With the NFL season about to begin, I wanted to pay homage to one of the two reasons why millions of people purchase the Direct TV NFL Sunday Package: gambling (the other is fantasy football tracking).
I base my picks on flawed logic, personal opinion, age-old gambling trends, and matchups. If you’re looking for high-end analysis, look elsewhere.
Picks are for entertainment purposes only, especially in week one, when it’s easy to use last year’s trends to dictate which teams one picks early in the season.
(Home team in bold)
Pittsburgh (-6) over Tennessee
In 2004, the NFL began a new tradition in which the defending Super Bowl champion hosted the first game of the season on a Thursday night. In that time, the defending champs have gone 5-0, and only once (2004, when New England defeated the Colts, 27-24) was the final margin of victory less than 10 points.
This game will be competitive, but the Steelers will get a touchdown late and pull away.
Atlanta (-4) over Miami
Atlanta’s defense is in transition, so the Dolphins should be able to put up some points. I think the Dolphins could force a couple turnovers as well, keeping this game close.
I am also of the opinion that the Falcons' offense is about to evolve into one of the league’s elite units and they seem capable of putting up big numbers on anyone, especially in their stadium. Despite the Dolphins’ best efforts, I think Atlanta gets ‘em by a touchdown.
Baltimore (-13) over Kansas City
I almost never pick a double digit favorite in their home opener, but this is a rare exception (and the first of three this week, I might add). The Ravens have a stout defense, a good combination of running backs, and an emerging young QB. As they progress over the course of the season, I think the Chiefs become a more formidable opponent, thanks in large part to a young defense with a lot of impressive talent. This won’t be KC’s week to shine, though.
Carolina (+1.5) over Philadelphia
It’s funny, but you’d think the Panthers went 4-12 last year, not the other way around. How many teams coming off 12-4 records are home underdogs on opening day? That’s just bizarre to me, and screams one of two things:
1) The prognosticators believe last year’s Panthers were a fluke, or
2) The Eagles are pretty special.
I think there’s some truth to No. 1. I’m not sold on No. 2 as of yet.
The Eagles are still adjusting to some injuries and a new defensive coordinator. The Panthers have all their key players back on offense. It’s not an upset special by any means, but I’m giving this one to Carolina.
Denver (+4) over Cincinnati
The Bengals are likely an improved team defensively and Carson Palmer, assuming he is back to full health, is an above average quarterback. Also, I know that Chad Ochocinco is itching to tweet while on the sidelines or incorporate tweeting into a touchdown dance somehow, so he’s motivated to have a big game to start the season.
Still, I need to see the Bengals perform before I believe in their ability to have a good season.
As for the Broncos, their entire offseason was treated like a long-running soap opera in the national media, and they’re considered by some a laughingstock at this point. Motivation? They’ve got it in spades, and they’ve quietly improved. I’ll take the under-the-radar Broncos, thanks.
Minnesota (-4) over Cleveland
The big question about the Vikings was answered. Months of speculation are over.
Yup, that’s right: Defensive standouts Kevin and Pat Williams will play for Minnesota this week.
Meanwhile, the Browns have yet to name their starting quarterback.
Houston (-4.5) over NY Jets
If the Texans win big and it becomes the start of a run to the playoffs, some in the national media will call this game their “coming-out party.” And yes, the Texans seem to be on the cusp of a good season. I like them as a playoff contender. However, I think this game will demonstrate why the Jets will struggle all year: their wide receivers lack speed and athleticism to get open consistently for Mark Sanchez.
Indianapolis (-7) over Jacksonville
I have some questions about both teams here. How will the Colts play without Tony Dungy on the sidelines? Can Anthony Gonzalez step up into the No. 2 reciever role? Do the Jaguars have any playmakers besides Maurice Jones-Drew? Is David Garrard a franchise quarterback? Are the Jaguars a lame-duck franchise a few years away from relocation?
My gut feeling is that the Colts are better prepared to provide on-field answers than the Jaguars are.
New Orleans (-13) over Detroit
As I stated earlier, I don’t normally believe in taking teams favored by double digits on opening day, but these particular games this week left me no choice.
The Lions will win games this year. They will lose close ones, too. This won’t be the week for either of those outcomes. While the Saints’ defense isn’t among the league’s elite units, they will force rookie QB Matt Stafford into mistakes and the Saints’ offense will put up big numbers.
New Orleans, 37-7
Tampa Bay (+6) over Dallas
The Buccaneers have some decent running backs and they’re usually in the top half in the league defensively. They’ll be prepared and they’ll put a good scare into the Cowboys, who will likely come away from this game with more questions than answers about their 2009 season.
San Francisco (+6.5) over Arizona
I know there’s some who believe the Cardinals were a fluke last year. I’m not in that camp. I think they’re the best team in the NFC West, but that the gap between them and, say, the 49ers, isn’t as wide as one would think.
The 49ers run the ball and stop the run more effectively than the Cardinals. Arizona has a great passing game though, and Kurt Warner will toss the ball around and put up points. How effectively San Francisco handles the Cardinals' passing game will decide whether they just cover or win outright. I’ll roll the dice and pick the upset.
Washington (+6.5) over NY Giants
Speaking of upsets…
I’m basing this pick on the premise that Eli Manning will have difficulty connecting with a go-to receiver and that the Giants’ running game will be held in check by Washington’s interior defense.
Besides, there’s a head-scratching upset in the first week of every season. Many are picking the Giants to get back to the Super Bowl. Losing their home opener to the Redskins, who many are predicting to finish last in the NFC East, would qualify as a head-scratcher.
St. Louis (+8.5) over Seattle
I think when we look back on the 2009 NFL season, we’ll see this game as the beginning of a trend for the Rams: they’ll play competitive football, but won’t get over the hump and will lose a close one. I have a feeling that will be the Rams’ drumbeat all season long. Meanwhile, the close score in this game will have many questioning how legitimate the Seahawks are in the weak NFC West.
Green Bay (-3.5) over Chicago
Many eyes will be on the Bears, who are becoming a trendy pick to reach the Super Bowl thanks mostly to the addition of Jay Cutler. I’ll be watching the Packers, who many see as a team on the rise. Aaron Rodgers is coming into his own and has two great wide receivers to throw to (Donald Driver, Greg Jennings). The defense is young and has played together for a little while now. It’s the home opener. There are lots of reasons to like the Packers. Did I mention they were playing the Bears and Jay Cutler?
Green Bay, 24-17
New England (-10.5) over Buffalo
The Patriots picked a good year to overhaul the defense, as their offense should put up points in bunches. They’ll engage a lot of teams in shootouts and win many of them.
This won’t be one of those games, though. Buffalo doesn’t have a shootout in them; not with RB Marshawn Lynch suspended and not with the offensive line in transition.
New England, 34-10
Oakland (+9.5) over San Diego
Last year in their home opener on a Monday night, the Raiders got walloped by the Denver Broncos. The recipe for another blowout appears to be in place on paper.
However, I don’t buy the San Diego Chargers as an elite team and, despite all the distractions that envelop the Raiders year after year, they have enough talent to play respectably at home. They’ll lose of course, but not by double digits.
San Diego, 24-17