Let’s look at five teams in the NFL who may be a bit overvalued and Overrated in both the public and the oddsmakers’ eyes right now and provide some reasons for their perceived weaknesses on the gridiron as well as provide a pick or two from our findings here.
Overrated Is In the Eye of the Beholder
There are always about a dozen teams in the NFL who sort of fall into the Overrated and Underrated categories each season, and quite often some of these teams could actually be underrated one season and then overrated two years later when the liberal Laws of Subjectivity are applied.
The 2015 NFL season will be here before we know it (Sept. 10) and all of the preseason publications and rotation schedules being printed and distributed at this time each Summer is somewhat of a signal that it’s preparation time for the handicappers and professional sports gamblers who actually try to make a living betting on sporting events. In a two-part series, let’s look at 10 teams in the NFL who may currently be a little overloved or a little underappreciated by the public and NFL odds makers, starting here with five teams who seem to fall into the Overrated category with three teams from the NFC and two teams from the AFC.
In 2014, the Arizona Cardinals (33/1 to win Super Bowl, Sky Bet) went an impressive 11-5 SU as well as 11-5 ATS—the best money-making mark in the NFL—and made the playoffs where they were defeated in the opening round by the NFC South champion Carolina Panthers, 27-16 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. A close examination of Arizona’s schedule last season shows that the Cardinals had two nice Wins against the NFC East’s Cowboys and Eagles, but this team’s 9 other Wins came against the Chargers, Giants, 49ers, Redskins, Raiders, Lions, Chiefs and Rams twice. Not much to be that proud of. And Arizona’s 5 Losses were to Seattle (2x), the then defending AFC champion Denver Broncos, the Falcons and the 49ers. So why are the Cardinals overrated? Because they have way too much trouble scoring (only 6 Rushing TDs last season) and shouldn’t be judged on that 2014 season record. The two Wins against NFC West foe the Rams were the apparent difference and winning both those games this season again will prove to be quite the challenge.
Granted, Arizona does have a brilliant Head Coach in Bruce Arians and the Defense has become one of the NFL’s best and QB Carson Palmer is returning from an injury and hopes to make some glory for superstar WR Larry Fitzgerald, but this team is always injury prone and definitely won’t start out 9-1 like they did last year. The Cardinals did have a nice +8 TO Margin (25 Takeaways - 17 Giveaways) in 2014, but their +0.12 Point Differential Per Drive speaks of a team that has to grind out the points, although Arizona supporters will contend they will be much better with Palmer back in the saddle in the Valley of the Sun. Until the Redbirds establish a decent Rushing attack to help open up the Pass, they will be forced to play great Defense to stay in games. A total of just 6 Rushing TDs—the second-lowest in the league (Oakland, 4)—over a 16-game Regular Season is not conducive to pounding it in from the 5-yard line and in, letting opponents know you may prefer to Pass in those situations—a huge advantage for any Defense and Defensive Coordinator facing the Cardinals in those situations. Six Rushing TDs from September to January can be put in some proper context when one remembers that Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch had 4 Rushing TDs against the New York Giants in a 38-17 romp over the G-Men in November. And with the rugged AFC North (Steelers, Ravens) and the NFC North (Packers) on Arizona’s schedule this year, we will see just how good this team really is, with much depending on the Offense and its productivity.
Many people like to group the Cincinnati Bengals (40/1 to win Super Bowl, BetVictor) in with fellow AFC North teams, the Baltimore Ravens (25/1, SkyBet) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (28/1, Sky Bet), but I’m just not buying it still. Why? Their respective markets, expectations, Head Coaches and their starting QBs. The Ravens and Steelers expect to win, the Bengals seem surprised or living in some funky NFL Dreamland when they do. The cities of Baltimore and Pittsburgh expect to win, to make the postseason and have already won multiple Super Bowls. Cincinnati has never won a Super Bowl and the last time the Queen City had professional sports championship was way back in 1990 when the Cincinnati Reds won their last World Series when we were all still Young. The Steelers (Mike Tomlin) and the Ravens (John Harbaugh) have Head Coaches who eat paper clips and thumbtacks for breakfast while the Bengals have 13th-year man Marvin Lewis (100-96-2 SU, 94-95-9 ATS). And, Baltimore employs Joe Flacco as its starting QB, Pittsburgh has Ben Roethlisberger while Cincinnati works with Andy Dalton (9-13-3 ATS vs. AFC North). Enough said. The Bengals (8-7-1 ATS) did have a nice season last year and made the Playoffs, but their +0.04 Point Differential Per Drive, 16th-ranked Even TO Margin (26 Takeaways - 26 Giveaways) and the fact that they have to play Pittsburgh, Baltimore and the upstart Cleveland Browns twice yearly in divisional play shows a team with some problems before they even get started because of the division in which they play. Toss in a schedule with teams from the AFC West (Broncos) and the NFC West (NFC-champion Seahawks) and the Bengals will be really lucky to make the playoffs this coming season.
The Detroit Lions (33/1 to win Super Bowl, bet365) may have peaked. Finally known for having one of the best Defenses in the NFL, the Lions saw superstar NT Ndamukong Suh leave the Motor City for a big payday with the Miami Dolphins, as well as DL Nick Fairley (Rams). But at least Detroit and Head Coach Jim Caldwell immediately tried to fill some of that that figurative hole on the roster at the DL position by signing Free Agent NT Haloti Ngata (Ravens). But losing Suh and Fairley all at once has to hurt, as it looked like the big duo would anchor the Lions DL for seasons to come. Nope. So expect that +7 TO Margin for Detroit to be closer to Even this season as the Lions Defense regresses a bit and the Minnesota Vikings (66/1, Sky Bet) challenge Detroit for the #2 spot in the NFC North this season (The Bears may already be out of it). And despite having a perceived superstar at WR in Calvin Johnson, Lions QB Matthew Stafford may now fall into that “Overrated QB” category after ending with a QBR (85.7) worse than Mark Sanchez, Charlie Whitehurst and Kyle Orton last season. For Detroit (11-5 SU in 2014), expect some major regression and the Lions average +0.24 Point Differential Per Possession should drop some with more pressure on the Offense in 2015 because the Defense may not be as good as it was last season. Tough times all around in Detroit. A Wild Card spot and being bounced in the First Round of the NFL Playoffs seems like it could be Lions’ ceiling this season.
This one is simple. You can have the greatest Offense in the world, but if you can’t stop anyone Defensively, than you have no shot at postseason success. And that’s the Atlanta Falcons' (40/1, bet365) story. Like every season. Despite a +5 TO Margin last year, the Dirty Birds averaged -0.29 Point Differential Per Possession, showing that the Defense is still an issue in Hotlanta. In 2014, the Falcons (6-10 SU) allowed 417 points, ranked No. 27 in the NFL and it seems this team has done little to really bolster that side of the ball in terms of adding players who can provide an instant impact and change the overall culture of the Falcons Defense. And with opponents like the Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints and improving Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their NFC South division, things may be hard on Atlanta for some time. Seven of the Falcons first 9 Draft Picks this spring were on the Defensive side of the ball, but expecting QB Matt Ryan, WR Julio Jones and the Offense to go out and outscore everyone is unrealistic and all good teams have a foundation that starts with a solid and dependable Defense. Luckily for them, the Falcons will be playing the AFC South (Titans, Jaguars) and NFC East (Redskins, Giants) this season, but that reality may end up being a barometer of how far this team has to go if it struggles with teams like the lowly Titans, Jaguars and Redskins. And, like the Bengals, the Falcons may be a good team in which to take their Season Team Win Total Under (8, +120, Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook) the Total this Regular Season campaign knowing all of this. Also, Atlanta is a sports market which doesn’t expect professional championships and could do a much better job supporting the local teams (MLB’s Braves, NBA’s Hawks). 6-10 is a possibility again.
The Miami Dolphins (33/1 to win Super Bowl, bet365) are another sexy pick from many people this season but this is another piece of Fishy Hype that I refuse to swallow. Even with Lemon. The AFC East is, and will for at least the immediate Future, the New England Patriots' to lose, as long as QB Tom Brady is at the helm. And the Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets may be as good as the Dolphins are right now. We will see. They will play games. Granted, Miami did land the Free Agent prize of the Spring in signing NT Ndamukong Suh (Lions) to anchor the Dolphins Defense (+2 TO margin in 2014), and Miami is trying to fix maybe the team’s biggest problem (Rush Defense, allowed 121.1 Rushing ypg in 2014) by doing so. But the Dolphins may still have trouble stopping the Run and opponents may simply decide to throw more on Miami instead of deciding to run straight at Mt. Suh (6-4, 305 pounds). Despite seeing WR Mike Wallace sign with the Vikings in the Offseason, the Dolphins Offense—the skill position players specifically—actually appear to look better (on paper) than they did at this point last year. With 4th-year QB and Texas A&M product Ryan Tannehill (59.1 Total QBR) under Center (Mike Pouncey), RB Lamar Miller (216 rushes, 1,099 yards, 8 TDs in 2014) and a talented trio of WRs in Kenny Stills (63 receptions, 931 yards, 3 TDs), Greg Jennings (59 receptions, 742 yards, 6 TDs) and Rookie and No. 1 2015 Draft Pick (#14 overall) Devante Parker (Louisville), Dolphins fans should be in for some aerial fun in the 2015/16 season, but improving on that fairly feeble +0.07 Point Differential Per Possession needs to be a priority on Offense. And with a schedule that sees the aforementioned Patriots, Bills and Jets twice in AFC East play as well as games against the NFC East (Cowboys, Eagles) and the paltry AFC South (Colts, Texans, Titans, Jaguars), it will be all up to Miami to prove they are a contender with the four total meetings between the Bills and Jets and Home games against the Houston Texans (Week 7, Oct. 25) and Baltimore Ravens (Week 13, Dec. 6) likely being the six key games which determine whether or not the Miami Dolphins have a good, bad or just mediocre 2015 season like they did in 2014 (8-8 SU, 4-4 Home, 4-4 Road). Analyzing the Dolphins' schedule, in an earlier assignment here for Sportsbook Review, I predicted Miami to finish a disappointing 6-10 after starting the season out 5-0 with Wins over Jacksonville, Washington, Buffalo in Miami, the Jets in London and the Titans. The Dolphins’ schedule may be an unseen enemy come November when the Weather starts getting cold and warm-weather teams like Miami start struggling.
NFL Futures Book Picks: Cincinnati Bengals Team Total Under 8½ -110, Atlanta Falcons Team Total Under 8 +120, Miami Dolphins Under 9 -130 (Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook)