NFL Picks Week 1: Analyzing Expert Predictions from Around the Web
The NFL season is finally here.
With the return of actual NFL football, we also get a deluge of NFL analysts giving you their opinions on every game.
Every week we'll be here to gather some of them together, give you an idea of who is picking whom and add in my take and pick as well.
What are they saying? Let's take a look.
Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos
The opening night for the 2013 NFL season kicks off with the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens flying to the Mile High City to take on the Denver Broncos on Thursday Night Football.
This will be a tough game for both sides.
The Broncos have questions along the offensive line and are lacking both linebacker Von Miller due to suspension and cornerback Champ Bailey due to a sprained foot. They still have Peyton Manning, of course, and managed to add another weapon for him in former New England Patriot Wes Welker.
Meanwhile, the Baltimore Ravens lost Anquan Boldin to San Francisco, Ed Reed to Houston and Ray Lewis to retirement. On the flip side, the defense may actually be better, and they still have Ray Rice, Joe Flacco and Torrey Smith.
This game will come down to Manning, though, and he's got more weapons—enough to get ahead of the Ravens and stay there.
My Pick: Broncos
New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills
The fact that EJ Manuel is starting will make Buffalo Bills fans at least a little happier, though the outcome shouldn't change much.
The Patriots will focus as much pressure as possible on rookie quarterback EJ Manuel to keep him from making his reads and progressions and force him into mistakes.
On top of that, it's a lot to ask of a rookie to catch up to Tom Brady and his offense as it piles up yards. It's just going to be too much for the Bills to overcome.
My Pick: Patriots
Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers will be much better than people expect. Per CBS Sports, simplifying the offense has gone over well with the players so far, even if it hasn't translated all that well onto the field yet.
That said, the Seattle Seahawks are just too good on both of sides of the ball. The offense was ranked eighth according to NFL.com this preseason and didn't seem to miss Percy Harvin or Sidney Rice all that much.
Defensively, the team ranked third during the preseason according to NFL.com and should have no real problem shutting down the Carolina offense this week.
My Pick: Seahawks
Cincinnati Bengals at Chicago Bears
This comes down to whether the new-look offense of the Chicago Bears and head coach Marc Trestman is farther along than the Cincinnati Bengals are with integrating new weapons like rookies Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard.
It's going to be tough for even a solid Bengals defense to stop all the weapons the Bears have—if the offensive line holds up.
Which is really the key for Chicago. Can the offensive line—improved with the additions of Jermon Bushrod and rookie Kyle Long—hold off Geno Atkins, Michael Johnson, Carlos Dunlap and Vontaze Burfict?
It's hard to tell for sure how well the line will do—the 13 sacks they allowed, via NFL.com, in the preseason often came at the hands of substitutes and third-stringers—but it's hard to imagine a clean game when faced with the Bengals' front seven, which itself racked up 10 sacks in preseason action, per NFL.com.
In the end, I agree with the other analysts that the Bears won't quite be up to beating the Bengals, but it will undoubtedly be a close game.
My Pick: Bengals
Miami Dolphins at Cleveland Browns
This is going to be another close game, a battle of defensive fronts and offensive lines.
The Miami Dolphins' starting offensive line has played well, though in the third preseason game, (considered the "dress rehearsal" for the regular season) the unit struggled at times. According to Pro Football Focus' analysis, Jonathan Martin struggled for the first time in the preseason.
He'll need to hold up against a tough pass rush from the Cleveland Browns if quarterback Ryan Tannehill is going to make use of Mike Wallace at wide receiver.
The Browns face a similar issue against what looks to be a tough Miami pass rush. The difference is, the Browns already had a top-five offensive line, via Pro Football Focus. There's no doubting how good they are.
That's going to be the difference here. Small? Maybe, but that's what wins are made of.
My Pick: Browns
Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions
As much as I like the Vikings this year, this game doesn't fill me with a lot of confidence, largely because I still don't buy into Christian Ponder.
My often-repeated stat is that I saw him throw 75 percent of his passes last year shorter than 10 yards. Against this defense, that just won't cut it. You have to challenge the corners the Lions have (or don't have, depending on how you view it), but Ponder is unlikely to do this—especially under pressure.
Adrian Peterson is unstoppable—the problem is, so is Calvin Johnson. At the end of the day, it's hard to ride your running back to a comeback win.
The Vikings will be better than this over the course of the season, just not this weekend.
My Pick: Lions
Oakland Raiders at Indianapolis Colts
That was what my 11-year-old said when he saw the expert picks on this game.
The upside for Raiders fans is they'll get to see Terrelle Pryor, who will make this interesting by extending plays with his legs. The problem is, he has a tendency to pull the ball down too quickly and it's likely he will take a few hits he shouldn't.
My Pick: Colts
Kansas City Chiefs at Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars will need to run Maurice Jones-Drew early and often if they want to win this game. After some retirement comments from Jones-Drew this week, via John Oehser of Jaguars.com, you would be excused if you were concerned he could mentally handle it.
He'll have to because the Jaguars don't have much else. Yes, Cecil Shorts is an excellent receiver, but the rest of the group behind him is relativity unproven, and Blaine Gabbert isn't exactly inspiring confidence, as he's already banged up according to Jacksonville.com.
The Chiefs have a healthy Jamaal Charles and a decent quarterback in Alex Smith. This isn't one of the closer games you'll see Sunday.
My Pick: Chiefs
Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints
You can expect a shootout here, new Saints defense and Rob Ryan notwithstanding.
New Orleans was the No. 1-ranked passing offense in 2012, averaging 334.2 yards per game, while the Atlanta Falcons were No. 8 and averaged 262 yards per game, via NFL.com.
Meanwhile the Saints allowed the third-most total yards (4,157), while the Falcons were better, ranking 13th, via NFL.com.
While it's hard to read too much into the preseason, the Saints saw an improvement against the pass, allowing just 217 yards per game. That said, there were times when the starting defense struggled as it transitioned to Ryan's 3-4 defense, and it generated just three turnovers.
On top of that, the Saints are without linebackers Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma (injured reserve), which could make the pass rush a little less effective.
When you look at the offense they face—with Roddy White, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez, Matt Ryan and Steven Jackson—it's not hard to think that early in the season, when the defense is still jelling, they will give up points.
The Saints win a lot of games by outscoring other offenses rather than preventing those offenses from getting going.
This week, they face a team which can run with them. Their defense is still under construction, while the Atlanta defense (allowing just 185.8 yards per game in the preseason according to NFL.com) is ready to go.
It's going to be a fun one to watch, but this game will belong to the defense which steps up last, and it's much easier to trust the Falcons in that regard.
My Pick: Falcons
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New York Jets
The experts are sold on the Buccaneers, and it's hard to make a case otherwise, given the mess the New York Jets are on the offensive side of the ball.
ESPN reported that Geno Smith has been named the starting quarterback for the game, and after his three-interception showing in Week 3 of the preseason, you can expect the Bucs to bring a lot of pressure in the game to force some bad decisions.
The upside for Jets fans is that the Bucs didn't bring that pressure consistently or effectively this preseason, with just five sacks—tied for last in the league according to NFL.com. They were able to generate four interceptions, however, and it's not hard to imagine that getting added to in Week 1.
The Jets' offensive line isn't as bad as we think, but Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David, Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers are a lot to handle all at once.
Oh, and some guy named Darrelle Revis is returning to New York with a chip on his shoulder, per Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times (h/t NFL.com).
Where this could get interesting is with the Jets defense and inconsistent Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman.
The Jets allowed the 11th-fewest yards per game (200, according to NFL.com) and generated nine sacks. Freeman has better weapons on offense (Doug Martin, Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams), but he has to use them.
He will struggle. But, ultimately, he'll struggle a lot less than Geno Smith and the Jets.
My Pick: Buccaneers
Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh Steelers
Only one group of experts bucked the trend here, with the CBS crew leaning toward the Titans overall. Otherwise, it's all Steelers—a sentiment I agree with.
Interestingly, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin is concerned about the chance that the Titans and quarterback Jake Locker run some read-option, which Tomlin told the Tribune's Alan Robinson that Locker could do effectively:
I'd imagine they've worked some on the read option, stuff that is in vogue in today's NFL. He definitely has the skill set to do it.
The Steelers don't match up all that well with that—their aging defense isn't exactly fast. That said, we haven't see the Titans push the read-option much yet, though we know that doesn't mean they won't.
Offensively, the Steelers are a bit disheveled and were a bottom-10 team in the preseason per NFL.com.
Don't read too much into it, though. This is the second year in offensive coordinator Todd Haley's scheme, and the offense will continue to improve.
Losing rookie running back Le'Veon Bell for the next month or so will hurt, but Isaac Redman should fill in nicely. Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and rookie Marcus Wheaton will do just fine catching balls from Ben Roethlisberger.
The offense will move the ball, which leaves one last question—can the Steelers defense contain Chris Johnson? The answer is probably no, but the Steelers should be able to contain the rest of the offense and hold on for a closer-than-expected win over the Titans.
My Pick: Steelers
Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers
This should be one of the best games this weekend.
The Packers have probably had this game highlighted on their calender since 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick blew past them last winter. They might even have nightmares of Kaepernick running past them on the field.
The question is, have they done enough defensively to change the outcome?
Pro Football Talk says they'll be without Casey Hayward this week, leaving Sam Shields and Tramon Williams as the remaining corners. Williams can be brilliant and Shields is serviceable, but the secondary is a lot better with Hayward in it.
The Packers were able to generate sacks this preseason, totaling 13 (which ranks them No. 6 according to NFL.com). The problem when they lost in January wasn't generating sacks, though—it was outside containment.
It just doesn't seem to me they've done enough to fix that. Sure, they've traveled to colleges to study the read-option (though Texas A&M isn't really read-option), and, sure, Clay Matthews has told ESPN Radio they'll concentrate on hitting Kaepernick (h/t NFL.com). Ultimately, though, I've been less than impressed with Dom Capers' defense over the last few years and don't feel there have been enough changes going into this game.
My Pick: 49ers
Arizona Cardinals at St. Louis Rams
I'd feel better about the Cardinals' chances had Jonathan Cooper not been lost for the season. With him being placed on injured reserve with a broken leg, via CBS Sports.com, the already shaky offensive line seems even more rickety.
The Rams have an outstanding front seven and two stud cornerbacks, and Carson Palmer threw 14 interceptions last year—I don't much like that combination.
One thing the Cardinals have which you have to like is Larry Fitzgerald. Still, I expect Janoris Jenkins and Cortland Finnegan to play him very physically and make it hard to gain space to move in.
Ultimately, the defense for the Rams is just too good.
My Pick: Rams
New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys
While I can't disagree with the notion that the Dallas Cowboys will play well on Sunday Night Football, the New York Giants always travel well to Dallas.
Since 2010, when "Jerry World" opened, the Giants have beaten the Cowboys all three times they've traveled there.
So much for the home-field advantage.
That ends this week.
The Cowboys' talent on defense is a perfect fit for Monte Kiffin's Cover 2 scheme. DeMarcus Ware will bring pressure off the edge, while Sean Lee can come up the middle or drop back into coverage to cover the middle of the field.
Anthony Spencer may not be there, as he is still recovering from knee surgery according to the Dallas Morning News. That might hurt a bit, but then expect Bruce Carter and Justin Durant to step up.
This will generate pressure on an injury-decimated Giants offensive line and force Eli Manning to hurry his reads—setting up Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr to generate turnovers.
You can hear more of my take in this week's Dallas-Giants Pigskin Preview video.
My Pick: Dallas
Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins
Robert Griffin III is back and that's got to make Washington fans happy.
Will it be enough?
It should be, given that the offensive line for the Eagles still has some work to do. As I mentioned in this week's Pigskin Preview, it's a lot to ask of rookie Lane Johnson to stop London Fletcher and Ryan Kerrigan. On top of that, we know Michael Vick won't stay in the pocket—learning to block for him takes time and Johnson hasn't been at it that long.
On the plus side, the Eagles only allowed nine sacks during the preseason and not all of them were on the starting line or Vick.
Still, the difference here will be the offensive line, and as much as head coach Chip Kelly's uptempo offense will test Washington's defense, it's not going to be enough to outscore Griffin and his offense.
My Pick: Washington
Houston Texans at San Diego Chargers
The San Diego Chargers got quarterback Philip Rivers a new head coach (former Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy) but somehow forgot to improve his offensive line, get him a running back who isn't always hurt (looking at you, Ryan Mathews) or get him a top wide receiver to work with.
At least Antonio Gates is still knocking around.
The Chargers allowed 13 sacks in the preseason, and while they don't all get tagged to the first-string offensive line, Rivers was sacked three times in one game against a tough Chicago Bears defense.
The Texans are a better defense than the Bears (sorry, Chicago fans). J.J. Watt was unreal last year and he gets Brian Cushing back, which is only going to be a good thing, as offenses will have another thing to worry about.
As supporting proof, please consider the 18 sacks Houston accrued in the preseason—ranking them first in the NFL according to NFL.com.
It doesn't look good for the Chargers.
My Pick: Texans
Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at Footballguys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.