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NFC Preview 2009
August 27, 2009

Dallas Cowboys

Luck Index: 9

Schedule Index: 18

2008 Record: 9-7

Season Win Line: 9 1/2

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

The Cowboys are the NFL epitome of the "Peter Principle" - "promoting" themselves to their level of incompetence. Despite 40 regular season W's L4Y their 44-6 debacle @ Philly in Week 17 helped them make it no playoff W since 1996. TY they're hoping for addition by subtraction as they punted TO. The #9 D will also have 5 new starters. New #1 WR Williams will need to step up as in 5G LY he was only on a pace for 54 receptions. Dallas should have 2G circled - 1st the SNF opener of their new stadium vs. NYG in Week 2 and the mid-season SNF rematch @ Philly. The schedule is manageable as their toughest non-divisional away G is @ N.O. Dallas also scores relatively high on the Luck Index as they had a 16 TO swing from +5 to -11 LY primarily due to getting only 8 picks.

Prediction: The current 9W is what they've accomplished 3 of L4Y and with some pass O and D ? marks, looks about right again.

NY Giants

Luck Index: 27

Schedule Index: 20

2008 Record: 12-4

Season Win Line: 10

Week 1 game with Opening Line: -6 vs Washington

LY defending SB Champs went out with a whimper in 2008 as the #1 seed losing 4 of L5 with their O scoring only 69 pts. Many might chalk that up to the absence of WR Burress. Let's see... Plaxico had 7 receptions total in his 4G in November before departing and the G-Men scored 160 pts going 5-0 vs. Dall/Philly/Bal/Ariz/Wash - so you tell me. A bigger factor would be the fact that NY got only 3 takeaways in those L5G after having a prior +11 in TO margin. I suspect the #1 run O will go back to basics TY. Their #5 D could be even better with the return of DE Umenyiora and 3 other additions to the F7. They have a poorly placed bye during which they might need to prep for both Atlanta and then 4 days later @ Denver on Thanksgiving. How they fare TY probably depends on TO margin and on whether or not the young WR corps can sufficiently supplement the run O.

Prediction: With their tougher opponents @ H, I like the +118 $-line on Over 10.

Philadelphia Eagles

Luck Index: 18

Schedule Index: 18

2008 Record: 9-7-1

Season Win Line: 9 1/2

Week 1 game with Opening Line: +1 @ Carolina

After an ugly 0-2-1 stretch, the Eagles righted the ship on Thanksgiving night (48-20 W over Arizona) only to lose that rematch and fall 1G short of the SB. Surprisingly, a D that allowed 49 pts in the preceding 6G was touched up for 32 on 369 yds in the desert. Philly went for play-makers in the draft (Maclin, McCoy) and tried to solidify their OL (Peters and now the Andrews brothers) and secondary (CB Hobbs) in free agency. Secondary coach and long-time understudy McDermott became the DC for the recently deceased Johnson. We'll see if FS Dawkins can be ably replaced. The O needs to get better balance; LY #6 pass, but #22 run. In the Eagles' favor TY is their net -4 1/2 record in close G's. However, they probably have the least favorable schedule in the division. It starts easy with Weeks 2-5 being 3 HG and a bye and ends tough with a 6 in 9G away stretch and December G's both @ NYG and @ Dallas.

Prediction: A solid team fully capable of DD W's, but -145 $-line cuts that value.

Washington Redskins

Luck Index: 19

Schedule Index: 22

2008 Record: 8-8

Season Win Line: 7 1/2

Week 1 game with Opening Line: +6 @ NY Giants

At 4-1 off B2B road W's over division rivals Dal/Philly, Washington could not avoid LD losing 19-17 @ H to the lowly Rams. They eked out W's vs. Det/Cle but then L 23-6 as MNF HF to Pittsburgh starting a season-ending 2-6 slide. The main problem was an anemic pass O that only topped 200 YP once L7G. Despite that, other than some re-tooling of the OL, they have the same point-producers as LY. The key off-season change is the acquisition of DT Haynesworth who's mandatory double-teams should improve the #22 pass rush. His presence along with #1 pick Orakpo should make the #8 run D even more formidable. Their schedule takes a bit of a hit (#24 vs. #17 TY) and they were +3 in close G's in 2008. Nobody had more tight ones than Washington (7-4) and given what looks like a mediocre O, I expect more of the same. They ought to start quickly again, with StL/Det/TB/KC all in their 1st 6G and they get NYG and Dallas @ H in December. Totals alert: Redskins finished LY on a 10-1-1 Under streak.

Prediction: It's +141 for a 1G improvement Over LY.

Chicago Bears

Luck Index: 24

Schedule Index: 14

2008 Record: 9-7

Season Win Line: 9

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

It's not often you see a team finish bottom third in both O and D yet top .500; the Bears can thank a #25 schedule, +5 TO's and 2 OT W's. They decided to pass on the 1st day of the draft to get Cutler who has billing as a "franchise" QB. I'm from Missouri on that as despite playing for LY's #2 O he also finished #2 in the dubious category of Int's thrown (#1 Favre), was the #16 rated QB (86) and is an underwhelming 17-20 SU as a career starter. Was he let down by poor D's or an average signal-caller surrounded by great play-makers? 2009 should be a good litmus test as other than RB Forte (1715 yds from LOS LY), the O talent drop-off Broncos-to-Bears is significant. Luckily for Chicago, for the 3rd time L4Y they get the #32 schedule. Even still, their D looks about the same and they draw Pit/Bal/Ariz/Philly and improved Cincy and Seattle.

Prediction: I'm thinking they struggle to hit .500 and 8W or less gets +139.

Detroit Lions

Luck Index: 2

Schedule Index: 5

2008 Record: 0-16

Season Win Line: 4

Week 1 game with Opening Line: +12 @ New Orleans

It takes a "perfect storm" to go O-fer and that's what the Lions got as playing the #2 schedule they were 11th in injuries (QB Kitna 12G), had only 4 players start all 16G, went -9 in TO margin (only 4 picks!) and L all 4 close G's. TY's personnel turnover tops the Browns with 20 deletions and 15 additions and former Titan's DC Schwartz is the new HC. He'll start in on a D that's had consecutive #32 finishes. He has some talent to work with in 5 potential veteran starters from free agency. On the other side of the ball, I think it would be a mistake to start #1 overall pick QB Stafford. Although they have WR talent, L3Y Detroit has the #30, #31 and #32 run O's and has allowed an average of 52 sacks/yr. Neither is the schedule favorable with Week 1 in a loud dome (@ N.O.) and Weeks 2/3 facing the tough D's of Minny/Wash.

Prediction: If I learn Culpepper will be the starter, I'll have a look if Over 4 is available (right now its 4 1/2, -132).

Green Bay Packers

Luck Index: 12

Schedule Index: 6

2008 Record: 6-10

Season Win Line: 8 1/2

Week 1 game with Opening Line: -3 vs Chicago

The Pack was my luckiest team year-before-last and not surprisingly their record took a big hit LY (13W down to 6W). They went 3-7 SU post-bye with 6L by a grand total of 21 pts including 2 in OT. That's what you call luck reverting to the mean! Part of the problem was a D that gave up 28 ppg L6 with #26 vs. run. In comes new DC Dom Capers and his 3-4. The linch-pin to that scheme is a "human fire hydrant" type of NT that can occupy the interior of the opposing OL. Looks like G.B. found one in 6'2" 337 lb. 1st-rounder Raji. More good news was LY's performance of QB Rodgers - #6 rating (93.8) with a 28-13 TD-Int ratio. Of some concern is a semi-iffy OL. New D systems normally have a learning curve, but the Packers get the #30 schedule with the easiest opponents early. However, they're unlikely to get a repeat of LY's 22 picks and it could be tough to again go 4-2 vs. division.

Prediction: A 2-3W improvement looks about right.

Minnesota Vikings

Luck Index: 21

Schedule Index: 6

2008 Record: 10-6

Season Win Line: 9

Week 1 game with Opening Line: -2 1/2 @ Cleveland

The Vikings have shown incremental improvement under 3Y HC Childress; 6-10, 8-8, 10-6. If you control the LOS in the NFL, you win games and Minny is #5, #1, #18 and #1, #1 and #1 in run O and D respectively 2006-2008. 1st-rounder Harvin should add some diversification to the O and take some focus off RB Peterson. The next chapter in the never-ending Favre retirement soap opera will take place in the Twin cities. I'll point out that he only had an 81 rating LY and led the league in Int's (22). Much-maligned QB Jackson might need to be cut some slack. In his 3Y career he now has about a year's worth of starts (19) and LY had a 95.4 rating with a 9-2 TD-Int ratio compared to 70.2 with a 9-12 in 2007. Minny has 2 question marks: Can LY 6th-rounder Sullivan fill in ably for departed vet C Birk? Will DT's Williams' 4G suspensions be upheld? Even so, the Vikes tie with GB for the #30 schedule and their 1st 5 opponents combined for only 19W LY so it could be 5-0 when they host Baltimore Week 6.

Prediction: Jury's out on a W Total (no line) until the jury's in on the suspensions :)

Atlanta Falcons

Luck Index: 27

Schedule Index: 30

2008 Record: 11-5

Season Win Line: 9

Week 1 game with Opening Line: -4 vs Miami

Atlanta turned on a dime LY taking advantage of a #28 schedule, a net +4 in close G's and the 2nd fewest injuries. Rookie QB Ryan had exactly what Detroit QB Stafford may not have; a run O (Falcons #2) and pass protection (#5 sacks allowed). The acquisition of TE Gonzalez will make the O more potent, but TY the Falcons look to be taking a step or two back. They get the #4 schedule and are #27 on my Luck Index. In an attempt to improve a #24 D, 5 LY starters are gone, including 4 from the B7 and the secondary could have 3 new starters. In addition, opponents may gang up on DE Abraham who had 50% of the team's sacks in 2008. The revamped D will be tested early with Mia/Car/NE before a Week 4 bye. Oct/Nov brings road G's vs. Dal/NO/Car/NYG in a 5-week span.

Prediction: 4 of L6 @ H, but it may be too late to recover back to plus .500.

Carolina Panthers

Luck Index: 30

Schedule Index: 26

2008 Record: 12-4

Season Win Line: 9

Week 1 game with Opening Line: -1 vs Philadelphia

At #30 on the Luck Index, things are not looking so good for Carolina either. LY they had the 3rd fewest injuries, a +6 TO margin, and were +4 in close G's. The Panthers have yet to post B2B winning seasons in their 14Y franchise history. 2008 ended up with the D allowing at least 30 pts in 5 of L7 and will be a work-in-progress for new DC Meeks. TY they get the #2 schedule and much like Atlanta's, it starts tough with Philly/Atl/Dal before the bye. In order to be in the running for the playoffs, they'd better bag some W's by December as their season ends with NE/Minny/NYG/NO Weeks 14-17.

Prediction: Too bad it would take a 4W drop-off to cover the current Under 8 1/2.

New Orleans Saints

Luck Index: 5

Schedule Index: 23

2008 Record: 8-8

Season Win Line: 8 1/2

Week 1 game with Opening Line: -12 vs Detroit

Same old - same old for the Saints LY; tons o' O (#1) and not enough D (#23). New DC Williams is a definite upgrade and in free agency N.O. acquired 3 defenders that he knows, along with vet FS Sharper. In addition, their 1st-round draft choice went to a potential shut-down CB, so things are looking up in the secondary. It seems starting DE's Smith/Grant will be suspended 1st 4G, but neither was 100% LY anyway. The Saints have the easiest schedule in the division and are way ahead on the Luck Index. LY they had the 7th most injuries, a -4 TO margin and went an incredible 0-5 in G's decided by 3 pts or less. They will have to perform on the road, as in 2008 they were 2-6 SU defeating only KC and Detroit. Their most difficult away test is @ Philly Week 2 and they get their toughest opponents @ H: NYG (post-bye), NE (MNF - circle that one) and Dallas.

Prediction: Given the above, the #1 O, and what looks like an improved D, N.O. is my pick to W the division and they should get DD W's.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Luck Index: 22

Schedule Index: 28

2008 Record: 9-7

Season Win Line: 6 1/2

Week 1 game with Opening Line: +3 vs Dallas

Blow up the Bucs! The T.B. D allowed 756 YR (113 pts) L4G to go O-fer and miss the playoffs after a 9-3 start. That led to the dismissal of GM Allen, HC Gruden, both QB's and 5 D starters. DB coach Morris was promoted from within to HC and is changing the "cover-2" system. Leftwich looks to be the new QB with Ward @ RB at least for now, as Williams/Graham come off injuries. For a team with the #3 schedule that's a lot of changes. Playing the entire NFC East in the 1st 5 weeks, followed by Car/NE, the Buccaneers have the distinct possibility of being winless when they hit their Week 8 bye. Mid-November to late December sees 5 of 7 away.

Prediction: I'll take Under 6 if I can find it.

Arizona Cardinals

Luck Index: 25

Schedule Index: 14

2008 Record: 9-7

Season Win Line: 9 1/2

Week 1 game with Opening Line: -6 1/2 vs San Francisco

The Cardinals were on the fortunate side in 2008 (4th fewest injuries) and by virtue of clinching their division so early basically had the luxury of taking 4 weeks off before cranking things up again for the playoffs. They got to the Super Bowl in part due to the fact that the league's #32 regular season run O averaged 111 YR/G in the playoffs pre-Pittsburgh. 1st-rounder RB Wells should help that cause. TY their schedule gets even easier (#21 to #28) and they play only 6 plus .500 opponents from 2008. With the #3 rated QB and probably the best WR duo in the league (23 TD combined) the O will be dangerous again. On the down side, there has been some turnover on the D and LY's OC and DC are amongst 5 departed coaches.

Prediction: Arizona won't sneak up on anyone TY, but with their O and ease of schedule Over the current 8 1/2 looks like a bet.

St. Louis Rams

Luck Index: 2

Schedule Index: 8

2008 Record: 2-14

Season Win Line: 5

Week 1 game with Opening Line: +7 @ Seattle

The Rams are now my #2 bad luck team for B2B years. In 2008 they were hit by injuries (#6) and went a net -4 in close G's. After a 4 blowout "O-fer" start LY, they got a bogus W over Washington and upset Dallas with +4 TO's. However, then things got ugly as they promptly L L10. TY they have a new GM and the new HC is former Giant's DC Spagnuolo. In the off-season it was 1st-things-1st as they upgraded the 2 most important OL positions with LT (#2 overall pick Smith) and C Brown. An as yet unmet need is @ WR where the leading returnee is... Donnie Avery? Their sked drops to #21 but is toughest early with 3 of 1st 4 on the road. Keep your eye on a 3G home-stand after the Week 9 bye.

Prediction: They need a 4W improvement to top the current 5 1/2 and the money line of -152 is too high.

San Francisco 49ers

Luck Index: 19

Schedule Index: 21

2008 Record: 7-9

Season Win Line: 7

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

The 49ers showed statistical improvement LY going from #32 to #23 on O and #25 to #13 on D. However, it was against the #32 schedule so we'll take that with a grain of salt. After a 2-5 SU start San Francisco brought in Singletary as HC and he promptly L #6. The worm turned after the ensuing bye though as they ended the year going 5-3 (6-2 ATS) despite a 4 in 5G away stretch. All-in-all quite respectable for a team that was -17 in TO margin (-10 fumbles!). QB Hill was the #12 rated passer behind an OL that's nothing special (#27 run O, #32 sacks allowed). WR Bruce should be a good mentor to 1st round pick Crabtree. The schedule is only #26, but the tougher G's are on the road.

Prediction: Singletary looks to be just what this team needed. They haven't had a non-losing season since 2002 but have a shot TY.

Seattle Seahawks

Luck Index: 1

Schedule Index: 11

2008 Record: 4-12

Season Win Line: 7

Week 1 game with Opening Line: -7 vs St. Louis

Last but not least is 2008's unluckiest team. In Holmgren's send-off year they were hit across the board with #2 injuries (primarily Hasselbeck/OL/WR), a -7 TO margin (a swing of 17 from 2007) and -4 close G's (all @ H). It certainly showed in their stats as the O dropped from #9 to #28 (#29 pass). Seattle promoted from within and designated HC Mora had a one year heads-up to evaluate the talent. The new #1 WR is Houshmandzadeh, Branch figures to return healthy and 3rd-round pick Butler should be in the mix. The Seahawks did not have 1 OL start all 16G LY and unfortunately it looks like LT Jones (and now C Spencer) will miss the 1st couple G's of the season TY. That is the easy part of the #25 sked with 4 of 6 H and a bye. The tough part is a 3G road trip late November. This West coast team does not have to travel farther East than Indy.

Prediction: The O is bound to be healthier, so I can see Seattle topping .500. Too bad there's a -181 money line attached to an 8W season.

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