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AFC Preview 2009
August 21, 2009

We'll look at each division in turn day-by-day with help from my Luck and Strength of Schedule indices. There are two main purposes to this exercise:

1. To I.D. potential under-rated or over-rated teams to bet on and against early in the season... before the "GBP" catches up.

2. In order to highlight some possible Futures bets.

Given that the latter will tie up Bankroll for a minimum of 4 months I recommend betting less on these than your normal weekly plays and looking for positive money lines.

Abbreviations here.

Buffalo Bills

Luck Index: 8

Schedule Index: 31

2008 Record: 7-9

Season Win Line: 7 1/2

Week 1 game with Opening Line: +10 @ New England

Buffalo looked as though they'd turned the corner LY, going 4-0 SU out of the gate. However, in retrospect those 4W turned out to be vs. opposition that went a collective 16-48 for the season. They got it to 5-1 with a post-bye W over S.D. as a HD off L (a good long-term system BTW) and then went 2-8 the rest of the way to miss the playoffs again. HC Jauron is officially on the hot seat after refusing owner Wilson's request to can OC Schonert. The big off-season news is the acquisition of the league's reigning MNP (Most Narcissistic Player) Terrell Owens. I still get a chuckle out of Cris Carter's comment (and I'm paraphrasing): "Sooner or later TO's gonna have to realize that nobody will ever love him as much as he loves himself". That aside, on the field he should be a good compliment to WR Evans; and off? - the great teammate he's always been. :) The Bills could improve on their -8 TO margin, but are #31 on my Schedule Index. Of particular concern is the fact that they look to have a different player in every OL position and RB Lynch is suspended for 1st 3G. The fact they're using the pre-season to work on a quick-release no-huddle O could help that cause.

Prediction: .500 looks tough, but current W line is now Under 8, -175

Miami Dolphins

Luck Index: 32

Schedule Index: 32

2008 Record: 11-5

Season Win Line: 8

Week 1 game with Opening Line: +4 @ Atlanta

What's the value of my Luck Index? Look no further than Miami who entered LY with the #1 ranking and posted a +10 W turnaround. TO margin swung by 24 (-7 to +17) and they went +5 (7-2) in close G's including +6 in their L8. Unfortunately as you can see above, TY they get the #32 double-whammy! I'll be watching the 1st-string pre-season pass D (#25 LY) as the secondary could conceivably have 4 new starters. 2nd round pick W.V. QB White could be an interesting addition to the "Wildcat", but opposing D's have also had a year to figure it out. The Dolphin's TO's are bound to go up - only 13 total LY. They do get 4 of 1st 6G @ H, but the 1st 3 are vs. playoff teams (Atl/Indy/SD) and then they have 6 of 8 away.

Prediction: Unfortunately, the GBP is on to the Fish as the season W total is now 4G less than LY's record @ Under 7, +101

New England Patriots

Luck Index: 11

Schedule Index: 25

2008 Record: 11-5

Season Win Line: 11 1/2

Week 1 game with Opening Line: -10 vs Buffalo

When you're a perennial SB contender and you miss the playoffs despite an 11-5 you'd expect some pretty intense focus to begin the season. The Pats get #11 on my Luck Index in large part due to finishing 4th in starter's G lost to injury; an obvious 15G going to QB Brady. Matt Cassel filled in ably (QB rating 89.4) and the O only dropped to #5 from #1 in 2007 - although he was a factor in NE sacks allowed going from #5 to 27. He's gone with LB Vrabel and the combo cleared cap space to add some O (RB Taylor, WR Galloway, TE Baker) and CB's Bodden/Springs. The latter two should make the loss of CB's Hobbs and O'Neal a wash. Good thing as they have to replace Rodney Harrison as well. The Patriots look to have done a good job off-season... again.

Prediction: However, not gonna lay -122 on a team with the #25 Sked Index getting 12W.

New York Jets

Luck Index: 26

Schedule Index: 28

2008 Record: 9-7

Season Win Line: 7

Week 1 game with Opening Line: +4 @ Houston

At 8-3 off B2B away W's over NE and Tennessee, the J-E-T-S looked like shoe-ins for division champs. However, "Brettie" hurt his wing and NY finished up 1-4 SU and 0-5 ATS with 4L as Fav. That's curtains for playoffs and ditto for HC Mangini. In comes "player's coach" Rex Ryan. The long-time DC was able to pilfer LB Scott, SS Leonhard and DE Douglas from the Ravens and added CB Lito Sheppard. Well... at least one side of the ball looks solid. With the departure of WR Coles and TE Baker, the pass O has issues and that may allow teams to stack up vs. the run. Of course the biggest concern is going from the most experienced QB in the NFL to a possible 16G starter... in college! Hopefully for Jet's fans Sanchez is a quick learner given a Hou/NE/Tenn/NO beginning. The Jets ended 2008 on a 7-3 Over run, but with a former DC as HC and a rookie QB now look Under-ish to me TY. NY has high indices and had the league's fewest injuries LY.

Prediction: A nice positive money line of +117 on Under 7 looks semi-attractive.

Baltimore Ravens

Luck Index: 14

Schedule Index: 3

2008 Record: 11-5

Season Win Line: 10

Week 1 game with Opening Line: -8 1/2 vs KC

Say what you want about the Raven's D, their new HC and young QB Flacco's performance (only 12 Int's), but it was a swing of 30 in TO margin (-17 to +13) that flipped Baltimore's record from 5-11 to 11-5. Actually, Flacco graded out @ #22 amongst starting QB's with an 80.3 rating. The #4 run O did a good job of making it easier on him with a league-leading 592 rush attempts. The D may take a bit of a hit with the loss of DC Ryan and starters Scott/Leonhard, but at least they kept Lewis and Suggs. The #28 pass O has yet to be upgraded but it looks as though WR Mason (80 receptions) has backed out of his iffy retirement. Scroll down and you'll see the entire division has it easier sked-wise - due to the Bengals/Browns 2008 records and drawing the NFC North. Baltimore is not likely to get a repeat of their NFL-best 26 Int's nor their #2 ranking of 13 players who started all 16G.

Prediction: I like the current number of 8 1/2 Over, but not the attached $-line of -140-ish.

Cincinnati Bengals

Luck Index: 6

Schedule Index: 3

2008 Record: 4-11-1

Season Win Line: 6

Week 1 game with Opening Line: -1 vs Denver

Cincy led the league LY in injuries with 84G lost and only 5 players starting all 16G. The most crucial was QB Palmer as their O went from #10 in 2007 to dead last with replacement Fitzpatrick garnering the #31 QB rating amongst starters (70.0) and a pitiful #32 5.1 YPP and #30 in sacks allowed. They also played what turned out to be the #3 hardest schedule. Despite all that, their D actually went from #27 to #12. They must improve their pass rush (#31 and #32 in sacks L2Y) and re-tool the OL. "Housh" is out but Coles is in. After two potential early W's (Den., GB) the key to their season probably starts in late September with 3-in-a-row vs. the division.

Prediction: Palmer @ 100% and an under-the-radar D makes them a good sleeper. Too bad its -177 for Over 6 1/2.

Cleveland Browns

Luck Index: 17

Schedule Index: 1

2008 Record: 4-12

Season Win Line: 6 1/2

Week 1 game with Opening Line: +2 1/2 vs Minnesota

Cleveland was #2 on my Luck Index in 2007 and went from 4 to 10W. LY they dropped to #27 with the most difficult schedule and went right back to 4W again. An O with #32 QB'ing (66.5 rating) finished #31 in passing and overall and couldn't score a TD in L6G. In the off-season the team was basically blown up with the kind of player turnover you'd expect to see in the CFL (15 additions, 18 deletions). They do have the #1 schedule index, but it does not start well with Minny @ H followed by 4 of 5 on the road. QB Anderson's 2007 29 pass TD's is looking more like the exception rather than the rule and Quinn is still unproven.

Prediction: New HC Mangini has his work cut out for him, but -196 Under 7 is not attractive.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Luck Index: 23

Schedule Index: 2

2008 Record: 12-4

Season Win Line: 11

Week 1 game with Opening Line: -5 1/2 vs Tennessee

Does D win championships? You bet. 55 YR was all that was between Pittsburgh and a #1 ranking in scoring, passing, total and rushing D. And despite dropping from #3 to #26 in run O and allowing the 4th most sacks, the Steelers overcame the #7 schedule to win the SB. They had a quiet off-season that was primarily about adding depth along the LOS. As you can see above, TY they get #2 on my schedule index (LY #31) as for some reason the NFL has been very kind. In their 6 "optional" G's they play the entire AFC West (23 total W's in 2008) and avoid N.E. and Indy (played both LY). Two concerns are their +4 net W's in close G's LY and the fact that they went 8-8 in 2006 after their last SB W. However, defending champs are 7-0-1 ATS (8-0 SU) in G1's L8Y and after that Pittsburgh has only 3 non-divisional G's vs. .500-plus opposition.

Prediction: Getting 1 less W than LY to top current line of 10 1/2 seems quite doable.

Houston Texans

Luck Index: 10

Schedule Index: 16

2008 Record: 8-8

Season Win Line: 8 1/2

Week 1 game with Opening Line: -4 vs NY Jets

Off B2B .500 seasons, is this the Texans break-through year? You'll recall that LY they were forced to play 15 straight G's after an impromptu hurricane Ike-induced Week 2 bye. A big MLF L @ H to Indy (Colts scored 21 pts in last 4:14) dropped them to 0-4. So it was 8-4 to finish the year. That despite the rarity of a 2nd straight season of DD negative TO margin (-10 after -13). Four of their five additions and their top two draft picks were devoted to improving a F7 that was only #23 vs. the run and #26 in sacks. That should help a secondary that allowed a 24-12 TD-Int ratio in 2008. Their O finished #3 overall and will be dangerous again especially if #7 rated QB Schaub (92.7) stays healthy (missed 5G LY). Houston is 12-4 SU @ H L2Y and TY has only 2 non-divisional G on road vs. plus .500 opposition (Ariz., Miami).

Prediction: Currently there is a decent +113 $-line attached to a 9W season.

Indianapolis Colts

Luck Index: 29

Schedule Index: 17

2008 Record: 12-4

Season Win Line: 10 1/2

Week 1 game with Opening Line: -7 1/2 vs Jacksonville

Indianapolis W at least 12G for the 6th straight year in 2008 (including L9) but L @ H to S.D. for the 2nd straight playoffs. The Dungy era is over and QB coach Caldwell was promoted to HC. Also gone are both coordinators, the "cover-2" D, WR Harrison and OL coach Mudd. With little cap room, there were no significant additions and a draft lacking any immediate impact players. It looks like the burden is falling increasingly on the shoulders of Manning. How did a team with a #31 ranked run O and a #23 ranked run D win 12 G's? Basically, they were lucky. The Colts finished +9 in TO margin and were an incredible +7 net in close G's. Along with the aforementioned miracle W over Houston they pulled one out @ Minny after trailing 15-0 late 3Q and got a 4Q fumble return TD to W 10-6 @ Cleveland.

Prediction: B2B H playoff L's may be the writing on the wall.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Luck Index: 4

Schedule Index: 12

2008 Record: 5-11

Season Win Line: 8

Week 1 game with Opening Line: +7 1/2 @ Indianapolis

The middle 3 OL of the Jaguars missed a total of 36 of a possible 48 starts LY as their outstanding run O fell from #2 to #18. They played the most close G's (10) in the AFC but only W 4 of them and along with a -7 TO margin went a gruesome 4-12 ATS. How bad does the ball have to bounce to get only 4 takeaways via recovered fumbles? Free agency (acquired LT Tra Thomas) and their 1st 2 draft picks were all devoted to the OL. RB Jones-Drew will be the sole feature back with Taylor gone. They hope Holt can help out what has typically been a mediocre WR corps. New DC Tucker (Cleveland DC LY) is an unknown quantity and it looks like trial-by-fire for LY's #24 pass D with Indy, Arizona and Houston as the 1st 3 opponents. The schedule goes from #4 to #12 alternating A and H until a 3G home-stand Weeks 13-15 and finishing in the cold @ N.E. and @ Cleveland.

Prediction: The O should be better, but with the D a ? mark I'm not betting on a 4G improvement.

Tennessee Titans

Luck Index: 31

Schedule Index: 26

2008 Record: 13-3

Season Win Line: 9 1/2

Week 1 game with Opening Line: +5 1/2 @ Pittsburgh

21-4 and 2-5: Tennessee's SU record with and without DT Haynesworth for whom they decided not to buck-up. Gone also is DC Schwartz. There have been 17 13-plus W seasons since 2000 and in the following year those teams averaged 9 W's. Things look similar for the Titans. Their schedule goes from #28 ranked to #10 for #26 on that index. In addition, they were lucky all-around with the 5th fewest injuries, 2nd highest TO margin and +3 in close G's. I expect the #5 run D to take a hit and the #27 pass O doesn't look much improved. I'll point out that QB Collins was only the #23 rated starting QB LY (80.2). Their 1st 6 pre-bye G's are vs. opposition that was a collective 57-39 LY.

Prediction: Too bad it'll take a 5W drop-off to cover Under the current 9W Total.

Denver Broncos

Luck Index: 7

Schedule Index: 24

2008 Record: 8-8

Season Win Line: 6 1/2

Week 1 game with Opening Line: +1 @ Cincinnati

One would think that in football in order to lay pts successfully, you'd want a prolific O... perhaps counter-intuitively what you really need is a shut-down D as the Broncos continued to prove LY. With 2008's #2 O (but the #29 D) they went 0-8 ATS as a HF running their record in that role to 3-18 L3Y. Despite the #30 schedule and a record that was 8-5 they allowed 112 pts L3G to miss the playoffs. Can't blame the owner for wanting to ditch the DC, but Shanahan refused so in comes former N.E. OC McDaniels as a 1st-time HC. In his favor is the fact that the Broncos were tied for last in TO margin @ -17 LY. His O is loaded with play-makers, but with Cutler gone, does he have the QB to run it? I'll be watching the pre-season D with interest as it switches to a 3-4 with 4 new starters in the B7. Denver gets to ease into the schedule with @ Cincy, Cleveland (oh oh HF) and @ Oakland before a brutal run of Dal/NE/SD/Bal/Pitt/Wash/SD/NYG.

Prediction: I'd like to see the line go from Under 7, -215 back down to 6 1/2 or even 6.

Kansas City Chiefs

Luck Index: 12

Schedule Index: 9

2008 Record: 2-14

Season Win Line: 6

Week 1 game with Opening Line: +8 1/2 @ Baltimore

After an admitted rebuilding year, things are looking up in K.C. Normally in the NFL, the team that scores the most pts also covers (i.e. about 83% of SU winners win ATS). The Chiefs were an exception to that rule LY going a respectable 8-8 ATS vs. the #4 schedule as they had just enough youth to lose the close ones with a net -6. It will help that the new HC and DC were OC and DC on the same team (Arizona) LY. Vet LB's Vrabel and Thomas are an immediate upgrade to a D with ugly 2008 stats; #32/31/30/29 in sacks/overall/run/pass respectively. Their 3-4 now has B2B 1st-round LSU DL's. QB Cassel will improve the O. Don't jump the gun on this improving team too early though as its @ Bal G1 and then the entire NFC East in succession followed by SD Weeks 3-7.

Prediction: I'll be looking for the worm to turn off their Week 8 bye when they might be excellent value. Still, covering Over 6W would be a stretch.

Oakland Raiders

Luck Index: 15

Schedule Index: 12

2008 Record: 5-11

Season Win Line: 5 1/2

Week 1 game with Opening Line: +7 vs San Diego

The Raiders were once again a one-dimensional team on both sides of the ball as they could run but not pass (#10 and #32 O's) and could stop the pass but not the run (#9 and #31 D's). Can't blame them for drafting WR's with Walker's career still in doubt, but their F7 looks basically the same. Expect they may be able to run it even better with an upgrade @ LT (Barnes). Perhaps keeping HC Cable is a sign of some stability which can only help still-developing QB Russell, as will the addition of Garcia. Oakland may have some confidence entering 2009 off upset W's of Houston and T.B. to end LY (as +7 and +13). Their entire pre-season ought to be pointed towards the 2H of the Week 1 MNF DH @ H vs. S.D. (Raiders have L L11 in series including blowing a 15-0 half-time lead @ H in Week 4 LY). Unfortunately, it now looks like penciled-in #2 WR Schilens (broken foot) will miss that one. It's followed by K.C. and Denver, both of whom they split with in 2008.

Prediction: Right now topping LY by 1W is a push and 7W has a decent +136 $-line.

San Diego Chargers

Luck Index: 15

Schedule Index: 10

2008 Record: 8-8

Season Win Line: 10 1/2

Week 1 game with Opening Line: -7 @ Oakland

It could be now or never for the Chargers with LT, Sproles, Rivers and Merriman all in their last contract years. LY the D dropped off without Merriman, and Cromartie and Hart playing hurt: #31 vs #13 pass D, 15 vs. 30 Int's and 28 vs. 42 sacks. The mid-season switch to DC Rivera seemed to be the fix as the Chargers made the playoffs after a 4-8 start and did some damage before falling to eventual SB Champ Pittsburgh. S.D. will be a dangerous team TY as they have the #1-rated QB, get the #23 schedule and went .500 LY despite a net -5 in close G's. At present, all their road G's (except @ K.C.) are late starts, which is a big equalizer for Pacific Time teams.

Prediction: Unfortunately, their OL of 10 1/2 is now Over 9 1/2, -180.

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