Friday, July 27, 2012

NFL Predictions: Season Win Totals 2012 Part II

On Tuesday I released my first set of NFL season win totals picks and today is part II.  One of the best weapons we have when looking for value is the ability to line shop at various sportsbooks.  Today Bodog put up their win totals on the board and they offered alternate lines for many of the teams. Rather than lay an absurd amount of juice for an extra half game, I'd much rather play the following with more a bigger return on investment.


AFC East

NFL Picks 2012: Season Win Totals Predictions Miami Dolphins


UNDER 7 (Bodog 1.77)



NFL Picks 2012: Season Win Totals Predictions Buffalo Bills

OVER 8 (Bodog 2.00)



AFC South

NFL Picks 2012: Season Win Totals Predictions Jacksonville Jaguars


OVER 5 (Bodog 1.77)



NFL Picks 2012: Season Win Totals Predictions Indianapolis Colts


UNDER 5 (Bodog 2.00)



NFC East

NFL Picks 2012: Season Win Totals Predictions New York Giants

UNDER 9 (Bodog 1.80)

2012 NFL Preview

My NFL picks and predictions are still a week or so away, but in the meantime let's take a look at where teams stand heading into training camp.  I'll run down each division and give my impressions on some of the key issues teams face and where the early money has come in on the season win totals.

Below you'll find all the links you need over the next few weeks.

   Team Previews

2012 NFL Preview AFC Divisions


West
East
North
South

2012 NFL Preview: NFC divisions


West
East
North
South




      Analysis

2012 NFL Preview: Power Ratings and Strength of Schedule 


2012 Power Ratings
2012 Strength of Schedule




       Predictions

2012 NFL Preview: Season Win Totals, Division Winners 
Season Win Totals
Division Winners


NFL Predictions: Division Winners 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.


Thursday, July 26, 2012

NFL 2012 Update

NFL Picks 2012 UpdateMost of the sports world might be focusing on the Summer Olympics in London, but around here the big news is the start of NFL training camps.  Most of the hard work is already done.  Team previews, offseason power rankings, custom strength of schedule, season win totals part I, and division winners are all up on the site as we await week 1 lines for the NFL preseason.

During the downtime, I decided breakdown my records even more to give you an even better idea of where my strengths and weaknesses lie.  In the tradition of full disclosure and transparency, I like to keep my readers up to date on every pick that gets posted on my site.

Since I essentially stopped totals after 2010 (NFLX is the exception), I separated those from sides in the records section.  It never looks good at have a 15-19 record on your resume, but at the same time it highlights my record ATS (57.1%) --which is my main focus and strength. 

NFL Picks 2012 Records
I've also broken down my overall record ATS by preseason, regular season, and playoffs.  I believe this is important because it illustrates just how different each part of the season is.

In the preseason, coaches openly tell us the player rotations and how long each unit will be on the field.  This is a tremendous advantage compared to the rest of the season.  A large faction of NFL bettors skip the preseason because they believe they are nothing more than a coin flip. This is supported by the fact that my traffic takes a huge jump once the regular season draws near. 

In the regular season all factors are created equal. Our edge is primarily going to come from our own handicapping rather than from insights from coaches.  Finally, the playoffs have the sharpest lines on the board that you'll find all year.  Consequently, some sharps skip the playoffs entirely.

Therefore, it's no surprise that my records fall in line accordingly.  61% preseason, 56% regular season, 50% playoffs. 

    NFL Picks 2012 Week 1 Preview
  • Looking ahead, NFLX week 1 lines should be widely available soon and I've already circled a few games on the board.  I'm also going to take an early look at week 1 regular season line movement and tell you what catches my eye.  

PS - In the past, I tried to provide updates on the site for the significant line movement throughout the season, but given how fast things move that could be outdated info by the time it hits the site.  Instead, this year I've added a live odds link on the main menu and I'll be taking a more active approach on Twitter to give more insight in real-time.  Check that out for my thoughts on line movement, league news, key stats, and links to all sorts of articles/tidbits to keep you on top of things. 


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

NFL Predictions: Season Win Totals 2012 Part I

NFL season win totals opened back in May and we've already seen some considerable line movement.  Some ships have sailed and aren't coming back (BUF 7, CHI 8.5) but there is still more than enough value to be had.

After previewing each team's offseason moves I updated the power rankings 2012.  I was then able to customize a strength of schedule for the regular season.  Based on the analysis and the current prices on the board, I like the following season win totals..

NFC West

NFL Picks: Season Win Totals 2012 San Francisco 49ers

UNDER 10 (Pinnacle 1.87)


NFL Picks: Season Win Totals 2012 St Louis Rams

OVER 6 (5Dimes 2.00)



NFC East

NFL Picks: Season Win Totals 2012 Phialdelphia Eagles

OVER 10 (Pinnacle 1.83)

NFL Picks: Season Win Totals 2012 Washington Redskins


UNDER 6.5 (Pinnacle 1.73)  



AFC West

NFL Picks: Season Win Totals 2012 Kansas City Chiefs
  
OVER 8 (5Dimes 1.83)



NFL Picks: Season Win Totals 2012 Oakland Raiders


UNDER 7 (Pinnacle 2.02)  


 

AFC North

NFL Picks: Season Win Totals 2012 Baltimore Ravens

UNDER 10 (Pinnacle 1.80)



NFL Picks: Season Win Totals 2012 Cleveland Browns


UNDER 5.5 (5Dimes 1.69)
  

AFC South

NFL Picks: Season Win Totals 2012 Houston Texans


OVER 10 (5Dimes 1.80)


Sunday, July 22, 2012

NFL Strength of Schedule 2012

Below is my custom strength of schedule (SoS) and a side-by-side comparison with the "traditional" SoS for 2012.  The lists go from toughest at the top to easiest at the bottom.  Teams highlighted in green have a much more favorable schedule compared with the "traditional SoS", while teams with a much tougher schedule compared to the "traditional SoS" are in red


My Custom SoS Traditional SoS
NYG NYG
NO DEN
CLE CLE
CAR STL
BAL BAL
DAL SD
WSH PHI
TB MIN
PHI ARI
OAK CAR
ARI SEA
ATL DAL
DEN NO
PIT JAX
DET CIN
MIN PIT
My Custom SoS Traditional SoS
SEA IND
IND OAK
SD MIA
CIN NYJ
STL KC
SF CHI
CHI DET
TEN WSH
MIA ATL
GB SF
JAX TB
KC TEN
NYJ HOU
HOU BUF
NE GB
BUF NE

Creating your own strength of schedule

2012 NFL strength of schedule
One of the more popular options on the board is the NFL Season Win Totals.  This year they were released earlier than ever and we have already seen some significant line movement.

One of the essential aspects of finding value is looking at each team’s strength of schedule (SoS).  This can easily be found from a national media site like ESPN, but this is where we need to put on our critical thinking hat.

The typical SoS is derived from last season’s win-loss record.  As we all know that isn’t very accurate whatsoever.  Teams go through many changes in the offseason and not all wins and losses from 2011 are created equal.  

What we need to do as savvy bettors is create our own custom power rankings and SoS.

Here are some important factors to come up with your own sets of data.
  • 2011 power rankings

2012 NFL strength of schedule analysis
This can be a lot of work and everyone is going to use slightly different criteria for ranking each team. Personally, I look at as many relevant categories as possible.  This can involve everything from offensive/defensive lines, pass/rush offenses/defenses, special teams, turnover differential, , penalties, injuries, etc.   

One of the things I like to do in this process is evaluate how teams did vs last season’s schedule.

Simply looking at who they faced and what their win/loss record was can be very deceiving.  Facing the Chicago Bears in week 5 with a healthy Jay Cutler is not the same as facing them in week 14 without.  'Tough' vs 'easy' matchups need to be determined on a situational week by week basis in the proper context.  This will go a long way in determining who is potentially being over/undervalued heading in 2012.

If you don’t keep your own power rankings, go ahead and find some from a source you trust. 
  • 2012 power rankings 

Evaluate which teams improved upon their weaknesses and which maintained their strengths.  This involves everything from drafted players, free agency, players coming back from injuries, coaching changes, continuity, etc.  This again is a subjective process, but it should give you a general basis for some preliminary 2012 power rankings.  I just completed my offseason power ratings here.
  • 2012 schedule

2012 NFL custom strength of schedule
Once you have an updated set of power rankings you are comfortable with, you are now in a position to rank the schedule to come up with your own custom SoS.  At this point you can take things one step further and include situational factors such as short weeks, travel, rivalry games, etc.  

In the end you should have all you need to attack the season win totals board.  Customized power rankings and strength of schedule will give you a significant advantage over the average bettor.  By comparison, the SoS that the national media use based off last year's win/loss records are essentially useless and misguided.

Trust your analysis.

In addition, don’t overreact to the early market moves on the season win totals board. It’s always good to know where the early money is going, but that shouldn’t be too influential in your own analysis.

A good example for season win totals is what happened with the Cincinnati Bengals last year.   Almost every “sharp” on the planet poured money on the under and the season win total dropped a full game or more in the process.  The Bengals not only covered the over, but they covered the opening line as well! 

Preparation is key for the new season and the best way to find value is to put in the research before things get started.  The added bonus of betting the early numbers is allowing yourself an exit strategy.   Come the first week of September, you might be in a position to buy off your original picks or identify a middle opportunity.  Trust your own skills and put in the work.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

2012 NFL Power Rankings: Offseason Edition

2012 NFL Preview: Power Rankings and Ratings
Offseason power rankings are a much different animal compared to regular season ratings.  Evaluating the offseason is a very subjective process, my final 2011 power rankings provide a strong base to start from.

From there we have to look at coaching, resigning/signing/drafting key personnel, players returning from injury, ascending/descending player evaluation, coaching/key position continuity, anomalous 2011 stats (turnover differential, special teams, etc) and so on....
In late August I update this list to reflect what went down in training camp/preseason.

With that, let's see which teams are trending where as we head into training camp.

Friday, July 20, 2012

2012 NFL Preview: NFC North

Are the Packers overrated?  It's hard to argue with 15-1 and 11-5 ATS, but their defense has kept the hope alive for the Lions and Bears.  Speaking of Chicago, how much did they close the gap after their stellar offseason?  Is Detroit ready to mature into contender status?  The Vikings will finish last, but can they steal some divisional wins along the way?  There could be some surprises in this group.

  

Green Bay Packers

2012 NFL Preview: NFC North Green Bay Packers
2011 Review: The Green Bay Packers entered the 2011 season at or near the top of many power rankings--including my own.  Much like the Saints and the Patriots, they ended the season in the same position, but mostly due to their offense.

Their defense couldn't stop the pass, the D-line couldn't generate consistent pressure, and the unit as a whole couldn't get off the field on 3rd down. The New York Giants took advantage.

2012 Offseason: Scott Wells is out, Jeff Saturday is in. Flynn set sail for Seattle.  Nick Collins moved on due to a neck injury.  Ryan Grant and Chad Clifton are no more.

In the draft the Pack focused on defense taking DE Nick Perry, DT Jerel Worthy, and CB Casey Heyward with their top picks.

Anthony Hargrove was added via free agency to beef up the front, but thanks to Bounty-Gate he's gone for the 1st half of the year.

Beyond that, there wasn't much done to address the problems Green Bay had last year.

Looking ahead: I suppose the Packers are expecting better production from the D-line to improve the coverage ability in the secondary, but the questions at safety are legit.  That puts a lot of pressure on those rookies to make an impact this season.  I have concerns about this defense.

Once again it will be the high-flying Aaron Rodgers show and his collection of dangerous WRs. I don't think the O-line is as stable as people think though--especially with a new left tackle.  Rodgers' previous concussion history shouldn't be forgotten and without a legit running game to rely on he'll be in the firing lane once again.

Green Bay still top the list of the season win chart at 12, but juice is leaning under. I don't see any value at all taking the over here, but betting against Rodgers isn't exactly smart either.

Detroit Lions

2012 NFL Preview: NFC North Detroit Lions
2011 Review: The question we were left with for the Detroit Lions when the season ended was--is this team for real?

The most troubling stat for Lions fans was their 0-4 record vs the top teams--not including the playoffs.  The lack of a running game hurt their offense. An embarassing pass defense compounded the issues. A low special teams ranking added insult to injury.

Yet, most people (including myself) are high on this team going forward thanks to what we saw at QB. They also had some good ranks with their third down/red zone defense, so we know there is more to the story here.

2012 Offseason: Avril didn't get his contract, but he will show up to collect his money under the franchise tag at some point.  Eric Wright left town, but overall the offseason was largely ok.

One of the biggest gains Detroit will get comes in the form of Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure. Both of these guys clearly have their injury concerns, but neither of them have to carry the full load.  Along with Kevin Smith, if this group can keep defenses even half-honest, the passing game is going to be that much more lethal.

We aren't quite sure who will start at corner yet, but they better have an answer if they hope to take that next step in 2012. 3rd round pick Dwight Bentley could be in the mix.

Overall, it wasn't a stellar draft for Detroit. Snatching Riley Reiff in round one to play on the O-line was a smart move, but they waited a long time to address the defense. I agree with the draft pundits that taking a WR in round 2 was unnecessary.

Looking ahead: I expect to see much of the same from Detroit in 2012. The offense will hum and the defense will be spotty. Given all the hype surrounding their D-line, they weren't nearly as productive as advertised. If they can get better production from the front then the holes at the back won't be as glaring.

Bookmakers opened them at 9.5 in their season win total, but heavy money came in on the under. It's hard to argue with this move since 10+ wins might be asking too much for a group that is still learning how to play with the big dogs. If they can stay even a little bit healthier then they'll have a fighting chance to challenge the elite.

Chicago Bears

2012 NFL Preview: NFC North Chicago Bears
2011 Review: Much like the 49ers, the Bears are a difficult team to handicap.  Just take a look at these stats. Near the bottom in passing offense and defense, O-line and D-line, third down percentage, completed plays, and points from long drives. Of course some of these stats need to be taken with a grain of salt due to the injuries, but even with Cutler and Forte the offense wasn't exactly scaring people.

2012 Offseason: Jay Cutler, say hello to Brandon Marshall.  The WR position has been one of the most talked about issues in Chicago for who knows how long. Now they finally have a legitimate game-breaker (with all apologies to Devin Hester). Chicaco also added Alshon Jeffery in the draft. Somewhere Jay Cutler is smiling this offseason.

Another nice move was bringing in Michael Bush to compliment Forte.  Eric Weems was an interesting addition as well.

Meriweather won't be missed at safety. Chicago have enough options and depth at the position. Elsewhere on defense, Chicago took Shea McClellin in round one to boost the line.

One red flag heading into camp is the left tackle position.  Chris Williams will challenge Webb (who was a liability last year) for the job. Carimi's return is a welcomed addition to the line. Overall there is a fair reason for concern here, but a scheme change will help.

Another big move made was the outing of Mike Martz. Even lay-people could see some of the scheme problems he introduced for an offense that wasn't equipped to carry out his intentions. Mike Tice should have a better idea of what will work with this personnel. 

Looking ahead: I've been front and center with my criticism of this Chicago team for quite some time. They finally had the kind of offseason that gives me confidence. Like every team there are concerns, but they should be right in the mix for the division crown when all is said and done. They've closed the gap with the Packers.

Minnesota Vikings

2012 NFL Preview: NFC North Minnesota Vikings
2011 Review: For two years in a row the old-man QB experiment failed miserably.  Last season the pass offense was utterly forgettable. So was the pass defense. That's a bad combination for today's NFL.  The O-line was leaky all season and they were also bad on special teams.  For their efforts they went 0-12 against the top two-thirds of the league and 0-6 in the division.

The run game and D-line were the lone bright spots.

2012 Offseason: Hutchinson, Griffen, Longwell, and Kleinsasser all jumped (or were thrown off) a sinking ship. 

John Carlson wasn't exactly tearing up the stat-box in Seattle, so his addition is underwhelming. 

The secondary was an obvious area of need and Harrison Smith was taken in round one to make a dent at the safety position.  They grabbed Josh Robinson in round three to address the CB spot. Chris Carr was signed in free agency.  Cook and Winfield are returning so this group should be improved.

Matt Kalil was the obvious choice in the draft and they'll roll out the red carpet for his arrival to the O-line.  Geoff Schwartz was added via free agency and will be a welcomed addition. 

Looking ahead: Some of the key rebuilding pieces are now in place. They have what they hope is a francise QB and LT. Adrian Peterson is the go-to guy--despite his knee issues. They have some potential at WR, but the Percy Harvin situation is a concern.

The main problem for Minny will be their defense. Large-scale rebuilds require growing pains and there will be some on this side of the ball.

Their season win total opened at 6 and to no one's surprise, money is on the under. They play in a brutal division and will rely heavily on some good fortune and easier matchups to get the wins.  I think the Vikings are headed for a painful season.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

2012 NFL Preview: NFC South

Will Bounty-Gate derail the Saints divisional hopes?  Has Atlanta matured enough to play with the contenders?  Can Cam Newton carry his team into a playoff spot?  Are the Bucs due for a big bounce-back year?  The NFC South remains one of the most unpredictable divisions in the NFL with each team facing enormous questions.  Like most teams, everyone here is optimistic heading into training camp, but who will come out on top?


New Orleans Saints

2012 NFL Preview: NFC South New Orleans Saints
2011 Review: Not many teams were without flaws last year and that included elite contenders like the Saints.

Much like the Patriots they had a world-class offense bookended by a cringe-worthy pass defense. They also had big problems with the D-line and red zone defense.

When the season was coming to a close, it was this ineptitude that allowed the 49ers to march down the field and eliminate New Orleans with gut-wrenching finality.

Unfortunately, the offseason wasn't much better.

2012 Offseason: No need to rehash Bounty-gate here. There's simply no way to replace a guy like Sean Payton.

On the personnel front, the Saints lost key players like Vilma, Nicks, Porter, and Meachem.  Carl Nicks isn't a household name, but he was one of the better guards in the league. Will Smith is out for the 1st four games.

To replace Nicks they picked up Ben Grubbs. Pretty solid move there. Landing Brodrick Bunkley was a great signing to help shore up the run defense in the middle. Curtis Lofton, David Hawthorne, and Chris Chamberlain were added in the 2nd level. Lofton will be a nice replacement for Vilma (and maybe even an upgrade). The best they could do in the draft was grab Akiem Hicks in round 3 to throw into the D-line rotation.

Overall New Orleans did a great job recovering from the players they lost to suspension/free agency.  They were also without picks in the top two rounds as well.

I really like Steve Spagnuolo at defensive coordinator. Often times when these guys flame out as head coaches, they go back to what they do best and thrive.

Looking ahead: I think Spags will improve the defense back to a middle of the road unit. Joe Vitt is not Sean Payton, so I expect the offense to take a step back. The good news is Brees has his money and is becoming more and more like an extra coach on the field.

Their season win total opened at 10, but we've seen a strong move towards the under. At this point it's hard to say how all the big changes will shake out, but I'm not ready to jump on the 'fade' bandwagon just yet. 

Atlanta Falcons

2012 NFL Preview: NFC South Atlanta Falcons
2011 Review: Don't let the 10 wins fool you. The Atlanta Falcons had a disappointing season in 2011. Their big offseason moves didn't pan out the way they had hoped.

Their rushing attack wasn't as dominant as they tried to morph into a vertical passing offense early in the year. They continued to give up way too many yards in the air and their D-line was still stuck in neutral. It all added up to a 1-4 record vs the tough teams and a wild card loss to the G-men.

2012 Offseason: Atlanta could have very easily lost a lot of quality core players, but give them credit for re-signing a ton of guys to maintain the continuity.  Only Curtis Lofton and Eric Weems moved on.

There will be eyes on the middle linebacker spot after Lofton left.  Tatupu was signed to soften the blow.  Second year man Akeem Dent will als try to make inroads there.

The secondary should be improved after the acquisition of Asante Samuel. I loved that move and they can now roll out him along with Grimes and Robinson.This group has a chance to be special. It should also help the D-line with an extra half second to get to the QB. They'll need the help as Abraham is 34 and Edwards disappointed last season.

In the draft they addressed the O-line, but it's far from certain how it will pan out when the pads are on.

Other than that Atlanta didn't do much this offseason. They are hoping that the same personnel and some changes at coordinator is enough to get better execution from the existing group.

Looking ahead: The task for Mike Nolan is making the most out of his all-star secondary. On offense they'll have to hope that Turner can hold up and Julio Jones breaks out and justifies his draft day trade.  The O-line has red flags, too. 

Oddsmakers opened them up with a season win total of 9 and there has been consistent money on the over. I'm still on the fence with this team given the huge step back they had last year. I like Atlanta, but they still have to figure out their identity on both sides of the ball and play much better in the big games.

Carolina Panthers

2012 NFL Preview: NFC South Carolina Panthers
2011 Review: Much like Andy Dalton in Cincinnati, Cam Newton and the Panthers exceeded everybody's preseason expectations and put together a solid year. They only managed 6 wins, but they were 9-6-1 ATS on the backs of a top flight offense.

The key problem areas remained on defense and the O-line.

2012 Offseason: Tolbert was one of the few additions Carolina made in free agency, but A) he has concussion concerns and B) he doesn't fill a position of need.

What was a need was help on the O-line and they allowed three linemen go in free agency.  Silatolu was drafted in the second round, so that could help shore up a guard position. Mike Pollak was also signed, and Bruce Campbell was acquired via trade. They also need Jeff Otah to finally stay healthy at right tackle. 

4th rounder Joe Adams could be a slot option for Newton as early as this year.

On defense they took Luke Kuechly high in the first round, so look for him to step in immediately at linebacker. If Beason is healthy this group has a chance for a nice improvement.

Special teams was a disaster last year so look for heavy emphasis in these areas in the preseason. 

Looking ahead: The defense is taking some big risks going so young up the middle. They'll need the front seven to step up or the Panthers offense could be sitting on the sidelines for long stretches.  A healthy Ron Edwards could be a pivotal situation.

Cam Newton should make a nice jump in his second year and look for David Gettis to get more involved opposite Steve Smith. On paper, the run game should be lethal and give lots of play-action options for Cam. 

Their season win total was set at 7.5 and action is on the over.  I can't say that I'll be on board with that, but, but if young players develop as expected and the core veterans can stay healthy it's not out of the question. This is a team to keep an eye on.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2012 NFL Preview: NFC South Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2011 Review: The Bucs completely imploded last season. There seemed to be enough reason for optimism, but the red flags certainly were there.

There wasn't much value in the point spread either as they finished 4-12 ATS.  They were 1-7 on the road and a combined 2-9 against the top two-thirds of the league.

The lone bright spot came on above average special teams. Yuck.

2012 Offseason: Give credit to Tampa Bay as they went out and secured Vincent Jackson to give Freeman a legitimate number one WR. Dallas Clark will be wearing Buc colors come week 1 as he replaces the loss of Winslow.  Carl Nicks was a huge boost for an average O-line.

Taking Doug Martin late in round one will offer a nice 1-2 punch with Blount. This will fit nicely with what new coach Greg Schiano plans to do with the offense. 

On defense they picked up Eric Wright to help the pass defense--even if it came a high cost. They'll need the youngsters on the D-line to step up, stay healthy, and shore up the run defense that was consistently gashed the last couple of years.

Taking Lavonte David in round 2 and Mark Barron in round 1 should, in theory, fill some holes on that side of the ball. All these top picks are slated to step right in and made immediate contributions.

Additionally, they didn't really lose any key players from their core. 

Looking ahead: The built-in excuses are now gone for Josh Freeman. The line has improved, the running game will be there, and he now has an elite wideout. This is the time where he needs to establish himself as a bonafide franchise QB.

This vast amount of youth throughout the lineup should have a lot more discipline instilled in them during training camp/preseason so the possibility for a huge jump in development is there. 

The main area of concern remains the defense. This unit will make or break this new rebuilding phase.

The season win total opened at 6 and so far the sharps like the over. This is a very attainable number and we could be looking at one of the big bounce back teams of 2012.   The new coaching staff will be critical to their success.

Up Next: NFC North

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Recommend Reading

NFL Picks Recommended Reading
Most information is now available at your fingertips, but sometimes we need to start with the basics before we branch out.  I'll be the first to say there aren't a lot of great options out there, but there are a few 'must-read' books that most bettors can benefit from.

I've included the best of the rest below, but if you think I've missed one don't hesitate to contact me so I can add it to the list!

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NFL Picks Recommended Reading Conquering RiskConquering Risk: Attacking Vegas and Wall Street
Elihu D. Feustel

Description: The authors present a lucid and comprehensive guide for developing a plan to succeed at sports gambling in an increasingly complex marketplace. Whether you're interested in becoming a winner at sports betting or simply fascinated by the role of risk in our society, 'Conquering Risk' is must reading."

Reader review: "Conquering Risk is nearly unique in offering a thorough explanation of sports betting for beginners, sound psychological and risk management advice and plenty of warnings; while requiring only essential, basic mathematics. On top of that, it's well-written: both clear and precise. This book will do no harm, and will do a lot of good."


Target Audience: Everyone.

NFL Picks Recommended Reading Sharp Sports BettingSharp Sports Betting
Stanford Wong

Description: Sharp Sports Betting explains the logic and math of sports bets, including such exotic bets as parlays, teasers, and props. Lots of NFL data.

Reader review: "Sharp Sports Betting is a good introduction to sports betting for the novice. Its very mathematical tone and in-depth instruction on calculating probability make it useful for the intermediate bettor, as well. The author's passion for applying statistics to sports, in the spirit of a card player, may result in some fresh ideas for the experienced handicapper also. "


Target Audience: Beginner/Intermediate.


NFL Picks Recommended Reading Weighing the OddsWeighing the Odds in Sports Betting
King Yao

Description: Sports betting can be attacked intelligently. Smart sports bettors do not gamble the same way as tourists play roulette or retirees play the slot machines. Instead, smart sports bettors are making bets that they have thought through carefully with supporting logic and/or research. The purpose of this book is to give you tools to succeed at sports betting, to show you how to evaluate, compare and view sports betting from an analytical perspective, not from a gambling perspective.

Reader review: "If you have never bet on sports, and are wondering what type of work must be done to have a chance, this is the best introductory text on sports betting I have read."


Target Audience: Beginner/Intermediate.

2012 NFL Preview: NFC East

How often have we seen a defending Super Bowl champ not be favored to win the division the following year?  New York didn't even lose many key pieces either.  Are the Giants not getting enough respect or is Philadelphia legitimately the team to beat?  What about "America's Team"?  Do they have enough leadership and character to make this a fight?  Is Robert Griffen III ready for his NFL initiation?  I can't think of a worse division to have to start your NFL career against.  Another knock-down-drag-out year of NFC East football is just around the corner.

New York Giants

2012 NFL Preview: NFC East New York Giants
2011 Review: Heading into the playoffs, I didn't have the New York Giants rated very high in my final season power rankings. Their rushing game was nothing special and their defense had problems all over the place.

To say they got hot and overachieved would be an understatement.

It almost seems completely irrelevant looking at their 2011 season outside of the Superbowl context, but I can't help to be skeptical for 2012. 

2012 Offseason: The Giants bring back a lot of the same players from 2011 which isn't always normal for a Superbowl winning team.  Manningham, Ross, and Jacobs are gone, but those guys are replaceable.

Cruz has taken over a starting WR spot and Nicks is the man on the other side. There will be a battle for the 3rd spot, but Hixon seems to have the inside track. 2nd round pick Reuben Randle will also see time on the field. Martellus Bennett was acquired in free agency and gives Eli another receiving option over the middle.

David Wilson was the top choice in the draft and will inject fresh juice in the backfield.

On defense they got Shaun Rogers who could wind up being a force in the middle, but we've said that before about him. Otherwise this unit enters the season with a solid group that feels really good about themselves.

Looking ahead: My main concern going forward surrounds the O-line. They got a lot of glitz and glamour in the draft, but what about the meat and potatoes?

The season win total opened at 9.5 and there has been big juice on the under. I have to agree with this. The team I handicapped all year was not the same team in the playoffs. They deserve full credit as champs, but this is not an elite team week in and week out.

Philadelphia Eagles

2012 NFL Preview: NFC East Philadelphia Eagles
2011 Review: Last year I put up my hand as someone who was hot on the Eagles, but not because of their "dream team" hype. Most of my optimism came from the continuity and consistency that Andy Reid brings to his team year in and year out.

In hindsight, defensive coordinator Juan Castillo was a mess for the first half of the year. Reading between the lines you could tell that the players were not on the same page and frankly I'm surprised he kept his job. The red zone was the worst I've ever seen, the turnover differential was ugly, and they blew a half dozen 4th quarter leads.

2012 Offseason: The good news for Philly is that they are stocked and loaded for another kick at the can and oddsmakers have made them division favorites. 

They re-signed most of their key guys and parted ways with Parker, J Jackson, Justice, and Samuel, and S Smith. From this group Samuel was the biggest loss, but they wanted to get Rogres-Cromartie on the field full-time as a regular corner. Boykin was another steal in round 4 and should challenge for time in the slot.

They acquired DeMeco Ryans for a necessary upgrade at linebacker and will back up what I think will be the best defensive line in the NFL.

Fletcher Cox was a huge steal in the draft and will join the likes of Jenkins, Babin, Cole, and Patterson.

Questions linger at safety where Coleman, Jarrett, and Atogwe will battle for snaps. Nate Allen is also expected to step up.

On offense you have game-breakers all over the place. The concern is at left tackle when Peters went down with a freak offseason injury. Those guys don't grow on trees and when your top priority as an organizatio is to keep Vick healthy, that's not the position you want to lose. Grabbing Demestress Bell was a good stop-gap, but it's still a worry.

Looking ahead:
Most of the season will not only rely on Vick's health, but also his progression. He hasn't really regained his elite level of play going back to late 2010. Can he cut down on the careles mistakes? Fumbles and interceptions could be an issue.  They also have to get Desean Jackson back to his dominating self.  Over the last year or so he has either been hurt or worrying about his money.  Now he got paid--will it help or hurt?

The offense will get the headlines, but the defense should be the true strength of the team. Juan Castillo will have no excuses this time around. The entire staff is likely gone without a deep playoff run.

The season win total started at 10 and there is trending juice on the over.  It would be hard to pass up on that regardless of their strength of schedule.

Dallas Cowboys

2012 NFL Preview: NFC East Dallas Cowboys
2011 Review: "America's Team" is nothing more but a distant memory at this point.  Another disappointing season has this team at a crossroads. Their pass defense was atrocious and their play in the red zone on both sides of the ball wasn't much better. The heart of the problem was their record against teams in the middle of the pack...1-4.

2012 Offseason: So where does Dallas go from here? A great start was inserting Brandon Carr in the secondary.  They also moved up to take Morris Claiborne in round 1.  Rob Ryan finally has something to work with on the back end. If the D-line continues to be a strength (boosted by 3rd rounder Tyrone Crawford), this defense could pose significant problems for opposing offenses this season.

Kyle Orton joins the QB club and is great insurance for Romo. Let it be known once again that I'm not a fan of Romo. He's the guy that has put up great fantasy stats, but doesn't back it up in crunch time. This is a common criticism of him, but until he proves people wrong the stigma will justifiably stick.

Romo will also be praying that Bryant, Austin, and Witten stay healthy this year. Depth isn't their strength right now.  Hurting their cause is Bryant's latest domestic problem. The O-line is also getting a bit of a reshuffle after Romo got banged around and sacked far too often in 2011.  New offensive coordinator, Bill Callahan, is also the offensive line coach so they should be ok there.

Vickers was an underrated pickup who should pay immediate dividends in the run game. 

Looking ahead: I don't often say this, but the Cowboys could be a big value team in 2012. If I had to choose between them and the Giants to upset Philly for the division, Dallas would be my choice. 

Vegas had them at 8.5 total season wins and I think that is on the soft side. I would have pegged them at 9 or 9.5 without looking at the schedule. They are the true wild card team of the NFC conference (assuming Romo doesn't blow it).

Washington Redskins

2012 NFL Preview: NFC East Washington Redskins
2011 Review: Whether you are a Skins fan or not, this organization ranks among the worst. Every year we ask ourselves "is this the season it gets turned around?".

2011 was no exception. Washington was 0-3 vs the top teams, 2-6 at home and 2-4 in the division.  They couldn't run the ball, score in the red zone, or take care of the football.

2012 Offseason: Enter Robert Griffin III.  Is he finally the savior that is going to put the Redskins back on the path of respectability? The first challenge is competiting within the division, and it's one of the main reasons why it's been so hard to make any progress.

The good news is there is early buzz that Griffen is just as equipped (if not more-so) to have an immediate impact as Andrew Luck. Only the football gods know that, but Washington has been looking for a franchise QB like this for what seems like forever.

Signing Pierre Garcon (otherwise known as Peter Waiter), was a solid move to give Griffen a nice option to start with. However, the news isn't great after that. They'll have to make do with what they got and hope someone else steps up.

Banking on Meriweather to be an impact safety is questionable since two teams with a need at safety have already cut ties with him.

Other than that the defense is in pretty good shape. There wasn't a whole lot they could do in free agency and the draft was all about Griffen, so carrying forward a strong unit on this side is a relief for Shanahan and company.

Looking ahead
: This season is all about Griffen. The season win total opened at a low 6.5 and money has come in very one-sided towards the under, but the recent success of rookie QBs in this league might have Skins-backers more optimistic than that.  I have my doubts--especially in such a tough division.

Up Next: NFC South

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

2012 NFL Preview: NFC West

The NFC West have come to be known as NFL doormats, but suddenly every team is trending up...or are they?  49ers for real or one-year wonders?  Is Kolb ready to bounce back?  Will Flynn be the best QB in the division by week 17?  What impact will Fisher have on the worst team in the conference? 




San Fransisco 49ers

2012 NFL Preview: NFC West San Francisco 49ers
2011 Review: The 49ers are far and above the most intriguing team from 2011. They outperformed their stats more than every other team combined.

They rolled through the season going 3-1 in tough games (add a playoff win over the Saints), 5-1 in their division, and a league best 11-4-1 ATS. 

The 49ers did this despite ranking low in passing/red zone/third down offense and completed plays per game.

So how did they do it? In one word--coaching.  Harbaugh got more from his players than anyone expected.  They were phenomenal keeping people out of the red zone, were near the top in special teams and turnover differential, and had a very high yards-to-points ratio.  These are the kinda stats that winning teams excel in.

2012 Offseason: San Fran immediately went out and addressed their problems in the passing game. Moss and Manningham have been added to open up the offense (though Moss might be nothing more than window dressing). They also took AJ Jenkins in round 1--with mixed reviews.

Kaepernick has a year of clipboard development under his belt and will continue to push for playing time. Smith seems safe for now, but for how long?  Josh Johnson has an interesting link with Harbaugh from college, too. Just sayin'.

They also brought in Brandon Jacobs and Rock Cartwright to beef up the running game. I can't say I'm a fan of the former, but we'll see how it shakes out.

On defense there is quite a bit of continuity and not much significant change to note.

Looking ahead: Depending on how you see things, one could make a fair argument to either ride or fade San Fran in 2012. Usually a team that struggles in key areas and thrives in the hidden stats don't have as much go right in the following year. At the same time, well-coached teams that take care of the supplemental categories can make it part of their personality going forward (the Bears are a good example of this). 

Oddsmakers threw up a generic '10' on the board for their season win total and no one has taken the bait. What would happen if Kaepernick takes over at some point this year? No one knows, but I'm not sure there should be as much as an adjustment as people might think.  What I do know is the 49ers will continue to be a tricky team to handicap until we see another month's worth of games.

Arizona Cardinals

2012 NFL Preview: NFC West Arizona Cardinals
2011 Review: Last season I was well ahead of the curve regarding Kolb's short-comings and now his position on the team is up in the air. What I was wrong about was how well this defense would come together so soon.

The result was a 1-5 record vs tough teams, a 2-6 record on the road, a horrible rush attack, bad turnover differential, subpar line play, and an inability to convert 3rd downs.

On the flip side, who would have thought they would rate so high with red zone/third down defense? Their special teams was also solid.

2012 Offseason: Not a lot to report here. William Gay was added to the secondary. The defense will continue to be aggressive and should do well if their offense gives them a fighting chance.

They also went after Michael Floyd to compliment Fitzgerald. Big help is also expected from Rob Housler and Ryan Williams. Arizona addressed the O-line in the draft and added Snyder in free agency.

Looking ahead: If the glue doesn't hold on the O-line, the entire deck of cards could fall apart. Put a red flag on that issue. Kolb will need to re-establish himself after (unjustified) hype going into 2011. I dogged on him this year, but I think he has more potential than Skelton.

I say Kolb wins the job and shows some improvement this year. How much? Who knows. He forces too many balls and lacks pocket awareness. If he can be more patient he has the chance to improve a lot.  If the O-line doesn't hold up then we could see the 2.0 version of last year.

Their season win total is at 7, but heavy juice is on the under. I'm not surprised at the pessimism, but there could be some value here. It would be premature to write-off Arizona before week 1.

Seattle Seahawks

2012 NFL Preview: NFC West Seattle Seahawks
2011 Review: I'm not sure if anyone noticed, but Seattle was 10-5-1 ATS in 2011. They also played very well on defense which is no small feat given expectations.

Unfortunatly, their pass offense was non-existent, both their O and D lines were bad (-17 sack ratio), and they took way too many penalties.

2012 Offseason: Gallery, Carlson, Trufant, Whitehurst, and Hargrove are out. Say hello to the Matt Flynn era...or is it?

Did Green Bay sell high in another Kevin Kolb situation or is Flynn a legitimate starting option? I don't think you are going to find a consensus on that one. Training camp and preseason will be interesting at QB. I'd be surprised if Flynn didn't start. I know he was in a great situation at Green Bay, but I think he has enough raw skills and mojo to make it succeed in Seattle. Some think 3rd round pick Russell Wilson is the eventual starter, but it won't be this year.

Whoever starts under center, they'll need Rice to prove he's over the injuries/inconsistency and Tate is a legitimate WR in this league. Winslow will help at tight end, but this needs to be a collective effort.

Don't ask me what Seattle did in the draft because they made some surprising moves. I'm certainly not a scout, but missing on high draft picks is the worst thing you can do as a franchise.  Bruce Irvin needs to step up and justify his selection.

Other than that I like the potential of the defense. It's vital to have a good secondary in this league and the Seahawks have that in spades. In theory the defensive line should be better and give the unit good structure.

Looking ahead: Overall I really like the direction of this team, but I don't feel that way if Tavaris Jackson is taking snaps.  Their season win total opened at 7 and there has been heavy juice towards the over. 

If the O-line becomes a problem and the WR's don't rise to the occasion, Flynn might be expected to do too much. His defense should keep him in a lot of games and allow him to make mistakes and grow. The arrow is pointing up.

St Louis Rams

2012 NFL Preview: NFC West St Louis Rams
2011 Review: The Rams are a team that I was very high on heading into last season. I'm a big believer in Bradford and I thought they would compete for the division crown.

Instead, they were one of the worst teams in football and couldn't recover from a bad start, a tough early schedule, and key injuries.  If there was a bright spot feel free to send me an email and let me know.

2012 Offseason: There is so much to like about what St Louis did this offseason and it starts with the head coach.  Jeff Fisher brings instant credibility to a team that desperately needs a rock at the center of the rebuild.

Luring Finnegan from the Titans was a big coup. Grabbing Scott Wells to play center is another solid move.  Who knows if Steve Smith will pay off, but he can't be any worse than what they had last year can he?

In the 2nd round St Louis drafted Isaiah Pead to serve as a counter-punch for SJ. Who knows how many touches Jackson has left, so targeting that position is essential. They also grabbed a WR in Brian Quick in round 2.

On defense, the Gregg Williams suspension couldn't have come at a worse time. Strangely, there isn't a clear-cut replacement for him. The good news is the personnel on the field should be improved--especially with Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins at corner.

They will likely rely a lot on 1st rounder Michael Brockers at DT. There will be growing pains, but fresh blood is always better than fading veterans when a rebuild is in motion. In fact, the D-line could become a strength if they can stay healthy.

Not surprisingly, St Louis might start the year with a rookie kicker. No pressure kid!

Looking ahead: I'm tempted to copy and paste my outlook for St Louis from 2011 and update the names, but this is a much more in-your-face rebuild this time around. 

Their season win total opened at 6 and there's a good chance you see their name in my list of predictions. In a division like this, a quick turn-around isn't out of the question.

Up Next: NFC East

Monday, July 16, 2012

2012 NFL Preview: AFC North

Ray Rice and company became the new team to beat in the AFC North last season, but are they there to stay?  Pittsburgh couldn't stop the run for the first time since VCR's were fashionable.  Speed-bump or sign of things to come?  The Bengals have people in Cincinnati experiencing a foreign concept--hope.  While the Browns still hold the keys to the basement.  It will be another fun year in the trenches of the AFC North.

Baltimore Ravens

2012 NFL Preview: AFC North Baltimore Ravens
2011 Review: There was a lot to like from the Ravens last year. When the year ended they were near the very top of elite contenders in my final power rankings.  Highlights include an 8-0 home record, 3-0 vs tough teams, 6-0 in the division, and excellent stats all around on defense. 

The problem with Baltimore (and it continues to be) is Joe Flacco. With a solid offensive line and a top-flight running game, there should be no excuses for mediocre stats.  Yards per game and red zone efficiency were both below average in 2011.

2012 Offseason: Taking Upshaw in the draft was a good move to keep young blood in at the linebacker position. Rookies always benefit when they come into a stacked situation. Something had to be done since Suggs tore his archilles in the offseason.

It also never hurts to replensish the offensive line which they did with Osemele. With the McKinnie issues and Grubbs absence, attention is needed here. In free agency, they brought in Bobbie Williams, but he's 36 and recovering from injuries. 

Jacoby Jones was brought in to keep the down-field threat alive and he or Torrey Smith will have to prove they can be legitimate options on a consistent basis.

Looking ahead: In order for this team to finally reach a Superbowl, it's still going to land at the feet of Flacco. This isn't stunning insight, but I really don't see this as a complex situation. All the pieces are there, it just comes down to execution. I think the passing game could reach new heights if he relied on Dickson and Pitta more since both proved their worth last year--especially in the 2nd half of the season.

I'm just not sure if it's going to happen. I never liked Flacco's pocket prescence or how he responds in big situations. He made strides in the regular season, now it's time to do it in the playoffs.

My other major concern is the age of the likes of Lewis and Reed. I'm surprised these guys are still starting given the list of injuries over the last number of seasons.

Vegas opened Baltimore at a season win total of 10 and so far the under is getting the action. I tend to agree with this. The O-line has questions, Flacco is what he is, and the defense will likely take a small step back.

Pittsburgh Steelers

2012 NFL Preview: AFC North Pittsburgh Steelers
2011 Review: Pittsburgh took care of business in 2011, except when it came to the big games. They were 1-3 in the tough games, and 11-0 against everyone else. Two of those losses came against Baltimore, so motivation will be high to regain the top divisional spot.

The main areas that caused them problems were rushing defense (surprisingly), red zone/third down defense, O-line (not surprisingly), turnover ratio, and yard-to-points ratio. 

Overall it was an uncharacteristic year, despite the 12 wins (thanks to a padded schedule).

2012 Offseason: Ward, Farrior, Smith, and Gay are goners mostly due to salary cap issues. 

Despite their issues on the O-line, it's an area that could improve this year thanks to all the youth (Pouncey, Gilbert, Adams, DeCastro, etc) in development.  Outside of the draft, there wasn't a whole lot of noteworthy additions.  Todd Haley is the biggest move. 

Looking ahead:
Keep an eye on their secondary camp battles and how Haley adapts the offense in preseason. Can Mendenhall stay healthy after he returns?  Redman doesn't inspire confidence.  Is the defense too old (again)? Hampton is big loss early in the year.

Their season win total opened at 10 and there hasn't been much movement.  It's always dangerous to bet against a well-run franchise like this due to their overall organizational character and continuity. Having said that, their schedule/win total masked a lot of problems in 2011.  I see red flags and there could be some trouble on the horizon. 

Cincinnati Bengals

2012 NFL Preview: AFC North Cincinnati Bengals
2011 Review: Like a lot of average teams in the NFL, Cincinnati beat up on the bad/mediocre teams (9-2) and lost their tough games (0-5).  Despite Dalton and Green's solid play in 2011, the overall passing game was still below par.  Their defense didn't come through in the big moments even though they ranked good in pass/rush yards against.  Thank a suspect red zone/third down defense for that.

However, when all is said and done they deserve credit for exceeding everybody's expectations.

2012 Offseason: The Bengals had a ton of money to spend, but they didn't land (or really go after) any top dogs. Maybe they deserve credit for not over-spending, but it's a double edged-sword.  Benson is out and Green-Ellis was nabbed from New England. He's far from a proven commodity.

Someone needs to step up and take advantage of the attention paid to AJ Green. Perhaps 2nd round pick Sanu can be the guy. They also have hopes for Tate. 

It might be surprising to hear, but the Bengals defensive line ranks right up there with Pittsburgh and Baltimore in the division. They added Anderson and Harvey in free agency, and Devon Still and Brandon Thompson with high picks in the draft. They'll need a repeat performance to have a chance in 2012. 

In fact, this team might have more impact rookies than most teams in the league this year.

Newman (who I'm not a fan of) and rookie Kirkpatrick were added to the secondary. 

Looking ahead: Will Dalton continue his development? That's far from a sure thing, but adding a 1st round guard in Zeitler should help. 

Continuity on defense and improvements in offensive personnel has people cautiously optimistic, but there's always a "but" with the Bengals.

Marvin Lewis has never won a playoff game or had consecutive winning seasons. Overall this has been a bad organization so those facts shouldn't be a surprise. With a young nucleus that made positive steps, we'll see if they can finally win a big game in 2012. 

Vegas opened this team with a season win total of 7.5, but we've seen a move to 8 as money has come in on the over. I think this it's a justified line move. Cincy deserve the benefit of the doubt--at least for one year.

Cleveland Browns

2011 Review: What do we want to say about the 2011 Browns?  That they were 4-1 against the cellar-dwellers and 0-11 vs the rest of the schedule? How about 0-6 in the division and 1-7 on the road?  The only bright spots were the pass/red zone defense. Otherwise this team was a complete mess.

2012 Offseason: So what do the Browns expect this year?  Juqua Parker was brought in, but his production fades down the stretch each season. Frostee Rucker was a decent addition. They lost out on Robert Griffen III and let three offensive linemen leave in free agency.

In a pass-happy league it helps to have one of the best secondaries of the league, but not nearly enough to carry a team. There's no game-changer on the line and stopping the run was a problem on the second level. Not having Taylor until the mid-point of the season also hurts.

At QB we have Weeden and McCoy. Good luck! On the ground they got Trent Richardson. Nice pick, but worth the price?  Schwartz was taken in round 2 to start at right tackle. Sprinkle in Little and Childress and we have one huge question mark on this side of the ball. How will "Chilly" handle not calling the plays? 

Looking ahead: Holmgren has not been the franchise savior people expected when he signed on. Tom Heckert had a nice resume, but his moves haven't paid off either. 

It's hard to be optimistic here. I don't see the glue that's going to hold it all together on offense and the defense is too unbalanced.  When a team doesn't have an answer at QB I ask myself how good the coaching is, what is the state of their O-line, and what can the defense achieve independently?  The answer?  Ho-hum, meh, and half glass empty.

Their season win total is 5.5, but not many people see them achieving 6+ wins. Money has come in on the under and you won't find an argument from me. Preseason and their strength of schedule should tell the rest of the story.