After a couple month hiatus due to a completely overwhelming work schedule I'm dipping my toe back into the writing pool and I'm excited because this year I'll be making picks against the spread each week. Hopefully I won't embarrass myself, though that's definitely a possibility, especially since the first week of the regular season -- like the New York Giants -- often feels completely unpredictable.
Lines are current as of 9 p.m. ET on Wednesday night and from footballlocks.com.
Denver Broncos (-7.5) vs. Baltimore
Before looking at the spread I was fully expecting to take the Broncos because they have a lot going for them in this game. They are home, they have the "revenge factor", and they have Peyton Manning, who is nearly unbeatable in the regular season. But the more I looked at this game the more I reconsidered: the Ravens are the defending Super Bowl champions, no matter how much I want to pretend that didn't happen, and they do have some talented players like Ray Rice and Torrey Smith so they should be able to put points on the board. The Broncos are also going into this first game minus 29.5 sacks from last year because of the Von Miller suspension and the loss of Elvis Dumervil. I think the Broncos will win this game at home but I expect it to be much closer than the 7.5-point spread it currently sits at -- as a side note who is excited about prospect that the Broncos get three extra days rest for the Week 2 match-up at the Giants?
Broncos for the win, Ravens to cover the spread.
Buffalo Bills vs. New England Patriots (-9)
It shouldn't come as a surprise, but E.J. Manuel will get the start for Buffalo in Week 1 vs. the New England Patriots. Thankfully, as someone who lives in upstate New York and is married to a Bills fan, I had no interest in watching Jeff Tuel. It would be surprising if the Bills won this game, but I think they have a good shot at staying close for a couple reasons. First, the Patriots offense has a lot of new pieces and will likely take a little bit to round into form -- not to mention Rob Gronkowski's status is up in the air for Week 1. Secondly, there's a lot of tape on Bill Belichick and the Patriots and little on what Doug Marrone and the Bills might be up to, which could lead to a cheap touchdown or two. Sure, Manuel will likely make a few costly mistakes that could cost them the game, but for the first time in a long time, the Bills are playing with a quarterback who can flash major talent.
I'll take the Patriots to win, but Buffalo to cover the spread.
Pittsburgh Steelers (-7) vs. Tennessee Titans
This is another game with a high point spread, but this time I'm going to take the favorites. Despite, having to rely on Chris Johnson's re-emergence for my fantasy team, I just don't think this game will end well for the Titans.
I think the Steelers win big.
New Orleans Saints (-3) vs. Atlanta Falcons
The Saints are an interesting case study this year in the realm of how much difference does a head coach make? There are other factors that go into how good a team will be every year, but if the Saints have a great year Sean Payton will receive much of the credit. I'm not really sure what to expect from the Saints this year and I know they are very good at home, but I think the Falcons are going to be a terrific team and I'm not convinced the Saints 32nd ranked defense will be any better this year.
I think Atlanta wins this game outright.
New York Jets vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-3)
This is not a game that I will be watching any part of, but I don't even think it's the worst game on the schedule. I'm not sure any team will be good this year, but I really think the Jets are building something with their defensive line. Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, and Quentin Coples are three very talented players to built a defense around and I think that's the best unit in the game. I think they'll cause problems for the Buccaneers running game, and it could keep the game close but the question is will Geno Smith lose the game for them? The Jets offense is just so bad it's hard to pick them to win anything -- other than a top five pick in next year's draft.
I'll take the Buccaneers to win by more than three points.
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Kansas City Chiefs (-4)
The Chiefs are a chic pick this year to be a team that will have a big turnaround and there are some good reasons for that -- they have talented players on offense like Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe. They improved at quarterback and head coach and their division is not great. On the other hand, the Jaguars are a team with no expectations and a roster full of players most casual fans couldn't name. I really don't know what the Jaguars will be this year, but they're probably not going to be as good as the Chiefs.
I'll take the Chiefs to win by more than four points.
Chicago Bears (-3) vs. Cincinnati Bengals
The Bears are coming off a season in which they went 10-6, but still fired their head coach. The Bengals are an up-and-coming team with a terrific defense, and some dynamic players on the offense. A.J. Green quickly established himself as one of the league's biggest offensive weapons, but now the Bengals are adding in talented former Tar Heels running back Giovani Bernard and Tight end Tyler Eifert.
The Bengals are no longer the Bungles, this is a talented team and I think they make an early-season statement by going out to Chicago and beating the Bears by a touchdown or more.
Cleveland Browns (-1) vs. Miami Dolphins
For the first week of the season there are a number of games that have limited appeal for a national audience, and this is another one. The Browns vs the Dolphins?
I'll take the Browns to win this game because they are home and for whatever reason teams that shell out a lot of money in free agency can struggle the following year.
Carolina Panthers vs. Seattle Seahawks (-3.5)
The Seahawks have a terrific defense and a pretty good offense. And they look like they are in store for a big season, but I'm going to go out on a limb on this one and take the Panthers with the upset. There's no real rhyme or reason for this pick, but there's almost always a weird upset and my gut feeling says it's this one (that's almost a certain guarantee the Seahawks route the Panthers).
I'll take the Panthers with the points.
Detroit Lions (-5.5) vs. Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota won 10 games last year to Detroit's four games including a 20-13 victory in Detroit. Minnesota was lauded as having perhaps the best draft of all teams in the NFL, their young quarterback Christian Ponder is a year older, and they still have Adrian Peterson. Detroit might win this game at home, but I'm surprised they are favored by nearly a touchdown.
I'll take the Vikings to cover the spread.
Indianapolis Colts (-9) vs. Oakland Raider
The drafting of Andrew Luck immediately turned the Colts from one of the league's worst teams, to one of the better teams. The Raiders on the other hand are still trying to rebuild after Al Davis spent too many years mortgaging their future to remain relevant. The Raiders will now turn to Terrelle Pryor to see what he can bring the franchise. It's no surprise the Colts are favored, even though nine points seems a little high they have been very good at home (7-1 last year), and should be able to put up a lot of points against a Raiders defense that gave up nearly 28 points a game a year ago.
I'll take the Colts to win by more than 9 points.
St. Louis Rams (-4.5) vs Arizona Cardinals
Quietly, the Rams went 4-1-1 in their division last year, and were one of the best teams in the league last year at harassing quarterbacks (racking up 52 sacks last year). The Cardinals should be better this year with the addition of Carson Palmer, and have a talented defense of their own, but the Rams should be the better team this year.
The Rams win by more than 4.5 points at home.
San Francisco 49ers (-4.5) vs Green Bay Packers
It's not often lately that the Packers go into a game as the underdogs, but that's the case this week when they take on the 49ers. The 49ers are another interesting team to watch this year as they are a team that used a lot of read-options in their offense and coaches around the league were scrambling to find out ways to slow it down. This game should be a good game that could be decided on a last second field goal.
I think the Packers are going to win outright, so I feel comfortable taking the 4.5 points.
Dallas Cowboys (-3.5) vs the New York Giants
I don't generally like picking the Giants games because I get too emotionally invested and biased, and of course there's also the fact that the Giants are maddeningly inconsistent and unpredictable. The Giants have had success down in Eli's stadium down in Arlington. The Cowboys have a lot going for them in this game, they are the home team, they had the extra preseason game, and they are unveiling a new defense which could throw the GIants off. With all that being said I can't in good conscience pick against the Giants the first week of the season -- that would just set a bad tone.
I'll cautiously take the Giants to win outright.
Washington Redskins (-3.5) vs. Philadelphia Eagles
I think the Redskins win this game by more than a touchdown.
San Diego Chargers vs. Houston Texans (-4)
The Chargers are a team that I haven't really spent much time thinking about during the offseason, so I"m not really sure what to expect from them. The question with the Chargers is were they a talented team that under-achieved with Norv Turner as head coach, or were they just never really all that talented? This is a big year for Philip Rivers, who had a very poor 2012 season. He averaged only 6.8 yards per passing attempt, and threw for 3,606 yards, his lowest total since 2005. With a new coach and new GM in town another poor year for Rivers could lead to questions about his long-term future. The Texans, on the other hand, have one of the most talented teams in the league, but are a team that has struggled to get over the hump in the playoffs.
I think the Texans will still be there in the end, but I'm going to go with the Chargers here.
I'll keep track as the season goes along, and we'll see how I can do. I've done this before and had some success, but the first two weeks of the season are always very difficult to pin down because of how much the team dynamic can change from year to year.
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