I hold the following truths to be self-evident:
1) If you are counting on these picks for anything more than giggles, you are an even bigger idiot than me. And my career record in picking against the spread, in the 2+ years that I've done this, is 51%. Or 4% less than the vig in any reputable sports book. We lose on every sale, but make up for it in volume.
2) Point spreads are always lower at the start of the year, because it's not obvious who the truly good and truly terrible teams are.
3) No one needs a Thursday night opening game, and it's all part of the NFL's super evil plan to just dominate every damn day of the week, while ruining the simple joy that is Sunday afternoon.
4) The people who set the lines do this for two reasons. The first is to maximize and equalize the amount of money wagered on both sides, and the second is to give them the best possible chance for a push. So the lines are rarely "wrong", or crazy, or biased, or anything else that people say when their opinions aren't matched. I'll try my best to avoid this temptation.
5) Not only is this blog remarkably unpopular, it's also remarkably persistent. I pick every game, and write about every pick. I'm not going to stop until I get them all right, which is to say, I'm never going to stop. At least while I've got wind enough to pass. And with that... on to the picks!
Minnesota at NEW ORLEANS (-5)
Does the Super Bowl winning team ever lose in Week One? A better writer would do the research, and I am not that writer. Luckily, the Vikings are also not the team that took the Saints to the 15th round in last year's career-defining Favre Failure Moment. They've lost Sidney Rice and Cedric Griffin to injury, Chester Taylor to free agency, Sage Rosenfels to irrelevancy, Cedric Griffin to and Brett Favre to retirement from injury. (What's that? He's back? Well, I never. What were the odds?) Adding CB Lito Sheppard might also be called a loss, too.
Meanwhile, the only thing stopping the Saints might be a massive hangover, along with the correction that's coming to a defense that was more lucky than good last year. But there's no way that's catching up to them this early, on national television, in the season's opening game.
Saints 31, Vikings 24
DENVER at Jacksonville (-2.5)
Two teams that should be terrible. Denver runs off their talent, while Jacksonville doesn't actually have it in the first place. If you were scared off Maurice Jones-Drew in your roto league due to knee scares, you weren't alone. (I took Andre Johnson at 4 rather than go for him.)
I hate taking Kyle Orton on the road in the one week in the year where Jags Fan might not be outnumbered in their deserted hole of a stadium, but that's how low my estimation of Jack del Rio and David Garrard is these days. I'm also not drinking the Kool-Aid that MJD is right, and Orton has looked solid in preseason. It'll be ugly, but Denver's good at winning games early. Just not late.
Broncos 24, Jaguars 17
Oakland at TENNESSEE (-6)
Every year, people think the Raiders might finally be good, and every year... they aren't. So why, especially with RB Michael Bush and QB Jason Campbell hurting already, should anyone think that this will be any different? The Titans will run RB Chris Johnson until he breaks some long ones, the Raiders won't be able to sustain drives, and it will all seem very familiar to anyone who has watched the last decade of Raider football. At least we've been spared the sight of them in the late Monday night game.
Titans 24, Raiders 13
ATLANTA (-2.5) at Pittsburgh
Here's why you read Football Outsiders: to learn things like how Falcons QB Matt Ryan faced a top 10 murderer's row of passing defense in his sophomore slump year. He also had no consistent RB threat, given the ill health of a post-heavy use year from RB Michael Turner. So it all becomes quite understandable beyond the Matt Ryan Isn't Good meme. (The guy who faced the toughest pass defenses in a single year? Tom Brady, last year. Rut roh, Patriot Haters.)
As for the Steelers, they'll attempt to win with quasi-3rd string QB Dennis Dixon, a revamped defense that's led by the once again healthy Troy Polamalu, and the questionable horse that is Rashard Mendenhall. You can see why they aren't favored, even at home, and even with Steeler Nation being one of the more popular (and wagered upon) teams in the league. And why Atlanta, and not New Orleans, will win the NFC South this year. This should be one of the better games.
Falcons 20, Steelers 17
CINCINNATI at New England (-4)
Speaking of the Patriots, they get a nice test early with the visiting Bengals, who fit the same pattern as Baltimore last year -- a tough, physical defense with a pounding running game, coming to Boston to show up a finesse team that hasn't drafted good enough to win in the trenches. I don't think the Bengals will this game; they really lived on a knife's edge last year, and I think the Patriots are going to be able to run it a little better than last year. But I can definitely see them covering, or out and out winning if they turn the turnover battle.
Patriots 27, Bengals 24
Cleveland at TAMPA BAY (-3)
Just why, exactly, should a team's QB situation get better, just because they change from one terrible group to another? There's this general sense that since Cleveland closed well last year to save Eric Mangini's managerial job, and that new QB Jake Delhomme has occasionally been part of a winning team, that perhaps the Browns would be tolerable. That notion will be abused early and often, and the young and actually coming, just a little, Bucs will do the honors.
In Raheem Morris's second year as coach, there are green shoots in Tampa. Rookie WR Mike Williams has made a lot of sleeper lists, RB Kareem Huggins has also looked good, QB Josh Freeman has some strengths, and the defense is going back to the Tampa 2 scheme that the franchise made famous a decade ago. They won't win often this year, but they'll be tough, and they'll start the year with hope at home.
Bucs 20, Browns 13
DETROIT at Chicago (-6.5)
Six and a half points for a team that's looked like death warmed over in preseason while learning a new system? I get that the Lions are the NFL's eternal punch line, but it's still too much. I wouldn't even be surprised if the Lions win this game, with rejuvenated WR Calvin Johnson reminding the nation that he's one of the best, and rookie RB Jahvid Best a speed threat on every touch. I'm not in love with QB Matthew Stafford and his accuracy, but I think even less of how well the Bears will look in the early going, especially in obvious passing downs. I'm rarely this confident about a road dog, and I'm really tempted to call the upset outright.
Bears 24, Lions 21
GREEN BAY (-3) at Philadelphia
There is an undercurrent of Serious Worry about this Eagles team. Part of it has to do with the lackluster preseason, the continued dalliance with Michael Vick, and the shuffled offensive line that doesn't look like it's going to be able to keep young QB Kevin Kolb clean. Another serious part is that the club has been much more aggressive than past years about changing the tail end of the roster, with very few players left from the 2009 draft class. For what is supposed to be a model organization, there has been a lot of missed steps recently. There's a reason why, with the exception of Pittsburgh, teams rarely go into a second decade with the same basic coach and GM situation.
The last thing such a fragile combination needs is the most likely NFC Super Bowl team coming to town, especially with that club looking like the Perfectriot offense in August. QB Aaron Rodgers leads a juggernaut with weapons everywhere, and a breakout candidate in TE Jermichael Finley... which is really not what you want to see when your defense has had constant problems covering that position. If Kolb turns it over early, the defense falters, a quick double-digit hole develops... well, it could get out of hand. Plus, Andy Reid teams rarely do well in Week One.
Packers 34, Eagles 24
CAROLINA at NY Giants (-7)
Are the Giants overvalued? You'd have to think so, given how they ended last year, the snarly mess that is the RB committee work of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, and that they really might still have a problem getting to the QB in passing downs. I also like this Carolina team a fair amount, with QB Mike Moore giving them a surprising amount of plays, a bit of a bounce back possible on defense with the departure of DE Julius Peppers, and the strong force that is DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. I don't think the Panthers win this game, but cover? Hell yeah. Especially when it's a 7-point spread.
Giants 24, Panthers 20
MIAMI (-3) at Buffalo
Not only is this Buffalo team bad, they don't even get the benefit of a home game late in the year against their warm-weather rival. Outside of dearly bought rookie RB C.J. Spiller and a fluky good defensive secondary, I'm not seeing much at all to like here. Meanwhile the Dolphins are coming in with guns blazing, some of the best line play in the conference, and troubled but productive WR Brandon Marshall ready to do his usual light switch work now that the games count. I'd take them with a double digit spread; Buffalo will be one of the five worst teams in football this year.
Dolphins 27, Bills 13
SAN FRANCISCO (-3) at Seattle
Showtime for the critical favorite Niners, who carry the hopes of a nation that there might just be one decent team in the division. Expect the road team to pound these foul Birds, who can't protect QB Matt Hasselbeck, run it very well with RB Justin Forsett or RB Leon Washington, or count on a wideout group that is relying on washout Mike Williams finding a career rebirth. It smells like a flush year for new coach Pete Carroll, who has tried to run off RB Julius Jones over money, sold off WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh, brought in castoff T Stacy Andrews and much more. It's going to be a double-digit loss year in the Pacific Northwest, and you'll be seeing Charlie Whitehurst at QB by Thanksgiving. The Niner Domination Tour starts now.
Niners 24, Seahawks 13
St Louis at ARIZONA (-4)
One of the more abiding mysteries of the early part of this NFL season is how Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt has managed to skate any blame for the Matt Leinart Debacle. There's nothing about how this played out that should surprise anyone who been paying attention, and how a team that would be a playoff contender with just average QB play should be put at risk... well, it's just unfathomable to me, really. If the Cardinals had dealt for Donovan McNabb, they'd be a top-3 contender to win the conference. If they had moved for Big Ben, they'd be an awfully trendy pick. Hell, even Jason Campbell would have been a win.
Instead, they'll live and die with Derek Anderson, a castoff with accuracy and ball security issues. He'll look fine this week against the not ready for U.S. football Rams, but don't let the slapdown of the weak fool you. Anderson is the reason why the Cardinals will watch the playoffs this year, rather than play in them.
Actually, scratch that. Whisenhunt is the reason.
Cardinals 31, Rams 16
DALLAS (-3.5) at Washington
The SNF game might be the best of the week. Even when they were hopeless, the Redskins always played the Cowboys tough, and now that they employ an extremely motivated Donovan McNabb, hope has entered the building. This one will go back and forth, with the Cowboys lacking cohesion from many of their offensive weapons missing preseason, and the offensive line having real issues... but the Skins just aren't talented enough to cash in on all of their red zone chances, and the Cowboy Achilles Heel, aka their line, hasn't gotten hurt yet. Besides, it's not as if McNabb's really thrilled with the idea that his last three NFL games have all involved losses to the Cowboys.
Cowboys 28, Redskins 24
BALTIMORE at NY Jets (-2.5)
The much better MNF game gives the world the option to see Rex Ryan's old and current teams square off, with the talent advantage coming to the visitors from the south. I don't like the vibe coming off this Jets team, and they'd need to be firing on all cylinders to take down the Ravens anyway, who boast a vastly improved group of receivers to go with the same quality line and backfield skill players. It also would not shock me at all if all-world CB Darrelle Revis isn't quite himself in his first game back from a holdout, and if the Ravens can take advantage. The way to beat this Ravens' team is with big downfield plays in the passing game, which means QB Matt Sanchez is really going to miss WR Santonio Holmes here.
Ravens 27, Jets 20
San Diego (-4.5) at KANSAS CITY
The final game of the slate in Week One pits what could be the two best teams in the division, as the Chargers go into Kansas City to try to continue their dominance. But they aren't the same team without WR Vincent Jackson; they don't have the deep ball, or the attitude that's required to throw it. Their running game is better with rookie T.J. Mathews, and they'll move the chains with TE Antonio Gates, but the margin for error is gone, and the Chiefs will, at the very least, cover because of it. I also love utility knife Dexter McCluster, don't really believe that they'll give the majority of carries to spent RB Thomas Jones, and think that WR Dwayne Bowe is due for a big bounce-back year. Will all that be enough to carry the upset? Yes... because it's not as if Charger coach Norv Turner isn't prone to digging himself an early hole.
Chiefs 24, Chargers 20
2008-2010 record: 264-253-13
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
I hold the following truths to be self-evident: