It was one of the most important games of the season. In Week 17, the New England Patriots hosted the Buffalo Bills with everything on the line. Okay, in NFL terms, very little was on the line other than a first-round bye for New England. But in NFL betting terms, it was do-or-die for both teams. A win for the Patriots would have put them 'over' their regular-season total of 11 victories. Same for the Bills, who took a 6.5-win total into Foxborough. The Pats prevailed 34-20 as LeGarrette Blount rushed for 189 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
That’s the power of the NFL totals. So what do we have in store for 2014, now that the schedule has been released? Let’s gaze into the crystal prolate spheroid and see.
New England Patriots (10.5 wins; 'over' –150, 'under' +130)
The Patriots (12-4 SU, 8-8 ATS last year) have won at least 11 games each of the past four years and nine of the 13 seasons since Tom Brady became the starting quarterback – including an 11-5 performance in 2008 with Matt Cassel at the helm. Playing in the overmatched AFC East helps significantly. So will the arrival of CB Darelle Revis. This NFL total is a bit chalky, but history is on New England’s side.
Seattle Seahawks (11 wins; 'over –125, 'under' +105)
It’s usually very difficult for teams other than New England to stay aloft, but the Seahawks (13-3 SU, 11-5 ATS) were the most efficient team in the NFL each of the past two seasons, according to Football Outsiders, and there’s no need for pessimism in 2014 after Seattle finished last season with exactly 13.0 Estimated Wins. The ‘Hawks have a very favorable payroll situation that should keep them flying for a while yet.
Denver Broncos (11 wins; 'over' –120, 'under' +100)
Do you believe in the “Super Bowl losers” downward trend? It’s difficult to put the Broncos (13-3 SU, 10-5-1 ATS) in that bucket after they loaded up on defensive talent in free agency, signing CB Aqib Talib, safety T.J. Ward and DE DeMarcus Ware. There’s some risk that 38-year-old QB Peyton Manning (115.1 passer rating) will finally see his career fall over the cliff, but that moment has yet to come, and the 2013 Broncos had one of the best offenses ever assembled.
Atlanta Falcons (8.5 wins; 'over' +105, 'under' –125)
The Falcons (4-12 SU, 7-9 ATS) were a fashionable 'under' NFL pick last year after going 13-3 in 2012 despite registering only 9.1 Estimated Wins. And sweet baby corn, they regressed far beyond the mean in 2013. Now it’s time for the pendulum to swing the other way; Atlanta posted 6.5 Estimated Wins last year, losing twice by a single point and three other games by less than a converted touchdown. However, the Falcons will need some better offensive linemen than free-agent signees Gabe Carimi and Jon Asamoah.
New York Giants (7.5 wins; 'over' +105, 'under' –125)
Surely the Giants (7-9 SU and ATS) will rebound from that ugly 2013 campaign. Right? Well, those seven wins were something of a miracle after the G-Men finished the year with 5.5 Estimated Wins – and that was in the NFC East, arguably the weakest division in the league last season. But if you’re willing to look past that number and focus on New York’s strong finish (7-3 SU, 6-4 ATS), this figures to be a good year for Big Blue. They’ve completely remodeled the offensive line with Charles Brown, John Jerry, Geoff Schwartz and J.D. Walton. And the Giants should be better on defense after adding CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Follow the money.