DISCLAIMER: I may have been a professional gambler, and I may be a non-professional football writer, but those stellar qualifications do not mean you should take my recommendations.
Either way, I’m sure you’d like to read about them. Lines are taken from Bovada. Roughly in decreasing order of confidence.
U 7.5 +120
As far as I can tell, this total is based entirely on what’s predicted to be a soft schedule combined with the idea that Houston wasn’t as bad as their 2013 record made them seem. That latter part is probably true, but this is a thin, fragile team, and only one or two things have to go wrong for it to start spiraling out of control. If Ryan Fitzpatrick tails off in any way or gets injured, they’re screwed. If any two of the maybe ten unquestionably good players the team has gets injured for a significant length of time, they’re screwed. (J.J. Watt counts as two players for this purpose.) Rick Smith’s disastrous 2013 draft (a year later, only three of nine players remain!) means this team has no depth, and mistaken signings and contracts mean they have no cap room, either. (edit: Brandon Harris, a second-round pick in 2011, was just released. Another draft failure.) Injuries happen in the NFL; to approach this total, the Texans have to hope and pray none happen to their key players, and even then I’m not sure they’ll make it.
U 6.5 +110
While this team will be better than it was last year, and the young talent gives hope for the future, the schedule is brutal. According to Stat Intelligence’s power ratings factored from week one lines, the Vikings will be favored in two games all year– home vs. Washington and home vs. the Jets. Difficult teams visit
the Metrodome the University of Minnesota’s stadium, and the Vikings have to travel for most of their matchups between teams of similar strength. I projected them in an earlier post for five wins; while I think Vikings fans have much to look forward to, especially once Teddy Bridgewater is ready to start, 2014 is going to be rough.
O 9.5 -105
This is in part a corollary to my Houston pick: Since I don’t think the Texans will be good, I project Indianapolis to have an even easier schedule than anticipated. The team has even made some moves to beef up their weak spots this offseason, and nothing insane like trading a first-round pick for Trent Richardson, either. Nine wins is easily possible, but I believe in Andrew Luck and in the weakness of the rest of the AFC South.
U 8.5 -150
I’m not especially confident on this one as the price, and the team as constructed right now could certainly win nine or more games. But Sam Baker is already done for the year, and even though I like Jake Matthews better anyway, that speaks to similar reasoning as to why I chose Houston: This is a thin team that could be in a lot of trouble if one of their few stars goes down. The defense has no pass rush, an extremely inexperienced secondary, and their best linebacker is already out for the season. I think the offense could struggle to keep up if it suffers enough injuries, and it wouldn’t take even as many as they had last year.
U 8.5 -130
I probably underestimated the Lions when I picked them for only 6.5 wins this year, but that’s still such a great disparity that I felt compelled to include them here. While having wild man Jim Schwartz out of the picture can only help, I don’t think Jim Caldwell brings much to the table as a head coach either. I still have concerns about the pass defense, though the rush should be improved as Ezekiel Ansah develops and Kyle Van Noy gets into the mix (although he’s already injured). Still, the schedule is pretty tough. 7 or 8 wins seems fairly likely.