The combination of a stacked roster and a weak division have made the Seattle Seahawks bettor’s favorite to take home the top spot in the NFC this winter. They’ll have to hold off the Packers, Falcons, and Cowboys to get there.
Going by the 2017 win total predictions from Oddsshark, the Patriots were runaway favorites to win the AFC, but the NFC’s title picture is a bit more crowded. Seattle had the top spot at a 10.5-win midpoint — the total at which bettors can wager on the over (11 wins or more) or under (10 wins or fewer). Green Bay was right behind at 10 wins, while Atlanta and Dallas, the conference’s top two teams in 2016, were pegged to miss out on bye weeks with their lines set at 9.5.
For the Seahawks, an 11-win season would mean feasting on a weak NFC West and taking advantage of the waning years of their championship window. Seattle’s cross-conference showdown against the AFC South will help give them one of the league’s softest schedules. The Packers will have things a little more difficult — the first five weeks of their season bring games against Seattle, Atlanta, and Dallas — but a prime Aaron Rodgers and a productive draft makes them prime NFC North favorites.
Those totals seem low for the Falcons and Cowboys, two teams who combined for 24 victories last season. Both squads have quarterbacks behind center who need to build from breakout seasons and defenses with several questions that remain. For Dallas, it’s whether a passing defense that ranked 27th in the league last fall can improve despite the loss of its two starting quarterbacks. In Atlanta, its whether a defense that allowed more than 25 points per game last fall can live up to Dan Quinn’s billing.
The Patriots had the highest win count at 12.5 — a number they’ve exceeded just once the past five seasons. Behind them in the AFC were the Steelers (10.5), Raiders (10), Colts, and Chiefs (nine wins apiece).
That leaves Indianapolis as the de facto favorite to take home the AFC South crown, despite offseason improvements from the Texans and Titans. It also suggests Pittsburgh’s dynamite offense will be able to hold down Baltimore (nine wins) to win the North for the third time in four seasons. The AFC West will be even tougher, where the Raiders and Chiefs are joined by the Broncos (8.5) and Chargers (7.5) to make up the league’s toughest division.
The race to the top of the 2018 NFL draft will also be hotly contested. Oddsmakers are expecting improvements from the Browns and 49ers, who clock in at 4.5 wins each one season after combining for only three victories. The Jets, a team whose quarterback battle is currently slated to come down to either Bryce Petty, Josh McCown, or Christian Hackenberg, had the third-worst win total at an even five. The Rams and Bears are next on the list with their over/under lines drawn at 5.5.
While some of these predictions make sense, others seem a bit out of whack given what we’ve seen last fall and during the offseason. Here’s a look at the win totals that stood out the most in advance of the 2017 NFL season.
Carolina Panthers (8.5 wins)
The Panthers are just one year removed from a Super Bowl appearance, but their inability to protect Cam Newton led to a 6-10 record last fall. In order to fix that problem, they gave 317-pound human sieve Matt Kalil $55 million. Good luck, Cam.
Cincinnati Bengals (8.5 wins)
Cincinnati won only six games last season, then lost two important pieces of its offensive line when Kevin Zeitler and Andrew Whitworth departed in free agency. Adding the fastest wideout in combine history was a nice touch, but he won’t get many looks downfield if Andy Dalton has to scramble for his life each time he drops back in the pocket.
Chicago Bears (5.5 wins)
The Bears were awful in 2016 and are hoping either Mike Glennon or rookie Mitchell Trubisky is the answer they’ve been looking for at quarterback for the past two decades. Chicago’s bizarre management of draft assets — which includes moving multiple picks for the chance to draft a passer they would have likely been able to get in the first round regardless — has left a barren roster with few interesting prospects this fall.
Indianapolis Colts (9 wins)
The Colts play in a weak division and have one of the league’s best quarterbacks in Andrew Luck, but they haven’t won nine games or more since 2014. A solid draft will boost a roster heinously mismanaged by former GM Ryan Grigson, but improvements from Tennessee and Jacksonville, combined with a Houston defense that will get a healthy J.J. Watt in the lineup, make Indianapolis a curious pick for a nine-win over/under.
Philadelphia Eagles (8 wins)
Philadelphia has made moves to surround second-year quarterback Carson Wentz with talent after adding playmakers like Torrey Smith, Alshon Jeffery, and LeGarrette Blount this offseason. What they didn’t do was land an impact free agent to address a middling defense that ranked 21st in the league in yards allowed per play. If Wentz stumbles — not unheard of for a sophomore passer — eight wins could be a struggle for the Eagles.
Atlanta Falcons (9.5 wins)
The Falcons put the rest of the NFC on blast during last year’s playoffs, running up a 108-50 aggregate score against some of the league’s best teams through the first 10 quarters of the postseason. The last two-plus quarters are apparently enough to give oddsmakers pause, as 2017’s win total paints Atlanta as a kinda-sorta playoff team rather than the bye week-earning division champions they were a year earlier. Without many significant roster losses, it seems the over will be a popular bet for the Falcons.
Buffalo Bills (6 wins)
Buffalo hasn’t been a good team for nearly two decades, but the franchise is rarely bad enough to win just five games or fewer. The Bills inability to bottom out — only three seasons with under six wins since 1987 — has played a role in their inability to truly bottom out and rebuild. Name-brand coach Rex Ryan and standout cornerback Stephon Gilmore are gone, but history suggests the club will find a way to win enough games to land somewhere around the eighth to 14th pick in the 2018 NFL draft.
Dallas Cowboys (9.5 wins)
Oddsmakers are betting big on regression for the NFC’s top teams this season. With Atlanta, the question is how the club will react to possibly the most devastating football loss of all time. In Dallas, it’s whether Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott can avoid sophomore slumps.
Miami Dolphins (7.5 wins)
Were the Dolphins paper tigers last season? The franchise eked out 10 wins for its best season since 2008, but had the point differential of a 7-9 team and only defeated one opponent that finished the year with a winning record. Oddsmakers are betting on a crash despite a lack of significant roster turnover this offseason. With difficult cross-schedule matchups with the NFC South and AFC West looming, 2016’s surprising postseason berth will be difficult to repeat.