Friday, September 7, 2012

NFL Win Totals: The 3 Best Over Plays


You’re going to be hit with thousands of prop bets between now and the Super Bowl. Heck, you’ll be hit with close to 100 props after the Super Bowl when the unwatchable-yet-always-played Pro Bowl is on tap. The most basic prop bets to track are win totals. Everyone makes predictions, from the team making the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NFL Draft to the Super Bowl matchup. In the middle, most people opine the way they believe the NFL standings will shape up after 17 weeks of bone-crushing and brain-jarring hits.
As with most projections, the numbers play a huge role. What are the trends (New England has won 12 or more games six of the past nine seasons)? Has a team slated to win around 10 games ever won more than 10 games before (ahem… talking about you, Houston!)? Throw in the team’s core and star-studded rosters and you can spew out a multitude of numbers.
Obviously, people in Vegas are smart. When they create win totals and the ensuing juice on either side, they have a good idea teams will be within a victory of the number. For example, lines like 8 ½ for the New York Jets couldn’t be more perfect. The eye test says the Jets could win eight or nine games this year.
Nevertheless, there seem to be a few glaring errors in Vegas forecasting which should lead to a big return should you decide plop down a few bags of chips on some teams. Per 5Dimes, here are the over/under win totals for all NFL teams this season.
Today, we’re taking a look at the three best over plays. And, quite frankly, it almost feels like stealing candy from a baby.
Kansas City OVER 8 wins (+125)
My love for the Chiefs dates back to the Trent Green years in the early 2000s. It was then, before blogging, Facebook, and Twitter that I projected Kansas City to be my major sleeper team and the AFC’s Super Bowl representative. The Super Bowl prediction turned out to be wrong, thanks to New England being in the middle of that incredible run of three titles in four seasons, but my sleeper label wasn’t. Kansas City, which finishes 8-8 the year before, raced out to a 9-0 start (garnering a Sports Illustrated cover with the word “PERFECT” on it) and finished the season 13-3. I’ve always been lauded for that prognostication.
Well, now that my back is raw from self-patting, here’s why this year’s Chiefs are a team you should be watching. Remember how bad last year’s team was? It started the year with back-to-back losses by the cumulative score of 89-10; it went 0-for-November, including a 31-3 home loss to the Dolphins; it finished last in the NFL’s worst division; and it fired its head coach with three games to play.
That terrible team, which lost cornerback Eric Berry and running back Jamaal Charles to season-ending injuries early in the year, finished 7-9 with the only regular-season victory against the Packers. Yeah, those Chiefs were sure terrible, weren’t they? Perception is funny, especially in this case. The rift between the Chiefs’ players and then-coach Todd Haley seemed to dominate the headlines while the Chiefs plodded along with close losses and mostly solid defensive performances.
So, if everything that could go wrong in 2011 – and everything went wrong – were to copy itself to 2012, the Chiefs would finish 7-9 again, correct? Needless to say, Kansas City was a pretty good 7-win team last year, all things considered. Now, with the vaunted defense getting a couple upgrades (Berry is back and ready to be a No. 1 safety again, Stanford Routt will play the opposite corner spot of Brandon Flowers and first-round draft choice Dontari Poe is expected to be a Shaun Rogers in the middle of the defensive line, only without Rogers’ baggage) the team is ready to make a serious playoff push.
The NFL is a passing league no doubt, and Matt Cassel hovering around mediocre is the only thing holding KC from realistic Super Bowl talk. The schedule isn’t a cakewalk either. I do believe, however, that a team like KC is the perfect sleeper to beat at least a few teams no one expects it to beat. Case in point: The Chiefs host the Falcons in Week 1. Most pundits will pick Atlanta and move on to another game, but that would be foolish. Cantor Gaming’s opening line was a “pick’em” for the game for good reason. It’ll be victories like this – one I’m projecting Kansas City to win – that’ll help push Kansas City toward 10 wins and a playoff berth.
The division is filled with mediocre teams. Denver is Peyton Manning plus an above-average defense. Oakland is a team with speed and a flashy defense but no passing game to help a really good running game. San Diego is the definition of a .500 Jekyll and Hyde squad that’ll go out and beat the big boys but lose a clunker to a putrid team. If Kansas City can win a pair of its really challenging home games (Atlanta, Baltimore, Denver, Carolina) it’ll have enough ammo to hit the over with all-but-guaranteed road wins against Tampa Bay and Cleveland. This is the biggest “Book It!” of the NFL season.
Carolina OVER 7 1/2 wins (-135)
Do you believe in Cam Newton? That’s the real question in play here. The 6-foot-5, 245-pound quarterback put up seemingly once-in-a-generation rookie numbers last season for an otherwise embarrassing Panthers team: 4,051 passing yards, 21 touchdowns, 706 rushing yards and another 14 touchdowns. His “questionable” accuracy? He completed 60 percent of his passes. Now, much like teams seem to make the biggest improvement from Week 1 to Week 2 (it’s more true in college but it still holds true for NFL squads as well), individuals tend to take a major step forward or a stumble backward from Year 1 to Year 2. That is the crossroad Newton is at right now.
It’s true Newton only makes up 1/53rd of the roster, but he’s that important. If he turns out to be a one-season-wonder player like a Matt Cassel or has a career similar to (but better than) Donovan McNabb there will be some major celebrating in Carolina for years to come.
That leads us into this year’s over/under of 7.5 wins. Cantor’s game-by-game spreads have the Panthers as favorites in six games, underdogs in seven and pick’ems in two. (Week 17 isn’t listed but we can assume the Saints would be favored at home against the Panthers). Cantor doesn’t have as much faith in the Panthers (or Cam) as I do. I mean, 5.5-point underdogs at San Diego in Week 15? Has anyone at Canton watched the Chargers in the past decade? The telling numbers are where you see Carolina as a home pick’em against the Giants and Broncos. At least someone is realizing the Panthers won’t be a pushover, especially at home.
Going from 2-14 to 6-10, last year’s rise, is the kind of momentum a team usually has before taking another big leap forward. Now, it would be unfair to ignore the fact the only reputable team Carolina beat last season was Houston (Carolina won on the road, 28-13). The other wins were against Jacksonville, Washington, Indianapolis and against Tampa Bay (twice). It would also be wise to note that in those six wins Newton topped the 210-yard passing mark once. You remember those back-to-back 400-plus yard games to open the season? Well, Carolina lost both those games, to the Cardinals and Packers, respectively. When the Panthers won, his passing totals were much more modest: 158 (Jacksonville), 256 (Washington), 208 (Indianapolis), 204, 171 (Tampa Bay) and 149 (Houston). It’s also interesting that his TD-to-interception ratio in victories was 8-to-0. He threw 17 picks to just 13 touchdowns in losses. The Panthers go as Newton goes. It’s a simple as that.
So, now that you’ve been given a lecture on Cam Newton’s progression as a passer and his statistical tendencies, how will that help Carolina get to eight wins you ask? Great question.
It starts with Newton and the rest of the offense. No team has a better stable of running options than the Panthers (this includes Newton). Adding Mike Tolbert to the duo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart only makes it better. The Panthers will score but the defense has to hold on to leads. Remember last year’s 49-35 loss at Detroit? Carolina held a 24-7 lead 21 minutes into the game and a 27-14 lead at the half. Even though Carolina blew the lead, surrendering three straight touchdowns in the second half, a Newton rushing score and a two-point conversion tied the game at 35 with five minutes to play. The porous defense showed up again as the Lions scored two touchdowns in the next three minutes to win going away.
Remember this: Jon Beason, the heart and soul of that defense was lost for the year just four tackles into 2011. He’s back and rookie Luke Kuechly gives the Panthers another future Pro Bowl linebacker. The defense will be better, perhaps resembling the unit that helped Carolina go 4-2 in its final six games. In the four wins Carolina never allowed more than 19 points. The two losses (31-23 to Atlanta and 45-17 at New Orleans) were steps in the wrong direction. That said, you could see the unit grow as the year went on and that’s expected to continue in 2012. I liken Carolina’s rise to that of Detroit. The lowly Lions went from 0-16 to 2-14 to 6-10 to 10-6, the final year resulting in the team’s first playoff appearance since 1999. If Carolina’s defense is all it can be it’ll become a perfect complement to the offense and that will help the Panthers win 10 games and grab a playoff spot. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Cam Newton it’s that he’s never satisfied unless he’s a champion. A 6-10 season was the only thing in his mind when he was collecting all the accolades for his sensational season. As he told Sports Illustrated, “We went 6-10 last year. That’s nothing to be happy about.” I know his standards for happiness are probably 19-0 with a Super Bowl championship, but I think he’ll take 10 wins and a playoff berth.
New England OVER 12 wins (+110)
Wagering on a team to win more than 75 percent of its games is always a risk. With the Patriots, it’s more than calculated. Since winning the teams’ second Super Bowl in 2003 the Patriots have posted the following win totals: 14, 14, 10, 12, 16, 11, 10, 14, and 13. That’s five of nine seasons with more than 12 wins and another “push” of 12 wins. Just three times did New England fail to win a dozen games, and one of those was the Matt Cassel  year. I like teams with a proven history of doing something. It’s why, as you’ll read tomorrow, why jumping on the Buffalo bandwagon isn’t a great idea. What has Buffalo done in the past decade? The answer: Nothing! The Patriots, on the other hand, just win.
Tom Brady’s proven to be a winner, regardless of the schedule. He’s not injury prone (the injury in 2008 was nothing more than a fluke). With Brady leading the charge and a schedule that’s been dubbed the easiest in football, it would be foolish to assume the Patriots can’t win 12 games. Now, could New England go 12-4? Absolutely. But the chance of the Patriots winning 11 or fewer games is almost nonexistent. That means any over bet is, at worst, a push. If you’re like me and don’t buy any other AFC East team as a threat (that includes you, Buffalo), you could say the Patriots easily go at least 5-1 in divisional games. Other very winnable home games include Arizona and Indianapolis while road contests at Tennessee and Jacksonville and a London game against St. Louis don’t seem scary at all. It boils down to whether the Patriots can win three out of the following five games: at Baltimore, Denver, at Seattle, Houston and San Francisco. Given New England’s track record there should be at least three wins there.
Forecasting any team to go 16-0 is nuts, although Cantor does have New England favored in every game this season. Another out-of-the-headlines 13-3 season seems in store for one of the greatest dynasties of our time. It’s time for you to cash in before the train rides off into the sunset.

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