Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

13 Aug 2014

Scramble Over/Unders: The Easts

by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz

Tom: Welcome to the sixth(!) season of Mike and Tom’s Excellent Scramble Adventure. As we do every year, we begin with a series of columns examining the over/unders for each NFL team. As usual, the over/unders we will be using are courtesy of Bovada. At Bovada, those over/under win totals are accompanied by numerical lines, indicating whether a team is likelier to go over or under. As Mike and I are engaged in a grand exercise of passing judgment on teams rather than wagering money, we will be discussing teams only in relation to their over/under win totals and ignoring the betting odds.

Tom: Cool. Do you have a favorite cardinal direction?

Mike: Definitely East, as befits my effete latte-sipping personality.

Tom: Lattes? Ew. But to each their own. AFC or NFC?

Mike: Mochas, to be more precise. A comes before N, so AFC I guess

Tom: Mochas? To each their own. I have a moderately amusing, at least by Tom standards, latte/mocha-related personal anecdote I'll spare our readers and remind them they, too, could try to come up with a crowd-funding strategy to buy the ...

BUFFALO BILLS (6.5)

Mike: Crowdfunding? What do you think the Bills are? A vaporware space sim?

Tom: I don't have enough money to buy the Bills myself. The people who do probably are too smart to give me the money to do so. Thus, the Internet is my only hope. Plus, I need to assuage my guilt over writing the Jaguars chapter in Football Outsiders Almanac 2010, hearing Tony Khan loved FOA 2010, and then Shahid Khan buying the Jaguars.

Mike: I'm sure that there is some billionaire tycoon in Buffalo that will swoop in and ... OK, I couldn't actually finish that. You know who did finish last season relatively well?

The Bills!

(Segue!)

Tom: Yes, reader, you may have noticed in a recent ESPN Insider story we pegged the Bills as the 2013 last place team most likely to finish first. By "we," I mean "the Football Outsiders mainframe," although many readers of ESPN Insider (and/or its headlines because they're too cheap to pay for Insider) thought I meant "me."

Mike: If you think that is a bridge too far, they are also most likely to finish "not-last," because hoo boy the Dolphins and Jets are not going to be pretty. But we'll get to them later.

Tom: Yes. Many people's Bills-related pessimism seems to relate to the presence of EJ Manuel. I'm not too optimistic on Manuel, either, but one reason for Bills-related optimism is that "second-season EJ Manuel for 16 games" is really likely to be a lot better than "2013 Bills QB situation." As you may have successfully repressed from your memory, that included rookie EJ Manuel, Jeff Tuel, and Thad Lewis.

Mike: There is not enough alcohol in the world to repress those memories. Unfortunately. I actually think the departure of Stevie Johnson weighs heavily on people's minds in conjunction with their fears about Manuel. Well, fear not, citizens! Johnson really wasn't that good.

Tom: I love Stevie Johnson. I would argue it's less that he wasn't that good, more that he wasn't that productive and didn't mean as much to the success of the passing game.

Mike: See, I don't think that's the whole story. Johnson's traditional stats for the past 4 years:

2010: 142 targets, 82 receptions, 58% catch percent, 1073 yards, 10 touchdowns, 13.1 yards/rec
211: 134 targets, 76 receptions, 57% catch percent, 1004 yards, 7 touchdowns, 13.2 yards/rec
2012: 148 targets, 79 receptions, 53% catch percent, 1046 yards, 6 touchdowns, 13.2 yards/rec
2013: 102 targets, 53 catches, 52% catch percentage, 607 yards, 3 touchdowns, 11.5 yards/rec

Tom: My Stevie Johnson analogy is he's the football equivalent of a junkball pitcher in baseball.

Mike: Right. So, Johnson had three years of basically similar counting stats, but since we're talking about pitchers, why not do what we do for junkballers, and look at his peripherals?

2010: 239 DYAR, 13th
2011: 138 DYAR, 34th
2012: 67 DYAR, 49th
2013: -24 DYAR, 78th

In 2010, Johnson had a very good year. In 2011 and 2012, Johnson had increasingly bad years papered over by roughly equivalent counting stats until the bottom fell out last year.

Tom: (a) Because he's hard to extract from his context, and we're less able to do that than we are with a baseball pitcher. (b) Because he's only 28, and we typically don't see non-RBs of his age decline like that. (c) Fine, he's not a Larry Fitzgerald in his prime or an Andre Johnson. We already knew that. The passing game was focused around him because he was there and was their best receiver, not because he was a superstar. He'll be a loss, but not that great of one and not a crippling one.

Mike: Well, that's not even the question. I mean, forget superstar, is he even Brandon LaFell?

Tom: Johnson is a junkballer. LaFell is junk. (Brandon LaFell is a much better football player, stronger, tougher, and more psychologically inured to wisecracking internet people than I am. He's only "junk" by the extraordinarily high standards of starting NFL wide receivers.)

Mike: It's good that you made that disclaimer so you didn't hurt Brandon LaFell's feelings. They had equivalent 2012 DYAR and LaFell's 2013 was much better. But I think I've made my point.

Tom: I don't think we've disagreed!

Mike: We were definitely making disagree-ish noises.

Tom: I like Stevie Johnson more than you do. Neither of us thinks Johnson's departure is a meaningful reason to think Buffalo's offense will be worse this year.

Mike: In any case, Manuel should be a year better, will be starting for a full year as opposed to aforementioned horror show, and the loss of Johnson may be (short term) addition by subtraction.

Tom: The big question is the defense. It was really good last year. They have a great defensive line. How much of last year's success can Jim Schwartz, who historically has run a very different style of defense than the departed Mike Pettine, sustain? Notwithstanding the bad rap the incoherent Juan Castillo-led mess earned, I believe Schwartz's style of defense can be successful. I've seen it be successful. It just needs a great D-line. He has that.

Mike: Considering most of their success came from the pass rush, and also considering that the rest of the AFC East features some ... porous offensive lines, I think there is a solid foundation that should translate well. What worries me more is the secondary, which already had issues with the deep ball and lost its best player. Fortunately, they largely have to contend with the Ghost of Tom Brady's Arm and ... uh ... Jets QB. I don't think this is Buffalo's year, but it's definitely a good environment to start the run-up to contention. Over.

Tom: That would worry me more with Pettine's defense, actually. Schwartz can get away with smart secondary players that can play their roles. I'm only concerned about the loss of Kiko Alonso insofar as it means more playing time in nickel for Brandon Spikes. Still, 7-9 isn't a high bar for this team. Over.

MIAMI DOLPHINS (7.5)

Mike: As we alluded to earlier, you have to imagine Schwartz is licking his lips in anticipation for his squad's two games against Miami.

Tom: The Dolphins have ranged from 6-10 to 8-8 over the past five seasons. And I thought the Titans were in Mediocrityland after going between 6-10 and 9-7 every year in that span.

Mike: You do realize the difference between a 6-to-8 win range and a 6-to-9 win range is basically nothing, right? We have found that one of the keys to a successful offensive line (and thereby a successful offense) is continuity. With Mike Pouncey's injury, how many starters will be returning from last year's squad? One?

Tom: Not counting Pouncey back? One. Lock to start? Zero, as Nate Garner didn't start Friday's preseason opener.

Mike: I was being charitable, but yes. We actually have no idea what is going to happen with this line, because it is made up entirely of players who have never before played together. That is not a recipe for success when your quarterback gets the jitters and your big offensive weapon is a speedster dragon eater.

Tom: I want to be optimistic. I think Bill Lazor at offensive coordinator could make a big difference. Despite his familiarity with Ryan Tannehill, I was never a Mike Sherman fan. With the way Mike Wallace has seesawed from phenomenally efficient seasons to phenomenally inefficient ones, you could convince yourself that a new offense and a rebuilt line could turn him into a great deep threat again. As much optimism as you need on offense, though, you need even more on secondary to trust a secondary of greybeards Brent Grimes and Cortland Finnegan, oft-injured Louis Delmas, and Reshad Jones, who's suspended for the first four games.

Mike: I never lost faith in Mike Wallace, but I have no real reason to believe that a line that ranked third-last in the league and then added a collection of rookies and Some Guys while losing its best player for half the season is going to be anything other than a tire fire. It's interesting that, like Buffalo, Miami has gone for the defensive strategy of "hit the quarterback a lot and hope they don't throw it deep," with less exciting results. And, as you mentioned, much more acute issues with their secondary.

Tom: Yes, but Buffalo has a really good defensive line. Miami has a couple edge rushers.

Mike: True, and Miami only gets one cupcake offensive line to beat up on, instead of two. That spells under.

Tom: I have them in that same 6-10 to 8-8 range again. 7.5 is toward the upper end of that range. Under.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (11.0)

Mike: I always dread this part of the Over/Under series.

Tom: Beyond people thinking it was my predictions, the other part of the reaction to the column that amused me most was the confusion between writing that the Bills have the best chance among last place teams to finish first and thinking that the Bills would finish first. Uh, no.

The AFC East is not a great division. The Patriots are not replacing everybody who caught the ball last year, bring back the offensive line, and added maybe the league's best corner. What's not to like? Heck, maybe they won't even be ridiculously injured on defense, though they're old enough that gives me pause.

Mike: 2013 was Tom Brady's least valuable year since ... 2003. That has to be worrisome.

Tom: See Table 1 in the Patriots chapter of that hallowed tome Football Outsiders Almanac 2014. He and the whole offense really struggled the first six weeks of the season. I think he's declined and 2013 was his worst season since at least 2006, but he was really good the second half of the year.

Mike: I think using a bad first half to suggest that his decline is a real problem is just as valid as using a good second half to say it isn't, particularly considering the second half featured a number of defenses I believe our numbers overrate. But yes, this is largely the same team, plus a very good cornerback to shore up its biggest weakness. Whatever you think about Brady's decline, they're still clearly the cream of the division. Do I think they'll get 12 wins, though? Probably not. My money would be on 11, but pushes are for wusses, so I'll bite the bullet and go under.

Tom: With a whole-number line, the way I think of it is, are they more likely to win 12 games or 10? I'll go with 12. Over.

NEW YORK JETS (7.0)

Tom: What a weird season, as Chase rightly described in Football Outsiders Almanac 2014. "They won eight games with all that stuff going wrong! They're a lock to do at least that well this year!" "They were insanely fortunate to win eight games last year. There's no way they're going over 7.0!"

Mike: It is very difficult to get a read on the Jets.

Tom: The Jets are always the Jets.

Mike: On their face they seem like the Jets of the not-so-distant past, just with the absence of a game-changing talent in the secondary.

Tom: The offense ranges from just good enough to catatonic. And the defense ranges from good to great.

Mike: On the upside, they're no longer paying Ed Reed. That is definitely an improvement.

Tom: I feel like I've been waiting for them to go 3-13 since the column began, and it keeps not happening.

Mike: I do think the pass protection will be better, although I'm unconvinced that will actually matter. And there's also Chris Johnson! To do ... something. I was never in your camp, expecting them to be putrid, because I had no reservations about their defense in the past. This year, I do. And I don't see the offense getting much better to compensate. Three wins is too low, but seven is just too high. Under.

Tom: Yes, something. Eric Decker is an addition to the offense. I still doubt Geno Smith. I do like Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson. The back seven/eight worries me, especially Dee Milliner's immediate transition from bust to savior as soon as he got hurt. Never underestimate Rex Ryan... eh, I'm fine taking that risk. Under.

NFC EAST

DALLAS COWBOYS (7.5)

Tom: Or, another team whose fate we recently covered for ESPN Insider.

Mike: It's fun moving from a division with a good selection of front sevens to ... this. Whatever this is.

Tom: Dallas has been a punch line for a while. Just ask Ted Lasso (the correct link, after much wrangling, was acquired).

Mike: Then again, it is just so easy to find links outlining how doomed Dallas is. I will say, last year was the year where I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Tony Romo. Just in time for his team to implode and him to get injured. Still working out precisely which order.

Tom: Tony Romo, or The Agony of Being Like the Sixth-Best Quarterback in the League. That the Cowboys went 1-3 when they posted an offensive DVOA of 15% or higher last year is my new favorite stat.

Mike: That is a most excellent stat. But looking over their defense, it is completely believable.

Tom: I'm tempted to draw lessons from Morris Claiborne's lack of development, like "don't draft players with the sixth pick if you haven't had any contact with them in the pre-draft process."

Mike: Most of the lessons, including that one, boil down to "don't be Jerry Jones."

Tom: I'm fascinated by the whole "visits don't mean anything crowd," but that's a whole separate discussion we're not going to get into. And, really, "don't be Jerry Jones" got old at least a decade ago, but it's still true.

Mike: It's odd that the owner is the team's worst enemy. At least, until Jimmy Haslam ends up insolvent. Or in jail. Or both.

Tom: I'm a Titans fan and have been since the Houston days. I know Bud Adams' history. It doesn't surprise me. This seems likely to be a really good offensive line. I like Romo, Dez Bryant, and DeMarco Murray.

Mike: Yes. I like the offense to be better, perhaps even elite territory.

Tom: But they'll need to all stay healthy for Dallas to score enough points to keep up with one of the league's most questionable defenses.

Mike: The problem is that I expect the defense to be proportionally worse.

Tom: Can they run the same balancing act San Diego did last year, is the question?

Mike: I never believed in San Diego last year, so there is no way I'm believing in Dallas this year.

Tom: And if they can, will it matter? San Diego was 5-7, then got Melvin Ingram back, played a bit better on defense the last couple weeks, and eked out a playoff berth.

Mike: Under.

Tom: AFC South on the schedule says over, NFC West says under. Under.

Mike: Self-hating AFC South fan.

NEW YORK GIANTS (8.0)

Mike: Conversely, 2013 for me was The Incredible Lightness of Eli Manning's Passes. I think I am firmly out of his camp going forward, not that I expect 2014 to be nearly so bad.

Tom: Big Blue's preferred Eli problem-solver seems to be San Diego's from last year, namely "throw lots of short passes instead of deep ones."

Mike: In their defense, that is a really good strategy!

Tom: Considering what we've seen from too many deep passes behind a Giants offensive line, that is a good strategy.

Mike: Moreover, all the cool kids are throwing a ton of short passes. So it's both strategically correct and very much en vogue.

Tom: I like this strategy more if you have a dynamic receiving tight end or two and a dynamic receiving running back or two. Looking over the Giants roster, I don't see either of those players.

Mike: I'm not saying the Giants will suddenly be the new Eagles. But it's a welcome adjustment.

Tom: It is. And the Giants almost have to be healthier after ranking in the bottom two in both offensive and defensive Adjusted Games Lost last year.

Mike: Indeed, especially along the offensive line, which I don't think will the second-worst unit in the league, as they were last year. Which, again, will help Manning get the offense back to something around "acceptable."

Tom: "Acceptable" is fine. I can see that. How much do you trust the defense, though?

Mike: I think I trust it enough, honestly.

Tom: They were sixth in DVOA last year. I know, they were third in 2010, but barring Jason Pierre-Paul re-entering the conversation of the league's best defensive players, I'm skeptical.

Mike: I don't think he needs to, though. I think the secondary is quite good, with Antrel Rolle and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie surrounded by a bunch of guys that could have really quality seasons. Although I think FOA's love letter to Trumaine McBride might be a bit misplaced.

Tom: To be fair, he was really, really, really good in our charting stats last year.

Mike: Yes, and that does color my perception to some degree. Two years of good charting stats, and I'll buy in. The pass rush is no longer fearsome, but a stout secondary can give a mediocre rush enough time to get the job done, and the front seven has quietly been crushing the run for a few years, now. We look back and wonder if the Giants' woes are due to their failure to terrorize opposing quarterbacks like the good ol' days. I think we're missing that this is simply a significantly different Giants team. And I like it! Over.

Tom: Average offense, average defense, the AFC South on the schedule. I'm tempted to push, because that's what I do, but over for me as well.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (9.0)

Tom: Our projections have the Eagles as the clear favorite in the NFC East. That surprised me. I know, good on offense, offense is more consistent, the projection system likes offenses.

Mike: I'm trying to find a formulation of "tallest midget" that isn't offensive.

Tom: "Indianapolis Colts, 2013 AFC South division champion?"

Mike: There it is.

Tom: The Eagles were very healthy last year. Maybe Chip Kelly has figured out a smarter way to keep players healthy. Maybe he was just lucky.

Mike: The overwhelming likelihood is the latter.

Tom: See also San Francisco, the past couple seasons vs. last year and continuing on to this year.

Mike: And, on an offense-first team, his margin of error got a lot smaller with the loss of DeSean Jackson. I'm not sure if it's my anti-NCAA bias showing, but that whole imbroglio just feels like a coach who expects coaching an NFL to work just like running a college program, which does not have a great track record.

Tom: With Lane Johnson's suspension, the offensive line won't have the same five starters like it did last year.

Mike: It won't, and it will be playing significantly tougher defenses this year.

Tom: I think you're thinking of the Schianos of the college coaching world. Kelly seems to display a lot more adaptability. Or maybe we just think that because his team last year was good at what we think he does well.

Mike: My worry is based on the latter scenario, yes.

Tom: Isn't the question here just whether they can continue to be the least worst team, though?

Mike: And, more concretely, how Nick Foles will fare when his team got rid of an elite receiver and replaced him with ... uh ....

Tom: Jeremy Maclin, who returns from injury?

Mike: Perhaps, although he was pretty ineffective in his last healthy season.

Tom: The whole offense was ineffective. The Eagles have had a top 11 offense four of the past five years. They were 25th in 2012. That was not all Maclin's fault.

Mike: In any case, I don't think they can be the least worst team, because I think the Giants are a legitimately good team. The Eagles' offense will regress and the defense is largely an afterthought. I think I'm going with under.

Tom: I'm torn, because I think 9-7 is their most likely record. Push always tempts me in that situation, but under it is.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS (7.5)

Tom: Had I been asked to compose my subjective list of the 2013 last-place teams most likely to finish first in 2014, the Redskins would have been at or close to the top of the list.

Mike: In any case, Snyder has done one thing right recently: getting rid of Shanahan.

Tom: Would anybody not have fired Shanahan after last season?

Mike: Possibly Jerry Jones, if he liked him enough.

Tom: Serious question.

Mike: I gave a serious answer! But nobody else that I can think of, even with any caveat. And most likely, the affirmed jock sniffer Jones would have flayed Shanahan alive for risking the franchise quarterback and the postseason the way the Ultimate Leader did.

Tom: Nobody's coming to mind, at least recently.

Mike: Still, considering what a disaster Snyder has been recently, I'm going to give him some credit fr not being a complete doofus. Only a majority doofus

Tom: Frankly, I have no idea what to expect from the Redskins this year. The offense and defense were both below average last year, but not terrible. The offensive line is Trent Williams and a bunch of guys. They have some talented non-Robert Griffin ball handlers, especially with the addition of DeSean Jackson. Jackson could be a really good addition, even if he feels like a vintage Snyder "real football is just like fantasy football" acquisition. As we've indicated, rushers can cover up for other defensive ills, and Washington has two good ones in Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo. Jason Hatcher is coming off a nice year, though he is 32, and I'm skeptical of about all of the rest of the defense.

Mike: I think that with Shanahan gone, Griffin is going to be kept on a no-kamikaze diet. I think it will hurt his rushing value, but it should help his passing tremendously, and that's where DeSean Jackson comes in. I like this offense. It's dynamic, and it's in a division of bad defenses. I'm less convinced that the pass rush will produce in the way you seem to think it will. The Redskins were only slightly above average in Adjusted Sack Rate last year. That was a sea change from their anemic rush in 2012, but I'm not ready to waive off secondary issues based on the performance of a slightly-above-average pass rush. So another all-offense team in the NFC East. Funny how that worked out. I think the Redskins can make it to .500, though, so I'll take the over.

Tom: I'd attribute 2012's poor ASR mostly to Orakpo's injury. I'm really uncertain on this team. Under due to a general lack of depth and defensive quality.

Posted by: Mike Kurtz and Tom Gower on 13 Aug 2014

48 comments, Last at 26 Aug 2014, 3:43pm by TomC

Comments

1
by JoeyHarringtonReigns :: Thu, 08/14/2014 - 12:46pm

Over on the Skins if Jordan Reid develops into the next Jimmy Graham. FOA's all be it tenuous prediction. They didn't go all in on that call. The Giants are probably the safest pick to win the division, although I think Rashad Jennings is a little overrated. Oakland shined on Lamont Jordan's career too. I don't think he did much after that. But with rookie Andre Williams I think they'll have a nice 1-2 punch. A better scenario than last years debaccle(sp?) at rb.

9
by RickD :: Thu, 08/14/2014 - 5:11pm

"Over on the Skins if Jordan Reid develops into the next Jimmy Graham."

That's one hell of an 'if'!

2
by FrontRunningPhinsFan :: Thu, 08/14/2014 - 1:07pm

I'd pick the under too, because the Dolphins are always just on the underbelly of mediocre. And after following training camp very closely I'm certain the offensive line will be bad. But Mike - do you really consider Branden Albert just some guy?

Also - no mention of how bad our LBers are. They are horrific. Every day in training camp there are tweets about how horribly they tackle. One day they were doing 1 on 1 tackling drills with the RBs and the coaches actually had to make the drill area smaller because the RBs were making the LBers look so stupid.

14
by Noah of Arkadia :: Thu, 08/14/2014 - 7:00pm

Just a few weeks ago I shared the sentiment as to the offensive line and I was increasingly pessimistic about the year. But have you noticed how little you hear about the OL lately? Last year it was alarm bells from day 1 (omitting a guy's willingness to heed them) but right now, you don't hear much about it. I don't know who played for Atlanta in the preseason game, but the pass pro was stellar. There isn't a player on that line right now that is drawing attention to himself at all, and that is fantastic news.

Granted, the running game will be horrible and the LBs too, but give me an ok OL and I'll give you an 8-10 win team this year.

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Who, me?

36
by Duff Soviet Union :: Fri, 08/15/2014 - 7:08pm

"I don't know who played for Atlanta in the preseason game, but the pass pro was stellar."

Atlanta's puss rush was the absolute drizzling ****s last year. I wouldn't be judging pass protection based on one game against them.

41
by Noah of Arkadia :: Fri, 08/15/2014 - 8:17pm

Hey, and they might have fielded an even worse unit and besides it's preseason. But there were no performances like this last year at all. Also that game is only one of the data points I'm leaning on, the others being the lack of talk about how the D-line is abusing the O-line in practice, which was a constant last year.

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Who, me?

37
by theslothook :: Fri, 08/15/2014 - 7:22pm

I'm not sure an ok o line by itself does anything. An ok o line hasn't exactly lifted the browns out of the doldrums.

38
by theslothook :: Fri, 08/15/2014 - 7:22pm

I'm not sure an ok o line by itself does anything. An ok o line hasn't exactly lifted the browns out of the doldrums.

39
by Noah of Arkadia :: Fri, 08/15/2014 - 7:43pm

Obviously you need a QB and receivers, but I think the Dolphins have that.

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Who, me?

3
by PaddyPat :: Thu, 08/14/2014 - 1:12pm

I'm a little surprised that Mike thinks the Pats will only win 10 games. I suppose eleven would be the natural progression (14-13-12-...). But it seems to me that they've materially improved this year; backup receiving back, better corners (Browner and Butler to go with Revis), more d-line rotation and depth. Is this just a vote of no confidence against Brady?

4
by dmstorm22 :: Thu, 08/14/2014 - 2:27pm

I guess a vote of no confidence against Brady, and that their offense didn't really get better apart from hoping Gronk doesn't get hurt again.

Also, they might have more d-line rotation, but their two projected DT starters are 30+ coming off major injuries, and behind them are JAGs. Certainly their pass rush should be good, and their secondary on paper is the best its been in years.

I think there's also some concern about if Browner was a product of Seattle more than good on his own, which is a fear I share regarding Thurmond in New York.

5
by theslothook :: Thu, 08/14/2014 - 3:09pm

Not a pats fan by any means, but I am also curious at mike. He started with the premise that the rest of afc east would be pretty awful - but more importantly, they will be better overall just by being healthier. I honestly feel you could put Romo or Flacco on this roster and I think they would win 10.

16
by commissionerleaf :: Thu, 08/14/2014 - 7:09pm

With Romo, Maybe twelve. With Flacco, 8-10.

7
by RickD :: Thu, 08/14/2014 - 4:17pm

I would happily take the over with the Pats. They haven't won less than 10 games since Brady's second season, and this team is considerably better than that one. An "under" seems to me to be saying "I think Brady will be hurt."

Yes, I know his numbers were down last season, but who are the other QBs in the division? I mean that literally - I have no idea who will be starting the majority of the games for the other three teams. Manuel, Tannehill, and, what, Mike Vick? Geno Smith?

In addition to the AFC East, the Pats play the NFC North and the AFC West, neither of which is particularly deep. And the other two divisional winners from last season in the AFC are Indy and Cincy, neither of which inspires much fear. This is a relatively easy schedule. The Pats should easily win at least 5 in division, at least 3 against the NFC North, and at least 4 against the AFC West + Cincy/Indy.

8
by dmstorm22 :: Thu, 08/14/2014 - 5:06pm

If the AFC West is 'not particularly deep' then who is, exactly, other than the NFC West?

Both Wild Cards did come from that division, as well as the #1 seed in the AFC. That's pretty clearly the best division in the AFC.

NFC North likely won't have backup QBs playing 50% games for Green Bay and 40% games for Chicago, so while it isn't the West, I would put it on par with the NFC South.

Cincinnati may not inspire much fear but they did beat the Pats last year.

I realize you are taking a Pats-fans view, but to me this schedule is harder than it was last year, when they got the mediocre AFC North and top-heavy NFC South, and a 2-14 team as one of their 1st-place games.

I would push or go over, but I wouldn't be shocked if they go 10-6.

10
by PaddyPat :: Thu, 08/14/2014 - 5:29pm

I also think the schedule is rather unfriendly. One could argue that the AFC North is the best division in the AFC, with 3 teams with serious upside and a very scrappy 4th. The AFC West and the NFC North get pulled down in one's eyes by the likes of Oakland and Minnesota, although in the latter case, at least, that seems unduly pessimistic.

It's fairly easy to imagine New England winning the first 5 games. Cincinnati could be tough, but the game is in New England. At Buffalo could honestly be a loss this year. We can imagine a split with the Jets too, although that seems less likely this year than last. Let's say they lose to Denver and then win at Indy coming out of the bye, although it's important to note that Indy will also be coming out of the bye that week... Detroit gives New England fits with that D-line, but I think a win against Detroit is likely before a probable loss at Green Bay. At San Diego is tricky, but New England hasn't suffered much against them since the days of Brees and Tomlinson working together, when they routinely got steamrolled by the Bolts. Probably a 3-0 home stretch to close the season, when New England always seems to dominate in December. That's about 3-4 losses, maybe 5 at most. I have a hard time imagining more than that. New England was pretty weak last year for a Belichick team, but it seems likely that they'll return to more of their 2012 form in terms of overall DVOA, with a bit more of an even offensive/defensive split than they had that year. 12-11 wins feels right as a projection, and a probable 2 seed again.

13
by RickD :: Thu, 08/14/2014 - 5:57pm

"but New England hasn't suffered much against them since the days of Brees and Tomlinson working together, when they routinely got steamrolled by the Bolts."

"routinely" seems a bit excessive. I think you're extrapolating a bit. The 2005 loss to the Chargers was definitely a steamrolling, with the Chargers winning 41-17. Brees and Tomlinson did also beat the Pats in 2002, but that score was 21-14, and before that the Pats had beaten the Chargers 10 times in a row, dating back to the Jim Plunkett era.

18
by PaddyPat :: Thu, 08/14/2014 - 8:55pm

You're right, of course, but that game looms large in my memory. Denver was the team New England always lost to, with Brady's interception meltdowns, etc. which made the intentional safety game in 2003 so wildly memorable. But yeah, 2005 was such a complete stomping, it felt like 3 games' worth of whupping.

12
by RickD :: Thu, 08/14/2014 - 5:47pm

The Chiefs collapsed like a house of cards last season, and the Chargers just don't impress me all that much. The AFC West had two also-ran playoff teams because the entire conference is down. The AFC North is deeper, IMO, though the Steelers just might need to accept that they need a complete rebuilding. We'll see how the AFC West does when they don't have the AFC South and a flailing NFC East on their schedules this season.

I also expect the NFC East to be better this season than last season. Washington will be better simply by virtue of having Shanahan leave and RG3 healthier, Philly will likely be better in Year 2 of Chip Kelly, and the Giants would have to improve simply by regression.

Last season's NFC South was better than last season's NFC North, yes? Panthers + Saints >> Packers + Lions/Bears. FO had both the Panthers and the Saints listed among the top four teams in the entire NFL. Who from the NFC North might be so elite this season? I would count maybe the Packers, just because of Rodgers, but the Vikings are not good, and the Lions have been consistently getting worse over the past two seasons. The Bears are a tricky team, but their defense isn't anywhere near as good as the Panthers'.

So, yes, I think the AFC North is deeper than the AFC West. Certainly in terms of how these teams match up with the Patriots: Baltimore and Pittsburgh have both historically played the physical style of football that causes Brady problems. In recent history, neither KC nor San Diego has been able to do the same.

I'm also counting on the Pats' defense to be much better than it was last season, when it suffered an inordinate number of injuries to the front seven. And also, they have Revis now. If they still have a below-average defense, then yes, there will be problems.

The Pats had a weird season last year in that they played three of FO's top four teams (Car, Den, and NO), and beat two of them with late-game flukes. But they lost to Cincy early in the season, when they had no offense to speak of, to Carolina and the Jets with weird late-game stuff not going their way, and somehow lost to the Dolphins in a game they dominated statistically. So yeah, they lost to Cincy, but I don't think it'll happen this season. Not during a night game at Foxboro.

We'll see about the Chiefs, though. Hard to win at Arrowhead. But somehow I'm still not a believer in the Chiefs. They just looked so bad during that playoff loss to the Colts.

15
by Noah of Arkadia :: Thu, 08/14/2014 - 7:09pm

I don't agree with counting wins one by one from the schedule. It's hard enough figuring one team out, but this way you need to have the entire league figured out. And even if you did have the entire league figured out, upsets.

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Who, me?

33
by RickD :: Fri, 08/15/2014 - 5:02pm

You don't really have to figure the entire league out. In theory, you could assign win probabilities for every week and just add up the probabilities to get an estimate for the total number of expected wins for the season. So, for example, if you thought the team in question had a 75% chance of winning each of four games, that would end up with an estimated total of 3 wins.

Of course, "figuring out win probabilities" is easier said than done. Which is why I like looking at blocks of games at a time. It's easier to say "the Pats will probably win at least 4 divisional games" than to say "the Pats should have a 75% chance of winning in Miami".

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by Perfundle :: Fri, 08/15/2014 - 5:08pm

You sort of have to have the entire league (or least the teams on the Patriots' schedule) figured out to assign win probabilities. Looking at blocks of games isn't actually any more accurate if you have no idea of the strengths of those teams.

47
by ghostly :: Tue, 08/19/2014 - 2:28pm

And even if you could assess the strengths of teams right now, you have no idea how strong they might be when the two teams play. Injuries decide a lot.

20
by mehllageman56 :: Thu, 08/14/2014 - 10:00pm

The Pats defense will be much improved, especially against the pass, because of Revis and Browner. I would still be concerned about the run defense, but that aspect of defense has less importance for a team's record. I still think the schedule for the AFC East is brutal, but the Pats actually prepared for the onslaught of passing attacks, unlike the rest of the division.

Have to disagree about the relative strength of the AFC North and the AFC West. The Chiefs had half their defense and running game get injured against the Colts, so that game is a little bit of a fluke. The Chargers actually had a good defense in 2012, so it wouldn't surprise me if they improved on that side of the ball. Denver, well they're the favorites in spite of the Super Bowl debacle. Baltimore drafted well, but half their team decided to get arrested in the offseason; we'll have to see how that effects them. The Bengals should be solid, but they did lose both coordinators, and the Steelers seem to be an enigma. Cleveland could surprise, so the bottom dweller in the North may be more dangerous than the Raiders. Perhaps the North teams match up better against the Pats, and they may end up with better records this year due to playing the AFC South, but I don't think they are better right now.

34
by RickD :: Fri, 08/15/2014 - 5:07pm

Yeah, I'm probably thinking more of how the Pats match up vs. the Chiefs and Chargers than how strong those teams are in absolute terms. The Pats have done fairly well against both teams in recent years.

46
by ghostly :: Tue, 08/19/2014 - 2:26pm

This Pats team carries some risk. Tons of recovering players, including all of that DT depth. If McCourty gets hurt, there's little behind him. A deep 2013 linebacker corps is now very top-heavy. Scarnecchia retired. Blount left.

At the same time, this is a very strong group of starters, great depth at corner and QB.

6
by justanothersteve :: Thu, 08/14/2014 - 4:10pm

I pick the Over for the Cowboys, because I think their string of 8-8 seasons will continue this year even if their defense starts to look like the Bears did at the end of last season.

11
by PaddyPat :: Thu, 08/14/2014 - 5:29pm

Would that be the all-time record for consecutive non-winning, non-losing seasons?

17
by commissionerleaf :: Thu, 08/14/2014 - 7:15pm

Bills: UNDER because Kiko Alonso is gone and we have no reason to believe that E.J. Manuel is an NFL quarterback.
Jets: UNDER because we have no reason to believe that Geno Smith is an NFL quarterback.
Dolphins: UNDER because they are terrible.
Patriots: OVER because they get six games against the above.

Giants: OVER because they are being undervalued due to bad interception luck last year. The line, and therefore Eli, should be better.
Eagles: Tough one. PUSH. Nick Foles won't play like he did last year but he'll play well enough to succeed. He's David Garrard, maybe.
Cowboys: UNDER because defense.
Redskins: UNDER because this team isn't as talented as people think. And because RGIII isn't as good as people think.

19
by mehllageman56 :: Thu, 08/14/2014 - 9:44pm

While I understand the doubt on Geno Smith, he did post positive DYAR in the last 4 games last year. If you took his DYAR from those 4 games (239) and mutliply it by 4 he would have 956 for a full season, if he continued that level of play. That would place him just under Tom Brady and above Romo, Kaepernick and Wilson. So I have a reason to believe he is an NFL quarterback, even if you don't.

That said, I agree with the under on the Jets because their secondary is going to get torched; Milliner's already hurt and they face a murderer's row of passing attacks, like everyone else in the division.

21
by theslothook :: Thu, 08/14/2014 - 10:24pm

Crazy as this sounds, I would have been in favor of trading up to get Teddy B. Geno's overall season inspired very little confidence in me.

22
by mehllageman56 :: Thu, 08/14/2014 - 10:44pm

Oh, I think Bridgewater is going to be great. That doesn't mean Geno won't improve to competent, above average, or even good. But then, I thought Bortles was a failed five year plan from the Soviet Union, and he looks pretty good tonight, so what do I know.

23
by theslothook :: Fri, 08/15/2014 - 4:12am

It's funny how draft pedigree plays into this. If geno were say a 3rd rounder, would we be having this discussion? If he was a first rounder, this wouldn't be a topic. 2nd round qbs really are in no mans land. They are a high enough pick to warrant a chance but not high enough to truly offer the benefit of the doubt. Geno may very well turn into a good player - but the leeway he gets is purely out of draft pedigree and a quiet late surge.

24
by Led :: Fri, 08/15/2014 - 9:52am

Well, in this case "draft pedigree" is a proxy for college production. Geno was very productive in college in a BCS conference. Plus he has plus physical tools. Doesn't it make sense that guys who were very good in college and are athletic with strong arms would get a little more rope?

25
by Noah of Arkadia :: Fri, 08/15/2014 - 9:54am

Haha, yeah it is pretty funny how the exact same season can be interpreted in vastly different ways just depending on the round the player was drafter in. Higher picks would tend to have higher ceilings, so you would naturally put up with more crap in order to get to the good stuff, but it's still crap, why call it by any other name?

In this particular case, I give rookies the benefit of the doubt unless they are truly abysmal. Geno came close to that, but I think it's reasonable not to write him off after what apparently was a solid 4-game stretch to end the year. Did he really have 239 DYAR? Considering he had a total of -371, that would be particularly impressive. -610 in 12 games has to be close to a record, right?

------
Who, me?

26
by mehllageman56 :: Fri, 08/15/2014 - 11:36am

I'm pretty sure he did, I've done the math twice. The hilarious thing is, while he had a yearly total of -371, most of the negative DYAR came in just a couple of games. The first New England game, -170, week 4 vs Tennessee, -72, week 6 vs Pittsburgh, -90, week 8 vs Cinci, -113, and then this ultimate disaster: week 11 vs Buffalo, -257. When Geno was bad last year, he was REALLY BAD. But he would rotate the good in with the bad, until that Buffalo game where he hit an ugly slump, and then came out of it against the Raiders.

I'm not sure if -610 over 12 games is a record, but that Buffalo game is the 12th worst performance by DYAR in the FO database.

27
by Travis :: Fri, 08/15/2014 - 1:23pm

I'm not sure if -610 over 12 games is a record, but that Buffalo game is the 12th worst performance by DYAR in the FO database.

Can't be a record - there have been a handful of QBs (mostly rookies like Ryan Leaf and Alex Smith, but the occasional Bubby Brister or Trent Dilfer) who were below -610 DYAR in seasons in which they played 12 or fewer games. Gabbert and Carr (who played full seasons with <-1,000 DYAR) almost certainly had worse stretches as well.

28
by mehllageman56 :: Fri, 08/15/2014 - 3:42pm

The thing is, Gabbert never had a game as bad as Geno's game against Buffalo. What Gabbert has over Geno is the ability to be consistently bad. Don't take this as me despairing over Geno's potential; I am convinced that the entire Jets team was either still drunk or hungover when that game started, since they went to the bar together the night before.

30
by theslothook :: Fri, 08/15/2014 - 3:49pm

Did they actually go to the bar the night before? This is shades of rex grossman before the green bay game.

44
by mehllageman56 :: Sun, 08/17/2014 - 6:59am

Ok, I exaggerated. The entire team went to Dave and Busters the afternoon before the game. Here's an espn article about the game: http://espn.go.com/blog/new-york-jets/post/_/id/31417/jets-lose-because-...

I just assumed they got plastered because of how bad they played, not just Geno but the entire team. It was EJ Manuel's best game as a rookie.

42
by Duff Soviet Union :: Sat, 08/16/2014 - 1:25am

I'd be curious to see if there's anything interesting to be mined about bad but inconsistent QB's vs consistently bad ones.

I'm still a fan of Geno, his yards per attempt figure was pretty good and I tend to like young QB's like that who can move the ball but just make too many mistakes (interceptions, sacks) vs QB's whose main goal is to avoid mistakes ala Joey Harrington or Christian Ponder. Plus he was highly productive in college.

I'd definitely take him over the other rookie QB's.

29
by yoyodyne :: Fri, 08/15/2014 - 3:42pm

I know everyone loves to say how healthy the Eagles were last year, but losing their starter, and then their backup in Foles cost them 2 games last year -- you know the 2 games where they scored one TD? Does 'SEVEN quarters of Matt Barkley' ring a bell? 49pts the next game with Foles.

So, missing Maclin, missing top 2 QBs for 2 games, might be 'healthy' compared to other NFL teams, esp O-Line, but they were 10-4 last year with 1 of their top 2 QBs playing the majority of snaps.

The defense will improve with #1 Smith, Jenkins [no more Chung!], and Nolan Carroll shoring up the CBs. 2nd year in the 3-4 for Cox/Cole will help.

And you'd be crazy to think Foles can't improve as a QB, even if he throws more than 2 [or 6 or...] INTs.

One would also think Chip has learned some things and come up with a few new tricks up his sleeve, even Didinger said he did some fantastic in-season changes to his play-calling.

Anyone who's taking Over on NYG and Was, and Under on PHL must be....a pessimistic Iggles fan. I know the type.

31
by theslothook :: Fri, 08/15/2014 - 3:56pm

I don't root for any team in the nfc east but this is my overall impression. Much like the redskins of a year back, there was a sense that the offense operated at a level of efficiency that was rather startling. By efficiency, I mean an offense that is very consistent, scores well without turning it over. For example, Dallas and Chicago are capable of scoring a lot, but they are also capable of being sloppy as well. It's one thing when an offense is piloted by one of the big 4, but its another when it comes from a qb so young and inexperienced and from a team in general that had not displayed this kind of efficiency before.

There's also the matter of losing desean, coupled with a defense that even with some progression, is expected to be no higher than average. You take all those factors, plus some likely adjustments to chip's scheme and I can see where the pessimism begins.

Ultimately, the nfc east is an enigma. I don't like any of the teams overall, but I think each has enough quality, aside from maybe the cowboys who might legitimately have the worst defense on paper in the league.

32
by Perfundle :: Fri, 08/15/2014 - 4:36pm

Even if Foles improves as a QB, he's almost certainly not going to have the highest passer rating or a top-2 DVOA, and the on-field performance is what really matters where wins are concerned.

40
by tuluse :: Fri, 08/15/2014 - 8:06pm

"We have found that one of the keys to a successful offensive line (and thereby a successful offense) is continuity."

I'm pretty sure FO only found a correlation not a causation.

43
by Hextall_27 :: Sun, 08/17/2014 - 5:03am

Here were the Giants standout performances on D last year:

NYG 23 MIN 7 - Freeman was on the Vikings for 2 weeks
NYG 15 PHI 7 - Matt Barkley
NYG 27 GB 13 - Scott Tolzien
NYG 20 DC 6 - Kirk Cousins on a golf-bag-ready / coach-out-the-door 3-12 squad.
They did not get better with Beason, they got a favorable schedule.

Outside of those games, NY gave up 29 ppg in the other 12.

Add in a year 1 WCO Eli behind a wet cardboard O-line and this is a good team?
8 UNDER is a gift from Vegas

The 27th rated DVOA team signing players the Ravens, Chiefs, and Seahawks were quite fine with losing is now dangerous?

The next secondary that plays well with DRC in it will be the first.

45
by Perfundle :: Sun, 08/17/2014 - 5:19pm

"They did not get better with Beason, they got a favorable schedule."

They got a favorable schedule by having the most difficult defensive schedule of any team? Sure, they played against some backup QBs, but many teams can say the same. Those 29 ppg include a league-leading 9 non-offensive touchdowns that the defense wasn't responsible for, as well as horrible field position given to them by the offense and special teams. Even if you take out those four games, the Giants allowed only 5.11 yards per play in their other games against some really good offenses, which would've ranked 9th in the league.

48
by TomC :: Tue, 08/26/2014 - 3:43pm

I actually don't disagree with this logic, but I have a very hard time assuming objectivity from this poster given the pseudonym (which is a handy indicator of not only rooting interest but also age and level of crazed Philly-ness).