3 Teams That Will Underperform Expectations

Posted: 08/30/2017 by levcohen in Football

I wrote about three teams that I think will outperform their Bovada over/under win totals. Here are three that I’m less optimistic about.

Dallas Cowboys, Under 9.5: I remember how good the Cowboys were last year. I remember that they went 13-3 and cruised to the NFC East Championship. I remember how close they were to beating the Packers and being one home win away from the Super Bowl. I remember all of that. But I can’t help but think that the bottom fell out for the Cowboys this offseason. Ezekiel Elliott was suspended. Randy Gregory was suspended again. David Irving and Damontre Moore are suspended. Nolan Carroll and Damien Wilson may still be suspended. This was a team that god incredibly lucky injury-wise last season, but this year starting linebacker Anthony Hitchens is already out indefinitely with a fractured tibia. The defense, which finished 18th in DVOA last year, isn’t likely to be any better this season. The team’s biggest addition was first rounder Taco Charlton, who has big upside but is a raw pass rusher and is unlikely to make much of a difference this season. The pass defense has long been suspect, and with Orlando Scandrick and Anthony Brown again starting on the outside, I don’t expect that to really change. Whether the defense is mediocre or terrible hinges on two things: the pass rush and Sean Lee. Can Charlton provide an instant impact? Can the edge rushers put pressure on opposing QBs even after all the suspensions? And can Lee, who’s a total beast when he’s on the field, stay healthy? The ex-Penn State linebacker has played in 29 games the last two seasons but started 17 in the previous three years. He’s now 31 and has been a bit banged up in preseason, so it remains to be seen if he can have another relatively injury-free season. For a defense that’s already lost a lot of talent, a Lee injury would be devastating.

There’s going to be a huge onus on the offense to do its part in shootouts. Last year, when Elliott was running roughshod and when the offensive line was remarkably healthy, there wasn’t much pressure on Dak Prescott. Dak had a great rookie year, but there weren’t many times that he had to throw the team back into the game; the fact is that the Cowboys generally played from ahead. Odds are that the o-line won’t be quite as healthy this year and that Prescott will have to do more, especially while Zeke is out. And I’m not sure he’s good enough as a pocket passer to keep his team in games that are in danger of getting out of hand. The fact that the Cowboys have to play the tough AFC West and a first place schedule (added games @ Atlanta and vs. Green Bay) doesn’t help, either. That’s one of the toughest schedules in football, especially since the NFC East is likely to be competitive from top to bottom. Dak still has weapons and he’ll still be fine, but he’ll have to be a lot better than fine to get the Cowboys to 10 wins. More likely, I think, is an up and down season that finishes with between seven and nine wins.

Miami Dolphins, Under 7.5: The Dolphins are another team that easily cleared their projected win mark last season. They went 10-6 last year, and they closed the season on a 9-2 tear. But they took advantage of one of the softest schedules in the league, as the Steelers were the only team they beat that had a winning record (they were then destroyed in the playoffs by the Steelers). And even their wins against lackluster competition weren’t that convincing. It took overtime for them to beat the Browns. Wins over Buffalo came by a combined six points. They beat the Jets by four, the Rams by four, the Cardinals by three, and the Niners (on a stop on fourth and goal) and Rams by seven. That’s eight one-score wins out of 10. The Dolphins had a -17 point differential, and the history of teams outperforming their talent level one year and then doing it again the next is not very expansive.

I haven’t yet mentioned the most obvious reason to be bearish on the Dolphins: they lost their quarterback. Ryan Tannehill first hurt his knee late last season. But he opted against surgery last offseason, instead deciding to keep playing with an unstable knee and a huge brace. Surprisingly enough, that plan did not work. Early this preseason, Tannehill re-injured his knee. Predictably, this time he opted for surgery, ending his season before it started. Matt Moore’s a good backup but not a longterm starter, so the Dolphins brought in Jay Cutler, who had retired to broadcasting but who wanted to play for ex-OC Adam Gase again. Cutler is Cutler: he has a strong arm and can make some nice plays downfield, but he’s going to hurt you with his turnovers and inconsistency. The Dolphins will try to take pressure off of him by running early and often with Jay Ajayi, but Ajayi has already been concussed this preseason, has knee injuries in his past, and is a clear risk to go down again, especially if he’s overworked. To make matters worse, there have been rumors that the Dolphins have put leading receiver Jarvis Landry, who’ll be a free agent after this year, on the trading block. Not what you want to hear heading into the season. I expect a breakout from DeVante Parker, Cutler’s most physically imposing wideout, but the Dolphins are going to need all the weapons they can get.

The injury bug wasn’t limited to the quarterback position. Guard Ted Larsen tore his biceps, starting middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan tore his ACL, and depth corner Tony Lippett tore his Achilles’. The loss of McMillan obviously hurts the most. The rookie was outstanding throughout his first training camp and was set to provide Miami with some badly needed help at MLB. Now, Rey Maualuga, who has been on the team for less than two weeks, is the starting middle linebacker. He’s 30, and fellow starting linebacker Lawrence Timmons is 31. The rest of the defense looks better, with Ndamukong Suh and the ageless Cameron Wake up front and emerging star corner Xavien Howard on one side. But I’m not fond of starting corner Byron Maxwell, and safety Reshad Jones can only cover up so many mistakes. And slot corner Bobby McCain has gotten burned time and time again in his NFL career. The defense will be solid, but it’s not going to be good enough to carry this team to a bunch of wins.

The schedule this year is a whole lot tougher than it was last season. It starts out relatively tame, but here’s Week 9 on: vs Oakland, @ Carolina, BYE, @ New England, Denver, New England, @ Buffalo, @ Kansas City, Buffalo. That’s probably 3-5 or 2-6 right there. If it’s 3-5, the Dolphins will have to go at least 5-3 in their first eight to hit the over. And that includes games at Baltimore, Atlanta, and the Chargers. I just don’t see it happening.

Indianapolis Colts, Under 8: I would never put the Colts on here if Andrew Luck were healthy. I still trust Luck and think he’s a very good quarterback who can cover up some pretty clear flaws that this roster has. But Luck hasn’t thrown a pass to an NFL receiver since January. He’s ramping up his throwing now, but he still hasn’t practiced since shoulder surgery. It seems highly unlikely that he’ll be back for the start of the season now and more likely that he’ll miss three or four games. The rest of the roster isn’t good enough to keep the team afloat without Luck. Remember, Luck was great last year and the Colts still went 8-8. Now, the rest of the division is slowly getting better (yes, even the Jaguars, who have a very good defense). And the Colts have the same problems they’ve had for year: makeshift offensive line that can’t protect Luck, shallow defense, really bad defense. To make matters worse, top corner Vontae Davis will miss at least the first week with a groin injury, and center Ryan Kelly is out for six to eight weeks with a broken foot. There’s really nowhere to hide for the rest of this team now. As you might expect, the skill position players are much worse without Luck than they are with him. That’s most evident with T.Y. Hilton, who led the league in yardage last season but is no better than an average receiver without Luck. It’s hard to imagine many rosters surviving the loss of a star quarterback; it’s impossible for this one to do it. For the Colts to win more than eight games, Luck’s going to have to be healthy for the vast majority of the season. Given the number of hits he takes, I just don’t think that’s particularly likely. It’s that simple.

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