Monday, August 5, 2013

Divisional odds and season win totals were released back in May. There has been some early movement on those lines, but there is still some value to be found.

I'll be adding more for each conference throughout the week, so check back here for updates.


AFC South


Over 10.5 (+132) (Pinnacle): It might seem counter-intuitive to label the Houston Texans as "underrated". They have a double-digit season win total and are the clear favorite to take home the division. Yet, what fans remember most is that they seemed to fold when the bright lights of prime-time shone the brightest. They got smacked around on national TV by the Packers, lost three out of four games in December, and got blown out by the Patriots in the playoffs.


The 2013 cast is much of the same, so what should we make of their prospects?
Much of the attention will focus on Matt Schuab this year. Is that fair? Well it is and it isn't. Certainly he has to be play better, especially in the clutch. Yet, I tend to put more of the blame on the offensive line. 
It used to be impossible to tell whether they would run or pass off the snap, and as a result their play-action production would be off the charts. It dropped to below average in 2013. They also had the worst rushing production in the league when they used three or more receiver sets. Once regarded as the best in the league, this unit has really slipped.  Can rookie Brennan Williams shore up the RT spot?
The other factor is the second wide receiver position. They finally addressed this gaping hole by drafting DeAndre Hopkins in the first round. This should alleviate the pressure off of Johnson and provide Schaub with a legitimate option in favorable coverage. 
Defensively, J.J. Watt had one of the best defensive seasons in recent memory.  It's asking too much to expect the same production from him in 2013. The best case scenario would be a full year of health. If he's on the field, good things will happen.
However, much like Matt Schaub and the offense, the defense got exposed when everything was on the line. The Patriots spread them out, sped up the offense, and exploited them up and down the field. The Packers did the same in Week 5.
They let Glover Quin go and brought in D.J. Swearinger via the draft and Ed Reed via free agency. Is this a case of Reed riding off into the sunset on cruise control, or does he bring the necessary leadership and mental toughness that the Texans expect? 
The biggest concern for the Texans defense is how things go at the second level. The Brian Cushing injury really hampered the overall effectiveness of Wade's schemes.  Linebackers are not a crucial position on many NFL teams, but for Houston it's vital to their success.
I find it interesting that everybody liked the 'over' when the season win total opened at 10, but once it moved up to 10.5 the market shifted to the 'under'.  With a very easy schedule, good continuity in the coaching ranks, and some added pieces for 2013, I think there is nice value on 'over'. 
Read more: AFC South analysis

AFC North


Over 8.5 (-115) (Pinnacle): The most interesting team in the NFC North is easily the Cincinnati Bengals. No one is quite sure just how good they are, but what we do know is they are not about to be bad. They've made the playoffs in three of the last four years and have done a good job adding building blocks to the roster. 


Two other things we know about their 2013 outlook is their schedule isn't very daunting and their two divisional roadblocks, the Steelers and Ravens, are no longer the perennial double digit winning juggernauts of yesteryear. 
The value might not be there to win the division (just +190), but there is very nice value in their season win total. A 9-7 season is certainly attainable, with room for some reasonable growth beyond that. 
Dalton isn't a stud, but paired with Green, he's a really solid half of a dynamic duo. Graham and Green-Ellis have been supplemented with Tyler Eifert and Giovanni Bernard from the draft. Last year the limited depth made them straightforward to scheme against, but 2013 should be a different story.
Yet, their greatest strength will be on defense. They just might have the deepest and most feared pass rush in the NFL that got even better by via the draft and free agency. Kirkpatrick and Hall are capable options in the secondary and they have veteran insurance behind them in Newman and Jones. 
Gruden and Zimmerman are primed for strong seasons and provide quality continuity at the coordinator position. The stars are aligning for the Bengals and 'over' 8.5 wins is a solid pick for 2013.
Read more: AFC North analysis

AFC East


Under 8 (-125) (Bodog):  A few weeks ago the New England Patriots did not even have a single wager placed on them at a popular Las Vegas casino. It's not that people don't think the Pats will win the East, but at -600, there isn't much value in risking so much for so little. Instead, the consensus "trendy pick" seems to be the Dolphins.


I not only think a wager on the Fins to win the division is a waste of time, but I also like the current value on the 'under' for their season win total. It opened at 7.5, but action has pushed it up to 8 with some juice on the 'under.
To start with, the Dolphins finished seventh in man games lost due to injury in 2012, and they are projected to have one of the most difficult schedules in all of football.
Mike Wallace earned all the headlines, but will they be able to get him the ball deep with so much change on the offensive line? The situation at left tackle is certainly worth watching. I'm also not convinced Tannehill is going to make a quantuam leap forward this season.
On defense things appear to be more promising, but after Brent Grimes, things get very questionable at the corner position. It helps that they have zone corners to fit the scheme (unlike last year), but a lot of new pieces have to fit for things to work out.
I do not see nine or more wins for this organization this year. Take the 'under' on their season win total and don't look back.
Read more: AFC East analysis.

AFC West


Under 7.5 (-107) (Pinnacle): The Chiefs were a popular "buy" team when opening lines went up in Las Vegas. This has resulted in a season win total line move up to 7.5. The question is, are they being overvalued in the market?  This is a team that didn't take a lead until week 10 in 2012, lost most of their games by double digits, failed to score an offensive touchdown five times, and had a league-low 13.2 points per game.
There are lot of legitimate reasons to believe KC will rebound strong in 2013. Among them is the change at head coach, where Andy Reid takes over. They also have a much more reliable QB in Alex Smith. Turnover differential is a stat that regresses to the mean dramatically year to year as well. They only recovered nine out of 39 fumbles and Alex Smith does not turn the ball over.  
Of course, it's imperative that Reid protects Smith the same way Harbaugh did in SF. Jamaal Charles needs to be the centerpiece on this side of the ball, especially since things get dicey after Dwayne Bowe in the receiving corp. Baldwin, Avery, McCluster, Fasano, and Moeaki all have skill, but they also come with big, big question marks. Drops, injuries, and consistincy plague this unit. The good news is Smith is much more apt to follow the script than a Mike Vick. 
It's hard to blame the defense for giving up 36 passing plays of 25-plus yards when you consider the challenges they faced from the offense. Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali, Justin Houston, Brandon Flowers, Eric Berry, and Dontari Poe certainly have what it takes to change things around. New defensive coordinator Bob Sutton has the option to be more aggressive, but there's no telling how his scheme will look until we get closer to kickoff. The potential is here, but quality depth is a real concern. 
Playoff contention seems unlikely, but if the defense comes together and becomes a top 15 unit, coupled with an average offense, an 8-8 season isn't out of the question. A more realistic outlook is 6-10 though. Forget about division crown prospects, but 'under' 7.5 wins is a solid option. 
Read more: AFC West analysis.