As we round out our preview of NFL season win totals for all 32 teams, it’s important to point out why it’s necessary to analyze each team, even if no position is taken on certain ones. Teams do not operate in a vacuum. It is difficult to adequately assess any team without taking inventory of the entire league. How can you shop for a house if you have no idea what the others in the town or neighborhood sold for? I am assuming stadiums will not be full, but even if home-field advantage should be de-emphasized, it should not be totally discounted. In addition to traveling, being on the road creates an obstacle that many may overlook. The games are still being officiated by human beings, and I believe it is human nature that 50/50 calls favor the home team more often than not. That is just a theory, with no metrics to measure it, but it is worth keeping in mind.
Raiders Under 7.5. We were nervous. As high schoolers, the $50 a couple of friends and I had riding on the Raiders felt like life-changing money. On paper the final score was a blowout, but the game was closer than the score indicates. The Raiders were laying 10 and trailed the Titans 17-14 in the second half as they punted the ball away. But the Titans fumbled on back-to-back plays from scrimmage, leading to two quick Raiders touchdowns, and the rout was on. The crowd in Oakland went wild, the home team won 41-24 and was headed to the Super Bowl — and we won our bet! That was in January 2003. That was also the Raiders’ last playoff victory. They have been back only once. When the Raiders forked over nine figures to Jon Gruden, they undoubtedly hoped this streak would at least be in jeopardy by Year 3. But the Chiefs are the Super Bowl champs, the Chargers are a season removed from winning 12 games and have an easy schedule, and the Broncos are on the rise. I went Over on all three teams in the division so far, leaving me no choice but to stay Under here. I’m not sure what they do well; they were 24th in points scored and 24th in points allowed last year. Their shoddy defense will face Patrick Mahomes twice as well as the three MVP quarterbacks from the NFC South. They showed glimpses last year. Sitting at 6-4, they headed to New York to play the Jets as road favorites. They got throttled 34-3 and never recovered. They finished 7-9 and were outscored by 106 points for the season. That is a hint that perhaps the Jets game, not the 6-4 start, was closer to who they really were.
Seahawks Over 9. The 49ers won 13 games and came as close as you can to winning it all without having the trophy to show for it. They were also a nose of the ball from being swept by the Seahawks. Both Seahawks-Niners games were coin flips, and if Malik Turner hadn’t dropped a ball near midfield at Lambeau Field, perhaps we would have seen Round 3 for the NFC title. The Seahawks won 11 games, and I don’t see why they’ll drop to a .500 team in ’20. They have one of the best players in the league at the most important position and at some point will realize they play their best when the game is in his hands. They have five games in the Eastern time zone, which would normally be problematic for a team that plays on the West Coast. However, since drafting Russell Wilson, the Seahawks are 21-6 in the Eastern time zone. Wilson will be by far the best player on the field in all four games against AFC East opponents, the Rams seemed to have missed their window and the Cardinals still have plenty of problems on defense. Throw in a couple of layups against the Redskins and the Giants and you have a double-digit winner.
Steelers Over 9.5. They were 8-5 last year before the wheels came off without their future Hall of Fame quarterback. It’s likely neither Mason Rudolph nor Devlin Hodges will ever again be in a team’s starting plans, yet Mike Tomlin used a stout defense and sheer grit to will this team to a season that would net a playoff berth under this year’s new postseason format. The Steelers played both No. 1 seeds, the Ravens and the 49ers, to a coin flip before falling. They were one of only a handful of teams that held Lamar Jackson in check, and with Ben Roethlisberger back, they have a chance to throw the punches and not just duck them. They scored 10 or fewer points five times and, unsurprisingly, lost all five. Not only will the quarterback play improve drastically, but the young receivers will get a huge boost from the upgrade as well. Laying just a field goal in Week 1 against the Giants is one of my favorite early picks, especially considering the additional obstacles for a rookie coach in these uncertain times. They also face the Jaguars and Redskins and have four games against the Browns and Bengals. Pittsburgh will avoid a three-year playoff drought.
Buccaneers Under 10. Another team starving for some postseason nourishment. The Bucs’ last playoff appearance was after the 2007 season, when they were on the losing end of Eli Manning’s first career playoff victory. Fading the public here and going Under. Adding two of the league’s biggest names brings attention and relevance. But do the names match the players? Even if Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski have a little something left, can they do it for 16 games? I am skeptical. The schedule is cluttered with prime-time appearances, and the subsequent short weeks will be a challenge for a team relying on older players. The quarterback will be 43, and his coach will no longer be named Belichick. “The Last Dance” chronicled Michael Jordan’s career and six titles with the Bulls; it had no scenes of him spraying champagne while wearing a Wizards jersey.
Falcons Under 7.5. They finished the season 6-2, scoring the most impressive pair of wins anyone had all season with a blowout in New Orleans and another massive upset in San Francisco. I was prepared to make my case for the Over. The Panthers are rebuilding, and the other two teams in the division have quarterbacks who will be a combined 84 years old when the season starts. But then I looked at the schedule. Here is a list of their road games: Cowboys, Vikings, Chargers, Chiefs, Packers, Bucs, Saints and Panthers on a Thursday night. Maybe they’ll be favored in one of those eight? Five road opponents made the playoffs last year, and three of the Falcons’ final four games will be away. Atlanta was 23rd in the league in points allowed in ’19. The Falcons also were 29th in the league in sacks and should continue to have difficulty getting to the quarterback. A brutal schedule may expose a mediocre defense and move Dan Quinn back to the hot seat.