The Buffalo Bills will become the first team in the NFL to report to training camp on Friday. They, like a handful of others, are waiting on word of a suspension to a key player. Some teams' NFL futures odds will be severely affected by these.
Waiting On Roger
I really don't know what is taking Commissioner Roger Goodell so long to make his decisions on Buffalo defensive tackle, Marcell Dareus, Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy, San Francisco linebacker Aldon Smith, Cleveland receiver Josh Gordon and Baltimore running back Ray Rice. (As an aside, Goodell should have made the call on Colts owner Jim Irsay by now too, but that won't affect Indy on the field in 2014.)
There's little doubt that Gordon's suspension will be the longest and most impactful for the upcoming season. He was already likely looking at a possible year-long punishment after failing the league's drug policy again, but now he might be suspended indefinitely after recently being arrested for DWI. Some have said the Browns should cut Gordon, but that might be akin to killing the guy. He clearly needs help and a support system around him. Gordon's hearing with Goodell is scheduled for late this month. He led the NFL with 1,646 yards receiving last season, to go with 87 catches and nine touchdowns, despite sitting out the first two games due to suspension. The Browns weren't going to the playoffs with Gordon, but I'd say he's worth at least a win on his own. Cleveland has an over/under of 6.5 wins on NFL odds, with the over a -140 favorite. If I had to make a NFL pick on this one, I would predict that Gordon is out until 2015.
Rice, who already has met with Goodell, was caught on video dragging out his unconscious fiancée (now wife) from an elevator in an Atlantic City hotel casino this offseason after Rice reportedly knocked her out after they fought. He has avoided a charge by entering a pretrial diversion program. Rice isn't a repeat offender as this is his first run-in. If this hadn't been caught on film, I could see Rice perhaps just getting a stiff fine and maybe one game. Now? Most expect 2-4 games. The good news for Baltimore is that its first two games are at home. However, they are crucial division matchups against the Bengals and Steelers. The Ravens can't afford to lose both, that's for sure. They have an over/under of 8.5 wins, with the over a -130 favorite. I'd guess two games here.
The 49ers' Smith is one of the best players on one of the NFL's best defenses. He did avoid getting charged in regards to his April arrest following Smith allegedly making bomb threats at Los Angeles International Airport. However, he was already dealing with two unrelated incidents on charges for weapons and DUI. His sentencing date for those is July 25 and jail time is a possibility although unlikely. Last September, Smith left the team for rehab to be treated for alcohol abuse. He had 8.5 sacks in 11 games and 33.5 combined sacks in his first two seasons. Smith is a difference-maker. The 49ers have a wins total set at 10.5, with the over a -135 favorite. My projection: six games.
Hardy reportedly beat up his ex-girlfriend during an altercation as his residence in May. During his bench trial Tuesday, the accuser said: “When he let go of me, . . He got on top of me and strangled me. He looked into my eyes and told me he was going to kill me.” She had previously accused him of throwing her onto a bed full of guns and Hardy surrendered 10 guns to authorities. He was found guilty Tuesday night of assaulting a female and communicating threats and sentenced to 18 months' probation. A 60-day jail sentence was suspended. Hardy will appeal for a jury trial in superior court. Thus in North Carolina his probation is on hold so can travel, which is obviously important for playing in games. Hardy tied the Panthers team record with 15 sacks last year and was slapped with the franchise tag, with guarantees him $13.1 million in 2014. Tuesday was also the deadline to work out a long-term deal but obviously the Panthers were leery so that didn't happen. My projection: four games (double Rice's because Rice wasn't found guilty). The Panthers have an over/under of 8.5 wins, with the under a -150 favorite.
Finally, Dareus was arrested in May for felony possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia. He can face a four-game suspension of that per the league's substance-abuse policy. This is Dareus' first reported offense, but that doesn't mean he hasn't been caught before and entered into the league's intervention program on the sly. Dareus had 71 tackles and 7.5 sacks last season to make his first Pro Bowl. The Bills can't afford to lose him because they already lost star linebacker Kiko Alonso for the season due to injury. Buffalo has a wins total of 6.5, with the over a -150 NFL odds favorite at sportsbooks. My projection: two games if this is his first offense.
NFL Free Picks
I believe only three win totals would be affected with these likely suspensions: Cleveland's, Carolina's and Buffalo's. Place your sports pick on the total, betting 'under' on all of them. The Browns have the worst group of receivers in the NFL now. If the Panthers lose Hardy for four, he misses games at Tampa, vs. Detroit, vs. Pittsburgh and at Baltimore. He might be the difference between 3-1 and 2-2. I leaned under Carolina even without this problem. The Bills were going to lose at Chicago Week 1 regardless and may well Weeks 2-4 as well vs. Miami, vs. San Diego and at Houston. Under on Bills, also because of the Alonso injury. The Ravens can deal without Rice for a few games, and he was terrible last year anyway. The Niners are somewhat used to playing without Smith, and they still have enough talent to make up for however long he sits.