Like most middle-aged men, I have a list of people who annoy me that grows longer by the hour—and hovering near the top are people who feel compelled to reveal to others their list of people who annoy them … usually in 140-character increments (#WhoGivesaF***).
So I’ll spare you the specifics of my irritation list, but for one exception: I’ve reached the zero-tolerance zone for people who offer up absurdly obvious advice. You know, you really should eat less and exercise more. No shit, Sherlock?
This is why I’ll never waste your time with inane tips, like, oh, I don’t know, “Don’t overreact to NFL preseason results.” Because you already know that, aside from key injuries, nothing that happens in August means diddly once the real games kick off … What’s that, Cowboys fans? Your defense—which was historically horrific in 2013 (allowing 415 yards and 27 points per game)—has surrendered 726 yards and 64 points in two preseason games? And that defense, which lost its top two players from last year to free agency (end DeMarcus Ware) and a season-ending injury (linebacker Sean Lee), faces a slew of talented QBs in Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, Jay Cutler and Andrew Luck, plus two games each against Eli Manning (who owns the Cowboys), a healthy Robert Griffin III, and Nick Foles and the explosive Eagles offense?
OK, maybe not everything that happens in the preseason is meaningless. With that, let’s resume my NFL season win-total recommendations with the NFC East and NFC North, using the best available numbers/odds from MGM Resorts, William Hill, Station Casinos and Westgate Las Vegas (formerly LVH) …
Eagles (9½ wins): I can only call ’em as I see ’em, and with respect to the 2013 Eagles, I saw ’em with Stevie Wonder’s vision: Not only was I sure Philadelphia (10-6) would stay “under” its 7½-win total, I tabbed it my favorite play for this division. Suffice to say, I’ve come around on head coach Chip Kelly’s fast-break offense—just not all the way around. See, that offense faced one crappy defense after another last year. Not so in 2014, as seven of Philadelphia’s opponents ranked in the top eight in total defense in 2013. Beyond that, I’m not convinced that Kelly has fixed his own leaky defense, which ranked 29th last year. Under (-125, MGM)
Cowboys (8): As if the aforementioned defensive woes and brutal schedule weren’t enough, Dallas has a quarterback (Tony Romo) coming off back surgery, a head coach (Jason Garrett) who makes Norv Turner look competent and an owner (Jerry Jones) dealing with a philandering scandal. Oh, did I mention the last four Cowboys teams, with far fewer question marks, failed to produce a winning season? No wonder every wise guy in town has a Cowboys “under” ticket in his pocket. Under (-200, MGM)
Giants (7½): Glass half-empty: New York started 0-6 last season and didn’t notch its first victory until October 21. Glass half-full: Tom Coughlin’s troops closed on a 7-3 run, allowing more than 21 points just three times. The 7-9 finish marked the first time since 2004—Coughlin’s first season—that the Giants failed to at least hit .500. While you can argue New York didn’t upgrade significantly in the offseason, I’m still willing to bet it will avoid a second straight sub-.500 season—but I wouldn’t even wager the water bill on this one. Over (-155, Station)
Redskins (7½): On one hand, Washington earned every bit of last year’s 3-13 record: It gave up 478 points—only Minnesota (480) surrendered more—and it got outscored by an average of nine points per game. Dig deeper, though, and you’ll see the Redskins ranked ninth in total offense and 18th in total defense. Should we expect Washington to rebound to the 10-6 record it posted in RG III’s rookie season? Probably not. But with a schedule that includes the Texans, Jaguars, Titans, Vikings, Bucs and Cowboys (twice), getting to .500 is realistic. Over (Even, Westgate)
Packers (10½): The answer: Aaron Rodgers and Kate Upton. The question: Who are two celebrities worth every dollar they’re paid? Upton goes without saying. As for Rodgers: Since 2009, the Packers are 52-19 when he starts under center in the regular season; 3-5-1 when he’s doesn’t. This year, Green Bay should encase Rodgers in bubble wrap, as its schedule includes the Bears (twice), Panthers, Eagles, Patriots and Falcons, plus trips to Seattle, Miami, New Orleans and Buffalo (in mid-December). Translation: The Packers’ margin for error is slimmer than Upton’s waist. Under (-125, Station)
Bears (8½): Chicago has won at least seven games for nine straight years (hitting 9-7 or better five times), which is probably why Bears “over” has been hit hard this summer. Two additional reasons: Chicago’s offense will be even more lethal than last year (only Denver scored more points than the Bears did), and the defense (ranked 30th in points and yards allowed) can’t possibly be worse. Over (-145, Westgate)
Lions (8): Explosive passing attack, solid running game, talented defensive line, improved offensive line (only Peyton Manning was sacked less than Matt Stafford in 2013)—really, if the pass defense is just mediocre, Detroit (7-9 last season) should challenge for the playoffs. … Come again? The Lions hired Jim “Somebody Check My Pulse” Caldwell to be their head coach? I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that. Over (-160, MGM)
Vikings (6): Minnesota’s quarterback depth chart reads Matt Cassel, Christian Ponder and rookie Teddy Bridgewater. And that’s not even the scariest part. This is: 13 of the team’s 16 games will be played outdoors, including eight home contests at the University of Minnesota (the Vikings’ temporary home while their new stadium is being built). Then there’s the schedule, which begins: at Rams, vs. Patriots, at Saints, vs. Falcons, at Packers, vs. Lions, at Bills. Somebody get poor Adrian Peterson a Kleenex endorsement, as he’s gonna be crying a lot this autumn. Under (+145, MGM)
Next week: NFC South, NFC West.
Matt Jacob appears at 10 a.m. Fridays on “First Preview” on ESPN Radio 1100-AM and 98.9-FM. This is the fifth year that he’s made NFL win-total recommendations, and the fourth time he’s doing so for all 32 teams. Here are the results to date: