NFC Betting Outlook
August 31, 2016
By Scott Rickenbach
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Dallas Cowboys – We all know that seasons can change in a big way with injuries and, fortunately, I did my AFC Preview first and am now putting the wraps on my NFC Preview after the Tony Romo injury. With Romo out for 6 to 10 weeks (and seemingly getting older with each injury bug that bites him) the state of the Cowboys has dramatically changed heading into this season. Certainly there is uncertainty at the QB position because Dak Prescott is a talent but things can get different in a hurry in regular season action compared to preseason games. Let’s not forget that the Cowboys were one of the worst scoring teams in the league last year. On the other side of the ball the defense lost some key players along the line and in the linebacking corps. I am not sold on the Cowboys just yet as their “up and down” trajectory continues. 8-8 to 12-4 to 4-12 the past three seasons. Certainly should be some value in going against the Cowboys early this season.
New York Giants – The Giants, courtesy of the injury situation in Dallas with Romo, are now the favorites to win the NFC East. However, they are certainly not strong favorites as the NFC East could be up for grabs. The Giants are a combined 19-29 the last three season and didn’t even achieve a .500 season in any of those years. New York has brought in some strong talent on the defensive side of the ball and retained some continuity with at the coordinator level even after the departure of HC Tom Coughlin. Where I see some value with the Giants could be with early season totals as they were 10-6 to the over each of the past two seasons but now have some new talent on defense and I feel we’ll see marked improvement on that side of the ball resulting in more “unders” in Giants games this year.
Philadelphia Eagles – After back to back 10-6 seasons the two prior years, the 7-9 the Eagles had last year certainly was a big disappointment. There is a lot of uncertainty with this program because of the coaching situation with Doug Pederson taking over for Chip Kelly. However, I feel the Eagles are going to surprise some people in the betting markets. The environment in Philly was truly “toxic” when Kelly was there (particularly last season of course) and there is still some solid talent (especially by NFC East standards) up and down this roster. Don’t be surprised if the Eagles improve some from an ATS standpoint after a 7-9 ATS record last year. Philadelphia will be a little undervalued this season, especially early on, and this will lead to some “play on” spots as they likely will be in some sizable underdog roles with a tough road schedule.
Washington Redskins – The Skins are definitely a team on the rise with a much improved offense leading the way last season. Now the defense has also made some significant upgrades and this makes Washington a solid threat for the divisional title this year. The problem with the Redskins in my opinion, from a “value” standpoint, is that many will be on the Washington bandwagon early on when looking at the NFC East. That’s because of the Cowboys dealing with the Romo injury coupled with the fact that Washington won the division last season. I am expecting to see some nice “go against” ATS spots with the Redskins early this season in particular.
Chicago Bears – This team could be in for another rough season. They lost some key talent at the skill positions on offense but, also concerning, how long will it take for the offensive line to jell properly? The Bears had a lot of changes in that area as well. Chicago truly has big concerns entering the season when it comes to offense. The defense should be a positive for the Bears though and, after being an “over” team in recent seasons I believe we may seem some of the best value with Chicago this season on the “under” side. Solid D but a lack of O makes for a nice combo for the unders but the markets may be focused on the 29-19 mark to the over that Chicago has the last 3 seasons combined. Result? Value.
Detroit Lions – After their solid 11-5 record in 2014, the Lions were dealt a reality check last season and I look for another “middling” season from Detroit this year as well. Where I see value with the Lions this season is when it comes to totals. The offensive line made some nice upgrades from last year and once they have jelled early this season, the protection will be huge for a Lions offense that still has some solid talent even with the retirement of Calvin Johnson. The problem for Detroit is the defense lost a number for key starters and this was already a team that allowed 25 points per game last year. We’ll have to pick our spots but the over looks like it will be a potentially strong trend for the Lions and I would particularly watch for this to improve on the road this season. They have been an under team on the road in recent seasons (17-7 under the L3 years) and so we could see some good value on totals in Detroit road games.
Green Bay Packers – The Packers did not re-sign James Jones (now with San Diego) but they are getting Jordy Nelson back. Green Bay is projected by many to challenge for the Super Bowl this season and I am one of those who expects them to get there. While there is no question their offense should be solid with Aaron Rodgers leading the way behind a somewhat improved offensive line, the key will come down to the defense. The Pack defense was a strength last season but there has to be at least some concern heading into this season because it will take some time for new starters to jell as a unit. The Packers did lose a handful of starters from last year’s defense. A big help in that regard is that the Pack only have 2 road games prior to October 30th. The early season home-heavy schedule should help Green Bay get off to a good start and momentum could help build up to a big season for the Pack. The over when it comes to totals may be the best value involving the Packers this season as they were 11-5 to the under last season but I see changes coming this year due to the roster turnover on defense.
Minnesota Vikings – Amazingly, in my write-up below I noted the “good fortune” of Minnesota last season and right after I finished putting the wraps on this article, Teddy Bridgewater was hurt in practice. The Vikings QB suffered a significant injury as the knee damage seemed so bad that many already feel that he will likely be announced as out for the season. Needless to say, this changes things for the Vikings, who took home the divisional title last season and certainly were being considered a significant threat to the Packers again this season. The offense would have been improved with some strong adds on the offensive line but let’s not forget that, looking at yardage last season, the Vikes were 29th in the league on offense so they had a ways to go! Now factoring in the Bridgewater injury, improvement is unlikely. There was some “good fortune”, at least until their playoff exit, in the way the ball bounced for Minnesota last season. Defense is definitely a strength for the Vikings and they have bolstered their depth on defense coming into this season. With also opening up a new stadium this year, Minny was sky high coming into the new year (at least prior to the Bridgewater injury) and they have been an ATS cash cow (32-16 ATS) in recent seasons. Losing their #1 QB just before the final preseason game changes a lot for the Vikes and straight-up success and ATS success will be a much tougher challenge for this team. We may see value with “unders” involving the Vikings total early this season as the QB situation unfolds because the Vikings will have to rely on the run game and defense.
Atlanta Falcons – The Falcons have gone a combined 20-28 ATS the last 3 seasons and have not had a winning season against the number in any of those 3 years. I expect to see some value with Atlanta this season as a result. They have improved their SU win totals from 4 to 6 to 8 the last three seasons and this will the 2nd year in offensive coordinator Shanahan’s offense. On the other side of the ball I like the fact that head coach Dan Quinn is a defensive-minded head coach and they made some solid additions via the draft and free agency. This team showed great improvement last season on defense and I look for that positive trend to continue this season. It may seem like a stretch to many but the Falcons could end up being a legitimate threat to the Panthers this season in the South.
Carolina Panthers – The ball certainly bounced in Carolina’s favor a lot last season as they went 15-1 SU and 11-5 ATS. That said, I will look for opportunities to be playing against the Panthers when the situation justifies it because they are quickly becoming a “popular” team. Carolina should be strong again on offense this season but I do expect the defense to have a drop-off as they lost some key starters (particularly in the secondary). Also, off of such a strong season, Cam Newton and Company certainly will have a “target on their backs” this season. Panthers certainly are the odds on favorites to win this division but their ATS record is likely to end up much different than last season. Look for inflated lines to fade when it comes to Carolina this year.
New Orleans Saints – The Saints defense was so bad last year that, of course, there is only one way to go but truly they did improve significantly on that side of the ball. For New Orleans, the D was a big focus in the off-season with plenty of free agent acquisitions and draft picks added to the roster. Though it may take some time to jell (be careful early in the year) the defense will improve under defensive coordinator Allen. On the other side of the ball, as long as Drew Brees is healthy, the offense should continue to be the strength of this team. The Saints were solid as an underdog last year (6-3 ATS) and I will again be looking for spots to back them as an undervalued dog this year as long as the defense does show the expected improvement.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – The Bucs are similar to the Falcons in that they have not had a winning ATS season the past three years and have gone a combined 20-28 ATS. Like Atlanta, I expect some improvement on defense this season for the Buccaneers to help them get some solid ATS covers. Surprisingly Tampa Bay had the #5 offense for yardage but you wouldn’t think that because too many mistakes and missed opportunities pushed them to #20 for scoring offense. That said, the Bucs may surprise some teams this year with another respectable offensive showing and improved defense. In the offseason Tampa Bay did a great job on D with their free agent pick-ups as well as some solid adds through the draft. Tampa Bay still will struggle to have a shot at playing .500 ball SU but in terms of ATS value I think you’ll find some good value if this defense jells early in the season. Another “dangerous” dog type of team is developing down in Tampa.
Arizona Cardinals – The Cardinals have certainly proven to be a steadily improving team year over year but after reaching the pinnacle of a divisional title last year with a stellar 13-3 record I feel a “correction” will be on order this year. I am not saying the Cards won’t have a solid straight-up record this season as certainly they should once again. However, I am saying that their combined 31-16-1 ATS record over the last 3 seasons is a sign that there should be a bit of a market “correction” this season. I will be looking for spots to fade the Cardinals as they could be a bit over-priced early this season. The Cardinals defense is where there was the most roster turnover coming into this season so it could take a little time for that unit to jell. A favorable schedule (home-heavy at first) should help the Cards get off to a fast start but look for them to be over-valued early this season.
Los Angeles Rams – A lot of excitement in Los Angeles with the Rams returning from St Louis. However, “excitement” only goes so far on the football field and the Rams defense lost some key personnel from last season’s team. The Rams were an “under” team last season but we may seem some good value with overs this season after last year’s 11-4-1 run to the under. The defense was ranked #13 in points allowed but #23 in yards allowed last season and with an expected drop-off this season on that side of the ball, a shading of value toward the “overs” should occur. I see the best value in LA games likely to come with the totals but definitely need to first see some signs of improvement from a league-worst 2015 offense.
San Francisco 49ers – Head Coach Chip Kelly takes his road show to the west from Philly to San Fran. I have doubts that the transition will be smooth. In fact, Kelly inherits a 49’ers team that was near last in the league on both sides of the ball in terms of yardage per game and so the only way to go is up. However, his gimmicky offense died out quickly in Philadelphia and is unlikely to have success with arguably even less talent in San Francisco. Also, some key talent was lost on the offensive side of the ball and that further diminishes the impact that Kelly is going to have in his first year, especially with the QB spot being a weakness. It looks like another tough year in San Francisco but we may find value with some overs depending on the pace that Kelly plays at (if it is frenetic like it was in Philly) and if he can get the offense moving despite relatively low talent levels at some key skill positions.
Seattle Seahawks – Some changes on the offensive line but the Seahawks are hungry after seeing Arizona not only take the division from them but also advance to the NFC Championship Game. Seattle certainly has a little extra hunger as a result and the changes along the offensive line should not be too impactful other than some early season “adjustment” time. This team should continue to be one of the best on both sides of the ball and the turnover on defense seemed to even out especially since they brought back Brandon Browner. When it comes to making money going with or against the Seahawks this year it will come down to situational aspects because this is again a very solid unit on both sides of the ball. In other words, look for spots where Seattle is off of a loss to play on them or look for look-ahead situations where there may be value in playing against the Seahawks when they have a big game on deck.
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