Some Corrections from my NFL Preview

When I wrote eight separate NFL previews — one for each division in the league — I had a lot of confidence. I had this really clear picture of what I believed was going to happen, and I figured, fuck it, if I’m wrong then that’s fine. I’m supposed to be wrong about 50% of the time.

But one of the managers I work with (from a different department) and I have this bet; basically, we are going to wager on every NFL over/under this season. Since we are going to be in agreement a decent percentage of the time, naturally we decided that we are only going to bet one another on the teams we disagree on. Simple enough, right?

When I set my over/under for every team, however, I realized I had a lot less confidence than I did during my previews. Crafting a narrative for the season is easy. Picking either over or under, and going up against Vegas, is a different chore entirely. In all likelihood I would probably do about as well — or better — if I just flipped a coin for every team. As it turns out, I found myself questioning my original logic a lot more than I anticipated, so what follows will be my second thoughts about four teams I have reconsidered:

1. Los Angeles Rams

2020 over/under: 8.5

Some stuff I wrote during my preview:

Following a frankly underwhelming 9-7 campaign in 2019, the Rams are in a very different position. [Sean] McVay has since been overshadowed by another former coach’s son, and in the same division no less, Kyle Shannahan. Jarod Goff clearly regressed. And Todd Gurley is no longer with the organization. To top it all off, all those big-name free agents they signed to go on their Super Bowl run have put the franchise in salary cap hell. 

The Rams didn’t have a first round pick this year, and lost two of their stud defenders — Dante Fowler Jr. (Falcons) and Corey Littleton (Raiders) — to free agency. They traded arguably their best wide receiver, Brandin Cooks, to the Texans for a second round pick. On the field there is a good chance their offense isn’t in the upper-third of the league as it was in 2019 (5.7 yards per play). As such I find over 8.5 wins to be optimistic, and I could see this team taking a year to retool to iron out their cap situation and build for 2021. 

Where (I think) I was wrong:

It wasn’t complete dumb luck that head coach Sean McVay made it to the Super Bowl in 2018. Behind the obvious list of elite coaches — from Bill Belichick (Patriots) to Andy Reid (Chiefs) to Sean Payton (Saints) to Mike Zimmer (Vikings) to Kyle Shannahan (49ers) — I would put McVay fairly high up in the second tier. Say what you will about the inexperience of young head coaches, something has to be said about their relative proximity to the ages of their players and the fact that they undeniably have an easier time relating to them.

The second big factor is Todd Gurley, whom the Rams gave a major contract and were handcuffed to in 2019. This might be a situation where addition by subtraction is at play. Without the necessity of giving Gurley some amount of carries per game to justify paying him as much as they did, McVay should be more free to run the offense how he wants. And it may just be a motivating factor for the other running backs, as well as Jarod Goff (who had an outstanding 2018 season) to prove they weren’t a one-hit wonder.

We will see if my original instinct proves to be the correct one (and again we are talking about coin-flips), but I think there is enough individual talent on this team to prove the naysayers (like Original Me) wrong and come out in 2020 with a chip on their shoulders. My initial guess was that they would finish 6-10; upon further review I am giving the Rams a gigantic 3-win bump to put them at 9-7 and over their 8.5-win projection.

2. Seattle Seahawks

2020 over/under: 9.5

Some stuff I wrote during my preview:

I really don’t have anything special to say about the Seahawks other than I believe they were overachievers last year. They came within inches of winning the NFC West and handed the 49ers their two toughest games of 2019. On paper, however, they +7 point differential suggests they were much closer to a .500 team than one challenging to win 12 games. 

It’s all about Russell Wilson. He is the force that drives this team, and his performance will again dictate whether this is an 8-8 team or one that will challenge the 49ers again in 2020. I would make a small bet that the team has a better than +7 point differential in 2020, but I am not so confident that it will make a meaningful difference in the win column. 9.5 wins feels like the perfect number, but I will lean over for the simple fact that betting against Russell is a fool’s game. 

Where (I think) I was wrong:

As you can tell by the first sentence of my preview, the Seahawks were arguably (or easily) the laziest of all my individual team takes. I basically said “Russell Wilson is great, so the success of Seattle will be dependent on him.” With a bit of a deeper dive, I can’t shake their +7 point differential and how legitimately lucky they were in 2019. Sure, Russell Wilson is still great, but there is no mistaking that this team has holes.

Their defense allowed almost 6 yards per play last year, putting them squarely in the bottom third of the NFL. They recently added stud safety Jamal Adams in the trade with the Jets, a guy so good that he’s probably worth a half a point per game totaling eight points for the 2020 season. If anything, you would think that would tilt the Seahawks upward by about a quarter of a win. Instead of that logic, I’m going to go against it.

The only reason a team would trade two first round picks for a safety is because they don’t believe in their defense. Adams will help, surely, but I’m of the opinion that if the Rams are better than I originally thought, it has to make life harder on the other teams in the NFC West. Seattle is one of those teams, so I am going to downgrade them ever so slightly from the 10-6 mark I had them at to a cool 9-7.

3. Indianapolis Colts

2020 over/under: 8.5

Some stuff I wrote during my preview:

This team is the favorite to win the AFC South (+125), and if you want to bet the over on 8.5 wins you have to lay an insane -200 ($2 wins you $1). I guess everyone just assumes Rivers is some crazy upgrade over Brissett, that they have a great offensive line, and that the rest of the division is just weak sauce. I’m going the other way, because after seeing Rivers the last couple years in Los Angeles I don’t think he has very much left in the tank. This is a .500 team.

Where (I think) I was wrong:

In the world of gambling, or making money, objectivity is the name of the game. There ought not be any emotion involved… since money has no feelings. Upon reconsideration I think I made a couple obvious mistakes with the Colts, and for no other reason than I frankly didn’t do a good job of setting aside my biases.

My first bias was seeing Phillip Rivers play in San Diego (and then Los Angeles) for so long and just thinking he wasn’t (and isn’t) anything special. I could very well be right, or have been right, about that original assumption, but I also think there is something to be said about him being a slight upgrade over Jacoby Brissett — performance wise — along with the idea that he brings some credibility to the position in the locker room. Even if his best years are well behind him, he still figures to be someone that other players on the team have confidence in.

My second bias was that I have basically been rooting for this franchise to fail ever since Andrew Luck retired. I don’t have a very good reason for why that is, I just really liked Luck and I thought it would bring him some vindication for carrying this team as far as he did despite it being an average unit. In a way they exceeded expectations by winning 7 games in 2019; if they do the same in 2020, when their over/under is set at 8.5 and a lot of people consider them a dark horse in the AFC, it will only further that vindication.

In spite of these unfounded grievances, whether it’s Phillip Rivers or the Colts in general, I do believe head coach Frank Reich is above average and adding a couple playmakers in the draft can only help them. I gave a lot of respect to the Titans because of recency bias, along with the idea that I don’t think the AFC South is any good, but all things being equal the Colts have as good of a shot as anyone to take advantage of that fact. As such I will upgrade them from 8 wins all the way up to a 10-6 mark.

4. New York Jets

2020 over/under: 6.5

Some stuff I wrote during my preview: 

I’m not particularly thrilled with the Jets roster, and frankly less so now than when I wrote that three months ago, but I also don’t think they are playing a world-beater schedule. Sure, they have the Patriots and Bills twice (like every other year), yet they also have home games against all of Denver, Las Vegas, Miami, Arizona, and Cleveland — all conceivably winnable — and road games against both Los Angeles teams as well as Miami and Indy. They aren’t going to run the table here, but there is certainly a path to 7 or 8 wins in there.

So I’m not going out on any limbs for the Jets, but I am willing to stick to my original gut feeling from April and predict they go over 6.5 wins. Every year a couple quarterbacks come out of the woodwork and over perform, and how many better options are there than a former high first round pick entering his third season?

Where (I think) I was wrong:

During quarantine I thought I had stumbled on a gold mine. I found lookahead (or future) game lines for the entire Jets schedule, and I found they were favored to win just one of their 16 matchups. My thesis was basically that a team with an over/under of 6.5 wins — meaning the reasonable expectation would be for them to win 6 or 7 games — shouldn’t be an underdog 15 out of 16 contests.

While I don’t think my advice to blindly bet on them plus the points in 15 of those games was all that bad, I do believe I was trying to fit a square peg in a round hole when I predicted them to go over their season win total. Obviously that was before they traded one of their most valuable players, Jamal Adams, to the Seahawks, a factor that can do nothing but hurt them on the field in 2020.

The Jets have one of the worst coaches in the business and an unproven quarterback in Sam Darnold. In theory their future is supposed to be bright, at least given the amount of first round picks they’ll have the next couple years, but everything points to this team being in a rebuild. As such I will downgrade the Jets from the 8-8 record I set them at, and put them squarely in the basement of the AFC East at 6-10.


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