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Friday, August 3, 2012

2012 NFC Predictions

Some quick notes and comments for the article.  The over/under lines are from a combination of these websites:

For some reason betonline removed their NFL future bets from their site August 1st, but I think they will be back up after the Olympics.  The first line listed below is from BetOnline.  The second is from Bovada.  If only one is listed, it's from Bovada.

NFC EAST (vs. AFC North and NFC South)

Philadelphia Eagles  9-11 wins
Over 10 (-150)   Under 10 (+120)
Over 10½ (+100)  Under 10½ (-130)

Based on the Eagles strong finish and 5-1 divisional record in 2011, many are predicting them the favorites in the strong NFC East, even over the Super Bowl champion New York Giants.  No other division will be as difficult to predict at this one based on recent head-to-head matchups.  Philly’s hopes will ride on the health of Michael Vick and whether adding some key components on defense help them continue some good things under Castillo late last year.

New York Giants  8-10 wins
Over 9½ (+150)  Under 9½ (-180)
Over 9 (-105)  Under 9 (+120)

The Giants followed up their previous Super Bowl victory in 2008 with an 11-1 start (can you believe their only loss was against Cleveland?).  Can the Giants take the confidence of the title to a strong start again?  It’s possible based on New York’s historic dominance of Dallas and a glass-half-full schedule.  A sweep of Dallas seems a must as are taking advantage of possible overrated teams like San Francisco, Carolina and Cincinnati on the road.  A split with @PHI and PIT would help as well.  But even if the Giants are at 7-3 or 8-2 going into their week 11 bye, their finish is brutal:  GB, @WAS, NO, @ATL, @BAL, PHI.  The Giants arguably have the toughest schedule in the NFL this season and I think their overall record will reflect that.

Dallas Cowboys  7-9 wins
Over 8½ (-155)  Under 8½ (+125)
Over 8½ (-145)  Under 8½ (+115)

It’s hard to have faith the Cowboys will finally put together all their statistical success and produce a winning season and deep run into the playoffs.  Tony Romo is coming off a fantastic 2011 season and the Cowboy’s skill positions are as talented as any in football.  But it’s July and already there are small fires in the media storm about this team.  The Cowboys will have an opportunity to bond as a team with 6 of their first 9 games on the road (and 4 out of 5 following their week 5 bye) but they have to at least split the tough games in that stretch (@NYG, @BAL, @ATL, @PHI).  Don’t know if I have faith that can happen and think by the time they get to the home stretch it’s too little too late.  I like the improvements the Cowboys made this offseason, but think this just isn’t their year.

Washington Redskins  4-6 wins
Over 6½ (+130)  Under 6½ (-160)
Over 6½ (+105)  under 6½ (-135)

While I understand the hype and optimism surround the drafting of Robert Griffin III, it is hard to find six wins on this schedule, even with a repeat of a 2-4 divisional record.  To me, RGIII would have to repeat Cam Newton’s historic rookie season just to overcome what I consider the incompetence of Dan Snyder’s ownership, the Shanahan’s egocentric coaching and an overrated Jim Haslett as defensive coordinator.  If the Redskins do improve this season it will be at the expense of a media-frenzy collapse of New York, Philly or Dallas.  And I’m just not confident enough to think that’s going to happen.

NFC SOUTH (vs. AFC West and NFC East)

New Orleans Saints  11-13 wins
Over 10 (+130)  Under 10 (-160)
Over 10 (+120)  Under 10 (-150)

I think the Saints will tear up the league this season and prove how overrated the so-called “high profile” coach really is to the success on the field.  No team in recent memory has as much of a chip on their shoulder heading into a season as the Saints.  And I fully expect Drew Brees to personally pile on the points each and every week he has a chance as a big F.U. to the league.  The similarities between the Saints of 2012 and the Patriots of 2007 are uncanny.  They literally might put up 50 points on Washington week 1 (take the over).

Atlanta Falcons  8-10 wins
Over 9 (-165)  Under 9 (+135)
Over 9 (-150)  Under 9 (+120)

The Falcon’s improvements always seem more cosmetic than anything.  Every year they say “this guy is the fix” but I still see a team limited by coaching, quarterback play and defensive playmaking.  Everyone is saying this is their year with New Orleans’ perceived struggles, but I see the opposite.  I actually think improvements to Carolina and Tampa Bay, plus a tougher out-of-division schedule could subtract a win or two from their 2011 total.

Carolina Panthers  6-8 wins
Over 7½ (-135)  Under 7½ (+105)
Over 7½ (-150)  Under 7½ (+120)

Fans have a right to be excited about Cam Newton.  He was the primary difference between a team that averaged .95 points per possession in 2010 to 2.26 in 2011, 5th best in the league.  That is incredible.  The problem is whether that type of offensive success can continue after a season of teams studying Newton’s tendencies and weaknesses.  Can he improve?  Can a defense that gave up the 2nd most points per possession in the league (2.46)?  It’s going to be run-and-gun in Carolina this season, like last, and the last quarterback with the ball might win more than they lose.  It’s just hard to see a huge jump in the standings with that style of football.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers  5-7 wins
Over 6 (-120)  Under 6 (-110)
Over 6 (-135)  Under 6 (+105)

I really like the accountability and discipline new head coach Greg Schiano is trying to bring to the Buccaneers organization.  No team needed a kick in the pants more than them.  But that type of cultural change might take longer than a season to really get rid of the bad apples.  And while the NFC South of a decade ago was always under flux, the division is much more solid at the quarterback position top-to-bottom and I doubt the teams ahead of them will collapse enough to see huge changes in the year-to-year standings.

NFC NORTH (vs. AFC South and NFC West)

Green Bay Packers 12-14 wins
Over 12 (+100)  Under 12 (-130)
Over 12 (-115)  Under 12 (-115)

The Packers are in for a statistical “adjustment” this season but which is it going to be?  Will if be Aaron Rogers ridiculous season of production with almost no turnovers?  Or will the defense adjust back to something similar to their 2010 championship season?  Even if both happen the cancelling effect should yield an elite team in the NFL capable of easily winning 12+ games.  I’m surprised how quiet and under the radar the Packers are right now.  Green Bay’s schedule this year is easier than last season (vs. NFC South and AFC West) and has only three 2011, 10-game winners on the docket (San Fran, Houston and New Orleans), two of which are played at home.

Chicago Bears  9-10 wins
Over 9½ (-115)  Under 9½ (-115)

With a reasonable schedule and added weapons for Jay Cutler, most are optimistic the Bears will make a strong push for the playoffs.  The NFC is very competitive for those limited spots with three teams in the East, two in the South and three in the North all confident they can win a spot to the dance.  Las Vegas clearly thinks Chicago will be one of those teams with a projected higher win total than Atlanta, New York and Dallas.  I don’t disagree and see a very good chance at a 10 win season but any misstep could be costly.  And there are plenty of games Chicago will be 3-4 point favorites that could bite them in the ass.

Detroit Lions  7-10 wins
Over 9 (-110)  Under 9 (-120)

I don’t like the Lions chances to repeat as playoff participants this year.  I think there has been too much peripheral goings-on around the team and believe there is a fundamental lack of leadership (or the leadership is too young) to overcome adversity.  I don’t know exactly where the adversity will arise this year.  The schedule isn’t terribly difficult and much will ride (as with Green Bay and Chicago) on the in-the-division round robin tournament.  This team could be all over the map by years’ end.

Minnesota Vikings  4-6 wins
Over 5½ (-125)  Under 5½ (-105)

Minnesota should be an improved team from a year ago, if only because I have faith Christian Ponder will be better under center.  But I have little faith in the Leslie Frazier coaching staff or the prospect of Adrian Peterson’s 100% return from his ACL injury.  Similar to Tampa Bay, it is hard to predict a collapse of any team in their division without a major injury and the Vikings just don’t have the overall talent or Quarterback/Coach combination to compete on a level playing field.  If they do steal a win inside the division, it could have major playoff implications.

NFC WEST (vs. AFC East and NFC North)

San Francisco 49ers  9-10 wins
Over 10 (+100)  Under 10 (-130)

The 49ers play the three best records in football on the road this season (Green Bay, New England and New Orleans) so it’s tough seeing a repeat performance of their 13-3 campaign.  If you add in a random divisional loss and tough games against playoff hopefuls Chicago, Buffalo, Detroit, Giants and Jets and you can see why many (including myself) are predicting a correction season for this team.  They are still the class of the division however and should find a way to stay ahead of their competitors.  But without home field advantage and without the likely mistake free season of Alex Smith, I don’t like San Fran’s chances to repeat their NFCCG appearance.

Arizona Cardinals  5-7 wins
Over 7 (+120)  Under 7 (-150)

I’m as big a fan of Ken Whisenhunt as any, but he has not lived up to my expectations after a terrific start with Kurt Warner.  His handling of the quarterback position since and the relative conservative and poor statistical performances of his teams are frustrating.  I don’t see any change heading into 2012 with quarterback controversy and likely holes in the defense.  Combine that with a difficult schedule (Eagles and Falcons are their extra games) and I see a tough time for this team to repeat as a .500 ballclub.

St. Louis Rams  5-7 wins
Over 6 (-125)  Under 6 (-105)

I think St. Louis will win a few real shockers this season and exceed expectation under first year coach Jeff Fisher.  While Fisher isn’t as great as some think, he is exceptional at finding wins on a schedule and getting a team to play hard week-in, week-out.  And he is good at talent evaluation and playing the right players.  I’m not saying put the money on over 6, that seems like a tall order for a 2-14 team, but I am saying don’t just count every Rams game on every schedule as a win.

Seattle Seahawks  5-7 wins
 Over 7 (-150)  Under 7 (+120)

I am very tempted to make Seahawks under 7 wins a high recommendation.  I just don’t like Pete Carroll in the NFL game.  He is constantly tweaking his team and fiddling way too much for my liking.  His draft picks have been questionable at best and the whole organization seems to be beating to a different drum.  Eventually Carroll’s house of cards is going to collapse and I really wonder if this season will be the beginning of the end for the Carroll era.  It will happen with the Seahawks being underdogs their first EIGHT games this season (@ARZ, DAL, GB, @STL, @CAR, NE, @SF, @DET) and not coming away with more than two victories in that span.  Starting 2-6 is an ideal start to getting under 7 wins in my book.

Projected Playoff Seeding:
  1. Green Bay
  2. New Orleans
  3. Philadelphia
  4. San Francisco
  5. Chicago
  6. New York Giants

Best Bets:

New Orleans over 10 wins (+130)
Seattle under 7 wins (+120)
Green Bay over 12 wins (+100)