Rule number one: Never bet futures. That has been my rule for years, but because of my historical behavior patterns I have decided to add rule number two: Obey rule number one.
I have probably made a dozen futures bets in my life and I don’t think I have won any. They are sucker bets, all of them. There are far too many variables to make it worth the payoff. Don’t do it. I am presenting the Super Bowl victory odds (snagged from Bodog.com around mid-August) next to each team solely for informational purposes. Seriously.
Baltimore Ravens 18/1
One year older. That’s about it. The defense will likely be fine — Baltimore defenses usually are — but everyone who matters is just plain getting old. More importantly, Jonathan Ogden looks like he may be carrying a nagging toe injury. So now you got old guys plus a dubious offensive line. Not optimistic about this year. It’s probably time to start planning the rebuild.
Observation: In the fifth round, the Ravens drafted QB Troy Smith. You remember him — Ohio State; Heisman Trophy; won the 2006 Fiesta Bowl over Brady Quinn and Charlie Weis; thrice beat Michigan including the famed “game of the century” last year. He’s too small to be a QB in the NFL, though. I mean, Brady Quinn is 7’8″ and weighs 475 lbs. JaMarcus Russell is 9’2″ and weighs 835 lbs. Poor little Troy is only 6’0″ and 225. He’s not much bigger than Drew Brees. No way he’s gonna make it.
Buffalo Bills 100/1
I see no reason to think anything positive has happened in Buffalo. Lots of turnover on defense, but no obvious improvement. The Bills have an absolutely brutal schedule. I wouldn’t be surprised if their two games against Miami are the only ones that aren’t against winning teams with playoff hopes. It’s going to be a long winter in Buffalo.
Cincinnati Bengals 15/1
Levi Jones looks to return and that can only help Carson Palmer, already one of the elite QBs. Ocho Cinco will still be around and marginally sane, as will that Whosyourmama guy. The defense has reasonable talent, but has underachieved. A little reversion to the mean could make them average. No reason not to think Cincy won’t not take their division. (A quadruple negative. That’s working without a net, right there.)
Of course there is always the potential for a large portion of the starting lineup to be distracted by the GPS trackers on their ankles. That could be a problem… or maybe an opportunity for some: signify your gangsta cred with a Nike logo ankle bracelet. (Any Nike reps reading this can email me regarding royalties on that idea.)
Cleveland Browns 125/1
For the past couple of years, the Browns have been tagged as a “young team with promise.” Unkept, so far, but that may have changed. The signing of Joe Thomas and other steps to shore up a pretty awful O-line indicate the Browns understand that the first step in building your team is a strong, solid O-line. They also snared in Brady Quinn in what will likely turn out to be a fate-altering draft, something that happens one every decade or two. In a couple of years that O-line will have some time to play together and jell, while Quinn gets his early hard knocks over with. Meanwhile they can use the time to work on the defense. Smart plan, in contrast to what many teams try, and it should pay off down the road. This year, a .500 record and no major injuries will be quite an achievement.
Denver Broncos 20/1
Without even knowing the names of any of the running backs, I think we can pretty much count on a successful running game along with the commensurate chop block controversy. Jay Cutler is an upgrade from Jake Plummer. The defensive secondary is killer, but they’ll feel the pressure to make up for a mediocre-at-best D-line. With a cake schedule it should be no problem for Mike Shanahan to get the team back in the playoffs. When crunch time comes, they’ll be hanging around.
Houston Texans 100/1
I can’t see a single good thing happening in Houston. Okay, that’s not quite true. If I squint really hard I see Mario Williams becoming a good lineman. Apart from that every aspect of this team is substandard. I fail to understand why, with a travesty of an O-line, they continue to invest heavily in sorting out the D-line. Let’s repeat the Fool’s First Law: The Offensive Line is the most important part of your football team.
Meanwhile, defensive players around the league have taken to calling their blocking dummies Matt Schaub.
Indianapolis Colts 7/1
Whither Peyton? In the run up to the Super Bowl he was everywhere. Every third commercial had his doofy-looking face in it (every second one on ESPN), and he put in a workman-like effort on Saturday Night Live. Then he gets the ring and pretty much disappears. All summer, when we were inundated with scandal and in dire need of good football humor, he was AWOL. Imagine the goodwill points he could have scored simply by being all goofy and self-deprecating while Tom Brady was gallivanting about with Giselle and leaving the mother of his child to fend for herself. Come back Peyton, we need you.
Can the Colts repeat? Well, they won the Super Bowl because, late in the season and into the playoffs, their defense suddenly flourished. There was the return of Bob Sanders, which counted for something, but generally speaking they made no changes in strategy or personnel. They simply went on just as before except everything seemed to work. A very, very strange occurrence. Will it continue or could it happen again? I don’t think so. Football is based on adjustments and adaptations not on things just unexpectedly working when they didn’t before. My guess, Peyton and Co. have to carry the defense just like old times.
Jacksonville Jaguars 30/1
What’s not to like? Byron Leftwich, maybe. But he is a serviceable QB and, really, he only needs to be steady, not stellar — with bar not set too high, he can probably reach it. The defense is all-round excellent, especially the line. The offense is all round excellent, including the line.
At 30/1 the Jags are my best bet in the AFC if I was going to make a futures bet, which I am not. No sir.
Kansas City Chiefs 55/1
The Chiefs are a disaster. Larry Johnson’s prospects for a strong season are small. That’s what happens when you get driven like a rented U-haul the previous season, the glory days of the O-line are distant memories, and — Hello! — your coach should be working at McDonald’s. Abandon all hope.
Miami Dolphins 55/1
Who? They selected who? Ted Ginn? What the hell? I mean, WHAT THE HELL? Sorry, but I still haven’t gotten over it. Look at it this way: they could have drafted Brady Quinn first and Ted Ginn may still have been available in the second round, if not, someone equivalent probably would have been. But no, they have to grab Ginn right off the bat then settle for John Beck in the second round. So effectively, they passed on Brady Quinn for John Beck. How did they manage that? Is it possible somebody selected Quinn and someone else heard it as Ginn?
It’s not like QB is not an issue for them. Let’s see, they’ve been through Fiedler, Frerotte, Feely, Rosenfels, Griese, Harrington, and Culpepper, leaving them with Trent Green (age 37), Cleo Lemon (unproven) and John Beck (rookie). No wonder Dan Marino bailed as their GM after only a couple of days. There is no way this ends well. Belichick must giggle like a schoolgirl every time he thinks about being in the same division as the Dolphins.
New England Patriots 8/5
I picked the Bradys to go all the way last year and they missed it by one failed last minute drive. (They would have handled the Bears at least as easily as the Peytons.) By all accounts, they are better this year. They have a potential locker room cancer named Randy Moss, but in a complete 180 from last year they have enough receiving depth that they could just bench him if he misbehaves and go on their merry way. Besides, I think Moss is finally maturing just as a result of the natural aging process and realizing he could have been stuck trying to catch passes from guys like Aaron Brooks for a the rest of his career.
The odds are less than 2 to 1, but they are about right. The Pats are not just at the top of the list this year; they are the 800 lb. gorillas. With apologies to Dennis Green, I say we crown their asses.
New York Jets 38/1
The Jets could be found in the dictionary next to the definition of ‘reversion to the mean’ if there was such an entry in any dictionary, which there isn’t because it’s a phrase, not a word, so the most likely place you’d find it is in the glossary of a statistics textbook, where they don’t have pictures, but if they had pictures next to the glossary entries in statistics textbooks, the Jets would be there.
DVOA, that cold-hearted, analytical statistic developed by the folks at Football Outsiders, ranks the 2006 Jets defense as 26th in the league. That is based on observation and evaluation of every individual play of every game in the 2006 season. In terms of points allowed, however, the Jets were 6th. What are the chances that a defense that, on an average play, performs 26th best in the league will end up only giving up the 6th most points again in 2007? Pretty small. I gotta look for a little backslide from the Jets this year.
Oakland Raiders 75/1
Lots of changes. The Raiders appear to have given up on the whole immovable coach strategy. They have one enormous QB who had a great season three years ago and swears his shattered knee is all better now. They have another enormous QB who they have yet to sign and, frankly, looks like he might rather sit out the year than play for them.
Okay, the offense is utter chaos, but the defense wasn’t bad last year and will likely be equally not bad again. And, of course, they still have Al Davis’ disembodied brain in a jar making all the decisions, while they wheel around his mummified body for press conferences. That’s gotta count for something.
Pittsburgh Steelers 25/1
A couple years ago I went on record saying I thought Ben Rothlisbergermeister was QB for the ages. Of course that was before he developed his affinity for face planting on moving vehicles. And I am a bit worried about Mike Tomlin. He’s not stepping into such a great situation, what with his effective leapfrogging of a very loved assistant and all the Alan Faneca histrionics.
But with the crash now well behind Ben, and everybody acting like professionals once the season starts, I think the Steelers should be right back in the thick of things this year.
San Diego Chargers 6/1
The Chargers seem to have it all. There is really no weak spot in their roster. Phillip Rivers will only get better. LaDanian should have another enormous season in him before age and wear catch up. Both lines (O and D) would be in anyone’s top five. The Chargers should win a ton of games, right?
I have no idea why, in the midst of all this talent, the Chargers would decide to mix in Norv Turner. The man has a winning percentage barely over .400. It’s as if you were about to launch your beautiful new yacht then suddenly decided to drill a big hole in the hull as a finishing touch.
Tennessee Titans 55/1
After a stunning late season performance in 2006 and the Rookie of the Year award for Vince Young, the Titans were set to be everybody’s darling. Then Pacman happened, leaving a big hole. And I’m not comfortable with the we-need-to-be-ruthless-savages-to-win vibe that is coming from training camp. Fights occur in camp, but not with your QB — that’s not aggressive, that’s just stupid. Let’s just hope the Titans aren’t working on taking Cincy’s title as Assclown Central.
Still, provided he doesn’t break his throwing hand by punching another helmet, Vince Young should be that much better and more confident than last year. Albert “The Stomper” Haynesworth looks to be healthy again and Jeff Fisher is about as blue chip as a coach can get. My guess is that, even without Pacman, the end result will be similar to last year, just a little more consistent.
So there’s the AFC — as in the past few years, the most likely source of the champ. If I were going to bet on a single team it would be the Jags simply because of all the teams with a legit shot, they have the highest odds. The fact that the Pats are so scary the odds are less than 2-1 means a bet on them is not worth the risk. Also note that the odds makers say both the Pats and the Chargers are more likely to win than the Colts are to repeat — interesting. If you want to play a real long shot, drop some money on the Browns at 125-1, they have a better chance than some of the teams in double digits.
Wild Cards: Jags, Broncos
My gut instinct is we come down to yet another Pats/Colts final, this one featuring a sideline interview with Bridget Moynihan and her infant son Peyton.
Coming soon, the NFC.