Predictions On NFL Win Futures

One of my favorite exercises prior to each football season is to pick the NFL win futures. Part of this is simple pragmatism—this is the only handicapping exercise where I’ve ever shown an even remote ability to beat the .500 mark, having won more than I’ve lost pretty consistently between the NFL, MLB and NBA over the past three years. Although even that has to be hedged by noting that my one losing effort came in last year’s NFL.

When you look at these numbers, you realize that the adage of how the oddsmakers know what they’re doing is really true. There is very little, if anything, that really stands out in any of this.

Before we dive into the picks, let me make one note—it’s not necessary that these picks “balance out”, as in, that you have as many Overs as Unders. If I was picking each team’s exact record, I’d make sure it balanced out at an even 128-128. But for NFL win futures, I think the point is to first identify the range you see a team falling in, and then simply pick the side of the number that has the most room. As you’ll see below, that resulted in a disparity of 20 Over picks and 12 Under picks for this season.

Here’s the numbers, TheSportsNotebook’s pick and a brief comment after each division…

Philadelphia: 9: Over
NY Giants: 8: Over
Dallas: 7.5: Under
Washington: 7.5: Over
Comment: I know this is completely inconsistent with my preseason NFC East picks, where I have Dallas winning the division, but let me explain. As a Redskins fan I’m duty-bound to pick the Cowboys to go Under. As to the Eagles…while I think they’re headed for a fall, I don’t think they’ll be any worse than 8-8 (which, if you made me pick an exact record, is what I’d go with). But if I’m wrong, and they keep the momentum going, Chip Kelly could win 11 or 12 games. Hence, there’s more room on the Over side of the number.

Green Bay: 10.5: Over
Chicago: 8.5: Under
Detroit: 8.5: Under
Minnesota: 6: Over
Comment: All of these numbers are frighteningly dead-on. I see the Packers as a 10-11 win team, the Bears & Lions as 8-9 win teams and the Vikes probably headed for 6-10. What swings the picks is that I would see Green Bay more likely to go 12-4 then 9-7. Detroit and Chicago are more likely to go 7-9 than 10-6. And the Vikings? I don’t know, but I love the hire of Mike Zimmer and their draft, so I’ll take a flyer that 7-9 is more likely than 5-11.

New Orleans: 10: Over
Atlanta: 8.5: Over
Carolina: 8: Over
Tampa Bay: 7: Over
Comment: Yes, optimism runs high in all cases. New Orleans is my pick to win the Super Bowl and unless Drew Brees gets hurt, they aren’t going to slide to 9-7. I like Lovie Smith enough to think Tampa Bay is much more likely to get to 8-8 then end up 6-10. On balance, I think this is division is going to emerge as the best in the NFL this season.

Seattle: 11: Under
San Francisco: 10.5: Over
Arizona: 7.5: Over
St. Louis: 7.5: Under
Comment: I have a standing policy against avoiding any bet that requires a team to get to 12-4 to cash an Over. It’s a policy that’s served me well over the years. There’s just too much that can go wrong in a season, even if the team plays well. That explains the Seattle pick. The 49er number was much tougher, but I think Colin Kaepernick is headed for a big year. I thought twice about Arizona, with their defensive injuries. But this is still a team that went 10-6 last year, so I could have a two-game regression and still beat the number.

New England: 10.5: Over
Miami: 7.5: Over
NY Jets: 7: Over
Buffalo: 6.5: Under
Comment: The Patriots are normally a team I have to go Under on, thanks to the 12-win rule, but expectations have tempered just enough to make the Over pick viable. Miami and New York make me hesitate. But Rex Ryan can steal enough wins to at least get a push and the Dolphins’ defensive front seven can at least get them to .500.

Cincinnati: 9: Under
Baltimore: 8.5: Over
Pittsburgh: 8.5: Over
Cleveland: 6.5: Under
Comment: Maybe not the best division, but the best race, at least among the top three teams. The Bengals lost both coordinators to head coaching jobs (Mike Zimmer to Minnesota, Jay Gruden to Washington), so I’m not betting on another 10-win season. The Ravens and Steelers are both hungry, and while they have flaws, I like a simple bet on John Harbaugh and Mike Tomlin to win more than they lose.

Indianapolis: 9.5: Over
Houston: 7.5: Under
Tennessee: 7: Under
Jacksonville: 5: Under
Comment: Indianapolis to go Over was clear-cut. The Colts have won 11 games each of the past two years. There’s no reason to think they’ll get worse—in fact, with Andrew Luck in his third year, there’s reason to think they could be better. Yet, I still get room to regress by one game and cash the Over. The X-factor that Indy can’t control is whether the division gets better. I say no—Bill O’Brien is the wrong hire in Houston, Ken Wisenhunt needs at least a year in Tennessee to straighten things out, and Jacksonville…well, they’re still Jacksonville.

Denver: 11.5: Under
Kansas City: 8.5: Over
San Diego: 8.5: Over
Oakland: 4.5: Over
Comment: Denver goes Under, due to the 12-win rule. Kansas City and San Diego both have question marks, but it’s another case where I like a straight-up bet on each to have a winning season. Oakland is a case that doesn’t’ come up often, but it’s the reverse of the 12-win rule. I don’t bet extremes when it comes to NFL win futures. Besides, after watching Maurice Jones-Drew make a cameo appearance in When The Game Stands Tall, I’m inspired to root for him.