Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders
Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz

Mike: Remember last year, when we said this?

Tom: The motto of Scramble for the Ball is "all predictions wrong or your money back!" Now that Mike and I are writing Scramble for the second straight season, we thought we'd start by breaking tradition. Rather than two insanely long, very late preseason columns, we're writing more preseason columns, each of semi-reasonable length and more or less on time.

It held true for last year, but this year? Not so much.*

Long-time readers will notice that this (and next week's AFC Over/Under feature) is not written in our usual conversational style. Given the hectic nature of life and this offseason, our usual style simply was not possible for the over/under columns. Worry not, however! I constructed a prop stand-in for Tom by getting a promotional Voldemort standee from my brother-in-law and taping an old pair of glasses to it. I think this has aided my creative process, although my apartment may now have ants since the faux-Tom, unlike the real one, does not actually eat all the popcorn I throw at it.

Anywho, in the interest of only kinda boring everyone to death (mostly death?), we'll dive right in. For those unfamiliar with this feature, Tom and I will go around the NFC, division by division, and pick the over or under on total number of wins by that team over the course of the season (the line is in parentheses after each team name). Let'sa go!


Philadelphia Eagles (10.5)

Mike: It's somewhat strange that the general enthusiasm most outlets (including us!) have for the Eagles hasn't spread to the books. Not that 10.5 isn't a respectable number, but going by the chatter from basically all quarters, this team is the football equivalent of Joan Sutherland singing in front of Neville Marriner conducting Itzhak Perlman and Yo-Yo Ma. There have also been some weird basketball comparisons involving the Dream Team, but those seem a bit silly. Then again, that would mean Philadelphia would win four Super Bowls followed by an embarrassing defeat at the hands of the Tiburones, so I suppose that's a comforting comparison for fans of the Eagles and fans of the IFAF. Over.

Tom: If you’re going in, you’re going full throttle, and the Eagles are definitely going in. I like to sort of mock Joe Banner over his slightly bitter-sounding comments about how the best team (read: the Eagles) doesn’t necessarily make it to, let alone win, the Super Bowl, but this feels like an unambiguously better version of last year’s 10-win team. No, the linebackers aren’t good, and I’m not entirely sold on the offensive line, particularly at right tackle. Still, the receivers, especially if Jeremy Maclin is healthy, are good fits for what the quarterbacks (plural, as Michael Vick will almost inevitably miss time) do. I didn’t love the draft picks, and a newbie defensive coordinator who’s changing sides of the ball scares me. But it’s a passing league, and I love the defensive line coach, their likely ability to rush the passer, and their cornerbacks. 10.5 is a big number, but anything under 12 wins and a first-round bye will be a disappointment. I’m not betting on a disappointment. Over.

New York Football Giants (9.5)

Mike: If the shiny new Eagles secondary is going to give any one team headaches, it is the Giants. Eli Manning is a very good quarterback, but he has a tendency to sail more than his share of passes. That might work against the Cowboys or the Redskins (or even the Eagles of old), but Philadelphia's shark tank should nip the deep ball in the bud. Still, that's only two games out of 16 (provided Goodell doesn't add another game to the schedule while nobody is looking), and the G-Men get to play the NFC West. While passing might be a liability in some games, I don't think New York's running backs (especially behind that line) will come up with many third-and-longs. That adds up to over.

Tom: The three lodestar numbers show double-digit wins in 2010. The offensive line changes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be worse. The Giants’ string of strong first-half records should continue, as going into the bye 5-1 appears quite doable. Unfortunately, a 6-game winless streak is possible later in the year with four road games and home contests against only the Packers and Eagles. They were deservedly on the verge of the playoffs last year, but it’s not clear this year’s team will be as good or improved. Under, but just.

Dallas Cowboys (9)

Tom: Actual wins in 2010: 6.0. Pythagorean wins in 2010: 7.0. Estimated Wins in 2010: 6.8. Tony Romo returns, but is any other aspect of the team upgraded other than possibly by subtraction? The Cowboys did manage to hit the Over in 2009, but they regularly feel overrated today. Would they win the NFC West? Yeah, sure, but I feel like I’d write that about at least half the league (and now I self-impose a moratorium on NFC West jokes for non-NFC West teams). The NFC East does play the NFC West this year, which should provide a nice win boost. I’d feel better if this line were 9.5, but I’m still going under.

Mike: Everyone likes to talk about the high-flying offenses of the NFC East. Granted, Philadelphia, New York and Dallas all have very good, exciting, explosive offenses. The problem is that of these three teams, one of them has basically no defense to speak of. If you can read (you've made it this far! I believe in you!) you can probably guess from the heading which of these things does not belong. The Dallas secondary hasn't changed much from last year's absolute train wreck, and before anyone starts extolling the virtues of that unit's 2009 campaign, I will point out that they finished tenth and ninth in the league in DVOA against No. 1 and No. 2 receivers, respectively. That's good, but hardly compelling reason to give these guys the benefit of the doubt. Teams with good offenses and shaky coverage are hard to gauge because they can lose a shootout to just about anyone. I'm pretty high on the Giants and Eagles, so I'll go with the under.

Washington Redskins (6.5)

Mike: Good lord. Rex Grossman? John Beck? This team is simply too sad to write about. Under.

Tom: Donovan McNabb is a flawed quarterback, but whatever his flaws are he’s at least not Grossman or Beck. I bought into FOA2010’s hype for what the Redskins could’ve been last year, only to get burned. This year, I see a 6/5.9/5.9 win team that got significantly worse at the game’s most important position and did not make any significant upgrades in free agency. I can’t even use the NFC West-crutch, as I don’t think the Redskins get a “significantly better, even if only at quarterback” bump. I’m trying desperately not to overthink an under here.


Atlanta Falcons (10.5)

Mike: I must admit, I went again my own rule and started looking down Atlanta's scheduling, counting out wins and losses. It's a terrible way to do these sorts of things, but I don't have much of a handle on the Falcons. We know they won't be as lucky as they were in 2010, but how much less lucky? And how much of the excellence was simply another, deeper and more obscure layer of ur-luck? Sadly, your Scramble writer is no luckologist, and will have to rely on trite conclusions like "Matt Ryan is pretty good" and "the Saints are a paper tiger" while mulling over simulated games that, much like the Jets Public Relations department, exist only as figments of the imagination. For the record, I counted out 11. That's over.

Tom: The Falcons won 13 games last year, but they didn’t seem that good to me, and 10.4 Estimated Wins bears that out. I thought their obvious biggest need after the playoff defeat to the Packers was more good defensive players, so of course they go out and make a big move for a No. 2 wide receiver. I’m not completely sold on Playmaker Score, but some of the stuff it picked up on did bother me about Jones in college. Ray Edwards was their only big free agency move; yes, I think he’s an upgrade, but I don’t think he’s a game-changer on passing downs. The safeties are older, but I still don’t like them or the non-Brent Grimes corners. I expect the Falcons to be good once again, but it’s easier for me to see 9 wins than 11. With a target of 10.5, that reads Under.

New Orleans Saints (10)

Mike: I have a pretty crazy history with the Saints' O/U in this column, so it's fitting that our line is at 10 games even. Here we have another team with a high-flying offense accompanying a rather suspect defense, the kind of team that is really impossible to predict. Offense is predictable; it doesn't vary that much from year to year. Defense, on the other hand, is hectic and chaotic. The difference between feast and famine is usually the performance of one or two players, and teams built obsessively toward offense are prone to collapse when the rickety defense underpinning their success finally caves. Rob's breakdown of Gregg Williams' historic turnover numbers in FOA 2011 comforts me far less than it seems to comfort him. While I agree the team will likely regress toward the mean, I also see a championship year in which the Saints were good but not dominant, fueled by an incredibly atypical haul of turnovers. I think the Saints will be respectable. I think they could even win 10 games. I am not, however, going to take the coward's path, and will therefore say under.

Tom: I’m not sure Darren Sproles is quite as versatile a chess piece as Reggie Bush, though he’s probably better at what he does. The offense should again be very good, and I doubt Drew Brees will throw quite as many interceptions. Defensively, the addition of Aubrayo Franklin seems like a very good idea. Does retaining Lance Moore qualify as an underrated move? He seems like a useful movable part that they would’ve had difficulty replacing. I know we spent last year’s playoffs making fun of Roman Harper, but keeping him was still the right move. This is a pretty reasonable whole number line, but with no money at stake, I’m going to eschew boldness. This team is better than they were last year, and that’s good enough to beat out the Falcons to win the NFC South and to beat 10.0 wins. Over.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8)

Tom: The Buccaneers were a win away from the playoffs last offseason, but it was fortunate they made it as far as they did. As the line indicates, they were closer to a “true” 8-win team than to the 10-6 record they finished with. Like the Falcons, they need more defensive players, and I was not a fan of their selection of two players with medical question marks (whoever did the Bucs chapter this year, feel free to dust off my Jaguars piece from 2010 on “twin draft pick” theory) in the first two rounds of the draft. That said, I do enjoy this team’s young talent, particularly the strides Josh Freeman took in his sophomore campaign. Like New Orleans, this is a reasonable whole-number line, but I’m a little bit down on the Buccaneers this year and that means under.

Mike: My main concern last year was Freeman's viability as a starting quarterback. In the end, I was pleasantly surprised by the relative success of an offense I had basically written off as bargain-bin roster building. It turns out the defense was far more guilty of dumpster diving, while the offense is something classier … like Pawn Stars, maybe? We can't get too carried away doling out the top hats; LeGarrette Blount is still on the roster, after all. In general though, I'm high on the Buccaneers. I think their defense is going to bounce back after a visit to slightly-above-averageland, and another year for Tampa's young stars to mature (hopefully both on and off the field) should only lead to improvement on last year's pleasant surprise. Over.

Carolina Panthers (4.5)

Mike: 4.5 is really, really low. It takes a special kind of awful, a Lions or Browns-level of structural and athletic ineptitude, to sink below five wins. While the Panthers seem to understand the necessity of a rebuilding phase (unlike, say, the Redskins), it's hard to hit the bottom harder than the Panthers did last year. There is a long way to go, and, as is the fashion of the day, that long road will begin by throwing a decent but generally unremarkable quarterback with no indications that he will instantly fit into a pro offense into a vat of boiling sharks. What could possibly go wrong? As bizarre as it is, the Panthers seem like a low-rent (negative-rent?) version of the Buccaneers. I suppose Carolina did at least take the high road and avoid players with too many conduct issues. I'm sure that moral rectitude will console Ron Rivera as he watches Cam Newton run around in the backfield to "Yakety Sax" on a long, brutal road to the under.

Tom: Let’s get one thing clear right off the bat: the Panthers were really bad last year. Like really, really bad. They had the first-overall pick in the draft for a good reason. They spent some crazy money in free agency, overpaying for many players, some of whom did not even play for the team last year. I’m far from sold on Newton as an NFL-caliber quarterback. David Gettis was their second-best wideout at worst, and losing him for the year is a big loss. That said, this team was average defensively last year, and with anything resembling half-decent quarterbacking from Newton has the defense, running game, and pass-catchers between Olsen and Steve Smith to do a lot better than they did last year. Based on what else happens in the division, I think Ron Rivera could get this team to 7-9 this year. That probably won’t happen, but 4.5 is an awful low number for a team that isn’t ridiculously untalented. Over.


San Francisco 49ers (7.5)

Mike: Those of you reading ahead have probably scanned over the lines for the NFC West teams. I know what you're thinking: that these numbers are crazy. Whoever set them hasn't been paying any attention to what is going on out West. I agree. In any just world, these lines are way too high. Sadly, we live in an imperfect reality, and someone is going to have to win this division. Why not the 49ers? Alex Smith has morphed from a laughingstock to just a regular variety stock and the young offensive line has potential. On the other hand, the rest of the team is hardly bristling with talent. I have faith in Smith to have a non-terrible year, and I think the youth movement will mostly pan out for Harbaugh. In a few years, this team may even be respectable. In the meantime, it gets to play in the NFC West. Over.

Tom: There’s almost no way Frank Gore makes it healthy through 16 games, though both you and I already knew that. I do like the Carlos Rogers and Donte Whitner signings, and adding Braylon Edwards is a lot better than, say, signing Plaxico Burress would have been. Can Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis play better in their second season? Can Davis play much worse? Could they really not have used Aubrayo Franklin, or is there something going on behind the scenes that we don’t know? This team seems like they benefit from getting a third-place schedule, but 8-8 is a little bit too much for me. Under, but just.

St. Louis Rams (7.5)

Tom: The Rams went 7-9 last year in a terrible division, and probably overachieved, as they only had 5.7 Estimated Wins. The offense struggled to move the ball down the field in chunks of any recognizable size, and the defense played well only in fits and starts (giving up 44 points to the Lions: not one of those “playing well” moments). In Josh McDaniels’s first year with his previous franchise, he took the league’s second-best offense (by DVOA) and turned it into the 18th-best. A coach with that kind of record combined with a quarterback (Sam Bradford) that, objectively, was thoroughly mediocre doesn't sound like a great start. Add in an aging lead back (Steven Jackson) and it seems the Rams offense has some pretty dismal ingredients. Personally, though, I’m rejecting that line of thought. I’ve had my man-crush on Bradford since his redshirt-freshman year at Oklahoma, and his receiving corps last year after Mark Clayton went down was so pathetically miserable that even the current grouping feels like a big upgrade. I liked the Robert Quinn pick in the first round. I have confidence in Steve Spagnuolo, and hate the other quarterbacks in the division (well, ok, I feel bad for Smith). Playing the NFC East will probably be an eye-opener as to just how far the Rams have to go, but I like them enough to win the division and that’s an over.

Mike: We really should have saved the NFC for Part II, considering just how much chaff there is in the weaker conference, and how similar one piece of chaff is similar to all the other pieces of chaff: a young or project quarterback, untested talent at skill positions, and bad defense. Looking around the league, it seems that the image of the high-flying NFL has been taken far too much to heart. We are nearly halfway through the preseason and St. Louis has how many cornerbacks in the mix for the starting positions? Credit should go to St. Louis for some of the smart moves they made this off-season, including signing talented coordinator (I know, boo-hiss) Josh McDaniels and picking up a number of veteran role players to help their young talent develop. Fortunately, they don't need to reach the potential of that talent, since the NFC West is the weakest division in football. Unfortunately, the Cardinals and 49ers are going to be much better than the Rams. Under.

Seattle Seahawks (6.5)

Mike: I would say that no team is going to lose more from the lockout-shortened offseason than Seattle, with its glut of free agent signings, but the stakes are so low it really doesn't matter. That isn't to say that the Seattle rebuilding project isn't going well –- in year two, it actually looks like one of the most promising refits in the league -– but it is still a rebuilding project. I must say that I am really pleased with this development, since the sooner Seattle is good again, the sooner Seahawks fans will shut up about 2005. St. Louis and Seattle actually seem to complement each other well, with Seattle relying on its decent defense and St. Louis its decent offense to keep games from turning into laughers. Maybe they can talk about this strange concurrence over a few pints of ice cream at the bottom of the vaunted NFC West. Under.

Tom: I hate this team. Not that I have anything personal against any of the Seahawks, but they offend my sensibilities. They beat the Rams, and deserved to beat the Rams, but overall I thought they were worse and less interesting than the Rams last year. They’re now starting Tarvaris Jackson or Charlie Whitehurst at quarterback. At least one of those feels like the plotline for a joke. Their most prominent free agent acquisition is Sidney Rice, who’s only had one good (and particularly healthy) NFL season. Is Zach Miller really that big an upgrade on what John Carlson could’ve given them? On top of that, the change in kickoff rules seems likely to hurt Leon Washington’s value. The Seahawks last year ranked 29th in DVOA on both offense and defense; to me, that indicates what kind of season you would have expected from them. Only now, they’re worse, most crucially at the most important position. Under, though a weak schedule should make them only just so.

Arizona Cardinals (6.5)

Mike: Considering all it took was one retirement to turn one of the better teams in the league into a brackish swamp of mediocrity, I am considerably higher on Arizona's chances au Kolb than most. I think the most important consideration is that Arizona is sunny and generally pleasant (it's a dry heat!), just the kind of day spa climate to help Kevin Kolb get over his Post-Eagles Stress Disorder. A happy Kolb means a productive Kolb, and even with recent departures, Arizona still has the best offense in the NFC West by light years, which should be enough. Over.

Tom: The Cardinals finished last in the league in DVOA and Estimated Wins in 2010. Like their rivals for those dubious honors, they suffered from instability and incompetence at the quarterback position, and tried to upgrade that position in the offseason. As I mentioned in Audibles last year, I really fell out of love with Kolb after being very high on him heading into last season. I thought he struggled both with reading defenses that did something interesting and with handling pressure. Philadelphia didn’t have an elite offensive line, but Arizona’s last year tended to be worse, and we learned even Fitzhulu couldn’t solve every problem. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the Kolb trade was not a big loss, as his play didn’t really live up to his draft position, but the Cardinals were bad defensively and even Patrick Peterson can’t turn everything around in one year. Under.


Green Bay Packers (11.5)

Mike: Surprise, surprise, the Packers are great again. A great quarterback, very good receivers, terrifying linebackers and people in helmets in the secondary mean that they will be a force to be reckoned with. That said, I get the feeling that there will be some regression from the passing offense and the passing defense, which to my mind were huge over-performers last year (keep in mind that moving from “very good” to “we just made Troy Polamalu look silly” is, in fact, over-performance). Then again, more time for the offensive line to come together and get more push in the running game can only help. The problem with well-built teams is that they're just so … so … boring. Over.

Tom: The Packers truly had a remarkable season last year, and the big offensive pieces from last year are still around, plus Jermichael Finley returns from his injury. Can he be the same player he was before the injury? Are there enough footballs to throw to all the receivers, including second-round pick Randall Cobb and re-signed James Jones? A couple defensive pieces, most notably Cullen Jenkins from a relatively thin defensive line, aren’t around. While they survived the second half of the Super Bowl without Charles Woodson, I’m not a huge fan of the secondary depth. Is the offensive line better or worse? It would be easy to overlook those questions and assume that last year’s champs will bestride again, but 11.5 is a large number. Too large for me. Under, though still on top of the division.

Chicago Bears (8.5)

Mike: The Bears, on the other hand, are never boring, even when they are good, which they were/are/could be at some point. Really, who knows? Greg Olsen is gone, but he didn't receive many targets, and while the offensive line should be much improved, Jay Cutler is still Jay Cutler. For some insane reason Mike Martz -– not satisfied with simply drawing up insane plays -– is busting Johnny Knox down the depth chart. You won't find a bigger Martz booster than myself, and considering how down I am on Cutler and the Bears' receiver corps I think he's done a great job. I do think the Bears are in a dangerous holding pattern, however, and that bodes ill for the future. The future isn't now though, and these Bears are like all other basically average Bears teams before them: good defense, bonkers offense. This is a toss-up, so I'll say their luck goes the other way this year. Under.

Tom: The Bears won 11 games last year and won a playoff game, but only went 8-5 against non-third string quarterbacks and had 8.2 Estimated Wins. The offensive line had no major personnel upgrades (Olin Kreutz to Chris Spencer is pretty much a wash in my book). Amobi Okoye and Vernon Gholston do not actually qualify as personnel upgrades on the defensive line. Roy Williams only seems like an upgrade if you look at his catch totals from his year with Martz in Detroit and ignore, say, his targets that year. Playing Knox and Devin Hester the same amount does not feel like an upgrade. A team that relies on good special teams seems to be negatively affected by the kickoff change, even if that will end up feeling less radical at the end of the year than it does right now. The Lions no longer qualify as tomato cans, and there are few obvious road wins on the schedule, just coin-flip contests. A modest total for a team that seems like to put up modest results. Under, but again just so.

Detroit Lions (7.5)

Tom: 6-10 was their actual record, but they had 7.8 Pythagorean and Estimated Wins. I’m still not a big fan of the secondary outside Louis Delmas, but they upgraded at linebacker and if Nick Fairley is healthy and half the player he was in college, the defensive line should be pretty good. The big question remains Matthew Stafford. When healthy, he can be a very good player, but I’m not convinced he has or will ever have elite-level accuracy. If he’s not, well, Shaun Hill isn’t that bad, but he’s still Shaun Hill. This is a bit of a speculative move, but I like the Lions enough to go over even though I can see them winning 6 games easier than I see them winning 9.

Mike: Rebuilding NFC team is rebuild … ing … zzzzzzzzz. What? Oh, I'm sorry. Hey look, it's another NFC team with a solid quarterback prospect, potential at the skill positions, and a shaky secondary. While there is a light at the end of the tunnel for long-suffering Lions fans, it is still a ways away. Fortunately, Courage Wolf is here to cheer them up en route to another under.

Minnesota Vikings (7)

Mike: This team is hard to gauge. Last year had the feeling of a doomed season, where everything and anything (including the ceiling falling down on everyone's heads) could and did happen. I don't normally buy into narratives, but there was either some kind of curse on the Vikings last year or Brad Childress's parting gift was LSD in the water supply. Considering Randy Moss's rant was about catering and did not contain “ph'nglui mglw'nafh Fitzgerald R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn,” I'm actually inclined to believe the latter. Moss is gone, the team has a for-reals quarterback, and the drugs have to had diluted to ineffective levels at this point, so we are left with a potentially explosive offense next to a pretty good, if aging, defense. I'm going with the over, because I like Frazier and a successful Donovan McNabb season would be a delicious jab at Philadelphia, if he actually plays. I think this is our last whole-number line, so I figure Tom will be forced to wuss out here and take a push.

Tom: Michael Jenkins was not a great second wide receiver for a team with an elite #1 receiver on the other side, and now he’s starting opposite a guy who is hurt a lot or Bernard Berrian? The first-round pick went on a future need, not an immediate need, though I would rate McNabb as an upgrade on the final year of Brett Favre’s career. The first preseason game is the first preseason game, and included very limited Adrian Peterson. Will Leslie Frazier be the kind of coach who is willing to grind out games? Having Kevin Williams for all 16 games would help that kind of strategy. As unwise as it is from a betting perspective, Push is my call.

Mike Hah!

* Suckers.

And we're back! Next week is the AFC Over/Under Extravaganza, followed by the always-amusing Football Outsiders Staff Fantasy League (FOSFL, for those texting their comments) draft recap. If you have any questions about your upcoming draft (specific questions, mind, not “please set my board up for me"), shoot us an email at Contact Us and we'll try to work it into one of our two remaining preseason columns.


93 comments, Last at 22 Aug 2011, 9:37am

1 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

At the end of the season, when voting for the awards on FO, I wrote in the same thing when asked what FO should do if the lockout dragged on:

MORE SCRAMBLE!!!!!!! Make it a twice a week column. Better yet, thrice a week column!!!!!!

29 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

Sizable and passionate does not mean that overall it is a great town for a sport. The Mariners have at best a bandwagon crowd as their attendance figures recently attest. Almost nobody in Seattle cares about them unless they are winning. I consider it a sports town for the sport only if they get sell-out level support when they are losing (Packers, Browns, Cubs, baseball Cardinals, Celtics, etc.) And I have no idea who the Sounders are. I could look it up, but they're not one of the four major team sports (NBA, MBL, NBA, NHL).

77 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

The Seahawks have sold out every home game in at least the last ten years. I'm pretty sure some of those years were losing seasons... but then it looks like you decided to use the Mariners as an example of how much people in Seattle like football. Hmm. I wonder what those Pirates attendance numbers look like...

79 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

MLS isn't far behind the NHL, and the way Bettman has managed things, that'll change in 5-10 years.

So you don't consider any places sports towns for any sport other than football? (Never mind that the Cubs don't sell out because fans support the team, they sell out because Wrigley is a great place to catch some rays, drink beer and enjoy company, even if it basically sucks for watching baseball.) 81 games are far too many for capacity crowds, even for successful teams. (Only 3 MLB teams currently average 100% capacity or more.) By the way, St. Louis drew 87% of capacity last year ... not in a losing season.

Hockey's a bit better, but still has a long season ... 12 of 30 teams were at 100% or more. Detroit managed "only" 98.1%, and they had a good season.

I'm actually surprised that 6 NBA teams averaged a sellout or better last year. I didn't realize people had that kind of money these days.

I'm also surprised that only 9 NFL teams averaged a sellout. (Packers = 97.1%. In a Super Bowl season. Same as Pittsburgh, actually ...) So that poses a problem, doesn't it? I mean, if three of the five teams you listed as "sports towns" aren't actually sports towns by your own definition (Cleveland averaged 90.3%, 25th in the league) ...

83 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

If the Patriots or the Steelers or the Eagles were on the wrong side of XL, we'd REALLY never hear the end of it.

The Seattle fanbase has had one major championship in - well - forever really and has only seen one combined World Series and Super Bowl appearance. When the result of that was, well, questionable at best, how do you expect the fans to react. "Oh well, we'll get them next time?"

87 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

Don't worry, there's room for plenty of blame to go around. Still though, when I'm lying awake at night and think back to XL, I usually reflect on the offensive PI call (technically legit but almost never called), the holding that I've never been able to find, and the weird illegal block penalty right before the trick play touchdown (although if you take away the hold, you don't need to worry about that one). Turn the FG into a TD, assume somehow (like I do when I'm rewriting history) that Alexander can score from the 2 and that's the 11 points right there.

And no, I don't see it as bias or anything, just one of those games where the breaks all flowed the wrong way at the worst possible time. Flip a play here or there - like SOMEONE making an attempt at tackling on the Parker TD or stopping the 3rd and 28 play or...

I better stop now before I spend all night dwelling on it again...

7 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

This "the Bucs selected two players with medical question marks" is the most-repeated falsehood I've heard this year.

Adrian Clayborn is not a 'medical question mark'. He has Erb's Palsy, which limits the range of motion in one of his arms. It's not a weak knee that could give out or a history of injuries, it's one condition that has had the same effect on him all his life. Everyone knows exactly how that limits him (it doesn't, really) and it never shows up on tape. It's not going to get worse, and it's not going to need medical treatment. It's just..there, as a physical limitation.

Calling that a 'medical question mark' is akin to calling Danny Woodhead's height a 'medical question mark'. It's nonsense.

26 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

Preach, brother. Not only does it not show up on tape, but the number one thing scouts rave about him is the use of his hands. In every single report I have read about him, and I mean literally every single one, there is always some mention of how strong, active, and violent his hands (plural) are. Doesn't sound like a one-armed bandit to me. The glowing reviews from training camp seem to bear this out.

11 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

Irrelevant statistic that may interest only me: the over/under figures right now add up to a total of 131, or 3 more than the 128 win figure of 16 "average" 8 win seasons. I've paid no attention to Vegas except as entertainment, but I am going to guess at a couple things here:

1) Vegas makes more money on people betting overs than unders due to the relative size of fan-bases vs hate-bases for all except characters like Favre made himself into.
2) However, Vegas can't predict 1- and 2- win seasons without forfeiting that advantage and anyway seriously how do you predict suckitude of that magnitude?
3) Therefore, any total across a decent-sized sample is going to be "over" the average.
4) Therefore, since the total is actually really close to the average, Vegas thinks the NFC is going to be bad. As a corollary, the AFC will be predicted to be better overall, and have a total of near 140/at least 135 on the over/under.

We'll see how that works out.

"When you absolutely don't know what to do any more, then it's time to panic." - Johann van der Wiel

50 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

I appreciate that this is a fun column and you are in no way in the business of providing a tipping service, but in the interests of completeness you really ought to include the money line for each o/u mark (or at least state where it differs from -110/-110). Using the Arizona example, the money line already implies that the sportsbook believes there is approximately a 55% likelihood they will get more than 6.5 wins, and you would clearly want to take that into consideration before betting.

16 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

Three things to keep in mind:

1. While we didn't list them, most overs and unders have different returns.
2. A book tries to keep the line at a place where action is pretty evenly split, adjusted for payouts and bettor expectations. That way, no matter what happens, the house makes money.
3. The NFC has historically been the weaker conference.

67 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

Last year I put these two graphs together to cover inter-conference play. They don't include 2010 and aren't labeled on the axes, but they cover 1970-2009 iirc.

Win Differential

Winning Pct

In short: the NFC briefly was much better; then the AFC dominated play for most of the 70s. The 80s were fairly even; the 90s went mainly to the NFC; and the '00s have gone really really to the AFC. Overall it's not a hard call to say the AFC has been overall better since the merger - at the same time, the game has changed so much that doesn't really mean that much in the end.

"When you absolutely don't know what to do any more, then it's time to panic." - Johann van der Wiel

12 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

I think the Packers biggest problem will be complacency. Even getting Finley and Grant back (Let's face it. none of the other players on IR - even Tauscher - was that great a loss.), most of the players may think if we did it without them, we should easily do it with them back. If the Eagles win the SB, I think all their FA signings help the Packers by lighting a fire under the team that I don't believe would otherwise be there.

14 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

I don't understand the Packer secondary depth comment given Burnett returning and reportedly tearing it up at camp and several young cornerbacks looking to push vets like Jarrett Bush and former second round pick Pat Lee to the curb.

The crux is the defensive line. I don't buy that Capers can get by with basically one really good player in Rajii and a bunch of pluggers.

34 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

Yeah, comments like that about the DBs make me wonder, who *does* have good DB depth, if GB doesn't?

Three out of four of GB's starting DBs are either pro bowlers (Woodson, Collins) or on the cusp (Williams), Peprah is serviceable but will probably be pushed to the bench by Burnett's return to health, and Sam Shields was very good at Nickel last year, reliable enough that he would play outside so that Woodson could wreak his havoc from the slot.

After that, sure, it gets a little dicey (haven't really seen rookie Davon House in action, though it seems likely he could upgrade the dime CB spot). But honestly, how many teams would say they are comfortable with their dime back or worse getting significant playing time? I can't think of too many.

I'm not too worried about the D-line. It may be a little thin, but if Neal can just stay healthy for most of the season it could be an upgrade over last year, when he missed nearly all of the season and Jenkins was in and out of the lineup. The rest of the players are essentially the same.

17 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

I look at the Eagles, and I see a team that looks about as formidable looking ahead as the 2007 Giants team looks in retrospect.

And that team is considered one of the most undeserving playoff teams to win a Super Bowl. Should we expect the Eagles to be better than those Giants were?

Do the Eagles have better wideouts? Desean is more exciting than Plax was, but better? Not sure about that. Maclin, off the mystery illness, better than Steve Smith (the healthy)? Steve Smith, the recovering-- should we expect him to do better than the well-dressed Amani Toomer did? And Hixon and Shockey. The latter was overrated but still dangerous.

The Giants running back provided offense was meaningfully better than the Eagles'.

The Eagles o-line is a concern. It was the Giants' strength.

Swing to defense. The Giants had a monumental edge at DL. They could wreak havoc on even the best offenses when clicking, as Brady discovered. The secondary was strong, with the development of Webster.

Like the Eagles, we considered linebacking to be optional.

So the main differences between the teams are special teams (which the Giants appear to be trying to improve) and this small position of quarterback.

I agree with those who think he'll miss time this year. But let's stipulate not. Why does everyone seem to think he's play at as high a level next year as he did this year? His past does not suggest it. But even then, I think I'd rather the Giants WR, OL, DL, RB, with decent enough secondary and LBs who are NFL caliber talents plus a so-overrated-he's-bashed-around-to-being-underrated QB, to the Eagles killer secondary, decent DLine, and LBs who are NFL caliber talents, not particularly strong OL, a decent RB or two, and a previously hyped QB who had a good and exciting season for which many have thought him capable, but for which he had never shown the ability to attain and hold.

And if Vick goes down, they are the 3rd best team in the division.

I see a team comparable to a team that was considered one of the worst to make a run in the plaoffs. Capable of it, but fortunate if they are even in the mix.

I go under on both of them and my Giants.

28 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

I realize I don't follow football in as much detail as some, but while the 2007 Giants team may have been one of the biggest surprises, I don't think I've heard them referred to as "undeserving" before. And I'm not sure where you could construct that narrative, though I'll grant I didn't watch much Giants ball before the playoffs since I'm from Michigan...

But they had a 10-6 record, 5th seed, 2nd place in the NFC East that sent 3 teams to the playoffs, only 6 teams had a better record over the whole NFL. Sweet pass rush and overall good D, decent-to-good QB, pretty good running game. But you went over that in more detail than I did or can really. Then in the playoffs they spanked Tampa, beat Dallas (the division winner) and Green Bay, before the Super Bowl. It may not have been the prettiest team ever, and of course in the Super Bowl they had quite a bit of luck... but how are they one of the "most underserving"? Especially when you have the debacle that was 2005 to compare it with.

Anyway, getting back to the Eagles - I don't think they're really comparable. Vick is better than Eli, I think, while Vince Young-in-Philly is pretty much a total wild card. I think the receivers in Philly now are better than the Giants had then, although I wouldn't swear to it. Long story short, where the Giants had an average-to-good offense and a scary D, I see Philly with an average-to-good defense and scary O because seriously Reid's offense has put up serious points with AJ Feely and even Young's better than that, right?

Dream team? Not really - the only NFL team that came close recently was the 2007 Pats. But probably the best team on paper right now? Certainly in the NFC East, maybe in the NFC (though: Green Bay? Atlanta? Chicago?). I'm not sure about comparing to the AFC because I'm not sure what to make of anyone except the Pats (and the Colts because the Colts are Manning no matter how bad they look otherwise).

"When you absolutely don't know what to do any more, then it's time to panic." - Johann van der Wiel

33 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

I don't think I've heard them referred to as "undeserving" before

You found this website sometime after that season was over, I am guessing?

I am a Giants fan, by the way.

I guess I could have been more succinct-- I agree with your last paragraph. Good team, probably best in the NFC East, in the discussion for best in the NFC on paper.

However, I also think there is a significant chance that Vick will take a meaningful step back from his production (once becoming a starter) last year.

43 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

The Eagles are the great experiment. It's a team totally dedicated to passing, whose best runner might be their QB. This is the anti-throwback team. They don't run, can't stop the run, and basically dare you to try to throw and play a dime the entire game. It's the future of football.

19 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

"A young or project quarterback, untested talent at skill positions, and bad defense." That seems nearly all-encompassing to me.

The 11th-best defense in the league last year had a positive DVOA: are there really that many good defenses?

How many teams don't have either a young or a project QB? Six? Eight? And every single team has untested talent at some skill position, right?

I understand Mike not wanting to write much about the Lions, given that pretty much everyone is trying to make them their Trendy Pick this season, but something (other than the generic statement above, modified only slightly) would have been nice. (I don't even know that all the modifications are accurate. Do most people still think Stafford is a solid prospect? Never mind, most people think Bradford is a solid prospect.)

For that matter, Tom wasn't much better. The defensive line was already pretty good: 6th in ASR, 7th in Power, 13th in Stuffs (although 17th in ALY), and that was with Vanden Bosch missing five games last year. A healthy Fairley could make them a real problem for opposing QBs (insert Goodell joke here), and they do have the depth to withstand injuries again, whether it's Fairley, KVB, or even Suh.

The questions are really about the rest of the defense. Will the revamped LB corps provide the support for the DL that last year's unit could not? Can the DBs get in front of awkward passes that the DL will be forcing? Is this the season that Cunningham finally has the tools to create the pressure he needs to make his defense solid?

On offense, a healthy Best should be able to show a little more than he could last season after his injuries; the absence of Leshoure will hurt a bit, maybe. Pettigrew is certainly contributing in areas outside the passing game, but the Lions drafted him to be a threat catching the ball as well. There are your two bits of "untested" talent (maybe unproven instead?).

Obviously Megatron has proven himself ... but who will draw coverage from Johnson? Burleson had a 64% catch rate last year, but had a negative DVOA in part because he caught so many dumpoff passes (44% were short, nearly half again the percentage he'd seen in 2009), even though he averaged 1.1 more YAC. Can one of the existing younger guys step up as a solid slot receiver? Will it be Titus Young instead, or one of the other rookies in camp? (The Lions have four rookie WRs right now.)

Or perhaps more to the point, will the OL finally give QB Lions the time he needs to find receivers not named Calvin, or the time he needs to find a receiver named Calvin who suddenly has a full step on his man? The passing attack was pretty decent last year, 17.8%, and they actually posted five games with a DVOA of greater than 30% ... but that 17.8% was only good for 17th in the league. The Lions are not going to keep the heat off their defense unless their offense can be consistently successful, and that starts with the OL. (We could talk about the running game - 8 straight games with a DVOA below -10% - but we don't have to, do we?)

Jim Schwartz somehow managed to sneak into the organization without Mr. Ford discovering that he knows something about the game, and quickly, Schwartz and Martin Mayhew have put together the pieces of a team that could actually contend (gasp!) in the future. Barring some substantial leaps of improvement, that future is not this year. This team is reminiscent of the '90s Lions: enough potential that they could actually make a playoff run, enough question marks that they could easily finish last in the division. Those Lions alternated between the two ... these Lions may as well, but the playoff run won't be this season. I say under.

81 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

I find that I struggle with my better self when it comes to discussing him. I mean, on one hand, I don't necessarily want bad things to happen to him, but on the other, thinking about the money he's made despite being totally incompetent for literally decades, the way he drove one of the best RBs in modern football from the game simply by being an idiot ...

22 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

I count five, PHI, NO, CAR, STL, and DET, plus push on MIN. As noted in a different comment, the NFC is projected with 3.5 "extra" wins, so if you think inter-conference balance will be .500 or lean AFC, U should exceed O's. There are also a couple teams that I projected to go just U. I may have been a little too negative, but it wasn't unthinkingly so like my 2009 NFCS all-under call.

25 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

A few quotes from the article seemed odd to me:

1. "We really should have saved the NFC for Part II, considering just how much chaff there is in the weaker conference"

Likely Weak-Average AFC Teams (9):
AFC West-Chiefs, Raiders, Broncos
AFC North-Bengals, Browns
AFC South-Maybe Titans and Jaguars
AFC East- Bills and Dolphins

Like Weak-Average NFC Teams (10):
NFC West-49ers, Rams, Seahawks, Cardinals
NFC North-Vikings and Bears
NFC East-Redskins and Maybe Cowboys
NFC South-Panthers and Maybe Bucs

At a glance it seems roughly equal, I would also probably place higher probability on either the Bucs, Rams, Cowboys, or Bears being very good than I would the AFC maybees such as the Titans, Jaguars, Dolphins, or Chiefs.

**If you want to talk Elite Teams as the way to judge conferences I suspect that GB, Philly, and NO/ATL (whichever you prefer) matches up pretty well with NE, Pitt, Balt/SD/Jets (whichever you prefer as the #3 team)

2. "Surprise, surprise, the Packers are great again. A great quarterback, very good receivers, terrifying linebackers and people in helmets in the secondary mean that they will be a force to be reckoned with."

Seems a little odd since the strength of the Defense is their secondary, not their linebackers (unless I misunderstood what "people in helmets in their secondary" means). Not only is GB's secondary the strength of its Defense but also probably the Best Secondary in the NFL.

63 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

I'm not arguing that the total numbers are wrong. I'm just surprised how many people seem to be certain that Detroit is going to be a really good team this year.

Houston has at least been in playoff contention a couple of times the last few years. But sure, you could add them too. There's lots of a gray area here.

30 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

"We are nearly halfway through the preseason and St. Louis has how many cornerbacks in the mix for the starting positions?"

Exactly two. Ron Bartel will start on the left and Bradley Fletcher will start on the right. There were probably only 3 or 4 positions on the entire roster with more certainty than this.

Now, do they have a cast of thousands auditioning for the 3rd corner spot? Sure. But not the sraters.

Of coruse, they're an NFC team, and you've made it painfully obvious that you consider the NFC to be merely an afterthought.

38 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

I actually am mildly dyslexic. Not a big deal, but when I type without spellcheck, things like that sometimes slide by. Those little red underlines in Word are probably a hassle to most people but are a big help to me. I think I'm a worse speller because of it, but yet it does make it easier to fix mistakes. Some more caffine might help.

42 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

I think people will be surprised at how decent the Cowboys will be defending the pass when they're not just running Wade Phillips' bullshit schemes. I'd seriously never seen anyone who tried less than Wade Phillips in 2010.

It was pathetic. Everyone knew what the Cowboys were running, at all times. Every play was basically a pre-season defense-- just line up and try and win your individual battles. Horrible to watch, and I skipped the last two games of Wade Phillips era because I just stopped caring, since he obviously did.

That said, they're probably still the 3rd most talented team in the NFC East.

54 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

Very shocked to see the comment about GB's secondary depth. You look at their top 3 corners that any team would be happy to have. Then you have Nick Collins and A returning Morgan Burnett with good potential. You have A very solid backup who played well last year in Peprah at safety. Then after that you have young players who have performed well in training camp battling for the dimeback position in Davon House and Josh Gordy.

55 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

I have to believe even with what the Eagles did at Cornerback GB still has the best secondary in the NFL. If it isn't known now by the end of the year when Shields really starts shining and Williams is even more known they will hands down be the best secondary.

58 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

Philly has two CBs better than GB's best CB. They have a #3 CB who's better than GB's #2, and a dime back who was their #2 last year and very good as a nickel. GB might have better safeties, but Philly has the best set of corners since the 60s Lions rented a corner of the DB HOF.

66 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

I have no horse in the race, but if 2011 were the only consideration, this is the order I'd take those players:

I think you can divide the players into three distinct tiers, and in each I'd have a preference for the Eagles' player, but it's a close thing. If I care about years beyond 2011 those second two pairs switch. I'd dearly love to have either triplet instead of Ike Taylor, Brant McFadden, and Willie Gay.

69 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

I might switch Shields and Rodgers-Cromartie now, rather than later, and I think I regard Woodson as part of the Samuel-Williams tier at this point rather than close to Asomugha.

And I would likewise happily trade Jonathan Joseph, Jason Allen and Sherrick McManis for either group. Hell, I'll throw in Kareem Jackson as a "bonus".

71 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

I'd take the Packers corners in the 60's (Adderley and Jeter) over Philly's of today. For a while, Dallas had Mel Renfrow and Charlie Waters before Waters switched to safety. Oakland's Haynes and Hayes in the 80's may have been the best duo ever. I'm sure there are others, but you don't have to go back to Detroit in the 60's.

59 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

Yeah not sure what the linebackers comment is about for GB. There's Bloodline/CMIII and're terrified of pro-bowler A. J. Hawk? a maturing Desmond Bishop? A revolving door of adequate no-names?

Mike Neal's health and the DL performance is their key issue, that and C. Wood staying healthy and productive.

62 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

Please check and correct the following GB sentence...

"...keep in mind that moving from “very good” to “we just made Troy Polamalu look silly”..."

Should be something like “we just made a on legged version of Troy Polamalu look silly”...


65 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

An Elite Qb in a Spread Offense making Polamolu look silly isn't exactly something new. For what it's worth, GB also made Pitt's D look silly in 2009 but Polamolu couldn't look bad because he sat out. GB's Offense is just a terrible matchup for Pitt's D and would likely score 30+ again if they played this year.

70 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

I don't get Mike's comment on the Rams secondary - I'm pretty certain our secondary starters are nailed down - Fletcher and Bartell will start at CB, Justin King will probably be the nickelback (this was Jerome Murphy until he got injured), although it could be that Al Harris comes at that point and King is the dime. Mikell will be one safety and Dahl will almost certainly be the second. Beyond the dime position, yes, it does get a bit questionable, but then it does for most teams doesn't it?

The wider Rams D certainly isn't elite, but its no worse than average, and likely to get better with the addition of an actual defensive tackle in Justin Bannan, another pass rusher in Quinn, possibly someone other than an empty shirt at one of the OLB positions (I'm intrigued by the possibility of Darian Stewart, an undrafted safety from last year potentially moving down to LB in passing situations) and getting Fletcher another 8 months removed from his ACL and LCL tear in his rookie season. Promising coverage CB coming into his 3rd year and his second season removed from a serious knee injury? Yes please.

Chris Long turning some of his pressures into sacks would be nice as well.

That whinge being said, I suspect it was a typo. Was the sentence supposed to say "wide receivers", instead of "cornerbacks"? Then, yes, I agree with you.

72 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

I suspect it would be more accurate to say Mike doesn't know because he's not paying attention.

Unfortunately, I think you should have a very real concern with the Rams D taking a step backward this year. The level of production they got from some veteran players simply isn't sustainable. Na'il Diggs, Fred Robbins and especially James Hall had years that will probably be considered the high water marks of their careers. All 3 are solid players, but all 3 have 10+ years of NFL level wear and tear. None of the 3 are star players. Expecting similar production from them this season doesn't seem to be realistic.

Robert Quinn may be a first round pick, but lets see him crack the starting lineup before we start penciling in production from him. And there's still a gaping hole at safety beside Mikell.

On the other hand, the linebacking corps should be much better. And yes, big picture, this looks like a young, improving defense which should be somewhere in the average to above average range. But aside from Laurenitis and arguably Chris Long, they have a serious lack of big-play ability. I suspect there will be times when they will look very good and times when they struggle to get off the field.

73 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

Pete Carroll and John Schnider are building something special w/Paul Allens money in Seattle. Big, strong and fast.You all make your silly little comments while you can because a whippin' is a commin' to your team soon.

76 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

Man, as a Seattle fan who goes out of his way to be pretty polite and understanding about internet sports fandom, politely fuck off with this "crying about 2005" crap.

84 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

I don't understand why everyone thinks that the Redskins are going to be a dumpster fire this year. Sure, the QB is going to be no better than average this year, at best, but Shanahan's system will all but guarantee the emergence of a 1000-1500 yard rusher from the stable of RBs he has brought in during the offseason. So the offense will have a strong ground game and, in turn, a quarterback who will probably be more than adequate in some of the rollouts and play fakes Shanahan will ask him to execute. The real key to understanding the Redskins potential to win 10+ games this year is the defensive acquisitions they've made in the offseason. If you were too enamored with Philadelphia's offseason to notice, the Redskins quietly revamped and solidified every level of their defense with potentially elite players. Barry Cofield and Stephen Bowen add serious pass rush capability to the interior of the defensive line. OLB Ryan Kerrigan was one of the best pass rusher prospects in the 2011 draft who perfectly complements Pro Bowl OLB Brian Orakpo playing opposite him. They still have solid and dependable London Fletcher playing in the middle. They acquired underrated CB Josh Wilson in free agency. They signed FS OJ Otogwe in free agency as well and pairing him opposite SS Laron Landry in addition to Wilson and Hall will give them one of the best secondaries in the league.

Laugh all you want, but I'm confident that the Redskins will have a top 5 defense and win more than 10 games this year. If you want to make some money this year, bet on the OVER for the Skins win total with confidence.

85 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

Here's my best plausible scenario for Washington:

vs NYG - W
vs ARI - W
@ DAL - W
@ STL - W
vs PHI - L
@ CAR - W
@ BUF - W
vs SF - W
@ MIA - W
vs DAL - W
@ SEA - W
vs NYJ - L
vs NE - L
@ NYG - L
vs MIN - L
@ PHI - L

Record: 10-6. Divisional: 3-3 (I guessed sweep Dallas, split with NYFG, swept by Philly; the actual wins and losses might change but I think 3-3 is the best they can reasonably hope for).

I see four potential games that could end up adding one win (but only one), or changing to a bunch of losses: ARI, STL, SEA, MIN. Cards, Rams, and Seahawks are all going to be dangerous this year - not necessarily good, but dangerous. They should be wins but I can see the Redskins managing to lose any or all of those games. I pegged Minnesota as a loss, but if the McNabb Experience is as inexplicably bad for the Vikes as it was for the Redskins last year that could change even with AP. At any rate, 11-5 is the absolute ceiling for this team, if they get ALL the breaks; 10-6 is possible-ish but overachieving. Bad luck could knock them down to 6-10, maybe worse.

The upshot of all that is I see the Redskins as a 7-9 win team, with dropoff being more likely than overperformance.

(Also not sure where you're getting top 5 defense. It's not impossible, I guess, but I wouldn't expect it - even if all the acquisitions and drafts work out, it's year one of having all the pieces together.)

"When you absolutely don't know what to do any more, then it's time to panic." - Johann van der Wiel

88 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

I think you're vastly underestimating the strength of this team in your win/loss calculations. With the defense this team will have this year, wins against Philly, New York, and New England are certainly not out of the question, and they most certainly will not lose to weak NFC West teams.

Did you see how much talent they acquired? The defense is absolutely stacked, and it wasn't talent-poor to begin with. They were a top 10 defense in 2009 if I recall correctly and Bryan Orakpo was a rookie Pro Bowler. The scheme change from a 4-3 to a 3-4 set them back last year and positioned some players to fail, but they have jettisoned the square pegs in round holes (Andre Carter, etc) and replaced them with round pegs (Ryan Kerrigan) and added a boatload of good to elite players (Cofield, Bowen, Wilson, Otogwe).

Your comment about "even if all the acquisitions and drafts work out, it's year one of having all the pieces together" is plausible, but then why are we talking about Philly's acquisitions improving their defense? Why is there a double standard? I personally don't think that "chemisty" matters as much and is nothing more than an overused talking point.

I feel very confident that the Skins will win more than 10 games and field an elite defense, and I'm an Eagles fan, but a realist above all.

89 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

I feel like Philly can "plug in" players and keep rolling because they've established themselves. I don't expect them to be complete world-beaters on defense, what with coordinator changes and everything, but the system as a whole is there already.

Washington Defense DVOA:

2009: 10th/11th weighted (Points: 18th)
2010: 26th/27th weighted (Points: 21st)

I'd expect, based on personnel improvements, regression to the mean, etc. that the WAS defense finishes somewhere between 10-15 - a little over average, in other words, with even better things to come.

Most of my worry is about the offense. Mike Shanahan's system in Denver consistently produced top-tier offenses, but he had Plummer and Cutler. He had McNabb last year, who is better than Plummer (probably) and idk about Cutler, and the result was a catastrophe. Of course, the entire season was a mess, so in a way I'm willing to give him a waiver. But Grossman's a 30 yr old, 9th-year player, with one good season 6 years ago and even that was only a 3123/23/20 season. Beck's record is even less existent. Either of them could be good, but I don't see an immediate reversion to the top-ten offense Shanahan had in Denver. Above average, probably, but that's it.

Kyle Shanahan's offense was equally spectacular in Houston, but that was with Schaub and Andre Johnson, etc. So the same quarterback concerns apply here. And since they're not even really the same offense, that further complicates prediction.

Add in that I'm looking at a 10-6 Eagles team getting better, and a 10-6 Giants team probably treading water (worst drop I'd expect is to 8-8), and a 6-10 Dallas team with, I think, both more continuity and more pieces in place than an equally 6-10 Washington team, and I just don't see 10 wins even with the NFCW on the schedule. I see a more-or-less above average team playing in a tough division, which I can't bring out to 10 wins without a lot of luck. I'm not saying it's impossible: I just don't see it happening as comfortably as you do. For me it's a best-case scenario for the team, not an expectation.

(For the record, I'm a Lions fan and I'm now living in the DC area, so maybe I'm just too accustomed to low expectations?)

"When you absolutely don't know what to do any more, then it's time to panic." - Johann van der Wiel

90 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

Sweep the NFC West, go 3-3 in division, go 3-3 against rest of schedule. It's certainly possible; unlikely, but possible.

I don't see how they end up higher than that, though. The absolute best they can hope for out of Grossman and Beck is average competence, and with Shanahan and Son going out of their way to antagonize players, I don't see the improvement.

91 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

"Mike Shanahan's system in Denver consistently produced top-tier offenses, but he had Plummer and Cutler."

Don't forget the #3 DVOA offense in 2000, with 10 games of Brian Griese and 6 of Gus Frerotte, or the #5 DVOA offense in 2002, with 13 games from Griese and 3 from a 37 year old Steve Beuerlein. Or the 24.3% DVOA (7th) and 599 DYAR (15th) that Sage Rosenfels posted in 2007, with Shanahan the Younger as his QB coach. I wouldn't rule out the possibility of worthwhile production from Beck. Grossman, on the other hand, has sucked hard in his opportunities in both Houston and Washington, and is probably just irredeemably shit.

93 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2011 NFC Over/Unders

Count me among those laughing. It's not that the redskins don't have NFL caliber talent. It's that year in, year out, the whole is constantly less than the sum of the parts. I see no reason to suspect this year will be any different. I believe I said 4-12 in an earlier post, and my opinion is unchanged. As long as Danny-boy is setting the tone from the top, the team will continue to underachieve.