If you read my NFL previews over the summer months (eight different Wiseguy Reports, one for each division), you know that I had some pretty strong opinions about a good handful of teams prior to the start of training camp and preseason. In fact, 15 of the 32 NFL teams were on my initial short list for potential season win total bets, just shy of half the league. These were all teams that, on paper, looked better or worse than initial oddsmaker projections.
After watching three weeks of NFL Preseason action, most of my initial opinions have been reinforced, and the betting markets have agreed with the vast majority of the win total wagers that I’ve made and those I’ve advised my clients to make. That being said, I’ve changed my opinion on a handful of those 15 teams, in several cases rather strongly. In this week’s wiseguy report, I’m going to flesh out what I’ve seen in the Washington Redskins, Miami Dolphins, Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens that have me thinking very differently about those squads today compared to my opinion of them a month ago.
For the Redskins, the change in thought process is easy to understand – their competition in the NFC East sure doesn’t look at tough as it did! Dallas just lost Tony Romo (and don’t think for a minute that Dak Prescott is going to put up preseason-like numbers once he’s facing first string defenses when those D’s are actually blitzing and stunting). No team in the NFL has looked worse on offense in August than the Giants, with clear deficiencies on the offensive line and the receiving corps. And despite going 3-0 SU and ATS here in August, the Eagles are going through a major transition in styles with injuries riddling their lineup already.
Just by default, the Redskins look better, and when we factor in the changes in the season win total marketplace, their strength of schedule has declined rather dramatically. And from a ‘watch and learn’ perspective here in August, I’ve been extremely impressed with the Redskins skill position talent level – Kirk Cousins has weapons all around him. I was leaning under 7.5 wins last month; now I could only bet them over.
The Miami Dolphins were a dead nuts under team in my initial NFL analysis. An underachieving QB with ‘dump him at midseason and start looking at other guys’ potential, a very young, very inexperienced coaching staff and a top heavy roster that seemed to lack quality depth were my top three primary concerns.
But I’ve been impressed with just about everything I’ve read about first year, first time head coach Adam Gase and his coordinators Clyde Christensen and Vance Joseph. The Dolphins offensive line has ‘elite’ potential, which will make Ryan Tannehill’s life much easier while opening up holes for Jay Ajayi and Arian Foster. And with Cameron Wake finally healthy, joining Ndamukong Suh and Mario Williams on the defensive line, Miami’s potential strength in the trenches cannot be ignored. I was thinking under 7 wins in July. Now I could only bet them over.
For the Bears, my change of opinion has been all about the injury woes. This was a team primed to make a big jump in John Fox’s second year on the job. Remember, Fox took Carolina to the Super Bowl in his second year as the head coach of the Panthers. He did the same thing in his second year with the Broncos. For Chicago, an 8-8 record in his second year would (and will) cash Over bets. And with the NFC North facing a particularly weak slate of foes (NFC East and AFC South foes, plus Chicago’s two "extra" games come against San Fran and Tampa), the Bears looked pretty good on paper heading into August, especially after a modest spending spree on defense in free agency.
But make no mistake about it – no team in the NFC has more injury concerns coming into September than John Fox’s squad does. On a 90-man roster, 24 of them missed at least one practice last week – not counting the guys who were limited participants due to a nasty stomach virus that was floating around their facilities. They’ve suffered a series of injuries on the offensive line, and Jay Cutler is one QB I’m not in any rush to be betting on when his protection is subpar. This team has had a bad month, and I could only bet them under 7 wins at this stage of the preseason.
Baltimore set a team record last year, putting 20 players on injured reserve. The result was a 5-11 disaster, ending a streak of six playoff seasons in the past seven years, including a Super Bowl title for Joe Flacco and company. When the Ravens came into 2016 lined at 8.5 wins, my initial reaction was to take a good, hard look at that Under – they’d need a four win improvement to beat me. With a significant roster overhaul in the offseason, at first glance, the Ravens looked more like a rebuilding squad than a reloading one.
But from an organizational standpoint, there aren’t many superior organizations to what Baltimore has put in place throughout the GM Ozzie Newsome era. And what’s been readily apparent here in August is that the Ravens are loaded with quality depth. Look no further than how badly Baltimore’s second stringers outplayed Detroit’s first stringers in Week 3 of the preseason. Indy and Chicago both had similar injury woes, and both of those teams got annihilated on their own home fields in Week 3.
But the Ravens – short-handed on both sides of the line of scrimmage – showed off their improved depth and rolled the Lions. Good organizations make good personnel decisions and the Ravens woes from last year appear to be behind them. I’m not going to flip and suddenly look to bet Baltimore over 8.5 wins, but I have no interest in asking this team to finish at or below .500 this year in order to cash an under wager.