After a month-plus of NFL preparation, looking at several offseason factors that drive my thinking, I am ready to unveil the season win total prop wagers in which I will be investing this season. Hopefully you’ve been following along since Point Spread Weekly 34 about six weeks ago, as I’ve taken a look at:
— Different changeover systems using teams’ game results from the previous season.
— Changeover systems analyzing teams’ key statistics from the previous campaign.
— How teams’ drafts can help them instantly turn things around.
— The impact of new coaches on teams’ fortunes.
— The release of the schedule and who plays the toughest and easiest schedules, and how my updated power ratings project each team’s record.
After reviewing all the material, I’ve come up with eight season win total wagers I will be making — four Overs and four Unders.
Teams I expect to go Over their season win totals
Atlanta Over 7.5 Wins
Atlanta begins anew under coach Arthur Smith, who takes over a team that was 4-12 a year ago despite being outscored by just 1.1 point per game. Historically, coaches who start their careers with teams that scored at least 23.5 ppg the previous season tend to fare pretty well. The Falcons also qualify for a transition system under which teams that lose eight or more games by a possession or less improve by an average of nearly four wins the next season. Smith’s team starts with a winnable home game against Philadelphia and should be favored in three of its first five games. In the NFC South, I don’t see much going on in Carolina, and New Orleans seems due for some regression. Atlanta should benefit.
Dallas Over 9 Wins
It was a rough first season in Dallas for Mike McCarthy, whose team finished 6-10 and lost its first eight games against the spread. The Cowboys began 2020 under the weight of unrealistic expectations, and the injury to Dak Prescott in Week 5 put any playoff aspirations to bed. But in their second through fifth games, the Cowboys put up 36.5 ppg. The offense was ready for greatness. Now with Prescott expected back and expectations much more tempered, I think the second year of the McCarthy era could be much different. Dallas qualifies for an intriguing system that shows that all but five of 33 teams have improved after a season in which they endured a negative turnover differential and won fewer than six games ATS. The NFC East remains weak, and it seems time for the most talented team in the division to distance itself from the riff-raff.
Jacksonville Over 7 Wins
I’ve been gushing over Trevor Lawrence’s abilities since the moment he stepped onto the field for Clemson. I believe he is as natural a star as we’ve had at quarterback in many years. I believe the combination of new coach Urban Meyer and Lawrence instantly improves the Jaguars by leaps and bounds. I’ve heard the arguments about Meyer not having coached at the pro level, but he has been a winner everywhere, has commanded respect and seems to have genuinely impacted the excitement for playing in Jacksonville. In this first season, Meyer qualifies for a system that shows new coaches improving by 4.8 wins per season if their teams were outscored by 8.5 ppg or more the previous season. I know that adding 4.8 wins would make only 5.8 for the Jaguars this season, but if you look at the early part of the schedule, it’s conceivable they could win four or five of their first six games. At that point, with momentum on their side, anything is possible.
Las Vegas Over 7 Wins
I’m not a huge fan of anything specific the Raiders have done since January to get better in 2021. However, 11 teams have scored 27 or more ppg in the last 20 seasons and did not make the playoffs. The combined record of those teams in the follow-up season was 109-67, good for 61.9% and an average of 9.9 wins per season. Las Vegas qualifies for that system in 2021, the same angle that backed the Buccaneers last year. In addition, the 2021 season will be a bit of a redo for the Raiders in terms of their honeymoon in Vegas. With Allegiant Stadium filled to capacity, this franchise will finally feel the real love of being in Sin City. That motivational boost figures to be huge.
Teams I expect to go Under their season win totals
Chicago Under 7.5 Wins
As much as I think Justin Fields has a good chance to make the Bears better over the next five seasons, I think what this team has on its hands for 2021 at the sport’s key position can’t be described as anything but a mess. All three quarterbacks probably expect to start, and that’s not a good way to go in. Chicago was a surprising playoff team last year after finishing 8-8, winning six games by seven or fewer points. Historically, that’s not a good indicator of future improvement, as only four of the last 34 teams that accomplished that feat got better the next season. The average decline was 2.4 wins per season. In addition, if you look at the middle portion of the Bears’ schedule, they face a block of five straight games against Green Bay, Tampa Bay, San Francisco, Pittsburgh and Baltimore. That is a tough road, and should they be fortunate to win even one or two of those, they have five other spots in which I have them as underdogs of 3.4 points or more.
Miami Under 9 Wins
I find it interesting that after winning 10 games a year ago and being characterized as a franchise on the rise, those in the know in Vegas have reduced the Dolphins’ expected win total by a game. This despite a 17th game in 2021. I’m not a big Tua Tagovailoa fan. From what I saw last season, he was more anxious to get the ball out of his hands quickly or to checkdowns than he was to advance it down the field. That’s not going to win consistently in the NFL. The Dolphins were fortunate in regard to turnovers, too, having enjoyed an edge of + 0.6 turnovers per game. Typically, teams that do that and fail to make the playoffs tend to regress the next season. I’ll call for some further growing pains for this franchise as I see Miami playing as an underdog in its first five games.
Pittsburgh Under 8.5 Wins
It’s not often that a team will be projected to finish .500 by oddsmakers after winning its first 11 games the previous season, but that’s exactly what Pittsburgh is facing in 20201. Lukewarm offseason franchise endorsement of QB Ben Roethlisberger aside, didn’t it feel for much of the final weeks of last season like it was time for the Steelers to move on? And despite the feel-good attempt to make a game of it in the playoff loss to Cleveland, that was as one-sided a postseason game as you’ll see. The simple truth is that the last six games of the 2020-21 season exposed a lot of what was or is wrong with this team. The Steelers no longer win by running the football and with defense. I have tremendous respect for the job coach Mike Tomlin has done, but is it really possible to win with a style no longer fitting the coach? Perhaps the drafting of running back Najee Harris will bring a return to normalcy. I think it’s telling that my power ratings show the Steelers as underdogs of at least six points in three of the first seven games. I see a continuation of 2020’s conclusion ensuing in 2021.
Seattle Under 9.5 Wins
After a rare home playoff loss last season to the Rams, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows for Seattle. The franchise’s relationship with QB Russell Wilson seems to have soured, and many of the biggest contributors in the Super Bowl years have left for other pastures since Wilson’s contract has eaten up much of the cap room. The Seahawks were at their best when Wilson was just a spoke in the wheel. Now he is essentially the hub, as the entire offense revolves around him. Even though the team’s record has gotten slightly better over the last three seasons, the playoff loss was telling and it looks like this franchise could be ready to hit the wall. Coach Pete Carroll’s team now qualifies for a scary angle that finds that since 2002, only one of the 13 teams that had recorded improved records in three straight seasons continued that trend. The average drop for the declining group was 4.2 wins, and the average record was 6.5-9.5. Even if they win the 17th game, that would only make 7.5 wins on this angle. I have Seattle favored in only one of its first six games. An ugly start after the playoff loss and offseason issues with Wilson could spell doom.