NFL playoff odds: Redskins underdogs, Cowboys favorites

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The Washington Redskins have followed up their surprising first-place finish in the NFC East last year with a productive offseason, inking pivot Kirk Cousins and free agent cornerback Josh Norman. However, they remain underdogs on the odds to make the NFL playoffs in the upcoming  season at a betting line of +160 at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

The Redskins open the upcoming NFL campaign with a visit from Pittsburgh, followed by a stretch of six games against clubs who amassed losing records a year ago.

But with the division-rival Cowboys and Giants expected to improve on their poor 2015 performances Washington trails on the NFC East futures at +275, and are also pegged as early 3-point home underdogs in their Week 1 game against the Steelers at FedExField.

While the Redskins sit as a -200 wager to miss next year’s playoffs, the Cowboys are favored to return to contention following their worst campaign since 1989.

With their backfield bolstered by the addition of fourth-overall pick Ezekiel Elliott, and a healthy Tony Romo expected back under center, the Cowboys’ odds of returning to the playoffs are a strong -140 at the sportsbooks.

However, Romo’s good health remains central to the club’s success, and is a factor in Dallas’ short +110 odds of missing the playoffs yet again.

Dallas has strengthened their position as favorites to win the NFC East, improving to +175 after opening at +200, while the Giants have risen slightly to +225 and are an even-money bet to clinch a playoff berth after winning just six games a year ago.

Confidence in the Philadelphia Eagles is far lower, with the team tumbling as far as +450 on the NFC East odds, and listed as a -275 wager to miss the playoffs for a third straight season.

Meanwhile, the departure of quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler and defensive tackle Malik Jackson have made it a difficult offseason for the Denver Broncos, but the defending Super Bowl champions are a solid -150 bet to reach the playoffs.

The Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots, and Seattle Seahawks own the best odds of seeing playoff action, each sitting at -500, while the Carolina Panthers closely trail at -450.

At the other end of the board the Tennessee Titans have taken significant steps to improve on last year’s feeble 3-13 record but maintain low +400 odds of claiming a playoff berth, ahead of the Cleveland Browns at +600 and the San Francisco 49ers at a distant +750.

NBC Sports’ Josh Norris attempts the combine

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The lengths I go to entertain you.

Since I attempt to evaluate these prospects’ athleticism, my friends at NBC Sports thought it was only fair if I went through the same circuit of drills and tests as the future NFL players.

So what did I learn? I learned that I am no longer an in shape 18-year-old. I learned how important flexibility is for every single drill. I can’t even touch my toes, which does not help with the broad jump or turning the corner on a three cone. And I’m jealous of the rest these prospects get between their attempts.

For more of Josh’s drills, check out the full lineup here

T.O. controversy underscores need for Hall of Fame transparency

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I started down the T.O. Hall of Fame time out rabbit hole a week ago due primarily to concerns regarding a lack of transparency in the selection process. After a week of arguments, counterarguments, and a few condescending comments from voters who resent being questioned or criticized by people who don’t know the inner working of the process, I’m back to where I started.

Those who criticize the process indeed don’t know the inner workings of the process because the process is kept completely secret. And the T.O. case proves that the time has arrived for transparency.

As Peter King of TheMMQB.com pointed out earlier this week, those who voted against Owens largely have slipped into hiding.

The fact that Owens didn’t make it from the final 15 to the final 10 suggests that the nays are more plentiful than necessary to transform him from one of the final five into a Hall of Famer. Don’t underestimate, however, the possibility that the voters collectively realized that enough of them would never get behind Owens on the final ballot (where it takes only 10 to put the kibosh on Canton) to make pushing Owens to the final 10 or the final five an exercise in futility.

It ultimately may be only 10 people who are anti-T.O. Maybe there aren’t that many; maybe the handful was loud enough and zealous enough that they managed to convince enough of their peers to think that pushing Owens through to the final five would set the stage for an ugly filibuster at best or a complete waste of time (and a spot that could have gone to someone else) at worst.

The only obvious “no” votes currently known (by me) are Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News (he wrote a column about it), Jason Cole of Bleacher Report (ditto), Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts (he made his case against Owens in a radio interview), and Dan Pompei of Bleacher Report (his Twitter account makes his position clear). All of the “no” votes should be known, and those who have kept quiet while the process has been challenged generally and a small handful of their colleagues have been attacked specifically should speak up.

Even if all the “no” votes were known, we still won’t know everything that needs to be known. Those voters who have chosen to disclose their position on Owens refuse to disclose the identity of other Hall of Famers, players, and/or coaches who have privately said that Owens doesn’t belong. Setting aside the question of whether these non-voters should have so much sway over the process, the refusal to name them makes the process even harder to accept.

It’s one thing to gather facts anonymously. Gathering opinions anonymously allows for those anonymous opinions to be tainted by personal animus. Also, it makes objective assessment of the basis for the opinions impossible, allowing for all sorts of subjective factors to be twisted and warped — and for the voters to abdicate their responsibility to assess the candidate to the whispers of those who, given the benefit of secrecy, are far more likely to yield to the temptation of human factors.

The broader concern is this: When evaluating a player based on what he did on a 100-by-53-yard patch of grass or FieldTurf or green cement, it’s easy to assess the opinions of the voters and to develop opinions on the accuracy of the outcome of the votes. When things that happened from the sideline to the parking lot become relevant to the process, it becomes impossible to know what is being considered, why it’s being considered, which others have made it through despite similar concerns, and whether those standards will be applied to future candidates.

There can be no consistency without transparency, and with no transparency it’s impossible for those who view Owens as a knee-jerk Hall of Famer to understand his omission for a second straight year. The voters who oppose Owens can either sneer at those of us who think they got it wrong or they can heed the criticisms, lobby for meaningful change, and bring a different approach to the process in 2018.

If it’s the former, there will be more sneering at those of us who think they got it wrong, both as to Owens and as to others who seem to pass the Hall of Fame eyeball test but can’t get in.