(Photo courtesy of http://www.heavyinthegames.com)
They say absence makes the heart grow fonder.
I’m not sure who exactly they are, but if they are referring to the absence of the NFL regular season and my heart, then they would be spot on.
To fill the nine month void in my life left by last year’s NFL season, I’ve tried a number of tactics, including but not limited to:
(1) Making statements like “Christian Ponder is NOT a top 25 QB in the NFL” and igniting debates among friends, if only to bring the NFL back into my life.
(2) Watching LOTS of soccer. Champions League, MLS, EPL, I watched it all.
(3) Going to bars and ‘taking over the jukebox’ (trust me, it’s exactly what it sounds like).
The results of my attempted perseverance through the NFL offseason?
(1) Christian Ponder is NOT a top 25 NFL QB. Fact.
(We can get into this discussion on another day. Unless he goes off this season. Then I reserve the right to change my mind.)
(2) A new obsession with the San Jose Earthquakes and Liverpool FC.
In other words, thank heavens the NFL is back! Since it’s week one, a lot of my picks are purely based on how well I think the respective teams will perform this season. As the season progresses, we’ll start to get a better sense of how individual players are performing, especially those who have switched teams during the offseason.
I’m not a professional analyst or a so-called ‘expert’. Just a guy who likes football making some picks against the spread. Incorporating my picks into your own personal gambling habits should be done so carefully and at your own risk.
Without further ado, let’s get to those week 1 picks!
(All lines per Sportsbook.com as of 9:30pm PST on Wednesday, September 4th)
Baltimore (+7.5) over DENVER
To made this pick before this game ever started. See:
Denver looks to be STACKED on offense this year with the addition of Wes Welker, which should allow Peyton Manning all sorts of options to whom he can spread the ball. There’s not doubt the Broncos will put up plenty of points.
However, their defense will have to deal with the losses of Von Miller (to a four-game substance abuse suspension) and Elvis Dumervil (coincidentally, to the Ravens), which could keep opponents in games they would otherwise win handily.
Most importantly, the Ravens are the defending Super Bowl champions, and while they’ve had their fair share of departures as well, it’s hard to pick against them after the run they went on in last years playoffs. Further, it’s going to be hard to pick against Joe Flacco until he shows any signs of cooling off from his playoff inferno, which included Super Bowl MVP.
(Editors Note: I’m an idiot. Peyton Manning is not human.)
New England (-10.5) over BUFFALO
The Patriots are starting this guy at quarterback.
Amid all the concern over losing favorite targets Wes Welker to free agency, Rob Gronkowski to injury, and Aaron Hernandez to, well, prison, you have to remember this is still Tom Brady. You know, the guy who once threw 50 touchdowns in a single season! The guy who marries supermodels and has children with them. The guy who could quit his day job and become a professional clothing model (oh wait, that kind of already happened, huh).
Oh yeah, he’s pretty good at football as well.
He’ll probably throw for 600 yards and seven touchdowns just because. (Edit: then he’d only be TIED for the NFL lead in touchdowns this season.)
Lining up at QB across from Brady will either be E.J. Manual, Jeff Tuel, or Thaddeus Lewis.
Wait, who? Exactly.
PITTSBURGH (-7) over Tennessee
At this point, there are too many question marks for me when it comes to the Tennessee Titans.
Will Jake Locker take a step forward or continue to sputter along?
Will Chris Johnson return to his old form when he predicted he would run for 2,500 yards?
How healthy will the team’s receivers be?
Will the Titans defense be able to stop anybody?
The Steelers are starting to get a bit older on defense and have lost some players over the past couple years, but the offense — most notably, the passing game — is still potent enough to hang enough points on the Titans to win handily.
Atlanta (+3) over NEW ORLEANS
First, let me start out by saying that I believe New Orleans will be very good this season. In fact, I believe they can win the NFC South. Coach Sean Payton returns from a season-long suspension due to last year’s bounty scandal, which should open up the offense a bit more and improve the camaraderie of the team in general.
In addition, the Saints still have dangerous offensive weapons in Drew Brees, Marques Colston, and the seemingly unstoppable Jimmy Graham. This team will put up plenty of points, and a lot of its success may hinge on its defense, which ranked dead last in the NFL in total defense a year ago.
For a team with defensive uncertainty, the Falcons offense may prove to be as big of a test as any team in the NFL. Quarterback Matt Ryan signed a monster contract extension in the offseason, Steven Jackson made a move in free agency from St. Louis, and wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones are known to wreak havoc on even the best NFL secondaries.
The offensive fire power of the Falcons, combined with the defensive questions of the Saints lead me to believe this game will not only be close, but will be a shootout and may come down to the final possession.
Tampa Bay (-4.5) over NEW YORK JETS
I mean, come on, it’s the Jets.
And Darrelle Revis — who left the Jets for the Bucs this offseason — is going to give away all of their secrets.
No need to think too hard here.
Kansas City (-4.5) over JACKSONVILLE
Jacksonville might be the worst team in the league, and with the offseason addition of Alex Smith, the Chiefs seem to be improving at the very least.
If Jaguars QB Blaine Gabbert surprises me and proves me wrong, then hats off to him.
But I’m not betting on it.
CHICAGO (-3) over Cincinnati
Jay Cutler has had an entire offseason to transform himself from Smokin’ Jay to a legitimate NFL star quarterback. I’m not entirely sold on the fact that it’s happened, but I like the Bears opening up the new season at home.
Besides, Cutler got married during the summer and appears to be well rested.
CLEVELAND (-1) over Miami
This is basically a battle of the two teams from last year that always seemed to be a bit better than their records indicated. In fact, both the Browns and Dolphins played eight games in 2012 that were decided by seven points or less, with both teams coming up 3-5 in such games.
In other words, they were each kind of sneaky good, but just couldn’t finish off enough of the close games.
This year, it’s anybody’s guess as to how good each team will be. Both of them seemed to be trending upwards near the end of last season, but with so many unknowns, I like the Browns to cover at home in this battle.
Seattle (-4.5) over CAROLINA
Seattle has arguably the best defense in the NFL, a top five running back in Marshawn Lynch, and a great young quarterback in Russell Wilson who made a huge splash last season and will be looking to take an even bigger step forward this year. Many people are touting Seattle as not only an early Super Bowl contender, but a favorite.
Panthers QB Cam Newton showed during the second half of last season that he deserves to be considered in the discussion of the top eight to ten quarterbacks in the league. However, I just don’t think the Panthers are strong enough as a team to hang with Seattle in this game.
I like the Seahawks to win easily in this one.
Minnesota (+6) over DETROIT
Here’s the thing. I understand the Lions signed Reggie Bush, who is joining an offense that is essentially tailor made for his playing style. Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson are likely to put up huge offensive years as well.
Don’t forget, however, that the Lions were 4-12 last season, and while I expect the Vikings to regress (after all, QB Christian Ponder is one of the worst quarterbacks in the league), they still have Adrian Peterson, who is going to rush for 2,500 yards this season.
Six points here is just too much until the Lions prove otherwise.
INDIANAPOLIS (-10) over Oakland
Ten points just seems like so many points for Indianapolis to give to anyone. But they are at home. And the Raiders are starting Terrell Pryor at quarterback. And Darren McFadden always gets hurt. And Andrew Luck is going to have an even better season this year than in his rookie year, right?
Ten points is doable. I think.
ST. LOUIS (-4.5) over Arizona
I have really no idea what to expect out of either of these teams. The Rams will be looking to finally take a meaningful step forward behind QB Sam Bradford and second year coach Jeff Fisher. The Cardinals recently signed Carson Palmer to help solidify their QB situation, although it remains to be seen just how good each team will be.
I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if either of these teams finished 9-7 or 4-12.
I’ll take the Rams by a touchdown at home.
SAN FRANCISCO (-5) over Green Bay
If you recall from last year’s playoff matchup, I picked the Green Bay Packers to follow Aaron Rodgers into Candlestick Park and beat down the Niners as pay back for not drafting him #1 overall back in 2005.
As much as I wanted THIS GUY to show up and dominate, it just didn’t happen. Instead, it was the Colin Kaepernick show and a record-setting 181 yard rushing performance.
Over the course of the offseason, it’s obvious the Packers spent more time trying to figure out how to stop Colin Kaepernick than any other player in the NFL. Among their methods was traveling to Texas A&M to learn how to stop the read option (yes, that actually happened), signing a ‘mobile’ QB in Vince Young only to release him after their final preseason game, and finally signing not one, but TWO former 49er backup QBs.
The Packers enter this game with an upgrade at running back in the form of rookies Eddie Lacy and Jonathan Franklin, although it remains to be seen how productive each will actually be. The defense is also improved with the drafting of 3-4 defensive end Datone Jones.
For the 49ers, they come into this season with roughly the same squad, albeit minus star wide receiver Michael Crabtree. It will be interesting to see who Kaepernick goes to as his number one target, although the addition of veteran Anquan Boldin should make things a bit easier.
I think the Packers will have a solid year, but given the recent history between these two teams, I just can’t pick them to go into Candlestick and pull one out. I think this game will be competitive, but in the end the Niners’ offensive and defensive lines prove to be too much for the Pack.
(C’mon, reverse jinx!)
DALLAS (-3.5) over New York Giants
For the past few seasons, I’ve always held this belief that the Giants play way better than they actually are and the Cowboys are actually way better than they play.
Each of these teams seems to have success on the other’s home field, which should make for an entertaining battle.
I really have no idea what to expect from this game. I mean, pretty much any outcome would not surprise me. The Giants have beaten the Cowboys in Dallas for four seasons running. They can’t do it five years in a row, right? Right?
Philadelphia (+4.5) over WASHINGTON
Another game full of question marks.
Honestly, I have no idea what to expect with former University of Oregon coach Chip Kelly’s new high octane offense in Philadelphia. The athletes are there (read: Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, and DeSean Jackson), but it remains to be seen how Kelly’s offensive scheme will translate from college to the NFL.
On the other side of the field, everyone is waiting to see how Robert Griffin III will bounce back from the torn ACL he suffered during last year’s playoff loss to Seattle. Will he return to form as the dominant rusher who could keep teams off balance with his legs and his strong arm? Will he stay in the pocket more often in order to avoid potential injury?
Call it a hunch, but I just have a feeling Philadelphia keeps this one close enough to potentially pull off the upset.
Houston (-5.5) over SAN DIEGO
Houston was arguably the best team in the NFL during last year’s regular season. Although they came apart in the playoffs, they return basically the same team. The Chargers, meanwhile, have a brand new head coach and brand new GM.
In addition, Chargers QB Philip Rivers has thrown 48 interceptions in the past three seasons. Oh, and he’ll be going up against a Texans defense featuring J.J. Watt and Brian Cushing. Yikes!
This Season: 0-1
Last Season: 72-59-1