Column: Bucs, Colts, Cards top “over-under” plays for NFL in 2022

It’s time – yes, even in June – to forecast a few NFL victory totals, relative to betting lines.

Go with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts to edge their “over-under” marks for the 2022 season.

Forecasting the Bucs to eclipse the 11.5-victory mark set by Bovada aligns with Tom Brady ending his 40-day retirement, as Brady had to see a broad road to the playoffs to come back. Quarterbacks who’ve played decades can judge NFL talent. Brady, much like Peyton Manning choosing a gifted Denver Broncos team as a free agent in 2012 and then advancing to a pair of Super Bowls, signed with a loaded Bucs team two years ago and won a Super Bowl within a year. It’s easy to see why he re-upped with Tampa in March. The blocking is still sturdy. The defense is capable.

A bonus is the dismal state of NFC South. Betting lines for the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers, who list Marcus Mariota and Sam Darnold at quarterback, show win totals of 4.5 and 5.5. Coach Sean Payton’s decision to leave the New Orleans Saints, whose defense dominated the Brady Bucs, was a welcome-back gift. And not the last one. Rob Gronkowski returning to the Bucs this summer seems probable.

So, give the Bucs 12 victories, one behind their total last year.

Why will the Colts exceed the 10-victory bar set for them, a year after finishing 9-8?

See: Philip Rivers deciding to join them two years ago and leading them to 11 victories at age 38.

Rivers knew what it takes to win in the NFL and correctly evaluated both the Colts and the AFC South. The decision reunited him with offensive-minded Frank Reich, whose work with Carson Wentz and Nick Foles contributed to the Philadelphia claiming its first Lombardi Trophy. The Colts provided Rivers first-rate blocking led by All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson. Their domed stadium ensured him about 10 games indoors and a few other games in warm climates.

Now, substitute Matt Ryan for Rivers.

The trade that put him on the Colts would not have happened if Ryan, 37, did not trust the organization. The former Falcons QB is not as mobile as Wentz, who started every Colts game. That’s OK. His accuracy and processing are likely upgrades.

If Colts-driven reports about Wentz’s subpar leadership were true, Ryan may provide a lift there.

Escaping Brady’s shadow, Ryan now joins the AFC’s weakest division, a South that shows betting-line win totals of 4.5, 6 and 9.5 for Houston, Jacksonville and Tennessee.

As for the best “under” bet, it’s the Cardinals falling short of nine victories. Both of Arizona’s lines are questionable. Receiver DeAndre Hopkins’ six-game suspension and quarterback Kyler Murray’s uneven development argue against a winning season in the desert. However, keep an eye on the Aaron Donald situation. If the All-Pro defensive tackler were to retire this summer, as he hinted he might, Murray would have the most reason to celebrate. Arizona’s interior blocking is unnerving, and the 5-foot-10 Murray, who had a miserable playoff game against Donald’s Rams in January, is extra challenged to read interior pass defenses.

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