Among the first things you learn when you jump into the sports-betting/handicapping community is to retire the word “guarantee” from your vocabulary, at least when it comes to dispensing actual wagering advice. If you want to guarantee that Bill Belichick will be surly at every postgame press conference, that Michael Vick will get knocked out of at least one game, that the ridiculously named children of pretentious celebrities will someday rebel (Rainbow Aurora and North, meet Miley), that’s fine. Because, well … because those are absolute givens.
Guaranteeing that the Redskins will cover the 4½-point spread against the Eagles in Week 1 is not.
So don’t expect to see any guarantees while perusing this week’s NFC South season win-total recommendations. … OK, you twisted my arm: I guarantee the Atlanta Falcons—the same Falcons who went 13-3 last year, while their three division rivals all went 7-9—won’t repeat as division champs. Why? Because in the 11 seasons since the NFL was reconfigured into eight four-team divisions, the previous year’s NFC South champion has never repeated. Your last six winners, in order: Buccaneers, Panthers, Saints, Falcons, Saints, Falcons.
Pretty strong stat right there. Here’s another: As part of my 52-25-1 record in three years offering NFL win-total recommendations, I’m 7-2 in the NFC South, including a perfect 4-0 last year when, you may recall, I promised you the Saints wouldn’t repeat as division champs. Now let’s move on before I channel Joe Namath again. (Reminder: I’m using the best available odds from the LVH, William Hill, Cantor Gaming and Station Casinos.)
Buccaneers (7½ wins): When the Bucs woke up on Thanksgiving Day last year, they were 6-4 and firmly in the playoff hunt. Then they fell into a lengthy tryptophan coma, dropping five straight games (including two by a total of three points). Still, even at 7-9, coach Greg Schiano’s first season in Tampa should be viewed as successful, especially since the Bucs went 4-12 in 2011 and played much of last year without Pro Bowl guards Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph.
Speaking of Pro Bowl talent, Tampa added veteran defensive backs Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson in the offseason—smart moves when you have to see Matt Ryan, Drew Brees and Cam Newton six times a year. Improved roster aside, for the Bucs to eclipse 7½ wins, they must navigate a brutal schedule and reverse two disturbing trends: They limped to the finish line in both 2011 (10 straight losses) and 2012 (1-5 finish); and they haven’t improved their victory total over three consecutive seasons in 18 years! The play: UNDER (+125, Cantor).
Falcons (10): With such weapons as Ryan, Julio Jones, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez and newcomer Steven Jackson, Atlanta’s offense once again will be more explosive than a Quentin Tarantino flick. And the Falcons, who last year ranked fifth in points allowed (18.7 per game) but 24th in yards allowed (366 per game), wisely signed former Giants sack specialist Osi Umenyiora and used six of their first seven draft picks on defenders. Additionally, since Ryan and coach Mike Smith both arrived in 2008, Atlanta is 56-24, winning 11, 9, 13, 10 and 13 games. Now here comes the “but” … but, the Falcons have never won more than 10 games in back-to-back seasons. Tough to bet against that history when you see a dicey schedule that includes consecutive December road trips to Buffalo and Green Bay sandwiched in between home games against the Saints and Redskins. The play: UNDER (-160, Station).
Panthers (7½): Did you know that the 2012 Panthers scored just six fewer points than their opponents? And went 4-4 on the road? And closed the season on a 5-1 run? And ranked in the top 10 in total defense, sacks, rushing offense, third-down conversions and fewest penalties? And had a quarterback (Newton) whose rating was better than those of Andrew Luck, Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler? Me neither! Here’s something else I didn’t know: Carolina has won at least seven games in 14 of the franchise’s 18 seasons. Then again, in seven of those 14 years, the Panthers finished with exactly seven victories. Throw in a schedule that includes the Bills, Cardinals, Vikings and Jets, but also the Patriots, Seahawks and 49ers, and this is a toss-up. The play: OVER (-125, William Hill).
Saints (9): From the sports-betting handbook: Don’t bet on a bad coach in a big game; come playoff time, bet on one Manning (Eli) and against another (Peyton); and don’t lay heavy juice when making futures wagers. Well, I’m breaking that last rule, because I don’t see how Sean Payton (suspended all of 2012 in the bounty scandal) isn’t worth at least two more wins than last year’s combo coaching platter of Aaron Kromer and Joe Vitt. Remember, New Orleans went 7-5 last season after a 0-4 start. More importantly, remember that with Payton roaming the sideline from 2009-11, the Saints won 13, 11 and 13 games. The play: OVER (-170, Station).
Best Bet: Saints-OVER
Next Week: NFC West