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December 20, 2014

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NFL betting primer: Vegas odds, picks and preview of the AFC East

Bettors again down with the notion of New England being ahead of the rest

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Associated Press

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady walks off the field after the first half of the AFC Championship NFL playoff football game against the Denver Broncos in Denver, Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Joe Mahoney)

Note: For the next three weeks, Talking Points will go division by division to preview every team in the NFL. This is part two. Find part one here.

Nick Bogdanovich, director of trading at William Hill sports books, rattled off the four most popular over/under win bets among AFC teams in a monotone voice.

He showed no emotion while relaying the money on the Oakland Raiders’ over 5 wins, the Kansas City Chiefs’ under 8 wins, the Indianapolis Colts’ under 9.5 wins and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ over 8.5 wins. Then, Bogdanovich came to the fifth and his manner changed to exacerbation.

“They’re betting on New England for whatever reason,” Bogdanovich exclaimed.

The wave of money on the Patriots to go over 11 wins hardly seems surprising. New England has equaled or bettered 11-5 in the regular season in eight of the past 10 years, and 10 times in the 13 years since quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick first teamed up.

The Patriots have also gone 9-4 to the over against their preseason win totals. They’ve won the AFC East in five straight seasons, and taken 10 of the last 11 divisional crowns.

But Bogdanovich can’t shake the feeling that the betting market is a little too bullish on New England in 2014. He thinks it’s overkill seeing the Patriots as an inflated minus-300 (risking $3 to win $1) favorite to win the division and tied for the fourth-most likely Super Bowl champion at 7-to-1.

“It’s just wide receivers, I think are a mess,” Bogdanovich said. “Brady is a year older. The running backs are always by committee. I think the East is a little bit improved. Buffalo and Miami are tough. Eleven wins is a big number to get to.”

None of the Patriots’ divisional rivals — the Bills, Dolphins and Jets — are projected to have a winning record by Las Vegas oddsmakers. Can one of them bust out of the pack and take down New England?

Read below to find a betting preview on all four teams from the AFC East.

    •  Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Ryan Shazier (50) hits Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins (14) in the first quarter of the NFL football preseason game on Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014 in Pittsburgh.

      Buffalo Bills

      2013 Against The Spread Record: 8-8 (6-10 straight-up)

      CG Technologies weeks 1-16 lines: Underdogs in nine games, favorites in six games

      Average spread: Bills plus-2 (biggest favorite: Week 13 minus-3 vs. Browns; biggest underdog: Week 14 plus-11.5 at Broncos)

      Westgate Superbook odds to win the Super Bowl: 60-to-1

      Westgate Superbook odds to win AFC: 25-to-1

      William Hill odds to win the AFC East: 9-to-1

      South Point over/under win total: 6.5 (over minus-170, under plus-150)

      Bogdanovich’s report: “There’s been a little money for the over on the Bills, but we’ll see. They’re interesting. They’ve got a good enough team, but this is a quarterback league, and Manuel has got to be somewhere in the 27-30 range as a starter. He’s got to pick up his play if they’re going to do anything.”

      Keefer’s take: It’s not all on Manuel. While the former Florida State star didn’t have the best rookie season, a shoddy offensive line contributed to his problems. Coach Doug Marrone’s background coaching linemen and the NFL Draft selection of Alabama tackle Cyrus Kouandijo should help correct some of the issues this year. It’s conceivable that the offense takes a leap forward, but equally as likely that the defense moves back. The Bills’ two best defenders from 2013 are gone — safety Jarius Byrd to free agency and linebacker Kiko Alonso to injury. Buffalo flashed its potential at times last year, most notably against the AFC East. The Bills went 4-2 against the spread, 3-3 straight-up against their division rivals, including forcing the Patriots to make a field goal in the final five seconds to beat them in Week 1.

      A bet: Bills vs. Bears over 48.5 points in Week 1 Ten of Buffalo’s 16 games eclipsed the total last season, and it looks like an over team once again this year with an undervalued offense.

    • Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) warms up before the start of an NFL preseason football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, in Tampa, Fla.

      Miami Dolphins

      2013 Against The Spread Record: 9-7 (8-8 straight-up)

      CG Technologies weeks 1-16 lines: Underdogs in eight games, favorites in five games with two pick’ems

      Average spread: Dolphins plus-1 (biggest favorite: Week 4 minus-5 at Raiders; biggest underdog: Week 12 plus-10 at Broncos)

      Westgate Superbook odds to win the Super Bowl: 40-to-1

      Westgate Superbook odds to win AFC: 18-to-1

      William Hill odds to win the AFC East: 6-to-1

      South Point over/under win total: 7.5 (over minus-115, under minus-105)

      Bogdanovich’s report: “I think (Ryan) Tannehill is a pretty good quarterback. They had all those issues with the line last year and with injuries so I think their line will be more stable. I think they’ve got some playmakers. I give Miami a live shot to sneak out of the East.”

      Keefer’s take: Nevada Gaming Board regulations preclude local sports books from taking action on prop bets like "who will be the first coach fired?" but they can be found offshore. And Miami coach Joe Philbin is worth a look at 7-to-1, the third lowest odds. A rough start may loom for the Dolphins, which are only favored once in their first six games. Tannehill has exceeded my expectations in his first two seasons, especially after getting sacked an NFL-high 93 teams behind a porous offensive line. But year three is often a make or break proposition, and too early to jump off a strong opinion on a quarterback as evidenced by recent history. See: Freeman, Josh.

      A bet: Dolphins under 7.5 wins Miami has outperformed its ceiling in each of the last two years. This is where it comes to an end.

    • Carolina Panthers' Luke Kuechly (59) blocks New England Patriots' Rob Gronkowski (87) on the final play during the second half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, Nov. 18, 2013. The Panthers won 24-20.

      New England Patriots

      2013 Against The Spread Record: 9-9 (13-5 straight-up)

      CG Technologies weeks 1-16 lines: Favorites in 12 games, underdogs in three games

      Average spread: Patriots minus-3.5 (biggest favorite: Week 3 minus-13 vs. Raiders; biggest underdog: Week 13 plus-3.5 at Packers)

      Westgate Superbook odds to win the Super Bowl: 8-to-1

      Westgate Superbook odds to win AFC: 7-to-2

      William Hill odds to win the AFC East: 1-to-3

      South Point over/under win total: 11 (over minus-120, under Even)

      Bogdanovich’s report: “They’ve run roughshod over that division for so long, but my gut tells me it’s time for a change. My gut tells me they’ll come back to the middle a little bit. They probably still have a chance to win it, but 11 is an awfully big number to come over.”

      Keefer’s take: Every year, murmurs surface about the betting market overvaluing the Patriots. And every year, the Patriots prove them wrong. New England hasn’t posted a losing record against the spread since the season that bridged its first and second Super Bowls — though it’s had several .500 finishes — in 2003. The Patriots’ overall mark versus the number in the last decade is an NFL-best 91-64-5. The concerns seem founded for a moment late last year when they sat at 6-8 against the spread, but the Patriots characteristically reeled off three easy covers before losing to the Broncos in the AFC Championship Game. During the run, Tom Brady appeared to develop a rapport with his young receivers corps, the bulk of which is back in 2014.

      A bet: Patriots to win the AFC East at minus-300 I tend to agree with Bogdanovich that 11 wins is too high of an asking price to bet the "over." But I disagree that a change is coming. This line only implies a 68 percent chance of New England winning the division again. The true probability is higher.

    • New York Jets running back Chris Johnson (21) walks toward practice during the Jets training camp Thursday, July 24, 2014, in Cortland.

      New York Jets

      2013 Against The Spread Record: 9-6-1 (8-8 straight-up)

      CG Technologies weeks 1-16 lines: Underdogs in nine games, favorites in six

      Average spread: Jets plus-2.5 (biggest favorite: Week 1 minus-4.5 vs. Raiders; biggest underdog: Week 2 plus-8.5 at Packers)

      Westgate Superbook odds to win the Super Bowl: 50-to-1

      Westgate Superbook odds to win AFC: 23-to-1

      William Hill odds to win the AFC East: 8-to-1

      South Point over/under win total: 7 (over minus-155, under plus-135)

      Bogdanovich’s report: “The Jets will be physical. They’re improved too and I think they’ll play good defense but I’m not sold on Geno Smith at quarterback.”

      Keefer’s take: New York’s free-agency plan to fix a terribly flawed offense seemed to be signing a bunch of random, established veterans — quarterback Michael Vick, running back Chris Johnson, wide receiver Eric Decker — and hoping they stuck. That hardly ever works. The Jets may have one of the better defensive fronts in football — Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson will keep them in games — but the secondary is a major issue. Expect cornerbacks Dee Milliner and Dimitri Patterson to be easy targets against a schedule that Football Outsiders’ projects as the 10th toughest in the league this season. Without last year’s luck of a 5-1 record in one-score games, New York will regress.

      A bet: Vikings minus-2 vs. Jets in Week 14 This is admittedly a random selection, but it’s a team I really like against one I’m not so high on. The Vikings should be headed in a different direction than the Jets toward the end of the year.

    Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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