After patiently waiting through an offseason of legal accusations, contract holdouts, over-reported training camps and an excruciatingly unimportant preseason schedule, the time has finally arrived—it’s football season!
With more storylines than can be kept track of, we head into the 2012-13 season with a flourish of fantasy dreams and playoff wishes.
Some of the notable situations to follow as this year gets out of the starting blocks include the high expectations for rookies Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck, Peyton’s debut in the Mile High City, the continued growth/domination of Megatron, and of course Tebow time in New York.
Following a year in which the air attack in the NFL flew to new heights, including three 5,000-plus-yard passers, it will also be interesting to see if this trend continues to inflate the statistics of QBs and WRs while the ground game slowly transitions into a backup plan for most teams.
Now let’s get down to business. Following a season of picks that earned me a second consecutive league championship (that’s a 30-plus man league, by the way), this year’s goal will be to attain the elusive three-peat. After weeks of gut feelings and flip-flops, my final 2011 tallies shook out like this:
- Straight: 177-79 (69 percent)
- Spread: 147-109 (57 percent)
- Over/Under: 142-114 (55 percent)
Certainly not much to complain about in those numbers, and hopefully that 57 percent against the spread helped somebody somewhere bank a little cheddar and come back for this season. Of course, repetition is the father of learning, so I expect nothing less than improved results as we dive into this season.
Personal goals I am setting for myself include; 70-plus percent on straight up picks, 60 percent against the spread, and of course another championship trophy. So hop on for the ride, and stick around for the entire season, because you’re not getting picks this proven for free anywhere else!
The 2012 season kicks off with a Wednesday-night battle pitting the ever-underachieving Cowboys against last season’s Super Bowl champion Giants. Eli and company have very few doubters left following yet another remarkable playoff run capped off with a memorable victory against the Pats for their second trophy in five years.
The Cowboys will feature second-year stud DeMarco Murray at the starting halfback position in an offense led by an always-determined Tony Romo at the helm. After the Giants shut the ‘Boys out of the playoffs with a Week 17 win last season in this same stadium, Dallas will surely be looking for revenge against their bitter division rival—but not so fast.
The last eight Super Bowl champions have followed up their glory year by winning their first home game the following season (the Bucs in ’03 were the last to lose their home opener as defending champs), and the Giants will follow that trend by managing this one at home despite Romo’s best eff-up—oops, I meant effort (no I didn’t).
Straight: New York
Spread: New York
Rookie QB Andrew Luck will get no mercy in his first professional start, as he is thrown into the pit at Soldier Field against a perennially stingy defense. The Bears D are likely licking their chops at the chance to be the first to put Luck on his back following an offseason of unprecedented hype for the youngster.
Unfortunately, besides Reggie Wayne on the outside, Luck will have little help this season (there’s a reason the Colts got him with the first pick), and it will likely be a struggle for him to get much going in his debut season. He will improve Indy’s winning percentage over last year, but I see this one getting off to a rocky start.
The Eagles had a disappointing 8-8 season in 2011, to say the least, following an overload of expectations driven by multiple high-profile free-agent signings in the offseason. Despite those acquisitions, they failed to make a playoff appearance and come into this year with an enormous chip on their shoulder.
With Cleveland’s top CB Joe Haden suspended for this matchup, look for Michael Vick to attack a depleted secondary and throw for three or four touchdowns.
The Browns will feature a rare combination of rookie QB and RB starters with draft picks Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson manning the backfield. Talented as they may be, it is going to take some time for these guys to get used to the speed of the NFL, and the Eagles may personify that speed better than any other team in the league.
Philly won four straight going out last year, and I think they ride the momentum of criticism to a Week 1 victory against the young Browns.
The Pats went into the Super Bowl last year as heavy favorites, only to become just another forgotten team on the Giants’ trek to the title. With the addition of capable WR Brandon Lloyd, who led the league in receiving just two seasons ago, New England has given even more firepower to a passing attack that was subdued by none last season.
The Titans offense is on the opposite end of the spectrum. They ranked second to last in rushing last season, and young QB Jake Locker still has a long way to go before anybody is calling his high draft selection a success.
Tennessee added a talented target for Locker in former Baylor WR Kendall Wright, but an underachieving passer, rookie wideout and nauseating running attack are not even close to enough to keep up with the overpowering Pats. New England wins big here.
Straight: New England
Spread: New England
The Falcons squeaked into a playoff spot last season only to be embarrassed by the eventual champs in a shameful 24-2 whooping in the Wild Card Round. Matt Ryan and the ATL offense are far more capable than that performance, and they will surely be eager to prove it. With the NFC South steadily improving, they will need to take advantage of games such as this one on the road in KC.
The Chiefs' 2011 hopes, slight as they may have been, were effectively crushed when starting RB Jamaal Charles was lost for the season with an ACL injury in Week 2. Charles is back now, and it will be crucial for KC that he hasn’t lost his game-breaking quickness if they hope to muster any sort of positivity out of this season.
It is likely that even if Charles is back to 100 percent, it will take a few weeks for him to feel fully comfortable on that knee again at game speed, and the Chiefs will struggle until he does.
Speaking of ACL injuries, here we find the poster boy for comebacks, Adrian Peterson. Reports say that the Vikings RB will be back in time for Week 1, but again, I am not inclined to put a lot of faith in a running back in his first week back from a knee injury, even if he is one of the best in the league.
Second-year starter at QB Christian Ponder will need to show continued growth this year in order to manage the wear and tear on Peterson’s knee, so look for him to get a lot of opportunities early.
The Jags picked up college sensation WR Justin Blackmon in the first round of the draft to team up with another second-year starter in Blaine Gabbert after the QB had a rough go of it in his debut season. If that duo grows together and star RB Maurice Jones-Drew is able to come off of an extended holdout without missing a beat, then this offense could shows signs of life moving through the season.
With question marks and ifs all over the place for both teams, this is a tough one to call, and when that’s the case, my detailed, thought-provoking, groundbreaking strategy is—go with the home team. Deep, I know.
One of the week’s more intriguing matchups features Robert Griffin III in his first professional game against Drew Brees and the Saints sans head coach Sean Payton. The Saints have been at the forefront of most of the offseason headlines following an alleged bounty scandal that resulted in suspension of multiple defensive players as well as Payton.
From my point of view, this makes that Saints team very scary this year. I wouldn’t put it past Brees to take the team on his shoulders and lead them to another historic year in 2012 following his record-setting 2011 campaign.
The Redskins can only hope that the magic that RGIII was able to provide at the collegiate level will be carried over into his first season under center in DC. With the physical skills Griffin possesses, it isn’t hard to believe that he will be able to do just that. With that being said, he doesn’t have what Brees has in the weapons department. He has Pierre Garcon, and that’s pretty much it.
The Redskins are on the right track, but they are a few seasons and a few acquisitions away from being able to compete with the NFL’s top-tier teams. Also, I am not picking against an angry Drew Brees. Not ever.
Straight: New Orleans
Spread: New Orleans
Believe it or not, unlike every single sports outlet in the world, so far I have been able to keep the main focus away from Tim Tebow! Just when you thought that was no longer possible. But now that we’re on to the Jets, it’s time the man got his due.
As far as I’m concerned, every game started by Mark Sanchez this season is just another in the countdown to Tebow being NY’s starting quarterback. It would be foolish to dismiss this idea, as the universe has clearly shown us that, like it or not, Tim Tebow will succeed.
There is another team involved in this game, believe it or not. The Bills were a bit of an anomaly last season, as they started off strong at 5-2 with a few playoff whispers but finished off with a putrid 1-8 second half, including a seven-game losing streak. With the addition of DE Mario Williams to the mix, Buffalo will be looking for a little more consistency on that side of the ball and could very well find it in the Pro Bowler.
So which Bills team will show up this season? Your guess is as good as mine. I am just hoping they remember to introduce the offense in between shots of Tebow on the sidelines.
I’m taking the Bills in this one purely because it has to happen in order to get the ball rolling on Sanchez’s imminent fall from glory that seems undeniably predestined.
St. Louis Rams (+8.5) at Detroit Lions (O/U = 47)
The Detroit Lions open up the 2012 season with a buzz around the team that hasn’t been felt since—well, maybe ever. With arguably the best wide receiver in football in Calvin Johnson and the 5,000-yard passer from last season, Matthew Stafford, the Lions possess one of the deadliest combinations in the league today.
The only thing holding Detroit back from being considered the best offense in football is the fact that there is little to no support from the running game. Top RB Jahvid Best will start the season on the PUP list missing six weeks, leaving the backfield in the incapable hands of Kevin Smith and Mikel Leshoure. Like I said, not much help there.
The Rams continue to hope that their first overall pick from the 2010 draft, Sam Bradford, will be able to step up and play at the level they expected when they spent that pick on him. With another mediocre year, there will surely be rumblings of the ever-feared “B” word leaking out of St. Louis (the “B” word in this instance is “bust,” not what you may be thinking).
Lucky for Bradford, the Lions secondary is probably their weakest link behind the running attack, so he should be able to put up a respectable showing in Week 1. Unfortunately for him, I am not seeing any Autobots on the Rams defensive depth chart, so I find it hard to believe that the Stafford-Megatron combination will be slowed in any way at home.
As the featured team on HBO’s Hard Knocks, the Miami Dolphins have given everyone an inside look on their preparation for this season. Between the progression of rookie QB Ryan Tannehill and the transgression of recently dismissed WR Chad Johnson, there are a lot of interested onlookers when it comes to the Dolphins' 2012 season.
The Houston Texans are coming off of their first playoff appearance as an organization which also included their first playoff win and look to maintain that momentum heading into this season. With ever-steady QB Matt Schaub, consensus fantasy No. 1 pick RB Arian Foster and the beastly Andre Johnson healthy again at WR, it should come as no surprise if this team returns to the playoffs thirsty for more.
The one question mark will be on the defensive side, as they will need to fill a large hole left by departing free agent Mario Williams.
I like the Texans to take this one at home and get this season started off on the right foot.
Maybe the best matchup of Week 1 features two of the NFC’s best teams in San Francisco and Green Bay. Both squads made it to the playoffs last year, and both were victimized by those pesky Giants.
The 49ers had their defense to thank for their success last year, which allowed only three rushing touchdowns in the entire regular season en route to permitting the second-fewest points per game in the NFL. With a backfield chock full of talent and a defense that can’t be touched by most, this team will undoubtedly be making another run at the postseason.
After starting the season 13-0 and finishing 15-1, the Pack were the unanimous favorite to take the Super Bowl crown behind the endless talent of QB Aaron Rodgers before being derailed in the Divisional Round.
Green Bay’s focus going into this season is to improve upon a defense that left a lot to be desired, but with the core they have established and the leadership of one of the NFL’s top head coaches in Mike McCarthy, it’s hard to see GB not making another legitimate run at a title, regardless of their defensive woes.
This is the toughest pick of the week for me, but I like Rodgers to lead his team to a narrow victory at home to start things off.
Straight: Green Bay
Spread: Green Bay
In a matchup not quite as exciting as the previous game, we have the Seahawks and Cardinals in a Week 1 NFC West showdown. Both teams had mediocre years in 2011 and enter this season with a lot to prove.
In a somewhat surprise move, the ‘Hawks will start rookie QB Russell Wilson under center to begin the year, which means eccentric RB Marshawn Lynch will be expected to carry a lot of weight offensively. He was up to the task last season, and it will be key for Seattle that he picks up right where he left off.
The Cardinals have a bit of insecurity themselves at the quarterback position and will have to feel their way through the muck as well. Coming off an 8-8 season, it feels like they will need the ball to bounce their way in order to remain at or above a .500 level this year.
The winner in this one will be any viewers who aren’t forced to watch a single play aside from a Lynch TD run or two.
Carolina Panthers (-2.5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (O/U = 46.5)
This matchup features the bottom half of the NFC South from last season, with both looking to improve over sub-.500 seasons. The Panthers showed signs of offensive brilliance behind breakout rookie star Cam Newton but were often derailed by defensive and special teams gaffes. Having focused on these two issues in the draft by adding Luke Keuchly and Joe Adams, they should be heading in the right direction.
The Bucs also addressed needs on both sides of the ball with Mark Barron and Doug Martin, both of whom will see plenty of time in their rookie seasons. After falling short of lofty expectations in 2011, quarterback Josh Freeman could find himself on the way out if he can’t put together a more solid year under center in 2012.
Newton’s numbers dipped in the second half of last season, and if he is able to bring them back up to the level we saw at the beginning of his rookie campaign then the Panthers could very well be a dark horse for an NFC wild-card spot.
Another high-profile Week 1 matchup will feature Peyton Manning in his debut game as a Bronco. Unfortunately for him, the Steelers will be lining up on the other side of the ball.
One of the NFL’s best defenses year in and year out, Pittsburgh will likely rush Manning to no end in order to move him out of the pocket and try to attack the neck that held him out of the entire 2011 season (did I just put myself on Roger Goodell’s bad list?).
Denver will need a superb effort offensively to try to negate the prowess of the Steelers D, and it remains to be seen if Peyton will be up to that challenge. If he can produce like he has shown ability to this preseason then Denver could easily hold serve at home.
The Steelers themselves have an injury concern in Rashard Mendenhall, who was lost with a knee injury during the playoffs last season. However, if their defense is able to torture Peyton in his return to the gridiron then a couple long balls over the top to Mike Williams and/or Antonio Brown could be all the black and yellow need to eke out a victory on the road at Mile High.
One of two Monday Night Football matchups will bring a young Bengals team into Baltimore in this AFC North matchup featuring two playoff teams from last season.
A stellar rookie season from QB Andy Dalton and WR A.J. Green brought Cincinnati to a new level, one which they hope to remain on with their talented young offense. They have also replaced RB Cedric Benson with Pats free agent BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who will have more weight on his shoulders in the Bengals system than in NE, where he was just one of a stable of capable backs.
Baltimore looked extremely solid (as usual) in 2011 and marched to yet another division title only to be knocked out by the Patriots in the NFC Championship. The steady hand of Joe Flacco matched with one of the league’s best backs in Ray Rice provide a solid offense for the Ravens, who took both games against the Bengals last season.
There may be a changing of the guard in the AFC North in the near future, but not quite yet as the Ravens hold out at home in a close one.
The late game on Monday night will pit the Chargers against the Raiders in yet another divisional matchup. The AFC West was the tightest division of all last season, so a victory for either team could prove very important down the line if things like tiebreakers come into effect come playoff time.
The Chargers will be weak at WR after losing Vincent Jackson in the offseason and Vincent Brown during the preseason. Tight end extraordinaire Antonio Gates will likely see even more targets with this turn of events, but there are many worse options that Philip Rivers could be forced into than a perennial Pro Bowler.
The Raiders looked very shaky at the end of last season, and it will be very important for QB Carson Palmer to come out strong if they hope to make a run at a division title. Darren McFadden’s health has been a question mark in seasons past, but his presence will be necessary to create the kind of balance their offense will need in order to be successful. With Michael Bush having departed for Chicago, this will be a make or break (no pun intended) year for Run DMC.
Tough game to call, but I like Oakland at home behind a big night from McFadden to start the season off right.
Picks via Vegas Insider.