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NFL Division + Super Bowl Forecasts

   by ASA - 08/27/2008

AFC East Champs - Play on New England (-550)
The Patriots had a disappointing conclusion to their 2007 season, falling to the Giants in the Su¬per Bowl. Don’t expect too much of a hangover this year as New England brings back largely the same roster. The Patriots dominated the AFC East last year and will do the same this year.

New England dominated division games last year, going a perfect 6-0 and winning by an average of 25.5 points per game. Each win came by double figures with the Patriots averaging a ridiculous 39.8 points per game.

The Patriot offense was so dominant last year that the defense rarely got the credit it deserved. It was fourth in the NFL in both total and scoring defense last season and should again be among the league leaders. We don’t believe New England will be de¬throned this year but, with these odds, also don’t recommend a bet.

AFC South Champs - Play on Jacksonville (+175)
The Colts have owned the AFC South for most of Peyton Manning’s career. That domination comes to a close this year with Jacksonville replacing In¬dianapolis atop the division. In arguably the best division in football, the Jaguars will come out with the best record.

The one issue holding back the Jaguars over the years was inconsistency at quarterback. That prob¬lem was solved last year when David Garrard was named the starter. Garrard has a Pro Bowl-caliber season in leading Jacksonville into the second round of the playoffs.

Jacksonville has been in the upper half in the NFL in defense for some time now. The drafting of speedy defensive ends Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves should give the Jags the outside pass rush they lacked last year. Take Jacksonville to win the AFC South.

AFC North Champs - Play on Pittsburgh (+110)
Pittsburgh has pretty much dominated the AFC North since Ben Roethlisberger was drafted in 2004. With both Cincinnati and Baltimore taking steps back in recent years and Cleveland not quite ready for primetime, we expect the Steelers to main¬tain their stranglehold on the division.

The Steelers finished the 2007 campaign ninth in the NFL with 24.6 points per game. They should be even better this year. Pittsburgh used its first two draft picks on skill position players Rashard Men¬denhall and Limas Sweed, both of whom should contribute. Add them to an already potent offense and you have the makings of an explosive unit.

Year-in and year-out Pittsburgh is among the NFL’s best defensive teams and there is no reason to think otherwise this year. They finished first in the NFL in yards allowed and second in points allowed last year. Expect more of the same this year.

AFC West Champs - Play on San Diego (-450)
The AFC West was arguably the NFL’s worst divi¬sion last year with only San Diego proving capable of contending for the playoffs. Expect more the same this season. Oakland and Kansas City are entrenched in rebuilding mode and Denver just doesn’t have the defense to contend.

The Chargers boast one of the most talented ros¬ters, from top to bottom, in the league. They have talent on offense, on defense and on special teams. San Diego’s overall offensive numbers weren’t that spectacular but it still finished fifth in the NFL in scoring and tallied 23 or more points in 10 of its last 12 games.

The San Diego defense was similar as its overall statistics weren’t that great. But it epitomized the bend-but-don’t-break philosophy, allowing just 17.8 points per game. The Chargers are head and shoulders above the rest of the division.

NFC East Champs - Play on Dallas (+125)
Back-to-back playoff disappointments in Dallas won’t deter us from taking the Cowboys to win the very tough NFC East. And while the Giants beat Dallas en route to the Super Bowl last year, we still feel the Cowboys are the cream of the crop.

The Dallas offense was second in the NFL with 28.4 points per game last year and should remain among the league leaders. Terrell Owens and Mar¬ion Barber are both happy with their new contracts and Arkansas-product Felix Jones was added to give Tony Romo even more weapons.

The lone issue on the Cowboys defense was in the secondary. That was addressed with the acquisition of cornerbacks Pacman Jones and Mike Jenkins. These two should combine with Terence Newman to give Dallas a potent defensive backfield. The Cowboys won this division by three games last year and could do the same this year.

NFC South Champs - Play on New Orleans (+130)
The Saints took a step back from their breakout 2006 season last year but will return to their previ¬ous form this year. The NFC South was mediocre last year with Tampa Bay’s 9-7 record winning the division. The Bucs should take a step back this year while New Orleans takes a step forward.

Easily forgotten was the injury to running back Deuce McAllister last year. McAllister played in just three games last year and that really hurt the Saints. Reggie Bush is much more effective as a situational back while McAllister pounds on the defense with 20 carries per game.

The New Orleans defense was atrocious last year but it should be better this season. Numerous ac¬quisitions along the defensive line will provide an improved pass rush, taking pressure off a so-so sec¬ondary. With the offense enjoying more success, that’s all the Saints need to win the division.

NFC North Champs - Play on Minnesota (+165)
Every team in this division has questions at the quarterback position. But only one team has the running game to take the pressure off the signal-caller: Minnesota. Adrian Peterson joins veteran Chester Taylor to form the best backfield in foot¬ball, which will be the edge they need to win the division title this year.

The ability to run the ball on offense and stop the run on defense are often two of best determiners of a quality football team. Minnesota did both better than any other team last year. The Minnesota stop unit allowed just 73.8 rushing yards per game last season.

Reports out of Minnesota are that quarterback Tarvaris Jackson has made big strides this offsea¬son. Jackson’s confidence was already building last year so expect that confidence to be the difference in giving the Vikings the NFC North crown.

NFC West Champs - Play on Arizona (+275)
The Cardinals have been a breakthrough candi¬date for the last three years but have failed to meet those expectations. We expect this to be the year that they finally exceed expectations and wrestle the NFC West crown away from Seattle.
Arizona was a very good home team last year, go¬ing 6-2 and picking up wins over very good Seattle, Pittsburgh and Cleveland teams. As is the case with most young teams, the Cardinals struggled on the road with a 2-6 record. That will improve with more experience and an improved defense.

The Cardinals drafted defensive players Domi¬nique Rodgers-Cromartie and Calais Campbell and signed free agents Clark Haggans and Travis LaBoy to bolster the defense. A full season from quarter¬back Matt Leinart and an improving running game centered on Edgerrin James should improve the of¬fense. Take Arizona to win the NFC West.

To win the Super Bowl - Play on Dallas (+350)
The last two years the Cowboys have been one postseason collapse away from a possible Super Bowl appearance. After going 9-7 in 2006 and fall¬ing in the playoffs following Tony Romo’s fumbled extra-point hold, the Cowboys bounced back and finished 2007 with an NFC-best 13-3 record. The home-field advantage they earned didn’t last for long. The Giants ended the Cowboys’ dream sea¬son, upsetting Dallas 21-17 in the second round.

With the NFC still being inferior to the AFC, it is no doubt that the Cowboys will be among the best again in 2008. The AFC has a bunch of teams that could contend for a Super Bowl bid with the Patriots, Chargers, Colts, Jaguars, Steelers and even the Titans and Browns all capable of earning the AFC’s Super Bowl bid. The Cowboys are head and shoulders above the rest of the field in the NFC, with only the Giants and Seahawks as likely teams to give the Cowboys a run for their money. Look for Dallas to get past its previous postseason jinxes and advance to the Super Bowl.

The Cowboys, who sent 13 players to the Pro Bowl last season, had no key departures and will only benefit from another year of experience together. They also added talented, yet often injured line¬backer Zach Thomas, to their corps, and troubled defensive back/returner Pacman Jones. If he gets re-instated and keeps his head on straight, Jones adds another dimension to an already scary defense. Dallas cut running back Julius Jones but quickly re¬placed him with a very talented rookie out of Ar¬kansas, Felix Jones.

Combine all of that with a quarterback who has gained the respect of all of his teammates, a bowling ball running back who never seems to go down on first contact, a wide receiver who always silences his critics and a defense that has no holes, and you’ve got yourself a serious juggernaut.

Look for the experience and talent to come up big and for the Cowboys to come out on top of a weak NFC. Watch them show up for Super Bowl XLIII on Feb. 1.

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