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NFC Preview 2007
August 23, 2007

Let's look at each division in turn. I use my Luck Index and Schedule Index to compare last year's record with this year's season win totals line (from I'll give you my thoughts on the off-season and my outlook for this year with a prediction. Included is the Week 1 game of each team. Compare what you think of each team to what the lines maker thinks the public thinks.

Dallas Cowboys

Luck Index: 23

Schedule Index: 22

2006 Record: 9-7

Season Win Line: Over 9, -125

Week 1 game with Opening Line: -4 vs NY Giants

Everyone will remember QB Romo's botched FG snap, but it was really the D that let big D down last year allowing over 400 yds/game their last 5 including 39 pts to the Lions in Week 17 to blow the division. New defensive-minded head coach Phillips will run an aggressive 3-4 with the return of LB Ellis from injury and 1st round pass rusher DE Spencer. The Cowboys were lucky last year as Ellis was their only injured starter. Their sked is still easy (#28 vs 24) and they hope new FS Hamlin will limit the big plays given up by a #24 Pass D. Crunch time likely starts post-bye in November with 3 straight divisional games - they also play 3 of last 4 away.

Prediction: If Romo can recapture his 5-1 mid-season form and the D comes around they could get double digits, although a more realistic injury number is a concern.

NY Giants

Luck Index: 10

Schedule Index: 7

2006 Record: 8-8

Season Win Line: 8, -115

Week 1 game with Opening Line: +4, @ Dallas

Last year's 2-6 finish and 1st round playoff exit has Coughlin, Eli and company on the hot seat. Injuries to key personnel led to their collapse so despite a quiet off-season they could surprise given a #20 vs 11 sked. However, their #7 Run O was left-handed and it remains to be seen if they can replace Barber and the LT duo of Petitgout/Whitfield. Another question is whether raw 1st-rounder CB Ross can help the #28 Pass D (especially if currently non-commital Strahan retires). September Sunday nighters vs Dallas and Philly will be an early indication and December is tough with 3 of 4 away before Week 17 vs New England.

Prediction: If the trio of Burress/Toomer/Shockey stays healthy they might top .500, but I'm not gonna bet on it.

Philadelphia Eagles

Luck Index: 21

Schedule Index: 23

2006 Record: 10-6

Season Win Line: Over 9, -125

Week 1 game with Opening Line: -3 @ Green Bay

Culpepper or Palmer, which post-ACL recovery will McNabb get? The Eagles are betting on the latter by not re-signing Garcia. Right now he's about 9 months out and it's probably too early to tell. I'll be watching his pre-season performances closely. Another key will be whether DT Reagor and LB Spikes can shore up a #26 Run D. The sked is manageable @ #17 and they only have 1 set of back-to-back road games. #2 WR Curtis might be a steal as last year 27 of his 40 catches went for 1st downs.

Prediction: Last year's #3 O should key double digit W's as long we get last year's McNabb.

Washington Redskins

Luck Index: 11

Schedule Index: 10

2006 Record: 5-11

Season Win Line: Under 7 1/2, -140

Week 1 game with Opening Line: -3, +105 vs Miami

One stat I weigh fairly heavily in my power ratings is sacks for and against. Last year the entire Redskin D had only two more than league leader Shawne Merriman and they fell from #9 to 30 in total D. As befits Snyder's reliance on free agents, the 'Skins had only 1 draft choice in the 1st 4 rounds and did not use it on a DL. On the plus side, the OL is in good shape (#4 Run O, #3 sacks allowed), Portis should be healthier and it is year 2 in offensive coordinator Saunders' system. The sked is only #16 and Fletcher and Smoot may help the back 7.

Prediction: Looks like an Under unless defensive coordinator Williams can work some magic with the DL.

Chicago Bears

Luck Index: 31

Schedule Index: 15

2006 Record: 13-3

Season Win Line: Under 10, -130

Week 1 game with Opening Line: +6 @ San Diego

The Bears have won 24 regular season games the last 2 years, in large part due to a sked that was #31 and 32 - and now 32 again! I guess it's not their fault the rest of their division has been weak. They were also very lucky last year finishing #24 in starters lost, +8 in turnovers and a net +3 in close games. The lines maker seems to be aware of the SB loser jinx (has missed playoffs 5 of last 6 years) as he's dropped their win total by a full 3 games. They lose defensive coordinator Rivera and the #6 D also has major turnover in the interior of the DL. They will certainly be in the spotlight a lot with 5 night (4 away) and 5 more afternoon games. The O is average, but I doubt they can count on the same number of defensive and special teams scores as last year.

Prediction: Would lean Under, but a 4 game drop is a lot.

Detroit Lions

Luck Index: 1

Schedule Index: 11

2006 Record: 3-13

Season Win Line: Over 6, -145

Week 1 game with Opening Line: +2 1/2 @ Oakland

"The Lions will win 10 games this year". That wasn't me, it was Jon Kitna. The public seems to agree with at least an approach to .500. In their favor is the fact they were the unluckiest team in the league last year; #6 in injuries (including a DL that was practically wiped out), 4th worst in turnover margin and an incredible net -7 in close games. They enter the 2nd year of Martz's offensive system with top-notch WR's. Will Kitna consistently have enough time to get them the ball? That's up to a revamped OL. Play action did not help much last year with the league's worst Run O. They were also #26 in sacks allowed including 34 in their last 7 (no game with less than 3). A #31 sacks for ranking and the loss of CB Bly are also concerns. The sked remains fairly difficult at #13 vs 10 last year. They do have a decent chance of being over .500 at their Week 6 bye.

Prediction: With the OL still a question mark I'm not yet prepared to believe they've turned their culture of losing around.

Green Bay Packers

Luck Index: 24

Schedule Index: 5

2006 Record: 8-8

Season Win Line: Under 7 1/2, -150

Week 1 game with Opening Line: +3 vs Philadelphia

With last year's #9 O and 13 D, the Pack looks like a promising 8-8 team although nobody seems to be buying it. Their sked goes from #14 to 24 with most of their toughest opponents @ home; a minus is 4 of 5 on the road starting Thanksgiving. A new OL improved down the stretch last year (100-plus yds rushing/game last 5) and with Favre's release they were #5 in sacks allowed. The young D also got better in the 2nd half of last year finishing #13 vs the run and #4 in sacks and allowing only 23 points total to their 3 divisional rivals in the season's last 3 games (although the Bears rested starters). They drafted another Nebraska RB to replace Green and added good DL depth. I will downplay their #31 injury ranking due to their youth. Could Favre's probable last year be special?

Prediction: Given the above, I will take +120 that they can at least match last year's record.

Minnesota Vikings

Luck Index: 12

Schedule Index: 19

2006 Record: 6-10

Season Win Line: Over 6 1/2, -145

Week 1 game with Opening Line: -2 1/2 vs Atlanta

Due primarily to their #1 Run D, Minny actually outyarded their opponents by 140 last year. On the flip side, although the D was #8 overall the Pass D was 2nd last and #25 in sacks. The D kept them in it, but they went a net -4 in close games. They face the #20 sked after 21 last year. A #23 O will be led by unproven QB Jackson (62.5 rating last year) and it is generally conceded that it takes at least 2 years to become completely comfortable with the so-called "West Coast" offense. In addition, the Vikings do not have a single standout WR. Normally with a great run D and -4 in close games you'd look for improvement, but with basically a rookie QB and few offensive weapons Minny likely loses the close ones again.

Prediction: .500 would be a stretch.

Atlanta Falcons

Luck Index: 17

Schedule Index: 15

2006 Record: 7-9

Season Win Line: Over 7 1/2, -135

Week 1 game with Opening Line: +2 1/2 @ Minnesota

Despite the statistically #12 O, the Falcons went 2-7 with 11 pts/game to end 2006 and it was curtains for head coach Mora. Vick was basically running a college offense as his 1,000-plus rushing yds made them 1st in Run O and worst in Pass O with #25 sacks allowed even with his mobility. New head coach Petrino wanted to keep Vick in the pocket more but it looks like it's going to be an 8 x 10 foot pocket (with excellent protection!) so Harrington is probably the new #1. If Dunn is healthy, along with Norwood the RB's are solid, but the WR's are only average. Hopefully for the Falcons, 2nd round choice CB Houston will upgrade a #29 Pass D. The sked stays @ #28 again. However, with a new coach from college, new O and D systems and one of the fewest returning starter counts in the league I think the Falcons are the worst team in their division.

Prediction: There's value in the small money line that they can't top last year's 7 wins.

Carolina Panthers

Luck Index: 4

Schedule Index: 9

2006 Record: 8-8

Season Win Line: Over 9, -130

Week 1 game with Opening Line: Pick 'em @ St. Louis

Things are lining up for another SB run for the Panthers. They were a very unlucky .500 team last year, finishing #2 in starters lost to injury and going from +16 to -6 turnovers. Despite playing most of the year without 2 front-7 standouts (Rucker and Morgan) their D was #7 overall and in sacks. The O will institute a new zone blocking scheme that should improve the run game for the Foster/Williams tandem. 2nd rounder WR Jarrett may be their next Muhsin Muhammad. And Bears transfer Harris should step in for the retiring Minter. They're sked drops from #23 to 26. If they pull the upset @ NO on October 7 they could easily be 6-0 and 3-0 in their division by the bye.

Prediction: Carolina is my favorite for the NFC's #1 seed and obviously good value to get at least 10 wins.

New Orleans Saints

Luck Index: 16

Schedule Index: 26

2006 Record: 10-6

Season Win Line: Over 9, -125

Week 1 game with Opening Line: +6 1/2 @ Indianapolis

Post-Katrina Cinderella turned into a pumpkin in the elements @ Soldier Field but it was still a great year for the Saints. With all their weapons, last year's #1 O lead them to a league-best +1,347 yds over their opponents. They could be as good again. The concern was a D that was #23 vs the run and despite a #3 pass ranking, gave up big plays. Free agency brought a number of defensive changes, but the jury is still out. With their deep playoff run they draw a somewhat tougher sked of #19 vs 27. Unfortunately their bye comes early and then they'll play 13 straight including 2 trips to the west coast and a season-ending rematch @ the Bears.

Prediction: If the new D gels early, the NFC's 2 best teams could be in the same division and the Saints should at least match last year's record for another Over.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Luck Index: 3

Schedule Index: 1

2006 Record: 4-12

Season Win Line: Over 7, -135

Week 1 game with Opening Line: +6 @ Seattle

Combining my luck and schedule indices, the Bucs are easily the team with the best chance to improve their record in the entire league. #4 in starters lost and 3rd worst in turnover margin @ -11 their sked goes from #5 to 30. They used the off-season to reload the D after it slipped from #1 in 2005 to 17 last year. Part of the D's problem was a #29 O that couldn't stay on the field. The OL has been shored up and QB Garcia is a good fit for the system. With Gruden on the hot seat (3-9 SU vs his division @ home since winning the SB) they hope to have a good start. Unfortunately, that's the hardest part of their easy sked; 4 of 1st 5 are @ Sea/Car/Indy, home to NO. Were the Bucs in any other NFC division, I think they could win it.

Prediction: .500 or a little better not a surprise.

Arizona Cardinals

Luck Index: 18

Schedule Index: 3

2006 Record: 5-11

Season Win Line: Over 7, -160

Week 1 game with Opening Line: +3 @ San Francisco

The Cards rival Detroit as leaders in the culture of losing; to get this season's wins Over they would flirt with their 2nd winning record since 1984. The key will be improving upon a #31 ranked Run O. In the off-season they punted 4 of their OL starters so there may be some growing pains. However, they do have great coaches in new head man (and former Steeler offesnsive coordinator Whisenhunt) and OL coach (and original "hog") Grimm. The point-producing "Edge"/Fitzgerald/Boldin combo is not in doubt and QB Leinart looks to be long term. The other concern is a #30 Pass D despite a #10 pass rush; more ball control might help. The sked goes from #14 to 31, although it includes 5 trips to the east coast for early games. Interestingly, the Cards start with back-to-back games in their division where they were 4-2 last year (1-10 vs everyone else!).

Prediction: I will be paying particular pre-season attention to the new OL trying to make a case for an Over.

St. Louis Rams

Luck Index: 29

Schedule Index: 20

2006 Record: 8-8

Season Win Line: Under 7 1/2, -115

Week 1 game with Opening Line: Pick 'em vs Carolina

Unlike the Panthers or Jags, this was a lucky 8-8 team last year. Their #25 sked had an easy start and end sandwiched around a tough middle where they went 1-7. Their 3 straight season-ending wins came against teams with a combined 13-35 record. In addition, the Rams were a league #2 @ +14 turnover margin. Although the O should be good again (#6 2006 despite #28 sacks allowed), last year the DL was brutal - #31 Run D. Thus #13 overall pick Carriker who will start at DT. After opening with back-to-back home games they have 6 on the road in 9 weeks. Last year their only win vs a .500 plus team was in Week 1 @ home against Denver and it took a +5 in turnovers to do it.

Prediction: With a suspect D if their luck reverts to the mean they're going Under.

San Francisco 49ers

Luck Index: 20

Schedule Index: 4

2006 Record: 7-9

Season Win Line: Under 8, -120

Week 1 game with Opening Line: -3 vs Arizona

Although not a great head coach, Norv Turner has been a solid offensive coordinator; it will interesting to see how QB Smith does without him. The 49ers also lose their defensive and special teams coordinators. The #29 Pass O needed help and WR Jackson ought to provide it. CB Clements should also improve the #26 Pass D. The sked goes from #14 to 29, but with 5 east coast trips. 4 in 5 away starting November is followed by a 3 game home stand that if swept could have them in the playoff hunt as a wild card. SF was +2 in net close games and outgained by 647 yards last year.

Prediction: They're better, but not good enough to warrant a bet to be above .500.

Seattle Seahawks

Luck Index: 8

Schedule Index: 31

2006 Record: 9-7

Season Win Line: Under 9, -140

Week 1 game with Opening Line: -6 vs Tampa Bay

Despite being #7 in starters lost (including 10 games between Alexander and Haselbeck) the Seahawks almost beat the Bears without 3 of their 4 CB's to make the NFC final - a tribute to coaching. They will likely be healthier this year although an increase in sked from #31 to 13 may offset it. I would like to cash this division's frequent flier miles as Seattle is the 3rd team with 5 east coast trips. Most of the off-season moves were on D adding 4 DL, 2 safeties and a CB. Although #6 in sacks, they had only 7 in their last 6 games and the Run D was #22. I'll be watching the revamped D in pre-season. I'm surprised that the money is on them finishing with a worse record than last year. I doubt they end up as bad as last year's -8 turnover margin or get swept again by SF.

Prediction: Equaling last year's record is a push so +110 will cash with only 1 extra win - Over.

Reed Hogben M.D.

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