As promised, we're on to the NFC divisional lines this week and they can be found here:
As always, please feel free to hit up the comments section if you agree/disagree.
Philadelphia Eagles +110
New York Giants +225
Dallas Cowboys +225
Washington Redskins +1200
I consider these very interesting lines, given the fact that the defending Super Bowl Champions are not only an underdog to win the division, they're only tied for the second-highest odds. Chris Liss and I discussed the Giants a few weeks ago on the radio, with me pointing out that they went 5-1 in games decided by four points or less and him pointing out they were really 13-7 (including the playoffs). However, I don't see them winning this division again. The schedule once again is brutal and there are too many random acts in the game week-in and week-out for them to have such a good record in close games. I'm actually going to take the Cowboys this year, given that Tony Romo, Miles Austin and DeMarco Murray should all be healthier. The Cowboys were as close as they could be to winning the division last year without doing so and Andy Reid's in-game coaching has been questionable in the past.
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The value play here is definitely the Redskins. Quarterbacks coming out of college are more prepared than ever for the pro game and in my opinion, Robert Griffin III will make the biggest impact among rookie quarterbacks. The Redskins have plenty of receiving options with the signing of Pierre Garcon (to stretch the field) and Santana Moss should still have some gas left in the tank. Fred Davis was on pace for a 1,000-yard season until his suspension and the duo of Josh Morgan/Leonard Hankerson has some upside. The running back situation has some depth after the re-signing of Tim Hightower (not that he's a great option), so the offensive side of the ball is set. The defensive side of the ball has a lot of questions, but the +1200 odds and offensive potential are enough to back the Skins here. And if you're wondering where Raheem Morris ended up, he's the defensive backs coach here (and is a great signing).
Green Bay Packers -300
Detroit Lions +450
Chicago Bears +450
Minnesota Vikings +2000
This should be one of the more interesting divisions this season. I'm actually not going to back the Packers here (our office in Madison is now attaching my picture to their dart board) given that if Aaron Rodgers goes down for any amount of time, I can't see them winning with Graham Harrell under center. Even if Rodgers is healthy, I'm going to pick the Bears here. Rodgers attempting over 500 passes and only throwing six interceptions is an anomaly and the Packers' defense is still a question mark in my book. On the Bears side, Brandon Marshall will hopefully stay out of trouble, the loss of Mike Martz is an addition by subtraction and provided something is worked out with Matt Forte, they have solid depth at running back. Defensively, this is a team that has Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Julius Peppers. Devin Hester is always a threat in the return game and the offensive line should be better, especially with Jay Cutler dropping back in more three and five step drops this season.
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My colleague Mark Stopa pointed out last week that he'd back the other three teams in the (AFC South) division instead of taking the overwhelming favorite, the Houston Texans. That's kind of my feeling here. If Detroit or Chicago can play some defense, particularly better than the Packers, I have to think both have a decent shot to win the division. +450 is very good odds and to throw something small on Minnesota (although I really don't see how they win the division) is an okay play, given they're +2000. Remember, two seasons ago the Bears won the division and before that the Vikings were on top. Granted those were very different teams (and Green Bay as well) but there are still a lot of the same pieces in place for Chicago.
New Orleans Saints +125
Atlanta Falcons +140
Carolina Panthers +350
Tampa Bay Buccaneers +1200
It's really hard to determine what the fallout from “Bounty-Gate” or the Drew Brees holdout will bring. Can you really see the Saints (who were perfect at home, including the playoffs 9-0) and who won the division by three games, falling that far? Apparently the oddsmakers can, given that they're barely a favorite over the Atlanta Falcons. Speaking of which, I've said this before, but given their lack of postseason success, is Mike Smith (who I love) on the hot seat this season? This line smells like a trap to take the Saints; sight unseen I'd think they'd be somewhere between -150 and -200 since they've won the division two of the last three years. I'd don't trust the Falcons away from the Dome and Carolina's defense is still going to struggle. I actually like the Buccaneers, but I'll get to that in a minute. I'm still going to back the Saints this season; it should be a matter of time before Brees is in camp (hopefully…but why aren't they paying him?) and for all we know the Joe Vitt regime could be a front for puppeteer Sean Payton. I'll admit that the Saints' defense is a liability, but I just see too much talent on the offensive side to fade them.
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It can be argued all day long what changes on a team during the offseason will significantly impact their future production. Bringing on a new coach, Greg Schiano in this case, should have an immediate positive impact for a team that lost their last 10 games last season. Schiano is a defensive-minded coach who got his start in the NFL under Dave Wannstedt with the Bears and should have his focus on the defensive side of the ball. Coaches making the jump from college to the pros have been a mixed bag of results (Steve Spurrier, Nick Saban, Dennis Erickson, Jim Harbaugh, Tom Coughlin, Jimmy Johnson, Marv Levy, Bill Walsh), so the move could totally backfire. However, there are plenty of weapons on offense and if you buy “best shape of their life” stories then Josh Freeman is in for a career year. I think Carolina has a ways to go defensively and if Schiano can work his magic, the Bucs have a shot (albeit an outside one) at the division.
San Francisco 49ers -275
Arizona Cardinals +500
Seattle Seahawks +500
St. Louis Rams +1000
I really hate taking the big favorite, but it's tough to find an argument against San Francisco this season. They return the best defense in the NFC (and the best run defense in the NFL) and won the division last season by a league-best five games. Offensively, they have the most running back depth in the league (Frank Gore, Brandon Jacobs, Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James) and Alex Smith has some solid receiving options (Michael Crabtree, Randy Moss, Mario Manningham and Vernon Davis). I feel like defense is still an underrated part of football, which is why I'm comfortable taking the 49ers in this spot.
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It's tempting to look at the Rams and take them at +1000, especially since I think a lot of Jeff Fisher as a head coach. However, I'm going to take the wimpy way out here and back both the Cardinals and Seahawks. Let's start in Seattle. This is a team that finished 7-9 last season and went 1-4 in games decided by three points or less. Marshawn Lynch is only 26 and finished seventh in rushing yards (1,204) and tied for third with 12 rushing touchdowns. The big difference-maker this season from last year will be the addition of Matt Flynn. While it's been a small sample size, he looks like an above average quarterback who should have a healthier set of receivers this season (Sidney Rice missed six games in 2011 and Mike Williams missed four games). The defense finished ninth in the league last season and Russell Okung is one of the best tackles in football, provided he's recovered from a torn pectoral muscle. Let's go to the desert now. If you bought into the Kevin Kolb hype/upside/potential last season, why shouldn't you now? While the concussion issue is an obvious concern, do you think the Cardinals would pick up his $7 million roster bonus if they were concerned? I'd be surprised if Kolb isn't under center come Week 1 and besides Larry Fitzgerald, he now has Michael Floyd to throw to. The running backs – Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams – will be healthier and should improve the 24th ranked rushing attack. Patrick Peterson is one of the most exciting players to watch in the league and the re-signing of Calais Campbell should make a formidable pass rushing duo with Darnell Dockett. Both of these teams have to have a lot fall the right way for them to win the division, but +500 seems like good odds to take.