Can an entire conference be overrated? The NFC could be in for some nasty regression in 2015, but we've identified three teams who could be solid additions to your NFL picks.
Did the last 20 years really happen? Here we are with the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers winning their divisions in the NFC, overcoming challenges from the Philadelphia Eagles and the Detroit Lions. It must be 1995. Is alternative rock still a thing? No? Dammit.
I suppose the four divisions and the Seattle Seahawks moving over from the AFC are dead giveaways that we're living in the future. That, and I didn't hear any modem handshake when I got on the Information Superhighway today. Now that we're here in 2015, let's see if there are any “sleeper” teams in the NFC worth adding to our NFL picks for the new season. As we did in our look at the AFC, we'll be leaning primarily on the Super Bowl 50 futures market at The Greek, plus the advanced stats at Football Outsiders. Warning: It appears the NFC is in for more pain than pleasure in 2015, if the regression monsters have their way.
Here's a team that deserves a do-over. The Bears (5-11 SU, 7-9 ATS last year) had all sorts of injury trouble in 2014, ranking No. 6 overall in Time Missed Impact To Team (TMITT) at Man Games Lost. Yet they still played well enough to register 6.4 Estimated Wins according to Football Outsiders. Positive regression is likely on both fronts this year.
Would we take the Bears at +5000 to win Super Bowl 50? Actually, yes, we'd put a small amount on them at those NFL odds. Jay Cutler (88.6 passer rating) is a much better quarterback than people give him credit for, and as much as we'll miss Marc Trestman, Quarterback Whisperer, John Fox is probably an upgrade at head coach. Chicago did well at the draft, adding WR Kevin White with the No. 7 pick. The 2015 schedule ranks a manageable No. 13 overall in strength based on opponents' wins and losses in 2014 (136-120). If dreams of the Super Bowl are too much for you, the Bears still make an excellent sleeper pick against the spread.
New York Giants
Here's another team that got hosed by injuries. Man Games Lost ranks the Giants (6-10 SU, 7-9 ATS) eighth overall in TMITT, and tied for first with 180 man-games lost to Injured Reserve. Despite this handicap, New York's performance translated to 7.0 Estimated Wins, so again, there's a good chance we'll see positive regression for the G-Men.
You'll probably feel a bit better about taking a Super Bowl flyer on the Giants at +3000, as well. They've already won the Big One twice in the Tom Coughlin-Eli Manning Era. They filled some positions of need at the draft, most notably at safety with Landon Collins at No. 33 overall. And the 2015 schedule is kind to Big Blue at No. 20 in strength (122-133-1).
We had the Falcons (6-10 SU, 7-9 ATS) pegged as candidates for a bounce-back season in 2014, but early injuries derailed their season. Atlanta was only No. 30 in TMITT at Man Games Lost, but we think that undervalues the loss of LT Sam Baker, who spent the whole season on IR after missing 12 games in 2013. This is an area Atlanta still has to address after an otherwise strong draft.
Assuming they do, look out. The Falcons played well enough for 7.2 Estimated Wins, they have a promising new head coach in former Seahawks defensive co-ordinator Dan Quinn, and they have the softest schedule in the league for 2015 (104-150-2). SAWFT~! Let's not forget about QB Matt Ryan (93.4 passer rating) coming off his third Pro Bowl season, either. Ryan led the Falcons to the playoffs in four of his first five seasons, so if things finally return to normal, they're a solid Super Bowl sleeper at +3000.