On the heels of the NFL schedule, Team Season Win Totals were released across sports betting platforms. Join us as we preview the AFC Conference and serve up our predictions for the 2015 NFL season.
NFL Schedule and Strength of Schedule
In a recent article we discussed the impact of the NFL schedule, whether the varying degrees of difficulty make a difference on each team's season win totals. (For your convenience, we've included the NFL Strength Of Schedule Chart (Table 2) at the end of this article where you can get a sense of how the schedule's stack up).
In this column, we take it a step further and serve up extremely early predictions and NFL picks for the projected season win totals (Table 1) that are currently trading in NFL betting markets. Obviously, the season is nowhere near starting. There's a lot to go through from trades to preseason camps and much, much more. A lot can change from now until then, so these predictions and NFL picks aren't foolproof and may need to be adjusted down the road. We're taking a stab at it nonetheless, with the information and knowledge that we're armed with now.
So here goes....
Table 1: Las Vegas Sportsbook AFC Projected Season Win Totals
Rundown of NFL Season Win Total Picks
New England Patriots – Over 10.5
The Garoppolo Era is going to start in New England unless Tom Brady can successfully challenge the four-game suspension he recently received. Working on the worst-case scenario: the suspension will be upheld and Brady does indeed miss the first 5 weeks, the prognosis actually isn't too bad for the Patriots in our opinion.
As it is, Brady is slated to miss dates with Pittsburgh, Buffalo (away), Jacksonville, a week 4 Bye and Dallas (away). Officially starting his season in week 6 against Indianapolis Colts (talk about irony). To be fair, it's not the most daunting of schedules if Garoppolo does take over the reins in the first month of the season. Consider the depth and talent the Patriots have and the coaching genius of Belichick, it would be surprising if the Patriots didn't win at least one of those games, if not both home games, even with the unheralded Garoppolo calling the shots. That leaves Brady with 12 games on the season with which to do his magic in.
Over the last five years, Brady and the Patriots have averaged 12.6 wins per season with the best account a 14-2 season in 2010-2011. In the last three years, they've finished 12-4-0 SU each time. Expecting Brady to win all 12 starts might be a bit much, but if Garoppolo can hold up his end of the bargain and give the Patriots a couple of wins, we know Brady is good for at least 79% of his 12 starts (the 12.6 average win total from 16 games a season equals to a winning percentage of 79%). That works out to 9.48 wins from week 6 and onwards that Brady must deliver.
Things don't always go to plan or the page. Taking a mathematical approach might seem insane, but the Patriots have only been the model of consistency over the last decade. Plus, they're bit pissed off right now with the NFL, feeling the judgement against them is unfounded and unwarranted. They might be playing angry at the start. In any event, we expect the Patriots to respond in a big way and we're going with the OVER 10.5 on our NFL picks, with a view towards an 11-5 season.
Miami Dolphins – PUSH 9
Miami Dolphins look to be headed in the right direction these days and with the addition of Ndamukong Suh they've got some additional grit to the team previously missing. Still, one gets the feeling that this team isn't done developing. There's a lot that is up in the air and Ryan Tannehill can still be a bit shaky from time to time.
As such, a 9-win season appears too high of a projection in our opinion. If it were 8 wins, we'd be comfortable with the OVER on our NFL picks. As it is, it might be a stretch. Last year, the Dolphins pulled off an 8-8-0 season with the 12th toughest schedule (Table 2) that boasted a 0.508 winning percentage. This year, they've got a slightly lighter schedule, 17th overall but with a 0.492 winning percentage ( a difference of 0.016). We see the Dolphins coming away with a 9-7 season at best.
Buffalo Bills – UNDER 8.5
The Bills defense is no joke. They gave some respectable teams last season a run for their money, including Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Yet, this side has been revamped on the coaching front and the offensive side of the ball and that leaves us a bit wary of their projected 8.5 win totals for the season. Granted Rex Ryan has stepped in as head coach, but Kyle Orton, who led them to an 8-8-0 season last year hung his hat last season. Worst bit they didn't draft a new quarterback, deciding to entrust the success of their season to EJ Manuel and Matt Cassel. Yikes. Given that tandem, UNDER 8.5 seems to be the best option for your NFL picks.
New York Jets – UNDER 7
There's a lot of uncertainty at this vantage point about the Jets, from new coaching to ambiguity at quarterback with Geno Smith, rookie Bryce Petty and veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick vying for the starting role. Then there's the fact that the AFC East is steadily improving as a division, levelling out the field between the Dolphins, Bills and (to a lesser extent) Jets. Obviously, the Patriots are still head and shoulders above the rest, but the triplet is becoming more competitive. All of which makes the projected win totals of 7 a bit of a touch and go.
If there's one thing to put the Jets OVER 7, it's a conspicuously "easier" schedule that ranks 18th on the strength chart (Table 2 below) and boasts a 0.488 winning percentage. Well, no schedule is easy per say. Neither is it good practice to take opponents lightly. That said when they were dealt the 9th toughest schedule last season with a winning percentage of 0.520, they could only muster up a 4-12 season. With a schedule that's half as tough as last season, one could argue they have a shot to double last season's win totals. For our money, the fact that former coach Rex Ryan (who knows the bulk of the team intimately) has taken a job with divisional opponents Bills is a huge disadvantage to the Jets. What's more, the ambiguity at quarterback is too important to ignore. Hence, s we're going with the safer option and taking the UNDER 7 on our NFL picks.
Baltimore Ravens – PUSH 9
The Ravens are coming off a 10-6-0 SU season, which included a 6-2 record at home and a 4-4 record on the road. Repeating or improving on that record is going to be that much tougher this season according to some NFL experts, despite the fact that the Ravens have averaged 10.4 wins over the last five seasons.
These arm chair critics cite the improved AFC North, which was the toughest division last season as one of the main reasons for this notion. Whether that is true is open to debate. It's worth mentioning that all four had relatively "easy" schedules (Table 2); by that we mean, they ranked amongst the lowest on the strength chart in 2014. It's also interesting to note that with the fourth easiest schedule in 2014, the Ravens' season win totals were chalked at 8.5.
In the coming season, the Ravens will have a much tougher schedule. On that ranks 11th on the strength chart compared to 28th last year, but their win totals are set higher at 9 which makes this a tough number to come to terms with. It's possible they'll go OVER 9, but don't be surprised if they finish 9-7
Cincinnati Bengals – UNDER 8.5
The Cincinnati Bengals are coming off a 10-5-1 season, which included a 5-2-1 record at home and a 5-3 record on the road. Still, there's a lot to be desired about this team and we can't help but feel their solid account last season was in large part to their favorable NFL schedule that ranked 23rd on the strength chart (Table 2) and boasted a 0.469 winning record. Case-and-point they went through a rough patch midway through the season that it's a miracle they emerged 10-5-1. With the second toughest schedule in the league, which features a 0.563 winning percentage, we feel the Bengals just might struggle to crack the 8.5 win totals projected for the season. Hence, we're going UNDER 8.5 on our NFL picks.
Pittsburgh Steelers – UNDER 8.5
Last year, they had the 23rd toughest schedule, on par with the Bengals, and managed an 11-5-0 mark to clinch the AFC North division title. Then they crashed out of the playoffs to divisional rivals Ravens. So much for the success of their regular season.
The Steelers have the toughest schedule this season, featuring a league-high 0.579 winning percentage. Worst bit about their schedule is they face five playoff teams in their last six games of the season. These two factors amongst others will make this a tough number to achieve, let alone to replicate their run last year. We're going with the UNDER 8.5 on our NFL picks, with a view towards an 8-8 season.
Cleveland Browns – UNDER 6.5
Under, Under, Under. One word: quarterback. Two words: Josh McCown. Three words: Johnny "Football" Manziel. Too many words, not enough action. Colour the world shocked if the Cleveland Browns crack more than 6.5 wins on the NFL odds board.
Indianapolis Colts – OVER 10.5
This is a bit of a gimmick, if you ask us. The AFC South is one of the weakest divisions in the NFL right now, with only the Colts worth their salt. In three seasons with the Colts, Andrew Luck has served up 16-2 SU record against divisional opponents, with the two defeats coming in his rookies year. The last two years he led the Colts to a sweep of the division. Based on that NFL betting trend, the Colts only need to win five of their non-divisional games to crack the 10.5 projected season win totals. Consider they have one of the weakest schedules in the NFL that ranks 30th on the strength chart (Table 2) it should be a walk in the park. If you ask us, the total is way too low. In any event, the OVER 10.5 has to be the smart NFL pick.
Houston Texans – OVER 8.5
At the core, the Texans have one of the strongest defenses in the league. Spearheaded by monster J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney, this is a formidable backline that should terrorise the league no end in the coming season. Last year, the Texans managed to go 9-7 SU despite uncertainty at quarterback, a fact that augurs well for the coming season. Now that they've acquired Brian Hoyer, who should wrestle the starting role from alternative options Ryan Mallet and Tom Savage, the Texans could very well build on their 9-7 season, if not match it. The OVER 8.5 is the NFL pick here in our opinion.
Tennessee Titans – UNDER 5.5
If the NFL had a lower division, the Titans would be demoted instantly. This isn't a team that is ready to compete in the toughest sport on the planet. Not in its current form. UNDER, UNDER, UNDER is the NFL pick of choice.
Last year, they had the second easiest schedule (Table 2 below) only to eke out a 2-14 SU record. Their schedule is similarly favorable in the coming season, ranked 26th with a 0.435 winning percentage. But there's no reason to assume they'll do much better. Oh, ok. Maybe their double their win total to 4-12. Still, it's under the projected season win totals currently trading on the NFL odds board.
Jacksonville Jaguars – UNDER 5.5
The Jacksonville Jaguars finished the season with a 3-13 record. High hopes precede Blake Bortles into the coming season and there are those NFL bettors that expect the Jaguars to be a bit better this season. Certainly, they have a favorable schedule that ranks 25th on the strength chart. The question is whether the Jaguars are improved enough to be able to double the win column this season; that's what's needed to crack the 5.5 win total line, which is trading in NFL betting markets. This is a tough one. Over the last five years, the Jaguars have averaged 4.4 wins. Thus, the safest NFL pick has to be the UNDER here, with the assumption that the Jaguars will reach a 5-11 mark.
Denver Broncos – OVER 10
Ageists are down with the UNDER 10 for the Denver Broncos. We're not down with them. Forget the hoopla about Manning and his being 39 years of age. He's still one of the best quarterbacks this side of the decade and the Broncos have been one of the most consistent performers in the regular season since he's taken over shot-calling. The Broncos may have a tough schedule that ranks 10th in the league. However, if you consider they had the second toughest schedule last year with a 0.570 winning percentage but still managed to pull off a 12-4-0 record, one has to fancy their chances to crack the 10 win total mark this season. Take the Broncos at OVER 10 for your NFL picks.
Kansas City Chiefs – OVER 8.5
Over the last two seasons, since Alex Smith joined the franchise, the Chiefs have averaged 10 wins. Last term, they finished with a 9-7-0 SU mark despite the toughness of the AFC West division and a tough schedule that ranked 7th on the strength chart (Table 2 below). So, the 8.5 win total seems about right.
Ironically, the Chiefs have received the seventh toughest schedule again this term – albeit with a slightly lower winning percentage. If the Chiefs can weather the tough early part of the schedule, they could come away with a similar 9-7 SU mark this term, if not better. That door will surely open if Philip Rivers is traded away from San Diego Chargers. OVER 8.5 is our recommended NFL pick for the Chiefs.
San Diego Chargers – UNDER 8
With Philip Rivers' status in question, the Chargers season teeters on the quarterback role. As it is, it's not yet been confirmed if he's coming or going, which makes a good case for NFL bettors to give the Chargers the pass for now in early NFL betting markets. Then again, if you were as unimpressed by the Chargers in the second half of the season as we were, you might fancy the UNDER 8 on your NFL picks.
Oakland Raiders – UNDER 5.5
The NFL odds appear to be stacked against the Oakland Raiders. It's as if the NFL schedulers have singled out this franchise to heap misery on. Last year, they had the dubious honour of receiving the toughest schedule in the league, ranked 1st on the Strength of NFL Schedule Table with a 0.578 winning percentage. This season, they've received the seventh toughest schedule with a 0.545 winning percentage. Arguably, these winning percentages are skewed by their three divisional opponents, all of which finished last season above .500 and feature in six of their 16 games. Still, the rest of the schedule is no picnic. One fears for the Raiders and the likeable Derek Carr. One wants to be optimistic, but the UNDER 5.5 seems to be the smart NFL pick. (Then again, if Rivers leaves the AFC West, the Raiders might capitalise with a few more "Ws" in the win column. In that case, we might consider the OVER 5.5 as the Raiders reach a 6-10 SU mark).
Table 2: NFL Strength Of Schedule