As the NFL season draws closer, FSB will be taking a look at each division through the prism of the Las Vegas win totals set for each team. First up is the NFC East. Last year Chip Kelly and Nick Foles led the Eagles to 10 wins and a division championship. This division is such a crap shoot, that we may as well get it out of the way first. The win totals tell the story, as every team is posted between 7.5 and 9 wins. As far as the schedule rotation goes, the NFC East draws the best division (NFC West) and arguably the worst division (AFC South). Pretty much a wash there.
Win totals are from www.scoresandodds.com. Win total posted with juice on the over and under, respectively.
Dallas Cowboys 7.5 wins (+125/-145): In a jumbled division, with no clear favorite, I’ll typically gravitate towards the teams with the lowest totals for a possible sleeper. Dallas is one of the most public teams in pro sports, so calling them a sleeper seems impossible. They share the lowest total in the division with Washington, and the betting public has pounded the under to a steep price of -145.
Last season the big issue with Dallas was the defense. It was pathetic, giving up over 400 yards 8 times and giving up 20 points or more in every game after October 20th. That defense lost DeMarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff and Jason Hatcher to free agency and Sean Lee for the season due to injury. Anthony Spencer could also miss games early as he recovers from knee surgery. If they can somehow muster a pass rush, the secondary is stout with Claiborne and Carr.
The offense can score points. Say what you will about Romo, he puts up numbers and is worth some wins in October and November. Besides the skill player weapons they have, Dallas has finally addressed the offensive line with multiple high draft picks.
Looking back at 2013, Dallas was +10 in turnovers and yet went 8-8. That +10 is deceiving however, as they cashed a +5 week 1 in a crazy game vs the Giants, and a +4 at Detroit, in a game they somehow lost in the final seconds. Dallas played a ton of close games, going 4-5 in games decided by 5 points or less.
The schedule is where you can start making a case for the over. There is no brutal stretch to be seen, as far as road trips. Their one Thursday game is Thanksgiving, which they should be used to by now, since Dallas has played every Thanksgiving since 1966. They only play back to back on the road twice, and one of those instances has a 10 day break in between. They also get 3 straight home games before a London trip to play Jacksonville followed by a week 11 bye.
The bottom line is, this team has gone 8-8 the past 3 seasons and there isn’t any overwhelming evidence to suggest they don’t break away from that record again. If the schedule was a little tougher, I’d lean under.
Gun to head: Over. Low number in a toss up division, coupled with a pretty manageable schedule.
Our own free will: Lean towards the over. This division is so wide open, but that defense. Woof.
Philadelphia Eagles 9 wins (-142/+122): The defending division champ, who bounced back from the “Dream Team” 8-8 disaster with a 4-12 season that finally cost Andy Reid his job. Chip Kelly brought his college show from Oregon, got comfortable with Nick Foles and got the offense going late for a big December run and a division title. After a disastrous two game home stand vs New York and Dallas, that featured Matt Barkley sightings, the offense really got humming and Philly was never in a close game, until week 17 at Dallas.
This offseason, Philly lost DeSean Jackson after the best statistical season of his career. The team addressed WR in the draft and also traded for Darren Sproles, who will be a speedy new toy for Chip Kelly to utilize. Jeremy Maclin also returns from a big knee injury, but the new blood may give his playing time a run for its money. LeSean McCoy should have another huge season on the ground and through the air; at 26 years old he still has some big years ahead of him.
On defense, the big pick up was Malcolm Jenkins from the Saints. They did not adequately address their pass rush however. It’s amazing this team was +14 in turnovers and only had 37 sacks last season. Leads me to believe they had some bounces go their way that may not be there this season.
Philly played Dallas last year in week 17 with a trip to the playoffs on the line. That scenario makes sense, as these teams seem so similar when you match them up. I have to expect Foles numbers regress somewhat; 27 TDs and 2 INTs is unheard of in the NFL. The schedule is a bit of a bear, especially in the 2nd half, with 6 of their last 10 on the road. Maybe that’s a good thing, as Philly has been awful at home the past few years. A key stretch comes in late Oct/early Nov, when the Eagles have back to back trips to Arizona and Houston followed 2 weeks later by a trip to Lambeau. Also, their final two games are on the road at New York and Washington. Seattle visits in December for good measure. Vegas line of 9 wins reflects the uncertainty, after this team won 10 games last year.
Gun to head: Under. That 2H is a bear, and I don’t see the big turnover margin again this year without an improved pass rush. -142 is also a steep price.
Our own free will: Can you bet push? No? This sure looks like one. Winner of the east has 9-7 written all over them. Total pass for me on the Iggles.
Washington Redskins 7.5 wins (-110/-110): The Redskins, a deeply flawed team that surfed the NFL parody wave to a division title 2 years ago? Or, a team moving in the right direction that was a victim of it’s own expectations and an injury to their play making QB last year? Robert Griffin is back and he has a new weapon, DeSean Jackson from Philly. Gone also is Mike Shanahan, who while being dealt a pretty awful hand (inherited a putrid roster, the salary cap penalty, injured QB, few draft picks) was not the right personality for this franchise.
So, QB back…new shiny toy WR that takes the lid off of defense…new promising coach, you’d think 7.5 wins should be a piece of cake. But this is a team with many problems, coming off a 3 win season, Griffin or no Griffin. The offensive line is still shaky at best. The pass rush leans heavily on Orakpo (back on a franchise tag after failing to get a long term deal) and Ryan Kerrigan, a bonafide stud. They accounted for half of the Skins sacks last year and with little depth behind them, an injury to either would be devastating. That’s the underlying worry for the Skins, injuries. Sure every team hates to see injuries, but years of treating the draft like the vegetable tray at a party has left the roster woefully thin. You can find some bright spots (young depth at RB, the secondary looks solid), but overall, the grind of a 16 game season doesn’t look like it will sit with the Skins very well.
The schedule is similar to Philly’s; they must take advantage early. Week 1 at Houston has sucker bet written all over it; I wouldn’t be shocked if they lost. From October 19-December 7, they play ONE home game, a ridiculous stretch that includes two back to back road trips (Dallas/Minnesota and San Francisco/Indy).
I see a glimmer of long term hope for the Skins. Bruce Allen finally has some responsibility besides breaking ground at a Leesburg Wawa and Snyder finally eschewed the allure of a big name coach for a coordinator who is on the upswing of his career.
Still, a 5 win improvement seems steep for this bunch. Garcon, Jackson, Alfred, Reed and Griffin form a formidable skills unit, but the trenches and depth are still big concerns.
Gun to head: Under, the depth issues and that schedule go hand in hand.
Our own free will: Under
New York Giants 8 wins (-110/-110): A franchise as well run as the Giants can’t flounder around in the swamps of Jersey for a 3rd straight year, can it? Much maligned (any other way to be maligned besides “much”?) Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride is gone, and Jason Pierre-Paul claims he’s back.
Last year, an 0-6 start became a 7-9 season. The Giants fit right in the NFC East, they are a complete mystery and aren’t especially strong at home. I fully expect Eli to bounce back from the nightmare of 2013 (18 TDs/27 INT), but this teams fate rests on the offensive line. After years of tremendous line play, guys like Chris Snee and David Diehl have retired. The changing of the guard has been sketchy at best, with Eli taking the punishment. Hakeem Nicks is now a Colt, and David Wilson sadly had to retire at age 23. So why on earth am I somewhat bullish about them?
The turnover margin last year, was a dreadful -11. However, they did have a pretty respectable 29 takeaways and seemed to right the ship after a brutal early schedule that consisted of 4 playoff teams and road games at Dallas and Chicago, two teams that were eliminated on week 17 last year. I expect Coughlin and new Offensive Coordinator Ben McAdoo (coming over from Green Bay) to focus on getting Rashad jennings touches to control the clock. Jennings is a sneaky pickup from Oakland who has shown improvement each year of his career; he could be due for a breakout season. Setting up play action for Eli will be the end goal, to slow down the pass rush versus the makeshift OLine. Beside Cruz, the Giants have a couple youngsters from LSU who could be stars. On defense, I have faith the pass rush comes back with JPP, Kiwanuka and maybe even new comer Robert Ayers, who has steadily progressed during his career.
Bottom line, I’m still a believer in the Coughlin/Eli duo. In a division full of questions marks, that combo with an aggressive defense and a manageable schedule looks intriguing. The one brutal stretch on the schedule comes in November, when Big Blue plays Sunday night vs the Colts, flies out to play in Seattle, then returns to see the 49ers waiting.
Gun to head: Over. I just can’t see this team going under .500. Getting it at -110 is a bargain.
Our own free will: Over
Next up, the AFC South.
Las Vegas win totals:
Titans 7 (-105/-115)
Jags 4.5 (-200/+170)
Colts 9.5 (-110/-110)
Texans 7.5 (-135/+115)