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NFC Betting Outlook
By Marc Lawrence

2015 NFC Division Preview

Last Year Was The First Time

According to Athlon Sports, the NFL set a record number of firsts throughout the 2014 season. Listed among the tally on the NFC ledger, last year was the first time a team…

— from the NFC South won its division for s second straight season (Carolina)

— lost at least nine of its first 10 games for a third consecutive season (Jacksonville)

— allowed an opposing QB to complete 80% of its passes and throw for three TDs in the threes games of a season (Chicago)

— rushed for 355 yards in a game and lost (San Francisco)

— opened the season 3-0 despite trailing by double-digits in each game (Philadelphia)

— blew a fourth-quarter lead as large as 10 points and lost a Super Bowl (Seattle)

Falling Asleep At The Wheel

Speaking of last year, rested teams in the NFC performed at a poor rate last season, going just 7-15 SU and 6-16 ATS overall, including the post season.

They were particularly disturbing as dogs (0-10 SU and 1-9 ATS) and when playing in games off a loss (2-10 SUATS).

NFC underdogs with rest are currently on a 1-13 SU and 2-12 ATS overall run in their last fourteen games.

NFC EAST

DALLAS
TEAM THEME: LESSON LEARNED

Dallas was depth shy at the linebacker position last year, forcing the Cowboy ‘D’ to use their nickel package 66 percent of the time. In 2014, according to ProFootballFocus.com, only 34 linebackers of the non-pass rushing variety played at least 75 percent of their team’s defensive snaps. None was a Cowboy. It’s because they deployed two or fewer linebackers 70 percent of the time. Depth shy and open to doubt at best, Dallas went on an offseason linebacker quest that made an Easter egg hunt look like a visit to Hens “R” Us. As a result, they now have twelve LBs on the roster, more than any position group on the team. Leading tackler Sean Lee, out with an ACL injury last year, returns to help fortify the spot. Should the Cowboys reap the reward and bolster last year’s vastly improved defense, they will certainly be a load, especially if risky sack master Greg Hardy can stay on the field. Furthermore, you have to love the fact that Dallas walked into this year’s draft with one first round pick and left with three (that’s impressive). And five of Dallas’ first six picks in this year’s draft, and seven of last year’s nine selections, were of the defensive variety.

Factor in a $100 million quarterback, 35-year old Tony Romo, who led the league in passer rating (113.2) and completion rate (69.9%) in 2014 and it’s appearing more and more as if America’s team is suddenly a well-balanced machine despite the loss of RB DeMarco Murray to the Eagles. And arguably the best offensive line in the league padded its contention with the signing of LSU stud OL La’el Collins. It’s safe to say the Cowboys don’t shy away from welcoming troubled players. With back-to-back games against teams with winning records in 2014, it prompted Romo to go so far as to state, “We’re going to win the Super Bowl. I want to win a championship so bad.” Heck, they even blew the doors off their annual December disappearing act last year. What a difference a new mindset makes.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Cowboys are 8-21 ATS as home favorites under Jason Garrett, including 1-9 ATS when favored by 7 or more.

NEW YORK GIANTS
TEAM THEME: WIN OR ELSE

Following their last playoff appearance, a Super Bowl victory over New England in 2012, the Giants missed out on postseason play for the third consecutive year. Thus, when asked if 2015 is a win-or-else season for the G-Men, team President Wellington Mara’s reply was, “I do not think that is an unfair statement.” After hearing of the boss’ assessment, 69-year old head coach Tom Coughlin’s first course of action was to call on 2007 Super Bowl winning DC Steve Spagnuolo to fix a declining defense, one still uncertain about the status of Pro Bowl DL Jason Pierre-Paul and his amputated right finger (fireworks). Spags will be counting heavily on a draft that landed S Landon Collins (Alabama) and DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa (UCLA). On the other side of the ball, a spotty offensive line should be aided with the selection of first round pick OT Ereck Flowers (Miami Fla) and the continued development of 2013 first round pick Justin Pugh.

The big news, though, is the return of electrifying WR Victor Cruz, who was limited to six games due to a knee injury last season. Teamed with rapidly budding star Odell Beckham Jr., they give QB Eli Manning a potentially lethal pair of targets. Manning rebounded from a rotten 2013 season by completing 63.1 percent of his passes for 30 TDs and 14 INTs and a 92.1 QB Rating in 2014. Like Pierre-Paul, we’re not pointing fingers but with the new directive in place, look for Big Blue to rise to the challenge in 2015. After all they are the only team to beat Tom Brady and the Patriots in the Super Bowl – and they did it twice.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Giants are 15-2 ATS as dogs vs. the AFC East, including 11-0 when taking more than 3 points.

PHILADELPHIA
TEAM THEME: BOTH HANDS ON THE WHEEL

Chip Kelly’s trade of RB LeSean McCoy may have rankled many of the veterans on the Eagles squad, but after winning 10 games and failing to make the playoffs last year he could care less. Also gone is QB Nick Foles. The replacements include QB Sam Bradford, and RBs DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews, who join Darren Sproles in the backfield. Playing time at wide receiver will be up for grabs with veterans Riley Cooper and Miles Austin looking to fend off Brad Smith, Nelson Agholor (a draft steal) and Josh Huff. On the defensive side of the ball, stud LB Kiko Alonso and former Seattle DB Byron Maxwell are rock-solid additions. And the there’s Tim Tebow who, if he makes the cut, will likely serve as the team’s designated 2-point machine.

For all the rumors and reports of Kelly wanting to hock the future for QB Marcus Mariota, it never materialized. The lure was there, for sure. “We examined it,” Kelly said. But contrary to all the gossip, Kelly said it was a trade the Eagles couldn’t afford. “We drove into a very nice neighborhood and saw an unbelievable house, but when we found out the price of the house we stayed in the car, never even got out of the car.” As a result, considering the financial investment and what the Eagles gave up to get him, Bradford – who hasn’t taken a snap in the NFL since October 2013 – will be the man behind center. Meanwhile, like his team, the frenetic Kelly never tires or quits trying. The biggest advantage Philadelphia inherits this season is they will travel the fewest miles of all NFL teams this season (only one game outside the Eastern time zone). The largest obstacle they must overcome in 2015: Since 1970 eight teams have replaced their #1 QB, RB and WR from one year to the next. Only one had a winning season. Gulp.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Chip Kelly is 23-2 SU away versus either NFL division or college conference foes in his career.

WASHINGTON
TEAM THEME: THE HOGS ARE SQUEALING AGAIN

The clock strikes twelve for Redskin QB Robert Griffin III this season. He needs to deliver the goods… it’s just that simple. After a 10-7 rookie season, RG3’s Hogs have gone just 7-25 the past two seasons. In preparation, new Washington GM Scot McCloughan is revitalizing a smash-mouth offensive line mentality, making RT Brandon Scherff the fifth pick of the draft before selecting Alabama OG Arie Kouandio and South Florida C Austin Reiter. “Just get back to the old days – the ground-and-pound football, which will open up the passing lanes. I think that’s what they want to start doing,” said Scherff. Impressed with their draft was ESPN analyst Todd McShay, who went on to say, ”I’d be surprised if we look back three years from now and they don’t have a minimum of three good, solid starters from this class.” Thus, an emphasis by the Redskins running the ball, and not Griffin carrying the ball, should lead to more effective play-action passes.

In addition, McCloughan revamped the defensive line (nickname: “Capital Punishment”) and secondary as well. McCloughan also revamped the defensive line (nickname: “Capital Punishment”) and secondary as well. However, the loss of LB Brian Orakpo is a major blow. For it all to work, though, the real RG III will need to surface. After watching Kirk Cousins struggle last year, Washington opted to use its fifth-year option in Griffin, meaning he is under contract through next season. The Hogs will also need leading contributions from WR DeSean Jackson and RB Alfred Morris. And if TE Jordan Reed (missed 12 games the last two seasons) can stay healthy there will be no more faking it in the nation’s capital (an oxymoron if ever there was one). It’s time to stand and deliver.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Redskins last won an Eastern Division title in 1999.

NFC NORTH

CHICAGO
TEAM THEME: FOX ON THE RUN

When fans clamored for Lovie Smith’s head, and management brought in Marc Trestman to man the sidelines, little did they know that trading-in is not always trading-up. The Trestman experiment ended after two brief years in which the Bears averaged 6.5 wins per season. With only six winning seasons since 1996, the call went out for a veteran head coach who has taken seven teams to the playoffs, including four times the last four years, with two Super Bowl appearances. Enter coach whisperer John Fox, who was unceremoniously dropped by Denver and brings in what ESPN analyst Louis Riddick calls a star-studded coaching staff, headed with OC Adam Gase and DC Vic Fangio (directed the 49ers defense to three straight NFC Championship games).

Gase will be counted on to revive QB Jay Cutler’s southbound-and-down career, one that has seen the $18M a year bust go just 61-58 SU and 45-71-2 ATS in his NFL career. Based on numbers like those, it’s astonishing to learn Cutler actually earns more than Tom Brady, Tony Romo, Andrew Luck and Eli Manning. The potential loss No. 7 draft pick, WR Kevin White, to a leg stress fracture could prove devastating, especially with Brandon Marshall now with the Jets. Defensively, the Bears have fielded the worst stop-unit in in a century of Chicago football the past two seasons. Finally, remember this: new HC Fox is money on the division road, where he is 28-11 SUATS in his NFL career, including 12-0 SU and 11-1 ATS the last four years (all with Denver), and 14-3 SUATS from Game Twelve out. Now let’s see how Cutler plays into the equation.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Bears went 5-for-5 in two-point conversion attempts last year, the highest success rate in the NFL.

DETROIT
TEAM THEME: THE ROAR IS GONE

Hmmm. Head coach Jim Caldwell has long been looked upon as a quarterback guru, having worked with Peyton Manning, Joe Flacco and others. Thus, it was expected his influence on Matthew Stafford would help take the talented signal-caller to the next level. Not so last year when Stafford’s season-ending 85.7 QB rating ranked below the likes of Kyle Orton, Mark Sanchez and Charlie Whitehurst. While it was an improvement over Stafford’s previous two years, it’s hardly headline news. What did happen, though, was an 11-win season, the second-best in franchise history. It’s not what you’d expect from a team that slipped 5 full points and 49 YPG offensively from 2013. The talk in camp is that rookie RB Ameer Abdullah is something special. “He’s quick as a cat,” said Jets head coach Todd Bowles after scrimmaging and taking on Detroit this preseason. He’s about as quick as Barry Sanders.” Where the Lions roared was on defense behind the league’s second ranked unit.

With Lion Kings Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley plugging the middle, Detroit owned the loop’s best rush defense, surrendering a mere 70 RYPG – or less than half of what the porous Browns allowed. Rather than build on that foundation, the Lions were forced to wheel and deal when both Suh and Fairley opted out for larger dollars. In a stopgap measure, DT Haloti Ngata was acquired from the Ravens and DT Tyrunn Walker (one NFL career start) was signed as a free agent. They certainly won’t counter the loss of the dynamic duo, but watch out should Stafford ever get his act together, and ought rookie Abdullah (Nebraska) continue to impress. After all most people forget this team, behind the No. 2 ranked defense in the league, led Dallas, 20-7, in the 3Q in last year’s 24-20 playoff loss before a questionable call sent the Cowboys on to Green Bay.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Despite going 22-27 the past three seasons, the Lions were 32-17 ITS in those games.

GREEN BAY
TEAM THEME: THREE-MINUTE WARNING

The offense is good. Real good. And when you return all 11 players from a unit that led the NFL in scoring last season, it quickly becomes the recipe for another prosperous campaign. And although you don’t mess with success – Green Bay will run its same no-huddle offense – the team is turning the keys over to former quarterbacks coach Tom Clements who, as its new associate head coach of offense, will take over play-calling duties from Mike McCarthy (first time McCarthy won’t call plays since becoming head coach in 2006). If they were a college football squad we’d be lauding the return of all 11 starters –sans WR Jordy Nelson to an ACL this preseason – including the best QB in the game (Aaron Rodgers).

If only the defense had as much talent. Hit hard in free agency, the Packers stop-unit replenished itself through the draft and must now stand and deliver. Can they depend on 35-year old Julius Peppers to make an impact, along with their best pass rusher – Clay Matthews – moving to inside linebacker? The good news is nose tackle B.J. Raji returns after missing last season with a biceps injury. In his stead, Letroy Guion filled in starting all 16 games, recording career-high 3.5 sacks. And DC Dom Capers will not get outcoached too many times. And remember, like the Cardinals, the Cheeseheads will take on an NFC-high 3 teams that will be coming off a Monday night game this campaign. FYI: GB is 11-1 SU and 10-2 the last five years against foes that played their previous game on a Monday night. Just three minutes removed from going to the Super Bowl before crashing spectacularly in an OT loss to the Seahawks last season (the devastating loss of Jordan aside), makes us Packer-backers in 2015.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Rodgers is 32-9 SU and 29-12 ATS in division games, including 13-1 SUATS off a spread loss.

MINNESOTA
TEAM THEME: WATER UNDER THE BRIDGE

It was largely a surprise when the Vikings passed Louisville WR DeVante Parker with the 11th pick in this year’s draft. After all, they lost WR Gregg Jennings to free agency and the move would have reunited Parker with his former Cardinal QB Teddy Bridgewater, who broke onto the NFL scene by completing 64.4% of his passes for 14 TDs in his rookie year with Minnesota last season. They opted instead for CB Trae Waynes of Michigan State, as Mike Zimmer continues to put the emphasis on defense. And it worked last year when the Vikes improved 9 points and 53 yards per game in Zimmer’s first season as a head coach in the league. Besides, Minnesota had earlier acquired speedy WR Mike Wallace from Miami, thus allowing the team to stock up on three more talented defensive players with its first three picks in the draft. (And this added sidebar: fifth-round WR/PR Stefon Diggs of Maryland has been highly impressive in camp.) Along with recent first round picks – including DB Harrison Smith, DT Shariff Floyd, CB Xavier Rhodes and LB Anthony Barr – the defense has become the strength of the squad.

Now that star RB Adrian Peterson and the Vikings appear to have resolved their differences, there is still a huge hurdle the ‘switchback’ must overcome. Namely: in the NFL’s 95-year history, there have been only 46 cases of a 1,000-yard season recorded by a running back who is at least 30 years old. Couple that with a tough first-half schedule (won’t a face a team with a losing record in 2014 until November 1), Mike Zimmer’s target to make the playoffs in 2016 just may stay right on track.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Vikings are 11-2 ATS in their last thirteen games in December.

NFC SOUTH

ATLANTA
TEAM THEME: RETURN OF THE GRITS BLITZ

It’s our feeling the hire of former Seattle DC Dan Quinn should go down as one of the better moves in Atlanta Falcons football history. And you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know why. A downhill decline on the defensive side of the ball each of the last three years says it all. Hence, after narrowly missing the playoffs for a second straight year despite an appalling 6-10 record in 2014, Quinn’s services were secured. Looking to clean up the league’s worst ranked defense, he went to work immediately securing LB Vic Beasley (very impressive minicamp) and CB Jalen Collins with the Falcons’ top two picks in the draft. Behind an elite aerial attack orchestrated by QB Matt Ryan and new OC Kyle Shanahan, expect Atlanta to get back to the playoffs in 2015.

Don’t laugh – the Falcons tackle the co-cushiest schedule in the league with half of their opponents sporting losing records last year (Atlanta’s average opponent Super Bowl odds a super-soft 19.56-to-1, same as Indianapolis). Five of their six wins last season came in division play and they face the NFC East in its entirety for the first time in three years. And as fate would have it, the last time Atlanta played the NFC East they swept the division en route to an NFC Championship game appearance in 2012. Looking back, Matty Ice has completed over 66% of his passes the past two seasons while tossing 54 TD passes. Imagine what he might suddenly accomplish with a defense.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: QB Matt Ryan is 7-0 SUATS in home openers, but only 1-6 SUATS in road openers, with the Falcons.

CAROLINA
TEAM THEME: BLACK PANTHER PARTY

Sneer at them all you want. After making it to the playoffs with a losing record last season, the Panthers – only the second team in NFL history to do so – are thirsting for more. You would be too if you closed out the season in the dominant fashion Carolina did last year, outyarding each of its final eight foes, including stat wins in BOTH of its playoff games. While an 8-9-1 record may not appear impressive on the surface, victories in five of its final six games certainly were. Granted, seven of the nine losses were by 14 or more points but there is no refuting the fact that the Panthers’ defense held three of their final seven opponents to season-low yardage… and 10 of 11 starters return. Like it or not, the black and blue wrecking crew became the first team ever to repeat as NFC South division champs last season.

The offseason signing of blindside OT Michael Oher, and the drafting of Michigan WR Devin Funchess promises to make Cam Newton a happy man (that and a new $103.8 million contract), the loss of star WR Kelvin Benjamin (ACL) aside. With it all Newton is on record vowing to make the Panthers the No. 1 ranked offense the NFL. “And I’m not just blowing smoke,” contends Newton. Oh, and for what it’s worth… the only other team in the league to win its division with a losing record was Seattle (7-9) in 2010. And we all know what the Seahawks went on to become. Should the Panthers pick up where they left off last season, they’ll be partying hearty in Charlotte this season.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Panthers are 0-6 SUATS when playing with rest under head coach Ron Rivera.

NEW ORLEANS
TEAM THEME: BRING BACK THE BEIGNETS

It was a big pill to have to swallow. The Saints, in total rebuilding mode, were cap-strapped and needed to free up room. Trading away all-Pro Bowl TE Jimmy Graham and WR Kenny Stills are big losses. And while the trading of Graham appeared to be head scratching, New Orleans did receive one of the best centers in the league (Max Unger) and Seattle’s No. 1 pick in this year’s draft (LB Stephone Anthony of Clemson). But offensively it’s potentially an enormous loss for New Orleans. Newly acquired RB C.J. Spiller will team with Mark Ingram to form the ground attack. And while QB Drew Brees figures to be operating behind a vastly improved offensive line, WRs Marques Colston and Brandin Cooks (an excellent offseason) will be counted on to carry a heavy load.

The defense was hit hard with injuries in 2014 and as a result slipped 83 yards and 7 points per game. New CB Brandon Browner was a great addition and six defensive players taken in this year’s draft figure to contribute right away, including 2nd round OLB Hau’oli Kikaha. Rest assured, if Rob Ryan has this unit playing anywhere near 2013’s level, and head coach Sean Payton is able to mastermind a fifth consecutive 400-yard offense, the Saints will be primed for a big bounce-back year. Last year’s head-scratching five losses in their final five home games figures to be in the rear-view mirror with the Saints owning the league’s second-easiest home schedule based on 2014 win-loss records. Lest we forget, according to opening Super Bowl odds, only Atlanta and Indianapolis will face a softer schedule of opponents in 2015.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Saints were 0-5 SUATS in their final five home games of the season last year.

TAMPA BAY
TEAM THEME: TAKE TWO

Buccaneers GM Jason Licht insists, “We’re not rebuilding… we’re re-tooling.” It occurred two years ago when management snapped the rubber band and reeled in veteran free agents, along with head coach Lovie Smith, in an attempt to move the needle. While the grades of that spending-spree are still out, the Bucs struck gold in last year’s draft when they landed big WR Mike Evans and talented TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Granted, Jenkins hobbled his way to only 21 catches, but new OC Dirk Koetter has had a ton of success utilizing tight ends, making him a breakout candidate in 2015 – especially with Evans and fellow WR Vincent Jackson figuring to soak up a ton of coverage.

The bottom line is Tampa’s pathetic play in 2014 landed them the No. 1 spot in this year’s draft and with it Heisman Trophy winning QB Jameis Winston was summoned. His off-the-field antics aside, Famous Jameis is a franchise signal caller and as a result the Bucs will likely contend for the NFC South title within a year or two. To accelerate the process, Tampa also drafted two OL and speedy WR Kenny Bell in the later rounds to help build around Winston. With last year’s OC Jeff Tedford not able to coach after undergoing heart surgery, expect the new-look Bucs to make serious bucks for their backers this season. Loading up on OL help in the draft was a good, logical first step. We’ll find out whether or not Evans was a soothsayer we he proclaimed last year’s Bucs “the best 2-14 team ever.”

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Teams who finished last, or tied for last, have won the NFC South 11 of last 12 years the next season.

NFC WEST

ARIZONA
TEAM THEME: A COLD DOSE OF REALITY

Since 1950 the Cardinals have enjoyed the luxury of three consecutive winning seasons only two times, covering a span of 65 years – a mighty long time between drinks of water. Now, giddy off back-to-back double-digit winning seasons the past two years, head coach Bruce Arians is busy filling the canteens in preparation for the task ahead this 2015 campaign. Our much-loved coach completed what was arguably the mother of all coaching efforts last season when he guided his team – down to its 3rd-string quarterback – to the playoffs despite being outgained a whopping 64 YPG on the season. The feeling here is, even with QB Carson Palmer back behind center, improvement is not likely. Consider: only Seattle will take on a more difficult strength-of-schedule task when weighed against foes’ Super Bowl odds this season (Cardinals average opponent Super Bowl odds 12.06-to-1).

Over the years we’ve learned that if it looks like a skunk, walks like a skunk and smells like a skunk… it’s a skunk. And Arizona’s stats stunk up the joint last season. The Red Birds were out yarded in six of their final seven games, allowing season high – or 2nd high – yardage on five occasions. And the defense, the glue to last year’s team, lost DL Darnell Dockett, NT Dan Williams and CB Antonio Cormartie – not to mention DC Todd Bowles (Jets new head coach). Yes, we understand the absolutely masterful job Arians has done. But to ask him to improve on an 11-win season, forged largely with smoke-and-mirrors, is simply not realistic. Granted, a healthy Palmer – who contends his surgically repaired shoulder is stronger than ever – at QB and newly signed RB Chris Johnson are stepping-stones, but don’t underestimate the loss of starting C Lyle Sendlien (cut in the offseason), the starter since 2008. So until they actually begin out-yarding opponents on a consistent basis, we’re sellers. Buyer beware.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Arians is 23-5 SU and 22-4-2 ATS as an NFL head coach versus sub .600 opponents.

ST. LOUIS
TEAM THEME: FISHERMAN’S TALE

It’s hard to believe but only the Oakland Raiders have fewer wins since 2004 than do the Rams. It’s what happens when you haven’t had a single winning season over that time span. Former Philly QB Nick Foles swaps spots with Sam Bradford and appears to be a good fit for the Rams’ style of offense. The question is a makeshift offensive line and who will be on the receiving end of his tosses, as the St. Louis wide receivers certainly don’t scare many a secondary in the league. And for Foles to make an impact, they will need the OL to improve dramatically. Greg Robinson, the second pick in last year’s draft, struggled mightily and center Scott Wells (released) was even worse.

As a result, the Rams nabbed four OL in the first six rounds in this year’s draft. RB Tre Mason (765 rushing yards in 2014) figures to carry the early load until this year’s top draft choice Todd Gurley (aka: Marshawn Lynch 2.0) is ready to take the field. FYI: the Rams claim they had Gurley at the very top of their draft board. On the defensive front, free agent DL Nick Fairley pairs with Pro Bowl DE Robert Quinn (10.5 sacks last season) and to help form an imposing frontline – one that features no less than five first-rounders, including 2014 defensive rookie of the year Aaron Donald. If DE Chris Long recovers from ankle surgery, the defense has a legit chance of going from shaky to super good overnight. Its time head coach Jeff Fisher helps this team find the winner’s circle… before they bolt for Los Angeles.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The last 1,000-yard receiver the Rams had was Torry Holt in 2007.

SAN FRANCISCO
TEAM THEME: MILES AND MILES AND MILES

If the loss of head coach John Harbaugh in the offseason wasn’t bad enough for the Niners to endure, they will travel the most miles of all NFL teams in 2015 (27,998), including four road games where the team travels over 2,000 miles. Not to belabor the point, but we must note that last year’s air miles leader, Oakland, ran out of gas in its final three road games of the campaign, going 0-3 SUATS when they were outscored a mind-boggling 130-27. Now where else but in the PLAYBOOK are you going to read neat stuff like that? Meanwhile, new head coach Jim Tomsula, San Fran’s former defensive line coach with ONE game of head coaching experience (coached and won the final game of the 2010 season after Mike Singletary was fired), assumes the reins.

This much we know for sure: Their top running back, Frank Gore, is gone (Indianapolis). Gore had rushed for 1,000 or more yards eight of the last nine years, including each of the last four seasons in a row. LB’s Patrick Willis and 23-year old Chris Borland, along with DL Justin Smith and RT Anthony Davis have retired. DE Ray McDonald and lineman Aldon Smith’s careers are history. And you thought you had troubles? It’s a good thing QB Colin Kaepernick worked with future Hall of Fame QB Kurt Warner in the offseason. He’s going to need every advantage he can muster.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The last time San Francisco won a Super Bowl was 21 years ago.

SEATTLE
TEAM THEME: LEAST MODE

Ouch. From back-to-back Super Bowl titles to Super Bowl loser, all in the fell swoop of an ill-fated call in the final stages of last season’s championship game. If you’re reading this you’re all-too-familiar with head coach Pete Carroll’s head-scratching decision to go from obvious beast mode to yeast infection when he turned his nose up at handing the ball to Marshawn Lynch – and instead watched Russell Wilson toss a pick from the 1-yard line with the Super Bowl on the line. And now, according to the 2015 opening Super Bowl odds, they must not only tackle the league’s most difficult schedule – including nine games versus playoff squads from last season – but, like the Oakland Raiders, must trek over 25,000 travel miles for the second year in a row. Talk about having to pay the piper! And speaking of the Super Bowl loser, it goes without saying the task ahead for teams having to carry the leprous label is daunting. Only seven teams have ever made it back to the Super Bowl, and only two of those (1971 Cowboys and 72 Dolphins) have ever won.

The last Super Bowl loser to return to the big game was the Buffalo Bills in SB XXVIII in January 1994. And forget about backing downtrodden Super Bowl losers the following season as they are a 48.4% ATS proposition overall since 1980. Do you really want any of that? Not with a team that will take on a league-high four opponents coming off a bye week, and zero foes in the 2nd of back-to-back away games, in 2015. Note: Seahawks are 3-7 SUATS versus rested foes with winning records during the regular season this millennium. We fully realize Carroll’s magical ability in bringing the absolute best out of his players, and his determined focus on making amends for the aforementioned Super Bow faux pas are incentives. The there is the best defense in the league, anchored by the “Legion of Boom”, arguably the best-ever secondary the NFL has ever seen. Toss in the addition of all-world TE Jimmy Graham and a content QB (Wilson inked to a long-term $87 million deal) and you have the makings of a team anxious to rule the NFC roost. But a new-look OL and the myriad of aforementioned obstacles, including the release of two-year starting DT Tony McDaniel (a salary cap hit), plus a new defensive coordinator (Kris Richard) for the 2nd time in three years, forces us to look the other way.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Seahawks are 0-6 SU and 0-4-2 ATS away all-time versus AFC North opponents.