Who will win the big quarterback battle between Colin Kaepernick and Aaron Rodgers?
After enduring another long, hot summer of tortuous waiting, NFL fans can finally rejoice. The regular season has officially arrived, and it’s certainly arriving in style.
With big marquee matchups such as Ravens-Broncos, Packers-49ers, Cowboys-Giants, Saints-Falcons and Eagles-Redskins headlining the Week 1 card, the 2013 season is starting with a big bang.
Though those five games are clearly the cream of the crop, there’s plenty of other action that should intrigue gamblers this weekend.
With a full 16-game slate, there’s plenty of spreads and totals to sift through. Here’s a look at breakdowns and predictions for every Week 1 game.
Note: All lines are courtesy of Covers.com.
Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos
Spread: Denver (-7.5)
The Ravens return to the site of their remarkable comeback victory in last year’s AFC divisional round playoff battle, looking like a much different team. Many of the integral players to last year’s Super Bowl run such as Anquan Boldin, Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Dennis Pitta and Paul Kruger won’t be in the lineup for Baltimore this time around.
The roster changeover, the revenge factor, and Peyton Manning’s presence are the three main reasons why the boys in Vegas have surprisingly installed the Ravens as more than a touchdown underdog for this game.
Remember, though, there’s a reason why Joe Flacco was able to prevail on that fateful day back in January, while Manning was left to sit on the cold sideline wearing his typical sad Peyton playoff loss face.
You can continue to underestimate Flacco all you want, but Broncos fans better hope that Denver’s defense, which will be without its top two pass-rushers from last year—Von Miller, who is sitting out due to a suspension and Elvis Dumervil, who has switched sides and joined forces with the Ravens—better not take the quarterback with the biggest contract in the league lightly.
If the Denver defense thinks it can just let Peyton, Wes Welker, Demaryius Thomas and the rest of the offense just coast to an easy win, the Broncos have another thing coming. Ultimately, though, John Fox’s team should be able to use the motivation from last year’s loss and turn it into a statement win to start the 2013 season.
Pick: Broncos (-7.5), Over
Prediction: Denver 34, Baltimore 24
New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills
Spread: New England (-10)
New England enters this season with something to prove after suffering a disappointing home loss in last year’s AFC Championship game and enduring a tumultuous offseason.
The problem is, the Patriots also enter the year with plenty of question marks—especially at the offensive skill positions.
With so many questions about the new-look offense, it’s tough to lay double-digit points in a road-opener, even if it is against a rookie quarterback and a rookie head coach.
In their last 10 meetings with Buffalo, the Pats have prevailed in nine of those games, and they’ll likely notch another victory this time around. However, the Bills are a more talented team than many seem to be giving them credit for. If the team can establish the run early and get a few nice improvisation plays from EJ Manuel, Buffalo has the chance to at least keep this game competitive and reasonably close at home.
Pick: Bills (+10), Over
Prediction: New England 30, Buffalo 21
Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh Steelers
Spread: Pittsburgh (-7)
Pittsburgh’s one of the true mystery teams of the 2013 season. There’s a lot to like about the Steelers, but there’s also some key questions to ask about them.
Can Ben Roethlisberger bounce back after an injury-riddled 2012 season?
Will the offensive line be able to keep Big Ben properly protected?
What should we expect from the aging Steelers defense, which has started to show cracks in recent years?
On paper, the Steelers clearly look to be a superior team to the Titans, although it’s tough to back them coming right out of the gate considering those burning questions.
If QB Jake Locker doesn’t make any major mistakes in this game, the Titans should be able to hang around into the fourth quarter in what’s shaping up to be a tough, physical, yet likely somewhat sloppy season-opener for both squads.
Pick: Titans (+7), Under
Prediction: Pittsburgh 20, Tennessee 16
Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints
Spread: Saints (-3)
You won’t find many other matchups in Week 1 that are as intriguing and as important as the NFC South showdown between the Falcons and the Saints in the Superdome.
New Orleans, which welcomes back head coach Sean Payton after last year’s full-season suspension, will be looking to put together a sizzling showcase performance against the defending division winner.
The only question is: Can the Saints secondary, which was historically dreadful last year, keep Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez at least somewhat contained?
If the defense—which has switched schemes from a 4-3 to a 3-4 system this offseason—is up to the challenge, Payton, Brees and the rest of the Saints should be able to ride the motivation from last year’s subpar season as well as the home-crowd energy to a big opening weekend win over their division foes.
Pick: Saints (-3), Under
Prediction: New Orleans 30, Atlanta 23
Tampa Bay Bucs at New York Jets
Spread: Tampa Bay (-3)
The two big storylines surrounding this game are Geno Smith’s first career NFL start and Darrelle Revis’ return to New York. However, while most of the media may be focusing on those two notable names, the real player who will be the deciding factor in this game is Bucs RB Doug Martin.
Say what you will about the Jets’ lackluster offense, but you actually have to give credit to Rex Ryan for building a formidable defense in the post-Revis era.
The big question in this game is can New York’s front-seven hold Martin in check and force Josh Freeman to win with his arm?
If Gang Green’s "D" steps its game up and takes some of the burden off of Geno and the offense, the Jets should actually be able to pull off what at this point can be considered a mild upset in front of their home crowd.
Pick: Jets (+3), Under
Prediction: New York 16, Tampa Bay 13
Kansas City Chiefs at Jacksonville Jaguars
Spread: Kansas City (-3.5)
This is the only game of opening weekend that will pit two new head coaches against each other. Obviously, Kansas City’s Andy Reid clearly has the upper hand in terms of experience over Jacksonville’s Gus Bradley, who will be making his head-coaching debut. However, as far as football IQ goes, Bradley ranks right up there with Reid.
Sure, the Jaguars are staring at another disappointing double-digit loss season. But this is the type of game where we could see a big effort from them before things turn sour the rest of the season.
With the new regime of Bradley and general manager David Caldwell taking over, there’s at least some sense of optimism in Jacksonville once again. The Jags should be able to feed off that positive energy and pick up a big home win in Week 1.
For some reason, new Chiefs QB Alex Smith, who averaged just six yards per attempt in preseason play, has been receiving glowing endorsements from a large chunk of the media. But I, for one, just can’t understand the hype.
Bradley is the type of defensive whiz who could make a limited, weak-armed quarterback like Smith perform very poorly, especially in an early-season road environment.
Pick: Jaguars (+3.5), Under
Prediction: Jacksonville 22, Kansas City 14
Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers
Spread: Seattle (-3.5)
This is one of the spreads that deserves a long "Hmmm" from bettors.
It’s easy to like Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks' stout defense against any opponent, regardless of the situation. However, you obviously have to factor in the tricky element that is a west coast team flying across the country and playing an early one o'clock game.
It certainly wouldn’t be surprising to see Seattle start this game in sluggish fashion, and even head into halftime trailing.
Even if that happens, though, it’s hard to trust the Panthers to close the deal. Cam Newton is clearly one of the most gifted offensive playmakers in the NFL. But even if Newton and the Panthers can build up an early lead, you have to wonder if the talented, yet not-so-mentally-tough dual-threat quarterback and the shaky Panthers secondary will be able to finish things off.
Even if the Seahawks start this game slow, Wilson and crew should be able to rally and head back to the west coast with a win.
Pick: Seahawks (-3.5), Over
Prediction: Seattle 28, Carolina 24
Cincinnati Bengals at Chicago Bears
Spread: Chicago (-3)
If you watched any of Hard Knocks this year, then you know that the Bengals are a team that has its sights set high for 2013. Cincinnati clearly has the talent to win the AFC North this year. Nevertheless, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the team’s season get off to a rocky start, when it heads to Chicago.
The new-look Bears are led by innovative offensive mind Marc Trestman, who should add some much needed dynamism to the offense.
Trestman may have a hit or miss quarterback in Jay Cutler, but he also has plenty of weapons at his disposal such as Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett. The team’s talented pass-catching trio complements each other well. It’s a group that should cause plenty of headaches for the Bengals secondary, which doesn’t feature many steady starters besides star corner Leon Hall.
If Cutler can consistently put the ball where it needs to be, his talented receivers should be able to make enough big plays in the passing game to lead the Bears to a big home win in Trestman’s debut outing.
Pick: Bears (-3), Over
Prediction: Chicago 33, Cincinnati 24
Miami Dolphins at Cleveland Browns
Spread: Pick 'em
The Browns are a team to watch out for this season, and they’re going to prove that during opening weekend with a big win over Miami.
New Cleveland defensive coordinator Ray Horton should be able to keep Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill confused and constantly on his heels throughout the game with his new-look attack-style 3-4 defense.
The real difference-maker in this game, though, will be on the Browns offense, and his name isn’t Brandon Weeden or Trent Richardson. It’s Davone Bess, the former Dolphins wideout who will be looking for payback against his former team.
I expect Bess to outplay the man who replaced him in Miami, Mike Wallace, as he helps guide Cleveland to its first Week 1 win since 2009.
Pick: Browns, Under
Prediction: Cleveland 23, Miami 10
Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions
Spread: Detroit (-5)
Minnesota won both of the meetings between these two teams last year. However, it looks like the Lions should be able to avenge those defeats with a big win at home to start the 2013 season.
The incredible and historic performance that Adrian Peterson put together last year helped mask some of the Vikings' flaws in 2012, especially the inconsistent play of QB Christian Ponder. But it’s doubtful that Peterson will be able to put the team on his shoulders and carry Minnesota in the same fashion yet again.
Detroit should be able to rely on the dangerous offensive trio of QB Matt Stafford, running back Reggie Bush and wide receiver Calvin Johnson to build an early lead, forcing the Vikings to rely on Ponder’s arm instead of Peterson's legs in the second half.
The struggling third-year quarterback simply won’t be able to make enough plays through the air to keep up with Detroit’s awesome aerial attack.
Pick: Lions (-5), Over
Prediction: Detroit 38, Minnesota 24
Oakland Raiders at Indianapolis Colts
Spread: Indianapolis (-10)
It’s likely that the majority of fans who are in NFL survivor pools will be riding with the Colts this weekend, and it’s tough to blame them.
On paper, Oakland is clearly one of the weakest teams in the league this year.
Still, it’s hard to know just exactly what to expect from the Raiders at this point, considering new starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor is such an unknown.
Pryor is one of the most gifted athletes in all of professional sports, and there were times during his days at Ohio State when he showed remarkable, natural playmaking ability. However, Pryor’s passing prowess has always been questioned, and he certainly didn’t do much during the preseason to eliminate those concerns.
That’s why the Raiders’ game plan will likely be to take the air out of the ball and pound Pryor and Darren McFadden against a Colts defense that gave up an average of 5.1 yards per carry last year, ranking second to last in the league.
The plan may work early in the game. But ultimately, Andrew Luck and the Colts offense will just be too much for the Raiders' completely revamped defense to handle.
Pick: Raiders (+10), Under
Prediction: Indianapolis 27, Oakland 19
Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers
Spread: San Francisco (-4.5)
The Packers remember what it felt like to walk off the field at Candlestick Park after getting manhandled by the 49ers 45-31 in last year's playoffs. You can bet that Aaron Rodgers and the rest of the Packers have carried that feeling with them all offseason, using it as motivation.
Rodgers and the rest of the Cheeseheads will get their chance at revenge on Sunday, and they’re going to make the most of it.
If Green Bay’s shaky offensive tackle tandem can give Rodgers the time he needs to create big plays down the field, the tremendously accurate and efficient passer should be able to pick apart a San Francisco secondary that lost its only standout performer from last year, free safety Dashon Goldson, this offseason.
Pick: Packers (+4.5), Over
Prediction: Green Bay 41, San Francisco 31
Arizona Cardinals at St. Louis Rams
Spread: St. Louis (-4.5)
Most of the talk in St. Louis this offseason has revolved around the Rams offense and the acquisitions of explosive game-breaking WR Tavon Austin and matchup nightmare tight end Jared Cook. However, the focus for this game in particular should be on the team’s underrated defensive line.
Chris Long, Robert Quinn and Michael Brockers should have a field day going up against a weak Cardinals offensive line, which likely won’t be able to give aging, immobile QB Carson Palmer adequate protection.
On the flip side, though, the Cardinals have a quality defense as well, led by Calais Campbell, Patrick Peterson and exciting new addition Tyrann Mathieu.
That’s why this game seems like it's shaping up to be a close, low-scoring affair. Ultimately, the Rams should be able force Palmer to make enough mistakes to come away with a victory at home.
Pick: Arizona (+4.5), Under
Prediction: St. Louis 20, Arizona 19
New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys
Spread: Dallas (-3)
This has been a rather lopsided rivalry in recent years, with the Giants winning seven of the last 10 meetings between these two teams. This year, though, the Cowboys come into this game with not just a home-field advantage, but a distinct overall talent advantage as well.
Dallas' offense is once again loaded with plenty of firepower. RB Demarco Murray, receivers Dez Bryant and Miles Austin and TE Jason Witten will likely be just too much to handle for a Giants secondary that often looked shaky in 2012.
A blowout loss to the Cowboys in Week 1 will likely be just the beginning of what is shaping up to be an uncharacteristically unsuccessful and ugly season for Big Blue.
Pick: Cowboys (-3), Over
Prediction: Dallas 41, New York 24
Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins
Spread: Washington (-3.5)
Redskins fans will celebrate the return of their beloved star quarterback Robert Griffin III, who will see his first game action of the year in a Monday night matchup with the Eagles just nine months after suffering a serious knee injury.
It’s impossible to know just how healthy RGIII is for this game, which is why I’d instead rather ride with the dual-threat quarterback who I’ve seen play at a high level throughout the preseason: Philadelphia’s Michael Vick.
Vick’s skill set is perfectly suited for new coach Chip Kelly’s spread-style attack. It will be very interesting to see just how efficient he is in his first, full game of running the system.
The Vick versus Griffin battle has the potential to be one of the most exciting quarterback showdowns of 2013. However, that’s largely dependent on whether Griffin can make all the plays we’re used to seeing from him. If he’s unable to make all those patented plays with both his arm and his legs, then it’ll be tough for Washington’s offense to keep up with the Eagles’ uptempo attack.
Pick: Eagles (+3.5), Under
Prediction: Philadelphia 30, Washington 20
Houston Texans at San Diego Chargers
Spread: Houston (-3.5)
Every time I look at this matchup, I keep asking myself why this spread is so low. Maybe it has to do with the fact that the Chargers are one of just three teams that the Texans franchise has yet to notch a win against. Because when you look at these two teams on paper, there’s really no reason to believe that Houston won’t win this game handily.
Of course there’s a chance that the Texans could have a letdown performance here, and there’s a chance that this ends up being the big trap game of Week 1. However, Houston is simply head-and-shoulders above San Diego as far as talent goes.
It’s tough to see the Chargers overcoming that drastic disadvantage, even if they are playing at home on Monday night.
Pick: Texans (-3.5), Under
Prediction: Houston 27, San Diego 9