As we continue to preview all 32 teams, let’s do it through the lens of Over/Under season win totals. Analyzing teams against oddsmakers’ expectations provides an opportunity to capitalize on assessments that are perhaps imperfect for any number of reasons.
Rosters will be shaken up this weekend, but for all the attention the draft receives, these numbers are unlikely to budge much if at all. It’s not that the draft lacks significance but rather that the significance is hard for oddsmakers to evaluate — especially immediately. As draft pundits hand out grades and fans celebrate their teams’ first-round picks, these numbers will typically stand pat.
Jaguars Under 5.5: Can this team win six games, even if it tried? I’m not convinced of either one. With highly coveted Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence eligible to enter the 2021 draft, incentive exists to win the biggest-loser competition. Unlike the catchy “Suck for Luck” in 2011, I don’t know what rhymes with Lawrence, but I’m sure the attempts at poetry that inevitably will be made are sure to be just as bad as this Jaguars team. Calais Campbell, Nick Foles and A.J. Bouye departed from a team that wasn’t very good last year. Gardner Minshew’s early season looked like a Hollywood script in the making, but the media darling ultimately gave everyone a hint as to why he was a sixth-round pick. Elsewhere in the AFC South, the Texans won a playoff game, the Titans won two and the Colts have only a QB injury and kicking woes to blame for failing to make the playoffs. In this division, the Jaguars are the easy out. Since taking over as general manager in 2013, David Caldwell has managed to keep his job despite losing over two-thirds of his games. Expect the losing to continue in 2020.
Texans Over 8:
Fading the noise here. Every time I see the replay of the fake punt that lives in infamy, I expect the Texans’ Justin Reid to surge past the yellow line and pick up the first down. Instead, Daniel Sorensen reads it and wrestles him down a yard shy before the Chiefs’ offense explodes in a runaway playoff victory. If that play could be frozen midway through and odds generated, the Texans would have been highly likely to convert the trick play and heavily favored to win the game. Maybe the Chiefs would have won anyway. Or maybe the Texans would have gone on to play in the AFC title game, in which they would have been the hosts and the favorites. It’s not totally crazy to say Sorensen’s tackle kept the Texans out of the Super Bowl. Now a few months later, they’re an 8-8 team? If you listen to enough sports talk, you’d be convinced Bill O’Brien isn’t fit to coach an intramural flag-football team. I’m not saying O’Brien is a great coach, but who besides Bill Belichick truly is a great coach? O’Brien has won the division both years Deshaun Watson has been healthy. He also won it in 2015 with a combo of Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett. In 2016 he won the division title and a playoff game with Brock Osweiler. If Watson hadn’t gotten hurt in 2017, the Texans would be going for their sixth straight AFC South title. Ideally they would have gotten more in trading DeAndre Hopkins, but why did no better offers surface? When a team trades one of its best players, I compare it with someone asking if you’d like to buy their car. Wouldn’t your response be, “What’s wrong with the car?” The Texans have a solid coach and an MVP candidate at the most important position. Pencil them in for yet another winning season.
Broncos Over 7.5:
Anyone who had the Broncos going over 7.5 wins may be too traumatized from last year’s horror movie to see the sequel in 2020. Against the Bears and Jaguars, field goals on the final play turned victories into defeats. Against the Colts, Adam Vinatieri brushed aside his yearlong struggles to kick a game-winning 51-yard field goal in the final seconds to flip a win into a loss. Against the Vikings, a 20-0 halftime lead resulted in a 27-23 heartbreaker after Denver took over with six minutes left but inexplicably ran out of time on the goal line. What does that all mean? The Broncos are undervalued. They went 7-9, but this was more like a 9-7 fringe playoff team in disguise. They hope they have found their quarterback in Drew Lock, and they should hope for better luck than last year. Rookie head coach Vic Fangio won most of those seven games with Joe Flacco and Brandon Allen, quarterbacks who most likely will never start in the NFL again. With a 27-37 record and zero playoff appearances in the four years since winning the Super Bowl, John Elway needs to show progress, and I think he’ll get it with a .500-plus season, earning a wild card.
Chiefs Over 11.5:
I’m usually a contrarian, but this one is too tempting to pass up. Last week I wrote about why I expect the 49ers and Ravens to take steps back and stay under their high season win totals. Kansas City is a different story. The best player at the most important position is entering only Year 4 and might not have peaked, which is a terrifying thought for the rest of the league. Including the playoffs, Mahomes has made 36 starts. The Chiefs scored 26 points or more in 31 of them. All five postseason starts have been 30-plus-point performances. Consider this: They will need to be outgunned five times this season to stay under this win total. Now let me tell you the opposing quarterbacks attempting to do the outgunning in 11 of their 16 games, barring injuries or rookies stepping in: Derek Carr, Drew Lock and Tyrod Taylor twice, plus Jarrett Stidham, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Teddy Bridgewater. Mahomes missed almost three full games last year, plus he was hobbled for parts of others. The Chiefs still managed to go 12-4. No reason to think they won’t at least match that record in 2020.
Browns Under 8.5:
Bill Parcells, Nick Saban and Bill Cowher gave way to their successors before the 2007 season. That was also the last year the Browns had a winning record. I’m skeptical that this team can be trusted to produce a successful season. In March 2019, the Browns acquired Odell Beckham Jr. Sportsbooks were immediately inundated with action on the Browns, who catapulted to division favorites. This year the optimism remains, for some reason. While I recognize the ability of the skill players, the offensive line is flawed, and Baker Mayfield’s play has yet to catch up with his fame. They are in a division with last season’s top seed and reigning MVP, while the Bengals and Steelers will be getting big boosts at quarterback. Once again, expectations are too high by the lake.
Vikings Over 8.5:
With the final two games of the 2019 season at home, the Vikings were 10-4, had clinched a playoff spot and held a very tiny chance of winning the division. In essence, they had nothing to play for, and it showed. They got shellacked by the Packers two nights before Christmas, then rested most of their starters in a loss to the Bears. If motivated, this team likely would have gone 11-5 or 12-4. But the Vikings now have a win total that requires only a winning season to hit the Over. They did lose a slew of players this offseason, but Mike Zimmer has routinely outperformed expectations. Since becoming a head coach in 2014, his teams are 62% against the spread, tied with Bill Belichick for best in the league during that stretch. Zimmer’s teams cover 76% of the time after losses, by far the best in the league. His overall record is 57-38-1, and he has won two division titles, both as preseason 5-1 underdogs. He is just a good guy to put your money on. He consistently rewards those who bet on him and, despite the roster turnover, will find a way to field another quality team.