NFL win totals are a great resource for gauging what the oddsmakers think of your favorite team. For our purposes, we’ll be looking for value. Below is a chart listing five teams and a comparison of the odds offered on their win total for the season:First, let’s take a look at the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals finished 8-8 a season ago, but they didn’t play like a .500 team at any point of the year, winning their opener, then losing six in a row, and then winning seven of their final nine. The defense played a lot better in the second half of the season, but the big reason for the shift in play was the change the team made at quarterback.
Kevin Kolb was handed the starter’s job after being acquired from Philadelphia, but ineffective play saw him lose the job before the calendar flipped over to November. The team handed the reins to John Skelton at that point, which ignited a dramatic turnaround.
There isn’t anything all that impressive about Skelton. This will be his third season after being selected in the fifth round out of Fordham, and his best attribute may be his willingness to throw the ball to Larry Fitzgerald as often as possible. Whatever the reason, Skelton has compiled a 7-4 record as a starter with the Cardinals, while Kolb has struggled mightily.
With Skelton at the helm to begin the season, I believe Arizona is in position to avoid the wretched start that cost them their 2011 season, and they’ll compete for the NFC West crown in 2012.
Key Stat: Arizona’s defense didn’t allow more than 23 points in any of their final nine games.
Projected Record: 8-8
Recommendation: Over 7 at +160 on Bet365
Next, let’s look at the Atlanta Falcons. A lot of the value in Atlanta comes from the changing landscape within their division. With New Orleans missing key contributors both on and off the field as a result of the bounty scandal, the NFC South is up for grabs. Atlanta has lost five of its six games against New Orleans over the past three seasons, and I believe they’ll at least split their games with the Saints this year.
Atlanta has been a different team since the arrival of Mike Smith and Matt Ryan in 2008. In those four years they have won 11, 9, 13, and 10 games. Their schedule will be slightly softer this year than it was a year ago, although they’ll face a tough test when they travel to Kansas City to open their season.
The Falcons’ offense looks as good as any, with Julio Jones poised for a breakout campaign, and the defense will get a much needed face lift from Mike Nolan. The Falcons appear to be a team ready to step up to the next level.
Key Stat: Haven’t finished with fewer than nine wins since Smith and Ryan joined the team.
Projected Record: 10-6
Recommendation: Over 9 at -121 on Pinnacle
Buffalo Bills supporters don’t like Ryan Fitzpatrick. The thing is, they don’t have to, because Head Coach Chan Gailey has been known to make his offense click, even without a quality quarterback.
Last season, the Harvard-educated QB played well until suffering a rib injury in Week 8. The Bills then went on to lose eight of their final nine games. Lost in the shuffle was the fact that they got only five games out of defensive tackle Kyle Williams, and only ten out of Fred Jackson.
A healthy Fitzpatrick and a returning Jackson should get the offense back on track. On the other side of the ball, the defense will be a bright spot for the Bills as free agent additions Mario Williams and Mark Anderson will combine with Williams and Marcell Dareus to form what might be the league’s most intimidating defensive line, while Nick Barnett looks to build on his impressive debut season with the Bills after coming over from Green Bay.
Another note worth mentioning is that Buffalo shifts from playing the NFC East to the NFC West this year, meaning games against the Eagles and Giants will be replaced by games against the Rams and Seahawks. This year, I expect a healthier Bills team to surpass the New York Jets as the runner up in the division, and make a run at a wild card spot.
Key Stat: Buffalo was 5-2 when Fitzpatrick suffered his rib injury in Week 8 last season.
Projected Record: 10-6
Recommendation: Over 7.5 at -160 on Sportsbook.com
The Houston Texans won the NFC South for the first time in 2011, doing so with a 10-6 record. This year they’ll look to repeat as division champions with a roster that remains largely unchanged. However, it’s unlikely they will again suffer through the barrage of injuries that plagued them last year. Matt Schaub, Arian Foster, and Andre Johnson are all healthy to start the year, and should they miss any time, the team has shown an ability to play through crippling injuries.
Defensively, Wade Phillips remains in the driver’s seat after transforming the Texans’ defense into the league’s second-ranked unit a year ago. Increased roles for Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed should mask the losses of Mario Williams and DeMeco Ryans.
After winning the division, Houston’s schedule features games against New England and Baltimore, but I expect this team to start and finish the season strong. They have games against the Dolphins, Jaguars, Broncos, Titans, and Jets to open the year, then games against the Colts, Vikings, and the Colts again to close the 2012 regular season. Add in another game with the Titans and a pair of dates with the Jaguars, and the Texans should surpass last season’s win total.
With a favorable schedule, Houston should be able to win their division with ease once again this year.
Key Stat: Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, and Mario Williams combined to miss 26 games in 2011.
Projected Record: 11-5
Recommendation: Over 10 at -120 on Sportsbook.com
Lastly, you’ve probably already suffered through enough coverage of the New York Jets, but here’s a little more.
The Jets are simply a mess right now. Mark Sanchez struggled down the stretch last year, throwing seven interceptions in the team’s final three games, all losses. This year he won’t have Plaxico Burress as a target, and the addition of Tim Tebow has only served to create more uncertainty at the quarterback position.
Tony Sparano has been brought in to coach the offense, so you can expect heavy doses of Shonn Greene, even thought Jets fans have likely seen enough of him already. On defense, a once dominant group is aging, while new additions LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell lack the playmaking abilities of their predecessors.
The schedule makers didn’t do much to help out the Jets either, setting up dates with Pittsburgh and San Francisco in September, then Houston and New England in October.
The public still believes that the Jets have an elite defense, and that allows us to get in at an inflated number.
Key Stat: Allowed 363 points in 2011 after allowing 236 in 2009, Rex Ryan’s first year in New York.
Projected Record: 7-9
Recommendation: Under 8.5 at -114 on Sportsbook.com
Looking at the odds comparison above, and specifically noting the Texans and Jets, it’s important to compare prices between different books to find the best value, and those two plays really emphasize that.
I’ll be back on Wednesday with a look at the NFL’s 2012 kickoff game between the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys.