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We get our first real proof that NFL action is really back for our viewing pleasure Thursday night when the Cowboys (-1, 35.5) play the Cardinals in Canton, Ohio for the Hall of Fame game.

It’s only preseason with many of the starters playing only a series or two, but it’s still football and will be bet more than any real MLB game on Thursday.

The Cardinals represent one of the two teams I think are undervalued in 2017. Between the Cardinals and Panthers, I think they will be two of the most rapidly adjusted teams in regards to team ratings from where they’re at now and where they’ll be by the halfway point. This presents great value in almost every proposition offered on them now at Las Vegas sportsbooks.


To make the playoffs: YES +175, NO -200 (Westgate)

Season win total: 8.5 (South Point)

In 2015, Arizona had the No. 1 offense (399 ypg) in the NFL and went 14-4, ending with an NFC Championship game loss at Carolina. There was plenty of optimism coming into 2016 with many experts, such as the folks at Sports Illustrated, picking them to win the Super Bowl.

Things never materialized. The Cards came with almost the same roster, but started the season 1-3 and never recovered, finishing with a 7-8-1 record and, of course, missing the playoffs. Everything that could go wrong did and it happened regularly. Special teams routinely killed them: long snapper, holder and kicker all contributed to four of the late game losses.

I like head coach Bruce Arians to turn things around in 2017 and make the playoffs. QB Carson Palmer is in his 14th season and the healthiest of his career. In the past two seasons in Arizona he missed only one game.

David Johnson comes into his prime years as a running-back in his third season. He broke through last season with MVP-type numbers rushing for 1,239 yards, catching 80 passes for 879 yards and scoring 20 TDs. Mr. Cardinal, Larry Fitzgerald, posted another 1,000 yard season (his eighth) in his 13 years and he’s in shape like a rookie in training camp. The defense was actually giving up less yards last season than 2015. Plus they improved their secondary and linebackers through the draft. It all looks promising.

Those late mistakes by the kicking game last season were basically the difference between them making the playoffs. They also failed to go downfield with deep balls in 2016 like they had so much success with in 2015. I think both those things take care of themselves in 2017. The Cards are in line to win 11 games and maybe take the division. And if thinking Super Bowl, you can get 30-to-1 odds at South Point to win it.

Bettors at the South Point already jumped on the season win total at 7.5 and bet it up to 8.5. I like that move and I also support the OVER win total. It’s going to be a fun year in Phoenix in what comes down to getting off to a good start and staying healthy. They’re getting +2.5 in Week 1 at Detroit and that’s a great situation to show their might – Arizona won 42-17 at Detroit in 2015. The line is saying these two teams are equal (+2.5 for Detroit’s home field) – and that’s laughable. In Week 2 they play at Indianapolis and QB Andrew Luck might not be playing, so a 2-0 start is looking good.

Their home opener is a Monday Night game in Week 3 at home against Dallas (+2). They should be beaming with confidence and get the win. Then the Cards get San Francisco (-9), go to Philly (+2), host Tampa Bay (-3), and then play the Rams (-3) in London. When their bye week comes around they could realistically be 7-0 against teams where only Dallas has a higher rating.


To make the playoffs: YES -110, NO -110 (Westgate)

Season win total: 9 OV (South Point)

The Panthers, who were 17-2 in 2015, didn’t forget how to win. They just got involved in a Super Bowl hangover that lasted a little longer than wanted. They had no control of it either. It piled on quickly. The Panthers had to play the Broncos in the first week, and lost again. They would go on to drop five of their first six games. They were embarrassed and the body language was terrible in finishing 6-10. But they’re going to be back strong in 2017 with one of the best athletes in the NFL in QB Cam Newton, off a season where he led the league with the worst completion percentage (52.9%).

Newton is a great front runner and the slow start killed his confidence, but this season starts off with three very winnable games. They open the season at San Francisco where they’re 5-point favorites. Then it’s home games against Buffalo (-3.5) and New Orleans (-3). That looks like a very achievable 3-0 start.

Week 4 is when we really see just how good the Panthers are when they go to New England. CG Technology books posted the Patriots as a 9-point favorite.

Carolina will be fine even if they lose that game. I’m expecting first-round draft pick RB Christian McCaffrey and second-round pick WR Chris Samuel to both have positive impacts in their rookie year. Ultimately, the Panthers’ key to success rests on Newton’s shoulders. Missing the playoffs after making them the previous three seasons should leave a nasty taste in his mouth and keep him motivated all off-season.

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