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Tampa Bay OVER 12 Wins (-110) @ DraftKings
Tampa Bay OVER 11.5 Wins (-150) @ FanDuel
Last year’s Super Bowl champions enter the 2021 season with an over/under win total of 11.5. Tom Brady returns for a second season with the team at 44 years of age and these Bucs return all 22 starters on both sides of the ball from last year’s big game, so the new goal is obviously back-to-back championships not done since Brady took the Pats there in 2003 and 2004. It’s a high total even in a 17-game season and second highest only to Kansas City, but there's reason for optimism on the over here nonetheless.
When projecting season win totals the two most important items to consider are strength of schedule and projected team performance based on players being added and subtracted. As mentioned before, all starters on offense and defense are coming back. So last year’s championship offense that was top 10 in nearly all major categories and championship defense that performed equally as well except for giving up some yards in the air (mostly during garbage time when the opponent was behind), half our work is almost done here. In all seriousness though, assuming all 22 starters can stay healthy, a repeat type of regular season performance should be expected. Injuries are impossible to factor in a futures bet, but with the oldest active player in the league at QB, an average age of 28.5 years old on the offense and defensive leaders Ndamukong Suh and Jason Pierre-Paul well into their 30s, the Bucs more so than any other team in the league have the biggest potential adverse risk if the injury bug bites, despite the continuity.
Last year’s champion is rewarded this season with a bottom 5 (tied for 4th) rating in strength of schedule, as the Bucs welcome the AFC East and NFC East to supplement their in-division games. The Bucs avoid the other projected top two totals teams, Kansas City and Baltimore, in the regular season and only face two teams during the regular season with projected double-digit win totals (one on the road and one at home). They have 1/3 of their games against teams with a projected win total of 7 games or fewer.
The NFC East was by far the worst division in football last season going 23-40 combined in the regular season and sending a division winner to the post season that was 2 games below .500. This year does not project to fair much better as New York tries to improve with sophomore Daniel Jones. Washington goes with 38-year-old journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick. Dallas gets potentially injury prone Dak back and Philly begins the young Jalen Hurts era. No team in the NFC East is projected to do better than .500 for a second straight year in a row, and while the AFC East finished .500 combined, this division boasts the Bucs possibly most worthy challenger in the Buffalo Bills. Miami and New York, on the other hand, are both starting rookie QBs and not even Bill Belichick knows who his QB is going to be this season in New England. Of the NFC AFC East matchups I just don’t see a loss there, and while Washington has the defense to give Brady fits, they are playing them right out of their bye week to give Tampa a boost.
The NFC has never been riper for the taking with New Orleans trying out two new QBs and the perpetually underperforming Atlanta Falcons being without Julio Jones. Carolina is also starting a 2-3 year rebuild. I’d like to speculate on an away loss at some point in the division, but although the Bucs lost to the Saints in division (twice) last year itrequired a 6TD performance from now retired Drew Brees and a 5 INT meltdown by Brady to get it done. I don’t see how Tampa does not run away with the NFC South this season.
In looking at the schedule I see only 2 or 3 opportunities for the Bucs to take an “L”. Early in the season cross country versus the Rams, and the big aforementioned week 14 showdown in Buffalo and maybe a game on the backend where Bruce Arians sits his starters. Barring an injury to the GOAT, these Bucs look poised to make another deep post season run. Arians and Brady won’t allow the team to get too comfortable as every win in this new longer season format is important to seeding and resting starters. I will and have played the Tampa Bay Buccaneers over 11.5 wins this season, comfortably I might add.
PROJECTION: Tampa Bay Buccaneers 14-3 (NFC South Champions)
Tennessee Titans OVER 9 Wins (-150) @ FanDuel
The Titans opened up with a regular season total over/under of around 9 or 9.5, which is a peculiar number considering Mike Vrabel has won no less than 9 games each season with Tennessee since he was named skipper in 2018 and that total is two less games than he won last year. We must consider attacking this division as well, as Jacksonville will be running out a new coach and QB this year, Deshaun Watson will be potentially on the move and Carson Wentz will be potentially missing nearly half the season. We must also factor in a longer regular season schedule with Tennessee and with that you've got to think this number seems a tad low at first glance. Las Vegas may think they know something the public doesn’t, however, so let’s jump into it and try and find the right side of the win total for these defending AFC South champs.
Vrabel, a former defensive player for New England and defensive coordinator with Houston, predictably spent some money with GM Jon Robinson to bring in some high level defensive free agents in Bud Dupree, Janoris Jenkins and Denico Autry after losing most secondary starters. Besides replacing those DBs, they are really just reinforcing their run stopping front after they failed to contain Lamar Jackson and company in the postseason last year. Ryan Tannehill has turned into something most “experts” thought he would not become and that is a Top 10 QB going into this season. He proved his first year in navy and Colombia Blue were not a fluke and neither was his 2019 Comeback Player of the Year award as last season he aired it out for over 2,800 yards, a completion rate of 65.5%, a QB rating of 106.5 and a gaudy 33 TDs to only 7 interceptions. Tannehill is now a QB you can trust, especially with Derek Henry in the backfield. The only shortcoming that is glaring is that after A.J. Brown and new free agent acquisition Julio Jones, who else is going to catch and run? If the injury bug bites this Tennessee offense, then tere’s not any proven next men up on the roster. As the season grinds on, Tannehill may find himself short on weapons and/or firepower.
Strength of schedule wise, Tennessee is middle of the road with the 13th toughest schedule based on their opponents’ 2020 performances. They are playing eight opponents who went to the postseason last year but the 2020 combined records of this year’s opponents are only 2 games over .500. Assuming Tennessee picks up where they left off - with a defense no worse than top 15 at any point during the 2020 campaign - and the offense stays reasonably healthy, then I feel pretty comfortable taking over 9 or 9.5 wins here. The Titans have the luxury of playing the AFC South as well, which I believe will be the weakest division in all of football this season due to the tanking Houston Texans (more on them below). Coach Vrabel has yet to miss the under 9 games won mark since taking the job and now he has a proven QB and arguably the best RB in football with a star-studded free agent defense in a division they should feast on.
PROJECTION: Tennessee Titans 11-6 (AFC South Champions)
Houston Texans UNDER. 4 Wins (+100) @ FanDuel
Full Disclosure - I was once raised in a Houston Oiler house, and then they left. My Dad bought Texans seasons tickets for their inaugural season in 2002 and now, this year, he has left too. Abandonment and disappointment are just something you have to deal with as a football fan in Houston, and unfortunately this year will not be any different. Texans fan are going to need to buckle up (at least the tailgating is still good) and embrace the horror that is the gas-soaked unlit tire fire that will be the Texans' 2021 season.
Deshaun Watson's 2019 numbers once read 70.2% comp, 4,823 passing, 33 to 7 TD/ int, 444 rush and 3 rushing TDs. Damn. That’s good. Good enough to land him as a Top 4 QB behind the two QBs who played in the Super Bowl last year and some HOF diva in Wisconsin. So why rehash #4’s impact on the team last year even though they lost 75% of their games? Because Deshaun Watson will not be playing for the Houston Texans this season. Not only that, but the Texans do not want Watson to play for them. They made this abundantly clear by drafting QB Davis Mills out of Stanford with their very first pick in the draft, one that was in the third round no less. A roster almost completely void of talent for a team with no picks in the first 2 rounds and they go QB? Actions speak louder than words, and we can now bet those actions.
The (consensus) projected over/under was already 5.5 for this team, then the Watson news broke, and it officially re-opened at 4.5 though most books are now showing an over/under of 4 games with juice to the under. And rightfully so. Houston currently has the 15th most difficult schedule according to CBS Sports and new head coach David Culley is 65 years old and has never been on any club’s list of prospective NFL head coaches or advanced to a position on staff further than position coach or assistant OC in his 43 years of football coaching. New GM Nick Cassario has not made a single impactful FA acquisition either, and there’s also been a ton of bad contract dumping and utility player signings for vet minimums or incentive contracts. The team just dealt Randall Cobb and gave one-year deals to fading offensive stars Mark Ingram, Phillip Lindsey and Rex Burkhead. Tyrod Taylor, who is the quintessential backup QB, is running with the 1's in practice although he has not played a full (ish) season in 5 years and is a health concern. The defense finished last year worst in the league with future HOF'er JJ Watt leading the unit, and he's gone.
The 2020 offensive producers like Will Fuller, Randall Cobb, Darren Fells and Deshaun Watson have been dealt or are (likely) not going to play this season. The defense will be DFL like last year. The coach is a lame duck, and the GM has little choice but to prepare for next season. HOWEVER... Watson might come back, Tyrod may show out like back in Buffalo and there still might be a collective ounce of gas in the combined tank of the backfield. It’s a 17-game season and the Titans are odds-on favorites to win the division thanks to an injured Carson Wentz in Indy and rookie Trevor Lawrence in Jacksonville (they also play Houston in week 17). My favorite Week 1 bet is for Houston to win outright, so there’s at least one win potentially there. Houston will be a dog in every game until Week 17 though, and while I can allow one upset to an outlier performance on either side (looking at you Colts, in Week 6), I just can’t get to 4 wins.
PROJECTION: Houston Texans 3-14