Ravens have the look of champions

GamingToday.com is an independent sports news and information service. GamingToday.com has partnerships with some of the top legal and licensed sportsbook companies in the US. When you claim a bonus offer or promotion through a link on this site, Gaming Today may receive referral compensation from the sportsbook company. Although the relationships we have with sportsbook companies may influence the order in which we place companies on the site, all reviews, recommendations, and opinions are wholly our own. They are the recommendations from our authors and contributors who are avid sports fans themselves.

For more information, please read How We Rank Sportsbooks, Privacy Policy, or Contact Us with any concerns you may have.

Gaming Today is licensed and regulated to operate in AZ, CO, CT, IN, KS, LA, MI, NJ, NY, PA, TN, and VA.

It’s finally here! The start of the NFL regular season has arrived and this Thursday night New England and Pittsburgh kick off the 256 game regular season schedule as the true first act in the drama that will climax in the playing of Super Bowl 50 next February 7 in Santa Clara, California.

Rosters are set and coaches have made decisions as to which players start and how best to overcome the rash of injuries that hit most training camps this summer.

As such the annual exercise of projecting how the season may unfold is at hand.

Here are the predictions of Division winners, the Wild Card teams and a forecast for Super Bowl 50.

AFC East

Until proven otherwise New England remains the team to beat. Even with QB Tom Brady’s suspension overturned the Pats will take the field with a chip on their shoulders and although there are concerns about a retooled defense Bill Belichick will have the answers by the time November rolls around.

Buffalo and Miami will vie for second place with the New York Jets quite possibly a distant last. The Bills appear to have the greater upside with one of the NFL’s best defenses and an offense that might just be surprisingly better than expected. The Pats’ season win total is now 10.5 with the OVER priced at minus 130. The Pats probably win at least 11 games and should contend for the top seed in the AFC Playoffs.

AFC North

Baltimore, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh all made the Playoffs last season and all three have been Playoff contenders for the past half decade. Of the three the Bengals may have the most talented roster but their concerns start if and when they make the Playoffs. Pittsburgh has a solid organization but faces numerous issues on defense, replacing key personnel both on the field and on the sidelines.

Baltimore may have the best combination of talent and organization and is the call to win this Division with Cincinnati being more likely to challenge the Ravens than will be the Steelers. Cleveland should be a distant fourth in this Division although the Browns’ defense will keep them in many games and could be a good team to play UNDER the Total in many of their games.

AFC South

This Division is Indianapolis’ to lose and the weakness provided by both Tennessee and Jacksonville sets the path for the Colts to earn the top overall AFC seed. Houston should contend for a Wild Card and might challenge Indy for the Division title if injured RB Arian Foster returns sooner than expected.

QB is a concern but the defense will be one of the NFL’s best. Tennessee should be stronger than Jacksonville but there should be a significant gap in the standings between the top two teams and the bottom pair.

AFC West

Denver is the preseason favorite to win the Division although questions persist as to the strength and health of QB Peyton Manning who showed major signs of decline late last season and into the Playoffs. The Broncos will be more of a running team this season and possess a staunch defense which should compensate for any further decline in Manning’s performance.

Kansas City should present a greater challenge to the Broncos than San Diego although both the Chiefs and Chargers should be in contention for a Wild Card. Oakland will be improved this season but it may be asking too much for the Raiders to escape the cellar although Oakland may well be the best of the eight last place finishers.

NFC East

Dallas and Philadelphia are clearly the top teams in this Division with a gap to the New York Giants and a similar gap to Washington. Dallas made a great leap last season, going from three straight seasons of 8 wins to 12. The Eagles have won 10 games in each of coach Chip Kelly’s first two seasons and he made major personnel changes during the offseason.

The Giants have major defensive concerns whereas Washington has issues that permeate throughout the entire organization. Both the Cowboys and Eagles should contend for the Playoffs.

NFC North

Green Bay remains the class of this Division and should contend for the top overall NFC seed even after losing elite WR Jordy Nelson for the season. With QB Aaron Rodgers at the top of his game and a deep supporting cast the Packers should at least equal their projected 11 season wins and could surpass that total.

Minnesota is a fashionable pick to pose the greatest challenge to the Pack with Detroit taking a step back from last season’s 11-5 mark. Chicago may be one of the NFL’s most intriguing teams as there is talent on the roster and has a new coach in defensively oriented John Fox. With a bit of tweaking the Bears could be a surprise challenger to make a serious Wild Card run.

NFC South

This was the NFL’s weakest Division last season with Carolina winning the title despite going 7-8-1. Both Atlanta and New Orleans are expected to rebound this season but it is still unlikely that the Division winner will have more than 10 wins. New Orleans’ offense is aging and their defense is a concern.

Atlanta is an intriguing team with a potent offense and a new coach, Dan Quinn, who earned the job from his work in leading Seattle’s top notch defense. Tampa Bay should be the weakest team in this Division as they turn to rookie QB Jameis Winston to lead the rebuilding process. The nod is for Atlanta to win the Division but, unlike last season, with a winning record.

NFC West

Seattle is the again the team to beat as the Seahawks attempt to become the first Super Bowl loser to return to the Big Game the next season in more than two decades. Arizona should present the biggest challenge as the Cards won 10 and 11 games in coach Bruce Arians’ first two seasons. But the Cards were a statistical anomaly last season, outgained by an astonishing 64 yards per game and suffered major losses from their defense.

That could open the door for St. Louis to finally achieve some success under coach Jeff Fisher. No team has been panned more than San Francisco, a fact reflected in the drop in their season win total from as high as 8 to their current level of 6.5 (with a heavy vig attached to the UNDER). Seattle should win this Division with ease and could be the only team with a winning record although the past two seasons have shown that Arizona cannot be counted out, especially if QB Carson Palmer stays healthy.

Playoffs

Ultimately the call is for New England, Baltimore, Indianapolis and Denver to win AFC Division titles with Buffalo and Houston to earn Wild Cards. The four NFC Division winners are projected to be Philadelphia, Green Bay, Atlanta and Seattle with Dallas and Minnesota the Wild Card teams.

The prediction in the AFC is for Baltimore to defeat Indianapolis in the AFC Title game. Since coach John Harbaugh and QB Joe Flacco arrived in 2008 the Ravens have made the Playoffs in 6 of 7 seasons, won a Super Bowl and are 7-5 SU in road Playoff games which is a pretty amazing accomplishment when considered in the contest of historical home team Playoff success.

Green Bay is predicted to defeat Seattle for the NFC Title to set up a Super Bowl between the Packers and the Ravens. The Packers bring a great deal of experience and continuity into the season and will find a replacement for the loss of Nelson as QB Rodgers has turned a number of lesser known names into star performers during his career.

Both quarterbacks have a Super Bowl title and although Rodgers’ leads a deeper Green Bay offense the call is for Joe Flacco and his Ravens to pull a minor upset, perhaps as a FG underdog, and win 27-24 in Super Bowl 50.

But before getting caught up in how the 2015 season my end, let’s enjoy what might be a roller coaster ride through the regular season which gets underway this Thursday.

Here’s a preview of the opening week’s action.

Pro Football Thursday

Pittsburgh Steelers +7 at New England Patriots (51): There are more factors that favor the Patriots in this game but why lay 7 when you could have laid under 3 points for much of the summer when the status of the Brady suspension was up in the air? OVER.

Pro Football Sunday

Green Bay Packers -6.5 at Chicago Bears (50): The Bears’ strength starting the season should be its offense despite the continued criticism of QB Jay Cutler. It’s the defense that starts as a major weakness. Both teams should have success moving the football and converting more drives into touchdowns rather than settling for field goals. OVER.

Kansas City Chiefs +1 at Houston Texans (40.5): Both teams are considered to be Playoff contenders. The Texans have one of the NFL’s best defenses with JJ Watt a difference maker. The Chiefs sport a powerful running game but a modest passing attack. That combination might work against most other defenses but probably not here. HOUSTON

Cleveland Browns +3 at NY Jets (40): Both teams have strong defenses but fairly weak offenses, especially at QB. That often means more field goals than touchdowns and whereas 41 is a key number to play UNDER as long as the Total remains above 38 this game still favors such a play. UNDER.

Indianapolis Colts -3 at Buffalo Bills (46): Coach Rex Ryan inherits a top notch defense which, as with the Jets, is expected to compensate for a below average offense. The Colts will be one of the league’s top offensive teams with a defense that, if improved, could take Indy deep into the Playoffs. BUFFALO.

Miami Dolphins -3.5 at Washington Redskins (43): Miami is considered a chic pick to end New England’s domination of the AFC East. It’s hard to find any one aside from rabid, loyal fans who has positive expectations for Washington. Miami’s defense should be the key against QB Kirk Cousins who did not fare as well as a full time starter than as a spot starter. MIAMI.

Carolina Panthers -3 at Jacksonville Jaguars (41): Jacksonville has not had a winning season since 2007. Carolina has made the Playoffs in each of the past two seasons and won a Playoff game last season. The Jaguars are in a slow building process and any improvement is likely to show up late, rather than early, in the regular season. CAROLINA.

Seattle Seahawks -4 at St Louis Rams (41.5): Seattle should play aggressively as they seek to erase the bitter memory of their Super Bowl defeat. St Louis is 3-2 SU and 4-1 ATS at home against the Seahawks since Pete Carroll took over as Seattle coach, including 2-1 SU and ATS the past three seasons since Seattle became a Super Bowl contender. The Rams won’t lack for confidence in this season opener at home. ST LOUIS.

New Orleans Saints +2.5 at Arizona Cardinals (47): New Orleans QB Drew Brees played injured much of last season, a fact that came to light only after their disappointing 7-9 season ended. Arizona’s statistics suggested more of a 5-11 record than their actual 11-5. With major defensive losses the Cards are poised for regression whereas the Saints have not had back to back losing seasons in more than a decade. NEW ORLEANS

Detroit Lions (+3) at San Diego Chargers (45.5): Both San Diego’s Philip Rivers and Detroit’s Matthew Stafford are a grade below elite status quarterbacks but each is capable of putting up big numbers. Both offenses averaged less than 90 rushing yards per game last season which suggest most of their success in this game will come through the air. OVER.

Tennessee Titans +3 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (42): The battle of the rookie QBs makes this one of the most intriguing games of opening week as the Titans’ Marcus Mariota hosts Tampa’s Jameis Winston as both teams look to improve upon their 2-14 records last season. Tennessee has the better surrounding talent and were 22-26 in the three seasons prior to 2-14 while Tampa Bay was just 15-33 overall. TENNESSEE.

Cincinnati Bengals -3.5 at Oakland Raiders (44): There is potential for Oakland to be a much improved team this season, especially on offense as QB Derek Carr developed nicely as a rookie and now has more weapons to support him. At a FG or more the points are attractive against a Bengals team that tends to play too conservatively with the lead. OAKLAND.

Baltimore Ravens +5 at Denver Broncos (49): QB Joe Flacco throws one of the best deep balls in the league and will challenge the Broncos’ secondary. The Ravens start the season with better overall balance and an experienced coach and more than capable of pulling off the upset. BALTIMORE.

NY Giants +5.5 at Dallas Cowboys (51.5): Little has changed as both teams still have upper tier quarterbacks (Tony Romo and Eli Manning) and a host of receiving options. Though blindly relying on them can be costly, sometimes the trend is your friend. OVER.

Pro Football Monday

Philadelphia Eagles -3 at Atlanta Falcons (55.5): Following 5 straight winning seasons the Falcons played losing football the past two seasons and made a coaching change, bringing in defensive minded Dan Quinn, addressing Atlanta’s major concern. Despite the past two seasons, Atlanta still was able to extend its streak in home openers to 7 straight wins and covers. ATLANTA.

Minnesota Vikings -2.5 at San Francisco 49ers (41.5): The line has moved nearly a TD as San Francisco opened a 3.5 point favorite a couple of months ago. It never hurts to be a contrarian over the long term and the linesmakers were well aware of the sentiment for both teams when the line opened. And as we’ve learned over the years the linesmakers are no dummies. SAN FRANCISCO.

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]

About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

Get connected with us on Social Media