Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:53 AM

2020 Win Totals Best Bets - NFC

NFC Win Total Best Bets

Atlanta Falcons - Over 7.5

Down the stretch last December, the Atlanta Falcons (7½) could make an argument that they were the best team in the NFC. After all, they won at San Francisco (the same 49ers who destroyed the Vikings and Packers in the playoffs) in a stretch of 6 wins in their last 8 that saved the jobs of HC Dan Quinn and GM Tom Dimitroff, which looked about as likely as Clemson losing the ACC at the bye week when the Falcs were sitting on just one win.

Rather than force Quinn to walk the plank, owner Arthur “The Thinker” Blank gave him one more chance, and Quinn responded with a thumping win at New Orleans to trigger the late rally. The Falcs finally started playing defense after the bye week, too, allowing just 18 ppg the last half of the season after conceding 31 ppg in the first half.

Though now into his 13th season, QB Matt Ryan remains capable of posting big numbers, and it is hoped the addition of mysterious RB Todd Gurley from the Rams will toggle the infantry and make it a bit harder for opposing defenses to commit extra resources to contain big-play wideout Julio Jones, who can still distort the field. Atlanta most definitely can get to .500 and perhaps much better, so it’s an “over” for us at Mercedes Benz Stadium after we make a stop at the nearby Varsity for a slaw dog and an “F.O.” (Frosted Orange!).

Dallas Cowboys - Under 9.5

It remains important to the national media that the Dallas Cowboys (9½) do well, even though owner Jerry Jones often appears one step away from another controversy with the press.

On the field, after Jones allowed HC Jason Garrett to use each of his nine cat lives before finally pulling the plug on the Princeton man after last season, the thought among some is that former Packers HC Mike McCarthy is ready to lead Dallas to the promised land, with riches of offensive skill weapons further augmented by Oklahoma rookie WR CeeDee Lamb, who with Zeke and Amari Cooper in the fold could flourish as opposing defenses can’t simply key on him as they did in the Big 12.

We’re hesitant, however; remember that when last seen, McCarthy had turned Green Bay into a dumpster fire and Aaron Rodgers into an enemy two years ago before getting dismissed. And there are still questions re: QB Dak Prescott, working on a franchise tag this season while awaiting a extension that will match the GDP of more than a few countries. 

And one ‘ol Jer is justifiably reluctant to offer, given that Prescott’s sometimes-impressive stats are often hollow, and that he continues to fall short in big games, such as the penultimate week loss at Philadelphia last December that cost the Pokes the East and Garrett his job. We’re simply not as sure as Jones that this is the Super Bowl-quality roster he believes, and that McCarthy will make the difference; it’s an “under” for us in Arlington.

San Francisco 49ers - Over 10.5

The “Super Bowl loser hangover” is a recurring phenomenon that most recently impacted the Rams, who couldn’t even make the playoffs in 2019 after reaching the “Supe” the previous season.

Enter the San Francisco 49ers (10½), who could be excused for seeking help from Dr. Phil after living the last seven months in a post-Super Bowl meltdown funk. But Super Bowl losers have occasionally bounced back to win it all the next season (such as the Patriots two years ago), and after dominating the Vikings and Packers at home in the playoffs, the gap between Kyle Shanahan’s crew and the rest of the NFC was pretty wide the last time we checked. Some of the offseason departures (such as OT Joe Staley and DE DeForest Buckner, plus vet wideout Emmanuel Sanders) could leave leadership voids, but enough veteran presence remains on the roster to fill those roles.

There are also fewer significant contract distractions with TE George Kittle recently inked to a long-term deal and key RB Raheem Mostert now apparently satisfied with his situation after running thru holes as wide as the toll plazas at the Bay Bridge late last season. Moreover, the raucous 49er defense showed it could make opposing offenses one-dimensional in the playoffs when effectively rendering impotent the capable Vikings (with Dalvin Cook) and Packers (with Aaron Jones) infantries, then teeing off on Kirk Cousins and Aaron Rodgers, respectively.

Even in the high-tech world of modern football, there is still room for the Niners’ old-school recipe of running the ball and voracious defense; it’s a combo worth another “over” in Santa Clara.

Detroit Lions - Under 7

Thanks to a spate of injuries that included losing irreplaceable QB Matthew Stafford for much of the season, Detroit Lions (7) matriarch Martha Ford decided to give HC Matt Patricia a mulligan after the Lions sank to 3-12-1 in the injury-wracked Motor City stupor of 2019. Patricia, however, gets no more bailouts or help from ownership or Governor Whitmer if Detroit can’t win or make the expanded playoffs, even if Stafford should go down again after last year’s serious back problems. (New backup Chase Daniel is serviceable but not much more.)

With Stafford the Lions can look to have a sharp edge, and there is hope that Georgia rookie RB D’Andre Swift can offer a new and improved infantry diversion. But unless a revamped offensive line coagulates quickly, Stafford remains at risk, and the pass rush could remain a major liability. Mrs. Ford has passed along daily franchise operations to her daughter, but if Sheila Ford Hamp is apt to swing her axe as indiscriminately as her mom, Patricia and GM Bob Quinn could be gone long before we get to Black Monday if the Lions flop again. Too many trip-wires in Detroit; look “under” at Ford Field.

Bonus Bets

Arizona Cardinals - Over 7.5

This might qualify as a bit of a walk on the wild side, but we’re bullish on the Arizona Cardinals (7½) forging a breakthrough and making a run at one of the new and extra playoff berths. Though only 5-10-1 last year, there were plenty of silver linings in the desert clouds with hints that the great experiment of hiring HC Kliff Kingsbury to install a Kyler Murray-friendly offense might soon pay big dividends. The road was bumpy at times last fall, but the Big Red had a look at almost every game in a debilitating 6-game skid, played the 49ers to the hilt on both occasions, and won again at Seattle.

As for Murray, he flashed real upside while breaking his NFL maiden, and now has DeAndre Hopkins in the fold from Houston, giving him three potential 1000-yard receivers along with ageless Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk. Also watch Clemson defensive hybrid Isaiah Simmons, a steal of a first round pick at the 8th slot and capable of playing a variety of roles for Vance Joseph’s defense. We think Arizona at least gets to .500 and “over” in the process...

Carolina Panthers - Under 5.5

There are so many oddities about 2020 that we’ve lost track. But as far as football goes, this was a bad year for a coach to begin and try to implement his new program and systems without a normal offseason. And this was indeed no normal offseason, which could hamper the Carolina Panthers (5½). New systems, especially on offense, couldn’t be honed as usual with no OTAs, normal camp scrimmages vs. other teams, or preseason games, which makes things even worse for a new QB in the fold such as Teddy Bridgewater in Charlotte.

Though we applaud the hire of HC Matt Rhule from Baylor, he could have used a normal spring and summer and a regular preseason to work out some of the kinks, especially as he and his coordinators (Phil Snow and Joe Brady) were all either involved with the Big 12 or SEC last season...not the NFL. Even with Christian McCaffrey in the fold, Bridgewater has nowhere near the weapons he had in New Orleans when relieving Drew Brees for several weeks last autumn. Further, Tom Brady’s arrival in Tampa Bay and the chance the Falcons pick up where they left off when sizzling at the end of 2019, not to mention the Saints, makes the NFC South a very unforgiving neighborhood. Looks to us like it will be a rugged ride for the Panthers, so we suspect it’s an “under” in Charlotte.


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