There are no friends in Vegas - it's the most competitive city in the world. It's the only place where the businesses are openly hostile to their customers. Each tourist and worker - and every degenerate in between - is competing for their own vain version of glory.
This is what makes Vegas the perfect home for the Westgate Super Contest. The competition costs $1500 for the chance at over $1M in prizes plus the title of Best NFL Handicapper. Each week each contestant will send in their five ATS (against the spread) picks and the one with the most right at the end of the year takes the prize.
This contest is what brought me to Vegas. It's my vain version of glory. I'm a lifelong Eagles and NFL gambling fan and this is the year I'm finally tossing my hat in the ring. I'm going to write about my experience here on Unintelligible. Follow along each Saturday for my picks.
Until then - since I'm all jazzed up about the upcoming season - I wrote about the team season win total bets I placed in Vegas. Spoiler: I bet all unders. I'm a curmudgeon and can't wait to root against these teams all year!
Spreads come from: https://www.oddsshark.com/nfl/nfl-over-under-win-totals
Houston Texans UNDER 8.5 (+120)
It isn't reasonable to expect the Texans to jump from 4 wins last year to over 9. I understand that Deshaun Watson and JJ Watt are two great players coming back this year after missing most of last season. But if either or both miss significant time this ticket is an easy cash. Even at full strength I don't see this team reaching 9 wins. The defense is bad, the coach is bad, and the division had been bad - but looks improved.
Last season the Texans gave up the most points in the league. This season they installed Romeo Crennel as defensive coordinator and added Tyrann Mathieu. Those two changes are not going to move the needle.
Their poor defense will be under extra stress with Watson at the helm. Last year, he threw an interception on 3.9% of his passes. None of the other quarterbacks with an interception rate above 3.5% will be starting this year. Look at these embarrassing peers:
His touchdown % stands out on this chart - he threw a touchdown on a league leading 9.3% of his passes - but does that outweigh the interceptions? Not last year it didn't. The team went 3-3 with Watson as the starter. They beat teams that were in the bottom half of the league in offensive points per game: the Bengals (26), Browns (32) and Titans (19). But against competent offensive teams - the Chiefs (6), Patriots (2) and Seahawks (11) - even 35 points per game were not enough to overcome the turnovers.
This defense has more difficult competition in the division this year. The Colts brought in Super Bowl offensive coordinator Frank Reich as head coach to shepherd Andrew Luck through his return. The Titans - who had one of the least imaginative offenses in the league last year - fired Mike Munchak to modernize their offense. And the Jaguars look to solidify themselves as contenders after making it to the AFC title game last year.
But ultimately this is a bet against Bill O'Brien. I don't have faith in him as a coach. From 2014-2016 he won only nine games each year despite an excellent defense and a terrible division. Any semblance of an offense - which is supposed to be Bill O'Brien's specialty - and this team could have competed for a top seed. He couldn't put it together.
Last year, when his defense got worse and the division improved slightly, his team's record collapsed to 4-12. This year the division will take another step forward and his defense will remain terrible. Bill O'Brien won't be able to manufacture enough points to win 9 games with this defense - even with extra firepower from Watson.
LA Rams UNDER 10 (+110)
The Rams are too eerily similar to the 2011 Eagles "Dream Team" for me to have any faith in them. Sean Mcvay has too much to do. He needs to manage multiple new personalities on the defensive side of the ball - which he completely ignores - and still out scheme the defensive coordinators who have been studying him all off season. If he can't produce wide open receivers for the mediocre Jared Goff then the offense will stagnate. And if he can't keep the new stars on defense happy they will implode. Either of those cases puts their win total well under 10.
I have been an Eagles fan since I was born. The majority of father-son bonding in my life was rooting for whomever my dad had bet on that Sunday plus the Eagles. That 2011 "Dream Team" Eagles season scarred me. I'm forever skeptical of teams adding pricey stars to chase a ring.
Howie Roseman built those Eagles for the Super Bowl - the previous season Michael Vick had led the team to a first round playoff exit in his first season as the team's starter. He brought in star CBs Nhamdi Asoumgah and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, DE Jason Babin, and a slew of other starting quality players to solidify their roster. They had 10 players with 25 combined Pro Bowls and the press was abuzz about their super bowl prospects. They went on to flop immaculately. The stars did not align and the team got off to a 4-8 start. They were out of playoff contention before winning their last 4 meaningless games.
This Rams are following the same play book. This year - coming off a first round playoff exit with a quarterback in a new system - the Rams are all in for the Super Bowl. They added Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters, Ndamukong Suh and a few other starters to solidify their roster. The Rams have 9 pro bowl players with 27 combined Pro Bowls and the press is abuzz about their super bowl prospects.
There are more similarities. Andy Reid was an offense only coach just like Sean McVay. Mcvay is so focused only on the offense that he did not hire an offensive coordinator this year.
The only difference is that the Rams defense is coached by veteran coordinator Wade Phillips while the Eagles defense was led by Juan Castillo - who had never coached on the defensive side of the ball at any level, even as a position coach. But is Wade Phillips vs. Juan Castillo the difference between a 4-8 start and an 8-4 start?
I don't think so. I see this team taking a step backwards and potentially imploding. I don't think McVay will handle the league's counter punches. Goff will not overcome the new - yet familiar from the Jeff Fisher days - tight coverage and throw guys open. He will struggle. Those defensive players who came here to chase titles are going to blame the offense. The team is going to splinter right down the line a true head coach would seal. Next year, McVay will hire an offensive coordinator so he can "focus more on the big picture." This year, my under cashes.
Buccaneers UNDER 6.5 (-165)
After the 2015 season in which rookie Jameis Winston and Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter led the Buccaneers offense to rank 20th in most points in the NFL, Bucs ownership decided they needed more of this dynamic duo. They fired defensive minded Lovie Smith - their third coach fired in five years - and handed the team to Dirk Koetter.
Since then, the quarterback and team have stagnated. Jameis' numbers after three years look almost identical to his rookie season in 2015 - 40% win rate, a 60% completion rate and a 1.5 touchdown to interception ratio. The team has not broken 8 expected wins by the pythagorean formula in Koetter's tenure and took a step back in year two after a 9-7 record in 2016.
The team these Bucs remind me of most is the Giants - who also fired their defensive coach to promote their offensive coordinator after a 6-10 season in 2015 - except the G-Men already recognized their poor decision and moved on. The Buccaneers have decided to let this regime fester in Raymond James stadium like a staph infection. I think this is going to be a disaster and it's going to lead to an easy cover.
The other teams I bet under are in a similar position to TB. They are all coaches on the verge of team breakdown - whether their message has gotten stale or they're in their first year and I don't think they will be very effective. Since I'm over my word count already, I'll write those in rapid-fire style.
Broncos UNDER 7 (+130) - They replaced their short, unathletic QB with another short and unathletic QB. Case Keenum may be decent, but he is not enough to make a difference. More importantly, I think the defense takes another step back. In Vance McDonald's first year they were the worst run defense in the league - despite their talent. The team quit on him mid season last year, but won't wait that long this season.
Lions UNDER 7.5 (-115) - Matt Patricia just coached the New England defense to it's worst year under Bill Belichik and gave up 41 points to the Eagles back up in the Super Bowl. After seeing the performance, the Lions knew that this was the man to lead them to seven wins and another playoffs by the pool.
Raiders UNDER 7.5 (-140) - There is a 0% chance Jon Gruden strolls into the NFL after ten years and puts up a winning season. The roster has 31 of 53 new players and a hole where Khalil Mack used to be. It would be an affront to the entire league if this team hits 8 wins. Who set this line?