-time PHI coach Juan Castillo.  They also brought in Washburn from TEN to handle things on the D-line.  The other major weakness this team had was its offensive line.  They drafted Watkins in the 1st round and brought in one of the best O-line coaches out of semi-retirement in Howard Mudd.  The "dream team" acquisitions might have gotten all the headlines, but don't underestimate the coaching changes.  PHI is set to soar in 2011 and challenge GB as the top dogs of the NFC.  Prediction: Bank the OVER.

New York Giants: UNDER 9.5

The G-men are an interesting team to figure out.  Last season they finished 11th on my power rankings and they didn't move much going into next year.  So why would I bet them on the under?  A closer look reveals that this is a team that overperformed with an easy schedule in 2010.  To make matters worse they shot themselves in the foot time and time again last season.  This isn't a newsflash for NY fans because they always find ways to lose when it counts.  We aren't sure what will become of TE Boss yet, but his status isn't going to sway my opinion one way or another.  Keeping Kiwanuka and Bradshaw was important, but they lost Cofield and most likely Umenyiora too.  Suddenly their defense doesn't look as formidable as it once was.  It's not easy to replace guys like that with young guys or depth moves.  NY is also facing a more difficult schedule this season.   That doesn't bode well for a team that was 0-4 against top teams last year.  Unlike Peyton, Eli isn't the great equalizer.  Prediction: Bank the UNDER.

Chicago Bears: UNDER 9

CHI opened in Vegas at 8.5, but were moved up to 9 during free agency.  I'm not sure I understand the move.  Action is coming in on the under and I agree with that.  If you've read this blog for more than a week you'll know what I thought of them in 2010--overrated.  CHI was the only top 10 teams with a negative power rating in my system.  Olsen was abruptly shipped out, and Williams brought in.  Alright we understand the Mike Martz thinking there, but how do they plan to replace Manning and Kreutz?  This was already an O-line that was in question and now Cutler needs a new center.  How long is this team going to depend on special teams and short field position to win games?  Sooner or later it is going to catch up with them and now they'll have to contend with the 6th toughest schedule.  Their best chance is fighting for a wild card spot, but 10 wins is asking a lot.  Prediction: Bank the UNDER.

Minnesota Vikings: UNDER 7.5
Last season MIN thought they could have another Super Bowl contending team with an aging WCO QB.  That plan crashed and burned.  The solution? Bring in another aging WCO QB and try again.  So begins the Donovan Mcnabb era in MIN.  On the plus side he should be better than Favre was last year and it's hard to imagine Leslie Frazier will do a worse job than Brad "Chilly" Childress, but they aren't going to get a free pass from the schedule-makers.  In 2010 they were 2-10 against teams in the top two-thirds of the NFL.  They lost Rice and Edwards, but when your biggest impact player from free agency is retaining a kicker, you know you have problems.  Depth is nice, but this team needs difference makers--especially on the defensive side of the ball.  This doesn't mean I think they are going to flop, but they are going to be hard-pressed to reach 8 wins with lateral roster moves.  On the bright side Ponder will get a chance to sit back and learn how to be a pro and develop within the system while Mcnabb is at the helm.  Prediction: Bank the UNDER.

Detroit Lions: OVER 7.5

One of the most overlooked aspects of the 2011 Detroit Lions is their continuity.  They enter the year with the same offensive and defensive systems since 2009.  There is a lot of young talent sprinkled throughout the roster and one can only hope that Stafford can stay healthy for an entire season.  Coaches have made the message loud and clear -- we like your toughness, but play smarter.  Best and Leshoure offer nice compliments in the backfield and Megatron is a beast on the outside.  They have one of the best defensive lines in the NFC and added Durant, Tulloch, and Wright to their back 7.  These guys aren't starting pro-bowlers, but they desperately needed help in these areas and they got it.  A lot of their progress last year was masked by a difficult schedule and you can expect another step forward with at least 8 wins this season.  Prediction: Bank the OVER.

Atlanta Falcons: OVER 10
This prediction is one that is definitely going against the tide.  A lot of action is coming in under 10.5 with people assuming 2010 was a mirage.  Not so fast my friends.  The devil is in the details and the numbers show that this team excelled in all the non-sexy stats that determine wins and losses.  This is a mark of a very well-coached team.  They did lose Dahl to STL, but they retained Clabo and Blalock ensuring some continuity on the O-line.  Weems was an underrated signing and Edwards will give Abraham some relief on the D-line.  Another key factor for 2011 is the stability the team has.  They will be working from the same system for four seasons now.  That will go a long way in a lockout-compressed offseason.  Jones should see a lot of one-on-one coverage with defenses keying in on White/Turner.  I dropped them a few spots in my power rankings, but that is more to do with teams like GB and PHI rising than anything else.  Expect another double-digit season for the birds from Atlanta.  Prediction: Bank the OVER.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers: UNDER 8.5

I'm not going to argue that TB is a bad team, because they aren't.  But I do maintain that their success last year was fluky.  They were 7-0 against the bottom third of the league and 1-6 against the top third.  All this against one of the easiest schedules in the NFL.  This season they need to prove they are the real deal against the 3rd toughest schedule in the league.  Good luck.  Resigning Joseph was good for their offensive line and I really like the Freeman, Blount, and Williams trio, but it will be a season of waiting as the young talent continue to come along.  Not much was added in free agency and Ruud finally parted ways.  Considering all the money they had to spend it's a little surprising they didn't upgrade their O-line or secondary.  Talib is a playmaker, but he's also a complete wild card.  They will continue to have trouble stopping the run, controlling the clock, and getting their defense off the field.  That is a bad formula for success in the NFL if you don't have a high powered offense to compensate.  If they can win 9 games with this roster and that schedule then I'll be proven wrong, but seeing is believing and I'll continue to have my doubts.  Prediction: Bank the UNDER.

San Francisco 49ers: UNDER 8

SF can be summed up in one sentence--no one has any idea what is going on with this team.  They completely overhauled the coaching staff and decided to hitch their wagon to Alex Smith for another year.  Bringing in Akers was a great move and should account for a couple more points per game, but is that going to be enough to win 9 games?  They let go of Spikes and Clements, and deluded themselves into thinking they had a shot at Asomugha.  Not many teams in the NFL have had a worse free agency period than SF.  The truth is this team is looking forward to 2012 and will use this season to implement a new system and gain progress where they can. Gore is coming back, but what can we expect from Crabtree?  Are there any WR's worth mentioning on this roster?  I do like Harbaugh, but he's in for a rough ride this year--even with an easy schedule.  Prediction: Bank the UNDER.

Seattle Seahawks: UNDER 6.5

SEA opened at 7 and has been promptly bet down to 6.5.  This is a team that is going to be led by Tavaris Jackson and backed up by Charlie Whitehurst.  As bad as Hasselbeck was, they downgraded at QB.  Sure SEA has a below average strength of schedule, but they also have the most difficult road of all the NFC West teams.  I had them at 26th in my 2010 power rankings and they didn't move up or down for 2011.  Everyone loves the Rice addition, but that doesn't solve the problems at RB or on the defense.  For the second straight year they are dealing with a lot of roster turnover and the feel-good rah-rah Pete Carroll stuff doesn't last forever.  I don't know how many teams in the NFC West reach 7 wins this year, but I know that SEA won't be one of them. UPDATE: News broke that SEA has acquired Zack Miller. This is obviously a great move for the organization, but it's not enough to sway my prediction. It would take another 2-3 impact players or an upgrade at QB put up the red flag.  Prediction: Bank the UNDER

Arizona Cardinals: UNDER 7

Let me start off this write-up by saying I've seen every snap that Kevin Kolb has taken.  Does he have talent?  Absolutely?  Did ARI upgrade at QB?  Without a doubt.  Is he going to lead them to 8 wins in 2011?  Highly unlikely.  I can understand a bump in the line based on a QB acquisition, but keep in mind ARI was just as bad, if not worse than CAR last year.  Yes, last season was last season.  I get that.  But we are talking about a cellar-dweller team that has had a lot of roster turnover this offseason.  Kolb has very little time to learn a new system, the defense has just as little time to learn a new scheme from a first time coordinator, and they've doing all this with a lineup scotched-tape together with whatever they can find.  Resigning Sendlein was smart and bringing in Marshall and Bradley is promising, but I'm not a buyer just yet.  Prediction: Bank the UNDER.

AFC Season Win Totals Predictions