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Futures Rewind: Looking back on NFL win totals and making a Super Bowl pick

Colts Patriots

Stephan Savoia / Associated Press

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck warms up in the rain before an AFC divisional NFL playoff football game against the New England Patriots in Foxborough, Mass., Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014.

Talking Points’ initial Futures Rewind column, which graded preseason college football win total bets, revealed somewhat of a mixed bag. Our NFL season win totals, however, were all money bags.

It was a dream NFL season in that regard with a 6-0 record on win totals, all of which were decided before week 17. There were misfires elsewhere, and we’ll get to those too.

This is the second edition of Futures Rewind, which looks back on wagers made before the season as a way of holding the blog accountable and analyzing how preseason perceptions turned out.

Read below for a look back on Talking Points’ preseason betting advice, and then one look ahead on how to attack the playoff futures before the action gets under way later today.

Best win-total call: Jacksonville Jaguars under 9 wins at plus-115

Going over 6.5 wins for the Indianapolis Colts, which finished 10-6, and under 8.5 wins for the San Francisco 49ers, which were 4-12, were also easy cashes, but Jacksonville was the only team to come through by four wins. Jacksonville went 5-11, looking a far cry from the team that was within a quarter of going to last year’s Super Bowl before losing 24-21 to the Patriots — or even the team that beat the Patriots 31-20 in week 2 this year. The Jaguars peaked with that victory over the Patriots, going on to lose eight of their next nine games to lock up the under 9 wins in a 24-21 loss to the Bills in week 12. Jacksonville probably isn’t as helpless as it looked this season considering it’s still stocked with defensive talent and went an unlucky 2-6 in games decided by less than a touchdown. They’re unlikely to finish last in the AFC South for the second straight season next year, and might be worth considering taking over if the price is deflated when it's released in a few months.

Closest win-total call: Cleveland Browns over 6 wins at plus-110

Through the first half of the season, it looked like Cleveland’s ignominious history would repeat. The Browns were bound to fall under their win total for the 10th time in 11 seasons after starting 2-6-1. Then they fired coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley, and things started to flip. First-year quarterback Baker Mayfield — who closed a slight favorite over Giants running back Saquon Barkley to win Rookie of the Year — thrived under interim coach Gregg Williams and promoted offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens, as the Browns went 5-3 down the stretch. They officially went over 6 wins with a 26-18 victory over the Bengals in week 16. Expect the Browns to have their highest win total in more than a decade next year, as they’re among the most talented teams in the NFL from a talent standpoint. It’s essential the organization achieves something it’s struggled with since infamously firing Bill Belichick 20 years ago, and finds the right coach to pair with the promising core. The other two relatively close win-total calls were the over 8.5 wins for the Dallas Cowboys, which went 10-6, and under 7 wins for the New York Giants, which finished 5-12.

It wasn’t all pretty; about that Super Bowl pick….

On the day of the opening NFL game, Talking Points labeled the Atlanta Falcons at 18-to-1 as the best value in the Super Bowl futures. By that night after the game, which the Falcons lost 18-12 to the Eagles, it was already evident that the pick was ill-advised. Offensively, the same problems plagued them as the year before — namely crippling inefficiency in the red zone. Defensively, the Falcons lost arguably their two best players to injury — linebacker Deion Jones and safety Keanu Neal. The rest of the season was predictably topsy-turvy, as Atlanta went 7-9 overall and never really threatened to make the playoffs. Adding insult to injury was Talking Points’ pick for the Falcons’ opponent in Super Bowl 53 — the Pittsburgh Steelers, another team that fell short of the postseason with a relatively mediocre 9-6-1 campaign.

So let’s try the Super Bowl pick again

A number of offshore sports books post odds on every potential Super Bowl matchup. A second showdown between the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams is the third choice, at as high as 9-to-1. That feels wrong. Chiefs vs. Saints is the deserved favorite, at as low as 3-to-1, considering both teams have home-field advantage. But Chiefs vs. Rams feels more likely than Saints vs. Patriots, which is around a 6-to-1 second choice, and more probable than the 9 percent implied after adjusting for the house’s hold percentage.

The Chiefs have been the best team in the AFC all year, and the gap between them and the rest of the contenders — their point differential is 33 points better than any other team in the conference — is larger than any two teams in the NFC. The Rams were always viewed as the most talented team in the NFC if fully healthy, and they’ll be close to that after a bye week in the divisional round. It’s daunting that their path to the Super Bowl would likely feature a trip to New Orleans, but Los Angeles played better than perceived in a 45-35 loss in the Superdome earlier in the year.

Expect them to get revenge against the Saints, before the Chiefs return the favor on Feb. 3 in Atlanta. Kansas City fell 54-51 to Los Angeles in one of the most buzzed-about regular-season games ever despite holding edges in both total yards and yards per play. Talking Points will call for Kansas City to top Los Angeles 37-34 in Super Bowl 53, making the Chiefs at 5-to-1 the blog’s official future selection going into the playoffs.

It can’t go much worse than the preseason pick.

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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