Bet on the NFL: Re-Examining Preseason Win Predictions

It was a frenetic and chaotic Monday in the NFL as seven head coaches and five general managers were given their walking papers. It may not have been the ideal way to bring in a new year, but for many of these coaches, these moves could hardly be considered a surprise. In Philadelphia, Andy Reid was fired after 14 seasons in which the 54-year old posted a 130-93-1. Although Reid was named AP Coach of the Year in 2002 and reached the Super Bowl in 2004, the Eagles have been a disappointment of epic proportions over the past two seasons.

After the so-called “Dream Team” posted an 8-8 record in 2011, Reid was already on the hot-seat for 2012. Still, the team was loaded with offensive firepower and was expected to contend for a title. With numerous Pro Bowlers on both sides of the ball, Cantor set the Eagles win total at 10. If you like to bet on the NFL, you know predicting outcomes is tough. Unfortunately for Reid, the team couldn’t even reach half that total as they finished with an embarrassing 4-12 record.

For other departed coaches, their firing may come as something of a surprise. Vegas set the over/under for the Chicago Bears at 8.5 and despite winning ten games, the Bears failed to make the playoffs and head coach Lovie Smith was given his pink slip. In nine years in Chicago, Smith posted an 81-63 record including a Super Bowl appearance in 2006. Still, the Bears missed the playoffs in five of the last six seasons with an offense consistently ranked outside the top 15.

Like the Eagles, there were a number of teams who woefully under-performed this season (Detroit and Kansas City, I’m looking at you) and a few outright shockers (who saw the Colts winning 11 games?). The table below shows the preseason win total projections from Cantor Gaming. Teams who surpassed their expected win totals during this season are highlighted in bold, while teams who pushed are shown in italics.

Team Preseason Win Total Final Record
Arizona Cardinals 7 5-11
Atlanta Falcons 9 13-3
Baltimore Ravens 10 10-6
Buffalo Bills 7 6-10
Carolina Panthers 7.5 7-9
Chicago Bears 8.5 10-6
Cincinnati Bengals 7.5 10-6
Cleveland Browns 5.5 5-11
Dallas Cowboys 8.5 8-8
Denver Broncos 9.5 13-3
Detroit Lions 9.5 4-12
Green Bay Packers 12 11-5
Houston Texans 10 12-4
Indianapolis Colts 5.5 11-5
Jacksonville Jaguars 5.5 2-14
Kansas City Chiefs 8 2-14
Miami Dolphins 7.5 7-9
Minnesota Vikings 6 10-6
New England Patriots 12 12-4
New Orleans Saints 10 7-9
New York Giants 9.5 9-7
New York Jets 8.5 6-10
Oakland Raiders 7 4-12
Philadelphia Eagles 10 4-12
Pittsburgh Steelers 10 8-8
San Diego Chargers 9 7-9
San Francisco 49ers 10 11-4-1
Seattle Seahawks 7 11-5
St. Louis Rams 6 7-8-1
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 6 7-9
Tennessee Titans 7 6-10
Washington Redskins 6.5 10-6

Because everybody loves to talk about a bad beat rather than an easy win, let’s start by evaluating the biggest let-downs of 2012. This season, outside of the Eagles, the Lions had to be the most disappointing team for those who like to bet on the NFL. After their winless 2008 campaign, the Lions steadily improved with 2 wins in 2009, 6 wins in 2010 and 10 wins (including a playoff appearance) in 2011. Even in a division with Chicago and Green Bay, the undeniable chemistry between former top picks Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson made the Lions a trendy pre-season sleeper and helped to explain a lofty win total of 9.5. Instead, Detroit won just four games including eight consecutive losses to end the year.

Kansas City was projected to be an 8-8 ballclub but managed just two wins and will pick first in the April 25th NFL Draft. Despite the season-long suspension for head coach Sean Payton, New Orleans was projected to win ten games — instead, they couldn’t even crack the .500 mark and finished 7-9.

There was also a fair amount of disappointment during week 17, with many teams waiting until the last week to settle their season win totals. Sunday night’s loss to the Redskins not only cost the Cowboys (who finished 8-8) a spot in the postseason, but also cost any Dallas backers as their win total was set at 8.5. The Dolphins won seven games, but a week 17 upset over New England would have meant a win for bettors taking the Fins over. For the Pats and Ravens, their week 17 victories helped them push their season win total.

But who were this season’s most pleasant surprises? Let’s just say there are three rookie gunslingers that may have made this New Year especially happy. With 10 wins, RGIII helped Washington surpass their 6.5 win total with ease. Oddsmakers anticipated that Andrew Luck would greatly help the Colts, but I don’t think anybody could have imagined this turnaround. After winning just two games last season, Cantor set the Colts win total at 5.5. That mark was broken by week 10.

As the top two selections in the draft, many anticipated that Luck and Griffin would be Super Bowl caliber quarterbacks — even if few believed they would reach that level so quickly. The real surprise is Seattle and their QB Russell Wilson. The former NC State and Wisconsin signal-caller was drafted in the third round after concerns about his height caused Wilson’s draft stock to plummet.

In fact, Wilson was supposed to warm the bench as a rookie with free-agent acquisition Matt Flynn the expected starter. However, coach Pete Carroll named Wilson the starter after an impressive pre-season and the team never looked back. The ‘Hawks exceeded their win total (7) by four and are currently one of the hottest teams in the league.

Which teams do you think were the biggest surprises of 2012? When you bet on the NFL, did you take any bad beats or squeak out with a close win? Make sure to leave any thoughts or questions in the comment section below.

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