Let’s look at four NFC teams who may fall off some this Regular Season, as well as four teams from the NFC who look poised to improve somewhat and then make a couple of Futures Picks based on the perceived improvement or regression of these eight NFC teams.
The .500 mark in professional sports has always been some kind of barometer for perceived success during, or after a given season has ended. In the NFL, finishing at .500 seems sort of like a warning that things may be difficult in the future for some strange reason. Last season, two NFL teams finished at .500 (8-8)—the Miami Dolphins in the AFC and the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC, and the 2015 season may be harsh on these two historic franchises which have solid enough rosters and serviceable QBs. But often improving and trying to get closer to the .500 mark, or having a miserable season and falling much closer to a .500 win percentage is what happens to many NFL teams, depending on the number of variables like roster strength, offseason moves, coaches, fan bases and homefield advantages, injuries, scheduling, QB health and on and on and on. But seeing that the New York Jets had a great 2015 NFL Draft and improved their roster and look good on paper—or your mobile device—does not always translate to their immediate improvement. Things take time, especially in the NFL where it seems an elite quintet of teams—the Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots, Denver Broncos and Indianapolis Colts—have created a stronghold on NFL silverware of late. So, finding those other more low-profile teams who may be slipping or chipping away at improvement is often where some unexpected money can be won, with both NFL odds makers and the general public remembering what they saw last from those teams, and making their bets accordingly. Here are four NFC teams who look like they may getting ripe for improvement and four others who may slip some this season, after either having great 2015 Regular Seasons, or, in the San Francisco 49ers case, a fairly decent run of late.
Must Read: Betting the NFL Preseason spreads
NFC Teams Which Could be on the Upswing in 2015
St. Louis Rams— The Rams were 6-10 SU last season, but as often happens in the NFL, Injuries were a big part of that story. And, playing in the NFC West alongside the defending conference champ Seahawks, 49ers and Arizona Cardinals isn’t so fun. In a freaky trade to start the Offseason, St. Louis shipped starting QB Sam Bradford to the Philadelphia Eagles for their starting QB last season, Nick Foles (13th-ranked 62.2 Total QBR). For me, this was a great trade for the Rams (25/1 to win NFC, William Hill), and this team now has decent QB Depth with Foles, Austin Davis, Rookie Sean Mannion (Oregon State) and Case Keenum. St. Louis could use another decent WR though, with Kenny Britt and Tavon Austin slated to be starters. So, expect a healthy Rushing game, an improved Passing attack, a solid Defense, and, if the OL can improve, the Rams could get to that .500 mark this season, especially with two of the teams which look to be slipping in their division and (obviously) on the schedule 4 times this coming season. Meow. With Jeff Fisher as Head Coach, this team is in good hands and will improve this season and in The Future, although ever getting to the Seattle Seahawks level seems like a pipe dream at this point in Time.
Minnesota Vikings— The Vikings (22/1 to win NFC, bet365) went 7-9 SU last season and finished under .500 primarily because of their 2-6 Road mark. With RB Adrian Peterson back and probably running angry, QB Teddy Bridgewater maturing and gaining confidence and some nice additions like Free Agent WR Mike Wallace (Dolphins) and top pick Trae Waynes (CB, Michigan State), this team looks to be on the proverbial upswing this season. Minnesota does need to improve on its 1-5 division (NFC North) mark, and with the Chicago Bears sliding and the Detroit Lions poised to, expect Minnesota to possibly get to that .500 mark this season and maybe reward its Regular Season Team Win Total (7½ Over Even, Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook) Over backers in January. In Purple We Trust.
New Orleans Saints— The Saints went a surprising 7-9 and a weird 3-5 at Home in the Superdome. But expect this Offense-minded team to bounce back. New Orleans did lose TE Jimmy Graham which would seem disastrous on the surface, but New Orlean did get C Max Unger from the Seahawks in that trade and this team should have a solid line behind future-Hall of Fame QB Drew Brees (6th-ranked 71.6 Total QBR). And with targets like new TE Ben Watson (Patriots) and WRs like Marques Colston (59 receptions, 902 yards in 2014), Brandin Cooks, Joseph Morgan, Nick Toon and many more, Brees will have an abundance of weapons with which to work. But winning in the anemic NFC South where the Saints (20/1 to win NFC, bet365) went 3-3 last season will be big, and New Orleans will probably need to win 3 of 4 encounters against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons, meaning they will have to find a way to win a Road game in one of those two places—a very doable thing with New Orleans holding a huge advantage at the QB position with Brees. The Saints seem more like a 9-7 team (Season Regular Season team Win Total 9 Under -140, Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook) than a 7-9 team and with Head Coach Sean Payton, will certainly expect more from the coming season.
Carolina Panthers— Like the Saints, the Panthers also call the NFC South home, and last season this team went a quirky 7-8-1 and won the division. Thanks, NFL’s perennial tie. This year, expect Carolina to improve some and finish either 9-7 or 10-6 if everything goes right. This team plays good Defense—the Cats held three of their L7 opponents to season-low yardage totals— has a solid QB in Cam Newton and doesn’t beat themselves like a number of teams in this league tend to do. And with underrated Head Coach Ron Rivera and playing in possibly the league’s weakest division, expect Carolina (22/1 to win NFC, Sky Bet) to make some noise this season, although still getting over the Seattle-Green Bay Hump may prove to be a bit too much. Still, better is better.
NFC Teams Which Could be on the Downswing in 2015
NFC Teams Which Could be on the Downswing in 2015
Arizona Cardinals— The Cardinals went an impressive 11-5 SU last season but don’t expect that again, no matter how good the Defense is in the Valley of the Sun. Although the 49ers seem to be dropping in their own NFC West division, as discussed, the Rams look to be on the upswing, and well, the Seahawks are the Seahawks and should be improved on Offense with the addition of aforementioned TE Graham (Saints). So, expect some regression from Arizona, even with QB Carson Palmer back from an Injury and fans expecting greatness. The Cardinals had just too much trouble scoring easy points last season and when behind, that’s trouble for teams like that. Defense can only keep teams in so many games. Toss in a schedule which features the rugged AFC North (Steelers, Ravens, Bengals), the NFC North (Packers, Lions, Vikings) and an opener against the feisty Saints in Glendale (Cardinals -2½ 47, Pinnacle), and this team could plummet all the way to .500 (or worse?) if everything goes wrong. And it very well could. And in the betting marketplace, thinking about taking the Cardinals Under 8½ -110 in the Season Team Win Totals seems like the lean with two games against the Seahawks, Rams and 49ers also creating stress for Arizona. What goes up, must come down.
Dallas Cowboys— The Cowboys went an impressive 12-4 SU last season, thanks in great part to a massive and talented OL and one of the best Rushing attacks in the NFL. So what did Dallas do? It traded away its top RB, Demarco Murray who only rushed for 1,845 yards and 13 TDs last season in Big D. Dumb. It’s hard enough to establish a decent running game in the NFL, but to not find a way to keep both Murray and mercurial WR Dez Bryant seems like regression. And now Bryant is squawking (again) about a new contract and threatening to sit out games, so expect America’s Team to be caught up in their own heads, their own BS and slip some in 2015. And the Cowboys schedule is like that massive shark in the movie Jaws: The Eagles twice in divisional play, the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots, the NFC-champion Seahawks, the Panthers and then the Packers in Green Bay and the Bills in Buffalo, both in December where the Weather should play a very big advantage for the two home sides against the team which plays in a warm and sunny state (Texas) and in an environment (AT&T Stadium in Arlington) tantamount to a climate-controlled mall (with a TV as big as a Brontosaurus). 2015 may be rough on America’s Team and a 9-7 season is not out of the question for QB Tony Romo and Dallas (9/1 to win NFC, bet365).
Detroit Lions— The Lions went 11-5 last season and may have peaked. Detroit saw futuristic DL Ndamukong Suh (Dolphins) and Nick Fairley (Rams) leave the nest for bigger Free Agency monies, so the team that got to this point by playing great Defense can’t help but be worse in 2015 without these two talents bolstering the DL. On Offense, QB Matt Stafford and WR Calvin Johnson always have their moments, but Detroit (16/1 to win NFC, William Hill) could never get over the Green Bay Hump and now look to slip closer to the level of the improving Vikings in the NFC North. (And on the Fourth Day, both the Lions and Vikings thanked the good Lord for Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears.) The Lions 8½ (Over -120, Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook) reveals the odds makers’ feeling toward the Lions’ regression this season, but Detroit’s schedule is just too weak (Bears and Vikings twice, Raiders, Chiefs, Cardinals, Rams, 49ers) to offer up advice taking the Under there in that marketplace. Blah. Double blah.Triple blah.
San Francisco 49ers— As mentioned in the Introduction, the 49ers (25/1 to in NFC, bet365) went a disappointing 8-8 last season, but it’s what’s happened after the season that ended that has further hamstrung this team. Head Coach Jim Harbaugh headed to his alma mater, the University of Michigan to coach, while many crucial players on Defense either left via Free agency or simply chose to retire. And on Offense and guys like RB Frank Gore (Colts) and WR Michael Crabtree (Raiders) also left, leaving flighty San Francisco QB Colin Kaepernick to fend for himself in a new stadium some 20-plus miles away from San Francisco in Santa Clara. Not cool. Expect hollowness and doubt and fear and bitching from the Bay Area again this 2015 NFL season with the AFC’s Raiders actually closing the talent gap on the NFC’s 49ers. And if you think the flight of players or far-away stadium is the biggest problem for this franchise you’re not paying close enough attention to the knob who actually owns the team and has set the tone for all this 49ers sadness and regression—35-year-old Jed York. As long as he is in charge, this team will be in trouble and York is the reason Jim Harbaugh is now looking at kids who were playing high school football now up in Ann Arbor. Life really does come at you fast.
There were a couple of teams in the NFC which didn’t really fall into the Upswing or Downswing categories, but which may see slight upticks or downticks from where there were in 2014. The Green Bay Packers (12-4 SU) re-signed everyone they needed to re-sign and may make it to, and possibly win the Super Bowl (NFC -2½, Bovada) this year. And the Philadelphia Eagles (10-6 SU) may be able to win the NFC East and maybe make it to the NFC Championship game, although this is a team which makes a lot of mistakes and has will have a number of guys—Sam Bradford, Matt Barkley, Marc Sanchez, Tim Tebow—fighting to lead the Offense and teams that make it to the NFC Championship game have QBs with names like Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers and maybe Tony Romo. As far as three other teams who may slide some, but who are already in apparent free falls are the Chicago Bears (5-11), Atlanta Falcons (6-10) and New York Giants (6-10), who seem like they may be a good team to fade in 2015.
NFC Futures Picks: Carolina Panthers Regular Season Team Total Over 8½ +115, Arizona Cardinals Regular Season Team Win Total Under 8½ -110 (Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook)