The 2020 NFL season is set to begin this week with the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs hosting the Houston Texans. But will the Chiefs win more than 12 games?
Our experts analyze the over/under for all 32 teams below, giving their best bet for every team.
New England Patriots (Over 8.5 -143, DraftKings)
Some better prices are available on the Patriots at nine wins, but we’d risk laying just a bit more to get the 8.5 wins being offered at some sportsbooks. We’ve talked about QB Cam Newton, though already a bit of concern has arisen over the hip injury to QB Jarrett Stidham, Newton’s competition for the starting job. Early injury reports were positive, but the last thing New England needs is for Stidham to be hurting, given Newton’s considerable durability concerns. The Pats do have journeyman Brian Hoyer as insurance.
If Newton is beyond his injury woes, he provides offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels with a different sort of weapon than Tom Brady. Newton still should have the ability to make plays on the move that were a staple of his repertoire in his MVP days at Carolina. It’s the Belichick defense, however, that won the division for the Patriots last year, and the master tactician shouldn’t be underestimated.
Buffalo Bills (Under 9 + 110, PointsBet)
We could join the stampede who think Buffalo is about to end New England’s reign in the AFC East and make a Super Bowl run, but we won’t. Some AFC insiders wonder about the lingering effects of blowing that sizable lead in the wild-card round at Houston last season. Yes, Sean McDermott has a championship-quality stop unit (with CB Tre White a possible defensive MVP), but the days of on-the-job learning for QB Josh Allen are over. He must produce at a higher level. Even though the addition of WR Stefon Diggs from the Vikings adds a valuable piece to the arsenal, Allen remains a work in progress, with his deep-ball shortcomings a concern.
The schedule is no picnic, either, with five games against teams from the last two Super Bowls, plus Seattle, Tennessee and Pittsburgh on the slate. Remember: Buffalo was also just 3-3 vs. the AFC East a year ago. Unless Allen makes the jump right now, the Bills might not crack .500.
New York Jets (Over 6.5 -105, PointsBet)
It might surprise some that 6.5 wins would actually land beneath the Jets’ seven wins last season. Does New York look any worse?
Consider the slow start last season when QB Sam Darnold missed almost a month due to mononucleosis. Adam Gase used emergency QB Luke Falk for three games, all losses, before Darnold returned to help the Jets to their first win vs. Dallas on Oct. 13. Gase and GM Joe Douglas believe they have patched enough of the holes on their offensive line via free agency and the draft to keep Darnold upright and perhaps ignite an offense that scored 34 or more four times in the last half of 2019, when the Jets won six of eight down the stretch.
Crucial to getting to seven wins might be the pair of games against the Miami Dolphins sandwiched around the bye week in November. If Darnold continues progressing on the QB learning curve, there’s no reason Gase’s troops should regress from last year’s 7-9 record.
Miami Dolphins (Under 6.5 -134, DraftKings)
As is the case with the Patriots, a bit of shopping can uncover a 6.5-win price on the Dolphins. We suspect Miami will be hard-pressed to exceed last year’s win total of five, which might have created a bit of false optimism with a deceptively fast finish.
It was an impressive debut for first-year coach Brian Flores, who inherited an apparent tanking situation. The Dolphins hung in ]and cobbled together a collection of close successes after starting 0-7, including knocking the New England Patriots out of a first-round bye in Week 17. However, the margin of error was slim, and we’ve seen many other teams tease with belated fast finishes before flopping the next season.
The Mr. Hyde side of much-traveled QB Ryan Fitzpatrick was mostly suppressed last season, but history has proven it’s always just around the corner. And if Alabama rookie QB Tua Tagovailoa is forced into the lineup sooner than expected, it’s likely because the Dr. Jekyll side of Fitzpatrick has disappeared. The Dolphins seemed to make various upgrades in free agency, and the new RB tandem of Jordan Howard and Matt Breida could work out quite nicely. Still, Flores would be doing well to get five wins out of this year’s team before the Dolphins become a more serious threat with Tagovailoa at the controls down the road.
Baltimore Ravens (Under 11.5 -110, William Hill)
The Baltimore bandwagon is crowded after the Ravens’ 14-2 record last season, but it’s not going to be as easy this year with the proverbial bull’s-eye on them. They’ll get every opponent’s full attention, and you know the league’s defensive coordinators have been game-planning all offseason how to contain dual-threat QB Lamar Jackson and the Ravens’ record-setting rushing attack.
You might have heard that the Ravens’ have the NFL’s easiest strength of schedule based on 2019 records, but remember that’s skewed a lot by getting to face the 2-14 Bengals twice. They have to face five playoff teams from last year in their first 10 games, including the Texans, Chiefs, Eagles, Patriots and Titans. A 7-3 record would be respectable from that gauntlet, but that would mean they’d have to go 5-1 the rest of the way, which includes a stretch of three straight prime-time games in Weeks 12-14 against the Steelers on Nov. 26, the Cowboys on Dec. 3 and the Browns on Dec. 14. That might even be tough to pull off if they start 8-2. The better actual bet might be Circa Sports’ alternate win total of Under 10.5 160.
Pittsburgh Steelers (Over 9.5 + 100, Westgate SuperBook)
The Steelers have the second-easiest strength of schedule based on last year’s records, but that’s not why I’m taking the Over. The Steelers went 8-8 last year and just missed the playoffs, but it could be argued that it was Mike Tomlin’s finest coaching job.
Tomlin lost starting QB Ben Roethlisberger after an 0-2 start yet got his team back in contention with Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges at QB. They led an offense that ranked No. 30 in the NFL at just 276.8 yards per game but was rescued by a defense that ranked No. 5. With Big Ben back, the Steelers should be right in contention and are helped by the fact that after they open on the road at the New York Giants, four of their next five games are at home. They face some other tough games along the line, including at the Cowboys in Week 9 and the two games vs. Ravens. But if the Steelers are over .500 heading into their last five games against non-playoff teams, they should get Over the 9.5 wins.
Cleveland Browns (Over 8.5 -110, Westgate)
The Browns were lauded as Super Bowl contenders last year and favored to win the AFC North at several sportsbooks, but they crashed and burned on the way to a 6-10 season. Coach Freddie Kitchens was fired and replaced by former Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, who doesn’t have much more experience than Kitchens had but has to be an improvement, right?
The players are pretty much the same as the group that had an Over-Under of nine wins last season, so we’ll take that as a value play in needing to go only Over 8.5. The offense is loaded with Nick Chubb supported by Kareem Hunt in the backfield, WRs Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry plus free-agent signing TE Austin Hooper. The defense is led by DE Myles Garrett, whose suspension for the helmet-swinging incident against the Steelers was lifted during the offseason. The main hurdle the Browns have to overcome is the culture of losing that has hung over the franchise since Cleveland returned to the NFL in 1999.
The Browns would love to win at Baltimore in the season opener, but at least they get the Bengals and the Washington Football Team the following two weeks. They should be competitive in all their games and stay above .500 to keep the 9-7 record for the Over in play. Another pivotal game could be if they could knock off the Ravens in Week 14 at home, but even then they should have winnable back-to-back games in the Meadowlands in Weeks 15 and 16 against the Giants and Jets, respectively.
Cincinnati Bengals (Over 5.5 -135, Circa)
The Bengals went a woeful 2-14 last season but earned the No. 1 draft pick and right to draft Heisman Trophy-winning QB Joe Burrow. I’m not trying to put him in the class of Patrick Mahomes, but the argument can be made that he’s a more developed prospect than Mahomes was entering his rookie season, when he benefited by sitting behind Alex Smith. I believe Burrow can be successful right away. We’re certainly not saying he’ll turn the Bengals into playoff contenders overnight, but six wins doesn’t seem like much of a stretch.
Wide receiver A.J. Green is supposedly healthy again, and he often made Andy Dalton a serviceable starting QB. Running back Joe Mixon should also take some pressure off Burrow, as he has compiled back-to-back seasons of 1,400 all-purpose yards without much support. The defense ranked No. 29 in the league at 393.7 yards allowed per game, but it added DT D.J. Reader, CB Trae Waynes (currently injured) and S Vonn Bell.
We should get an idea of where the Bengals stand against middle-of-the-road teams after facing the Chargers and Browns the first two weeks of the season. Success breeds success in the NFL, so we’ll see if they can get an early win before trying to think of upsetting bigger favorites. You can’t just assume a win from a team that went 2-14 the year before, but the Week 4 home game vs. Jacksonville, Week 11 at Washington and Week 12 at Miami look winnable.
Indianapolis Colts (Over 9 -120, FanDuel)
Many markets have 9.5 juiced to the Under, but nine seems like the correct number for this total.
This team will go only as far as QB Philip Rivers can take it. Rivers threw only 23 TD passes last year versus 32 in 2018 and threw 20 INTs vs. just 12 in 2018. However, that looked to be a byproduct of a poor offensive line. Rivers will have a much better group in front of him this year, anchored by Pro Bowl guard Quenton Nelson, arguably the best player at his position in football. Nelson hasn’t allowed a sack in his last 30 games and surrendered only two in the first four games of his rookie season.
The Colts also added some weapons in the backfield and in the receiving corps. Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor, the two-time Doak Walker Award winner as the best RB in college football, was drafted in the second round and can take some of the load from Marlon Mack. Mack had 247 carries last year with 1,091 yards against many stacked box defenses due to the Colts’ poor QB play. Add Nyheim Hines, a good return man and pass-catcher out of the backfield, and Jordan Wilkins and the Colts could have one of the best RB rooms in the league. Indianapolis will need WR T.Y. Hilton to be healthy, as he missed time last year and the club is 1-9 when he doesn’t play. Michael Pittman, a second-rounder out of USC, gives the Colts a big target at WR they haven’t had for years. Vertical threat Parris Campbell, who played only three games as a rookie last year due to injuries, returns, and Rivers has praised him in camp.
The trade for DT DeForest Buckner gives them a run stopper and someone who can get to the QB up the middle. The pass rush should show improvement, but the secondary must make a big leap, so the Colts signed former first-rounder Xavier Rhodes from Minnesota to a one-year deal. The early schedule provides a chance to get off to a hot start, and that often can have a snowball effect. The schedule is back-ended with home-and-homes vs. Tennessee and Houston, plus home games with Baltimore and Green Bay and a late trip to Pittsburgh.
Houston Texans (Over 7.5 -110, Westgate SuperBook USA)
The Texans lost their leading receiver and their leading rusher from last season’s division champions, so this should be an easy Under, right? Not so fast.
The trade of WR DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona is curious and received scorn across the board. Hopkins was third in the NFL in receptions (104), and had 1,165 yards, which was 29% of the team total. Houston will have to replace him by committee, and WR Will Fuller will need to stay off the injury report. The Texans brought in Kenny Stills last season and have added Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb. QB Deshaun Watson should have plenty of capable pass catchers even though Hopkins is a major subtraction.
The key to the offense will be the running game. Carlos Hyde and his 1,070 yards and six TDs are now in Seattle, and David Johnson, who is happy to be out of Arizona after Kenyan Drake supplanted him, will have to find his best form in four seasons. Houston’s offensive line made slight improvements last season, but Watson was still the most sacked starter in the NFL with 55. Laremy Tunsil helped on the left side, but the Texans will need Tytus Howard, who tore his ACL last year as a rookie, to hold up the right side.
Houston’s defense will also need to be better. It gave up 6.1 yards per play, worst in the league, though being without J.J. Watt for eight games hurt. The Texans were forced to blitz more -- eighth in the league at 33% of the snaps -- but mustered only 31 sacks, 27th in the NFL. Houston rated 25th against the run and 29th against the pass. Watt’s return should help those numbers at least a little, and Bill O’Brien drafted a DT and an edge rusher with his first two picks. Starting with Kansas City, Baltimore and Pittsburgh is not ideal and an 0-3 start is possible, but Watson should be enough to get this club to eight wins.
Tennessee Titans (Under 9 -140, PointsBet)
Last year was looking like another disappointing season when the Titans started 2-4. The Marcus Mariota era ended after Week 6, and Ryan Tannehill took them to the playoffs and all the way to the AFC Championship Game. Tannehill made the most of his second chance to be a starter and was rewarded with a four-year, $118 million deal. Did Tannehill turn the corner or just get lucky?
It’s an entirely different situation coming on in relief to save a season as opposed to being the guy right from the jump, and Tannehill will need RB Derrick Henry to duplicate or at least come close to his career year last season, when he led the league in rushing attempts (303), yards (1,540) and rushing TDs (16). Third-round RB Darrynton Evans could provide the speed to complement Henry’s power running. Nevertheless, the Titans won’t be able to surprise teams again with a run-heavy attack. Tannehill will have to make plays consistently down the field.
Tennessee had been searching for a No. 1 receiver and might have found him with 2019 second-rounder A.J. Brown. He led the team with 52 catches for 1,052 yards and eight touchdowns and established himself as more of a threat than 2017 first-rounder Corey Davis. On defense, the biggest loss for the league’s No. 12 defense looks to be coordinator Dean Pees, who retired. Coach Mike Vrabel is electing to go with mentor Bill Belichick’s approach -- a collective effort with the entire staff, including recent hire Jim Haslett, but Vrabel calling the defense. The Titans had a lot go right in the second half of the season and the playoffs, and that will be difficult to duplicate in 2020.
Jacksonville Jaguars (Under 4.5 + 110, Westgate)
Jacksonville decided to keep coach Doug Marrone and GM David Caldwell and send executive VP Tom Coughlin packing. It has been a messy situation, as players have openly feuded with executives on social media. DE Yannick Ngakoue received the franchise tag and has publicly asked to be traded.
The Jaguars are coming off a tumultuous 6-10 season in which Nick Foles was hurt in the opener and started only four games, all losses. They traded Foles to Chicago in the offseason and are out $19 million in dead money. Sixth-round pick Gardner Minshew took the reins and threw for 21 TDs versus only six INTs, and he is their guy, at least for now. Mainstays of the defense like Jalen Ramsey (Rams), A.J. Bouye (Broncos), Marcell Dareus (free agent), Yannick Ngakoue (Vikings) and Calais Campbell (Ravens) are gone, and the Jaguars are rebuilding with youth. The defense retains talent, but it is young.
Offensively, Jacksonville is in flux. RB Leonard Fournette seems likely to leave after the season, and the Jaguars are structuring for draft capital and cap space to rebuild. Second-round WR Laviska Shenault could be an interesting piece in the passing game, but Minshew must be able to throw the ball down the field more. He threw mostly short and intermediate routes like he did in Mike Leach’s spread at Washington State, and while more spread-offense elements are making their way into the NFL, at least a threat of a vertical passing game is still needed.
Minshew has a year to prove he can be a long-term starter, but it seems more likely that the Jaguars will be in the Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields draft sweepstakes.
Kansas City Chiefs (Under 12 -120, South Point)
Sharp bettors often look to play the highest win totals Under, yet that strategy backfired for several years with Tom Brady’s New England Patriots. Similarly, it’s tough to find reasons to fade Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, another well-coached team with a strong defense to complement the league’s top quarterback.
After Kansas City ranked 24th in scoring defense in 2018, coach Andy Reid hired coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who shifted to a 4-3 scheme. The Chiefs jumped to No. 7 in scoring defense last season, when dramatic improvement was made in November and December. DT Chris Jones anchors the defensive line, and Tyrann Mathieu is an elite safety. Seldom does a Super Bowl champion return almost its entire offense and defense, yet that’s the case in K.C. The Chiefs went 12-4 in each of Mahomes’ two years as the starter, but it’s tougher to bet with optimism now because strange things will happen during this unpredictable 2020 season.
The road schedule poses some challenges with trips to Baltimore, Buffalo, Tampa Bay and New Orleans outside the division. Sure, the Chiefs will be favored in at least 13 games unless injuries sideline Mahomes, who turns 25 in September and is close to unstoppable. But the other teams in the division are gaining ground, and home-field advantage is less of a factor this season. The champs take one step back to 11-5.
Los Angeles Chargers (Over 8 -115, Circa)
It’s not easy to make a convincing case for the typically underachieving Chargers, who went 5-11 and failed to win a division game last season, but here’s the case: QB Philip Rivers is history, the offensive line is among the league’s best, TE Hunter Henry and WRs Keenan Allen and Mike Williams are big-time weapons, the defense will be significantly improved, the schedule is manageable and this was a 12-4 team two years ago.
Forget what happened last year, when Rivers was a negative play waiting to happen, this is not a rebuilding year. Tyrod Taylor is a mobile veteran who gives the Chargers a good shot to win now, and he’ll start at QB while rookie Justin Herbert waits. The defense is talented on all three levels. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram are bookend rushers, rookie first-rounder Kenneth Murray upgrades the linebacker corps and the secondary is strong with corners Casey Hayward and Chris Harris and safety Derwin James, who missed 11 games last season.
The Chargers play the Bengals, Panthers, Jets, Dolphins and Jaguars in the first eight weeks, so they should avoid the type of slow start that was traditional with Rivers. It’s likely a make-or-break year for coach Anthony Lynn. This is definitely worth a bet Over the total if 7.5 is available anywhere.
Denver Broncos (Over 7.5 -115, PointsBet)
Vic Fangio’s first year as a head coach was a learning experience, which means he made costly game-management mistakes and Denver should have been better than its 7-9 record. Injuries were another setback, especially Bradley Chubb’s torn ACL in Week 4. Chubb and Von Miller are as good as it gets as a pair of outside linebackers. Fangio is a schematic wizard, and his defense could be a top-10 unit.
The questions start with second-year quarterback Drew Lock, who went 4-1 as the starter to earn general manager John Elway’s stamp of approval for the future. Elway’s top two draft picks were speed receivers Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler, who will line up with Courtland Sutton to give Lock a few big-play targets. Lock also can lean on tight end Noah Fant and running backs Phillip Lindsay and Melvin Gordon. With an upgraded line, the offense has more scoring potential, if Lock is the real deal.
The Broncos and Chargers look to be a notch above the Raiders on paper, and it’s realistic for Denver to win eight or nine games. The Broncos are coming off three consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 1972, but the streak should end provided Elway has his QB decision right for the first time since signing Peyton Manning.
Las Vegas Raiders (Under 7.5 -125, Circa)
The stage is set for a quarterback switch in Las Vegas. Derek Carr should open the season as the starter, but it’s doubtful he will make it through a third losing season with coach Jon Gruden. During an abbreviated training camp, Gruden has raved about the mobility and moxie of Marcus Mariota, who was signed as a free agent for a reason. (Of course, Mariota was dumped by Tennessee for a reason, too, but Gruden sees himself as a QB-developing mad scientist.)
The Raiders open with a brutal six-game stretch — at Carolina, New Orleans, at New England, Buffalo, at Kansas City, Tampa Bay. If the team is 2-4, Gruden will be itching to change quarterbacks. And it’s not as if the rest of the schedule is soft, either.
Still, there is a lot to like on both sides of the ball. Carr has talented targets in tight end Darren Waller and wideouts Tyrell Williams, Hunter Renfrow, rookie Henry Ruggs III and others, plus running back Josh Jacobs is a workhorse. General manager Mike Mayock has helped coordinator Paul Guenther make definite upgrades to the defense. The Raiders do appear to be on the rise, but they still have a way to go, and the boost in energy they hoped to get from sold-out crowds in Las Vegas won’t happen this season.
Dallas Cowboys (Over 9.5 -170, PointsBet)
For an organization that often appears dysfunctional, Dallas has done a superb job of roster building and putting together arguably the most talented starting lineup in the league. QB Dak Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott work behind a rock-solid offensive line, and Prescott has the type of big-play receivers Aaron Rodgers wishes he had in Green Bay. If anything happens to Prescott, Andy Dalton is a capable backup.
The Cowboys are strong on the defensive front, even after losing DT Gerald McCoy to a season-ending injury, and Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith and Sean Lee form a phenomenal linebacker group if they can finally stay healthy. The coaching staff held this team back, but Jason Garrett’s stale style has been replaced by a rejuvenated Mike McCarthy, who has good coordinators to help run the show. The NFC East is the only division in the NFL in which each team has won a Super Bowl. While the Eagles and Giants have done it recently, the Cowboys’ last title came after the 1995 season.
Dallas has the talent to get back to the top, so 15-1 odds to win the Super Bowl offer decent value. The schedule is certainly soft enough for the Cowboys to win at least 10 games.
Philadelphia Eagles (Under 9.5 -120, Westgate)
Some critics like to pick on QB Carson Wentz, but that hate is misplaced. He’s a leader and a winner. In 2017, Wentz was putting up MVP-worthy numbers (33 touchdown passes, seven interceptions) before going down with a knee injury and watching Nick Foles lead the Eagles to a Super Bowl upset of New England. In 2018 and ’19, Wentz totaled 48 TD passes with 14 interceptions. The problem? Wentz has had injury issues. Heath permitting, he should have another big year.
Philadelphia has an elite offensive line, a stud running back in Miles Sanders, a standout tight end in Zach Ertz and more speed at wide receiver, especially if Jalen Reagor was a wise first-round pick and DeSean Jackson can stay on the field. Potential problems lurk on defense, notably a weak linebacker corps and small defensive backs, but it’s foolish to count this team out. The Eagles were 5-7 last year before Wentz ripped off a four-game winning streak in December to take the division.
Philadelphia should start the season 3-0 (at Washington, home versus the Rams and Bengals) and make a run at nine wins and another playoff appearance. However, predicting 10 wins is too optimistic.
New York Giants (Under 6.5 -140, Westgate)
Now that the Giants have moved on from QB Eli Manning, WR Odell Beckham Jr. and two of the worst coaches (Pat Shurmur and Ben McAdoo) in franchise history, what’s next?
The faces of the franchise for the next several years will be RB Saquon Barkley and QB Daniel Jones, and that’s a good place to start. As a rookie, Barkley finished second to Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott with 1,307 rushing yards and accounted for 2,028 total yards, including 721 receiving. Barkley’s numbers dropped last year, but he missed three games with a bad ankle and was banged up and bottled behind a poor offensive line. Jones had 24 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions as a rookie in 2019, but he lost 11 fumbles.
If the line improves (first-round pick Andrew Thomas should help) and Jones finds a few playmaking receivers other than Barkley, the Giants could be intriguing offensively. Still, question marks litter the defense, which was a disaster last year (30th in scoring at 28.2 ppg). The jury is still out on new 38-year-old head coach Joe Judge. The Giants will be underdogs in seven of their first eight games, so betting on this team to win seven games is a fantasy. Take the under.
Washington Football Team (Under 5 + 110, Westgate)
If Ron Rivera can get the Washington Football Team to six wins, he deserves Coach of the Year votes. The absence of a nickname underscores what a joke this franchise has become in recent years.
Dwayne Haskins is expected to start at quarterback, though he was a deer-in-the-headlights rookie and should be looking over his shoulder at backups Kyle Allen and Alex Smith. Adrian Peterson is 35 and still a productive running back, yet the offensive line rates as mediocre and the wide receiver group might be the least talented in the league. There’s always a bright spot, however, and the defensive front is among the toughest in the league. Rivera and new defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio are switching to a 4-3 scheme and hoping No. 2 pick Chase Young develops into an elite edge rusher right away. Rivera’s plan appears to be to try to win low-scoring games with defense. As of now, Washington figures to be favored in no more than three games.
After a 3-13 finish, getting to four or five wins with this sad-sack roster would be a solid accomplishment. Look Under the season win total and Under the total in several of Washington’s games.
Minnesota Vikings (Over 9 + 100, Circa)
The Vikings have one of the more balanced teams in the NFL on offense and defense. RB Dalvin Cook is a stud, and QB Kirk Cousins puts up big numbers. Minnesota traded disgruntled WR Stefon Diggs to Buffalo but replaced him in the draft with first-round pick Justin Jefferson. While Mike Zimmer’s defense slipped a little to No. 13 in yards allowed per game last season, the Vikings ranked better at No. 6 in scoring defense with 19.4 ppg allowed. The trade for Jaguars DE Yannick Ngakoue should also help offset the loss of Everson Griffen.
Minnesota opens with a tough stretch of five games against four playoff teams from last year (Packers, Titans, Texans and Seahawks) but has enough talent to get through that and build a winning campaign. The key to overcoming the Packers in the NFC North is to avoid getting swept like they did last year, so those are key games in Weeks 1 and 8. Even if the Vikings are struggling around the .500 mark halfway through the season, the schedule gets easier starting in November with two games each against the Lions and Bears, and one against the Jaguars. They face the Cowboys, Panthers, Buccaneers and Saints in that stretch, but this team is good enough to at least split those and get to 10 wins.
Green Bay Packers (Over 9 + 115, Westgate)
The Packers are coming off a 13-3 season, Matt LaFleur’s first as head coach. But I always thought they were doing it with mirrors, as the offense ranked 17th and the defense 18th. They were ultimately exposed with two blowout losses to the 49ers, falling 37-8 in Week 12 and 37-20 in the NFC Championship Game. Other reasons the Packers might regress? They open with four of six games on the road and then have to travel back to San Francisco for the Thursday nighter in Week 9. In addition, the front office took a long-term approach in drafting Utah State QB Jordan Love in the first round instead of giving Aaron Rodgers another weapon.
Still, it’s hard to imagine a Packers team -- with Rodgers having something to prove -- falling all the way to 8-8, which is what it would take for an Under-9 ticket to cash. For all the obstacles facing the Packers, Over 9 at plus money is the way to bet.
Chicago Bears (Over 8 + 115, Circa)
Whether or not you think Nick Foles would be an upgrade over Mitchell Trubisky at QB, this total seems too low for a team that’s pretty close to the one that went 12-4 just two years ago. Matt Nagy went from Coach of the Year that season to 8-8 last year. Despite Trubisky’s struggles, WR Allen Robinson still had 98 receptions for 1,147 yards and was the third-most-targeted receiver in the NFL, so he’s clearly the go-to guy. Anthony Miller also steps up at times, and Chicago added TE Jimmy Graham to an offense that also has weapons in RBs David Montgomery, Tarik Cohen and Cordarrelle Patterson, who is attempting a conversion from WR to RB.
If Graham is seen as an aging veteran taking one more shot at glory, the Bears’ defensive equivalent is LB Robert Quinn, who comes to a defense led by DE Khalil Mack and ranked No. 8 last season. It all adds up to a team that has a better chance of getting back over .500 at 9-7 than it does of slipping even further to 7-9.
Detroit Lions (Under 7 + 105, Westgate)
Matt Patricia continues to bring in players from his former employer in New England, but despite his championship pedigree earned under Bill Belichick, he’s only 9-22-1 after two seasons in Detroit -- and went 3-12-1 last year. That came after starting 2-0-1, and it’s unlikely the Lions will start that fast again since their first four opponents are the Bears, Packers, Cardinals and Saints. Potential wins dot the schedule (Week 6 at Jacksonville, Week 7 at Atlanta, Week 10 at home vs. Washington), but it’s hard to see them adding up to the 8-8 record it would take to win an Over-7 bet.
Patricia can certainly make the excuse that he would have had a better record last season if QB Matthew Stafford hadn’t been injured for the second half of the season, but the Lions were only 3-4-1 with Stafford. Besides, the Lions’ bigger problem was the defense -- Patricia’s supposed specialty -- which ranked 31st in yards allowed per game. The upside looks more likely to peak at 6-10.
New Orleans Saints (Over 10.5 EVEN, Westgate)
This is a win total for which you want to look for alternate lines and see if you can go Over 10 with juice (-140 or so). Tampa Bay is receiving all the offseason hype, and New Orleans got eliminated on the first weekend of the playoffs. The Saints also committed two more years and $50 million to Brees, whose mind and accuracy are still intact — he had his career-best passer rating last season — even though his arm strength has clearly declined. Nevertheless, the Saints showed they were well-rounded enough to win without elite QB play, going 5-0 with Teddy Bridgewater at the helm while Brees was out with a thumb injury. And the offense still ranked third in points per page and sixth in yards per play.
The Saints also had a good free-agency season, as they upgraded depth and talent at most positions, including QB with Jameis Winston. Winston is a nice insurance policy on a one-year, $1.1 million deal. In the backfield, a healthy Alvin Kamara is a top-three back in this league. QB Taysom Hill is a wild card for whom defenses must prepare, Michael Thomas is arguably the best receiver in the league and free-agent WR Emmanuel Sanders (two years, $16 million) should be an upgrade over Ted Ginn Jr. They will be breaking in a rookie on the offensive line with Michigan first-rounder Cesar Ruiz sliding from center to guard, but he was rated the best pass-blocking center in college football by Pro Football Focus.
The defense, while not elite, is much better than it used to be and has talent in the secondary with CBs Marshon Lattimore, Janoris Jenkins and Patrick Robinson. The Saints added Malcolm Jenkins in free agency to pair with safeties Marcus Williams and D.J. Swearinger. DE Marcus Davenport has to make the leap in his third season to match Cam Jordan’s productivity in the pass rush. If that happens, this is a top-10 defense. New Orleans’ window of opportunity may be closing, but it’s still ajar just enough to climb through.
Atlanta Falcons (Over 7.5 EVEN, Westgate)
If the division -- and even the conference -- has a potential sleeper, it could be Atlanta. Things went sideways quickly for this team last season with a 1-7 start, but the Falcons rallied to go 6-2 in the second half of the season.
QB Matt Ryan continues to put up big numbers with WRs Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley at his disposal, and he seems comfortable running Dirk Koetter’s offense, but the running game and the offensive line play must improve. RB Todd Gurley (replacing Devonta Freeman in the backfield) had a career-worst year last season but still managed over 1,000 all-purpose yards and 14 TDs. Health is a concern for Gurley, but Atlanta should be getting a player with a massive chip on his shoulder and is still just 26. The Falcons invested heavily in the OL last year with two first-round picks, Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary. McGary had typical rookie struggles, and Lindstrom broke his foot in the season opener but returned in Week 14 and didn’t give up a sack.
On defense, Atlanta was one of the NFL’s worst stop units through the first eight weeks and then became one of its best. The Falcons are a fairly average unit but should be improved up front with the addition of Dante Fowler Jr., and assuming better health for LB Deion Jones. The secondary is the primary concern, and they hope first-rounder A.J. Terrell will address that. Ricardo Allen is a veteran leader at safety, and Keanu Neal is a former first-rounder and a 2017 Pro Bowler, but his season has ended prematurely two years in a row. All hands need to be on deck for this secondary.
The schedule is not the easiest -- Seattle, at Dallas, Chicago, at Green Bay and at Minnesota in five of the first six weeks -- but this team is being overlooked. If Atlanta can just get off to a .500 start through six games, it can clear this win total and surprise.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Under 10 -130, Circa)
Jameis Winston joined the 30-30 club last season with 33 TDs and 30 INTs, and the Bucs parted ways with him. Enter 43-year-old Tom Brady, who will certainly improve ball security. However, Brady short-armed a lot of throws last year that he used to make look easy, and his 60.8% completion rate was his lowest since 2013. Bruce Arians likes a let-’er-rip philosophy in his passing game, but is Brady capable of doing that anymore?
Brady will be motivated to prove the “system QB” designation wrong and he is surrounded with many weapons, including a top-five receiver in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, who has increased his production in the slot much like Arians helped Larry Fitzgerald do in Arizona. Tampa Bay also has a former first-rounder at TE with O.J. Howard and a great red zone target with Cameron Brate. Plus, at Brady’s request, Rob Gronkowski was coaxed out of retirement. But does Gronkowski have the desire and the hunger anymore? The Bucs will be even more pass-happy with a running game that consists of third-year man Ronald Jones (724 rushing yards in ’19), third-round rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn of Vanderbilt and a long-past-his-prime LeSean McCoy.
Defensively, the Bucs stayed relatively intact and arguably should make more strides on this side of the ball. Their front seven is one of the better units in the league, led by DE Shaquil Barrett and his NFL-leading 19.5 sacks. DTs Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh are still effective run stoppers, but the Bucs ranked 30th in passing yards allowed, so the opposition didn’t feel obliged to run much. Devin White had an outstanding rookie season at LB and while the secondary remains a question mark, second-rounder Antoine Winfield Jr. has the potential to be a major contributor immediately. Todd Bowles is a top-level defensive coordinator but has a lot of work to do with this back end.
This is a talented team, but too many things have to go right for Tampa Bay to be the contender the media and the public are hyping. The Bucs will probably fall somewhere between genuine contenders and the overhyped Cleveland Browns of 2019.
Carolina Panthers (Over 5.5 -115, Circa)
Perhaps no team had more offseason changes than the Panthers. Carolina went 5-11, the Cam Newton era ended, coach Ron Rivera was fired and defensive leader Luke Kuechly retired. These changes were set in motion when David Tepper bought the team in 2018.
This is Tepper’s team now, with a new coach in Matt Rhule, a new QB in Teddy Bridgewater and an overall new direction. Rhule brings in Joe Brady, fresh off winning the national championship at LSU, as his offensive coordinator. They clearly have faith in their offensive scheme, as the Panthers drafted all defensive players. Bridgewater is a game manager, and that’s what this offense wants to do since it has Christian McCaffrey, who is not a dominant runner but is the best pass-catching RB in the league. D.J. Moore leads the receiving corps, and while he’s not a pure burner, he is a great run-after-catch receiver. Carolina traded a younger Pro Bowl guard, Trai Turner, for an older offensive tackle, Russell Okung. That seems a curious move, but the experiment at left tackle with 2019 second-rounder Greg Little was a disaster, and he moves to the right side this season.
On defense, there is nowhere to go but up. Carolina ranked 31st in scoring defense (29.4 ppg) -- and that was with Kuechly. There is talent up front with 2019 first-rounder Brian Burns (7.5 sacks as a rookie) and 2020 first-rounder Derrick Brown. But the unit is primarily composed of young guys and well-traveled veterans who have struggled to find permanent homes. This team could surprise early before reality sets in with so many new pieces in place.
San Francisco 49ers (Over 10.5 + 105, PointsBet)
The Super Bowl losers’ hangover has infected several quality teams, most recently perhaps contributing to the Los Angeles Rams missing the playoffs last season after appearing in Super Bowl LIII. While acknowledging that the Niners might have to deal with some of those psychological demons, the fact Kyle Shanahan’s crew rolled as it did through the NFC portion of the playoffs suggests a pretty wide gap between San Francisco and the rest of the conference.
Some of the offseason departures could leave leadership voids, but enough veteran presence remains to fill those roles. Moreover, the raucous 49ers defense showed it could make opposing offenses one-dimensional in the playoffs. It effectively rendered impotent the capable Vikings with Dalvin Cook and Packers with Aaron Jones, then teed off on Kirk Cousins and Aaron Rodgers, respectively. As long as breakout WR Deebo Samuel is beyond his offseason foot injury, as it appears, QB Jimmy Garoppolo can withstand the departure of WR Emmanuel Sanders, especially if first-round pick WR Brandon Aiyuk delivers.
As long as Dr. Phil isn’t required for psychological help after the Super Bowl loss, the Niners can still be the NFC’s best team.
Seattle Seahawks (Under 9.5 -105, PointsBet)
We’re a bit reluctant to underrate the Seahawks as long as QB Russell Wilson remains in the fold. Seattle has missed the playoffs only once since Wilson arrived in 2012, and the Seahawks have never won fewer than nine games with him at the controls. Seattle has survived many high-wire acts the last couple of years, but goodness knows what might happen if Wilson ever goes down for an extended period.
The addition of SS Jamal Adams from the Jets came at a steep price but lends hope for a Legion of Boom resurrection in the secondary. The defense still gets an incomplete grade as long as DE Jadeveon Clowney remains on the open market, as the front seven lacks proven pass-rushers. Even though grinding Chris Carson has emerged as a reliable runner, the Seattle backfield has never been quite the same since the heyday of Marshawn Lynch, and we’re not sure free-agent TE Greg Olsen will be able to post the numbers he did once upon a time with Carolina.
Remember: All but one of Seattle’s 12 wins last season were by single digits, with six by four points or fewer (or in OT). For how long can Carroll’s notorious rah-rah keep the Seahawks afloat or Wilson be expected to pull rabbits out of his hat?
Los Angeles Rams (Under 8.5 -140, DraftKings)
Some 8s are available in the marketplace with the Rams, and the price is less daunting if looking Under that number, but the extra hook on the season-win side can often mean the difference between cashing a ticket and not, so we’d rather take our chances laying a heavier price at a higher victory total.
We suspect the Rams are headed in the wrong direction as the shine begins to fade from recent boy-wonder coach Sean McVay, who raised eyebrows not as much for some of his play-calling decisions last year as his decision to throw sage defensive coordinator Wade Phillips under the bus after the defense regressed last year. Phillips might not have been as much to blame for the Rams sinking out of the playoff picture as McVay’s constant tinkering with the offense. QB Jared Goff threw 45 or more passes in seven games (with a high of 68!) after doing so just twice the previous year. Before Goff requires Tommy John surgery, McVay might want to use his other talent in the backfield, which was de-emphasized a year ago and now proceeds without a true featured back after Todd Gurley’s departure.
The dreaded Super Bowl hangover might have had as much to do with Bill Belichick providing the road map to deal with McVay’s offense in Super Bowl LIII as anything else. With GM Les Snead dealing first-round picks the way George Allen used to, the Rams’ title window might have closed. The move to the new SoFi Stadium at Hollywood Park might turn into a non-event.
Arizona Cardinals (Over 7 -130, DraftKings)
We admit to not loving the price on an Arizona Over recommendation, but if the Big Red is really ready for a breakthrough and on course to reach .500, that seven-win number might not be prohibitive. We think schedule talk is often overstated before a season but can’t help thinking the path is laid out for a quick break from the gate. The Cards have winnable home games vs. Washington and Detroit and road games vs. reloading Carolina and the Jets after the opener at San Francisco. A well-placed bye near Halloween suggests Arizona should be recharged for the stretch run.
We saw enough indicators of progress in the first year after the radical hire of Kliff Kingsbury, with QB Kyler Murray progressing quickly and the Big Red competing strongly in the second half of the season, including a win at Seattle. Adding WR DeAndre Hopkins from the Texans should help immensely, and first-round pick Isaiah Simmons could fit almost anywhere on the defense. Beating the Rams at least once, which the Cards haven’t done since 2016, would certainly help a move up the West table.