Each week this season, Chris Sprow will consult with Vegas experts, such as Jay Kornegay of the Vegas Hilton, use projection systems, such as Accuscore, and dive into the numbers to point out which teams the human voters are over and underselling.
The 2008 Detroit Lions started the season with a win over the reigning Super Bowl champion New York Giants. They followed it up with an impressive stroll to victory over the hapless Cincinnati Bengals, then a dominating defensive performance over the Cleveland Browns, before another solid defensive showing against the Buffalo Bills. After four games, they hadn't suffered a loss, and more impressively, were giving up an average of just eight points per game. Things looked good. But bless the Lions for providing us a lesson in temperance. They didn't plan a parade route, design rings or sign Eminem for an ad deal featuring the stirring line, "Super Bowls: Imported from Detroit." After all, the regular season hadn't started yet.
When it did, Detroit took its good vibes to Atlanta, in a game in which the Lions maintained better Super Bowl odds than the Falcons, and lost 34-21. They lost the next 15 games as well, going 0-for-the-season and proving once again that preseason wins should be celebrated like high school engagements -- without champagne, for starters.
Detroit is again undefeated going into Week 1, and the Power Rankings committee is impressed. But other indicators, as opposed to mere cautionary tales, say we should hold on. So with the games about to matter, here's a look at teams the numbers say are overrated and underrated to start 2011. Go ahead -- lose yourself.
Power Rankings slot: No. 10
Win projection average: 10.8
Super Bowl odds: 10-1
Here's an interesting stat: Last year, San Diego kicker Nate Kaeding induced touchbacks on just four of 72 kickoffs. Kaeding is deadly accurate on field goals, but that was the one element of San Diego's special teams last season that couldn't be misidentified as the 11th plague. In his first preseason game taking kickoffs last week, Kaeding had two touchbacks, and none of his five kickoffs resulted in field position for the opposition beyond the 20-yard line. This is a team that had the best offense and defense in the NFL last year in terms of yards gained and allowed. The computer likes them, the sharps see them as a better Super Bowl pick than the Saints or Falcons, and nearly equal to that of the Eagles. And they are a borderline lock (at this stage) to win the West. Minus the perpetual special teams fiascos, they are far better than the 10th-best team in the NFL.
More fitting rank: No. 4