One-armed Knife Sharpener
- Apr 7, 2013
By Sheil Kapadia Aug 24, 2020
With the NFL’s Week 1 opener between the Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs scheduled for 17 days from now, it’s time to go on the record with some picks.
Below is a look at over/under win totals from William Hill. The teams have been placed into four different categories based on confidence level. The first category features the picks I feel best about, and then it goes downhill from there.
Empty out the piggy bank
Indianapolis Colts (9): Over
Frank Reich had to completely change how he called games last year following Andrew Luck’s retirement. It was a conservative attack in which Jacoby Brissett struggled to make plays downfield and Indianapolis instead tried to methodically string together long drives. The Philip Rivers signing has boom-or-bust potential and pushes the Colts in a much different direction. But there’s reason to believe the pairing can be successful. Indianapolis returns its entire starting offensive line and is counting on getting a healthier T.Y. Hilton (he played 44 percent of the snaps last year). Defensively, the Colts have questions in the secondary, but adding DeForest Buckner should give the front seven a big boost. There’s a lot to like with the Colts, including the fact they face the league’s easiest projected schedule.
Cincinnati Bengals (5.5): Over
Over the last 20 years, teams have won two or fewer games in a season 25 times. On average, those teams improved by four wins the following year. The Bengals were 2-14 in 2019, but there was some flukiness to that record. They became the third team in the last 50 years to go 0-8 or worse in one-possession games. They were really more like a four- or five-win team, so winning six-plus games in 2020 is not that much of a stretch. Joe Burrow has traits — accuracy and elite pocket movement — that should translate immediately to the NFL level. The Bengals get back 2019 first-round pick Jonah Williams at left tackle after he missed all of his rookie season with a shoulder injury. And they’ll be better at wide receiver with A.J. Green in the mix. They are going to be a fun, frisky team.
New York Jets (6.5): Under
After the Jamal Adams trade and C.J. Mosley opting out, they might have the league’s least talented roster. The last three offenses Adam Gase has coordinated have finished 31st, 26th and 27th in efficiency. And they face the third-toughest schedule. Ideally, young quarterbacks are helped by their supporting cast and coaching. Sam Darnold instead has to overcome those things. It’s hard to see the Jets hitting seven or eight wins unless Darnold puts the entire team on his back and makes a huge leap.
Kansas City Chiefs (11.5): Over
Most Super Bowl champions have luck bend their way in a number of areas — whether it’s injuries, turnovers or something else. But that wasn’t really the case for the Chiefs last year. Patrick Mahomes dealt with a knee injury and missed three games. They were 19th in red zone efficiency and 29th in fumble luck. In other words, they could legitimately be better. The Chiefs have won 12 games in three of the past four seasons. Barring a significant injury to Mahomes, they’re positioned to get there again.
Dallas Cowboys (9.5): Over
The offense ranked second in efficiency last year and added wide receiver CeeDee Lamb in the first round of the draft. With Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, four of five returning linemen and play caller Kellen Moore, there aren’t many offenses better set up for success. Coaching (Jason Garrett), special teams (30th in DVOA) and bad luck (1-6 in one-possession games) were all issues last year. Mike McCarthy steps into an attractive situation, and while the defense has questions, the Cowboys are set up for double-digit wins.
New York Giants (6): Under
The biggest concern when hiring a coach off the Bill Belichick tree is the coach will think he’s Belichick and behave like Belichick without having established any credibility in the locker room. Matt Patricia has been the best example in recent years. But Joe Judge might be coming for the crown. Sometimes it’s worth offering evidence-based analysis. Other times, it’s more helpful to point out that you will never forgive yourself if you take the over on a coaching staff that includes Jason Garrett, Freddie Kitchens and Judge.
Los Angeles Rams (8.5): Under
On one hand, they still won nine games during a 2019 season that was by all accounts disappointing. On the other hand, it’s tough to find areas where they got better this offseason. Offensively, the Rams are counting on the line to improve even though they didn’t really upgrade the talent. They’re betting on rookie Cam Akers to be much better than Todd Gurley. And they’re depending on Jared Goff to cut down on his negative plays. Defensively, the Rams are gambling on first-time NFL defensive coordinator Brandon Staley to be better than legendary coach Wade Phillips. Those are a lot of bets they have to be right on if they want to finish with nine or 10 wins.
New England Patriots (9.5): Under
The Belichick factor is baked into this win total. Consider what the Patriots are trying to accomplish. They’re counting on a 31-year-old Cam Newton, who is coming off of a pair of shoulder surgeries and a foot injury, to be effective as a dual-threat quarterback. That comes after an offseason in which they did very little to upgrade their pass-catching talent and lost their legendary offensive line coach and starting right tackle. Only the Carolina Panthers have less overall continuity. The Patriots’ defense was impressive last year, but it also benefited from the league’s easiest schedule and best injury luck. Getting to 10 wins with their roster seems far-fetched even for Belichick.
New Orleans Saints (10.5): Over
They’ve produced a league-best 26-6 regular-season record over the last two years. The Saints added Emmanuel Sanders to the offense and Malcolm Jenkins to the defense in the offseason. They’ve got excellent continuity. There’s always going to be concern with a 41-year-old quarterback, and the Saints had some bounces go their way last season (before the playoffs). But they have a strong roster with a great head coach/quarterback combination.
(Scott Taetsch / Getty Images)
Whatever you find under the couch cushions
Baltimore Ravens (11.5): Over
Over the last 10 years, on average, 4.8 teams have won 12-plus games in any given season. The Ravens sure look like a team that could fit in that group. Following a 14-2 season, they return 10 of 11 starters on offense and have a bunch of young players — Lamar Jackson, Marquise Brown, Mark Andrews — who should continue to improve. The defense takes a hit with the loss of Earl Thomas, but the Ravens’ front seven looks better with the additions of Calais Campbell, Derek Wolfe and first-round pick Patrick Queen. John Harbaugh will give them an edge with his in-game decision-making, and the Ravens have the fourth-easiest schedule.
Atlanta Falcons (7.5): Under
The scenario in which the Falcons go over would involve Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley shredding opposing secondaries en route to a top-five offense. Atlanta went 6-2 in the second half of last season, and the defense improved after Raheem Morris took over as coordinator. So why go the other way? Even though the Falcons had the fifth-best injury luck in 2019, their offense ranked 15th in efficiency. Play caller Dirk Koetter offered no evidence he’s capable of catapulting the offense into a top-tier unit. The Falcons’ offensive line was one of the worst in the league, and the ceiling for that group this year is mediocrity. Throw in questions at cornerback and the league’s toughest projected schedule and they looks like a group destined to underachieve.
Buffalo Bills (9): Over
One way or another, the Bills will know after this season what Josh Allen’s ceiling is. There aren’t many quarterbacks who are better positioned to succeed. The Bills return all five starting offensive linemen and took a big swing to add Stefon Diggs in the offseason. Defensively, they had some turnover up front, but there’s a strong case to be made that the Bills are actually more talented than they were last season. Sean McDermott and his coaching staff give Buffalo an edge on most weeks, and they should benefit from continuity across the board.
Arizona Cardinals (7): Over
The biggest reason to be bullish on the Cardinals is that Kliff Kingsbury showed a willingness to adapt in his first season. That’s something we don’t see from many coaches even when they’re two, three or four years in. He improved his in-game management, moved to 12 personnel (one RB, two TEs, two WRs) and schemed up an impressive run game with Kenyan Drake. With the addition of DeAndre Hopkins and improvement from Kyler Murray, the ceiling for their offense is high. The questions come on the other side. If rookie Isaiah Simmons can have an instant impact or if the Cardinals get their money’s worth from free-agent signings Jordan Phillips or Devon Kennard, they can be a playoff team. If not, they’re probably a fun seven- or eight-win team.
Las Vegas Raiders (7.5): Over
The case for them to get to .500 is straightforward: The Raiders ranked ninth in offensive efficiency last year, return all five starting offensive linemen and added burner Henry Ruggs III at wide receiver in the first round of the draft. Derek Carr is never going to be Mahomes, but he’s shown mastery of Jon Gruden’s offense and can be one of the league’s more efficient quarterbacks when he has help around him. The defense isn’t going to be great, but it is more talented and should be more competent than it was a year ago. The Raiders could also benefit from better turnover luck. Is there a nightmare scenario in which Carr refuses to push the ball downfield, Gruden gets impatient and goes to Marcus Mariota, and it torpedoes their season? Of course. But if Carr plays like he did last year and is a little more aggressive, the Raiders could be a playoff team.
Los Angeles Chargers (7.5): Under
In a shortened offseason, they’re attempting to implement significant changes. The Chargers are going with Tyrod Taylor at quarterback and shifting to an offense that will make him a big part of their run game. Could they steal from the Ravens’ playbook? Sure. The only problem is they don’t have Jackson or Greg Roman. Taylor is 31 and was a disaster with the Browns two years ago. It’s more likely he loses the job to Justin Herbert halfway through the season than he leads a top-10 offense. The defense will shift away from its heavy Cover-3 scheme and look to play more man coverage. Its ceiling is high. But overall, given the changes they’re trying to make, the Chargers are one of the teams that may suffer the most from a lack of practice time.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9.5): Over
What makes the Bucs’ over attractive is they can win in different ways. Maybe Tom Brady, with the help of top-tier wide receivers, looks a lot better than he did last season with the Patriots. Or maybe he plays at a similar level and still offers an upgrade because he doesn’t turn the ball over like Jameis Winston. But it might be just as likely the Buccaneers produce a top-five defense. They return a league-high 84 percent of their snaps, including one of the best front sevens in the league. There’s always a sense of uneasiness when going with the hyped team, but plenty of signs point to Tampa Bay being legit.
Seattle Seahawks (9.5): Over
There are plenty of reasons to think the Seahawks could take a step back this season. They were 10-2 in one-possession games last season and had the sixth-best injury luck and the eighth-best fumble luck. Significant scheme changes on offense (#LetRussCook) seem unlikely, and while they made changes to the offensive line, the talent there could actually be worse than it was last season. But if we take a step back, the Seahawks have a top-three quarterback in Russell Wilson. He has never missed a start, and the Seahawks have never won fewer than nine games with Wilson as the starter. Throw in the Adams acquisition and the potential for a top-10 defense, and 10-plus wins seems like a realistic outcome.
Washington Football Team (5.5): Under
On average, about seven teams win five games or fewer in any given season. Is Washington one of the worst seven teams in the league? It sure looks that way. There’s a scenario in which Chase Young unlocks that defensive line and Washington is more competitive than many expect. But aside from Terry McLaurin, the cupboard is bare on offense, and whoever plays quarterback is going to have a difficult time reaching even mediocrity.
Only if you’re feeling really, really lucky
Green Bay Packers (9): Under
There are really only two ways this can go. One is Aaron Rodgers has a throwback year and flips the double bird to Matt LaFleur and Brian Gutekunst after every touchdown pass as the Packers smash the over and win the NFC North. The other is the Packers get off to a slow start, the clock starts ticking toward the Jordan Love era and Green Bay takes a step back from last season. The Packers have continuity going for them, but they also might not get the same breaks as last season when they were 8-1 in one-possession games.
Denver Broncos (7.5): Under
While a vocal segment of Broncos fans are convinced Drew Lock is the next John Elway, the rest of us want to see more than five starts before anointing him. And Lock might not be in as favorable a position as it seems. The Broncos have one of the worst offensive tackle situations in the league, and new play caller Pat Shurmur has produced mixed results in the past. A defense with Vic Fangio, Von Miller, Bradley Chubb and Justin Simmons has a high floor and a high ceiling. But the Broncos have the fifth-toughest schedule, and ultimately, it feels like they’re one year away from playoff contention.
Philadelphia Eagles (9.5): Over
The argument for the over is Carson Wentz, Doug Pederson and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz give the Eagles a high floor. The offensive line has questions, but the defensive line could be one of the league’s best with the addition of Javon Hargrave and a healthy Malik Jackson combined with mainstays Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham. The Eagles probably need either DeSean Jackson to stay (relatively) healthy or first-round pick Jalen Reagor to have an immediate impact to be a 10-win team.
Tennessee Titans (8.5): Over
They got hot in the playoffs but were a nine-win team last season. The case for the Titans is they’re expecting to get Ryan Tannehill for 16 starts, not just 10 like last season. Offensive coordinator Arthur Smith showed a real knack for scheming up explosive plays and catering his scheme to the Titans’ talent. Their kicking game and special teams were terrible last year. That’s an area where it’s reasonable to expect Tennessee to improve. And they face the league’s second-easiest projected schedule. Defensively, they were mostly a mediocre group, and unless they sign Jadeveon Clowney, it’s hard to find a path to significant improvement there.
San Francisco 49ers (10.5): Over
Super Bowl losers generally don’t fall off a cliff the following year. Of the last 10, nine have produced a winning record the following season. But there are legitimate reasons to take the under with the 49ers. They traded Buckner, and Deebo Samuel’s status for the first part of the season is in question. Still, they overcame bad injury luck last season to win the NFC. Their depth was really tested and they still won 13 games. Ultimately, the over is a bet on Kyle Shanahan figuring things out offensively and the defense being talented enough to compensate for Buckner’s departure.
Houston Texans (8): Under
Last year’s 10-6 record was flukey. The Texans got to that win total despite finishing with a minus-7 point differential. Maybe Bill O’Brien’s master plan will reveal itself, but I am not buying any argument about how their offense is better with Brandin Cooks, Randall Cobb and David Johnson instead of DeAndre Hopkins. The defense has very little going for it aside from J.J. Watt. And the Texans are going with new play callers on offense and defense. The reason why betting the under isn’t a sure thing is because Deshaun Watson has the ability to put the team on his back and carry the Texans to nine wins.
Jacksonville Jaguars (4.5): Under
On average over the last 10 years, 4.7 teams win four games or fewer in any given season. The Jaguars are a good bet to fall into that group. Normally, the team that has the lowest projected win total is a disaster at quarterback. That’s not necessarily the case with the Jaguars as Gardner Minshew did some legitimately impressive things as a rookie. But the talent around him is bad, and Doug Marrone has not found a way to give the Jaguars an edge in any specific area.
(Leon Halip / Getty Images)
Stay away, please, I’m begging you
Detroit Lions (6.5): Under
They were 3-12-1 last season, but the advanced numbers suggest the Lions were more like a six-win team. Detroit went 0-8 after losing Matthew Stafford to injury and were 3-8 overall in one-possession games. Can it be as simple as thinking they’ll win more games with a healthier Stafford? I am skeptical. Stafford played out of his mind last year, and that type of performance will be difficult to sustain for a 16-game season. But the biggest issue with taking the over is the coach. Maybe Patricia will find his way in his third season, but usually two years in, you’d like to be able to point to one area where the head coach gives his team an edge. The defense has been a disaster, he’s butted heads with multiple veteran players and Patricia has been one of the most conservative coaches in the league. Again, there’s a logical case for taking the over, given how low this number is, but there are just too many questions with Patricia to feel good about taking that side.
Chicago Bears (8): Under
There’s a path back to the playoffs. If Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles can combine to give them something that resembles mediocre quarterback play, the defense might be enough to carry the Bears. Adding Robert Quinn to a defensive line that includes Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks gives Chicago one of the league’s best pass rushes. If the offensive line were a little better or the Bears had one more pass-catching weapon or the run game projected to be more dynamic, it’d be tempting to take the over. But it’s tough to get to the point where nine wins feels more likely than seven.
Carolina Panthers (5.5): Under
There’s a scenario in which the Panthers emerge as a surprise team. Teddy Bridgewater, Christian McCaffrey and D.J. Moore create a solid foundation to work with. The problem is they could have one of the league’s worst offensive lines, and the Panthers are the only team with a new head coach, new offensive play caller, new defensive play caller and new starting quarterback. The defense is young and unproven. They could be better in the second half of the season and produce a couple of surprising upsets, but it’s tough to project them at six-plus wins.
Cleveland Browns (8.5): Over
It takes serious discipline to discount history before making this pick. The Browns have missed the playoffs for 17 straight seasons and have finished third or fourth in the AFC North in 12 straight seasons. But there’s reason to think Cleveland can bounce back from the Freddie Kitchens disaster. They addressed their offensive tackle situation by signing Jack Conklin and with first-round pick Jedrick Wills. The defense was slightly above average last year before Myles Garrett was suspended. And they have the league’s third-easiest projected schedule.
Miami Dolphins (6): Under
The job Brian Flores did last season creates some hesitation in taking the under. But with the Dolphins, it’s a talent issue, not a coaching issue. They are looking at potentially four new starting offensive linemen and two new play callers. Plus, they had two of their wide receivers opt out. The Dolphins were 5-11 last season, but all five wins were in one-possession games. They’ll be better this season, but seven or eight wins is a stretch.
Minnesota Vikings (9): Over
I’ve changed my opinion on them roughly 497 times over the course of the offseason. The Vikings lost Stefon Diggs, and once again their offensive line is a question. Defensively, their pass rush will almost certainly be worse with the loss of Everson Griffen. But I’m not convinced they’re taking a huge step back at cornerback. It’s possible Mike Zimmer can coach up his young defensive backs and they’ll actually perform better than the trio of Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander did last season. The case for the over is Zimmer and Gary Kubiak will be able to figure out how to get the best out of their players. The case for the under is the Vikings could really struggle on offense and are unlikely to be as lucky as last year, when they were the healthiest team in the league.
Pittsburgh Steelers (9): Under
They are the toughest team to project. The Steelers have a Super Bowl ceiling. There’s a realistic scenario in which Ben Roethlisberger stays healthy, the defense dominates and Pittsburgh wins the AFC North. But there are too many questions to feel good about taking the over. Roethlisberger is 38 and four of the Steelers’ five starting offensive linemen are 30 or older. It would be a lot easier to take the over if the Steelers had addressed their backup quarterback situation. But they needed a league-high 38 takeaways last season to stay afloat with Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges. Would they be able to withstand Roethlisberger going down again — even if it’s for a shorter period of time? Feeling confident about taking either side with the Steelers is pretty much impossible.