After having more than a week to analyze the NFL schedule, evaluating teams through the lens of season win totals becomes even more practical. We are now aware of the travel obstacles teams face, such as West Coast teams flying east for back-to-back games as well as having to play in the dreaded 1 p.m. ET slot. The notion of some if not all games being played in empty stadiums is beginning to seem like a certainty and could skew how some teams perform. While some teams rely heavily on the home crowd, others gain very little advantage. Let’s check out some solid win totals bets.
Chargers Over 7.5. While Drew Brees’ Saints could be hurt as much as anyone by the lack of fans in stadiums, Brees’ former team is already well accustomed to not being cheered. Since moving from San Diego, the trademark of Chargers “home” games has been the crowd’s audible admiration for whoever is visiting. Despite a bad year in 2019, it wasn’t long ago that the Chargers won 12 games and went toe to toe with the Chiefs. They lost the division two years ago because of a tiebreaker, but wins in Kansas City and Baltimore speak to the high-end talent on the roster. While they do have a new quarterback and an intelligent debate can be had regarding Philip Rivers’ Hall of Fame merit, his age and lack of mobility were a toxic combination when paired with the Chargers’ subpar offensive line. Tyrod Taylor is more bandage than cure, but his mobility and propensity for avoiding turnovers may be a welcome fit. Nine of their 11 losses in 2019 were one-score games, a sign that maybe they’re better than their record indicates. They face each team in the AFC East, which lacks anyone projected for double-digit wins. Also on the schedule are the Bengals, Jaguars, Panthers and a combined four games against the Raiders and Broncos. A fairly easy schedule and more neutral settings should help this team reach .500.
Bengals Under 5.5. Who doesn’t love Joe Burrow? A great story, seemingly a great kid and one of the best college football seasons in history. While Burrow might ultimately be the man to lead the Bengals to their first postseason win since the early ’80s, it’s a steep hill to climb. Coming off a 2-14 season and picking first in the draft, getting to six wins is asking too much. For all of Andy Dalton’s limitations, he is much better than the typical quarterback of a two-win team. Dalton was drafted in ’11, started as a rookie and immediately led this historically inept franchise to five consecutive postseasons. An injury late in the ’15 season derailed his chances to garner serious MVP consideration. Dalton’s competence illustrates that this team has problems far beyond quarterback play. The offensive line and defense were atrocious a year ago and have not been upgraded significantly enough to expect this win total to triple overnight. The last 12 quarterbacks chosen No. 1 overall have lost their first starts, a sign of how difficult it is for rookies to right the ship with lackluster supporting casts. Every other team in the AFC North is projected to be over .500. When you’re a bad team in a good division, you always have the hardest schedule because you don’t get to play yourself. Brighter days may be ahead in Cincy, but they aren’t around the corner just yet.
Bears Under 8.5. They will need to exceed last year’s 8-8 season to get over this year’s total but are more likely to go backward than forward. A bogus roughing-the-passer call in Denver and a Week 17 that meant nothing to the Vikings are all that separated them from being 6-10. They were outscored on the season, and Matt Nagy’s deception-based offense might be running out of tricks. Mustering only 17.5 points per game, here are six of the eight quarterbacks they beat: Daniel Jones, Case Keenum, Joe Flacco, David Blough, Sean Mannion and Jeff Driskel. It’s a quarterback-driven league. Having a bottom-10 quarterback situation and expecting a winning season do not go hand in hand. Anyone predicting good things in the Windy City is likely pinning his hopes on the acquisition of Nick Foles to compete with Mitchell Trubisky. Foles has had one of the strangest careers I’ve seen in any sport, so forecasting his performance may be a fool’s errand. However, he was healthy enough to start only a handful of games in ’19 — and didn’t win any of them. He lost his job to a rookie who was picked at a point in the draft when most people have changed the channel, and he will not be surrounded by the plethora of talent he was with the Eagles. The Bears’ division title in ’18 seems to be more the exception than the rule.
Colts Over 9. As the Titans rose from AFC South afterthought to AFC finalist in a matter of weeks, I would imagine the Colts watched with frustration thinking it could have been them. In late August they entered the new season as a team on the rise. They had an elite quarterback in Andrew Luck and a viable backup in Jacoby Brissett. Less than two months later, one had retired and the other was injured. Still, the Colts were 5-2 when Brissett’s injury derailed the season. Adam Vinatieri will give a speech in Canton one day but likely will not be discussing the 2019 season, in which he missed 14 kicks, including six extra points. For all that went wrong, the Colts still found their way to seven wins and added Philip Rivers in the offseason. An intriguing question will be how much Rivers has left. At times last year he looked shot, but thriving behind a bad offensive line was never something in his repertoire. He gets a much-needed upgrade in protection as he heads to Indy, and if he has anything left, he has gone to the right place to unlock it. The schedule is favorable. Their two toughest non-conference games are at home, vs. Green Bay and Minnesota. They also have two games against the closest thing the NFL has to an FCS opponent in the Jaguars. A third-place schedule should help boost this team to double-digit wins.
Giants Under 6.5. We all have biases, and one of my strongest is I hate picking teams that are bad on defense. I thought it was crazy that the Giants were projected to win six games before last season, and they never came close to that. Now this year it goes up to 6.5? I don’t see the marked defensive improvement necessary to flirt with .500, nor do I think their inability to protect the quarterback can be fixed sufficiently in one offseason. Defense and offensive line — blocking and tackling — are the fundamentals of football. They need to be taught and practiced properly. But with an abbreviated offseason seemingly inevitable, when and where are those reps coming from? Coach Joe Judge will try to elevate and redefine the culture of his new team. But as we approach Memorial Day, we seem to be nowhere close to a return to normalcy, jeopardizing valuable practice time. The schedule isn’t easy. The AFC North and NFC West are very tough divisions for a rebuilding team, in addition to playing a quarter of their season against the Eagles and Cowboys. Expect the Giants to draft in the top 10 for the fifth time in six years.