After a lengthy lockout and an extremely short off-season, the NFL season is upon us. The Packers and Saints open the season tonight, so here are my picks for the first week of the NFL season:
Home team in bold
New Orleans (+4.5) over Green Bay
The Saints continue to get praised for the off-season workouts Drew Brees organized, but to me that just seems like the media giving Brees credit for anything, because they love him. The Packers on the other hand didn't run any organized practices, and I tend to agree with Aaron Rodgers that those "organized workouts" are being extremely over hyped.
We'll find out tonight if the Saints are really that far ahead of the Packers thanks to those workouts, and while I don't think they made a difference, I do think the Saints are the better team. And as much as I dislike them for defeating the Vikings in that '09 NFC Championship game, I dislike the Packers more. The game should be close, but ultimately I think the Saints will show why they're considered a serious contender again this season.
Final score: New Orleans 31, Green Bay 26
Baltimore (-1.5) over Pittsburgh
The Steelers have made the Super Bowl three times since 1995; each time they've followed that up by missing the playoffs the next season. Rashard Mendenhall seems poised to have another big year, and Ben Roethlisberger is a very good quarterback, so the team appears to be in good shape to head back to the postseason.
However, as solid as they look, the Ravens will be too much at home. Flacco, Bolden and Ray Rice are talented enough players to perform against this vaunted Steelers D, and if James Harrison continues to look as out of shape as he did during the preseason the Steelers will be in for a long night.
Final score: Baltimore 24, Pittsburgh 20
Tampa Bay (-1.5) over Detroit
The Lions have won eight games in three years. They are 8-40. All that losing does allow the team to consistently draft inside the top 10, and it looks like it finally may have paid off. The Lions are considered by many to be a wild card contender and a lot of 'experts' are picking the team to make the playoffs for the first time in over a decade.
I don't see it. Stafford is a solid player if he can stay healthy, but that's a big if. Jahvid Best had two monster games to start his career last year, and has done nothing since. He's also injury prone. The Lions defensive line looks good, but their defensive backs are a glaring weakness. Outside of Calvin Johnson and Ndamukong Suh, I don't see any sure things on this roster.
Josh Freeman is a better QB at this point than Matt Stafford. So I'm going to take the Bucs at home to open the season.
Final score: Tampa Bay 28, Detroit 17
Atlanta (-3) over Chicago
Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Roddy White, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez.
Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, Roy Williams, Johnny Knox, Devin Hester.
Yeah, you'd take Atlanta too.
Final score: Atlanta 30, Chicago 21
Kansas City (-6) over Buffalo
I think Jamaal Charles is going to do some special things this year, so the quarterback play isn't of big concern to me. Considering the Chiefs get to open against the Bills, even if Matt Cassel ultimately can't play, I think Charles is explosive enough to allow the Chiefs to cover.
The Bills offense will have the ability to score quickly with Ryan Fitzpatrick running the spread, but look for quite a few turnovers as well. The quick strike ability worries me in a 6 point spread, so if you're going to bet this game I'd take the extra 6 points in the Chiefs favor, making them even instead of 6 point favorites. I can't imagine the Bills actually winning.
Final score: Kansas City 20, Buffalo 12
Indianapolis (+9) over Houston
Peyton Manning is officially out this Sunday, which means he'll miss the first game of his NFL career. The Texans are obviously heavy favorites because of Manning's injury. However, before Manning's injury this game had no spread at all, and as great as Manning is I have trouble believing he's going to be worth 9 points.
That may seem crazy, but Kerry Collins should be able to do enough against a weak Texans defense to at least keep the game close.
Final Score: Houston 27, Indianapolis 21
Philadelphia (-4.5) over St. Louis
Can Michael Vick handle the blitz? Will the Eagles offensive line issues cause enough problems to let the Rams pull off the upset? Are the Eagles really that good?
We'll find out, but to me, the Vick/blitzing angle has been beaten to death and it's not even right. For some reason people seem to think that because Antoine Winfield, one of the best blitzing corners in football, was able to confuse Vick in a Sunday night game last season that anyone can do it. Sure, Vick struggled with other blitzing schemes as the weeks went on following that game, but not to the point that it was a major concern.
I think Vick will be blitzed early, but I think a long connection to DeSean Jackson and/or a long scramble will put an end to the questions. I don't think the Eagles are as good as they're being hyped up either, but they will be for at least one week.
Final score: Philadelphia 37, St. Louis 17
Cincinnati (+6.5) over Cleveland
Even if I purchased DirecTV's NFL Sunday Ticket, I can honestly say I don't think I'd watch any part of this game. Two below average teams with young quarterbacks who don't have great deep accuracy doesn't scream "exciting" and I expect this game to be fairly low scoring.
Browns QB Colt McCoy has an extra year of experience on Bengals QB Andy Dalton, and McCoy was much better in college. However, I think AJ Green and Dalton will connect on at least one deep ball, and the Browns lack that dynamic playmaker that can change the game. I'm not a believer in Peyton Hillis, and I'm still bitter the Madden cover is ruined by someone in an ugly Browns uniform.
Final score: Cincinnati 20, Cleveland 13
Tennessee (+2) over Jacksonville
If a team releases their starting quarterback 5 days before the season opener and replaces him with Josh McCown, it doesn't matter who that team is playing. They will lose.
I also expect Chris Johnson to let out some frustration he's had built up with the contract negotiations on the Jaguars. Look for a big opening week from CJ.
Final score: Tennessee 28, Jacksonville 10
New York Giants (-3) over Washington
The Giants have been decimated by injuries this preseason, and their defensive backfield is missing a few key players. While those injuries are likely going to cost the Giants a chance to truly compete in the NFC East, the good news for them is that they open the season against a team that is starting Rex Grossman at quarterback. Seriously.
Eli Manning has looked bad this preseason, but I think he'll be able to play well enough to help the Giants beat the Redskins this week. I'm not sure how he'll play the rest of the season, though.
Final score: New York Giants 17, Washington 13
Arizona (-7) over Carolina
The Cardinals gave up a lot to get Kevin Kolb from the Eagles. However, if Kolb becomes even an above average quarterback, it will be a solid trade. Kolb should be above average, at least, from day one, and the potential is certainly there for him to be a very good quarterback in this league. Throwing the ball to Larry Fitzgerald won't hurt either.
Cam Newton is a fun player to watch, but coming from a junior college two years ago and a spread offense this past year, he's going to have some growing pains. The Cardinals defense isn't exactly elite, but the Panthers conservative style should help the Cardinals pull away in this one.
Final score: Arizona 33, Carolina 14
Seattle (+5.5) over San Francisco
Tarvaris Jackson vs. Alex Smith. Yuck.
The scoring will be so low it'll look like a Mariners Giants game instead of a Seahawks 49ers game.
Final score: Seattle 6, San Francisco 3
Vikings (+8.5) over San Diego
This is nothing more than blind hope. If I was being unbiased, I would predict a Chargers win by 10 or more. However, since I'm not unbiased, I'll take the Vikings. Adrian Peterson should be able to run the ball well enough to help set up play action passes for Donovan McNabb, and that should also allow the team to control the clock and keep the high-octane Chargers offense off the field for long periods of time.
The Chargers have an elite offense and a good defense, and are at home, so if you're actually looking for advice, take the Chargers to cover. The Vikings will probably play terribly, but as a fan, I can't hope for that. I'd rather hope for a W.
Final score: Minnesota 27, San Diego 24
New York Jets (-4.5) over Dallas
I'm not sold on Mark Sanchez having even an average year, but I do think Rex Ryan will be able to come up with enough blitzes and odd schemes to confuse Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, and he'll struggle against a great Jets defense.
The Cowboys should be better than they were last year but they still have a lot of issues. The Jets are great at exploiting teams minor issues, and I fully expect to see that on Sunday night.
Final score: New York Jets 27, Dallas 20
New England (-7) over Miami
Tom Brady is good. Chad Henne is not.
Final score: New England 38, Miami 14
Oakland (+3) over Denver
For all the talk about the Broncos quarterbacks this preseason, it's kind of meaningless. The team went 2-10 with Kyle Orton last year and 1-2 with Tim Tebow. Tebow's sample size was small so it's hard to know exactly what he brings to the table, but the Broncos were TWO AND TEN with Kyle Orton. Even if the team isn't sold on Tebow, see what Brady Quinn has. They should have traded Orton when they could have.
The Raiders aren't a great team, but they shouldn't have any problems beating Denver to open the season. I was surprised the Raiders were actually getting three points. We'll see what happens.
Final score: Oakland 28, Denver 19