The NFL has wrapped up training camp and Labor Day Monday means Week 1 is upon us. The Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans kick off the 2020 NFL season on Thursday, and then we get a full slate on Sunday and Monday to get the season underway.
This is a different kind of year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. There were no in-person workouts during the spring offseason program and the entire preseason game schedule was canceled. It makes assessing each team a little more difficult heading into a season that may or may not play to a full completion.
It will be particularly difficult to figure out which teams will over- or under-perform expectations. Each year, sports bettors are able to wager on where they think each team will finish up in the win column. Sportsbooks release a number for a team’s win total and you can bet over or under that number. If you land on the number, it’s a push, or tie.
Below are DraftKings Sportsbook win totals for the four teams in the AFC East. A year ago, the Patriots won the division with a 12-4 record, while the Bills clinched a wild card berth with a 10-6 record. The Jets finished 7-9 and the Dolphins finished in last place at 5-11.
The number in parenthesis is the juice on the over and the under. For example, if you bet the over on 8.5 wins for the Patriots, the payout is -150 (you bet $150 to win $100). If you bet the under, the payout is +123 (you bet $100 to win $123). That means the over is the favorite.
Sportsbooks are not predicting each team will win the number of games on the win total. Rather, they are setting a number so that they can get a similar amount of money on both sides of the wager. They do not want an extensive liability on one side or the other since then they would be relying on a specific outcome. With even money on both sides of a wager, the house will profit more often than not.
We took a few minutes to chat with site managers from each SB Nation team blog. They offered reasons why their team could end up over the win total and why their team could end up under the win total. The sites pay close attention to their teams and have more insight than your average national reporter.
New England Patriots: 8.5 (-150, +123) — Pats Pulpit
Why over: The last time the Patriots did not win at least nine games during a regular season was in 2000, the first year with Bill Belichick as the team’s head coach. Between 2001 and 2019, meanwhile, the team won at least nine contests each season while averaging 12.2 (!) wins per year. Yes, Tom Brady was the quarterback for all but one of those seasons, but Belichick has repeatedly been able to adapt his scheme to the personnel available – whether it was Matt Cassel filling in for Brady in 2009, or the departure of the first dynasty’s cornerstones in the late 2000s. This year could very well be more of the same, even though replacing Brady and other important departures (Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins) is the biggest challenge Belichick has faced to date. The defense still projects to be among the best in the NFL, however, while Cam Newton has added experience and proven quality to the QB equation.
Why under: Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback to ever grace the gridiron, and replacing him is simply impossible: too good of a player is he, too important was he to the Patriots’ offensive operation. While New England did bring a former league MVP on board to help soften the blow of his departure – Cam Newton – it remains to be seen how well the unit as a whole performs with another QB running the show. This could very much make or break the Patriots’ hopes at winning at least nine games for the 20th year in a row. Add the fact that the top scoring defense in football lost considerable talent in free agency (Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Danny Shelton) and to the Covid-19 opt-out (Dont’a Hightower, Patrick Chung) and you get a murky outlook as well as a team that has yet to show that it can step up with its long-time leader gone.
Buffalo Bills: 8.5 (-143, +118) — Buffalo Rumblings
Why over: The Bills went 10-6 in 2019 and bring back virtually every member of their squad plus added Stefon Diggs to their offense. Another year of growth for Josh Allen puts this team on a trajectory to winning a majority of their games. They have very good roster depth in most spots, as well. It should also be noted that the COVID-19 infection rate in Western New York is very low, reducing the likelihood that multiple players will miss games.
Why under: Despite going 10-6 in 2019, the Bills play a much harder schedule in 2020. Buffalo played five games against teams that finished with five or fewer wins last year but face the NFC West and AFC West in 2020. If Josh Allen doesn’t take the next step, or worse he regresses, you can see them really struggling against better competition this season. They have suspect depth at a few positions which could spell trouble if Allen, a starting linebacker, or one of their top three members of the secondary misses time.
Miami Dolphins: 6.5 (+110, -134) — The Phinsider
Why over: The team that was described as the “worst team to every play” at some points last year still won five games (what does that make the four teams picking ahead of them in last year’s Draft?). They improved the secondary (Byron Jones added to Xavien Howard should be a dominating combo at cornerback), they improved the linebackers and edge rushers, they are versatile and better suited to play both 4-3 and 3-4, they upgraded the offensive line, and they upgraded the running backs (of course, when Ryan Fitzpatrick is your leading rusher and Kalen Ballage averaged a massive 1.8 yards per carry, it is not hard to upgrade the position). They also turned away from an overly complicated offensive system run by Chad O’Shea and brought back Chan Gailey, who is running an attacking offense in a system that perfectly fits Fitzpatrick and with which the quarterback is familiar (see Buffalo 2010-2012). Miami is not in a position to be a Super Bowl contender, but they definitely can be a consideration for a .500 season.
Why under: If they turn the team over to Tua Tagovailoa, they will see rookie mistakes and the team will probably falter in the short term for longer term gain. They are relying on rookies along the offensive line, so those upgrades that could push them over could also be struggling early and making them fail to get to seven wins. The safety position is going to be manned by two still converting cornerbacks in Eric Rowe and Bobby MCCain, so it is possible that they will see some struggles on the back end. Trading away Raekwon McMillan removed a one-dimensional player from a defense that wants to be extremely versatile to keep opposing offenses guessing, but it also removed a strong run-stuffing linebacker.
New York Jets: 6.5 (+123, -150) — Gang Green Nation
Why over: The Jets upgraded their offensive line in the draft and added rookie receiver Denzel Mims and free agency Breshad Perriman as targets for quarterback Sam Darnold. Darnold has been slowed by some injury trouble, which has also slowed his development along with a shaky offensive line. He also has shown ability and helped his team to a 7-6 record in games he started last season. If the o-line can hold up and defensive line can continue to play well, they have a chance to hit the over again. — Chet Gresham
Why under: News out of training camp has not been good. Le’Veon Bell isn’t happy and isn’t playing well in practice. Denzel Mims has been out with a hamstring injury. Breshad Perriman has swelling in his knee. Hopefully these problems resolve themselves as the season gets going, but their schedule is also tough. In terms of average Vegas win totals for opponent’s they rank third-worst, with only the Dolphins and Bengals as opponents projected to win under seven games. — Chet Gresham
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