BATSBY Sports has perused the team-by-team victory projections for the 2020 NFL season (courtesy of VegasInsider.com), and we’re ready to identify five reasonable locks for the under side of betting.
So … enjoy!
2020 PROJECTED TOTAL: 11.5
2019 RECORD: 14-2 (lost in Divisional Playoff round)
2019 RANKINGS: 1st in points scored … 3rd in points allowed
REASONS FOR TEPID PESSIMISM
a) For my money, the Ravens reside in the NFL’s toughest division, with Baltimore, Pittsburgh and even Cleveland all serving as potential title contenders this fall; and let’s not poo-pooh Cincinnati’s chances of quickly bouncing back to respectability, thanks to an infusion at quarterback (rookie Joe Burrow), receiver (A.J. Green and John Ross III back from injury, Tee Higgins drafted in Round 2) and the offensive line (decimated by injuries last year).
b) The Ravens might have the most difficult September slate of any major contender, taking on the Browns (home), Texans (road) and defending champion Chiefs (home) in the first three weeks.
There’s also an October-December gauntlet to overcome, with Baltimore encountering eight consecutive likely playoff participants (at Philly, at Indy, at New England, at Pittsburgh, at Cleveland … home versus Pittsburgh, Tennessee, Dallas) in a nine-Sunday span, with a bye being the lone respite.
c) I genuinely want to be proven wrong with the following proclamation from early March:
Lamar Jackson won’t exceed 1,000 rushing yards in 2020.
What’s the logic behind such blasphemy, considering how Jackson easily rolled for 1,206 rushing yards and seven rushing scores in just 15 games last year?
It’s simple. The Ravens’ front office and ownership have likely done the math on quantifying the numbers of Jackson’s mega-extension in 2022, likely after Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson sign their massive new contracts; and when talking annual salaries north of $40 million, it’s imperative that Baltimore has Jackson available for 15-16 games, while chasing the franchise’s third run at the Lombardi Trophy.
The best way to ensure reasonable health every Sunday? Encouraging Jackson to modify his rushing prowess, as the Ravens’ cast of pass-catchers expands over time.
That’s not to say Jackson will have immense trouble hitting 35-plus touchdowns again. We’re merely skeptical about his rushing yards, especially with Ohio State tailback J.K. Dobbins fortifying an already-loaded backfield, via the NFL draft.
d) The Ravens’ 12-game winning streak to cap last year’s regular season remains the stuff of legend, with the offense racking up 30-plus points eight times during that prolific stretch.
But here’s the rub: Over the final nine weeks (including the playoffs), the opposing tailback quartet of Joe Mixon, Raheem Mostert, Devin Singletary and Derrick Henry absurdly averaged 156 total yards and 0.3 TDs against Baltimore’s typically stout defense.
e) Just to clarify here: We still like the Ravens’ chances of repeating as AFC North champs … but with an 11-5 output. Of course, 12 wins should be a relative breeze, if Baltimore can sweep the eminently mortal NFC East in crossover play.
2020 PROJECTED TOTAL: 10
2019 RECORD: 8-8 (missed the playoffs)
2019 RANKINGS: 6th in points scored … 11th in points allowed
REASONS FOR PESSIMISM
I understand the national fascination with the Cowboys’ cast of supremely talented playmakers, namely quarterback Dak Prescott (4,902 yards passing, 33 total TDs last year), tailback Ezekiel Elliott (1,777 total yards, 14 TDs) and wideouts Amari Cooper (79 catches, 1,189 yards, 8 TDs), Michael Gallup (66 catches, 1,107 yards, 6 TDs) and celebrated rookie CeeDee Lamb.
On paper, Dallas offense has the capacity to crack the top three in scoring this fall, while also consuming large chunks of the clock in the process.
However, there are some notable worries to point out:
**The Cowboys’ offensive line had a top-4 overall ranking last year (according to Pro Football Focus), but that group has also been dealt a continuity blow, in the form of Travis Frederick’s retirement.
**Factoring in this century, last season might have been a lowpoint for the sometimes-comical NFC East (2019 cumulative record: 24-40) … and the Cowboys still couldn’t post a winning record or claim the division title.
**Thank goodness for the Thanksgiving encounter with the Redskins. Other than that, there are no gimme games after the bye for the Cowboys …. including a tricky ‘sandwich’ trip to Cincinnati.
(What’s a sandwich game? Dallas has high-profile matchups with Baltimore and San Francisco on both ends.)
**Remember when noted ESPN blowhard Rex Ryan inadvertently referred to Amari Cooper as a ‘turd’ back in March?
It was obviously a poor choice of words on Ryan’s part, an indefensible cheap shot on national TV. But moving past the needless insult, did Ryan have a point in criticizing Cooper’s home/road splits with the Cowboys?
Check this out:
**For his 12 regular-season road outings (2018-19), Cooper owns painful averages of 3.8 catches, 7.1 targets, 41.2 yards and 0.3 TDs.
**For his 13 regular-season home games (2018-19), Cooper boasts stellar averages of 6.7 catches, 8.5 targets, 109 yards and 0.9 TDs.
2020 PROJECTED TOTAL: 4.5
2019 RECORD: 6-10 (missed the playoffs)
2019 RANKINGS: 26th in points scored … 21st in points allowed
REASONS FOR MILD PESSIMISM
a) Let’s begin with some ugly truth: Seven of the Jaguars’ 10 losses from last season came of the double-digit-point variety. Adding to the misery, Jacksonville’s six final setbacks produced an average defeat margin of 21.5 points. Ugh.
b) For reasons that remain baffling, the Jaguars are hitching their offensive wagon to second-year quarterback Gardner Minshew II.
Yes, Minshew posted good stats in his rookie campaign (3,271 yards passing, 21 TDs, 6 INTs in 14 games); and yes, he has some Baker Mayfield-like spunk and improvisation to his game.
However, take an extra-long gander at this highlight reel: Of the first 25 Minshew plays, 22 occurred with the Jaguars trailing in the game, and only three involved Jacksonville owning the lead; and just once was Minshew orchestrating the go-ahead score during crunch time.
Bottom line: Minshew has the baseline talent and charisma to perhaps be very good someday. Unfortunately, he also has the prowess to dig large holes for his club early in the game.
Think Jameis Winston … minus the flood of interceptions.
c) On paper, the Jaguars boast a number of burgeoning names along the offensive line, talents like Andrew Norwell, Cam Robinson, Brandon Linder and Jawaan Taylor.
In practice, though, Jacksonville’s O-line posted a disappointing ranking of 26th last season (according to Pro Football Focus).
d) The 2020 campaign will likely be the last in Jacksonville for embattled tailback Leonard Fournette, who rolled for 1,674 total yards last season.
Why no extension for the 25-year-old back? Locker-room drama aside, Fournette’s touchdown numbers have incurred a precipitous decline from year to year to year (10 –> 6 –> 3).
e) Here’s some speculative insight to the Jaguars leaning heavily on Minshew: If he’s a flop as the full-time starter, it will likely position Jacksonville for a top-2 pick in next April’s draft.
The prizes at stake: Two potential franchise cornerstones at quarterback, Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State’s Justin Fields.
f) The NFL schedule-maker didn’t really help Jacksonville’s rebuilding effort this season.
After the bye, the Jaguars shall endure a relentless gauntlet of difficult matchups — Chargers (road), Texans (home), Packers (road), Steelers (home), Browns (home), Vikings (road), Titans (home), Ravens (road), Bears (home) and Colts (road).
Good luck plucking an obvious win out of that season-ending grist mill.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
2020 PROJECTED TOTAL: 8
2019 RECORD: 9-7 (missed the playoffs)
2019 RANKINGS: 11th in points scored … 17th in points allowed
REASONS FOR PESSIMISM
We’re prepared to look extremely foolish with this prediction, if the Cardinals (added DeAndre Hopkins in the offseason) aren’t ready for playoff contention in the NFC West.
If that’s the case, the Rams should be shoo-in bets for eight or nine victories, perhaps by default, citing five factors:
a) The Rams have eight crossover games against the AFC East and NFC East, arguably the NFL’s two weakest divisions.
That’s a lot of maneuvering room, thus balancing out the scope of encountering the 49ers, Seahawks and potentially dynamic Cardinals six times.
b) L.A.’s roster underwent a sizable shakeup during the offseason, shedding the high-priced contracts of Todd Gurley and Brandin Cooks, and then allowing Dante Fowler Jr. and Cory Littleton to leave town, via free agency.
c) Here’s a good news/bad news observation: Wideout Cooper Kupp notched five touchdowns in his final five games last season, despite averaging only five targets during that span.
Conversely, in his initial 11 outings of 2019, Kupp tallied eight or more targets nine different times.
Which begs the question: Are Sean McVay and Jared Goff slowly losing confidence in Kupp … or have they merely stumbled on a consistent way of maximizing the targets?
d) The biting loss of Gurley (three-year average: 1,662 total yards, 18 TDs) could be substantial, if the Rams cannot identify a signature back among the quartet of Cam Akers, Darrell Henderson, Malcolm Brown and John Kelly.
e) A 3-4 start could be feasible, with the Rams drawing the Cowboys (SoFi Stadium opener), Eagles (road), Bills (road), Giants (home), Redskins (road), 49ers (road) and Bears (home) in the first seven weeks.
LAS VEGAS RAIDERS
2020 PROJECTED TOTAL: 7.5
2019 RECORD: 7-9 (missed the playoffs)
2019 RANKINGS: 24th in points scored … 24th in points allowed
REASONS FOR PESSIMISM
a) I’m still blown away by the Raiders’ draft-night malfeasance, in terms of passing on heralded Alabama wideout Jerry Jeudy — a future superstar with the Denver Broncos (my opinion) — for a Crimson Tide teammate (Henry Ruggs III), who might need a few years to develop into a productive receiver at the NFL level.
And that’s too bad. The Raiders’ decision-making brass of head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock had a golden chance at landing dynamic playmakers at tailback (Josh Jacobs), tight end (Darren Waller) and receiver (Jeudy) in back-to-back drafts.
b) Quarterback Derek Carr warrants props for last year’s consistent numbers (4,054 yards passing, 23 total TDs, 8 INTs, 70.4-percent passing).
Now for the so-so news: Under Carr’s watch last year, the Raiders eclipsed the 30-point mark only twice.
Also, the franchise signal-caller amassed 275 yards passing and three touchdowns just once (loss to Houston).
c) Last season, the Raiders defense finished in the bottom 10 with sacks collected, fumble recoveries, interceptions and passing yards allowed. This group needs to take a seismic step forward this fall.
d) The Raiders should enjoy the perks of a sparkling new home (Allegiant Stadium, just off the famed Strip) in an emerging market — to a point.
On the flip side, the opposing team’s fan base might also provide strong representation every Sunday, thanks to the many benefits of spending a looooooooong NFL weekend in Las Vegas.