The NFL Draft is over, which means we head into the doldrums of the NFL offseason. Every year in the first two weeks of May, I embark upon a dangerous mission: looking at the win totals for every NFL team and deciding whether or not each team will win more or less games than Vegas predicts.
Guessing in May as to who will end up with a certain number of wins come January isn't easy. And things can go south quickly -- two years ago, I went a very disappointing 14-17-1 overall. Last year was much more promising, however, as I finished 18-12-2 across the board. I will take that all day and run with it.
We're going to look at two divisions per day over the next few days. If you hate any picks, love any picks or have better ideas, leave them in the comments or yell at me on Twitter @WillBrinson.
- Any best bets are noted by (***) and the words BEST BET in large letters.
- Lines are courtesy of Sportsbook.ag. The numbers next to the win total indicate the juice. If an over is +150, it means you make $150 for betting $100. If it's -150 you need to bet $150 just to win $100
- Look for these to drop in this order:
- Friday, May 12 - NFC South
- Monday, May 15 - AFC East
- Monday, May 15 - AFC North
- Tuesday, May 16 - AFC South
- Tuesday, May 16 - AFC West
10 Over (+105) / Under (-135)
As you can see by the number here, Vegas even feels a little bit half-hearted about rolling with the Falcons as a 10-win team. Can you blame them? Atlanta looks like a cookie-cutter version of the 2016 Panthers -- regular-season MVP on an NFC South team coming off a Super Bowl loss -- only with the added stomach kick of giving up a 28-3 lead in the title game. The biggest red flag for Atlanta, in my mind, is how they overcome the loss of Kyle Shanahan. Matt Ryan had a "down" year when he lost Dirk Koetter and Shanahan came in; transition is natural. Will it be seamless under Steve Sarkisian?
All the pieces are in place for the offense to be dominant again, but there's a "Spidey Sense" type of situation here. The defense is improved thanks to adding Dontari Poe (free agency) and Takkarist McKinley (draft) but it's not probably not going to suddenly become a top-tier unit. And the schedule sort of reminds me of Carolina's start last year. Atlanta opens up with the Bears on the road, the Packers at home, the Lions on the road and the Bills at home before a really early Week 5 bye. They'll get the Dolphins after the break then three straight road games against the Patriots, Jets and Panthers before facing the Cowboys at home and the Seahawks on the road. That's a grueling stretch in the middle of the season that could be devastating if Atlanta starts slow.
9 Over (-125) / Under (-105)
2016 was an utter disaster for the Panthers, who struggled out of the gate against inferior opponents, limping out to a 1-5 mark before their Week 7 bye. Their over of 10.5 games was toast before Thanksgiving (like, way before). But there are substantial reasons to expect a bounceback.
Assuming Cam Newton is recovered from offseason shoulder surgery, the timing of which was a bit controversial, Carolina will have a much better offense. Kelvin Benjamin needs to slim down and Devin Funchess needs to live up to his draft slot, but the addition of Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel with the Panthers' top two picks should allow Newton to improve his accuracy and efficiency through short-yardage completions that turn into bigger gains courtesy of their shiftiness and playmaking. If Mike Shula can appropriately utilize them as unconventional weapons in the passing game, Carolina will be very dangerous. If Matt Kalil lives up to his contract, the Panthers could return to being a dominant offense.
The defense was fortified by increasing the depth at defensive end -- Julius Peppers, Charles Johnson, Mario Addison, Wes Horton and Daeshon Hall isn't the '27 Yankees of pass rushing, but it's a dangerous rotation, particularly with Star Lotulelei, Kawaan Short and Vernon Butler on the interior. You could argue this is the deepest defensive line in football.
Carolina doesn't have an easy schedule, but some of the tougher-looking parts are subtly mitigated. They open on the road, but it's against the 49ers, and they are familiar with Kyle Shanahan's scheming. Also: San Francisco might not be great. The Panthers have a two-game road trip (at Chicago, at Tampa Bay) that is made easier by a Thursday game/mini-bye against the Eagles before it starts. (On the other hand, they also get the Pats on the road, the Lions on the road and the Eagles at home before it, which is brutal.) Another two-game road trip against the Jets and Saints comes immediately after their Week 11 bye. It is not hard to imagine them ripping off a substantial win streak from November to the middle of December. I think they win exactly 10 games.
New Orleans Saints
8.5 Over (-105) / Under (-125)
Meet the new Saints, same as the old Saints. Is this team any different than it has been in years past? Yes, they added Adrian Peterson and Alvin Kamara to their backfield, but that's akin to someone bragging about the brand new deck they added to their house that doesn't have a roof. Seems like a little bit of a luxury when your defense remains a giant sieve. Marshon Lattimore was a fantastic pick in the first round, but it almost happened accidentally if they did indeed want Patrick Mahomes. They took an offensive lineman (Ryan Ramcyzk) in the first round too, which doesn't help on defense but is a good thing after Max Unger suffered an injury.
Their schedule might not be favorable either. They go on the road to play the Vikings on opening week Monday night, then host the Patriots, then play the Panthers and Dolphins (both outdoors) before their very early Week 5 bye. That is a tough opening slate. The next stretch -- Detroit at home, Packers on the road, Bears and Buccaneers at home -- is much easier but not a cakewalk. They will have to hold serve in those four games. The Falcons, who they play twice down the stretch, being worse than expected would be a huge bonus for the Saints and could flip this one.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
8.5 Over (-110) / Under (-120)
Confession: I love this team and I'm probably not alone in that regard. The hype is concerning. But the Buccaneers added DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard to an offense that already featured Mike Evans and Cameron Brate. It's just a really nice complement of weapons for Jameis Winston, who has the ability to morph into an MVP candidate if everything clicks this year. They were lucky last year, outperforming their expected win total by a game and a half.
There is a lot of consistency on this roster. The defense wasn't that consistent last year, but it is an underrated unit. They gave up 37 points to the Rams in the first three weeks of the season. That feels like it happened on a different planet. Mike Smith's unit finished 12th in defensive DVOA last year but was better down the stretch, and now he has a group of players more adjusted to his scheme (as opposed to a slew of Tampa 2 guys from the Lovie Smith era).
Schedule-wise, the Bucs will need to come out hot. They play the Dolphins in Miami in Week 1 (not a bad road trip), get the Bears at home in Week 2 and the Vikings on the road in Week 3. Then they have the Giants at home followed by a short week (Thursday game) against the Patriots at home. You can't be 1-2 with that combo coming to Tampa and back-to-back road games against the Cardinals and Bills looming. They close out their pre-bye schedule with the Panthers at home, the Saints on the road and the Jets at home. Road games against the Falcons, Packers and Panthers after the bye means they probably need six wins before the bye to hit the over here, but it's definitely doable.