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NFL Predictions Week 1: Upset Picks and Projections

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 20:  Wide receiver Julio Jones #11 and wide receiver Roddy White #84 of the Atlanta Falcons celebrate after Jones catches a 20-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game at the Georgia Dome on January 20, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Timothy RappFeatured ColumnistSeptember 3, 2014

It's been a long wait. It's been a long, grueling, heart-aching wait. We've had to pretend like we love other sports. We've suffered through vacations and barbecues and whatever else we do to forget about our true love missing from our lives.

But finally, mercifully, the NFL is here, as the new season will kick off when the Green Bay Packers face the Seattle Seahawks. Fail Mary? More like,"Thank god football is back!"

And so below, I'll provide all of my picks against the spread and also select three straight-up upset winners from this week. Let us all rejoice, for the NFL has returned to us once more.

 

Predictions

Week 1 NFL Picks Against the Spread
HomeAwaySpreadMy Pick
Seattle SeahawksGreen Bay PackersSeahawks (-3.5)Seahawks
Miami DolphinsNew England PatriotsPatriots (-1.5)Patriots
Atlanta FalconsNew Orleans SaintsSaints (-1)Falcons
New York JetsOakland RaidersJets (-4.5)Jets
Baltimore RavensCincinnati BengalsRavens (-1)Bengals
Philadelphia EaglesJacksonville JaguarsEagles (-11.5)Eagles
Chicago BearsBuffalo BillsBears (-4.5)Bears
Pittsburgh SteelersCleveland BrownsSteelers (-5)Browns
Houston TexansWashingtonEvenWashington
St. Louis RamsMinnesota VikingsRams (-3)Vikings
Kansas City ChiefsTennessee TitansChiefs (-5.5)Titans
Tampa Bay BuccaneersCarolina PanthersPanthers (-3)Panthers
Dallas CowboysSan Francisco 49ersNiners (-2.5)Niners
Denver BroncosIndianapolis ColtsBroncos (-6)Colts
Detroit LionsNew York GiantsLions (-3.5)Lions
Arizona CardinalsSan Diego ChargersCardinals (-3)Chargers
Oddsshark.com

 

A Few Notes

CINCINNATI, OH - AUGUST 28:  Andrew Luck #12 of the Indianapolis Colts warms up prior to the start of the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on August 28, 2014 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Before we get to the upsets, keep in mind that in my above picks, I'm only picking the Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts to cover, not necessarily to win. I don't love the Pittsburgh Steelers this season and think their defense could really struggle, but I also don't think they'll lose at home to a Browns team devoid of offensive weapons.

It's an AFC North game, however, so it should be a battle. The Browns will cover.

As for the Denver Broncos facing the Colts, I wouldn't be surprised in the least if the game came down to the final possession. Remember, the Colts won this matchup last year and are even more loaded on offense after signing Hakeem Nicks and getting Reggie Wayne and Dwayne Allen back from injury. This game should be fun, explosive and pretty darn close. 

Okay, now that we've covered that, let's get to the upsets!

 

Atlanta Falcons over the New Orleans Saints

JACKSONVILLE, FL - AUGUST 28:  Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons warms up before the preseason NFL game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field on August 28, 2014 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Count me among those that think the Falcons could bounce back in a big way this season. For starters, Julio Jones is back and Roddy White is also healthy, something he struggled with a season ago. Keep in mind that in his last five games, White caught 43 passes for 502 yards and two touchdowns.

Once he got healthier, he started to produce as we've all been accustomed to seeing from the star wideout. The Falcons should once again have their dynamic duo on the outside clicking, even if the loss of Tony Gonzalez will hurt in the red zone. 

The Falcons also improved in several key areas, notably the offensive line, drafting Jake Matthews and signing Jon Asamoah. The loss of Sam Baker to injury really hurts, but even with him going down, this is still a better unit than it was a year ago.

Vaughn McClure of ESPN has more on that unit:

This preseason, Ryan was sacked twice while playing 79 snaps behind a rebuilt offensive line that now includes rookie first-round pick Jake Matthews at left tackle and veteran Jon Asamoah at right guard to go with holdovers [Joe] Hawley, [Lamar] Holmes and left guard Justin Blalock

Although the Falcons still have significant strides to make with their run blocking, [offensive line coach Mike Tice] was extremely pleased with the pass protection during the preseason. 

'I'd lose a lot of sleep if we were getting our ass kicked in pass protection, but we're not,' Tice said. 'We're not going to be a run-first team, so we'll get the runs cleaned up. We've just got to keep protecting that quarterback.'

The Saints are dangerous, no doubt, and it's hard to see the Falcons defense slowing down Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham and company. But these games are generally tight, competitive showdowns, and Atlanta have a lot to prove this season after last year's dreadful campaign.

At home, they'll start off on the right foot.

 

Minnesota Vikings over St. Louis Rams

ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 03:  Running back Adrian Peterson #28 of the Minnesota Vikings carries the ball during the game against the Dallas Cowboys at Cowboys Stadium on November 3, 2013 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

No, this wouldn't be an Earth-shattering upset, but the Rams are still three-point favorites, according to Oddshark.com. The fact that they are at home and have a far superior defense and strong running game is likely the reason for that selection. 

They also have Shaun Hill at quarterback. And that's the reason I'm picking the Vikings in this one.

Okay, it isn't the only reason. I also think the Vikings will be better than they were a year ago, led by Adrian Peterson but also buoyed by Cordarrelle Patterson and new offensive coordinator Norv Turner. The defense should also be improved with Mike Zimmer as the head coach and a slew of new starters.

Yes, the Rams are at home but, no, I'm not willing to bet on Hill leading them to victory. For as good as this defense is, 2014 could be a rough year for St. Louis with Sam Bradford once again on the shelf.

 

Tennessee Titans over Kansas City Chiefs

NEW ORLEANS, LA - AUGUST 15:  Jake Locker #10 of the Tennessee Titans warms up on field before the start of the first preseason game between the New Orleans Saints and the Tennessee Titans at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on August 15, 2014 in New Orleans, Loui
Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Let's be honest with ourselves—the Chiefs are due to regress.

Nobody saw them making the playoffs last year, and the team didn't dramatically improve in the offseason. In fact, they probably got worse, losing Branden Albert, Geoff Schwartz, Jon Asamoah, Tyson Jackson and Brandon Flowers. They're one injury away (Jamaal Charles) from being a pretty poor football team. Alex Smith is reliable, sure, but he's not going to win many games based on his talent alone, and he doesn't exactly have many enticing weapons in the pass game.

They won't be sneaking up on anybody, either. And Bill Barnwell of Grantland touched on one last major reason why the Chiefs are due to regress this season:

And that turnover margin! In 2012, the Chiefs were tied with the Eagles at the bottom of the turnover table at minus-24. Hire Andy Reid, trade for Alex Smith, and voila! Problem solved. The Chiefs posted a plus-18 turnover margin last season, the second-best figure in football and a staggering 42-turnover swing from the previous year. Since 1989, nobody’s posted a larger year-to-year improvement in turnover margin. Again, to increase the sample, take the 50 teams over that time frame that improved by 20 turnovers. The year after their massive improvement, those teams saw their turnover margin decline by an average of 11 turnovers.

Conditions have to be almost perfect for a team to make that sort of leap, and they were for the Chiefs, who faced one of the league’s easiest schedules (especially during their 9-0 start, which came against teams that would finish the year a combined 52-92), were the league’s healthiest team, and recovered 60.5 percent of fumbles in their games, the second-highest rate in the league. The water won’t be quite as warm in 2014; the schedule will be tougher, a few of the fumbles will bounce away, and more guys will get hurt. 

It seems inevitable. It might not happen, but the Chiefs' success even a year ago felt about as sturdy and sustainable as a dam made of coffee filters. 

The Titans, meanwhile, seem like a team that could take a jump this year.

Ken Whisenhunt could do wonders for the talented but enigmatic Jake Locker. Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter have the potential to break out and become one of the dynamic young receiver duos in the game. The Titans defense didn't play well in the preseason, but they're also transitioning to a new 3-4 scheme and should be more comfortable with the scheme after an offseason implementing it.

Even at home, I just don't believe in this Chiefs team, and I think the Titans offense will surprise some folks this year. Don't be surprised if Tennessee pulls off the upset.

 

Hit me up on Twitter—I'll answer your fantasy questions and make some corny jokes, too. It's more fun than a trip to the Kentucky Derby with Wes Welker.

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