With the 2013 NFL Season all set to kickoff, Joe Falchetti has analyzed each division and provided some their top values for divisional betting along with a small snippet of the state of each team as it heads into the season. Unlike many other prediction type articles you will find online – we are not dealing in absolutes.
Meaning that, we’re taking betting odds into our decision making and not just determining which team may win the division, but instead looking for the teams will the right price. Divisional odds will change week-to-week, but this is an excellent starting point to see how the oddsmakers feel about each team stacked up against familiar opponents.
This article is split into two parts due to length. You can find the 2nd part on the NFC Betting Preview 2013 here.
New England Patriots -300
Unsurprisingly, the Patriots lead the pack as rather large favorites in the AFC East, a division they have won 9 out of the last 10 seasons. This year looks to be another repeat.
The offense is full of fresh new faces as Brandon Lloyd was cut by the Pats in the offseason and Wes Welker left via free agency to Denver. Danny Amendola has looked spry in the preseason, but health has always been a question mark for the new primary passing option for Tom Brady.
Most of the offensive attack may surprisingly be built around the Patriots rushing attack. New England ranked 7th in rushing last season, and they look to be even better this season. The offensive line is excellent and workhorses Steven Ridley and Shane Vereen are primed for monster years.
New England’s defense has been nothing special the past few years, but part of that is because it doesn’t need to be. Opponents are seemingly always playing catch up, and while they do give up plenty of yards through the air, they force a lot of turnovers. The defense has been stout against the run for a number of years, and we look for that to continue.
Miami Dolphins +325
It is tough to say Miami is in a “rebuilding mode” but the team still looks a year or two away from actually competing for a playoff spot, let alone a Super Bowl. Gone are running back Reggie Bush, tackle Jake Long and wide receiver Davone Bess, but there are a couple new faces in South Beach.
Second year QB Ryan Tannehill will lead the offense once again with a new weapon in Mike Wallace who comes over from Pittsburgh after a Pro Bowl season in Pittsburgh. The offensive line may certainly be a question mark, which worries us about Tannehill’s upside, but he has shown he can make things happen when the pocket breaks down. Although it may be a lot tougher for Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas to find holes to move the chains.
Defensively, lineman Cameron Wake anchors a defense that will be critical to the Dolphin’s success this season. Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett are both gone, and the team has brought in former-Raven Dannell Ellerbe to lead a team of young linebackers. The secondary seems to be around average, but there are some question marks and depth issues at cornerback.
Buffalo Bills +900
We’re going from a semi-rebuilding team in Miami to full on rebuilding mode with the Buffalo Bills. They bring in a new head coach in Doug Marrone and will go with rookie EJ Manuel at starting quarterback.
The Bills offense will be primarily be based on the running game no matter who is at quarterback and fans should look for a heavy dose of CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson. Spiller is a dynamic player who can cut on a dime and still grind out tough yards. He is projected to be one of the top running backs this season. The offensive line will miss guard Andy Levitre, but the unit has looked solid in the preseason.
I’d expect to see a lot of two and three running back sets, and the coaching staff has worked on a pistol package that has been effective in the preseason which would put Manuel, Spiller and Jackson all on the field at once.
The defense has been revamped with new coordinator Mike Pettine and will be attacking defenses with more blitzes. They will likely move from a 3-4 to a 4-3 front and may start Mario Williams at outside linebacker. The Bills were above-average last year against the pass, if they can improve against the run they could be a top 10 defense.
New York Jets +1400
The Jets round out the AFC East as significant underdogs to win the division. New York drafted Geno Smith to take over at quarterback eventually, but Mark Sanchez was given the starting nod up until his injury in the preseason. Sanchez looks to be out till Week 3 or 4, so it looks like Smith will start under center for the Jets, at least for the time being.
The Jets offensive line is actually decent, but a lack of receiving talent and skill at the quarterback position has held them back for years. Geno Smith is raw talent and though he has plenty of upside, it could be a long year for the rookie. Top passing option Santonio Holmes is still injured and likely be will not be an option for the early part of the season. The running game has looked weak in the preseason, but Chris Ivory, acquired from the Saints via trade has not been fully healthy either.
The defense lost one of the best cornerbacks in the league and perhaps in Jets’ history in Darrell Revis via trade with Tampa Bay. The rest of the defense has been solid, especially with the play of Antonio Cromartie which should lessen the loss of Revis. Still, the defense will be on the field pretty often judging the by the Jets’ offensive weapons and fatigue and injury may hamper their performance.
It is hard to be excited about any team in this division knowing the Patriots as we mentioned above, win this nearly every year. At -300, the Pats are still slightly attractive to bettors as we think there is still some value even as a heavy favorite.
As far as underdogs go, the Bills are the most attractive of this group at +900. EJ Manuel, if he can stay healthy, he could have a chance to turn his season into a blockbuster rookie year like we saw last year out of Luck, Wilson and Kaepernick. His athletic ability meshes well in a run first offense, and he should get plenty of opportunities to throw downfield with the play-action. The defense’s improvement will be crucial as well, but the Bills could be the surprise team out of the AFC this year.
Cincinnati Bengals +180
The Bengals come into the season the favorite to win the AFC North, but not by much. This division is as up-in-the-air as any in football, and Cincinnati will have to work hard to make their fourth straight playoff appearance in four seasons.
Offensively, there’s a lot to like. Cincy boasts perhaps the best receiver in football in A.J. Green and a satisfying core of offensive firepower for future with running back Giovani Bernard, Mohammad Sanu and Tyler Effiert at receiver and tight end, respectively. Andy Dalton is not a world beater but he has got a formidable offensive line and plenty of weapons to work with in this offense.
The defense could also be one of the best in football. Few teams have a defensive line as disruptive as the Bengals and a solid line backing core to boot. If there is one question mark it is in the secondary but if others can step up to help Pro Bowler Leon Hall – this defensive unit could be excellent.
Pittsburgh Steelers + 210
The Steelers come into the season coming off an 8-8 record, which again saw Ben Roethlisberger succumb injuries and miss several games after the Steelers started off the season strong at 6-3. His health will be vital to a team that is in a bit of a transition as long time veterans have left the squad and there are some fresher faces at camp donning the black and gold.
Big Ben will be without one of his more reliable targets as Mike Wallace has left for free agency in Miami. This moves Emmanuel Sanders into the flanker position opposite Antonio Brown with Jericho Cotchery and rookie Markus Wheaton competing for playing time in the slot. Rookie running back Levon Bell looks to take the rushing duties once he becomes healthy. The offense line is young and has lacked continuity in the preseason but is oozing with talent.
The defense has plenty of guys who are getting older, but the group was still ranked first last season in defensive yards allowed. It is hard to imagine a massive drop off with much of the core still intact, plus some impressive rookies. Rookie Jarvis Jones looks to make up for the James Harrison’s absence and oft-injured safety, but Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu has looked excellent in the preseason.
Baltimore Ravens +225
Coming off their Super Bowl win last season, Baltimore has a target on their back and has lost many key players via free agency from last year. Joe Flacco, fresh off the most lucrative quarterback deal in NFL history will be relied on heavily to lead his team to the promise land once again.
The Ravens lost a reliable target to San Francisco via free agency in wide out Anquan Boldin, and disaster struck for Baltimore during the preseason when tight end Dennis Pitta went down with a season ending injury. This leaves Torrey Smith and Ray Rice to shoulder much of the load for the Ravens offensively.
While the offense was hurt via free agency, the defense was gutted. Gone are safeties Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard, along with linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger. Long time, sure Hall-of-Famer, linebacker Ray Lewis has retired. Still, the unit boasts a healthy Terrell Suggs and a roster of guys who still want to defend their Super Bowl title.
Cleveland Browns +500
The Browns have perpetually underachieved for what seems like decades, but the team finished the year strong in 2012 and have a nice nucleus of players that could develop into something special.
Brandon Weeden and the Browns offense have looked dynamic in the preseason with tight end Jordan Cameron emerging as a redzone threat, along with Gregg Little and deep threat Josh Gordon in the receiving core. Trent Richardson will carry the full load at running back and much of the season will ride on his success between the tackles.
Cleveland’s defense is much more accomplished than their offense. The unit boasts plenty of playmakers, most notably shut-down cornerback Joe Haden who could be the best cornerback in the league. The Browns defense is strong and should help them stay in most ball games.
This division is as tough as any to predict but in a way that is a plus because all the teams have some plus odds payouts. In our opinion, the Ravens have lost too much on both sides of the ball, and Flacco has not yet proven himself to be in the upper echelon of QBs, despite Baltimore’s Super Bowl win.
The most intriguing team besides the favorite Bengals is Pittsburgh, who has much of their Championship core intact and the best quarterback in the division in Ben Roethlisberger. The defense got a bit unlucky last year in points allowed and is younger and healthier this year. If the offensive line can get up to speed quickly, Big Ben will have plenty of time to throw the ball downfield and the running game will flourish. At +210, Pittsburgh is a decent bet to double your money in the AFC North.
Houston Texans -250
After languishing for years without making the playoffs, Houston has made the postseason for the past two years and ripped off a 12-win season in 2013. The Texans seem to be above average on both sides of the ball, but have not yet been able to book a trip to the Super Bowl.
If there is a weak spot on this team, it could be the offense. Running back and former NFL MVP Arian Foster is beginning to break down, but he should be healthy for the season opener. Matt Schaub is uninspiring but actually fits Kubiak’s West Coast offense quite well. The offensive line is banged up, and it will be crucial to the Texans success for the unit to stay healthy.
It would be a sin for us to talk about the defense without mentioning defensive end, J.J Watt. Watt is the best defensive player in the NFL and causes havoc at the line of scrimmage better than anyone else in the league. Ed Reed comes over from Baltimore to play strong safety and will be strong a veteran influence on a young secondary. Brian Cushing, the Texans top linebacker for several years is now fully healthy after missing all of last season with injury.
Indianapolis Colts +240
Last season the Colts turned their franchise around much faster than most expected, rebounding from a 2-14 season to post an 11-5 record in 2012. Led by rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, Indianapolis rattled was the feel good story of the NFL last year.
Luck was responsible for much of Indy’s success last year, despite the fact that he was sacked 41 times behind a poor offensive line. The line will need to improve their play if the Colts have any chance of making it to the postseason again. Ahmad Bradshaw comes over from the Giants to be the bell-cow back in this offense and should help to take the load off Luck. Still, the young QB has plenty of weapons in the Mr. Reliable in Reggie Wayne and the emerging T.Y. Hilton, along with tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener.
Indianapolis certainly has a weak spot in their defense. While they were a bit lucky last year to not be exposed in critical games and had Luck putting up points to mask their deficiencies – that will need to change this year. Gone is Dwight Freeney, but coming over from free agency is Erik Walden from the Packers to replace him. LaRon Landry comes over from the Jets to add some physicality to the secondary.
Tennessee Titans +800
Following Jeff Fisher’s departure a few years ago, Tennessee looked to be on the cusp of becoming a playoff contender, but followed up their 9-win season in 2011 with a disappointing 6-10 effort last season.
The Titans will need to use this season to find out what they have in quarterback Jake Locker, who no doubt has the arm strength to be an NFL QB and the mobility, but may lack the accuracy to throw downfield. Locker has plenty of weapons in Kenny Britt, Nate Washington and Kendall Wright, along with a versatile running back in Chris Johnson. Much of Tennessee’s season rests on how Locker develops.
The defense was among the NFL’s worst last year, allowing a lead leading 29.4 points per game last season. The Titans addressed the defense heavily in the draft, getting themselves some solid depth in the secondary and upfront. In free agency, they grabbed safety Bernard Pollard from the Ravens and signed George Wilson from the Bills.
Jacksonville Jaguars +2800
Jacksonville is a team in transition after a dismal 2012 campaign which saw them post the worst record in franchise history at 2-14. Gone is head coach Mike Mularkey as new general manager David Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley look break the trend of losing in Jacksonville.
Blaine Gabbert, much like Tennessee’s Jake Locker will be the key to the Titans success this season. Like Locker, Gabbert was among the most sacked quarterbacks last season and the Jags haven’t improved much on their offensive line. Gabbert is not without playmakers though, Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon have shown flashes of brilliance and running back Maurice Jones-Drew is healthy again and has looked fantastic in preseason action.
The Jaguars defense was subpar against the run and pass and will need to improve drastically for this team to stay in games. They hired a new coordinator and focused on the secondary in the draft, grabbing safety Jonathan Cyprien and cornerback Dwayne Gratz. Both rookies look to be starters in what looks to be a young inexperienced unit.
While this division seems to be between the heavily favorite Texans and Colts, I think the Titans may have upset potential if things fall into place for them. Locker has a cannon, and their new offensive coordinator has the team moving the ball impressively in the preseason. Houston is the least reliable heavy favorite on this board at -250 and in our opinion is a terrible wager at those odds. I think last year was an aberration for the Colts and they fall back down to earth this season, their defense is not particularly convincing, and only a spectacular season from Luck will take them back to the playoffs.
As far as big-time plus odds in this division, Jacksonville is a few years away at least, but the Titans at +800 might not be closer than many think. They have some serious offensive weapons and veteran leadership along with two revamped schemes on offense and defense.
Denver Broncos -300
After a slow start last season, the Broncos finished their season with an impressive 11-game win streak before falling to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens in an overtime thriller in the divisional round. Peyton Manning and crew are in win-now mode and their goal is a Super Bowl Championship.
Offensively, the Broncos are as stacked as any team in the league. Manning has plenty of weapons at wide receiver with Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and the newly acquired Wes Welker. The running back situation is a bit influx, but it looks to be a backfield by committee with Lance Ball and Knowshon Moreno sharing most of the load. Both the passing and running games will benefit from Denver’s elite offensive line.
Denver’s defense was impressive last year and despite losing Von Miller to a six game suspension and Champ Bailey being out for several weeks to start the season the outlook for this defense looks bright. They bought in Dominique-Rodgers Cromartie and young corner Chris Harris has emerged as one of the better backups in the league. The linebacking core is young but may have some issues with depth.
Kansas City Chiefs +400
After a strong 2011, the Chiefs headed into 2012 with high hopes, but ended up finishing with the worst record in franchise history at 2-14. After hiring former Eagles’ coach Andy Reid and trading for Alex Smith, Kansas City hopes this can be the year that they turn it around.
Reid and Smith seem to be a match made in heaven, at least in the mind of Andy Reid. The longtime Eagles coach tried to acquire him via trade even when he was in Philadelphia and thinks highly of the veteran QB. Smith has been given the “game manager” tag by some, but he is unquestionably an upgrade over the Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn QB tandem of last year. Jamal Charles is explosive to say the least, will keep the defense honest, and could make the play-action deadly for Kansas City.
The Chiefs defense was not excellent last year, but it was unquestionably the bright spot due to their porous offense. They have a loaded secondary and strong line backing core led by Tamba Hali, but will need to rush the passer more effectively to become an above average defense.
San Diego Chargers +600
The Chargers have retooled the organization from a front office perspective after a disappointing 2012 season. Though San Diego was in plenty of games last season and pulled off some notable wins, inconsistent play and personnel issues have put them in a tough spot going forward. It will be up to new GM Tom Telesco and head coach Mike McCoy to turn this franchise around.
The problems could be much of the same for Rivers and the offense as they took a massive blow when they lost starting wide out Danario Alexander to a torn ACL at the beginning of the season, which makes up an already unproven receiving core of Malcolm Floyd and Vincent Brown even less appetizing. Ryan Mathews has looked excellent in the preseason, but he has struggled with injury issues in the past and the Chargers’ poor offensive makes it tough to rely on the running game.
San Diego ranked near in the middle of the pack last year against both the pass and the run defensively. Many of the same faces remain, and the most notable move was the offseason signing of Dwight Freeney to play outside linebacker. Manti Te’o, a first round pick will start at the middle linebacker slot. Safety Eric Weddle leads a secondary that is young but has potential.
Oakland Raiders +2000
Oakland is perhaps the Black Sheep of the AFC, and certainly the AFC West, but the franchise is looking forward not back and have made some coaching changes as well as brought in two new quarterbacks. It will be too early to start thinking about the Silver and Black in the playoffs, but the Raiders could play spoiler down the stretch to some playoff contenders.
The Raiders have traded Gregg for Gregg on offense. Gregg Knapp is gone, and Gregg Olson takes over the offensive coordinator duties for Oakland. He looks to instill a run first offense with Darren McFadden leading the charge. McFadden is a talented back but seems to consistently have injury problems and running behind a poor o-line. Terrell Pryor gets the nod over Matt Flynn for the starting QB job, but both have looked terrible in recent action.
The Raiders cut most of their defensive roster from last season, which was a little shocking because the defense was only slightly below the league average against the pass and run last year. Gone are familiar faces Richard Seymour, Shawtae Spencer and Rolando McClain, along with a host of other players. However, their offseason acquisitions may put them in a better position to compete this year. Charles Woodson and Tracey Porter have come over in free agency and first round pick D.J. Hayden has impressed in camp.
The division seems all but locked for the Broncos, but as the saying goes, “that’s why they play the games.” At -300, they are tied for the largest divisional favorite with New England. We don’t particularly see value in that bet because Denver still does have some question marks, along with an aging QB who is still two years removed from serious neck surgery – even if his name is Peyton Manning.
As much as I want to bet on a team +2000, I can’t imagine the Raiders putting together even an average season. The Chargers seem to have too many holes already and were terrible last year. However, Kansas City could surprise.
Andy Reid has fawned over Alex Smith for at least a season, and while some may question Reid’s ability as a head coach, his record over his career speaks for itself. A Kansas City revival is absolutely possible with Reid at the helm, and he may just have the roster to do it. At +400, we’re willing to gamble on them.
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