In mid-August of 1973, the Oakland Raiders had just downed the Los Angeles Rams in their third of six scheduled preseason games. Raiders offensive line coach Ollie Spencer was beaming in the postgame locker room at Cal Berkeley, where the game had been held while the Oakland A’s hosted a Major League Baseball game at the stadium the Raiders and A’s shared.
Head Coach John Madden interrupted Spencer’s enthusiasm with caution that we still have a lot of work to do to get ready for the regular season. In those days, NFL teams would play six preseason games and a 14 game regular season. “We may have a lot of work to do,” Spencer boasted, “But we sure don’t have as much to do as the Rams.”
Chuck Knox was in his first year with Caroll Rosenbloom’s team, and his pro coaching career would go on to reach a number of heights, although never a trip to the Super Bowl. That year, 1973, Spencer may have voiced that the Raiders were well ahead of the Rams, but by season end, both Los Angeles and Oakalnd advanced to the postseason.
The Rams season was over after a divisional playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys, while the Raiders season ended a week later in Miami against the soon-to-be two time Super Bowl Champion Dolphins.
The preseason can be like Spencer saw the Rams, out of sync and in need of a lot of help. Thing is, sometimes teams that appear to be struggling most in the preseason are the exact same teams that are getting done what they need to in order to win the games that count.
Perhaps the best at evaluating talent is not opposing coaches, but rather the professionals who have access to more resources than any team and are not looking for edges to win, but rather with a balanced evaluation of actual talent levels.
How did these professionals who set the lines on the games evaluate the preseason just completed? They upgraded five teams based on season win totals and downgraded five others by the same measurement. The teams that impressed the wise guys in the preseason were the Buffalo Bills, Denver Broncos, Las Vegas Raiders, Baltimore Ravens and Washington (until they have a new name) Redskins. Those five teams had their win totals kick up one-half game since the opening of training camps.
The Indianapolis Colts took the biggest hit from the guys setting the lines, they dropped a full game from a pre camp number of ten wins to currently nine. The other four teams that didn’t impress the linemakers in August were the Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans, all teams that had their win total wager sliced by a half game.
Last year, the team projected to win the fewest games in the National Football League was the Washington Redskins. Yet, with a preseason number pegged at five games, Ron Rivera guided his Washington club to the playoffs. Albeit, with a losing 7 and 9 campaign while playing out of the NFC East, clearly the weakest division in the NFL.
This year, with the expanded 17 game regular season schedule, every team has one more chance to go over their win total. Perhaps the Houston Texans are as bad as advertised, but their number dropping from 4½ wins to 4 invites an “over” wager. Problem is, if a wager looks good based on the win total posted by the books, the linemakers ability to separate bettors from their money might be in full force.
One can understand why the once highly regarded Colts have dropped dramatically. They have suffered key injuries to both their offensive line and quarterback. Newly acquired quarterback Carson Wentz carries a number of suspect factors into the 2021 season, beginning with a history of injuries and his unvaccinated status.
Last year, the Kansas City Chiefs had the highest win total number with 11½, a number they easily exceeded in their 14 win season. This year, with one more game on their schedule, the Chiefs over/under total for wins is 12½. The full shuffle of their offensive line suggests the Chiefs will not be as good as they were last season, and an “under” on the defending AFC Champions is one of our calls for our 2021 total wins wagers.
Two of the favorites to meet in Super Bowl LVI, the Buffalo Bills and San Francisco 49ers, are two of our “over'' plays this year. Another team that will battle the Bills in the AFC East, the Miami Dolphins, have a suspiciously high win total number set at 9½. That appears to be a number designed to sway people away from an “over” wager on Miami’s win total, and a perfect spot for us to agree with the books and expect the Dolphins to earn double-digit victories this season. Miami also has one other major edge, they are only playing seven games this season on an opponent's home field.
With an odd number of games this season, one conference, the AFC, is scheduled to play nine of their 17 games at home. Three AFC teams are also involved in International Games played on a neutral site in London. The Jacksonville Jaguars lose a home game at the neutral site, while the Dolphins and New York Jets use one of their visiting dates for their contest in London. Which means this, Miami and the Jets only have to play seven road games in an opponent's stadium this year and nine contests on their home field.
A third AFC East team, the New England Patriots, had their years of dominating this division ended last season with their first losing campaign since 2000. With a rookie at quarterback, and having to play the Dolphins and Bills four times this season, we don’t expect New England to be much better in the win/loss column and finish “under” their 9½ season win total number.
Strength of division can make a huge difference for a team to go over or under their season win total. Teams playing out of the NFC West will have six games against top opponents, while teams playing out of the NFC East will have six division games against weak opponents.
This year, seven win totals meet our criteria for wagering purposes. They are:
Buffalo Bills over 11 wins
Miami Dolphins over 9½ wins
Minnesota Vikings under 8½ wins
New England Patriots under 9½ wins
San Francisco 49ers over 10½ wins
Kansas City Chiefs under 12½ wins
Philadelphia Eagles under 7 wins