The Tom Brady Deflate-Gate suspension, four games if it had held up, had hung over the NFL regular season like a black cloud until a federal judge reversed it and vacated it last week. With Brady now free to play 16 regular season games, assuming he stays healthy, that cloud has been lifted, which means we are now free to make season long predictions.
It also means we are free to make season win total bets.
You're probably saying "Sean, there are 32 teams in the league. We could have made some of these bets on teams that don't even brush up against the Patriots this season, right?" Well, I suppose you can do whatever you want. Me? When the mystery matzoh ball hanging out there is a four game suspension to the quarterback of the defending Super Bowl champs, I want to wait to see if it stands.
In the symbiotic world that is an NFL season, obstacles thrust upon one team can (especially obstacles like the suspension of Tom Freakin' Brady) have a ripple effect on other teams, and in a sixteen game season, every ripple effect is profound. Especially when we are talking about trying to forecast over/under on season win totals.
So now that the world is in order heading into the regular season, let's pick out five season total winners to try and pay those holiday shopping bills in January, and let's start with Sir Thomas of House Brady:
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS OVER 10.5 -130
After receiving an unjust punishment for a violation that was the NFL equivalent of a parking ticket (if he even did anything), Tom Brady will be on a "Michael Corleone in the first Godfather movie" type killing spree this season. Even more apt, he will be on a "Tom Brady in a post-Spygate 2007" type killing spree this season. Forget that the Patriots pretty much sat and watched every cornerback not named Malcolm Butler walk out the door this offseason. It won't matter. Brady is hanging 30 a night easily on teams. Plus, their schedule includes four games against the Jets' and Bills' QB pu-pu platters and a crossover with the AFC South. 11-5 is the floor.
DENVER BRONCOS UNDER 10.5 -140
I realize Peyton Manning has averaged nearly 13 wins a season while quarterbacking the Broncos, but I also realize that Peyton is careening toward 40 years old at breakneck speed. And while it's a quarterback's league, the head coach is the next most important element of an NFL team, and dammit, I'm not just going to roll over and hand Gary Kubiak 11 wins, Peyton or no Peyton. The offensive line is a mess, and the division is no pushover. The defense is really good, but in that handful of games that come down to a play here and a play there, do I trust the Kubiak-Manning tag team? Especially if it's cold weather for Peyton? Not really. (NOTE: Speaking of cold weather, from November 22 on, here is where Peyton Manning is playing his final seven regular season games — Chicago, Denver, San Diego, Denver, Pittsburgh, Denver, Denver. Six of seven in what could be frigid conditions.)
MINNESOTA VIKINGS OVER 8.5 +105
I need a couple live "higher risk" plays on these bets, a couple bets with the plus sign in front of the odds. I am bullish on the Minnesota Vikings. I think the Texans biggest error under Bill O'Brien was not moving up one spot to draft Teddy Bridgewater in 2014. (They exacerbated it, at least thus far, by drafting Xavier Su'a-Filo, who can't get on the field.) This is not revisionist history either, I said it that night when it went down. Now, the Vikings, after their failed Christian Ponder selection in 2011, appear to have their franchise QB. Oh, they also get the best running back in football back this season, as Adrian Peterson returns from exile. The defense is young and talented. If all I need to do is get the Vikes over .500 for the season, I'll roll with that.
WASHINGTON REDSKINS UNDER 6 +125
Do a Google search on "Jay Gruden face"…. here, I did it for you. Now click "Images." Ask yourself if you think THAT guy can win seven games this season. You feel pretty safe betting the under, don't you? Now, add in the fact that Kirk Cousins is their starting quarterback. Put "Kirk Cousins highlights" into the search box on YouTube. Don;t worry, I did it for you. Here's the first video that comes up...
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PITTSBURGH STEELERS OVER 8.5 -110
The AFC North is one of the tougher divisions in football, and the Steelers have crossover games outside the division with the AFC West, NFC West, Colts, and Patriots. That ain't easy. The good news is the Broncos and Colts are home games in December. Also, the good news is that the Steelers have the fire power to win any of the games they're in this year. This offense should be really, really good. Even with Le'veon Bell suspended to start the season, the offense should hold up fine with DeAngelo Williams running replacement reps. Again, another team that I think is a lock to be at least 9-7, and that's all we need.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast.