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NFC West Staff Changes

NFC WEST 2018 COACHING STAFF CHANGES

ARIZONA CARDINALS

Over/Under Win Total: 5½

Odds to win Super Bowl: 100/1

Staff Change: Bruce Arians retired and Arizona hired Steve Wilks as the new head coach. Wilks has been an assistant with Carolina since 2012 and a defensive assistant in the NFL since 2006. Al Holcomb comes with Wilks as a Carolina assistant and is the new DC. Former Chargers HC Mike McCoy is the OC after being let go midseason in that role with Denver last season and there is an entirely new set of QBs in Arizona.

Probable QB Rotation:

Sam Bradford

Josh Rosen (rookie – via UCLA)

Mike Glennon

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LOS ANGELES RAMS

Over/Under Win Total: 10

Odds to win Super Bowl: 12/1

Staff Change: After leading the NFL in points the Rams have to replace OC Matt LaFleur who signed with Tennessee. With big shoes to fill OL coach Aaron Kromer and TE coach Shane Waldron are sharing the OC duties in 2018. Wade Phillips is back as DC for a second season.

Probable QB Rotation:

Jared Goff

Sean Mannion

Luis Perez (rookie–via Texas A&M-Commerce)

Brandon Allen

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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Over/Under Win Total: 8½

Odds to win Super Bowl: 20/1

Staff Change: Keena Turner and DeMeco Ryans were given promotions on the staff but DC Robert Saleh is back for a second season while head coach Kyle Shanahan did not hire an offensive coordinator at his hiring and will remain handling those duties in his second season.

Probable QB Rotation:

Jimmy Garoppolo

C.J. Beathard

Jack Heneghan (rookie – via Dartmouth)

Nick Mullens

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Over/Under Win Total: 8

Odds to win Super Bowl: 50/1

Staff Change: Kris Richard was let go as DC for the Seahawks despite great numbers and former star linebacker Ken Norton, Jr. will be in that role in 2018 after stops in Oakland and San Francisco. Darrell Bevell was also let go after seven years as OC with Brian Schottenhiemer now with his seventh franchise in two decades though not as a NFL OC since 2014 with the Rams.

Probable QB Rotation:

Russell Wilson

Austin Davis

Alex McGough (rookie – via FIU)

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NFC South Staff Changes

NFC SOUTH 2018 COACHING STAFF CHANGES

ATLANTA FALCONS

Over/Under Win Total: 9½

Odds to win Super Bowl: 16/1

Staff Change: After the Super Bowl season in 2016 the Falcons had a big staff shake-up with mew coordinators on both sides of the ball. The key staff remains for 2018 for far more stability than most with Steve Sarkisian in the OC role and Marquand Manuel as the DC.

Probable QB Rotation:

Matt Ryan

Matt Schaub

Kurt Benkert (rookie – via Virginia)

Garrett Grayson

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CAROLINA PANTHERS

Over/Under Win Total: 9

Odds to win Super Bowl: 33/1

Staff Change: The Panthers lost DC Steve Wilks to Arizona and Eric Washington will be the team’s third DC in as many years. A first-time DC he has been with the team since 2011 as the defensive line coach. Well traveled 66-year-old Norv Turner is the team’s new OC in that capacity with his sixth different team after firing Mike Shula.

Probable QB Rotation:

Cam Newton

Garrett Gilbert

Kyle Allen (rookie – via Houston)

Taylor Heinicke

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NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Over/Under Win Total: 9½

Odds to win Super Bowl: 16/1

Staff Change: The Saints made several changes ahead of last season but got positive results sticking with Dennis Allen as DC now entering his fourth season in that role.  Pete Carmichael is has been the OC in New Orleans since 2009.

Probable QB Rotation:

Drew Brees

Tom Savage

J.T. Barrett (rookie – via Ohio State)

Taysom Hill

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Over/Under Win Total: 6½

Odds to win Super Bowl: 66/1

Staff Change: Defensive line coach Jay Hayes was let go last winter for one of few changes for Tampa Bay despite a disappointing 2017 season. Brentson Buckner is his replacement while former Atlanta HC Mike Smith is still the DC. Todd Monken will be exclusively the OC in 2018 after a shared title last season as also the WR coach.

Probable QB Rotation:

Jameis Winston

Ryan Fitzpatrick

Ryan Griffin

Austin Allen (rookie – via Arkansas)

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NFC North Staff Changes

NFC NORTH 2018 COACHING STAFF CHANGES

CHICAGO BEARS

Over/Under Win Total: 6½

Odds to win Super Bowl: 100/1

Staff Change: The Bears hired former Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy to take over as head coach. Former Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich is Nagy’s OC with no NFL experience on his resume. Vic Fangio will stay on as DC through the coaching change, with the team in that role since 2015 and serving as DC with four other NFL teams in his career.

Probable QB Rotation:

Mitch Trubisky

Chase Daniel

Tyler Bray

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DETROIT LIONS

Over/Under Win Total: 7½

Odds to win Super Bowl: 40/1

Staff Change: The Lions fired Jim Caldwell despite back-to-back 9-7 seasons and a 36-28 record in four seasons while responsible for three of the team’s four winning seasons in the past 17 years. Matt Patricia is the new head coach after 14 years as an assistant at New England the past six as DC. Jim Bob Cooter was retained as the OC while Paul Pasqualoni was hired as DC after a well traveled run in the college and NFL ranks with Patricia an assistant when Pasqualoni was the head coach as Syracuse.

Probable QB Rotation:

Matthew Stafford

Matt Cassel

Jake Rudock

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GREEN BAY PACKERS

Over/Under Win Total: 10

Odds to win Super Bowl: 14/1

Staff Change: Mike Pettine is returning to the NFL as the new Green Bay defensive coordinator following a long and mixed run under Dom Capers. Pettine was a successful DC for the Jets and Bills before a failed HC stop in Cleveland in 2014-15. Former Packers OC Joe Philbin is back with the team after being HC in Miami and more recently an assistant in Indianapolis. Edgar Bennett (OC) and Alex Van Pelt (QBs) were fired after last season.

Probable QB Rotation:

Aaron Rodgers

DeShone Kizer

Brett Hundley

Tim Boyle

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

Over/Under Win Total: 10

Odds to win Super Bowl: 10/1

Staff Change: Pat Shurmur leaves as OC to take over in New York while John DeFilippo takes over as OC after being QB coach in Philadelphia. He has an entirely new QB staff to work with.

Probable QB Rotation:

Kirk Cousins

Trevor Siemian

Kyle Sloter

Peter Pujals

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NFC East Staff Changes

NFC EAST 2018 COACHING STAFF CHANGES

DALLAS COWBOYS

Over/Under Win Total: 8½

Odds to win Super Bowl: 25/1

Staff Change: The Cowboys have one of the longest tenured coaching staffs with both coordinators back under Jason Garrett. Rod Marinelli has been DC since 2014 and Scott Linehan OC since 2014 while Garrett has been the HC since 2011 and with the team since 2007.

Probable QB Rotation:

Dak Prescott

Cooper Rush

Mike White (rookie–via Western Kentucky)

Dalton Strum (rookie – via UTSA)

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NEW YORK GIANTS

Over/Under Win Total: 7

Odds to win Super Bowl: 25/1

Staff Change: After going 11-5 in 2016 the wheels fell off last season and Ben McAdoo was fired. Pat Shurmur takes over after leading Minnesota’s offense last season and with two years with Cleveland as a HC under his belt. Long-time NFL assistant Mike Shula will be the OC serving in that role in Carolina the past five seasons. James Bettcher served as the DC with Arizona the past three years and will take over that role in New York.

Probable QB Rotation:

Eli Manning

Davis Webb

Kyle Lauletta (rookie – via Richmond)

Alex Tanney

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PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

Over/Under Win Total: 10½

Odds to win Super Bowl: 10/1

Staff Change: Frank Reich took over as the head coach in Indianapolis and wide receivers coach Mike Groh is the new offensive coordinator for the Eagles, his first time in that role though Doug Pederson takes on a bigger role leading the offense than most head coaches.

Probable QB Rotation:

Carson Wentz

Nick Foles

Nate Sudfield

Joe Callahan

WASHINGTON REDSKINS

Over/Under Win Total: 7

Odds to win Super Bowl: 100/1

Staff Change: Matt Cavanaugh (OC) and Greg Manusky (DC) are back for second seasons in those roles under Jay Gruden. A few other minor staff changes were made in Washington for a potentially critical season for Gruden’s fifth year while the offense replaces Kirk Cousins at QB.

Probable QB Rotation:

Alex Smith

Colt McCoy

Kevin Hogan

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AFC West Staff Changes

AFC WEST 2018 STAFF CHANGES

DENVER BRONCOS

Over/Under Win Total: 7

Odds to win Super Bowl: 33/1

Staff Change: Six assistants were fired after the 2017 season but both coordinators remain for the Broncos with Joe Woods OC and Bill Musgrave DC under Vance Joseph. Woods took over for Mike McCoy last November.

Probable QB Rotation:

Case Keenum

Paxton Lynch

Chad Kelly

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KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

Over/Under Win Total: 8½

Odds to win Super Bowl: 25/1

Staff Change: Matt Nagy and Brad Childress depart the offensive staff and long-time assistant Eric Bieniemy will be the new OC for the Chiefs, last serving in that role at Colorado in 2011-12 and tasked with leading the offense under 2017 draft pick Patrick Mahomes III.

Probable QB Rotation:

Patrick Mahomes III

Chad Henne

Matt McGloin

Chase Litton (rookie – via Marshall)

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LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

Over/Under Win Total: 9½

Odds to win Super Bowl: 20/1

Staff Change: The Chargers retain both former head coaches Ken Whisenhunt and Gus Bradley as the 2018 coordinators under head coach Anthony Lynn. This team has perhaps the least staff turnover in the league following last season’s 9-7 debut for Lynn and the move to the greater Los Angeles area.

Probable QB Rotation:

Philip Rivers

Cardale Jones

Geno Smith

OAKLAND RAIDERS

Over/Under Win Total: 8

Odds to win Super Bowl: 33/1

Staff Change: Jack Del Rio was fired after a disappointing second season with the Raiders with former Raiders and Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden taking over. Paul Guenther is the defensive coordinator after serving in that capacity for the Bengals the past four seasons. Well traveled assistant Greg Olson will be the OC, previously in role in Oakland in 2013-14 as well as in stops in Detroit, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, and Jacksonville before working with the Rams as QB coach last season and bringing the arrival of Jared Goff. The Raiders are one of the few teams with the same projected QB rotation as last season.

Probable QB Rotation:

Derek Carr

Connor Cook

E.J. Manuel

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AFC South Staff Changes

AFC SOUTH 2018 COACHING CHANGES

HOUSTON TEXANS

Over/Under Win Total: 8½

Odds to win Super Bowl: 20/1

Staff Change: Mike Vrabel left to take over the Titans while Romeo Crennel slides back to the defensive coordinator role where he served with the Texans from 2014-16 before being assistant head coach last season, a role he still also holds.

Probable QB Rotation:

Deshaun Watson

Brandon Weeden

Joe Webb

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INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

Over/Under Win Total: 6½

Odds to win Super Bowl: 66/1

Staff Change: The Colts overhauled the staff with former Eagles OC Frank Reich the new head coach. Reich didn’t call plays in Philadelphia which he intends to do in Indianapolis but he has been an assistant in around the league starting in Indianapolis in 2008. Nick Sirianni is a first time OC after being an assistant with the Chiefs and Chargers the last decade. Matt Eberflus is the DC as a Dallas assistant in recent years.

Probable QB Rotation:

Andrew Luck

Jacoby Brissett

Brad Kaaya

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JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

Over/Under Win Total: 9

Odds to win Super Bowl: 20/1

Staff Change: Doug Marrone was able to keep his staff mostly in tact with neither coordinator departing despite a great rise for the team last season. As one of the few teams without a new coordinator the Jaguars should have optimism for 2018.

Probable QB Rotation:

Blake Bortles

Cody Kessler

Tanner Lee (rookie – via Nebraska)

TENNESSEE TITANS

Over/Under Win Total: 8

Odds to win Super Bowl: 40/1

Staff Change: The Titans have won nine games the past two seasons including a playoff win last season but a new staff takes over with Mike Vrabel the new head coach after just one season as DC in Houston and only four seasons as a NFL assistant. Matt LaFleur led the Rams to the most point in the NFL last season in his only season as OC and he takes over that role with the Titans. Former Patriots and Ravens DC Dean Pees will lead the Tennessee defense after a very brief retirement. Pees will be 69 when the season starts.

Probable QB Rotation:

Marcus Mariota

Blaine Gabbert

Luke Falk (rookie – via Washington State)

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AFC North Staff Changes

AFC NORTH 2018 STAFF CHANGES

BALTIMORE RAVENS

Over/Under Win Total: 8

Odds to win Super Bowl: 40/1

Staff Change: Dean Pees resigned as defensive coordinator and is taking over that role in Tennessee. Don Martindale who has been the linebackers coach with the team since 2010 was promoted to the DC role for 2018. Martindale was previously the DC for the Patriots from 2006-2009.

Probable QB Rotation:

Joe Flacco

Lamar Jackson (rookie – via Louisville)

Ryan Mallett

Robert Griffin III

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CINCINNATI BENGALS

Over/Under Win Total: 6½

Odds to win Super Bowl: 100/1

Staff Change: Most of last season it was expected that Bengals would have a new head coach this season but a change of course has Marvin Lewis still leading the team. A change at defensive coordinator did occur with Paul Guenther out after four seasons (and now in that role with Oakland) while Teryl Austin takes over that role after serving as the DC for the Lions the past four seasons. Bill Lazor took over the OC position last September and was retained.

Probable QB Rotation:

Andy Dalton

Matt Barkley

Jeff Driskel

Logan Woodside (rookie – via Toledo)

CLEVELAND BROWNS

Over/Under Win Total: 5½

Odds to win Super Bowl: 66/1

Staff Change: Former Chiefs head coach and Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley jumps within the division to lead the Browns as the new OC for 2018 after six seasons in Pittsburgh. Head coach Hue Jackson has been the offensive play caller the past two seasons with no one on the staff with an OC title. Haley will now take over the play calling role with former Bengals OC Ken Zampese now the QB coach in Cleveland.

Probable QB Rotation:

Tyrod Taylor

Baker Mayfield (rookie – via Oklahoma)

Drew Stanton

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PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Over/Under Win Total: 10½

Odds to win Super Bowl: 12/1

Staff Change: Randy Fichtner has been a Pittsburgh assistant since 2007 and he will maintain his QB coach role while being the new OC in 2018.

Probable QB Rotation:

Ben Roethlisberger

Landry Jones

Mason Rudolph (rookie –via Oklahoma St)

Joshua Dobbs

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AFC East Staff Changes

AFC EAST 2018 COACHING STAFF CHANGES

BUFFALO BILLS

Over/Under Win Total: 6

Odds to win Super Bowl: 100/1

Staff Change: Sean McDermott had a successful first season in Buffalo with nine wins and a playoff berth. Expectations for year two are identical to last summer however. There are big changes on the roster and on the staff with the big move of Brain Daboll replacing Rick Dennison as offensive coordinator. Daboll was Alabama’s OC last season and has been an assistant with five NFL teams most notably with New England.

Probable QB Rotation:

A. J. McCarron

Josh Allen (rookie – via Wyoming)

Nathan Peterman

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MIAMI DOLPHINS

Over/Under Win Total: 6½

Odds to win Super Bowl: 100/1

Staff Change: Dowell Loggains in the new offensive coordinator for the Dolphins replacing Clyde Christensen who will remain with the team in a player development role. Loggains has been the OC with the Bears the past two seasons.

Probable QB Rotation:

Ryan Tannehill

Brock Osweiler

Bryce Petty

David Fales

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NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Over/Under Win Total: 11

Odds to win Super Bowl: 7/1

Staff Change: Josh McDaniels was expected to leave the Patriots but will remain leading the offense. Matt Patricia is now the head coach in Detroit and Bill Belichick did not officially hire a new defensive coordinator. Linebackers coach Brian Flores who has been an assistant with the team since 2004 will get added responsibility with play calling duties but has not been given the DC label.

Probable QB Rotation:

Tom Brady

Brian Hoyer

Danny Etling (rookie – via LSU)

NEW YORK JETS

Over/Under Win Total: 6

Odds to win Super Bowl: 150/1

Staff Change: John Morton was fired after one season as the offensive coordinator. Last season’s QB coach Jeremy Bates was promoted to the OC role for 2018, the sixth person in that position over the past eight seasons for the Jets. Bates was the OC for the Seahawks in 2010. Heading into his fourth season only four of the original 18 assistants under Todd Bowles remain with the team.

Probable QB Rotation:

Josh McCown

Sam Darnold (rookie – via USC)

Teddy Bridgewater

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Pointspread Previews NFL Week 1

POINTSPREAD PREVIEWS

NFL WEEK 1 – Weekend of September 9

Our preseason Annual should be in the mail in early August but here is a look at the NFL Week 1 schedule with five situational angles for the opening week in the same format that we feature in the Annual for each week of the college football regular season. Our official newsletter predictions for Week 1 will be in our September 3 issue of the Green Sheet as our opinion on these games could change but at this point here are a few things to think about looking ahead to the opening week NFL schedule.

Revenge Spot: Cleveland Browns over Pittsburgh Steelers:

The 0-16 season for the Browns was bookended with Week 1 and Week 17 losses to the Steelers. Both games were highly competitive despite the contrasting final records for these division rivals fueled by a few big mistakes from rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer. Cleveland has covered in the past three meetings in this series and the Browns now have a solid veteran quarterback known for taking care of the ball in Tyrod Taylor who led the Bills to the playoffs last season. Cleveland finished last season -28 in turnovers as improvement in that area should make the Browns a candidate to improve by a handful of wins on the season  and this game will have extra meaning for Cleveland’s new offensive coordinator Todd Haley who has spent the past six seasons with the Steelers in that capacity. Always one of the league’s most popular teams the Steelers are often overvalued in the opening week, currently on a 1-5-1 ATS run in Week 1 with four S/U losses in that span since 2011 and the Steelers are 4-6 ATS in the last 10 trips to Cleveland including three S/U losses despite the contrasting results for these franchises over the past decade. Pittsburgh lost at Chicago early last season and only twice in eight games won by more than six points on the road last season.  CURRENT LINE: PITTSBURGH -5½

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Road Trip: Baltimore Ravens over Buffalo Bills:

In Week 1 the playing field is supposed to be level in regards to travel but Bills have a late week Sunday preseason Week 3 game at home before playing the preseason Week 4 game in Chicago the following Thursday. The Bills are then on the road in Week 1 facing the Ravens. While the travel mileage isn’t overly demanding for that stretch the Bills are likely to start an unproven quarterback on the road against a defense that had some success last season. Baltimore pitched three shutouts last season and had a great turnover margin despite missing the playoffs at 9-7. The overall prospects for the Ravens are discouraging this season but knowing that they will be on the road in four of the first six weeks of the season will put extra emphasis on this home opener. The Ravens are at home for the final preseason week for a favorable set-up ahead of this game and the Ravens are 10-2 S/U in the past 12 home openers, covering as well in five of the past seven instances. A playoff team from a year ago the line should remain under a touchdown with the lower scoring potential for Baltimore but it should be a favorable opening week game for the Ravens no matter who ends up starting at quarterback for Buffalo. CURRENT LINE: BALTIMORE -5½

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Historically Speaking: Tampa Bay Buccaneers over New Orleans Saints:

Tampa Bay is 16-12 ATS at New Orleans since 1981 while going 19-13-1 ATS as an underdog in this series in that span while also covering in five of the past eight meetings. The Saints overcame a slow start last season to win the NFC South and expectations are high considered one of the top NFC contenders this season by many. The Saints have lost S/U in Week 1 in six of the last seven seasons however as it often takes some time for Drew Brees and the offense to reach full capacity. There are also concerns with the big defensive improvement last season being due to some scheduling breaks. Jameis Winston is currently suspended for this game which will put the Buccaneers as an even greater Week 1 underdog but Ryan Fitzpatrick is a capable veteran and the Buccaneers have a lot of talent on both sides of the ball. Expected to be a NFC sleeper last season not much went right for the Buccaneers last season with a hurricane postponing the Week 1 game plus injuries taking a significant toll. Tampa Bay was only -47 in scoring differential despite a 5-11 record with seven losses by less than a touchdown last season as this wasn’t a typical last place team. Week 1 teams laying 7 or more points are just 16-23-2 ATS since 2006 including just 2-4 ATS with two S/U losses the past two seasons.  CURRENT LINE: NEW ORLEANS -9½

Look-Ahead: New York Giants over Jacksonville Jaguars:

The Giants were a stronger team than last season’s 3-13 record indicated with a number of narrow misses early in the season before things spiraled out of control for Ben McAdoo. New York had terrible luck with injuries with the receiving corps decimated early in the season and new head coach Pat Shurmur steps into a pretty good situation with a team that was in the playoffs two years ago. Shurmur didn’t have success as a head coach in Cleveland but he will have an established quarterback and a promising rookie running back to go up against one of the league’s top defensive teams. Jacksonville nearly made the Super Bowl last season but gave away the lead in the AFC Championship against the Patriots. Next on the schedule is a rematch with the Patriots for the home opener and that game certainly will be the focal point of September for a Jaguars team unaccustomed to coming off a season of success and now facing elevated expectations. The Giants will catch a home underdog spread and could be a threat against a Jaguars team that can still be erratic offensively with the Jaguars just 4-4 S/U on the road last season. CURRENT LINE: JACKSONVILLE -3½

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Letdown: San Francisco 49ers over Minnesota Vikings:

Last season everything lined up for the Vikings to have a special season, with the injury to Aaron Rodgers opening the door in the NFC North while claiming the #2 seed in the NFC and knowing that the top seeded Eagles were playing with a backup quarterback in the playoffs. Minnesota looked like a team of destiny with a miracle win over the Saints sending the team to the NFC Championship with a berth to the Super Bowl in Minneapolis at stake for an incredible storyline. Things didn’t work out with a blowout loss in Philadelphia for another devastating NFC Championship result added to the depressing postseason history of the franchise. Minnesota is considered one of the top NFC threats this season with the big free agent signing of Kirk Cousins but making a quarterback and offensive coordinator change adds for some early season adjustments that could lead to a slow start plus offensive line coach Tony Sparano passed away in late July to add to the turmoil on the staff. Meanwhile San Francisco closed 2017 with five straight wins and Jimmy Garoppolo is undefeated as a starting quarterback. The 49ers featured a formidable defense late in the season particularly against the run and the underdog will be worth a look in Week 1 in a big NFC battle.  CURRENT LINE: MINNESOTA -5½

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Early Big XII Preview

Early Big XII Preview

Many felt like adding a Big XII title game would cost the conference a possible playoff bid but last season Oklahoma managed to survive a rematch with TCU and was selected into the national field. In four seasons Oklahoma has represented the conference twice in the College Football Playoffs but no other team has been selected and the conference is still searching for its first victory on that stage.
This season the conference lacks a clear frontrunner as getting a team to go 10-0 in the always deep league looks unlikely. Last season the Sooners were able to shake off the home upset loss to Iowa State on the strength of their victory over Ohio State in non-conference play but they won’t have that margin of error this season. Ultimately a competitive race looks likely on top of the conference this season and getting a one-loss team in the tournament might be a challenge. Here is an early look at the 10 Big XII teams ahead of the 2018-19 season.

Texas: Tom Herman led Texas to its best win count since 2013 last season even if the expectations were much higher as a high profile hire that led dramatic success at Houston in just two seasons. Texas lost exclusively close games last season and had erratic defensive performances despite being one of the nation’s top run defenses. The offensive production also dropped by nearly 100 yards per game compared with Charlie Strong’s 2016 squad in Austin. This year’s team will be one of the more experienced Big XII groupings. The schedule is similar to last season facing both Maryland and USC again for a tough non-conference schedule but the Trojans will visit Austin as will TCU and West Virginia. Ultimately the Red River Rivalry game will determine whether or not Texas takes a big leap or has another decent season that isn’t up to the expectations of the Longhorns brass.

Oklahoma: Oklahoma was stunned at home against Iowa State last October but the Sooners rallied to return to the College Football Playoffs for the second time in three years. Oklahoma wound up on the wrong side of an epic battle with Georgia but it was an impressive first season for Lincoln Riley who took over suddenly for Bob Stoops last summer. Replacing the #1 pick in the NFL draft plus several other top contributors will be a challenge but this should remain a top offense team with Kyler Murray likely to quarterback the team for one season before pursuing a baseball career. Oklahoma was not an elite defensive team last season and it will be difficult to match the amazing production the Sooners had under Baker Mayfield. The schedule offers Oklahoma a realistic opportunity to run the table but they won’t have a marquee non-conference win like they did last season after beating Ohio State. That could mean little margin for error for a program that always seems to have at least one stumble in the regular season.

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TCU: Gary Patterson has led TCU to 11 or more wins in three of the last four seasons as it would be foolish to count out the Frogs as a serious Big XII threat. TCU loses a lot of key players from a very good defense from last season and they also need to break in a new quarterback. TCU faces Ohio State, Texas, and Oklahoma in the first seven games of the season as there will be opportunities to move up in the national and conference race with notable wins but it also means the Frogs could reach last season’s loss count rather early. TCU has gone undefeated at home three of the past four seasons and if they accomplish that again in 2018 a top three finish in the Big XII looks assured with five of nine games in Fort Worth, although a road heavy September could take a toll on the season goals.

West Virginia: Dana Holgorsen should finally feel some security in Morgantown with winning results in six of seven seasons. Will Grier returns for the Mountaineers after posting some of the nation’s best numbers last season prior to an injury that changed the trajectory of the season. TCU and Oklahoma will visit Morgantown this season as the Mountaineers will have opportunities for big wins with an offense that should be among the most productive in the conference if not the nation. The defense struggled at times last season however and has minimal depth back in action as shootouts should be the norm with Grier capable of being the top quarterback in the conference and a Heisman sleeper.

Oklahoma State: Oklahoma State has won 10 or more games in six of the last eight seasons but they have been stopped at 10 the past three seasons with expectations of a possible breakthrough to a Big XII title or a playoff bid. Highly productive quarterback Mason Rudolph departs but most of the backfield is intact as this can still be an above average offensive team. The defense should remain a stable though not dominant group but the schedule ahead in 2018 looks like a challenge. Five Big XII road games are ahead including several difficult tests and a non-conference game with Boise State lurks as a dangerous September matchup. Matching the 10-win level of recent years looks like a reach for the Cowboys this season.

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Kansas State: Kansas State lost five times last season but four of those misses were by seven or fewer points as the Wildcats found a way to compete even with one of the lesser offenses in the Big XII and a revolving quarterback situation. The offense could be better this season with much more experience but the defense could regress for a second straight season. While Kansas State had mostly close losses last season they also had several narrow fortunate wins as this team was soundly out-gained on the season despite a solid scoring differential. Coach Snyder always finds a way to keep this team in the mix as another winning season shouldn’t be ruled out.

Iowa State: Matt Campbell eschewed opportunities elsewhere to stay in Ames where last season’s 8-5 campaign was a historic rise for the Cyclones. Wins over Oklahoma and TCU were incredibly impressive and the Cyclones also stopped a great Memphis offense for a bowl win. Matching that success will be a challenge and Iowa State plays the heavyweights early in the Big XII campaign this season. Several key players are back as this is a program with average experience and while there were narrow wins last season all five losses came by 10 or fewer points as well as a more dramatic breakthrough had been possible. Iowa State is no longer the conference doormat and will be a competitive team likely on the bowl border.

Texas Tech: Kliff Kingsbury has done enough to stay on in Lubbock with five underwhelming seasons and a 30-33 record. There have been some close calls but still a few blowout losses every year to paint the gap between the Red Raiders and the elite teams in the conference. Texas Tech showed a dramatic improvement on defense last season and with 10 starters back the Red Raiders can take another stride to shake off their former reputation as perennially one of the worst defensive teams in the nation. The offense has some question marks however needing a third new starting quarterback in three seasons and losing most of the top receivers from last season. Oklahoma and Texas both play in Lubbock but that might mean fewer realistic opportunities for wins with a pair of challenging non-conference games in September as well.

Baylor: Matt Rhule stepped into a very tough situation at Baylor and a 1-11 season was the result. Baylor did show signs of progress late in the season and should show improvement but getting back to being a Big XII force looks like it will take a long rebuilding process. This will be one of the most experienced teams in the nation thanks to a lot of young players getting time last season and Charlie Brewer gave the offense life after taking over at quarterback. Statistically this didn’t look like a 1-11 squad that lost to a FCS school in September and if the Bears play all season like they did last November a handful of wins will follow.

Kansas: Kansas has been patient with a major transition hitting year four for David Beaty and a combined three wins in three seasons. The non-conference schedule offers three viable opportunities for Kansas but the gap with the rest of the Big XII remains severe with only one Big XII loss even within 15 points last season. 19 starters return for Kansas as the pieces are there to take a step forward but it remains a steep uphill climb in Lawrence and the best opportunities for conference wins this season will unfortunately all be road games.

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