In the NFL, there's nothing better than going on the road and winning a game. It's especially sweet when you do it in Week 1 because fans are extra rowdy and full of optimism at the start of the year.
Winning on the road is also the best way to determine if a team is a championship contender or pretender. You only have so many chances to win at home, so it's imperative that you take care of business in unfriendly environments to secure your spot in the postseason.
As we prepare to kick off the NFL's 95th season on Thursday night, there are 16 teams looking to make an emphatic statement by going into hostile territory and coming out one step closer to their ultimate goal.
Here are the road underdogs, based on the odds from Las Vegas, that we love to pull off an upset.
Note: Odds courtesy of Oddsshark.com.
|Week 1 NFL Picks|
|Green Bay Packers at Seattle Seahawks (-5)||Seahawks, 23-17|
|New Orleans Saints (-2.5) at Atlanta Falcons||Saints, 31-24|
|Minnesota Vikings at St. Louis Rams (-3.5)||Rams, 17-13|
|Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers (-7)||Steelers, 24-14|
|Jacksonville Jaguars at Philadelphia Eagles (-11)||Eagles, 27-10|
|Oakland Raiders at New York Jets (-4.5)||Jets, 20-13|
|Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens (-1)||Bengals, 27-23|
|Buffalo Bills at Chicago Bears (-4.5)||Bills, 24-21|
|Washington at Houston Texans (-1.5)||Washington, 23-17|
|Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs (-4.5)||Chiefs, 28-20|
|New England Patriots (-4.5) at Miami Dolphins||Patriots, 31-17|
|Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Pick)||Panthers, 24-21|
|San Francisco 49ers (-5.5) at Dallas Cowboys||49ers, 27-21|
|Indianapolis Colts at Denver Broncos (-7.5)||Broncos, 34-28|
|New York Giants at Detroit Lions (-4.5)||Lions, 24-17|
|San Diego Chargers at Arizona Cardinals (-3)||Chargers, 31-27|
Cincinnati Bengals (+1) at Baltimore Ravens
You can already sense that the oddsmakers really want to make Cincinnati a favorite in this game. Typically, a home team is guaranteed to start with a three-point edge just because of the crowd factor.
Since the Bengals have gotten the margin down to one point, you can tell there's a lot of love for them. Even in a division without a great team, the Bengals are the best of the bunch and have the firepower to score points in a hurry.
Questions will surround Andy Dalton until he wins a playoff game, but there aren't a lot of quarterbacks who threw for over 4,200 yards and 33 touchdowns last year.
There's also going to be an emphasis on the running game that wasn't there last year, according to Clifton Brown of Comcast SportsNet Baltimore:
It won’t be three yards and a cloud of dust. But it’s no secret Jackson wants to run the ball more than Jay Gruden, the former offensive coordinator who departed to coach Washington. Giovani Bernard is now the Bengals’ featured back, while talented rookie Jeremy Hill will also get carries. If the Ravens are not solid against the run, Bernard has the speed to make big plays.
The Bengals aren't slouches on the defensive side of the ball, especially with the return of defensive tackle Geno Atkins. They finished third in total defense and tied for fifth in points allowed last year.
Meanwhile, the Ravens are without their starting running back, and questions about the offensive line still linger. Mike Preston of The Baltimore Sun noted after the third preseason game against Washington that protection problems were destroying the offensive rhythm:
The Ravens got movement at the point of attack by right guard Marshal Yanda and right tackle Rick Wagner, but left guard Kelechi Osemele got beat by Jenkins. It would be easy to single out Osemele because he had a tough night, but tackles Wagner and Eugene Monroe struggled as well.
The Ravens run a West Coast offense predicated on short passes, but the Redskins were still constantly hitting or harassing Flacco. Last season, Flacco was sacked 48 times.
When you put a bad offensive line against a defense that recorded 43 sacks last year, things are going to get ugly for Flacco and the Ravens offense. These games are almost always close because of the familiarity with each other, but the Bengals will pull off the road upset.
Prediction: Bengals 27, Ravens 23
Buffalo Bills (+4.5) at Chicago Bears
This was the most difficult upset to pick because I do like what the Chicago Bears have on offense with Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall on the outside. Jay Cutler's gunslinger mentality will be served well by having two huge wide receivers who can go up and get the ball.
But the strength of Buffalo's offense matches up perfectly with the weakest part of Chicago's defense. The Bills are a run-first team that is trying to groom EJ Manuel into becoming a pocket passer. They finished second in the league with 144.2 yards per game on the ground last year.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Chicago's run defense was awful in 2013. The Bears allowed 410 more yards on the ground than any other team and were the only team to give up more than five yards per carry.
The Bills are using two running backs in C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson, either one of which could be a feature back on another team in a different situation. They combined for 1,823 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground last year.
The Bears did try to upgrade their defensive line with Jared Allen and Will Sutton, but the results didn't show in the preseason with the fourth-most yards and third-most points allowed, via ESPN.com.
Buffalo's rushing attack and ability to control the clock, keeping the ball away from Chicago's big wideouts, makes it a prime candidate to pull off an upset.
Prediction: Bills 24, Bears 21
San Diego Chargers (+3) at Arizona Cardinals
Of the three upset picks listed here, San Diego going on the road and winning in Arizona was the easiest to make. This is going to be one of the most exciting games of the weekend because Carson Palmer can attack San Diego's inept secondary and Philip Rivers found a new level last year that looks like it will carry over to 2014.
What gives the Chargers the edge in this game is all the issues that have hit Arizona's defense already. We assumed the Cardinals were going to be one of the better defensive teams in the league, but losing Karlos Dansby (free agency), Daryl Washington (suspension) and Darnell Dockett (injury) changes the equation.
Even with a solid Arizona secondary to worry about, Rivers has become a master of going through progressions and checkdowns. Take a look at these numbers from last season under head coach Mike McCoy, via Peter King of TheMMQB.com:
- He threw 17% of his passes to running backs on non-screen plays, third most in the league.
- He let go 315 passes in 2.5 seconds or less, up from 259 the year before.
- He completed a career-high 69.5% of his passes with 32 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, all improvements on the previous three seasons.
The Chargers are not without their problems, particularly in the secondary. They allowed the fourth-most passing yards, and opposing quarterbacks completed 66.4 percent of their attempts last year.
Palmer is more than capable of airing it out, but he gets himself in trouble by taking too many chances, and that results in high interception totals. Those turnovers put more pressure on a defense that is already starting the season undermanned.
This isn't going to be a blowout for either team, but in a matchup this close, you always take the better quarterback.
Prediction: Chargers 31, Cardinals 27
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