2017 NFC EAST PREVIEW
TEAM THEME: THAT’S WHY THEY CALL IT THE BLUES
Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 9.5 -130
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 131.5
For the first time since 2009, two teams from the NFC East found the postseason, only to each go one-and-done courtesy of the Green Bay Packers. Dallas fans should consider it a success, considering they won four games the previous year and lost Tony Romo before the regular season even began. However, we doubt Jerry sees it that way as his ‘Boys, thanks to rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot, garnered home field throughout the NFC playoffs. It does look like Prescott hit the proverbial rookie wall as an 11-1 start evaporated into a 2-3 finish. However, before anointing him the next Roger Staubach, keep this in mind: Robert Griffin III also enjoyed a brilliant Rookie of the Year campaign.
As for Elliott, aside from his 6-game suspension to begin the season, he loses two starters from the league’s best O-line. Top draft selections DE Taco Charlton and LB Chidobe Awuzi address major needs on defense but can the ‘Boys continue to win 70% of their games (7-3) that are decided by a TD or less? Five primetime affairs should tell us firsthand but it would come as no surprise to find the dynamic duo drop a little freshmen weight as a case of the sophomore blues figures to surface in 2017.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Cowboys were the only NFL team to go undefeated (10-0) during the regular season against non-division foes in 2016.
PLAY AGAINST: at Washington (10/29)
NEW YORK GIANTS
TEAM THEME: AND THE CARDS SAY… A BROKEN HEART
Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 8.5 -110
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 129
The G-Men hope ‘rest makes rust’ for more than a few squads as they face four opponents coming off a bye week this season (FYI: teams in this role are 5-8 SU against the fourth foe). They also hope that RB Paul Perkins can inject life into a soft rushing attack that slipped nearly a full yard per carry in 2016 though, oddly enough, they fully failed to address a dismal offensive line situation. However, OT Chad Wheeler out of USC, who garnered First Team All-Pac 12 honors but went undrafted due to a checkered medical and off-field history, could provide immediate help.
The offense did look lackluster at times as Eli’s yardage, touchdowns and QBR rating dropped from the previous two seasons but no assistance should be needed for a passing game that adds first-round selection TE Evan Engram and stud WR Brandon Marshall to the incomparable Odell Beckham. An 8-3 record in games decided by a TD or less may be just what the doctor is ordering in 2017 as the Giants play 10 games against foes that owned winning records last year. And remember: with the Jets still lingering at the bottom, the New York headlines still belong to Big Blue.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Giants are 20-3 ATS as underdogs of 5 or more points following a SU win.
PLAY AGAINST: at Arizona (12/24)
TEAM THEME: FROM WENTZ HE CAME
Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 8 -120
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 129
Carson Wentz’s rookie season was commendable, albeit he ran out of gas, as the former North Dakota State star didn’t have the luxury of facing Western Illinois or Missouri State down the stretch. In fact, the 3-0 start had Eagles fans dreaming big as the last two Philly teams to start the season with that mark made it to the Super Bowl. However, a 4-9 finish flushed away those thoughts, sending the faithful to a different bowl. Don’t expect Wentz to need the Viagra this season, though, as the offense stocked the backfield with Donnel Pumphrey and LaGarrette Blount while adding a pair of big-play receivers in Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith.
The secondary was also made a priority as two corners and a safety were drafted in hopes of defending the likes of Odell Beckham and Dez Bryant. A cushy non-division slate (71-91) helps, too, but jot this down and remember it: Philadelphia lost the fewest amount players to injuries in terms of man games lost in 2016. According to ManGamesLost.com, over the last nine seasons, the NFL team that lost the fewest amount of players to injuries has incurred an equal or worse record the following season ALL NINE YEARS. Gulp.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Eagles are 0-6 ATS in games against .500 or greater AFC West opponents.
PLAY ON: at Washington (9/10)
TEAM THEME: SHIRTS OR SKINS?
Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 7.5 -110
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 132
What do you get for inheriting a team that went 7-25 prior to your arrival and delivering two winning seasons, including a playoff appearance for just the second time in 8 years? A raise or a pat on the back. Or how about an attaboy. Well, if you’re GM Scot McCloughan, try a pink slip! And while the Redskins have mysteriously yet to hire a new GM, they did hit the free agent market, acquiring Terrelle Pryor, one of 19 WRs with new teams this season. That means Kirk Cousins will have a whole new look as 2016 first-rounder Josh Dotson (played only 2 games) returns from an Achilles injury. The running game may also take on a new appearance as 4th-round steal Samaje Perine may squeeze past ‘Fat’ Rob Kelly and become the primary back.
Defensively, the Redskins massively upgraded their defensive line – one that was 27th against the rush in 2016 – by grabbing DE Jonathan Allen in the first round. Last season was the first time since 1996-97 that the Redskins enjoyed back-to-back winning campaigns. In fact, you have to go back to 1992 to find the last time they recorded three straight winning seasons. Hence, a lot of people have lost their shirts betting on the Skins off a winning year. Will this third one by the charm?
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Redskins are 9-1 SU and 8-1-1 ATS following consecutive wins when facing AFC West opponents.
PLAY AGAINST: at Seattle (11/5)
2017 NFC NORTH PREVIEW
TEAM THEME: PARTY POOPERS
Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 5.5 +100
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 126.5
After signing Mike Glennon to a $45 million contract and inviting him to the NFL Draft party at Soldier Field, the Bears then went out and drafted his replacement, trading four picks to move up ONE spot and grab North Carolina QB Mitch Trubisky. If that doesn’t sound like an episode of ‘Chicago Injustice’ (are you listening Dick Wolf), then we don’t know what does. It was a cold move that left us shaking our head, reminding us of how the Redskins mortgaged their future in 2012 to move up to the No. 2 spot to grab RGIII – a much higher rated prospect than Trubisky.
We noted last year the success of John Fox in Year Two with a program. It never materialized in Chicago as injuries played a significant role in the Bears’ 3-13 slide, their lowest win total since the NFL expanded to a 16-game slate. Fortunately, Year Three has also been a charm for Fox as he posted a combined 22-13 SU and 21-13-1 ATS mark with both Carolina and Denver. However, this Fox must find a way to improve on a 1-6 SU record last season in games decided by 7 points or less if he wants to get his team out of the NFC North hole.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: John Fox’s teams are 7-0 SUATS away against sub .500 opponents in Year Three with a program.
PLAY ON: at Philadelphia (11/26)
TEAM THEME: RUNNING ON EMPTY
Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 7.5 -110
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 132.5
Despite allowing more yards than they gained and finishing the season with a negative scoring differential, the Lions somehow managed to win more games than they lost in 2016 (9-7). Winning eight of 13 games decided by a TD or less could do that but so could the play of durable QB Matthew Stafford, who hasn’t missed a start since 2010. Stafford is coming off a sixth straight 4,200 plus-yard campaign while leading the Lions to eight 4th-quarter comebacks and eight game winning drives, both NFL single-season records. And with more than $60 million in cap space next year, the 9-year veteran and holder of 30 Detroit passing marks could be in line for the biggest payday in league history.
A revamped offensive line should keep Stafford upright and also inject life into a rushing attack that had the fewest attempts per game (21.5) in 2016 while suffering its third straight sub 90 YPG season. Nine new starters will call Ford Field home this season but surprisingly none of them will reside in the backfield as the Lions lost out on free agent RB LeGarrette Blount to Philadelphia. Oh well, at least the Cardiac Cats are, once again, well-armed as they look to roar into the postseason for the first time in three years.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Head coach Jim Caldwell’s teams are 6-1 SUATS in games with rest.
PLAY ON: at Green Bay (11/6)
GREEN BAY PACKERS
TEAM THEME: A LEAP OF FAITH
Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 10.5 +110
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 130
Eight straight postseason appearances has only the Pack residing in New England’s neighborhood but it isn’t enough as Aaron Rodgers (89-59-4 ATS in his NFL career, including 36-17 ATS in division duels) and company have only delivered one Lombardi Trophy to Title Town during that span. And while we’d love to anoint them as this year’s NFC rep, we must first see if Mike McCarthy can fix a defense that has regressed each of the past two seasons – and patch an offensive line that lost a pair of Pro Bowl guards and a starting center. By acquiring secondary help through the draft in the form of 2nd-rounders CB Kevin King and S Josh Jones and free agency, the Packers did address a major need: helping a defense that ranked dead last in the league in passing yards allowed (277.7), passing yards per attempt (7.6) and total yards per play (6.9).
Versatile speedster Ty Montgomery takes over for the departed Eddie Lacy but fourth-round pick Jamaal Williams, who is built like a tank and ran like one at BYU, figures to make many Lambeau leaps. The third fewest travel miles (8,062) in league this season also figures to keep the Pack fresh for the annual postseason run.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Packers have been humbled in their six meetings with sub .500 AFC North opponents, going 1-5 SU all-time.
PLAY ON: at Atlanta (9/17) – *KEY
TEAM THEME: THE BRADFORD EXCHANGE
Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 8.5 +120
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 127.5
Talk about a godsend. Not only did Sam Bradford step in admirably for Teddy Bridgewater, whose knee was virtually destroyed in a preseason non-contact drill, he enjoyed the finest season of his NFL career, completing over 71% of his passes while chalking up a QBR rating of 99.3. A pair of quality tackles joins the offensive mix this season in Riley Reiff (Lions) and Mike Remmers (Panthers), as does WR Michael Floyd and RB Latavius Murray. The Vikings also drafted RB Dalvin Cook in hopes of boosting a rushing attack that ranked dead last in the league. FYI: Peter King of SI predicts Cook will be a Top 5 running back by Halloween. If that were to happen, Minnesota’s offense could be scary good and should average more than 320 YPG for the first time since 2013.
As for the defense, it was stingy last season, ranking 5th in points allowed (19.2) and 3rd in total defense (314.9) and has improved every year under 4th-year head coach Mike Zimmer, who underwent his 8th eye surgery in May. We have our sights set on this group early as December is dotted with road games at Atlanta, Carolina, and Green Bay.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Snow or no snow, the Vikings are 16-5 ATS in their last 21 games in the month of December.
PLAY AGAINST: at Carolina (12/10) – *KEY
2017 NFC SOUTH PREVIEW
TEAM THEME: DAN QUINN – MEDICINE MAN?
Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 9.5 -110
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 133
Thanks to questionable play-calling and clock management, the Falcons blew a 25-point lead in regulation to lose the Big One in overtime – leaving management with this sobering thought: time to bring in OC Steve Sarkisian to replace the departed Kyle Shanahan (San Francisco). Despite a costly fumble, the largest choke job in Super Bowl history can’t be pinned on Matt Ryan as he set career postseason highs in completion percentage (73.9), average yards per pass attempt (12.35) and QB rating (144.1). ‘Matty Ice’ was also on fire during the regular season as the Atlanta offense tallied a whopping 540 points (71 more than their nearest competitor). The collapse led to the firing of DC Richard Smith and we know teams with 1st-year coordinators tend to struggle.
Super Bowl losers also find the going tough on the non-division highway next season, posting a 78-95-1 SU and 73-93-8 ATS log, including 27-46-5 ATS as chalk. Despite five primetime affairs in 2017, the NFL did the Falcons no favors, pegging them with the 5th most difficult schedule (foes’ wins project to 133). Break out the medicine, Dan.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Falcons were winless on the Monday Night road since 1979 before winning three Monday Night road games last season.
PLAY AGAINST: at Seattle (11/20)
TEAM THEME: ALL THOSE WONDERFUL TOYS
Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 9 -120
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 127
As is usually the case from a Super Bowl loser, the Panthers took a big fall in 2016. And there’s plenty of blame to go around for the 11-game decline! The offense regressed 8 points and 22 yards per game as former reigning MVP Cam Newton completed just 52.9% of his passes and learned first hand about Sir Isaac’s Third Law of Motion (for every force there is a reaction force). In addition, the defense also slipped 42 YPG as LB Luke Keuchly’s fearlessness led him to concussion protocol (as did five other Panthers). The good news for Newton is Christmas came early. The Cats’ spent their first two draft picks on Christian McCaffrey (Stanford) and Curtis Samuel (Ohio State), a pair of athletic, pass-catching backs who should excel in the slot.
They also retained the services of TE Greg Olsen, a vital cog in the Cats’ attack. In fact, no other tight end in the NFL has a higher percentage of his team’s receiving yards over the past three years than Olsen (27.3 percent of the Panthers’ 11,663 yards and 25.8 percent of the team’s 241 receptions). Rest assured, this Newton won’t ‘stay at rest’ this season and the ‘good hands’ offense just may insure a return to the playoffs.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Cam Newton has been sacked or hit 922 times since 2011. Seattle’s Russell Wilson is second with 615.
PLAY ON: at Tampa Bay (10/29) – *KEY
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
TEAM THEME: OH CRAP, HERE WE GO AGAIN
Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 8 -110
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 139
The number seven may make some money in Vegas but three consecutive 7’s (as in win seasons) means its time for the Saints to crap out or get off the toilet. (FYI: the odds of rolling 7 at the table is “1 in 6”.) And though we don’t see snake eyes with Drew Brees at the helm, the Saints – hands down – face the most difficult schedule with foes projected to win 139 games, a gap of 4.5 wins to the next toughest. New Orleans did hit the free agent market, inking Adrian Peterson, which is somewhat of a curious move considering Mark Ingram tallied 1,000 rushing yards for the first time in his career and the Saints employ a shotgun offense.
Though they bombed badly the previous two years with secondary selections, HC Sean Payton will, once again, look to patch up the league’s worst pass defense with the selections of CB Marshon Lattimore (Ohio State) and S Marcus Williams (Utah). And though there’s always a strong ‘Brees’ in the bayou, the winds of change may take some time – especially with Pro Bowl C Max Unger still wobbly from a lingering foot injury, and the Saints residing in the ultra-competitive NFC South.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Saints are far from Aints when they take on AFC East foes off an ATS win, going 15-1 ATS in their last 16 such games.
PLAY ON: at Atlanta (12/7)
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
TEAM THEME: COOKIE KOETTERS
Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 8 +120
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 125
As we thought, the Buccaneers broke on through to the other side, going from losers for five straight seasons to winners in 2016, despite regressing on both sides of the ball. That’s a major cause for concern, especially in a division that has no ‘gimmees’. Tampa inked Ryan Fitzpatrick to back up Jameis Winston– his 7th team NFL team in 10 years. Let hope the human turnover machine is not needed, given Fitzy’s 46-69-1 win-loss record, 166-133 TD-to-INT ratio and 79.7 career passing rating. The Bucs did hit the free agent pool, landing big fish WR DeSean Jackson. The extremely talented, outspoken Iverson, err Jackson, will team with Mike Evans, giving the offense a solid 1-2 punch.
Winston also got another toy via draft with the signing of O.J. Howard. Fox Sports notes that Howard caught just seven touchdowns in four years at Alabama. You have to go back 10 years to find a draft where the first tight end off the board scored less. Then again, that tight end was Greg Olsen! However, to build off last season’s success, the Bucs will need to be able to hang their hat at home more often as a 7-18 SU and 8-17 ATS mark in their last 25 games at the ‘New Sombrero’ won’t cut it. Inking DC Mike Smith to a contract extension will help.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: After their last two winning seasons, the Bucs went 3-13 and 4-12 the following years, respectively.
PLAY AGAINST: vs. Carolina (12/24) – *KEY
2017 NFC WEST PREVIEW
TEAM THEME: ALL ABOARD THE ‘A’ TRAIN
Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 8 -130
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 123.5
Suffice to say it wasn’t a great year to be a Palmer in the sports world. Arnie’s Army lost their king while the Cardinals’ Carson was wobbly from start to finish, resulting in a 71-point drop off in total points scored from the previous season. And though the Redbirds surprisingly didn’t draft a quarterback, they did add Blaine Gabbert and undrafted rookie Trevor Knight to the backup pool of Drew Stanton and Zac Dysert. Fortunately, whoever starts under center will have the luxury of handing off to the league’s leading rusher. David Johnson tallied 2,118 total yards while posting 15 straight games with at least 100 yards from scrimmage, matching Barry Sanders for the longest-single season streak in NFL history. The Cards also added speedy linebacker Haason Reddick and hyperactive safety Budda Baker to an already aggressive defense that held four foes to under 10 points last season. A soft slate – opponents 2017 win totals project to a combined 123.5 (3rd fewest in the league) – may be offset by the second most air miles in the loop this season (30,422), but we’ll still look for Bruce Arians to raise Arizona back to postseason status.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians is 13-1 SU and 12-2 ATS at home against foes off a SUATS win.
PLAY ON: vs. L.A. Rams (10/22)
LOS ANGELES RAMS
TEAM THEME: SEND IN THE FIXER
Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 6 +110
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 128.5
Considering the Rams have fielded the youngest squad in the league over the past five seasons, the hiring of 31-year-old Sean McVay – the youngest head coach in NFL history – should come as no surprise. That should help in the development of Jared Goff as McVay and his staff have a strong resume with quarterbacks, in particular Kirk Cousins. The Rams added a couple of offensive pieces through the draft (TE Gerald Everett, WR Copper Kupp) but it’s not enough for an offense that has averaged 20 PPG only four times since 2004. They’ll need RB Todd Gurley to return to rookie form as the 2016 campaign saw a dropoff in rushing yards (1,106 to 885), yards per carry (4.8 to 3.2) and TDs (10 to 6) despite playing in three more games. Wade Phillips was a terrific hire to spearhead a defense that allowed more points than the numbers would suggest. However, a mid-October trip to Jacksonville followed by a cross-continent journey to London (against Arizona) capped by a trip to New York to face the Giants finds the Rams logging the most miles in the league this season (32,498) and could take a late-season toll.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Rams haven’t had a winning season since 2003, the longest active streak in the NFL.
PLAY ON: at NY Giants (11/5)
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
TEAM THEME: GOLD DUST
Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 5 +100
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 128.5
Taking a page out of Cleveland’s QB situation, the 49ers turn to Kyle Shanahan – their 3rd head coach in three years. They also have a new man calling the shots. Rookie GM John Lynch, a disciple of John Elway, killed it in the draft by looting the Bears (who apparently made their moves from a pub on Rush Street) while still filling defensive holes, getting DE Solomon Thomas with the 3rd pick and adding LB Reuben Foster later in the round. If LB NaVorro Bowman can come back from a pair of gruesome knee and Achilles tendon injuries, the stop-unit could be upper echelon in a hurry.
The Niners also made significant roster changes to an offense that continued to sputter, ranking next to last in total yards per game (308.1). QB Brian Hoyer holds an edge over Matt Barkley for the starting job, while WRs Pierre Garcon and Marquise Goodwin and RB Tim Hightower should make immediate contributions. Hoyer has been a serviceable journeyman (16-16 SU in his well-traveled career, including 9-2 ATS in division games) and actually played for Shanahan when he was the offensive coordinator in Cleveland, posting a 10-6 SU and 10-5-1 ATS mark as a starter on teams that ended the season 11-21. And with Shanahan also assuming the play-calling duties in the bay, being reunited just might feel so good.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The 49ers are 9-1 SU in Last Home Games the last ten seasons.
PLAY ON: at Arizona (10/1)
TEAM THEME: MONDAY, MONDAY – CAN TRUST THAT DAY
Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 10.5 -130
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 123
No team will face an easier set of foes in 2017 than Seattle as their slate of opponents is tabbed at 123 combined season wins. In fact, the Seahawks are the only team in the NFC with no back-to-back road games on their itinerary. The ‘12th Man’ is certainly a nice advantage but it probably doesn’t matter where the games are being played to a defense that held a league-best five foes to under 10 points, allowed 3.4 DYPR and registered 42 sacks, trailing only Arizona and Carolina. We’re sure Pete Carroll would love to be playing at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on February 4th… and he just might get there provided he can keep a shaky OL in tact.
Outside of their opener in Lambeau and a Christmas Eve affair in Dallas, the Seahawks’ toughest contest looks to be a Monday night affair at home just before Thanksgiving, bringing in this little gem: the Russell Wilson-led ‘Hawks have never lost on MNF – and the last time Seattle lost on MNF was December 6, 2004 versus Dallas. This year’s MNF foe happens to be the Super Bowl-losing Atlanta Falcons, the team that booted them in the NFC championship game last season. FYI: the last time Seattle lost to Atlanta in the postseason, they went on to win the Super Bowl (and 16 games) the following year. Hmm.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Seattle has not had a single first round pick in the NFL draft over the last five years.
PLAY ON: at Green Bay (9/10)