Packers set for another big year, but Eagles won’t fly as high as expectations


Photo by Getty Images | The Eagles’ success this year depends greatly on Michael Vick’s ability to stay healthy.

The biggest winners during the NFL’s four-month lockout? Local cardiologists, who undoubtedly saw a rise in new patients, namely oddsmakers in town who with each passing day were suffering cardiac distress over the possibility of a delayed, truncated or canceled 2011 season.

Then the defibrillator arrived on July 25, when the players and owners finally agreed on a new 10-year collective bargaining deal, ending the labor dispute and saving the season (not to mention the sports books’ financial backside).

The ink hadn’t even dried on the new pact when those of us who like to, ahem, invest in the NFL got our gift: the release of regular-season over-under win totals.

MGM Resorts International was first out of the box, posting its numbers less than 24 hours after the lockout ended, and followed the next day by Cantor Gaming (M Resort, Hard Rock, Tropicana and Cosmopolitan). Now most properties around town have released their season win totals … which means it’s time for yours truly to dive in and present my “best bets” for both the NFC (this week) and AFC (next week), using the best available numbers from four establishments: MGM Resorts, Las Vegas Hilton, Cantor and Lucky’s.

And for those of you muttering to yourself, “Finally, I get a chance to fade this clown again!” take note: Last year, I made recommendations for all 32 NFL teams … and went 22-10! (Note: My bankroll remains at $7,086.)

Cardinals (under 7, -110 at Hilton): Did Arizona upgrade big time at quarterback when it acquired Kevin Kolb from the Eagles? Definitely. Then again, I would’ve been an upgrade over Derek Anderson and Max Hall. Hell, Verne Troyer would’ve been an upgrade. But here’s what you need to remember about Kolb: 1) He didn’t come cheap (the Cardinals sent starting cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to Philly, an underrated hit to Arizona’s defense); 2) he’ll have less than six weeks to learn a new system and gel with the Cards’ personnel; and 3) he’s got exactly 19 games of NFL experience, with more interceptions (14) to his credit than TD passes (11). Tom Brady, he’s not. Plus, take a look at Arizona’s post-bye-week schedule: vs. Steelers, at Ravens, vs. Rams, at Eagles, at 49ers, at Rams, vs. Cowboys.

Packers (over 11, -130 at Cantor): Recent history suggests an “under” play on Green Bay is in order. After all, of the last six Super Bowl champs, only two—the 2007 Colts (13 wins) and 2008 Giants (12)—had more than 11 wins the following season. Then you take a peek at the Packers’ 2011 schedule and realize they’re destined to buck that trend. Check out these cupcakes: Panthers, Broncos, Vikings (twice), Raiders and Chiefs. The Packers’ toughest road game? Week 5 at Atlanta, where Green Bay won 48-21 in last season’s divisional playoffs. Also, don’t forget that the Packers didn’t have their starting tight end or top running back for most of last season (among a slew of injuries) and went 10-6. (Note: If you think Green Bay is due for a regression, the MGM, Hilton and Lucky’s all have the Packers’ win total at 11½.)

Eagles (under 10½, +110 at Hilton and Lucky’s): As soon as free agency began, the Eagles went on an Andy Reid-at-a-buffet-like rampage, snapping up one big name after another. As a result, Philadelphia is now the smoking-hot girl at the bar that everyone wants to take home. Well, as we all know, the smoking-hot girl at the bar is often also the most dangerous, and here’s the red flag hovering over the Eagles right now: Quarterback Michael Vick has played 16 games just once in his career (his last year in Atlanta in 2006). Translation: It’s a given that Vick’s going to get hurt at some point, which means it’s a given that Vince Young is going to see the field at some point. Do you want your money riding on that head case in, say, Week 12 when Philadelphia plays New England? As for the “dream team” the Eagles have assembled, well, ask the Redskins how free-agent spending sprees work out.

Redskins (under 6½, Even at MGM and Cantor): When Mike Shanahan took over the Broncos in 1995, he inherited John Elway, whose rocket right arm carried Shanahan to Super Bowl titles in 1998 and ’99. Since Elway retired after winning his second ring, here’s the pupu platter of QBs that have started for Shanahan: Gus Frerotte, Brian Griese, Steve Beuerlein, Jake Plummer, a raw and immature Jay Cutler and an over-the-hill Donovan McNabb. The two QBs on Shanahan’s roster as he begins his second season in Washington? Rex Grossman and John Beck. And that’s not even the most comical part. This is: On the Redskins’ official website last week, the depth chart listed first-stringers at every position but one. Yep, quarterback! Shanahan has since named Grossman his starter, but, come on, it’s still Rex Grossman! Assuming he holds on to the job, Grossman still will have to deal with a schedule that starts Giants, Cardinals, Cowboys (road), Rams (road) and Eagles, and ends Cowboys, Seahawks (road), Jets, Patriots, Giants (road), Vikings and Eagles (road).

Buccaneers (over 8, +135 at Hilton): There’s no straddling the fence when it comes to the 2011 Buccaneers. Either you believe Tampa Bay, which finished 10-6 last season and came within a win of knocking the eventual-champion Packers out of the playoffs, is on the rise; or you believe the Bucs, who won five games last year (Browns, Bengals, Rams, Cardinals and Redskins) by a combined 11 points, took advantage of an easy 2010 schedule and are in line for a serious regression. Here why I’m pitching a tent in the former’s camp: Much to my shock, Josh Freeman has quickly become a very capable NFL quarterback, a guy who simply finds a way to win; the Bucs went 6-2 on the road last year, and I don’t care who they played, that’s impressive; and Tampa Bay could easily sweep the AFC portion of its schedule (Colts and Texans at home; Jaguars and Titans on the road) and should be favored against the Lions, Vikings, 49ers, Bears and Panthers (twice).

Lions (under 8, -130 at Cantor): If the Eagles are the sexy girl at the bar, the Lions are the slightly flawed sister sitting on the adjacent stool who gets more attractive with each cocktail you suck down. Once the league’s laughingstock, the betting public has fallen in love with Detroit to the point that the Lions’ projected win total is equal to the number of victories they’ve recorded in the last three seasons combined! I’d love to join the love fest—lord knows loyal Lions fans, assuming there are any left, deserve a playoff contender. But I can’t, because I don’t trust QB Matthew Stafford, who’s as fragile as our economy, to stay upright for eight games (let alone 16). Even if Stafford can remain on the field, I don’t believe Detroit has found a legitimate offensive threat to take the pressure off stud WR Calvin Johnson. Keep in mind that the last time Detroit had more than seven wins, the phrase “hanging chads” was part of the American lexicon (they went 9-7 in 2000).

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By Matt Jacob

Well, it’s over. No, I’m not talking about Amy Winehouse (what, too soon?). Rather, I’m referring to America’s greediest pissing match, a.k.a. the NFL lockout, which was lifted July 25 after the owners and players finally figured out how to divvy up a $9 billion pie. Who won (the owners and players, of course) and who lost (Joe Fan, as usual) is irrelevant. All that matters is the 2011 season will start on time, the only casualty being the Hall of Fame game (an annual showcase of fourth-stringers vs. fourth-stringers that makes the LPGA seem compelling by comparison).