As you probably know, the NFL so loathes gambling (wink, wink) that it refuses to accept advertising dollars from Las Vegas. But if the results from Week 1 of the preseason are indicative of what’s to come when the games actually count, perhaps our neighbors in Pahrump could make a pitch to become an official league sponsor. Their slogan: “Pahrump: Like the NFL, we make it easy to score!”
Traditionally a snore-fest in which most first-stringers never break a sweat and the first team to 17 usually wins, opening weekend this year featured turnstiles at the goal line. With unproven unknowns seeing the bulk of the action, the “over” went 11-5, with 10 of those contests averaging 47.5 total points. That last number is startling when you consider Week 1 totals ranged between 34 and 36½ for all but one game (that being Eagles-Patriots, whose 31-22 final flew past the total of 40).
Obviously, you shouldn’t overreact to what occurs in early August (yes, I’m looking right at you, Bills and Cardinals fans!). At the same time, it’s become clear that the NFL’s suits have more tolerance for DUIs and domestic violence than they do defense. Which brings me to my season win-total breakdown of the NFC North, whose four teams last year averaged between 23 and 27 points per game. It’s also the division where the only squad that fielded a top-10 defense failed to make the playoffs—despite a 10-6 record. (Reminder: I’m using the best available odds from the LVH, William Hill, Cantor Gaming and Station Casinos.)
Bears (8½ wins): Not only was Chicago the lone 10-win team last year that stayed home in January—losing a tiebreaker to the Vikings—but it did so despite leading the league in takeaways, ranking third in scoring defense (17.3 ppg, 11 spots ahead of Minnesota) and fifth in total defense (again, 11 spots ahead of Minnesota). Forget about the “defense wins championships” cliché; it doesn’t even win you playoff berths anymore.
As a result, the Bears traded in longtime defensive-minded head coach Lovie Smith for Marc Trestman, a longtime offensive mastermind … from the CFL. As a welcome gift, Trestman was handed enigmatic QB Jay Cutler, who’ll never win a Most Coachable Player award. Still, if—and it’s a big IF—Trestman can convince Cutler to buy what he’s selling, the Bears’ passing attack, one of the league’s worst in 2012, could be every bit as dangerous as the defense will be dominant. Then again, who’s willing to bet on Cutler, whose first preseason pass was picked off? Shockingly (gulp!), me. (Also shockingly: Cutler is 27-13 as Chicago’s starting QB over the last three years). The play: OVER (-120, LVH).
Lions (7½): Two years ago, Detroit gained 6,338 yards, scored 474 points and went 10-6. Last season, Detroit gained 6,541 yards, scored 372 points and went 4-12. That’s right: The 2012 Lions gained 203 more yards than the 2011 Lions … and scored 102 fewer points. In other news, liquor stores in greater Detroit reported a surge in profits last winter. All kidding aside, the Lions’ defense took a big step back last year, but reinforcements arrived via the draft and free agency. That, along with a last-place schedule, an explosive offense and some much better luck—five of last year’s losses were by a total of 14 points—has me very high on the 2013 Lions. The play: OVER (-140, Cantor).
Packers (10½): To all you Cheeseheads about to slit your wrists after last week’s 17-0 loss to Arizona: Calm down. Your Packers started 0-1 each of the previous three summers, too; all they did was go 36-12 in those regular seasons. In fact, Green Bay has won at least 10 games four years in a row and 13 times in the past 18 seasons! Now for the bad news: The franchise has never posted double-digit victories in five straight seasons. But history isn’t why I’m selling Packers stock in 2013; it’s the season-ending knee injury to left tackle Bryan Bulaga. Without Bulaga, QB Aaron Rodgers—who has been sacked 168 times over the last four years—isn’t making it through 16 games in one piece. And one of the signal-callers behind Rodgers is the recently signed Vince Young. Now that’s a reason for Cheeseheads to reach for the knife! The play: UNDER (-110, Cantor).
Vikings (7½): I’m not saying Minnesota’s 10-6 record last year was a fluke, but … only three of those victories came against playoff teams: a Week 3 upset of the 49ers, and season-ending wins against Houston and Green Bay (in games that meant nothing to Houston or Green Bay). Of course, now is where you mention the name Adrian Peterson. And I counter with this fact: The last five running backs to surpass 2,000 yards in a season saw their rushing total decrease by an average of 986 yards the next year. And only two of the five played in all 16 games. And none were less than two years removed from reconstructive knee surgery. The play: UNDER (-145, LVH).
Best Bet: Lions-OVER
Next Week: NFC South