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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013: NFC Divisional Winners and Season Win Totals [UPDATE #2]

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.

NFC North

Under 7.5 (-155) (Bodog): Without question, the most deserving team of an "overrated" tag would be the Minnesota Vikings. Last season they defied the odds and made a December sweep to clinch a playoff berth. Adrian Peterson recovered much faster from his knee reconstruction than anybody expected and maintained an elite level of play throughout the season. I'm not doubting his ability to remain a monster out of the backfield because he certainly could put up great numbers again in 2013, but the law of averages dictates otherwise. Most backs who have the kind of season he does, usually see their numbers dip the following year.  
Of course one thing that could prevent that from happening is an improvement in his supporting cast. Greg Jennings was brought in to give Christian Ponder a legitimate weapon outside. Cordarrelle Patterson might turn out to be another draft day gem on the opposite side. Matt Kahil should take another step forward over at left tackle. However, what we're all left wondering is whether or not Ponder can take the next step in his development.
It's too bad we didn't get to see him in the playoffs last season because that could have told us something more about his value in the clutch. Instead, we have to base our projections on what we've seen so far. In short, I'm not a fan. Without an adequate deep ball, Ponder is limited to a short passing game attack that is prone to error. It's always extremely costly to bank on a young franchise QB and miss, and this is what the Vikings could be facing in the not-too-distant-future. 
Defensively, things are pretty much the same with the exception of some nice draft day pickups. Xavier Rhodes and Josh Robinson should mesh well with Chris Cook and soften the blow of the departed Antoine Winfield.  Desmond Bishop (if healthy) will fit in nicely alongside the versatile Erin Henderson and Chad Greenway. And Everson Griffen is a rising young player who should benefit from playing on the same front as Jared Allen. 
The problem is the Vikings will continue to tread water unless Ponder takes his game to a new level. A good offense and defense only goes so far in this league. Making matters worse, the Vikings face one of the toughest schedules in the entire NFL. When you add it all up, 'under' 7.5 wins is a solid bet, despite the extra juice. 
Over 10.5 (-110) (Pinnacle): As was the case with the Houston Texans, the Green Bay Packers just might be the most underrated team in this division. How is that possible you ask?  Let's just forget about what happened in the playoffs last year for a moment.  When it comes to the NFL, it's all about parity. A remarkable number of teams go up or down their win total by four or more games each season and there is consistent turnover in who makes the playoffs each year. Yet, over the past four years, the Green Bay Packers have remained an elite team with no signs of slowing down.
In fact, no other team in the league had more man games lost due to injury in 2012 and still the Packers finished as a top five team. Of course it helps to have one of the top QB's in the league, but it's really a true credit to the scouting and coaching staffs. To overcome that many injuries means you must have a lot of quality depth. 
It is scary that the Packers lost Bryan Bulaga at left tackle to an ACL tear. This is not good news when your offensive line had the third most blown blocks leading to sacks last year. It's also bad news if Marshall Newhouse is the man to replace him. He was a flat out liability. Regardless of how things shake out on the line, it helps to have one of the most dynamic collections of skill players lining up around them. Greg Jennings can talk all the smack he wants to in the media, but Rodgers will do just fine without him when you have names like Nelson, Cobb, and Finley to throw to. Now they've added Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin via the draft. Good luck opposing defenses!
On defense, things are just as bright. It's true that Dom Capers didn't prepare enough for the read-option offense in the playoffs last year, but let's remember how many injuries was dealing with too. That's not to give him an excuse, but Capers is still one of the top defensive minds in all of football. And he has a wealth of pieces to work with again this year.
Datone Jones was added in the middle to compliment Ryan Pickett. B.J. Raji will need to have a rebound season, but they are equipped to deal with whatever comes up the gut. Clay Matthews is as good as they come rushing the passer and Nick Perry might be ready to give them a legit force on the other side. If he can, Capers will have a whole new set of expanded options to play with.
A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones have limitations, but things are extremely secure behind them. Casey Hayward, Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, and Davon House make up one of the deepest secondaries in the NFL. When you throw in Morgan Burnett, Jerron McMillian, and M.D. Jennings, it's an embarassment of riches. 
The injuries will be down this year and the Packers face an average schedule.  The only thing preventing them from another division crown and double digit winning season would be an injury to Aaron Rodgers. Even with a line move from 10 to 10.5, I like this organization to stay a top five team. 

Read more: NFC North analysis.

NFC West

Under 7.5 (-105) (Bodog): The interesting stat that pops out about the 2012 St Louis Rams is their record against the top tier teams. They finished 3-4-1 against playoff teams and snatched wins against the Seahawks and 49ers within the division. The problem for 2013? There are far too many young players at critical positions. 

Steven Jackson has finally moved on and they lost a real gem in Amendola. The good news? They drafted a stud in Tavon Austin in round one of the draft. The question is whether or not he's enough to make up for all the inexperience in the receiving corp. The potential is there for a more explosive unit, and the offensive line should be improved with the addition of Long, but realistically, there is too much age on the line and not enough experience at the skill positions.  
There are just as many polarizing issues with the defensive side of the ball. The front seven can be a formidable force, especially with the likes of Laurinaitis, Brockers, Langford, Quinn, and Long. Adding first round pick Alec Ogletree can't hurt either. The issue is whether or not they can cover up the holes that killed them in 2012. Finnegan and Jenkins shored up the pass coverage, but the safety play was abysmal and not much was done to improve it. Six of the seven safeties on the roster are undrafted. They couldn't stop the play-action pass in 2012 and look for more of the same this season. 
I wouldn't even bother looking at the odds to win the division, but there is definitely some value in fading their season win total. I'm surprised that the win total was set at 7.5 and I'm even more surprised that money is coming in on the 'over'.  I think the Rams are another year away from making that next jump in their development. Under 7.5 wins is a solid pick. 
Read more: NFC West analysis.

NFC East

Under 8.5 (-128) (Pinnacle): The Dallas Cowboys might be "America's Team", but the glory and fame attached to that moniker are nothing more than ancient history at this point.  Their schedule isn't particularily difficult this year, but they better hope that they don't face a do-or-die final game. They've lost their final make-or-break game in each of their last two seasons.
A series of bad drafts and bad trades have left this roster riddled with question marks. The right side of their offensive line is still an issue, the running game lacks dependability, and Tony Romo still goes back and forth between Pro Bowl wizard and head-scratching choker. Will they see any improvement by taking the bulk of play-calling duties out of the hands of Jason Garrett?  
Morris Claiborne should be much improved in his sophomore year, but they have a long ways to go before they improve a porous pass defense. The safety position is a revolving door of ineptitude. The front seven does have players that should excel in Monte Kiffin's cover-2 scheme (Ware, Spencer, Lee, and Carter) but there wasn't a huge upgrade in talent on this side of the ball. 
Jerry Jones is due for another disappointing season and I think the sportsbooks were overly generous setting their season win total at 8.5 wins. I agree with the market move to fade them. 'Under' 8.5 is a solid play. 

Over 8 (-135), to win the division (+254) (Pinnacle): I am not that surprised that the Cowboys are a bit overrated heading into the season. They are a very 'public' team that casual fans like to bank on, but what does surprise me is the undervaluing of the Washington Redskins. 
As long as Robert Griffin III can regain his health and stay on the field, this team is primed for a nice step forward towards a division crown.  Highlight reel plays aside, the impressive aspect of RG3's 2012 was his play within the pocket.  He was equally effective whether he was under center, in pistol, or out of the shotgun.  The scary thing is he was even better when when opposing coordinators decided to blitz him. He graded out with the highest efficiency rankings in the league when facing five or more rushers (Football Outsiders). 
The news is even better on defense where they get Orakpo and Carriker back from injury. Kerrigan, Jenkins, Cofield, and Fletcher round out a dynamic front seven. The real question marks are in the secondary, where DeAngelo Hall remains a liability. Thankfully, they still have Josh Wilson and drafted three defensive backs in the draft. 
Look for more big things from the Shanahans in 2013 and a potential rise to the top in the division. I like the odds to win the division as well as the value with the 'over' for their season win total of 8.
Read more: NFC East analysis.

Read more: NFC South analysis.
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