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NFL Over/Unders play long game

By William Hill  () 

Season win totals, commonly referred to as the Over/Under, provide a prime opportunity to convert NFL knowledge and research into winning picks. An accurate assessment of a team has a much better chance to show true over a 16-game season, as opposed to week to week. A correct read on a game can always be derailed by a bad call, a back-door cover or the unpredictability of turnovers. Let’s look at some season win totals that stand out. 

49ers Under 10.5: Ascending from four wins to 13, San Francisco was on the doorstep of hosting a parade in February. But that was as close as it came. As painful as that memory is for Niners fans, so is the history of teams the season after meteoric rises. From 2016-18, the Eagles jumped from seven wins to 13, then back down to nine. In that same time frame, the Jaguars won three games, followed by 10 (and a trip to the AFC title game) before plummeting back to five wins. The biggest win increase in NFL history came when the Dolphins improved from 1-15 to 11-5 in 2007-08. In ’09, you guessed it, they were back under .500. These are just three of many examples. While feel-good stories give hope to underdogs, the success typically isn’t sustained. Large disparities from year to year suggest that what’s likely to come next usually lands somewhere in the middle. In addition to a last-place schedule becoming a first-place schedule, I am highly skeptical that the hangover and heartbreak of the Super Bowl can be shaken off with ease.  

Rams Under 9: “Playing with one hand tied behind your back” is an expression that’s used often — but have you ever seen somebody do it? Meet the 2020 Rams. They will be allocating about $75 million of their 2020 cap space to three players — Jared Goff, Todd Gurley and Brandon Cooks. Goff is seeking to prove he’s more than a middle-of-the-pack starting QB, and the other two now play elsewhere. For all their transactions and the picks they’ve dealt, it is becoming apparent that the Rams mortgaged their future to ultimately kick one field goal in the Super Bowl less than 15 months ago. Injuries are a given in the NFL, and the Rams are ill equipped to endure any punches. Being frivolous with draft picks and cap space makes it nearly impossible to attain any semblance of depth. The Rams won nine games last year and will need to improve to beat you with this number. In a stacked NFC West, I do not see them as a double-digit-win team next season.

Dolphins Over 6: What is not to love about the direction the Dolphins are heading? They stockpiled a war chest of draft picks last season, plotting for the future and trading anyone who could net them an asset down the road. From a front-office standpoint, it’s as if they were attempting to win zero games. They won five. While last year’s goal was building for tomorrow, it is clear that this year’s goal is winning today. Shelling out huge contracts the instant the offseason began, Shaq Lawson, Byron Jones and Kyle Van Noy headlined a monster free-agent class that signified Miami’s intentions. The only way to lose this bet is if Miami doesn’t improve off a season in which it was designed to fail. Furthermore, another wave of talent is headed south: Miami will have draft picks No. 5, 18, 26, 39, 56, 70 and 141. If that’s not enough, the Dolphins can dip into 2021’s treasure chest to move up and sell off the three first-round picks or two second-rounders they own. Among this embarrassment of riches, perhaps the most valuable one hasn’t been mentioned. Coach Brian Flores went 5-4 down the stretch with a team that looked destined to go down as one of the worst in NFL history, and he doesn’t turn 40 until next offseason. This team is simply trending up too rapidly to ignore.

Buffalo Under 9: Bets at 9.5 are available, and certainly shop around for the best number. Maybe my strongest pick, regardless. The 26th-toughest schedule last year produced some easy opponents for the Bills, as well as an 11-win season. Many of those wins, however, were by narrow margins. Only one came against a playoff team, the 9-7 Titans, before Ryan Tannehill took over and turned their season around. The Bills were a wonderful, heartwarming story in 2019. They are easy to root for, considering their last playoff win came two days before the ball dropped to ring in the new year in 1996. However, they were a mediocre team that benefited from a cream-puff schedule that will jump this year and be the fifth toughest. Josh Allen ranked dead last in the league in deep-ball accuracy. Can that fatal flaw be overcome and lead to a double-digit-win season against a rigorous schedule? The Bills have all the symptoms of a team destined for regression in 2020. 

Ravens Under 11.5: For whatever reason, Lamar Jackson has plenty of doubters. I am not one of them. This pick is partly about his uniqueness being on tape for 20-plus games now and giving the league a chance to solve the riddle. I think of Jackson like a knuckleball pitcher you’ve never faced. The first time through the lineup, it’s hard to put the ball in play. The second and third times are when the batting averages start to go up. Think back to Jackson’s rookie season. When the Chargers and Ravens played the Saturday night game a few days before Christmas, Jackson thrived, leading the Ravens to victory. Two weeks later they met again in the wild-card round in Baltimore, and the Ravens could not move the ball until late in the fourth quarter. Not only will having film on Jackson be an added obstacle for Baltimore, but the Steelers and Bengals should be significantly better at quarterback. Those were two opponents Baltimore feasted on last year, going a combined 4-0. As great as Jackson was, he was also healthy the entire season. Something as benign as a pulled hamstring or a sprained ankle that sidelines him for a few weeks instantly makes it nearly impossible to hit the 12 wins necessary to beat anyone playing Under this lofty number.  

Cardinals Over 7.5: A rookie QB and a rookie coach took over the team with the worst record in the NFL in 2018. In 2019, Arizona managed five wins and a tie while suffering two heartbreaking losses to the cream of last year’s NFC crop, the San Francisco 49ers. Entering his second season, Kyler Murray will hope to continue the trend set by Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson, who made good on long odds to capture MVPs in their second seasons. While that goal may be a bit ambitious, aspirations of a .500 season are well within reach in the desert. Christian Kirk and Larry Fitzgerald will be joined by DeAndre Hopkins to create one of the more exciting offenses in the league. Three free-agent defenders were added to help a unit that will need only to be about average, given the array of talent on the other side of the ball. My belief that San Francisco and L.A. will take a step back in the division leaves more wins up for grabs. Adding the eighth pick in the draft to an already improved roster, this team is on the upswing and perhaps bound for the playoffs.

 

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