Yesterday, we broke down the three best over plays on the NFL season, which focused on the Kansas City Chiefs, Carolina Panthers and New England Patriots. Today, it’s all about the three best under plays. There were plenty of challengers to crack the top three, but in the end we settled on these three teams to lose enough games that you can enjoy expanded wallets if take this advice.
Jacksonville at UNDER 5 ½ wins (+100)
Playing the Jaguars will take some cojones. Since Jack Del Rio took over in 2003 the Jaguars have won five or fewer games only three times in nine seasons. So, looking at the track record means one would expect the Jags to have an at-worst 6-10 season. Even with last year’s 5-11 record that included Del Rio’s firing, the Jags are looking at another 5-11 or even a 4-12 season for a few reasons.
First, if Chris Johnson’s holdout taught us anything it’s that demanding more money, sitting out all of training camp and expecting to be the stud running back you were before just doesn’t happen. (Worst for Maurice Jones-Drew is that he didn’t get his big payday!). I’m a big Rashad Jennings guy and I think he can shoulder 70 percent of a team’s work load but if MJD somehow gets hurt because he’s not in playing shape there is no way Jennings will survive the entire season as a feature back. He’s good, but he’s not built like MJD and isn’t likely to survive 350 touches.
Next, Blaine Gabbert is still the quarterback. If he’s not, Chad Henne enters the mix. Needless to say, there isn’t much to be excited about under center in Jacksonville (should have traded for Tim Tebow!). I’m sure Gabbert will take some baby steps in Year 2, but the 50.8 completion percentage is a major red flag. Youcannot teach accuracy! Drafting Justin Blackmon should help as he gives Gabbert a bigger margin for error but the rest of the WR corps (Laurent Robinson and Mike Thomas) and tight end Marcedes Lewis aren’t exactly the players who will make a quarterback look good.
Lastly, the AFC South is better than people think and the Jags are last in the pecking order. Houston is a legitimate Super Bowl contender and Tennessee will always be around .500 with a hard-nosed defense and one of the game’s best running backs. While Indianapolis won’t be making a huge leap this season, having Andrew Luck under center instead of last year’s “What fan wants to play QB today” carousel (wait, it wasn’t a bunch of fans playing QB last year, it was actually a slew of NFL quarterbacks?!?) will be a huge improvement. Curtis Painter, Dan Orlovsky and the out-of-retirement Kerry Collins were an embarrassment to the league in 2011 and the Colts suffered. I like Luck’s intangibles and even if he’s not the “next Peyton Manning” he’ll be good enough to beat this type of Jaguars team twice a year.
Jacksonville doesn’t have any gimmes on the schedule. Canton Gaming’s opening spreads for every season game had the Jaguars favored just once. The easiest games are the season opener at Minnesota and a mid-December game at Miami. Outside of those two games the Jags have to face the rest of the AFC East and the NFC North. Anyone expecting anything other than a horrendous year in Jacksonville is somewhere in Jacksonville’s ownership group. This team coupled with the schedule looks like a shoe in for the No. 1 pick in the 2013 Draft. You have no reasonnot to take the under 5 ½ wins. Book It!
Tampa Bay at UNDER 6 wins (+120)
New head coach Greg Schiano can preach “chopping wood” all he wants but the Buccaneers are lousy. Somehow Raheem Morris took the three-win 2009 team to a 10-win squad in 2010 and everyone thought the Bucs were back. Reality set in last season and Tampa crawled to a 4-12 finish. It begs the question: Why in the world isn’t the win total set at 4 ½ or 5? And, if it was going to be set at six, why set the juice on the over?
This is one of those lines that doesn’t make sense. Tampa is clearly the fourth-best team in the NFC South with all other teams having legitimate playoff aspirations. The Saints were a few plays away from the NFC Championship game and the Falcons, led by Matt Ryan, are looking to be America’s Team in 2012. Even Carolina, which I mentioned as a major sleeper and a solid bet to hit their over, is looking good. Don’t forget Carolina pummeled the Bucs in both meetings last season.
While Tampa Bay started 4-2 last season before losing its final 10 games the season’s four wins were by 4, 3, 7, and 6 points. It wasn’t as if Tampa Bay was killing teams and when the losing streak began there were only two games decided by less than a touchdown – the same number decided by more than four.
Josh Freeman has proven to be a mediocre QB and while adding Vincent Jackson and rookie Doug Martin will help a fairly average offense the defense is still terrible. Rookies Mark Barron and Lavonte David should provide help for a group that, overall, has failed to live up to expectations. But, that won’t be enough to make a playoff push and another one- or two-win divisional campaign (at best) is on the docket. The gauntlet of the NFC East and AFC West won’t provide many cakewalk games either. Like Jacksonville, this looks like a predictable 3-13 or 4-12 team.
Buffalo at UNDER 8 ½ wins (-125)
Everyone is circling the wagons these days. And there’s no rationale for doing so. The last time Buffalo won 9 or more games (what it would take to hit this year’s over) was 2004 when the Bills finished 9-7. Heck, that’s the only time in this millennium the Bills have won more than 8 games in a season. The Bills are rarely terrible. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has the arm strength and skills to lead a successful offense, but his decision making (23 interceptions in 2011) is the problem. Fred Jackson is slowing down and C.J. Spiller seems like he should be the feature back. The fact that he hasn’t pushed Jackson aside by now shows that Spiller, entering his third year, might not be the back everyone thought he was coming out of Clemson.
The drooling for Buffalo starts with the D-line. Adding Mario Williams, a freak pass rusher, was a major coup and bookending the line with mark Anderson was a nice touch. However, the unit as a whole still has weaknesses. Giving up 30 passing touchdowns and 19 rushing touchdowns is the first stat of concern. Throw in opposing offenses rushing for 4.8 yards per carry and this “vaunted” defense doesn’t look so vaunted. Only twice last season did Buffalo hold the opposition to fewer than 100 rushing yards (26 vs. Washington, 95 vs. Miami).
The Patriots will be one of the AFC’s best teams once again and while the Jets might struggle they’ll still find a way to finish between 7-9 and 9-7, right? That’s what the Jets are. The Dolphins will be bad, but they were bad last year and somehow swept the Bills.
So, what exactly are the Bills? Who knows? As I’ve said 100 times, the NFL is a show-me league. When the Bills show me than can finish above .500 I’ll believe it. Right now, they have a chance to crack the .500 mark, but this playoff talk is more than silly. You’ll have plenty of time to circle the wagons in the future, and I promise it’ll be more enjoyable if that wagon is filled with cash because you played the under. Book It!