Friday, July 27, 2012

NFL Picks: Division Winners 2012
When it comes to division winners in 2012, four teams are already listed as overwhelming favorites.  According to the sportsbooks, the New England Patriots, Houston Texans, Green Bay Packers, and San Francisco 49ers have things all wrapped up before a single snap is even played.

Let's take a closer look to see where some value lies...

AFC West

NFL Pick: Kansas City Chiefs (5Dimes 4.50)

The Broncos are appropriately favored based on how they stack up on paper.  Right now it's good enough to land 5th on my power rankings, but I expect them to drop once the season gets under way.   There's good reason to believe in their defense, but I don't think Peyton Manning is going to live up to his reputation.

San Diego is way overpriced.  This organization has done nothing outside of a few nice draft picks to warrant the kind of odds they're getting here.  Even if they do turn it around and take the division, we aren't getting enough value to take that risk.

Taking KC to win the division might be a bit of a reach, but when it comes to value I like what I see here.  Cassel is the clear concern, but they have a lot of things going for them.  Their roster is going to be much improved from last year and best of all--they'll have the easiest schedule of the group. 

AFC East

NFL Pick: New England Patriots (no value)

Not much to say here.  The only other team I'd consider is the Buffalo Bills (5Dimes 10.35), but New England's schedule is just as easy.  It would require a perfect storm to pull the upset.  Given the value, it might be worth a shot, but the Patriots are still in a class above the rest for the foreseeable future.  Don't even think about the Jets.

AFC North

NFL Pick: Pittsburgh Steelers (Pinnacle 2.30)

The division is virtually a coin flip between the Ravens and the Steelers.  I don't feel great about either pick because both teams have their issues.  Side-by-side they matchup very evenly as well.   Baltimore has a stronger running game and Pittsburgh have the better passing game.  In today's NFL, I'll go with the better passing attack.  The Steelers also have an easier schedule.

The Bengals are a team that will cause some problems, but with an 0-6 record vs the top teams last year I'm not ready to take that chance on them.

AFC South

NFL Pick: Houston Texans (no value)

There is a pretty size-able gap between the Texans and the Titans on paper.  Houston also have the easiest schedule in the division.  In fact, I think Houston could win the division with TJ Yates at QB.

NFC West

NFL Pick: St Louis Rams (5Dimes 11.00)

The only NFC West team I have in the top 16 of my power rankings is the 49ers, but I have them trending way down the list.  No question they had a fantastic season last year, a great head coach, and a stellar defense.  Having said that, their offense is less than appealing.  They might even have the worst QB in the division by the end of the season.

So that leaves us with three other legitimate options for the upset.  Even though I really like Seattle's defense and Matt Flynn, I decided to pass on them.  I just don't like the supporting cast on offense enough.

Arizona is the smartest choice since their defense is also on the rise and they have better players at the skill positions on offense.  I also think Kolb will win the starting job and be better than last year.  The big problem holding me back is their offensive line.  If Kolb (or Skelton) don't get good protection their flaws will be amplified.

This leaves the Rams. I liked their potential last year and that blew up in my face, but the changes they made in the offseason are too good to ignore.  They were also one of the worst-hit teams by injuries in 2011.  Call me crazy, but in such a weak division I think there's enough value on them to take a shot.

NFC East

NFL Pick: Philadelphia Eagles (Bodog 2.50)

This might be putting too much faith in Michael Vick and Juan Castillo because both definitely deserve the scrutiny, but they have so much balance on both sides of the ball.  Last year both had issues, but I don't see that happening two years in a row.  The Giants are the least respected Super Bowl champion in recent memory, but I'm on the same side as the sportsbooks here.  I'm not going to ignore a full season of mediocrity just because they put it all together for a playoff run. They also have the league's toughest schedule.  I think if someone was looking for value then they should take a chance on the Cowboys (Pinnacle 3.79).  On paper, they should be improved--especially in the secondary.  I do think they'll challenge for the division and a playoff spot, but Romo's inability to win big games remains the headline in Texas. Dez Bryant could also hurt more than help and there isn't quality depth at WR.

NFC North

NFL Pick: Green Bay Packers (no value)

The Packers have their issues, but I'm not about to fade the best player in football--Aaron Rodgers.  Given the emphasis on passing now, guys like Rodgers, Brees, and Brady can compensate for a lot of weaknesses (in the regular season).  If you're feeling adventurous, put a bet down on the Bears (5Dimes 6.65).  They finally upgraded their offense and won't need to rely on special teams to win every game anymore.  I still don't see enough improvement in their secondary, but it wouldn't surprise me if they extended the divisional race into December.  Detroit is a team that I want to take a chance on, but their offseason hasn't been as good as Chicago's and they have a slightly tougher schedule.  The off-field issues are also a concern.

NFC South

NFL Pick: Atlanta Falcons (Bodog 2.40)

I'm not gonna lie. I don't feel great about this pick. I expected big things from them last season and they couldn't meet expectations.  Their 1-7 record (including playoffs) vs the top half of the league was a big red flag.  However, this is more of a fade of Saints than it is an endorsement of the Falcons.  Brees is superb, but he's not on the same level as Peyton Manning in the coaching department yet.  The wild card here is Spags as defensive coordinator.  If he can make a marked improvement I might wind up regretting this pick, but I think New Orleans have too many challenges to overcome.  This isn't the Giants defensive line we are talking about here.  Atlanta has an easier schedule and I liked the addition of Asante Samuel.

The intriguing team in the division is the Panthers (Pinnacle 6.70).  No one really knows how much (or if) they'll improve on defense and special teams.  If they could just get to the middle of the pack in both areas then I wouldn't be shocked if they made a real run at the division.  However, according to my analysis they have the 4th toughest schedule on paper.  That's asking a lot of an upstart team in a rebuild.