After a month-plus of NFL prep, I’m now prepared to release the season win totals I’m playing for the 2022 season.
In the last few editions of Point Spread Weekly, I’ve taken a look at:
— Changeover systems using game results from the previous season
— Changeover systems analyzing key statistics from the previous season
— How the NFL draft affects future seasons
— The impact of new head coaches
— The release of the schedule, which teams play the toughest/easiest schedules and how my updated power ratings project each team’s record
After reviewing the data, I’ve decided on eight season win totals to bet (five Overs and three Unders). First, a recap of my 2021 bets on season win totals, which went 4-3-1:
Atlanta Over 7.5 (loss): The Falcons went 7-10, losing their final two games to come up short. A home loss to Carolina on Oct. 31 was the key.
Dallas Over 9 (win): Easy winner as the Cowboys went 12-5 and made a huge defensive jump, particularly in the sacks and turnovers departments.
Jacksonville Over 7 (loss): Have to admit, I took the bait on this one, figuring the Urban Meyer-Trevor Lawrence combo would breathe new life into the franchise. Meyer was a trainwreck.
Las Vegas Over 7 (win): Another relatively easy winner, although the Raiders won their last four games to finish 10-7 and reach the playoffs.
Chicago Under 7.5 (win): Despite going 2-1 in their final three games, the Bears won just six games overall and were held to 20 points or less 10 times.
Miami Under 9 (push): With the Dolphins sitting at 1-7 after eight games, I thought I had a lock on this one, but the team rallied to go 8-1 after the awful start.
Pittsburgh Under 8.5 (loss): The Steelers finished 9-8 to send me home a loser, going 4-2 down the stretch despite not being favored by more than a point in any of those six games.
Seattle Under 9.5 (win): Last year I called for the demise of the Seahawks and was proven right, although the injury to Russell Wilson helped a ton.
Now, on to 2022. Here are my eight plays on season win totals (using DraftKings’ totals).
Teams I expect to go Over their season win total
Houston Over 4.5 wins
For a second straight season, the Texans have a new coach. After a 4-13 record in 2021, they opted for a veteran in Lovie Smith. Oddsmakers at DraftKings have pegged the Texans as the worst team in the NFL. Although I can understand that sentiment, I have to disagree, if for no other reason than the fact that quarterback David Mills demonstrated competence in his rookie year — and even showed signs of being good. His 16-10 TD-to-INT ratio was respectable for a four-win team. Take away a four-interception outing in his second career start against the Bills, and that ratio goes to 16-6. He had big games against the Patriots, the Super Bowl-champion Rams and the Titans to close the regular season. In fact, in the final four games, the Texans put up 25.8 points per game. Anywhere close to that in 2022 and this team could be around .500 in what I consider a weakened division.
Denver Over 10 wins
How much of a difference can the acquisition of one player make? We’re about to find out with the Broncos, who traded for Russell Wilson in the franchise’s biggest move since acquiring Peyton Manning 10 years ago. All Manning did over the course of three seasons was lead the Broncos to a 38-10 record and a Super Bowl title. Like Manning, Wilson brings a championship pedigree and an offensive boost to a team that has relied on its defense in recent years. The Broncos were 7-6 last season before losing their last four games, with three of those losses by five points or less. They scored just 15 points per game during that skid and would have benefited greatly if Wilson was running the show. They scored 19.7 PPG for the season but allowed just 18.9, which leads me to a great system that projects improvement — without even taking into account the Wilson addition. Since 2000, 61 teams won less than 42% of their games despite allowing 23 points per game or less. In the following season, 43 of those 61 teams, or 70.5%, improved in the win column, with an average improvement of 3.65 wins. Throw in Wilson, and maybe that 3.65 turns into a five- or six-game improvement for the Broncos.
LA Chargers Over 10.0 wins
Over the last 21 seasons, only 12 teams have scored 27+ PPG and failed to make the playoffs. In the following season, those 12 teams combined for a 119-74 record, good for 61.7%, with an average of 9.9 wins. Nine of those 12 teams made the playoffs in the following season, including the 2009 Saints and 2020 Buccaneers, who went on to win the Super Bowl. The Chargers qualify for that system and another one (which involves outscoring opponents while also having a negative turnover differential). In 2021, the Chargers suffered from bad luck, bad decisions by a rookie coach and some bad injuries. In my estimation, all three of those factors have a chance of completely turning around. Justin Herbert has developed into one of the NFL’s top quarterbacks, a dynamic playmaker who led the Chargers on a six-game streak of scoring at least 28 points at the end of the season. This team also has a nice defensive front and some playmakers on the back end. In my opinion, the Chargers and Broncos will take over the tough AFC West this fall.
N.Y. Giants Over 7 wins
When Daniel Jones was lost for the season in late November, the Giants had a 4-7 record with three of those losses by a field goal or less. Jones had a 10-7 TD-to-INT ratio as well as 298 rushing yards. With Saquon Barkley also showing signs he was healthy again, there was at least some optimism in New York. The season spiraled from there as the team lost its final six games, being held to 10 points or less five times. Naturally, the Giants’ overall season numbers were ugly, leading to a less rosy outlook and a coaching change. I’m a huge fan of that coaching change, as the Giants were able to lure offensive coordinator Brian Daboll from the high-scoring Bills. Daboll brought in Mike Kafka from the Chiefs as his offensive coordinator, and veteran Wink Martindale from the Ravens as defensive coordinator. This is now a high-level coaching staff and figures to be a major upgrade. The ugly end to the 2021 season also helps usher in a potentially explosive transitional system: Over the last 22 seasons, 35 teams have lost at least nine games by double-digit margins. Of those, 30 improved the next season, and by an average of 3.93 wins. A four-game improvement would put the Giants at 8-9 this season. With the coaching changes, a nice draft haul and an overall healthy return, I think the Giants could do even better than that.
Minnesota Over 9 wins
From the sound of things, there was a whole lot of ugly behind the scenes in Minnesota last season, with a massive communication breakdown between the front office, the coaching staff and the locker room. Despite that, the Vikings managed to win eight games. Former Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell takes over as head coach this season, and like Daboll in New York, O’Connell has put together a strong staff. He also has a strong trio of offensive stars in QB Kirk Cousins, RB Dalvin Cook and WR Justin Jefferson. O’Connell is fortunate to land on a team that’s not too far from success (the Vikings averaged nine wins under Mike Zimmer). The team also lost eight games by eight points or less last season, qualifying for a system in which teams that lose that many close games improve by 3.52 wins the following season. The NFC North is weak at the bottom, and the Vikings should be in a better place to take advantage.
Teams I expect to go Under their season win total
Miami Under 9 wins
Which Dolphins team will we see in 2022? The one that opened 1-7 or the one that rallied behind its coach to close 8-1? I’m going to lean to the former, as the organization made the inexplicable move of firing that successful coach following that late-season surge. Granted, the Dolphins did come up short of a playoff berth for a second straight season, but to pin that on Brian Flores, who had a 19-14 record over the last two seasons, is bewildering. Unlike O’Connell, who came from an elite team and inherited a Vikings offense that put up more than 25 PPG, Mike McDaniel left a slightly above-average offense for one that scored just 20.1 PPG. It doesn’t look as promising, and you have to figure there’s some fracture in the locker room after the firing of the popular Flores. The Dolphins made a splash in acquiring wide receiver Tyreek Hill, among other intriguing players, but I’m still not ready to get behind Tua Tagovailoa as an elite starting quarterback. With a middle-of-the-road defense, this team needs much more from that position than what Tua has shown. Furthermore, if the Dolphins are in the mix late in the season, their schedule in December looks absolutely brutal.
Pittsburgh Under 7.5 wins
Of the last 27 teams that finished over .500 while also being outscored by opponents, only six improved the following season. That’s just one of the challenges facing the Steelers. Of course, the bigger concern is who will be replacing Ben Roethlisberger under center. Will it be rookie Kenny Pickett? Will it be backup Mason Rudolph? Or cast aside Mitch Trubisky? Frankly, the Steelers knew this day was coming and I’m still a bit stunned they let it get to this point. Mike Tomlin is one of the most respected coaches in football, and this franchise still has some nice pieces in key places, but the NFL is a quarterback game and the Steelers still have a huge question mark there. Roethlisberger wasn’t a star late in his career, but at least he was stable. Still, the Steelers were outscored by more than 4.0 PPG last year and won eight of their nine games by eight points or less. If half of those close wins go the other way this year because of erratic quarterback play, the Steelers are looking at a 5-12 season. In short, I wouldn’t be surprised.
Kansas City Under 10.5 wins
I was stunned watching the Chiefs implode in the AFC title game, and I don’t think Patrick Mahomes took enough criticism for the role he played in it (toward the end of the game, he looked completely out of sorts). Entering the 2022 season, Mahomes has to rebound from that loss and do it without his best playmaker in WR Hill, who is the type of player defensive coordinators have to worry about on every play. The importance of losing Hill is being undersold, if you ask me. He made Mahomes look better by opening up the field, and I think the Chiefs offense is going to suffer in his absence. The Chiefs lost defensive playmaker Tyrann Mathieu as well, and Andy Reid’s team will face a major challenge in arguably the best division in football. The Chargers’ and Broncos’ gains will be the Chiefs’ loss in my opinion. Plus, the Chiefs’ schedule features one of the most difficult eight-game starts I’ve seen.