Pittsburgh Steelers: Over 10.5
As Jason Lisk noted, playing the NFC West helps. Last year, the Chiefs went 4-0 against the NFC West. The division has not improved that much. However, they have to travel to Baltimore, Indy and Houston in the first four weeks. That won’t be easy. That being said … after Nov. 6, the Steelers play maybe one tough game (at Kansas City). I can see them starting slow, then finishing 7-0. The Steelers have lost nobody, have young, talented receivers, and the defense should be top 5 as usual (No. 2 in 2007, No. 1 in 2008, No. 1 in 2010).
Baltimore Ravens: Under 10.5
Offensively, they lost their tight end (Todd Heap), and No. 2 & 3 receivers (Mason, TJ Housh). Their No. 2 RB (McGahee) is gone. Obviously none of those guys are stars, but that’s replacing a lot of talent. The cogs on defense (Lewis and Reed) are getting old. Of course, with the weak schedule, they could easily start 7-0. First challenging road game isn’t until November 6th when they visit Pittsburgh. Prior to that? At Tennessee, St. Louis, Jacksonville. Their other road games late in the season: Seattle, Cleveland, San Diego, Cincinnati. That’s easy.
Minnesota Vikings: Over 7
I’m a McNabb guy. I think the loss of Sidney Rice is being overplayed. Adrian Peterson is still an elite running back. The Vikings had massive QB issues last year, Minnesota was worst in the NFC (-11) in turnover margin, and the defense was dreadful, but it still managed to win six games. If you’re into the yards per play metric, last year at 5.1, the Vikings did better than the following playoff teams: Seattle, Chicago, Baltimore, Atlanta. I think plenty of two tight end sets will help McNabb (he loved Celek in Philly). If the run defense can revert to anything close to the 2008 unit (76 ypg vs. 102 in 2010), I think 8-9 wins can be had.
Detroit Lions: Under 7.5
At the draft, I was giddy about the Lions. Loved their picks and the upward trajectory of the franchise. But the division is difficult – toughest in football? – and even though they were +4 in turnover margin, the Lions only won six games. And four of those came in a row at the end of the season! More than anything, this is a contrarian pick. The world is in love with the Lions, so the pick, obviously, is to go the other way. I would have been more comfortable if the Lions were at 8 (which can be found at some places).
If I had to pick a fifth team, it would be the under on the pathetic Arizona Cardinals (6.5), who will probably have the worst defense in the league (lost Rodgers-Cromartie, added nobody in free agency).
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