NFL Football Team-By-Team Previews
BALTIMORE (9-7) - No surprise that last year's Ravens ranked a crummy 29th in the NFL in passing offense (averaged 189.4 yards per game) and so, naturally, everyone wants to know if there's gonna be a role for rookie QB Lamar Jackson (Louisville). The 2016 Heisman Trophy winner was all the rage in the Ravens' recent mini-camp / OTAs but the 6-foot, 215-pounder probably will only see time this regular-season as an occasional rusher / passer behind 33-year-old Joe Flacco. Word is that Jackson will be in a serious competition with Robert Griffin for No. 2 on the team's depth chart but we won't be surprised if the 'Ville rookie gets to play a lot in the preseason and gets whole series in regular-season play.
Pointspread Notes - The Ravens are 10-15-3 ATS as betting favorites the past three years but the good news is Baltimore's covered 12 of its last 15 games played within the confines of the AFC North.
BUFFALO (9-8) - No surprise here that as we draw towards July, these Bills are listing first-round draftee Josh Allen as No. 3 on the current depth chart behind AJ McCarron and Nathan Peterman but we remind you that McCarron has thrown only 133 passes (completing 86 balls) in his first four years in the NFL as a backup in Cincinnati and most of them happened way back in 2015 when Bengals' starter Andy Dalton missed a chunk of games due to injury (McCarron completed 79-of-119 passes with 6 TDs and 2 INTs in seven games that year). Right now, we give McCarron a 75 percent shot to start; Allen a 25 percent shot and Peterman a 0 percent chance to start 2018 as the Bills' lead signal-caller in Week 1.
Pointspread Notes - Want to know how the 2017 Bills got folks rich ... by playing 'em as home betting favorites where this AFC East crew banged out a 4-0-1 ATS mark with chalk covers versus the New York Jets, Oakland Raiders, Indianapolis Colts and Miami Dolphins (they pushed as 3-point home favs against Tampa Bay.
CLEVELAND (0-16) - The names of this year's Browns' running backs is way more impressive than in year's past, but is a "running backs by committee" really gonna work for third-year head coach Hue Jackson? Word is rookie Nick Chubb (Georgia), former San Francisco 49ers star Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson will share time this year with the "hot hand" playing the most but odds are Browns' running backs coach Freddie Kitchens will lean more towards a Chubb / Johnson backfield with Hyde getting short-yardage and goal-line plays. Last year the Browns ranked 17th in the NFL in rushing (a decent 107.1 yards per game) and 24th overall in team offense.
Pointspread Notes - Date back the past three football seasons and you'll see that the woe-be-gone Browns are a collective 13-34-1 ATS (against the spread), a lowly .277 winning percentage. Last year's 4-12 spread mark "featured" a pair of covers against Pittsburgh along with get-under-the-number pointspread wins against Tennessee and the Los Angeles Chargers. Overall, the Browns are 5-17-1 at home the past three years.
DENVER (5-11) - Folks, you have to go back to the 2009-10 seasons to find the last time the Broncos failed to make the playoffs in back-to-back years (a/k/a the Josh McDaniels Era) but if you wish to hear some optimism as per 2018 then listen to Denver WR Emmanuel Sanders: The long-time Broncos' pass-catcher claims new QB Case Keenum has a lot of similarities with Peyton Manning who connected with his receivers with summer-time pass-catching drills away from the normal practice field. Sanders pointed out that Manning used to gather the WRs, TEs, RBs at Duke University for extra reps and this year Keenum's been doing the same in Aurora (CO). "Just to get that chemistry," says Sanders while Manning chimed in, "I'm a big Case Keenum fan".
Pointspread Notes - Last season's ugly 4-11-1 ATS campaign was the Broncos' worst since 2008 (also 4-11-1 ATS) and take note that the '17 season included a rotten 1-4-1 spread log against fellow AFC West foes. Gotta go back to the early part of the 2016 season to find the last time that Denver enjoyed a pointspread winning streak (see four in a row vig-wise out of the starting gate)
HOUSTON (4-12) - Earlier this week in Jim Sez, we told 'ya that the Texans are playing what's deemed to be the "easiest" schedule in the NFL this year but a whole lot of how Houston performs depends on second-year QB Deshaun Watson who recently practiced without the use of a knee brace after he suffered a season-ending ACL tear in Week 9 play last year. Watson - who threw 19 TDs and just 8 INTs in barely half a season's work in 2017 - is slated to play a number of preseason snaps while attempting to rehab and note right now the Texans are listing Brandon Weeden as the No. 2 quarterback on the depth chart, though we won't be surprised if Houston looks to "upgrade" this position. Did someone say Teddy Bridgewater (New York Jets)?
Pointspread Notes - The Texans lost their final five spread verdicts last year en route to a 7-9 ATS (against the spread) and overall this AFC South squad is 14-20-1 spreadwise since late in the 2015 season.
INDIANAPOLIS (4-12) - At last check, Colts' QB Andrew Luck was pain-free while throwing footballs in mid-to-late June and he's been tossing with Indy pass-catchers in California while leading up to the team's July 25th opening of training camp. How dire were things last year for this AFC South crew when it came to the aerial game without Luck? Well, Indianapolis finished 30th in the league in passing (averaged 180.8 yards per game) and emergency starter QB Jacoby Brissett threw just 13 touchdowns while getting sacked 52 times. The truth is Brissett's 2017 play should have earned him plaudits considering the rotten O-line in front of him but an 81.7 QB Rating wasn't great by league standards and Indy felt he held onto the ball too much in the pocket ... hey, they used to say the same thing about Luck!
Pointspread Notes - Last year's Indy Colts finished with a better-than-you-thought 8-8 ATS (against the spread) mark that featured an outright underdog winner against 1-point favorite Cleveland and versus 6-point home fav Houston. Overall, Indianapolis is 6-11-1 versus the vig when playing fellow folks from the AFC South.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (9-7) - Last year the Chargers sported the best points differential among AFC West teams (+ 83) but three losses by three points or less in the first four weeks of the season doomed any/all playoff hopes. As any Chargers' fan knows, the kicking game was a major culprit with a slew of missed field goals (PK Younghoe Koo missed half of his six FG tries and really bombed before eventually getting cut) but right now LA says Caleb Sturgis is said to have the advantage over Nick Rose and former Tampa Bay flop Roberto Aguayo. You might remember Sturgis' torn flexor injury kayoed 'em from the active roster of the Philadelphia Eagles last year and then Jake Elliott stepped in and became a post-season hero with 7-of-7 field goal makes for the Super Bowl champs.
Pointspread Notes - Believe it or not, last year's Chargers finished 4-3-1 ATS (against the spread) as both favorites and underdogs en route to an 8-6-2 overall spread mark. Note that the Bolts are a solid 9-5-1 vig-wise when playing divisional foes the past two-plus seasons.
MIAMI (6-10) - It's no secret that the here-and-now Dolphins are in serious need of an offensive upgrade after last year finishing 25th in the NFL in total offense (28th in rushing / 17th in passing) and so that means a ground game that averaged a paltry 86.8 yards per game will be looking for a breakout season from RB Kenyan Drake (644 yards rushing in 2017 and another 32 receptions for 239 yards). Word is Drake has put on 20-to-25 pounds in anticipation of the heavier workload (he's up to about 220 pounds) with RB Frank Gore signed this past off-season as a backup. Still, if Drake can't at least get close to 1,000 yards rushing it'll signal trouble - again - for this AFC East crew.
Pointspread Notes - Last year's Dolphins finished 4-8-1 ATS (against the spread) when placed in the underdog role and so that means Miami is 14-22-1 spreadwise as pups since late in the 2014 season. Overall, the Fish are 1-6-2 ATS in their last nine head-to-head tilts versus the New York Jets.
NEW ENGLAND (15-4) - The earlier-month ruling that WR Julian Edelman will miss the first four games of this 2018 regular season for violating the league's performing enhancing substances policy (after missing all of last year with a knee injury) hit the Patriots hard - they are appealing the ruling but good luck with that! - but word is WR Chris Hogan will have an "expanded role" in '18 while sixth-round draftee Braxton Berrios (University of Miami) will be an important slot receiver for QB Tom Brady. In any event, the Patriots will be checking out "cuts" this summer and teams such as the Los Angeles Rams and Washington Redskins could have some wide receiver excess, so keep an eventual eye peeled for Bill Belichick's crew to snap up a veteran pass-catcher here or there.
Pointspread Notes - New England is 27-10-1 ATS (against the spread) overall the past two years and that's good for a .730 winning rate. The Pats last year enjoyed separate four- and six-game pointspread winning streaks and back in the 2016 season NE finished the year on a spiffy 7-0-1 ATS streak.
OAKLAND (6-10) - The Jon Gruden Era Part II is full of promise and potential … but are there enough "pieces" to return the Raiders to the post-season for the second time in three years? One thing that Gruden and Company must address is a defense that ranked 22nd overall last year (11th versus the rush / 25th against the pass). Sure, DE Khalil Mack is a stud but there's real concern that the reminder of this D-line is sub-par with DE Mario Edwards said to be on "thin ice" as far as his Raiders' career goes these days. Maybe second-round draft pick defensive tackle P.J. Hall (Sam Houston State) can give Gruden's stop unit some up-the-middle push - and keep in mind Hall had 14 blocked kicks in his college career (an FCS record).
Pointspread Notes - Last year's Raiders nabbed spread wins in Week 1 and 2 games at Tennessee, then home to the New York Jets but the silver-and-black staggered badly with a 3-9-2 ATS (against the spread) the rest of the way and so now Oakland's a less-than-sterling 43-50-4 vig wise since the start of the 2012 season.
PITTSBURGH (13-4) - There's a good chance that the Steelers will be in the market for some wide receiver help (just as we mentioned with the New England Patriots and the San Francisco 49ers in yesterday's Jim Sez column) as young star JuJu Smith-Schuster is banged up these days with left knee issues. Smith-Schuster caught 58 passes for 917 yards and 7 TDs last year and had overtaken the since-traded Martavis Bryant (now a member of the Oakland Raiders) on the team's depth chart. Look for rookie WR James Washington (Oklahoma State) - he averaged nearly 20 yards a reception last year for the Cowpokes - to get some burn for first-year offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner.
Pointspread Notes - The Steelers failed to cover six of their final seven games last year including that painful 45-42 loss to 7-point underdog Jacksonville in an AFC Divisional Playoff tilt. Overall, Pittsburgh's an ugly 2-6-1 ATS (against the spread)
TENNESSEE (10-8) - Is there trouble in paradise for the Titans and general manager Jon Robinson? Star LT Taylor Lewan - who is entering the final year of $9.34 million contract - has informed the AFC South team that he may be skipping out on camp if his contract terms are not re-worked to his satisfaction. Note that Lewan has missed just one game the past three seasons and right now Tennessee lists Dennis Kelly as next up on the left tackle depth chart (he's started a total of seven games for Tennessee the past two years). One last thing: Tennessee may be without all-pro RT Jack Conklin (knee) for the Week 1 game at Miami; he suffered the injury in last year's 35-14 AFC Divisional Playoff round loss at New England.
Pointspread Note -- Did you know that the Titans are 10-21-1 versus the vig (an anemic .323 winning rate) away since the start of the 2014 season? Tennessee was 1-5-1 spreadwise away last year when playing non-divisional foes.
ARIZONA (8-8) - Count us among the folks not on board with Cardinals' do-everything RB David Johnson who is angling for a new contract ... after missing the final 15 games last year with a wrist injury suffered in the team's season-opening 35-23 loss at Detroit. Johnson wants a long-term extension to his contract even though his brief career totals say he's rushed for 1,843 yards (a 4.3 yards-per-carry average) with 122 career receptions. Sure, Johnson's been a "fantasy league" darling but don't you think you stay quiet when you come off a "lost year"?
Pointspread Notes - The '17 Cardinals staggered out of the starting gate with five consecutive spread setbacks en route to a 6-9-1 ATS mark; Arizona is now 12-22-1 ATS overall since late in the 2015 season.
CAROLINA (11-6) - For much of the last decade or so, the Panthers' defensive front has been a major force but this year they're replacing Charles Johnson and backup D-linemen such as Wes Horton, Bryan Cox and Vernon Butler must flex their muscles. Last year Carolina's defense finished fourth against the rush (allowed 88.1 ypg) but take note Carolina allowed more than 25 points per game following the team's Week 11 bye. Horton - now entering his sixth year with the Panthers - collected 5.5 sacks from his defensive end position last year and is a "player-to-watch" type in 2018.
Pointspread Notes - The Panthers are a collective 4-9 against the odds in divisional games the past two years and that includes the 31-26 loss-but-cover at 6.5-point fav New Orleans in the NFC Wild Card round game last January. Overall, Carolina's failed to cover six of its last nine season-opening games while dating back to 2009.
CHICAGO (5-11) - The Bears' defense wasn't the problem last year as the NFC North club ranked in the top 10 in the league in rushing/passing/total defense and there's a strong belief that first-year head coach Matt Nagy's stop unit will be a strong suit with holdovers Leonard Floyd and Sam Acho and offseason addition Aaron Lynch getting a further boost from Georgia rookie Roquan Smith. The six-foot-one, 225-pound Smith was a driving force on last year's Bulldogs team that lost in overtime to Alabama in the national championship game and he's considered a sure star right off the bat.
Pointspread Notes - Believe it or not, last year's 8-6-2 ATS mark was the Bears' best since 2010 (see 10-7-1) and that included a snazzy 5-2-1 home spread record with covers against Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Minnesota. Note the Bears have failed to cover their road opener the past three years in a row and this year's road-opening game is Week One in Green Bay (and in prime time).
DALLAS (9-7) - If there was one thing that buoyed the 2017 Cowboys, it was the team's success inside the NFC East: The 'Boys beat the New York Giants twice by a combined 36 points, bested Washington twice by a combined 38 points and split with the eventual Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles (the 6-0 win at Philly in Week 17 was, in truth, a meaningless game). Check out the 2018 sked and you see only one divisional game in the first six weeks - a Week 2 Sunday night home tilt against the Giants - and if Dallas is gonna avoid a slow start mainly against non-NFC East foes then a passing game that ranked 25th in the NFL last year (averaged 196.3 ypg) better get its act together starting with QB Dak Prescott (see 3,324 yards passing but only a 22-13 TD-to-INT ratio).
Pointspread Notes - Did you know that the Cowboys are just 58-62-3 ATS in the head coach Jason Garrett Era (a .483 winning rate)? Note that Dallas - 8-7-1 against the odds last year - sported a 10-game spread winning streak under Garrett back in 2016 and actually went 4-11-1 ATS back in 2015.
DETROIT (9-7) - Tell us if you've heard this one before: The Lions are trying to bolster their running game. Last year this NFC North crew finished 31st - or next-to-last - in the NFL in rushing while averaging a paltry 76.3 yards a game and so this franchise is keeping fingers crossed that veteran newcomer RB LeGarrette Blount, speedy Ameer Abdullah and journeyman Theo Riddick can jump-start the ground game while second-round selection Kerryon Johnson (Auburn) hopes to lend a hand too - remember the Lions just hired new offensive line coach Jeff Davidson and he comes aboard with lots of raves.
Pointspread Notes - Gonna get burned betting on the Lions plus points in recent years as the Motowners are a collective 12-19 against the odds as pups the past three-plus seasons. Note that Detroit, however, has covered four of its last five season-opening games and Week One this year is a Monday Night Football home game against the New York Jets.
GREEN BAY (7-9) - The Packers say there's no reason to fret but long-time WR Randall Cobb was spotted last week with a walking boot on his right foot. It's not been made clear if/when Cobb underwent surgery but insiders say the injury happened at the team's spring-time OTAs but he's not expected to miss the Week 1 game - a Sunday night bash against the visiting Chicago Bears on Sept. 9th. Keep in mind that the current Green Bay depth chart lists Davante Adams and Cobb as the team's starting wide outs and don't forget Green Bay acquired TE Jimmy Graham from Seattle this past off-season.
Pointspread Notes - The 2017 Packers staggered to a 7-9-1 ATS mark, thus snapping a three-three run of double-digit spread winning seasons (see 10-7-1, 11-7 and 11-7-1 versus the vig). Green Bay's covered its last three consecutive season-opening games including last year's 17-9 triumph against 2.5-point road dog Seattle and did you know the Pack's a solid 6-3-1 spreadwise in its last 10 post-season games while dating back to the 2012 season?
LOS ANGELES RAMS (11-6) - One of the most active organizations in the NFL this past offseason, the Rams' depth chart now includes the likes of WR Brandin Cooks, NT Ndamukong Suh and star CBs Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters but the $64,000 question with the defending NFC West champs is QB Jared Goff gonna continue to ascend as one of the league's best/brightest young slingers? Goff threw for 3,804 yards with 28 TDs and just 7 INTs last year while playing 15-of-16 regular-season games but in his team's 26-13 home NFC Wild Card round playoff loss to the 6-point underdog Atlanta Falcons, Goff completed only 24-of-45 passes for 259 yards and one TD in that setback - remember that Goff and the Rams' offense was plagued by poor field position for much of the night.
Pointspread Notes - The Rams are just 5-10-2 spreadwise as underdogs the past two years and that includes last year's outright wins at 5.5-point fav Dallas and 1-point favorite at Jacksonville. Take note that the LA Rams ended last year on a three-game spread losing streak and ended the 2016 season on a seven-game pointspread losing skein.
NEW ORLEANS (12-6) - Are this year's Saints gonna be defined by a five-game stretch between Sept. 23rd and Oct. 28th? New Orleans plays four of those five games on the road - at Atlanta in Week 3, at New York Giants in Week 4, home to Washington on a Monday Night Football game in Week 5, then a bye week followed by back-to-back road games in Baltimore and Minnesota. Consider that last year's AFC South champions split eight road games in regular-season play and gotta think Sean Payton's crew would sign for that same result in 2018 ... note the other four away games are at Cincinnati, at Dallas, at Tampa Bay and at Carolina.
Pointspread Notes - Last year's Saints finished with a dead-even but vig-losing 9-9 spread mark but note N'Orleans is a solid 28-21-1 ATS the past three years (that's a .571 winning rate). On the flip side, the Saints are an ugly 1-6-1 spreadwise in season-opening games dating back to 2010.
NEW YORK GIANTS (3-13) - Let's turn our attention to something other than the on-going (and seemingly never-ending) contract situation with WR Odell Beckham: The Giants surely have other issues when you consider last year the offense ranked 25th in the NFL in rushing (96.8 yards per game) and 18th in passing (217.4 ypg) and the addition of RB Saquon Barkley (Penn State) with the second overall selection in this year's NFL Draft has Big Blue Nation all geeked but better believe new head coach Pat Shurmur has a spread-the-wealth mentality that means Barkley won't get overtaxed (and veteran RB Jonathan Stewart won't be forgotten in the game plan).
Pointspread Notes - Last year's Giants finished 0-3 versus the vig as betting favorites (failed to cover Detroit, the Los Angeles Chargers and at San Francisco) after covering six-of-nine as chalk in 2016. Note that NYG is 3-6 ATS in its last nine season-opening games and this year the G-men will open Sept. 9th at home against Jacksonville.
SAN FRANCISCO (6-10) - There remains some talk that the 49ers will snap up free-agent WR Dez Bryant to bolster a pass-catching corps that is looking to build chemistry with multi-million QB Jimmy Garappolo (see five-year, $137.5 million deal) as new WR Pierre Garcon and rookie WR Dante Pettis (Washington) are the latest additions to the wide receiving group. Bryant - a 29-year-old veteran who was cut by Dallas this off-season - has not been getting many nibbles 'round the league and insiders claim San Francisco GM John Lynch doesn't have much interest but if there are any injury woes in camp, then Bryant might be heading to the City by the Bay.
Pointspread Note -- The Niners are an electric 10-4 ATS in divisional games dating back to late in the 2015 season and that features five consecutive covers against the then-St. Louis / now Los Angeles Rams.
WASHINGTON (7-9) - Remember the date: January 7, 2006 … that's the last time the Redskins won a playoff game (a 17-10 triumph over Tampa Bay) and so no wonder gridiron fans in the nation's capital are getting a little antsy regarding this edition that sorely needs to improve the ground game that ranked next-to-last in the NFL last year at 134.1 yards per game. So, it is no great surprise that the 'Skins already have put second-round draftee rookie RB Derrius Guice (LSU) as numero uno on the team's depth chart at RB. Note that Guice is listed at 5-feet-11, 225 pounds and there's some concern how he will hold up over the course of a 16-game season but be advised second-stringer Samaje Perine (603 yards rushing, a 3.4 ypc average in 2017) is being counted on to be a significant factor.
Pointspread Notes - For all the negatives surrounding this once-proud franchise, the fact of the matter is Washington's a decent 18-13 ATS as underdogs the past three years. Take note that the 'Skins lost five-of-six games last year against fellow NFC East foes and that included 30-17 loss (as 1 ½-point dogs) and 34-24 (as 5-point pups) setbacks against the eventual Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.