2014 NFC West Predictions with Odds and NFL Betting Picks
by Robert Ferringo - 8/4/2014
It was just four short seasons ago that the NFC West became the butt of national sports jokes by producing the first division winner with a 7-9 record in league history. That was rock bottom for what had been the worst division in the league for nearly a decade.
But the West absolutely dominated the rest of the NFL last year, going 30-10 straight up against nondivisional opponents. The West boasted the two best teams in the NFC and the eventual Super Bowl champions. And, in fact, the division also had the best team in the NFL not to make the playoffs, with 10-6 Arizona sitting home in January.
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Further, the NFC West has been an ATM machine for gamblers in recent years. The four teams combined to go an exceptional 28-12 against the spread in nondivisional games in 2013. And over the past two seasons these teams have gone an incredible 54-25 ATS against the rest of the NFL. That is a sizzling 68.4 percent win rate against the number.
San Francisco 49ers Predictions
2013 Record: 12-4 (6-2 home, 6-2 road)
2013 Against the Spread: 11-5 ATS, 8-8 vs. Total
2013 Rankings: 24th offense (30th pass, 3rd rush); 7th defense (9th pass, 4th rush)
2014 Odds: 8.5/1 to win SB, 4.5/1 to win NFC, 1.5/1 to win NFC West, 10.5 wins O/U
Offense: The 49ers tumbled from the No. 11 offense in football to the No. 24 offense. However, I didn’t hear much blame being tossed Colin Kaepernick’s way or many people chiding the 49ers for letting Alex Smith go to Kansas City.
Kaepernick’s stat line was respectable. But he has a long way to go before he can be considered a top-tier guy. His stats say that he ran the ball 92 times last year. But for the life of me I can’t remember him taking off that much. I would like to see him be more of a threat with his legs and utilize one of his primary assets.
San Francisco’s offensive line may be the best in football. That is the heart of this team and the foundation for their dominating running game. Frank Gore continues to defy Father Time and leads a stable of backs that is young but capable.
The 49ers absolutely stole wideout Stevie Johnson from Buffalo in a draft day trade. Johnson is a proven weapon. And if San Francisco can put Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree, Johnson and Vernon Davis on the field together this has the makings of one of the best 49ers passing attacks of the last 15 years. But they have to keep everyone healthy. And that’s been a recurring problem with each of these receivers.
Defense: San Francisco has finished in the Top 5 in points allowed and total offense in each of the past five years. They physically dominate opponents on this side of the ball and are one of the most aggressive, hardest-hitting units in football. They may have as many as six new starters on the opening day defense, though, and we’ll have to see if the system is strong enough to absorb some key personnel losses.
Turnover was rampant in the 49ers secondary, where three new faces can be found. Safety Antoine Bethea will take over Donte Whitner’s spot. Bethea is a bit more polished. But he’ll be hard-pressed to maintain Whitner’s tone-setting mentality. The Niners will also have a pair of new starting corners as well as a new guy in the slot.
Navarro Bowman is still recovering from his postseason ACL tear and likely will not be back until November. He is a Pro Bowl player and irreplaceable. But Patrick Willis will carry the torch as the team’s best defender, and look for continued assistance from Aldon Smith (if he can stay out of jail) and Ahmad Brooks.
Skinny: In the public’s eyes last season was a bit of a “down” year for the 49ers. That is crazy, of course, since San Francisco was about 25 yards away from a repeat Super Bowl appearance while also posting a healthy 11-5 season record against the spread. When you consider that San Francisco was expected to suffer a Super Bowl Hangover last year I’d say their 2013 campaign was outstanding.
However, cracks are starting to show in the façade in this dynasty-that-wasn’t. If the Niners aren’t careful they could become this decade’s 90s Bills or 00s Eagles: The Team That Couldn’t Get Over The Hump.
As a practical matter, the 49ers have several statistical indicators pointing to a season with less than 12 wins. They also have the dark cloud of Jim Harbaugh’s contract situation hanging over them a bit. But with all of that said, I’m not in a hurry to bet against Harbaugh. Over his last five years coaching, three with the 49ers and two with Stanford, he is an amazing 40-19 against the spread.
Seattle Seahawks Predictions
2013 Record: 13-3 (7-1 home, 6-2 road)
2013 Against the Spread: 11-5 ATS, 6-10 vs. Total
2013 Rankings: 18th offense (26th pass, 4th rush); 1st defense (1st pass, 8th rush)
2014 Odds: 7/1 to win SB, 3.5/1 to win NFC, 1.3/1 to win NFC West, 11.0 wins O/U
Offense: Seattle has run the football on 53.8 percent of its offensive snaps the past two years, the most in the NFL. They are a ground-and-pound team, and Marshawn Lynch’s hard-charging style behind Seattle’s zone-blocking scheme is the catalyst for this group. Russell Wilson may get the recognition. But I don’t think there’s any doubt that Lynch is the most vital piece of Seattle’s offensive puzzle.
Wilson, however, is a close second. He is efficient and effective, and unlike most young quarterbacks he refuses to make crucial errors under pressure. Wilson has 57 touchdowns to just 27 turnovers through his first two seasons and is still improving. His 63.6 completion percentage is underrated, and Wilson has the moxie of someone much older than just 25.
The word around the campfire is that Seattle’s offense will be better this year because they will have a healthy Percy Harvin. However, Percy Harvin is never healthy. And I think that any expectations that he’ll be able to give Seattle 16 full games – something he’s done exactly once in five years – is overly optimistic. I think Seattle is really going to miss Golden Tate, whose savvy was always undervalued.
Defense: Seattle was No. 1 in the NFL in total defense and scoring defense last season and returns eight of its 11 starters. They utilize a relentless pass rush and the best secondary in football to frustrate opposing offenses and boast some of the best team speed in the game.
Seattle did lose some key cogs to free agency, however. No. 2 and No. 3 corners Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond have moved on. As have key linemen Red Bryant and Chris Clemons. None of those defections really garner much attention. But those were exceptional veteran performers, and the losses have sapped some of the crucial depth on this roster.
The Seahawks will be fine, though, because they have two Pro Bowl safeties, a Pro Bowl middle line backer, and two Pro Bowl-caliber defensive ends. Seattle’s turnover production the past two seasons has been unusually high, though, and if they aren’t as good in that area this year the defense could regress a bit.
Skinny: Look, I was completely wrong about Seattle last year. Reading all of my statistical indicators I predicted that the Seahawks would take a step backwards before taking a step forward. They didn’t. However, that doesn’t mean that they are immune to the Super Bowl hangover. And while – like San Francisco – I’m not running to the window to bet against this team, I will be casting a wary eye on the team that the bobblehead media has anointed as the best team in football.
Seattle still possesses one of the youngest rosters in football. And too much success too quickly can have a negative impact on a franchise. The Seahawks were brilliant last year. But they also won a host of games they shouldn’t have, including games at Carolina, at Houston, at St. Louis, and versus Tampa Bay. That’s not exactly a murderer’s row, either.
I still think Seattle is one of the best teams in football. But I don’t think they enter the season as the top team. Last year was last year. And it was great for the Emerald City. But this is an entirely new story, and I think its better to get off the bandwagon a little too early rather than a little too late.
Arizona Cardinals Predictions
2013 Record: 10-6 (6-2 home, 4-4 road)
2013 Against the Spread: 11-5 ATS; 8-8 vs. Total
2013 Rankings: 12th offense (13th pass, 23rd rush); 5th defense (14th pass, 1st rush)
2014 Odds: 55/1 to win SB, 28/1 to win NFC, 8.5/1 to win NFC West, 7.5 wins O/U
Offense: Carson Palmer was able to hold it together for a full 16 games last year, throwing for over 4,200 yards and 24 touchdowns. However, he still exhibited his natural tendency to tuck his tail between his legs and turn the ball over when faced with the slightest pressure, throwing 22 interceptions and losing three fumbles.
Palmer did adapt well to Bruce Arians’ system. But he also benefitted from a sneaky-good receiving corps that will again be led by Larry Fitzgerald and up-and-coming Michael Floyd. Arizona added Ted Ginn in the offseason and is hoping that a fourth young receiver can emerge to support the cause.
Arizona continues to strike out at running back, however, and Rashard Mendenhall retired this offseason. This position group is razor thin and could be a big trouble spot for the Cards all season.
The offensive line has become a major strength. Arizona added massive left tackle Jared Veldheer this offseason and will welcome back last year’s top pick, Jonathan Cooper, after a season lost to injury. The line should do a better job of protecting Palmer, but he still needs to toughen up and avoid big mistakes.
Defense: For all the talk about San Francisco and Seattle’s defenses, Arizona’s stop unit was every bit the equal of the 49ers and Seahawks. They finished No. 7 in scoring defense and No. 6 in total defense and added Antonio Cromartie this offseason.
Cromartie will play opposite Patrick Peterson, who is an absolute beast and one of the best players in football. The problem is that rookie Deone Bucannon and second-year man Tyrann Mathieu (when he comes back from injury) are slated to start at safety. That’s a lot of inexperience, and it will be up to mediocre vet Rashad Johnson to fill the gaps.
There are not enough good things to say about the Arizona defensive front line. However, linebacker Karlos Dansby’s departure to Cleveland was a major blow to the front seven. Arizona has a lot of serviceable pieces to rotate through their 3-4 defense. But none of the LBs on the roster bring the leadership and big-play potential that Dansby took with him.
Skinny: I was the only handicapper in the country touting Arizona last year. And they proved me right, winning 10 games and narrowly missing out on the postseason. I was ready to peg them for a step back this season. But I really like what they were able to add this offseason, and Bruce Arians is one of the top coaches in football.
The problem, as always, is that I hate backing Palmer. He is completely untrustworthy as a favorite because he is capable of a three-turnover implosion at any time. I love the potential for this offense. And the defense is underrated. But I simply can’t trust the loser under center. Not two seasons in a row.
Arizona’s schedule is not as favorable this season. They play four of their last six games on the road, including three against division rivals. Home dates against the Chargers, Niners, Eagles, Chiefs and Seahawks, all playoff teams from a year ago, is also daunting and perhaps too much to overcome.
St. Louis Rams Predictions
2013 Record: 7-9 (5-3 home, 2-6 road)
2013 Against the Spread: 7-9 ATS, 9-7 vs. Total
2013 Rankings: 30th offense (27th pass, 19th rush); 15th defense (19th pass, 9th rush)
2014 Odds: 50/1 to win SB, 26/1 to win NFC, 8.5/1 to win NFC West, 7.5 wins O/U
Offense: I am almost tired of stating my unwavering support for Sam Bradford. When he’s healthy, I feel like Bradford is better than half of the signal callers in the NFL. The problem, however, is that he is never healthy. And entering a contract year it is put-up or shut-up time for the Rams quarterback.
As always, Bradford has absolutely nothing to work with at the skill positions. As I predicted, Tavon Austin was over his head last year. Washed up Kenny Britt and a host of other losers will try to support Bradford from the WR position. But the Rams lack a true No. 1 option in Brian Schottenheimer’s offense.
The Rams will try again to establish themselves as a run-first team. They have an exceptional offensive line – as long as Jake Long comes back healthy – and Zac Stacy showed a lot of potential toting the rock last year.
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: St. Louis’ front four is on the short list for the most underrated units in football. Like San Francisco and Seattle, the Rams are capable of dominating at the point of attack with their down linemen. Chris Long is a stud, and fellow end Robert Quinn tallied 19 sacks a season ago.
But unlike Seattle and San Francisco, St. Louis’ secondary sucks. Their four starters have a combined seven years’ experience in the NFL, and this group is completely erratic. There is no veteran assistance with the backups, either, as the second unit has just three combined years of experience. This secondary is a glaring weakness, and I haven’t seen anything to make me think that a huge jump in production is expected. The front office is failing this team by not going out and signing one or two veteran guys to help shepherd the rest of the young talent.
Gregg Williams, who has been incognito the past two years following the bounty scandal in New Orleans, is resuming his role as the defensive coordinator this year. It will be very interesting to see what Williams’ impact is on this group.
Skinny: The Rams will have the youngest roster in the NFL for the third year in a row. But they can’t keep hiding behind that excuse since Seattle just won a Super Bowl with the fifth-youngest roster in the league. Arizona leapfrogged St. Louis last year, and the Rams still have a long way to go to match Seattle and San Francisco.
I think the Rams would be a threat to win three other divisions in the NFL. But unfortunately for them they are stuck in the West. The oddsmakers believe they have closed the gap significantly, though, as their odds to win the division shrunk from 30-to-1 heading into last season to just 8.5-to-1 this year.
Bradford will likely be the fall guy. And Jeff Fisher’s seat is going to start to heat up. Because as competitive as this team will be, they just have too many holes to overtake the other powerhouses in this division.
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Robert Ferringo was the top football handicapper in the country last year, earning nearly $8,000 in total football profit in 2014-14 and posting one of the best seasons in America. He hit 62.1 percent for the entire NFL season (95-58) and was amazing down the stretch, closing with 11 of 14 winning NFL weeks and 12 of 15 overall winning football weeks. Robert has posted 3 of 4 winning football seasons, 6 of 7 winning NFL seasons, 30 of 44 winning football months, and 6 of 7 winning NFL preseasons. Also, Robert’s proprietary KING College Football Betting System posted another winning season (now 2-for-2) and is 83-58 over the last two years (58.9 percent).
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