NFC West Predictions and Futures Odds with Betting Picks
by Robert Ferringo - 7/25/2013
Either things change very rapidly in the NFL, or fans simply have no memory.
The NFC West is being touted as one of the best divisions in football heading into the 2013 season. San Francisco and Seattle are on the short list of favorites to win the Super Bowl. St. Louis is harnessing the Power of the Moustache as Jeff Fisher lays track. And even perennial doormat Arizona, armed with a new coach and quarterback, feels that it is ready to compete in the top conference.
However, I think people are forgetting that the NFC West has been a dumpster fire since its inception in 2002. It was just three short seasons ago when the NFC West sent a 7-9 team to the postseason as the division winner. And while their combined 23 nondivisional wins tied with the NFC North for the most in football last year, the NFC West has been by far the worst division in the sport over the last half-decade.
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The NFC West has managed to go just 76-124 against the rest of the NFL over the past five years. That is a feeble .380 winning percentage, and the West is a full 40 games worse than the top division during that time period, the NFC South (116-84), and over 30 games worse than the No. 2 division during that time, the NFC East. The West will have to battle difficult travel scenarios this year as they crossover against the AFC South and the NFC South.
The four teams in the NFC West combined to go 38-25-1 against the spread last year, led by dueling 11-5 ATS seasons from Seattle and St. Louis. That has not gone unnoticed by the sportsbooks. These teams are coming into the season with a load of hype, and I think that right now this entire division, collectively, is a bit priced past the market.
San Francisco 49ers Predictions
2012 Record: 11-4-1 (6-1-1 home, 5-3 road)
2012 Against the Spread: 9-7 ATS, 9-6-1 vs. Total
2012 Rankings: 11th offense (23rd pass, 4th rush); 3rd defense (4th pass, 4th rush)
2013 Odds: 6/1 to win SB, 3.5/1 to win NFC, 1/1.2 to win NFC West, 11.5 wins “over/under”
Offense: Colin Kaepernick will have full control of the 49ers offense this year, and he will try to pick up where he left off the 2012 season. San Francisco averaged 34.7 points per game in the postseason and 28.4 per game in the final 11 games. That was nearly a touchdown better than their scoring rate before Kaepernick took over for Alex Smith.
The San Francisco rushing attack, No. 4 in the league with 155.7 yards per game, gets most of the attention. But the 49ers had a near perfect run-pass balance last year. They ran the ball on 51.5 percent of their offensive plays last year. While that was the third-highest total in the league and their highest percentage in a decade, it still shows the 49ers can beat teams with raw power or with aerial skill.
The 49ers passing game suffered a significant blow when Michael Crabtree tore his Achilles during OTAs. Crabtree is likely out for the season, but San Francisco was able to replace him with Anquan Boldin. Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis give the Niners two absolute beasts to work with. But the Niners will need a third option to emerge and give them some of the explosiveness that they lost when Crabtree went down.
Defense: This is the real strength of the team. And everything they do on offense is centered around what they have backing them up on defense. San Francisco is the hardest-hitting team in the NFC. And in a time when clubs are focusing their attention on building high-powered offenses, the Niners are bludgeoning teams with their steel-pipe defense.
San Francisco’s defense; which boasts the best linebacking group in the game and finished in the Top 5 in total yards (3rd), passing (4th), rush defense (4th) and scoring (2nd); may actually be even better this season if they don’t have to carry so much of the load. If the 49ers offense can give them 26-27 points per game then San Francisco’s defense should be well rested, more focused, and even better this time around.
Hard-hitting safety Dashon Goldson left and is being replaced by rookie Eric Reid. That’s a significant step down. And the 49ers also lost underrated nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga to Philadelphia. But they also added corner Nnamdi Asomugha and former Kansas City top pick Glenn Dorsey to fill the gaps.
Skinny: I think that San Francisco is the clear-cut favorite in the NFC right now, and that puts them with Denver as the two favorites to win the Super Bowl. The Niners came oh-so-close to winning the title in February, and they have been the single best bet in football over the last two years, going 21-10-1 ATS.
The question has become, “How much value is left on the 49ers?” And, unfortunately, I don’t feel as if there is much. Everyone is onto San Francisco now, and the level of expectations for this team is through the roof. Over the past 15 years the Super Bowl loser has experienced a significant letdown the next season. And the Niners will have to play with a target on their back all fall.
I know I’m not betting against this group. But I don’t know how much I’ll be betting on them either.
Seattle Seahawks Predictions
2012 Record: 11-5 (8-0 home, 3-5 road)
2012 Against the Spread: 11-5 ATS, 8-8 vs. Total
2012 Rankings: 17th offense (27th pass, 3rd rush); 4th defense (6th pass, 10th rush)
2013 Odds: 7/1 to win SB, 3/1 to win NFC, 1/1 to win NFC West, 10.5 wins O/U
Offense: For all the talk about Russell Wilson and the Seattle read-option, the fact is that the Seahawks were not a very good offensive team last year.
Seattle’s attack is still very much the Marshawn Lynch Show as opposed to being Wilson’s group. And as long as he is still in Beast Mode, the Seahawks will be able to move the chains with one of the league’s best rushing attacks. The crux of the running game is Seattle’s massive offensive line. Center Max Unger and left tackle Russell Okung are the real deal. And this group has a chance to be even better if James Carpenter can bounce back from a 2012 injury.
Wilson was amazingly efficient last year, tallying 30 touchdowns to just 15 turnovers while also completing an exceptional 64 percent of his passes. Wilson should be even more effective this year with the addition of multitalented Percy Harvin. Harvin gives the Seahawks a legit Pro Bowl-caliber wideout. And if Wilson avoids the sophomore slump – and gets a little more help from his receiving corps – then this unit should only improve on what was a pedestrian season in 2012.
Defense: The foundation of this team is the defense. And the best part of the defense is clearly Seattle’s dominating secondary, which is the best in football. Corners Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner along with new addition Antonio Winfield, gives Seattle three Pro Bowl corners. Safeties Earl Thomas and Kim Chancellor are hard hitters and big-time playmakers. And the straight-up skill of this unit means Seattle can get creative with what it does in the front seven.
Seattle middle linebacker Bobby Wagner is a rock. He is braced by young and undistinguished outside linebackers, so it all revolves around Wagner and his 140 tackles. The defensive line added Cliff Avril and is a major strength. However, injuries and suspensions will sap some of the depth from the Seattle DE’s early in the season, and they will have to compensate.
New defensive coordinator Dan Quinn takes over for the departed Gus Bradley (Jacksonville). Quinn was the defensive line coach here in 2009-10 and will try to guide the Seahawks defense to another Top 10 season. Expect to see more blitzing from Quinn’s defense, and that could either be a really good thing or a really bad thing for this established group.
Skinny: The Seahawks are a solid, physical football team. They boast one of the toughest defenses and one of the best home field advantages in the sport.
But as I pointed out HERE, the Seahawks are a team that is poised for an underachieving season. There are a slew of statistical indicators – favorable offensive and defensive yards per point, starts lost to injury, turnover margin, etc. – that deviated from the norm for the Birds last year. Compound some ridiculous good fortune in terms of last-second plays (and calls) and Seattle also stole at least three of their wins last year.
I am one of the few NFL analysts in the country that is not buying into Seattle as a true Super Bowl contender. With a tougher schedule and heightened expectations in the betting market, I think that the Seahawks are a team that could disappoint this season. Tread lightly here.
Arizona Cardinals Predictions
2012 Record: 5-11 (4-4 home, 1-7 road)
2012 Against the Spread: 7-8-1 ATS; 7-9 vs. Total
2012 Rankings: 32nd offense (28th pass, 32nd rush); 12th defense (5th pass, 28th rush)
2013 Odds: 150/1 to win SB, 60/1 to win NFC, 30/1 to win NFC West, 5.5 wins O/U
Offense: There is nowhere to go but up for the Arizona quarterback situation. So while Carson Palmer is clearly an upgrade over the bunch of losers that the Cardinals have had under center the past two seasons, let’s not get carried away.
Palmer threw for over 4,000 yards last year. But that is misleading since so much of his stats were accrued in garbage time. Palmer has both completed over 60 percent of his passes and posted a quarterback rating over 80 in each of his last four years as a starter. But he is a turnover machine (59 turnovers in his last 40 games) and makes mistakes because he is terrified of contact.
Arizona’s offensive line is mediocre at best, so Palmer will have to deal with a lot of pressure this season. The results might not be as glowing as Arizona fans expect. But if just-signed tackle Eric Winston and rookie lineman Jonathan Cooper round into form, this group should be could exceed expectations.
Larry Fitzgerald is still capable of doing Calvin Johnson-type things in the passing game and the combo of Andre Roberts and Mike Floyd gives Arizona a solid batch of wideouts. But the Cardinals need either new starter Rashard Mendenhall or oft-injured youngster Ryan Williams to step forward and be a consistent running back.
Defense: Arizona has boasted a Top-10 defense exactly twice in 35 years. Former defensive coordinator Ray Horton had put this current group on the verge – No. 12 last year – before he left for Cleveland, angry that he was passed over for the head coaching vacancy. It will be interesting to see if Arizona’s defense will continue to progress or revert to the annual horror show it had been from 2006-2010.
The Cardinals completely overhauled the secondary, cutting ties with their top three safeties and three of their top four cornerbacks. New strong safety Yeremiah Bell, a 10-year veteran, will assume the leadership duties along with beastly corner Patrick Peterson. But they lost a load of experience, and I don’t expect this year’s pass defense to be even close to the group that allowed just 54.3 percent of opposing passes to be completed.
The strength of this team is its defensive line, where talent and depth abound. But while they have a lot of bodies at linebacker, there are no true standouts. The depth in the front seven is fantastic. But they need some players to really break through as leaders and high-level performers.
Skinny: It’s the dawn of a new day in the desert. I am a big fan of new coach Bruce Arians. He did an amazing job with a rag-tag team in Indianapolis last year. Arians has surrounded himself with an outstanding staff and a new quarterback to get the ball rolling on Arizona’s rebuild.
Now Arizona just has to find a way to shrink the talent gap between itself and the rest of the league. The Cardinals have gone just 18-30 straight up over the last three years and have been outscored by 288 points during that stretch.
Arizona’s schedule is pretty brutal to open the year. They start with four of six on the road, and that leads into a stretch where they play at San Francisco and then host Seattle in a four-day stretch. If they survive that the Falcons and Texans are on deck. Ouch.
I expect some bumps and bruises under the new regime. But I have a lot of confidence about Arians and the direction he will take this franchise. Expect to see progress the second half of the year out of this group, and they could turn into a sneaky team ATS.
St. Louis Rams Predictions
2012 Record: 7-8-1 (4-4 home, 3-4-1 road)
2012 Against the Spread: 11-5 ATS, 8-8 vs. Total
2012 Rankings: 23rd offense (18th pass, 19th rush); 14th defense (15th pass, 15th rush)
2013 Odds: 70/1 to win SB, 40/1 to win NFC, 9/1 to win NFC West, 7.5 wins O/U
Offense: I am very, very high on quarterback Sam Bradford. For the first time in his career he will have the same offensive coordinator in back-to-back seasons, and I think he has the confidence of the coaching staff. Now he just needs to win over everyone else.
What Bradford doesn’t have – and has never had – is much help. The St. Louis skill players are all young and unproven. St. Louis let Danny Amendola get away, and when he was healthy last year he WAS the passing game. Steven Jackson has also moved on to Atlanta. So that leaves Bradford with hodgepodge of undistinguished wideouts and shaky running backs. Again.
A lot has been made about St. Louis drafting speedy slot man Tavon Austin with the No. 8 pick in the draft. But rookie receivers almost never do much in their first season, and there is no way that swapping Amendola for Austin can be painted as a lateral move (or upgrade). St. Louis also brought in tight end Jared Cook. But he has been more potential than production in his career, and I don’t see Cook becoming an 80-catch security blanket at that position.
In just three years St. Louis has overhauled the worst offensive line in football. They added former Pro Bowler Jake Long in free agency, and if he stays healthy he will anchor a group that looks to be a team strength.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, since 2005 the Rams have the league’s worst winning percentage (.285) while averaging just 17 points per game, which was No. 31 of 32 teams. They need serious improvement on the latter if they are going to improve the former.
Defense: The Rams defensive line is one of the best in the NFL and wreaked havoc on opposing backfields last year. Their 52 sacks led the NFL, and ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn both topped double-digits in that category a season ago.
The Rams also have two terrific, underrated linebackers in Jo-Lonn Dunbar and James Laurinaitis. But beyond that the defense is going to be hampered by its youth in the back seven. St. Louis will likely start two rookies and second-year corner Janoris Jenkins, with fellow sophomore corner Trumaine Johnson as the first defensive back off the bench.
The depth behind the starters isn’t much more experienced. Nor is new defensive coordinator Tim Walton, the former Detroit Lions secondary coach that was hired to fill a vacant position on Fisher’s staff. That is a way too much on-the-job training for my taste.
Skinny: Jeff Fisher is one of the best coaches in the NFL, and he is laying a nice foundation for this organization. I love the way he is building his roster, with rock-solid offensive and defensive lines. That is a tried-and-true approach and has helped Fisher become one of the best underdog coaches in the league.
But the Rams have the youngest roster in the NFL. And they played well above themselves last year, embracing the classic Fisher role of pesky dog. St. Louis rebounded from a 3-12-1 record against the spread in 2011 to become one of the best bets in football last year, going 11-5 ATS. I will be very surprised if they manage better than a .500 record at the window this time around.
St. Louis has a lot of glaring weakness on both sides of the passing game. And the opening month may be the toughest in football, with a stretch of three games in 11 days at Atlanta, at Dallas and then at home against San Francisco. And that’s kind of the theme for this team: They lost too much talent and are too young to stay competitive against a brutal schedule. I’m predicting a step back before Fisher takes them forward.
Robert Ferringo is a professional handicapper and has posted back-to-back profitable seasons (college and pro). Robert has turned a profit in three of four football seasons and over the last nine months his clients have earned nearly $10,000 in profit with his football selections. He is looking forward to building on his stellar football handicapping resume again this fall and you can check him out here. Also, you can also get $60 worth of free Robert Ferringo member picks (no salesman, no credit card, no obligation!) by clicking here for more info.
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