Last Updated Sep 08, 2021, 5:00 PM
NFC Win Total - Best Bets
Arizona Cardinals (Over 8.5)
We’re not sure who might be on a hotter seat with the Arizona Cardinals (8.5) between GM Steve Keim and HC Kliff Kingsbury. Keim certainly put his Cardinal career on the line when sticking out his neck in a radical move in 2019 to hire Kingsbury, recently dismissed by Texas Tech, and it’s time for the the dividend to deliver this fall.
Keim cannot be accused of sitting on his hands in the offseason, bringing on board all manner of potential contributors with past Pro Bowl credentials such as DE J.J. Watt (who, if healthy, could form a devastating push from the edge with Chandler Jones), RB James Conner, C Rodney Hudson, CB Malcolm Butler, and PK Matt Prater.
The Big Red was on course for its first postseason appearance in five years last autumn until a December slump that coincided with QB Kyler Murray’s sore shoulder would deny a playoff berth that seemed likely for much of the season A potential breakthrough season from Murray, who flashed more signs that might be around the corner a year ago when passing for almost 4,000 yards and running for 819 more, fueled the optimism as he figures to have mastered Kingsbury’s progressive attack in their third season together.
Meanwhile, there are plenty of playmakers in the defensive fold, with the possibility of the aforementioned Watt-Jones pass-rush tandem causing nightmares for opposing QBs. The fact the Cards went from just 3 wins in the ill-fated Steve Wilks season of 2018, to 5 and then 8 wins the past two seasons for Kingsbury, suggests the trajectory is at least right to exceed 8.5 wins; look “over” in the Valley of the Sun.
Minnesota Vikings (Under 9)
It is not uncommon for a team to commit a large chunk of its salary to a starting QB; in the case of the Minnesota Vikings (9), it’s about 17%. Except we’re not talking about Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson. Instead, it’s Kirk Cousins, with all of one playoff win in his career and yet to completely justify the big-bucks deal the Vikings gave him a few years ago.
In fact, there is the feeling in the Twin Cities that 2021 might be the last chance for both Cousins (signed thru 2022 but no guarantee to last that long, especially with Texas A&M rookie Kellen Mond waiting in the wings) and HC Mike Zimmer to make a deep playoff run, or inevitable changes could happen in the offseason. Defensive depth, or lack thereof, was exposed in the preseason, and Minnesota is another of many teams that simply doesn’t appear built to handle a rash of injuries. Especially on the stop end where the Vikes finished an un-ZImmer-like 27th in total defense a year ago.
The offense should remain potent, but keep in mind that all among Cousins, RB Dalvin Cook, and wideouts Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson stayed relatively healthy a year ago, and Minnesota still finished below .500. It will help greatly if North rivals Detroit and Chicago struggle, which could mean four wins, but we see lots of ways that things can derail in Minneapolis. We’re looking “under” at US Bank Stadium.
New Orleans Saints (Over 9)
While the masses seem to be dismissing the New Orleans Saints (9) simply because Drew Brees has moved into retirement, we’re obliged to remind how the Saints did the past two seasons when Brees was out, and Teddy Bridgewater, Jameis Winston, or Taysom Hill were in. Not bad; in fact, real good, with wins in 8 of 9 chances.
Keep in mind that Brees did slow down somewhat by the end of his career, and New Orleans kept winning regardless, now topping the NFC South four years running, suggesting that maybe it’s HC Sean Payton who is the most important ingredient in the mix. Count shrewd GM Mickey Loomis as well after navigating some tricky salary cap waters in the offseason and keeping most of the elite-level talent in the fold and somewhat limiting the outflow.
There will be new starters at QB (where Winston gets the nod out of the gate over Hill), CB, TE, LB, and P, but as noted much of the top-end components are still around, inclduign do-everything RB Alvin Kamara. If there are concerns for Payton beyond the QB situation, it’s probably with depth, as the Saints would appear to be more vulnerable to an injury rash than in past seasons. But a robust OL, big-play-defense, and the presence of Payton suggests New Orleans can make the playoffs again. “Over” at the Superdome.
Philadelphia Eagles (Under 6.5)
In a much watered-down NFC East a season ago, the Philadelphia Eagles (6.5) could only get to 4 wins. And adding another game to the schedule in 2021 might just mean an extra loss. Things do not look pretty at the Linc, not after meddling from owner Jeffrey Lurie and GM Howie Roseman losing his magic touch made one-time miracle worker HC Doug Pederson decide that enough was enough, and we wonder if successor Nick Sirianni knows what he's getting into. (The war drums are also already beating on WIP after the Birds' winless preseason.)
Will what was one of the NFL's worst offenses last year really upgrade with Jalen Hurts, who played to mixed reviews at best in a brief late-season audition a year ago, a risky option at QB? And when will pro football pundits recognize what a Lombardi-like masterpiece was turned in a few years ago by HC Doug Pederson, winning a Super Bowl despite one of the most-meddlesome owners in sport (Lurie) and a GM who caught lightning in a bottle for a few fleeting months (Roseman)? Look “under” at the Linc.
San Francisco 49ers (Over 10.5)
Everything that could go wrong did go wrong last season for the San Francisco 49ers (10.5). Especially the injury list, removing almost every key component for multiple games, some for the duration of the campaign, as it became obvious by the end of September that a repeat NFC title wasn’t in the offing. In fact, S.F. players lost a whopping 161.6 games due to injury, the most in the NFL the past 20 years, so keeping the physios out of the conversation will obviously be a key factor in a potential recovery to 2019 NFC title form.
Though Jimmy Garoppolo hasn’t proven the most durable NFL QB, missing almost half of the regular-season games (23 of 48) the past three seasons, keep in mind that he has a sparkling 36-12 record as a starter. If the season progresses as HC Kyle Shanahan has planned, a healthy Jimmy G will be taking snaps and first-round pick Trey Lance (via North Dakota State) will watch and learn, much as Patrick Mahomes did behind Alex Smith in 2017 at Kansas City.
Meanwhile, a healthier OL might once again be able to open holes as wide as one of the Bay Bridge’s toll booths for slashing Raheem Mostert, another of the injury brigade of 2020. Equally important on the stop end will be the returns of DEs Nick Bosa and Dee Ford, both added in 2019 to help super-charge a pass rush that produced 48 sacks and continually collapsed opposing pockets before last season, when the pair combined to appear in just three games. As long as the Niners stay moderately healthy,a return to the Supe is hardly out of the question. It’s an “over” for us in Santa Clara.
Seattle Seahawks (Under 10)
There are some storm clouds forming at what they now call Lumen Field, and we’re not referring to the weatherman’s usual cautions about the rain. Rather, it’s what might be up with QB Russell Wilson, who has been making more noise about perhaps wanting out of the Northwest, couching his apparent displeasure with a challenge to HC Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider to improve his supporting cast—the OL in particular, for the Seattle Seahawks (10).
Whatever becomes (or doesn’t become) of any roster upgrades, some NFL insiders believe Wilson has grand plans for himself in his post-football life and might desire a higher-profile locale for his ultimate ambitions; the Seahawks might only suffice in that regard if they are serious Super Bowl contenders, which they haven’t been for a few years.
Carroll, sensitive to his do-everything QB, is hoping that new O.C. Shane Waldron (recently the passing game coordinator for the Rams) will provide the boost that Wilson seeks, while Schneider arranged to trade for G Gabe Jackson from the Raiders. Appeasing Wilson seems a good idea, considering all of the hair-raisers in which Wilson’s undeniable magic has come in handy the past few years.
There are other issues, as the days of the Legion of Boom defense are way back in the rear-view mirror after the Hawks were continually torched thru the air last season (ranking 31 out of 32 in pass defense) and the cornerback situation remained unresolved. The mere fact that Wilson’s long-term commitment is going to be under scrutiny by the fan base suggests it might not be business as usual in Seattle. “Under” by the Space Needle.