Unders so early in the season are likely a fluke

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Sometimes the “wise guys” are not as wise as they think they are.

Or perhaps they just need to be patient if they strongly believe in their convictions.

Heading into the start of preseason football the betting world was abuzz with the tendencies in recent seasons for games to be high scoring. Much of this is based on rules changes over the past decade that tended to favor the offense.

This contention is further bolstered by the rise in scoring over the past few NFL regular seasons to record levels. In 2010 regular season games produced a total of 44.07 points. This has risen steadily over the following three seasons such that in 2013 the average total points per game was 46.82.

During this past offseason the league made a point of having officials more strictly enforce rules related to pass interference with most of the emphasis on what defensive players could and could not do.

Hence it was thought the officials would pay great attention to this in the games leading up to the start of the regular season, making higher than expected scoring games an even greater likelihood.

And sure enough, including the Hall of Fame Game we saw at least a half dozen games in which the Total moved at least two points from the Opener to the Closing Line.

The results? 13 of the 17 games stayed UNDER the Closing Total. Interestingly, only one of the 13 that stayed UNDER would have produced a win and another produced a push on the OVER for those who played the Opening Total at the LVH book. 

Of course this may just be a one week phenomena. But because it happened in the FIRST week of the preseason there will be more attention given to these results than if it had occurred, say, in the middle of the regular season.

Are the results of Week 1 of the preseason a fluke? Or is it perhaps the start of a trend toward lower scoring games?

Based on the early totals that started to appear Monday morning the linemakers are largely dismissing these opening week results.

No game in preseason Week 1 opened with a total above 38½. Only two closed with a total above 40 (Philadelphia/Chicago at 42 and Cleveland/Detroit 40½).

Yet for the second week of preseason games, 11 of the 16 games with totals of 40 or higher are in “far away” places.

This is reflective that the pre-existing opinion that games will continue to be higher scoring was not changed by the results of this past weekend.

Offenses, which greatly rely on timing, tend to become more efficient as time goes forward, barring key injuries. Defenses do as well, of course, but, in general, the percentage of offensive plays that fail due to poor execution tends to fall in favor of plays failing more due to good defensive play.

As we continue to approach the start of the 2014 NFL season the North Divisions of each conference are previewed.

AFC North

This shapes up as a three team battle for the Division Title with the possibility of all three teams making the Playoffs. In the 11 seasons since Division realignment in 2002 Pittsburgh has won two Super Bowls and Baltimore has won one. Since 2008 Baltimore has made the Playoffs 5 times in 6 seasons. Cincinnati has made 4 appearances. And Pittsburgh has made the Playoffs three times. Cleveland has not made the Playoffs since making them as a Wild Card in 2002 and has not finished with more than 5 wins since going 10-6 in 2007 (missing the Playoffs due to tie breakers).

The odds makers expect this to be a very contentious Division among the three contenders with Cincinnati’s projected wins at 9 (at -110 each way) just a half-game more than Baltimore (8½ shaded slightly to the UNDER) and Pittsburgh (8½ shaded heavily toward the OVER).

The concern for Cincinnati is the Bengals have new coordinators both on offense and defense and QB Andy Dalton, who just signed a lucrative contract extension, is not considered as talented as Baltimore QB Joe Flacco or Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger. 

And head coach Marvin Lewis is not held in the same high regard as the Ravens’ John Harbaugh and the Steelers’ Mike Tomlin, both of whom have Super Bowl titles on their resumes. Baltimore, who will be without RB Ray Rice for just two games, made the Playoffs in each of the first 5 seasons coach Harbaugh and QB Flacco were with the Ravens, missing out only last season when they were defending Super Bowl champs. 

It is not unusual for defending champs to struggle the following season and the Ravens were no exception, going 8-8. The trappings of success and the defection or retirement of key players often has such teams in a mini rebuilding mode that next season. Expect the Ravens to bounce back in 2014 and win at least 9 games. Cincinnati may have the best overall talent in the Division but with a pair of new coordinators there may be rough spots at times this season. 

Pittsburgh has missed the Playoffs each of the past two seasons, going 8-8 in each, their first non-losing seasons since going 8-8 in 2006. Theirs is an aging roster at several key positions and whereas Cincinnati’s talent and balance suggests a third straight season of double digit wins is possible, the likelihood of a 10-win season for the Steelers is more suspect.

Cleveland is a team many expect to show improvement this season. To exceed their projected win total of 6½ (with a solid vig toward the OVER) the Browns would have to go 9-7 or better. Aside from their 10-6 record in 2007 the Browns had not won more than 6 games since that 9-7 Playoff season of 2002. And from 2008 through 2013 Cleveland has won 4, 5, 5, 4, 5 and 4 games. 

Even with the addition of rookie QB Johnny Manziel and new coach Mike Pettine the prospect for so much improvement has to be considered slight. And therein lies the problem. Since re-entering the NFL in 1999 the Browns have had a revolving door of quarterbacks and head coaches. Pettine is Cleveland’s EIGHTH head coach since rejoining the NFL! Oh, and the probable loss of star WR Josh Gordon for at least a good part of the season doesn’t aid their chances for success.

NFC North

Green Bay is considered the class with Chicago the team most likely to offer a challenge to the Packers. They finished 8-7-1 despite elite QB Aaron Rodgers being injured in midseason. The Pack took advantage of a huge collapse by Detroit and the loss of Chicago QB Jay Cutler to injury to win the Division title before losing at home to San Francisco in a competitive 23-20 contest. 

Projected to win 10½ games the Packers are the clear favorites to win the Division again in 2014, even with a minus 135 attached to the UNDER. Both Chicago and Detroit are held at 8½ projected wins with the Bears more likely to exceed that Total (minus 155 to the OVER) and the Lions more likely to fall short (minus 125 to the UNDER). 

Those expectations are more than reasonable. The Bears did shore up a weak defense with some off season moves and the offense really took to innovative head coach Marc Trestman in his rookie season in charge. With Cutler healthy the Bears could have one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL this season and have a real chance at challenging the Packers for the Division title. Chicago missed winning the Division title by a half game last season (8-8) and have the talent to win at least 9 and potentially 10 or 11 games this season.

The Lions have a veteran roster with an offense built around QB Matthew Stafford and WR Calvin Johnson and a talented defense that has played undisciplined football for several seasons. New coach Jim Caldwell does not have the reputation as a difference maker although he did guide Indianapolis to the Playoffs in his first two of three seasons as head coach of the Colts. 

Of course, QB Peyton Manning had something to do with that success. Caldwell was 2-14 with the Colts when Manning missed the entire 2011 season. The Lions lost 6 of their final 7 games following a 6-3 start and there could be a carryover effect this season. The talent is there for the Lions to be a Playoff contender. But the intangibles suggest there is a greater likelihood for the Lions to finish 7-9 or worse than 9-7 or better.

Minnesota is the second team in the NFC North that has a new coach with former Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer taking over. After making the Playoffs in 2012 (10-6) the Vikings slipped to 5-10-1 last season, costing Leslie Frazier his coaching job. 

The Vikings suffered from inconsistent and below average QB play and a defense that allowed nearly 400 yards per game, indicative that much improvement is needed on both sides of the football. The Vikes may turn the reins over to rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater who was considered by many scouts to be the most NFL ready of the current class of rookie QBs.

Minnesota’s projected win total is 6 with a bit more sentiment priced for the OVER than the UNDER. Asking the Vikes to win at least 7 games might be a stretch considering their schedule features games against all four teams in the NFC South in addition to a pair of games against the Packers and Bears.

Our preview of the NFL continues next week with a look at the South Divisions in both the AFC and NFC.

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]

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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.

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