I’ve hit 65% (32-17) on these picks over the past four years. For more information on past performance, go here. For the 2009 season, I have 13 picks below.
Lines below are from Diamond Sportsbook.
Minnesota Vikings UNDER 9.5 wins (-125) – 2 stars
The Vikings got Favred this offseason and you know the Packers have to just be laughing. Brad Childress courted Favre hard, sending a clear message to Tavaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels – I don’t want either of you as my starter and I was prepared to cut one of you. Now that Favre said no, Childress must find a way to spin things positively. Childress was right – neither of these guys is a playoff-caliber quarterback. The Vikings have one of the best running backs in the league, but defenses will continue to improve their play against AP, and they can stack eight in the box without worrying about a passing game. Even last year, Peterson was very ineffective on first down as the Vikes averaged 8.11 yards-to-go on second downs. AP can break big runs but if he’s putting his team in 2nd and 3rd and long, that’s bad news for a team without a quality quarterback. Their schedule is middle-of-the road so that won’t help nor hurt them. It’s not just their schedule that’s middle-of-the-road. It’s this team. They ranked 17th in offensive yards per game last season and 13th in points allowed. And, they didn’t improve measurably in any facet of the game. Chicago and Green Bay, teams the Vikes must face twice each this season, will be much improved. I expect the Vikings to win just eight or nine games in 2009.
Houston Texans UNDER 8.5 wins (-140) – 2 stars
The Texans have won eight games in each of the last two seasons. I expect a similar result in 2009. While many have picked them as a sleeper in 2009, I am not a believer. They finished the year on an 8-4 run, so they must be “on the uptick” right? They have Steve Slaton and Andre Johnson and the emerging Kevin Walter – big names with big-play ability so they must have a great offense, right? Not so fast. Their offense ate up yards in bunches last season but without a defense, it’s hard to be a winning team. This team was ranked 27th in the league last season in points allowed. And yes they have a lot of offensive potential. But the fact remains that despite being ranked 3rd in the league in yards last season, they were below average in scoring. Matt Shaub has yet to live up to the hype and if he gets injured again, Dan Orlovsky will be taking snaps (Sage Rosenfels gone to Minnesota). This is a concern given the fact that Schaub has missed five games in each of his seasons as a starter. And, this team must face the Titans and Colts twice. I think the Texans are in for another mediocre or sub-par year.
Tennessee Titans UNDER 8.5 wins (+105) – 2 stars
The Titans were good last year, but 13 wins? They weren’t that good. They benefitted from the second-best turnover differential in the league with 31 takeaways to just 17 turnovers. That kind of luck doesn’t tend to repeat itself year-after-year. The fact is that teams like the Titans that finish the season ranked in the top 4 in scoring differential and notch 13+ wins fall hard the next season as they regress back to reality. These teams on average lose 4.95 wins year-over-year. If the Titans drop five wins from their 13, they will get to just eight wins this season. The Titans lost DT Albert Haynesworth in the off-season and that is a huge blow as he was a big reason for their defensive dominance in recent years. Is Kerry Collins really an elite quarterback? Based on his body of work, the answer is no. There is a reason this guy was a backup. He had a great 2008 but I doubt he’ll do that in back-to-back years. And his receiving corp (Justin Gage, Nate Washington and Kenny Britt) certainly doesn’t inspire fear in opposing defenses. Finally, let’s not forget that Tennessee was 3-4 in their last seven games of last season.
Oakland Raiders OVER 5.5 wins (-130) – 2 stars
No team has been as bad as the Raiders in recent history. They have won just 11 games the past four seasons and have had six straight seasons with no more than five wins. This year I think they break out a bit. JaMarcus Russell showed signs of improvement last year. At the end of the season, he really gave the Silver and Black faithful some hope. In the final six games he completed nearly 66% of his passes. If he does struggle, the Raiders can turn to vet journeyman Jeff Garcia who has shown that all he does is win. Whoever is QB will be helped by a great running game. This team has a trio of great backs in Justin Fargas, Darren McFadden and Michael Bush. Look for this to be a breakout year for last year’s #1 pick McFadden. I also like for the offensive line play to improve under Tom Cable. Look for this team to find a way to get to 6+ wins in 2009.
San Diego Chargers OVER 10.5 wins (+100) – 3 stars
The Bolts struggled out of the gate last year, losing 8 of their first 12 games. But, they finished very strong, winning their division and making it all the way to the divisional playoffs where they lost to the Super Bowl champion Steelers. This team had some bad breaks last year and really was a 10 or maybe even 11-game winning team underneath the covers. They will be much better than their 8-8 record last year. They play in a weak division, getting the Raiders, Chiefs and Broncos twice each. These teams combined for a 15-33 mark last season. The Raiders and Chiefs should improve this year, but Denver is likely to be even worse. Phillip Rivers who led the best pass offense in the league last season, continues to improve. Despite having an off year due to injury, LT put up 1,110 yards. And, he’s going to be pushed by Darren Sproles. With Antonio Gates and the emerging Vincent Jackson catching passes, this offense should continue to click. The defense is only going to improve with the return of Shawne Merriman. This guy is a wrecker and his absence last year will serve the team well this year as others had to get better. The Chargers were decimated by injury on defense last season and that’s reason for more hope this year. Look for the Bolts to do some real damage this year on way to a great regular season.
Carolina Panthers UNDER 8 wins (-105) – 3 stars
The Panthers reeled of 12 wins in 2008 and were one of the teams upset by the Cardinals in the playoffs. They have some exciting offensive firepower in DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Steve Smith. Coming off such a great season, many think this team will again have a playoff spot in 2009. I disagree. The Panthers benefitted from a lot of luck in 2008, posting a big positive turnover differential in fumbles (the most random of events). Teams that have a big difference in this category tend to reverse fortunes in a big way the following year when the luck evens back out. Neither the offense nor defense improved in any meaningful way. In fact, 21 of the 22 starters from last season will start again this year. If anything this team is the same – just one year older. I know they won 12 games last year, but just standing still is not a recipe for success in the NFL. Throw in the fact that they were handed the league’s second-toughest schedule this season and I see them scraping to get to .500 in 2009.
Cleveland Browns OVER 6.5 wins (-120) – 3 stars
The Browns were one of the biggest dissapointments from 2008. After posting 10 wins in 2007, they really struggled last season, winning just 4 games. When teams reverse fortunes so strongly in one year, they tend to revert the next year, adding 3+ wins on average. The receiving corp of Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow and Donte Stallworth were supposed to wreak havoc on opposing defenses but an off year by them and their quarterback led to an offense that ranked just 30th in the league in points scored. They have a new coach this season which is good, as a change was needed. The removal of malcontent Winslow should also help chemistry. Eric Mangini is experienced in the NFL and he did wonders for the Jets in his first season there. He brought with him six Jets defenders and I expect this team to improve a lot over 2008. They have the 7th easiest schedule so I expect them to reach 7+ wins.
Jacksonville Jaguars OVER 8 wins (-130) – 3 stars
The Jags dropped from 11 wins in 2007 to just five last season. Again, when such a big dropoff occurs, teams tend to bounce back the following year. They may not have been as good as the 11-win season indicated in 2007, but they weren’t nearly as bad as their five-win record indicated last season. They weren’t great by any means in 2008 but easily could have, and probably should have, posted six or seven wins, especially considering they had the league’s third toughest schedule. And, they lost both their starting guards for the season in week one along with their starting center for the first six games. So, getting over eight wins this year is not too much of a stretch. This is a make-or-break season for Jack Del Rio and the players like him, so expect a good effort by the team this year. The team added Tory Holt at wideout and Tra Thomas at offensive tackle. The bowling ball, Mo Jones-Drew, finally gets to shine as the featured back with Fred Taylor gone. Look for a much better 2009 for the Jags.
St. Louis Rams OVER 6 wins (-140) – 4 stars
The Rams have won a combined five games the past two seasons, pushing Oakland for title of most futile franchise. They haven’t had a winning season since 2003! Will this year be better? I definitely think so. This team was really hurt by injury last season. Only two teams (Seattle and Cincinnati) has more offensive injuries. Steven Jackson was one of those players who struggled with injury but when this guy is healthy, he’s elite. They also had some bad luck when it came to recovering fumbles (only 5 of 17). Luck evens out over the long haul. They get a new coach in Steve Spagnuolo, a defensive specialist, who promises to turn around the second-worst defense in the league last year. If Jackson remains healthy, he and Marc Bulger can put the fear into opposing defenses. Look for the Rams, behind a relatively easy schedule, to improve quite a bit this season.
Atlanta Falcons UNDER 8.5 wins (-125) – 4 stars
Rookie Matt Ryan and free agent Michael Turner led a very surprising season for the Falcons in 2008. A team coming off a four-win 2007 season produced 11 wins in 2008. That was last season though and this year should be different. In 2007, Atlanta was blessed with a relatively easy schedule. This season they face the 4th toughest schedule. They also remained remarkably healthy in 2008 and are unlikely to have that kind of luck again. Defenses had trouble with Matt Ryan last year but now have a lot of game film with which to study. The defense was ranked 11th in points allowed in 2008 but 24th in yards allowed. The bend-but-don’t-break nature of the defense last year masked some real problems there. To make matters worse, the defense lost Domonique Foxworth, Keith Brooking, Mike Boley and Grady Jackson. They did add Mike Peterson on defense and Tony Gonzalez on offense, but I don’t think these additions will be enough. With defenses in 2009 having more success vs. Turner (and thus Ryan), and Atlanta’s suspect defense getting exposed, I expect Atlanta to fall back to .500 or worse.
Miami Dolphins UNDER 7.5 wins (-130) – 4 stars
After going 1-15 in 2007, the Dolphins pulled off a huge turnaround last season, posting 11 wins. Was it a sign of great things to come from the Tuna and the Dolphins? Nahhh. More like a one-hit wonder. As much as everything went wrong for them in ’07, everything went right last season. They were very lucky in several important categories – things that teams have very little control over. They led the league in turnover differential at +17. They commited just 19 total turnovers all season! Some of that is taught, but most is luck. In addition, they were very injury-free. And, when they went on their amazing end-of-season run, they won nearly every game by a close margin (7 or less). They caught teams off-guard with the Wilcat offense but teams will be ready in 2009. The Fins were very lucky last year and with average luck this year, and the league’s toughest schedule, this team won’t make it to .500 in 2009.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers OVER 6 wins (-105) – 4 stars
Tampa Bay finished with nine wins in 2008 and I think that was an accurate reflection on the strength of the team. While they face a tough schedule in 2009, I like them to beat this low Vegas forecast of just six wins. They have a new coach but that’s a good thing in this case. Over the past six seasons, only 20% of teams that changed coaches took a step backward in wins! So, we have a 3-win cushion here with this line as it relates to that history. Of those teams that did change coaches, most actually improved in wins by an average of 2.5. Last season both Earnest Graham and Cadillac Williams struggled with injuries. But lets not forget what these guys have shown they can do when healthy. New head coach Raheem Morris shed dead weight in the offseason getting rid of Derrick Brooks and Warrick Dunn – great players in their prime but well past it now. The big question mark is of course quarterback. The team will either go with Byron Leftwhich or rookie Josh Freeman. Leftwhich is good enough to get to 7+ wins, And, as we have seen in recent years, teams starting rookie QBs are no longer destined to the scrap heap. See Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, and Joe Flacco. With a healthy running back corp that added the services of Derrick Ward, pressure will be taken off the QB, whomever it is. They also added Kellen Winslow, Jr. and if he can stay out of trouble, he could help this passing game a lot. I like the Bucs to get over six wins.
Green Bay Packers OVER 8.5 wins (-140) – 4 stars
The Packers were a very good team last year. What? Am I nuts? How can I say that of a team that won just six games? The reality is that they were really the equivalent of a nine-win team, based on their points scored and allowed. This team went 0-7 in games decided by 4 or less points and that’s just downright unlucky (it’s only happened to two other teams in the past 25 years). In 2009, that luck should even out. They will be helped this season by third-easiest schedule. Back to their 2008 performance. Aaron Rodgers threw for over 4,000 years on 64% completion rate and threw 28 touchdowns to only 13 interceptions. That’s awesome. And, he did that through injury. This guy is the real deal and is only going to get better. I expect him to be one of the league’s elite quarterbacks this season. The problem for Green Bay last season was defense. To help turn that around, they brought in Dom Capers as defensive coordinator who will install a 3-4 defense. I like the Packers to improve enough on both offense and defense to get over .500 this year.