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Our second-favorite NFL grading season is upon us. We love to hand out draft grades right after the event, even though it takes years to grade a class of players fully. When it comes to free agency, we can hand out grades right away and these typically hold up better. We know these players and how they fit into systems. Because this is the Action Network, instead of giving grades I’m giving y’all the teams I’m looking to buy and sell for the 2018 season.
Any day Vegas and offshore sportsbooks are likely to re-post their season total props. In this piece I highlight three teams whose win total overs I’ll be strongly considering whenever the lines are posted. In my next piece, I’ll hit three teams for the under.
The Chicago Bears
On paper the Bears are the 2017 Rams. In 2016 the Rams were brutal. They were 4-12 and 32nd in offense. Dead last. Jeff Fisher and company couldn’t figure out how to prepare, properly develop, and deploy first-round draft pick Jared Goff. He went 0-7 and looked like a bust. Todd Gurley was featured in the missing person section of the local paper. The one saving grace for that season was the defense, which was ranked 15th in the league. The defense had talented players.
Fast forward to 2017. The Rams hired offensive wizard Sean McVay as head coach to mentor Jared Goff. McVay hired Wade Phillips to run the defense. Then Rams general manager Lee Snead went to work to surround Goff with weapons. He brought in big left tackle Andrew Whitworth and veteran center John Sullivan. The Rams made moves to acquire wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods, and they drafted Cooper Kupp. The Rams’ offensive production went through the roof, and they won the division.
It looks like the Bears are following this path.
The Bears jumped up to draft Mitch Trubiksy last season, and he became the full-time starter after the first month of the season. He was playing with an offensively challenged head coach in John Fox. Unlike the 2016 Rams, the 2017 Bears had some offensive highlights. Jordan Howard continued to run the ball well, and rookie Tarik Cohen took off. John Fox was fired and Matt Nagy was hired to lead the Bears and guide Trubisky.
The Bears’ first moves in free agency were to bring in players to help Trubisky, as they should. The Bears spent big money for wide receivers Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel, and they added an athletic move tight end (with Super Bowl touchdown-throwing capabilities) in Trey Burton. I love how the Bears have surrounded their franchise quarterback with weapons. I expect the Bears to improve drastically this season.
After the Vikings signed Kirk Cousins to the first fully guaranteed contract in NFL history, they (along with the Falcons) are now one of my favorites to win the NFC. In 2015-16, when Cousins was in Washington and had his full complement of offensive weapons, he was a top-10 quarterback. Now he heads to Minnesota with a full set of explosive offensive weapons, the mind of new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo (who worked wonders with Nick Foles in the playoffs), and the excellent Vikings defense. If I like the Vikings to reach the NFC Championship, it makes sense that I’d be interested in the over on their win total.
I know, I know. Never buy the Browns. I took them over 5.5 wins last season, and we know how that turned out, but if you look at their offseason moves plus the talent already on the roster the Browns look like a six-win team. On offense they now have Jarvis Landry, Josh Gordon, and young tight end David Njoku. The Browns clearly have a hole at left tackle now that future Hall-of-Famer Joe Thomas has retired, but their interior offensive line is good and maybe even above average. Last season the Browns were 14th in adjusted rushing according to Football Outsiders but were 32nd in passing. The Browns traded for quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who just led the Bills, with their limited talent, to the playoffs. Before retiring Thomas stated on multiple occasions that the Browns could have won six to eight games last season with a capable quarterback. Well, here is Taylor. The Browns will also likely draft a quarterback with the No. 1 pick. (Stop with this Saquon Barkley nonsense.) Lastly, and weirdly enough, the Browns had an excellent rush defense in 2017. I think they have the ability to jump from 0-16 to 6-10. I’ll be eyeing the over whenever the lines are re-posted.
Pictured above: Mitchell Trubisky
Photo credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports