AFC East leads off look at NFL ‘futures’ wagers

Much like there are more ways than one to jab an ice pick into the back of a tortured city—as LeBron James so cruelly proved—there are more ways than one to satisfy your NFL betting fix.

Even though the first preseason game doesn’t kick off until Aug. 8, many local sports books have been taking action all summer on the season over/under win totals for the NFL’s 32 teams. These “futures” wagers have become increasingly popular in recent years, as the betting public tries to match wits with oddsmakers in determining which teams are poised to make a leap forward and which squads are plummeting faster than LeBron’s jersey sales in Cleveland.

With the opening of NFL training camps just days away, I’ll spend the next few weeks breaking down the over/under win totals for each team. My recommendations are rated from 1 (flip a coin) to 5 (hello, college fund for the kids!).

NOTE: My MLB All-Star Game picks were still in play at press time, leaving my bankroll at $5,345.

BILLS (over/under: 5): Poor Marv Levy must be rolling over in his grave—and he’s not even dead! The Hall of Fame coach who took Buffalo to four consecutive Super Bowls in the early 1990s has been a tough act to follow. Hard to believe the Bills’ latest leader—former Cowboys coach Chan Gailey—is going to fare any better, especially since his QB depth chart reads like a law firm: Edwards, Fitzpatrick, Brohm and Brown. Considering how the Bills start (Dolphins, Packers, Patriots, Jets) and end the season (Bengals, Steelers, Vikings, Browns, Dolphins, Patriots, Jets), it’s no wonder Buffalo’s win total is tied with the Lions and Rams for lowest in the league. Still, only once since 1986 have the Bills finished with fewer than five wins. Recommendation: UNDER (1).

DOLPHINS (over/under: 8½): Miami went from 1-15 in 2007 to 11-5 (and an AFC East title) in 2008 to 7-9 last season. So it’s only natural that Vegas would have Miami pegged for an over .500 season this year, especially with rocket-armed QB Chad Henne having a full season under his belt, plus the acquisition of Pro Bowl WR Brandon Marshall and a maturing offensive line. However, the early portion of the Dolphins’ schedule is tougher than a steak at Sizzler. After opening at Buffalo, Miami plays consecutive games against the Vikings, Jets, Patriots, Packers, Steelers, Bengals and Ravens, with only three of those at home. I can see 8-8, but 9-7? That’s a stretch. Recommendation: UNDER (2).

JETS (over/under: 9½): I’m definitely no Rex Ryan fan, but you’ve got to hand it to the guy: Last year, he started a rookie quarterback (Mark Sanchez) whom I thought would be a bust, threw him into the fire, supported him with an incredible defense and reached the AFC Championship Game. Then Ryan went out in the offseason and picked up one big name after another. I’m still not willing to go “all-in” with Sanchez, and four of New York’s first five games are hardly gimmees (Ravens, Patriots, Dolphins, Vikings), but three of those are in the Jets’ new stadium. Also, only half of the team’s 16 games are against opponents that finished 2009 with a winning record. Recommendation: OVER (3).

PATRIOTS (over/under: 9½): You know the last time the Pats finished with fewer than 10 wins? It was 2002, Tom Brady’s second season as the team’s starting QB and the year after they won their first Super Bowl. And even then, New England went 9-7. So history suggests you should just close your eyes and blindly bet the OVER here, right? Wrong. While Brady should be fully recovered from the devastating knee injury that cost him all of 2008, primary target Wes Welker won’t be fully recovered from the knee injury he suffered in the final game of the 2009 regular season. Also, the NFL schedule-makers finally stuck it to Bill Belichick (eight of the Pats’ first 14 opponents finished with 10 or more wins last year). Recommendation: UNDER (1).

Matt Jacob is a former local sports writer who has been in the sports handicapping business for more than four years. For his weekly column, Vegas Seven has granted Matt a “$7,000” bankroll. If he blows it all, we’ll fire him and replace him with a monkey.

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