3 NFL Win Total Over/Unders To Bet Heading Into 2021: Saints, Broncos, Washington
Patrick Smith/Getty Images. Pictured: Chase Young
Saints Under 9 Wins (-120) at DraftKings
Although Drew Brees spent the last few years of his career looking washed and devoid of arm strength (which prohibited him from taking deep shots down the field), he brought accuracy, stability and the leadership that made the Saints a contender.
Have you seen what happens to teams when they lose a Hall of Fame quarterback?
It’s not pretty.
Since 1993, teams that have replaced a quarterback who had played at least 10 seasons have won 4.3 few games the following year. Only the 2012 Colts (who went 11-5 after replacing Peyton Manning with Andrew Luck) and the 2000 Dolphins (who had Jay Fiedler under center instead of Dan Marino) have winning records among those teams that lost a quarterback who had played at least 10 seasons.
As a fan of football, the game is better when Jameis Winston is playing. Who else has thrown a 30-touchdown, 30-interception season?
Although Winston should be better post-Lasik surgery, and with the presence of Sean Payton, I’m not sure that’s enough to overcome the rest of this roster.
The Saints have salary-cap issues that caused them to lose Emmanuel Sanders, Jared Cook, edge rusher Trey Hendrickson, Kwon Alexander, Malcolm Brown and Janoris Jenkins. With Michael Thomas out to open the season, this offense will take a step back.
Defensively, I don’t have a lot of faith in this unit. Cam Jordan is still a star, but he’s 32 years old. Marshon Lattimore continues to regress after a dominant rookie season, as he had just a 47% success rate last season. They’re still dependent on the 34-year-old Malcolm Jenkins, which doesn’t inspire much confidence from this unit.
I expect both the Saints offense and defense to take a step back from 2020, and with improvement from the rest of the division, this spells a down year for the Saints — especially with them losing multiple home games in the wake of Hurricane Ida’s impacts on Louisiana. We saw what happened to the 49ers last season when playing home games in Arizona, and with the Saints moving to Jacksonville, their home-field advantage disappears.
I took the over on this win total back in March when it was 7.5, but I believe there’s still some value on it at its current price.
I’m not sure you can find a more unlucky team than the 2020 Denver Broncos.
Although they won as many games as their Pythagorean expectation projected them to win, they were absolutely decimated by injuries, losing key players on both sides from Von Miller to Courtland Sutton. They were 26th in adjusted games lost to injury.
Head coach Vic Fangio is always going to field a top-tier defense, and despite all of the injuries, this defense was still 13th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA and 10th in total success rate. With a healthy defense in addition to the free-agent signings of defensive end Shelby Harris and cornerback Ronald Darby, I don’t see this team giving up 446 points again this season.
The Broncos lost six one-score games in 2020 with a league-worst turnover differential of -16. Although Drew Lock throwing for 16 touchdowns and 15 interceptions played a major factor in this team not winning more, it’s clear we should expect to see some positive injury and turnover regression with Teddy Bridgewater taking over.
While you might see Bridgewater smiling if you looked up the word “mediocre” in the dictionary, he’s a significant upgrade over Lock, who was 28th in Expected Points Added (EPA) per play and dead-last in completion percentage above expectation. In comparison, Bridgewater was 19th in EPA per play and seventh in completion percentage over expected.
Diving even deeper into the numbers, we see that Lock was 33rd in adjusted completion percentage on short passes while Bridgewater was first.
The Broncos are loaded with weapons in Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Noah Fant, Melvin Gordon and rookie Javonte Williams, so the upgrade from Lock (-16.2 DVOA) to Bridgewater (+2.0 DVOA) should allow the Broncos to have a shot at making the playoffs since he won’t lose them games in ways that Lock did.
With the Broncos having one of the easiest schedules in the league according to my projections, this feels like a playoff team. As I mentioned previously, I wagered on the over 7.5 wins in March, but 8.5 still has some value.
Washington Over 8.5 Wins (-115) at FanDuel
Here’s another bet I made at a better number (8) that I still believe has value at the current number.
It’s hard not to like the Washington Football Team.
When handicapping the NFL, the first thing I like to look at is how a team dominates the trenches — and that’s certainly something Washington does on the defensive side of the ball. Despite boasting a bottom-10 scoring offense, this defense was so dominant in 2020 that it was able to overcome the poor offense and win the NFC East while allowing the fourth-fewest points per game (20.6) and the second-fewest yards (304.6).
Washington was third in defensive success rate, EPA per play and DVOA, including ranking second against the pass and 11th against the run.
While defense tends to regress more annually, Washington’s defensive line is among the best in the NFL with Chase Young, Montez Sweat, Da’Ron Payne, Jonathan Allen and Matt Ioannidis, who combined for 48 sacks and were third in pressure percentage (27.5%).
The biggest factor for Washington is how the team can improve on offense.
Based on the Football Team replacing the 2020 quarterback carousel of Dwayne Haskins, the immobile Alex Smith, Kyle Allen and Taylor Heinicke with Ryan Fitzpatrick, it’s clear that this unit will be much improved and should score more than 20.9 points per game in 2021. Terry McLaurin is also one of the most underrated wide receivers in the league, and Antonio Gibson can certainly take the pressure off Fitzpatrick in the run game.
This team slightly underperformed its point differential in 2020, but the improvement from replacement-level QBs (Haskins -40.1 DVOA and Smith -39.7) to an average one (Fitzpatrick +7.5%) should make a world of difference.
With the Eagles in rebuilding mode, the Giants’ quarterback and offensive-line issues, and the Cowboys’ struggles on defense — in addition to the uncertainty of how Dak Prescott will look coming back from injury — the Washington Football Team feels like the most complete team in this division.