After a long six months following the Super Bowl, pining for football, and a seemingly similarly long time in August of mostly tough-to-watch practice games, the NFL season gets underway for real on Thursday night when the defending Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks host a team many consider the most likely to challenge for that crown, the Green Bay Packers.
Over the past month the eight Divisions have been previewed, with forecasts given for most of the teams’ chances for success or failure in achieving the number of wins posted by Las Vegas oddsmakers and those worldwide.
It’s now time to forecast which dozen NFL teams will be make the Playoffs and begin that “second season” in January with the goal of advancing to, and winning, Super Bowl 49 next February 2 in Glendale, Arizona.
Keep in mind it is almost always easy to make convincing cases for the teams that made the Playoffs last season. Yet history has shown often half the field that made the Playoffs one season fail to do so in the next.
The old adage holds: “offense wins games but defense wins championships.”
That may be especially true during the regular season as most of the ways the NFL has tinkered with the rules in recent season have been to favor offense. And it makes sense as the NFL seeks to attract even more casual fans who increasingly are becoming involved with various forms of fantasy football competition.
Of course many will claim, and with some valid arguments, that in many ways fantasy football is, in effect, a form of gambling and hence is being endorsed by the NFL and its corporate sponsors. Nevertheless, the NFL hopes with more offense in the game there will be more viewers, which will bring higher ratings and thus make for happy sponsors.
Scoring was at an all-time modern era high last season and there is no reason to expect any significant decline, if any at all, to occur this season.
The forecast is for Philadelphia to win the NFC East, possibly by several games. Green Bay should win the NFC North with Chicago finishing second and earning a Wild Card. New Orleans should win the NFC South although both Atlanta and Tampa Bay have excellent chances to have winning records. Seattle appears every bit as strong as last season and should win the NFC West over a San Francisco team that still has talent but might be in the early stages of a modest decline. Still, the 49ers rate the nod over Atlanta for the second NFC Wild Card.
New England should win yet another AFC East title and could well be the only team in the division to fashion a winning record. Baltimore is the pick to win the AFC North with Cincinnati and Pittsburgh both capable of having winning records and the Bengals getting the nod for one of the AFC Wild Cards.
Indianapolis is the class of the AFC South as QB Andrew Luck continues to improve. Denver is an obvious choice to win the AFC West assuming QB Peyton Manning stays healthy. But look for San Diego to finish a close second and earn the other AFC Wild Card.
It’s tough to repeat in the NFL and as such Seattle, although they should end a lengthy drought of defending Super Bowl champions failing to win even a single Playoff contest the following season, are predicted to not make it to the NFC Championship game. That game is forecast to be played between Philadelphia and New Orleans with the Saints winning and heading to the Super Bowl.
Over the weekend at the Westgate/LVH the Super Bowl odds for the Eagles were still a healthy 25 to 1 while the Saints were held at 7/1. To win the NFL the Eagles were 13/1, the Saints were 7/2, the Packers 5/1, the Bears 13/1, the Seahawks +225 and 49ers 5/1.
In the AFC it’s easy to pick Denver to return to the Super Bowl but several of the other teams picked to make the Playoffs are capable of defeating the Broncos. New England is stronger on defense this season and, playing in the otherwise weak AFC East, could well earn the top seed. Two other teams on the rise are Indianapolis and San Diego. The call is for New England to host Indianapolis for the AFC Title with the Patriots getting the win and then facing New Orleans in the Super Bowl.
At the Westgate/LVH the Patriots have 7/1 odds to win the Super Bowl with Indianapolis held at 22/1. Even San Diego, at 30/1 is attractively priced.
The odds to win the AFC Title for the teams forecast to make the Playoffs are Denver at 9/5, New England 3/1, Cincinnati and Indianapolis both at 9/1, Baltimore 12/1 and San Diego 13/1.
As to the team to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy next February 1 in Glendale, Arizona as champions of Super Bowl 49? A matchup between New Orleans and New England, with quarterbacks Drew Brees and Tom Brady, and two of the games’ best coaches in Sean Peyton and Bill Belichick, could produce an epic contest. The key to the forecast of both teams making it to the Big Game is based on each team having improved defenses.
The forecast is for New Orleans to earn its second Super Bowl win by defeating New England 27-23.
We’ll know the answer in 5 months.
In the meantime, best of luck to all of us this season.
Here’s a look at all 16 opening week matchups.
Green Bay +5½ at Seattle (46): The Packers have the edge at QB in terms of pure passing ability with Aaron Rodgers. But Seattle QB Russell Wilson’s versatility combined with his heady ability greatly narrows any perceived gap between the two. Although both are worth backing it’s hard not be impressed with the entire Seahawks culture that begins with head coach Pete Carroll. SEATTLE
New Orleans -3 at Atlanta (52): The Saints’ defense improved greatly last season and is poised to build on that this season. The 2014 Falcons figure to be less like the 2013 edition and more like the team that won 10 or more games and made the playoffs in 4 of 5 seasons from 2008 through 2012 which makes for an attractive home underdog. ATLANTA.
Minnesota +4 at St Louis (44): St Louis lost starting QB Sam Bradford to injury and will initially rely on journeyman Shaun Hill. Minnesota will rely on heavy dose of star RB Adrian Peterson to control the clock and keep their own defense on the sidelines. These teams may play a game reminiscent of old style hard knocking football. UNDER.
Cleveland +6½ at Pittsburgh (41): Coach Mike Pettine ushers in a new era in Cleveland football, the seventh such era since the Browns re-entered the NFL in 1999. And QB Brian Hoyer is the Browns’ twelfth different Opening Day starter over these 15 seasons. With two tough road games up next, the Steelers really cannot afford to take this game or this division opponent lightly. PITTSBURGH.
Jacksonville +10 at Philly (52½): Jacksonville should be a much improved team this season although it might not be reflected in their record. Philly coach Chip Kelly may be the best thing to happen to the NFL since Sean Peyton took over as coach in New Orleans. His up tempo, creative offense should be even more difficult to defend this season PHILADELPHIA.
Oakland +5 at NY Jets (40): Oakland is again trying to rebuild with a new starting QB (Matt Schaub) directing an offense that seems to be directionless. It may not be long before rookie Derek Carr takes over. Neither team can be comfortably relied upon to protect or extend a lead which means taking the points. OAKLAND.
Cincinnati +2 at Baltimore (43): Cincy starts this season with new coordinators on both sides of the football. The Ravens rate the edge both at QB and head coach and start the season with a hunger to return to the Playoffs. Even with RB Ray Rice suspended for the first two games the Ravens have adequate backups and have improved their receiving corps as well as their defensive talent. BALTIMORE.
Buffalo +6½ at Chicago (48½): Chicago’s offense flourished in coach Marc Trestman’s first season on the sidelines and should be even better this season. Buffalo’s defense should be its strength this season but it likely will have trouble containing the Bears’ well balanced, high powered offense. CHICAGO.
Washington +2½ at Houston (45): Houston cleaned house after going 2-14 last season when they were one of the preseason favorites to make a run at the AFC Title. Gone are coach Gary Kubiak and QB Matt Schaub. Washington also has a new head coach but QB Robert Griffin III did not look sharp during the summer and there are already factions calling for backup Kirk Cousins to replace RG III. HOUSTON.
Tennessee +4 at KC (43½): Tennessee takes a step backwards with a new head coach and although Ken Whisenhunt is highly thought of the roster is not strong enough to suggest early season success. The Chiefs are another team in need of a good opening day effort with two road games on deck. QB Alex Smith is a decent “game manager” with an elite RB (Jamaal Charles) and an aggressive defense. KANSAS CITY.
New England -4½ at Miami (47½): New England has huge edges with coach Bill Belichick and QB Tom Brady, who, unlike last season, has most of his receivers back plus a defense that made major upgrades in the offseason and also regains the services of some key defenders that were injured much of last season. NEW ENGLAND.
Carolina +1 at Tampa Bay (39): The enthusiasm for the Buccaneers appears warranted but expecting a huge turnaround from 4-12 may be a bit premature. The concern for the Panthers is legitimate with QB Cam Newton banged up over the summer and still showing the effects of off season surgery. The leadership provided by former start WR Steve Smith will be hard to replace. TAMPA BAY.
SF -5 at Dallas (51): San Francisco did not look sharp in the preseason but that should not be a concern for a veteran team that has made three straight trips to the NFL Title game and suffered its final loss of each of those seasons to the eventual Super Bowl champion. Dallas is expected to have a poor season that will result in a record worse than the 8-8 records of each of the past three. OVER.
Indy +7 at Denver (55½): Denver will be out to avenge its first loss of last season that followed a 6-0 start. That loss was an entertaining 39-33 loss at Indianapolis that exceeded the Totals line by nearly three touchdowns. Even at the high total for this opener the “high” is still the preferred way to play. OVER.
NY Giants +5 at Detroit (47): Detroit seeks to avoid the opposite after starting 6-3 before finishing 1-6 and failing to capitalize on QB injuries to both Chicago and Green Bay. Even with a new coach and the more talented roster the Lions will still have to prove that this is a more disciplined and focused team. The Giants lack flash but have an improved running game and a head coach under control. NY GIANTS.
San Diego +3 at Arizona (45): Arizona’s strength will be its defense which will keep them competitive in the defensively strong NFC West. This handicaps as a very competitive game but with the Chargers having the huge edge at QB with Rivers matching passes with the Cards’ Carson Palmer the Chargers have the better ability to play from behind. SAN DIEGO.
Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to Gaming Today readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Contact Andy at [email protected]