This preview looks at the NFC divisions and is somewhat of a continuation of the 2013 AFC Betting preview I wrote yesterday. I feel posting both of them together would dilute their value due to the amount of information in both.
Dallas Cowboys +200
The Cowboys almost always look impressive on paper, but have failed to do much beyond the first round of the playoffs since their glory days in the 1990s. In the offseason, Jerry Jones hired Monty Kiffin to revamp the defense and has reduced head coach Jason Garrett’s role in the offense.
Dallas has had issues with protecting the quarterback for a numbers of years now, and this year is not looking any different. The offensive line has been riddled with injuries throughout camp which will likely leave Tony Romo vulnerable again. However, Wide receiver Dez Bryant is poised for a recording breaking season and Miles Austin has become a reliable target in this offense. Demarco Murray’s health has always been a question mark for the rushing attack, but the team is hoping that he can put his health problems aside and have a strong year.
The defense has a chance to be exceptional in Dallas, but continuity could be a problem for players unfamiliar with Monte Kiffin’s new scheme. The team will move back from to a 4-3 instead of a 3-4 under the new playbook. The Cowboys defense is as talented as ever though and once players becoming familiar with the system they could easily be one of the NFL’s best.
New York Giants +200
Two years removed from a Super Bowl Championship the Giants had a relatively quiet offseason as they look to regain their championship form in 2013. With special players on both sides of the ball and a refocused Eli Manning they could do just that.
Manning does struggle with inconsistency at times, but when he is on his game, things usually seem to fall into place for the G-Men. He is loaded with offensive weapons this year with the newly re-signed Victor Cruz and fully healthy Hakeem Nicks. David Wilson takes over at running back for the departed Ahmad Bradshaw and will be relied on heavily, especially since backup Andre Brown broke his leg in the preseason.
New York’s defensive strength is normally up front, but that may not be the case this year. Jason Pierre-Paul’s season is in jeopardy after offseason back surgery and the defense has been shuffled around to try and make up for his absence. The secondary was not great last year, but the Giants haven’t made many roster changes. Prince Amukamara and Corey Webster will both return to their starting spots at cornerback. This unit will need to improve a lot from last year if the Giants want to make the playoffs.
Washington Redskins +250
Washington looks to build on their postseason berth last season as it appears Robert Griffin III is fully recovered from offseason ACL surgery and able to go for Week 1. The Skins have brought mostly everyone back from their successful campaign from last season.
It will be intriguing to see how Washington runs their offense this season. RG3 will still be the focus, but how aggressive they will be when it comes to running plays and read options for their young quarterback may differ from last season. I’d expect Alfred Morris to be relied on more heavily this season, and he has got the legs to do it. He ran for over 1600 yards in his rookie season last year, second to only Adrian Peterson.
Washington’s defense was terrible last year, ranking 28th overall and dead last against the pass. Due to injuries, suspensions and a lack of new personnel, I hardly see that changing in 2013. They went defense back heavy in the draft, and may have to rely 2013 picks David Amerson and Bacarri Rambo to provide a spark in the secondary.
Philadelphia Eagles +400
It has been an fascinating offseason to say the least for the Eagles, who cut ties with longtime coach Andy Reid and hire Oregon’s Chip Kelly to get Philly back into the playoffs. Also returning is Michael Vick who hopes to finally gain the trust of Eagles’ fans and coaches.
Kelly ran the fastest offense in the preseason, and that likely will not change once the games start counting for real. Vick has an excellent offensive line surrounding him and will need to get the ball out quickly and be efficient if he wants to keep his starting job. Jeremy Maclin is out for the season, putting a ton of pressure on DeSean Jackson and Riley Cooper. Coach Kelly relies on strong running game and he has a perfect back to rely on in LeSean McCoy. If Kelly’s system clicks with this roster – watch out NFL.
The Eagles defense was one of the worst last season, despite their talented lineup on paper. Gone are disappoints Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Replacing them are several free agents, most notably Patrick Chung and Cary Williams. The defense will also change from a 4-3 to a 3-4. This defense looks to be better than last year’s unit, but that is not saying much.
This division is perhaps the most hotly contested in football with all four teams having a legitimate shot at taking down the title. The team with the most talented roster looks to be Dallas, but there always seems to be some sort of drama in Big D that seems to derail their season. Still, at 2 to 1, the Cowboys are enticing if you buy into the perpetual hype of this franchise.
I’m just not sold on a Redskins repeat performance from last year and would rather take the Giants at +200 than gamble on Washington. Both of these teams have a long list of question marks and have not seemed to address any of their needs this offseason.
Call me crazy, but the Eagles at +400 look an excellent bet. Chip Kelly’s offense looks like a nice fit for this roster, and I think the whole team has a bit of a chip on their shoulder, especially Michael Vick. They addressed their needs in the offseason, and though the defense is not anything remarkable, it should keep games close and has the upside to be great.
Green Bay Packers -140
The Packers are another team that is again searching for their championship form in 2013. The Pack got beaten down by the 49ers in the playoffs last year, but any team with Aaron Rodgers behind center is a yearly Super Bowl threat.
Rodgers targets have changed since last season with Gregg Jennings leaving for Minnesota and Donald Driver retiring. The receiving core of Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb is still one of the best in the NFL, especially with former NFL MVP Rodgers throwing them the ball. The offensive line has been retooled and will hopefully provide better protection for the franchise QB. Green Bay drafted Eddie Lacy in the first round of this year’s draft to help their suspect running game, as well.
The defense lost a veteran leader Charles Woodson, but has a young core of defensive players who look to improve on last year’s performance. Cornerback Casey Heyward was excellent last season as a rookie and he lines up alongside Morgan Burnett. Linebacker Brad Jones and B.J. Raji anchor a defense that is determined to improve against the run.
The Bears won 10 games last year, but failed to miss the playoffs after a strong start to the season. This led to longtime head coach Lovie Smith being fired and the Bears hiring Marc Trestman.
Trestman is an offensive guru who is going to go with a West Coast style offense which will utilize short passes and a strong running game. Quarterback Jay Cutler will need to learn the system quickly and prove to his coach and ownership that he can succeed in Chicago in the final year of his deal. Brandon Marshall, Cutler’s favorite target is back and so is Matt Forte, still one of the most exciting running backs in the league.
The Bears have a solid defense, just like they seem to have every season. Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings make up one of the best cornerback tandems in the league, and though they lost Brian Urlacher to retirement last year, their front 7 is still looking excellent.
Detroit Lions +450
After an impressive 10-6 season in 2011 that put the Lions back in the playoffs for the first time in over a decade, Detroit posted a dismal 4-12 record last season. Brimming with talent on both sides of the ball, the Lions are in a make or break year for their franchise.
Matthew Stafford will have his reliable targets of last year in Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson, minus Titus Young, who is now out of the league. Ryan Broyles may also emerge a reliable threat downfield. The biggest offseason acquisition for Detroit is Reggie Bush who comes over to the Lions after spending two years in Miami. He should help take the pressure off Calvin Johnson and give Stafford a brilliant short to mid-range target.
Detroit’s defense is a mixed bag, and much of their success will depend on injury issues. Upfront they may have the best defensive line in the league, led by Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and rookie Ziggy Ansah. Strong safety Louis Delmas is finally healthy after two injury plagued seasons and is an influential veteran leader on this defense.
Minnesota Vikings +600
The Vikings were the surprise of the NFC last season going 10-6 and grabbing a Wild Card berth before falling to the Packers in the second round. This was mostly in part to a historic season by running back Adrian Peterson who rushed for the second most yards in NFL history.
One of the biggest question marks coming into the season is quarterback Christian Ponder. He had one of the worst seasons among starting QBs last season. Ponder’s seat is a little hotter this year with Matt Cassel being brought over to back him up. He will need to play well to keep his starting job. Gregg Jennings comes over from the Packers to become his primary receiver, and first round pick Cordarrelle Patterson looks to make an immediate impact.
It is a shame Minnesota’s offense has so many question marks besides Peterson because their defense is actually pretty stout, even with the loss of Antoine Winfield in the offseason. Chris Cook and Josh Robinson will man the cornerback positions instead, and both are talented defensive backs. Jared Allen leads a defense that has had trouble attacking the passer, but is solid against the run.
Call me a sucker, but the Packers at -140 might be the best bet on the board. Green Bay has question marks like every other team, but it is hard not to love their chances of repeating at such a lucrative price.
The Bears and Vikings in my opinion have too many questions marks to be worthy of a wager, but I do like the Detroit Lions at +400. Reggie Bush could be a game changer and allow deep threats in Calvin Johnson and Ryan Broyles to easily get open downfield. The defense is better than most think, and the pressure is on head coach Jim Schwartz to get the job done.
Atlanta Falcons +140
Atlanta’s Mike Smith and Matt Ryan finally got over the “hump” last year and won a playoff game, before losing in the next round to the eventual Super Bowl runners up in the San Francisco 49ers.
Matt Ryan can take another step forward this year, even after career numbers in 2012. He has Mr. Reliable in Roddy White, deep threat Julio Jones and the veteran presence of Tony Gonzalez all ready to roll again this year. The offseason signing of Steven Jackson to take over the rushing duties could be one of the best signings of the year. Jackson is a massive upgrade over the now jobless Michael Turner and backup running back Jacquizz Rodgers.
The defense was not accomplished last year, and it is worth noting they could be worse off this season. The Falcons let defensive end John Abraham go in the offseason, a move which they may regret. The secondary is just ordinary. Asante Samuel seemed to find a rebirth in the ATL last season, but the veteran CB is on the wrong side of 30. The Falcons did little to address their issues with stopping the run in the offseason, something that is likely to haunt them again this year.
New Orleans Saints +170
Sean Payton is back as head coach of the Saints after his season-long suspension for his role in the bounty scandal when New Orleans won the Super Bowl. There’s no doubt everyone in the Big Easy is happy about Payton’s return as he looks to get New Orleans back in the postseason in 2013.
New Orleans is loaded offensively with quarterback Drew Brees as the helm once again and fully healthy Jimmy Graham. Graham can take over a game with his dominance at the tight end spot, adding to an already explosive core of receivers that include Lance Moore and Marques Colston. The Saints have one of the best offensive lines in football and three headed rushing attack in Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles. As crazy it as it sounds, the whole offense could be a lot better this year with Sean Payton back running the show.
New Orleans defense was historically woeful last year, which led to the firing of defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and the hire of Rob Ryan this offseason. Ryan is a genius defensive mind and should instantly improve the defense with his play calling, but the Saints have not overhauled their defensive personnel like they probably should have. The defense is a gigantic question mark this season in New Orleans.
Carolina Panthers +400
Quarterback Cam Newton knows this is a critical season for by his future in the league and the success of the franchise. Head coach Ron Rivera is on the hot seat as well, and there is almost no doubt he will be let go if this team does not make the postseason.
Newton does it all for Carolina, leading them in rushing yards last season and throwing for almost 4,000 yards the past two years. The ageless Steve Smith is still his go-to target downfield, and tight end Greg Olson is emerging as a top target, as well. The running back situation in Carolina always seems to be the same with Jonathan Stewart and DeAnglo Williams vying for carries. Williams will shoulder most of the load early on with Stewart sidelined for the first six weeks of the season.
The Panthers are thin defensively, which could be troublesome for a team that was one of the worst defensive units a season ago. Full of young guys with potential upside, Carolina cut cornerback Drayton Florence shortly after the last preseason game. Coaches are confident in their young defensive back and line backing core, which features rookie cornerback Josh Norman who was excellent in preseason action. However, as a whole, this group has plenty of question marks.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers +500
Tampa Bay started off last season strong before fizzling out in the latter third of the year. Second year head coach Greg Schiano brings a lot to this franchise and commands the respect of even the most grizzled of NFL veterans. The Buccaneers have had a flurry of moves this offseason and are looking to win now.
The season heavily depends on quarterback Josh Freeman who has truly only had one above average season in the league, his rookie year in 2010. He started off strong like most of the other Bucs last season but faltered down the stretch. Still, he has the support of his head coach and the front office this season and will have a long leash. He also has an explosive supporting cast. Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams are an excellent wide receiver tandem and second year running back Doug Martin will likely finish at a top 5 running back that is capable of winning games all by himself.
Tampa Bay ranked last in the NFL against the pass last year and they have addressed that need head-on. Darrelle Revis, the NFL’s best cornerback of the past few years comes over via trade from the New York Jets and instantly upgrades the secondary. Throw in safety Dashon Golden and some promising rookies and this defense looks to be a lot better this coming season.
This division is one of the toughest to predict as so many teams have question marks, and I’m personally not buying the Falcons as Super Bowl contenders. New Orleans has the championship pedigree and Sean Payton back, but their personnel is still not good enough, even for one of the best coaches in the league. Carolina’s coaching situation is dicey, and though this team has some fantastic pieces, they still might be a year or two away from winning this division.
At +500, Tampa Bay is a bargain. These odds are a gift for a team that has so many talented players at skill positions and has directly addressed their shortcomings during the offseason. Tampa Bay is flying under the radar this year and will surprise a lot of teams around the league.
San Francisco 49ers +110
The 49ers are fresh off a Super Bowl appearance in a close game that ultimately saw them lose to the eventual champion Baltimore Ravens. Unlike the Ravens, the Niners did not lose a bevy of key players to free agency and are poised to get back to the big game in 2013.
Colin Kaepernick begins his first full year at quarterback after Alex Smith’s departure to Kansas City. “Kaep” is a dynamic playmaker in the running game and has cannon for an arm. He also showed excellent accuracy throwing downfield last season. The backfield is still manned by the familiar and effective Frank Gore who is one of the most efficient and durable backs in the league.
Kaepernick’s favorite target from last year Michael Crabtree may miss the entire season, but Anquan Boldin acquisition softens that blow.
Defensively, San Francisco may have the best unit in the league. The loss of safety Dashon Golden hurts the secondary but first round pick Eric Reid has looked terrific in preseason action. Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis and other make up perhaps the best front 7 in the league. The front will continue to be a nightmare for opposing QBs and running backs all year long.
Seattle Seahawks +110
It is crazy how similarly constructed the Seahawks and 49ers are. Both teams have strong rushing attacks, strong defenses and athletic running QBs. Seattle’s formula will be much of the same this year after the team was one game away from the NFC Championship, falling to the Falcons in the divisional round.
Seattle’s star acquisition this offseason was wide out Percy Harvin, but unfortunately he is likely out for the whole season following hip surgery due to injury. This team will rely heavily on Russell Wilson and the power running game of Marshawn Lynch to win ball games.
Of course, Seattle’s defense is another tremendous reason they more often than not are within striking distance even against the NFL’s best. The unit could actually be better this season after the signing of defensive end Cliff Avril from Detroit. Also, the cornerback tandem of Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner may be the best in the league.
St. Louis Rams +500
The Rams could be the dark horse of this division and perhaps the NFC if things fall into place for the franchise. Jeff Fisher is as good of a head coach as anyone else in this league and no one should underestimate his affect on a franchise.
St. Louis lost longtime veteran Steven Jackson this offseason, along with exciting young wide out Danny Amendola. No worries though because the franchise has plenty of other building blocks. Chris Givens, rookie Tavon Austin and tight end Jared Cook all give Sam Bradford a bevy of options on offense. Much of St. Louis’ season will depend on the play of their young quarterback who needs to show management that he was worthy of being a first overall pick in 2010.
The Rams have an underrated defense and one of the NFL’s most talented defensive backs in Cortland Finnegan. Safety is more of a question mark with rookie T.J. McDonald manning one of spots, but an effective pass rush, like the Rams should have in 2013 will hopefully be able to mask some of this vulnerability.
Arizona Cardinals +2000
The Cardinals flew out of the gate last season rattling off a 4-0 start before it all went downhill. They finished the season 1-11 the rest of the way which led to the firings of head coach Ken Whisenhunt and GM Rod Graves, along with a host of other cuts and personnel moves.
Bruce Arians, who led the Colts through much of last season while Chuck Pagano was battling cancer, takes the reins in Arizona. Carson Palmer has been brought in to quarterback this team and may finally be able to utilize Larry Fitzgerald’s talents. It will be running back by committee for the most part with Rashard Mendenhall taking the primary back duties, at least for now.
This team was not very good last year, so bettors will see plenty of new faces, especially on defense. Jerraud Powers, Yeremiah Bell and Antoine Cason form the basis for a new secondary for the Cardinals. The defense is young and inexperienced for the most part, so there will likely be plenty of hiccups this season.
I love high odds wagers, but I can’t think of a scenario where the 49ers or Seahawks do not win this division. The Rams could possibly play spoiler, especially considering their 2-1-1 record last year against those two teams, but I truly think they are a year or so away. Arizona is way overmatched, and they are in for a long year.
Sophomore slumps are common place for rookie QBs in this league and Kaepernick and Wilson could both be susceptible to one. To me, Seattle is the total package on both offense and defense and Wilson is a true leader who can turn his WRs into stars with his skills. I would be more worried about Kaepernick’s options, (Anquan Boldin is not a strong number one wide receiver), so I have to give the edge to Seattle in this division, but not by much.