Every team has a label entering the 2014 NFL regular season, but it is based on little more than what it looks like on paper. That is what makes predicting the NFL's opening week so difficult.
Traditionally good teams can go in the tank at any time, while perennial cellar dwellers tend to ascend to the top of the heap out of nowhere. The league's landscape will likely look much different after Week 1 than it does before it, and that is part of what makes the NFL season so exciting.
As tough as Week 1 is for fans to predict, it can be equally difficult on the oddsmakers. That means there is money to be made before the balance of power begins to truly take shape.
Here is a full rundown of the entire Week 1 slate complete with straight-up picks as well as picks against the spread.
|Date||Time (ET)||Away Team||Home Team||Spread||Pick||Pick ATS|
|Thursday, Sept. 4||8:30 p.m.||Green Bay Packers||Seattle Seahawks||SEA (-6)||SEA||SEA|
|Sunday, Sept. 7||1 p.m.||New England Patriots||Miami Dolphins||NE (-5)||NE||NE|
|Sunday, Sept. 7||1 p.m.||New Orleans Saints||Atlanta Falcons||NO (-2.5)||ATL||ATL|
|Sunday, Sept. 7||1 p.m.||Oakland Raiders||New York Jets||NYJ (-5.5)||NYJ||OAK|
|Sunday, Sept. 7||1 p.m.||Cincinnati Bengals||Baltimore Ravens||BAL (-1)||BAL||BAL|
|Sunday, Sept. 7||1 p.m.||Jacksonville Jaguars||Philadelphia Eagles||PHI (-11.5)||PHI||PHI|
|Sunday, Sept. 7||1 p.m.||Buffalo Bills||Chicago Bears||CHI (-7.5)||CHI||CHI|
|Sunday, Sept. 7||1 p.m.||Cleveland Browns||Pittsburgh Steelers||PIT (-7)||PIT||CLE|
|Sunday, Sept. 7||1 p.m.||Washington Redskins||Houston Texans||HOU (-2.5)||WAS||WAS|
|Sunday, Sept. 7||1 p.m.||Minnesota Vikings||St. Louis Rams||STL (-3.5)||MIN||MIN|
|Sunday, Sept. 7||1 p.m.||Tennessee Titans||Kansas City Chiefs||KC (-3.5)||TEN||TEN|
|Sunday, Sept. 7||4:25 p.m.||Carolina Panthers||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||TB (-1)||TB||TB|
|Sunday, Sept. 7||4:25 p.m.||San Francisco 49ers||Dallas Cowboys||SF (-4.5)||SF||SF|
|Sunday, Sept. 7||8:30 p.m.||Indianapolis Colts||Denver Broncos||DEN (-9)||DEN||IND|
|Monday, Sept. 8||7:10 p.m.||New York Giants||Detroit Lions||DET (-5.5)||DET||NYG|
|Monday, Sept. 8||10:20 p.m.||San Diego Chargers||Arizona Cardinals||ARI (-3)||SD||SD|
Lines courtesy of OddsShark.com
Top Locks Against the Spread
Atlanta Falcons (plus-2.5) vs. New Orleans Saints
In what has become one of the NFL's best rivalries in recent years, the Atlanta Falcons will host the New Orleans Saints to kick off their 2014 campaign. Atlanta is coming off a miserable season that saw it go 4-12, while New Orleans is considered by most to be the favorite in the NFC South.
It isn't particularly surprising that the Falcons are 2.5-point underdogs at home, considering the fact they were a train wreck last season, but things start anew in 2014. Wide receiver Julio Jones is back after missing most of 2013 with a foot injury, while fellow pass-catcher Roddy White is healed from the ankle ailment that sapped his effectiveness all season.
Add in the emergence of Harry Douglas as a true threat out of the slot, a strong running back stable and the presence of quarterback Matt Ryan, and it is tough to envision Atlanta doing anything other than improving by leaps and bounds.
The Falcons lost twice to the Saints last season, but those defeats were by a combined 10 points. If last year's team was capable of playing New Orleans that well, then this year's team has a definite shot to knock the Saints off in the Georgia Dome.
With that said, the Saints have been the Falcons' kryptonite during Mike Smith's tenure as head coach, according to D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
Even though New Orleans has Atlanta's number, its games are almost always decided by a single score one way or the other.
Last year notwithstanding, Matty Ice always seems to have some magic in his back pocket at home. He wasn't at his best in 2013 due largely to a supporting cast that was riddled with injuries. If his preseason performance is any indication, though, Ryan is in line for a bounce-back showing in 2014, per Rotoworld's Adam Levitan:
Matt Ryan in preseason: 28-of-37 for 314 yards w/ 2 TDs, 0 INTs. Right there with Cutler & Romo as my fav QB target. http://t.co/bEdpVVN3dH— Adam Levitan (@adamlevitan) August 24, 2014
The Falcons figure to be revitalized this season and motivated by the fact that they are underdogs at home. The Saints are going to be good this year, but look for Atlanta to ride a wave of emotion to an outright upset victory in Week 1.
San Francisco 49ers (minus-4.5) at Dallas Cowboys
The San Francisco 49ers have become known primarily for their defense in recent years, but they may have to find other ways to win early in 2014. With linebacker NaVorro Bowman and defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey both injured in addition to pass-rusher Aldon Smith's suspension, the Niners defense will have a decidedly different look in Week 1 against the Dallas Cowboys.
With that said, San Francisco's offense is very much intact. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick is out to prove he is deserving of the new contract he received during the offseason. The running back combo of veteran Frank Gore and rookie Carlos Hyde promises to be a handful for opposing defenses all season.
The Cowboys have an explosive offense in their own right, so this game has the makings of a shootout. If that is ultimately the case, though, the 49ers still have the advantage. Dallas' defense looks mediocre at best on paper, and the 2013 version was one of the worst in NFL history, according to Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle:
In addition to that, even Cowboys owner Jerry Jones seems lukewarm about his team's prospects for the 2014 season, per the Associated Press (via USA Today).
"I think there is a difference being optimistic and assessing the odds," Jones said. "You've got guys out there, no-name guys. You've got guys out there who retired. You've got guys who are coming back from injury. Man, this is a 'to prove' group."
That could very well be a motivational tactic on Jones' part, but he tends to be the Cowboys' biggest cheerleader. It's fair to say his team hasn't exactly inspired much confidence in recent years, though.
It isn't inconceivable to think that the Cowboys could upset the Niners at home, especially since they seem to inexplicably come up with strong performances against a top team or two on a yearly basis. Based on how complete the Niners offense is combined with how porous Dallas' defense is, however, San Francisco should take this one by at least a touchdown.
Minnesota Vikings (plus-3.5) at St. Louis Rams
The St. Louis Rams surprised many people last season by going 7-9 in the difficult NFC West. St. Louis was able to have a respectable season due largely to a strong defense and running game, but it was held back by mediocre quarterback play more often than not.
Which team is most likely to cover the spread in Week 1?
That promises to be an issue once again this season with signal-caller Sam Bradford out for the season due to a torn ACL. Veteran Shaun Hill will step in just like Kellen Clemens did last year, but it is difficult to imagine Hill being anything more than a game manager.
Average play out of Hill might be enough for the Rams to win some weeks, but that won't cut it against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 1. The Vikes don't have a dominant player under center either with Matt Cassel assuming the starting job for now, but he is coming off an absolutely fantastic preseason.
He also happens to have some exciting weapons around him, including running back Adrian Peterson and wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. Rams head coach Jeff Fisher knows that Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner can potentially do some special things with those players as well, according to Master Tesfatsion of the Star Tribune:
Conversely, the Rams are somewhat barren on offense. Plodding running back Zac Stacy can be effective, but he isn't particularly dynamic. Wide receiver Tavon Austin is electric with the ball in his hands; however, it remains to be seen if Hill can get him the pigskin. Outside of those players, there are tons of question marks.
The Vikes have the makings of a team that should be much better in 2014 than they were last year, and they will prove that theory correct with an outright win against the Rams.
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