Football is finally upon us and I'm back after a busy summer to make picks for the season. Last year I had a good year as I entered the last week of the regular season 120-95-3 (and you can pour through the final scores if you want to know how that week ended), and I"m hoping for more of the same this year. I'll throw out this cautionary tale -- the first couple of weeks are like throwing darts at a dartboard. Preseason is extremely misleading and there has been nothing to actually indicate the caliber of every team. With that in mind, here's how I feel about the games this week.
Pittsburgh Steelers (+7) at New England Patriots
Prime time game with two prime time quarterbacks after Tom Brady beat the DeflateGate punishment. The Patriots roster is weaker on paper than it was last year, especially on the defensive side of the ball where the loss of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner should have a tangible impact. If there is one thing that the Steelers can do it's throw the football. I think 7 points is way too many to give a good quarterback like Big Ben even if the Steelers defense looks like it could be one of the league's worst. First game of the season and the defending champs are usually good in it and Brady and the Patriots have been very good at responding to all of the negative press in the past, but I just can't lay a full touchdown.
Pick: Steelers cover the spread, Patriots win
[NOTE: New England won, 28-21]
Green Bay Packers (-7) at Chicago Bears
Aaron Rodgers is rock-steady and always brings his A game against his divisional foes, and Jay Cutler is the little girl with the curl -- very good or very bad. Still in divisional games, first game of the season I expect a good performance from the Bears and 7-point underdogs at home on opening weekend is too much for me, though I expect the Packers to win.
Pick: Bears cover the spread, Packers win
Kansas City Chiefs (+1) at Houston Texans
Not getting overly analytical here. I think the Texans roster from top to bottom is just better than the Chiefs roster, though the Chiefs have a few dynamic players. The Texans are also at home. If the Texans had competent quarterback play they'd be a real team to reckon with.
Pick: Texans win outright
Cleveland Browns (+3) at New York Jets
Ryan Fitzpatrick is not a guy you want starting a full 16-game season, but he can play very well in spurts and has had some really good starts to some seasons in Buffalo. The Jets also have some dynamic players, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Cleveland is lacking playmakers and talent throughout their roster.
Pick: Jets cover the spread
Indianapolis Colts (-2.5) at Buffalo Bills
Living in upstate New York has given me plenty of access to the Bills (and I even try to make a few stops at the training camp every year as I did this year -- and I'll be at the Bills-Giants game in October). There's a lot of excitement here, and for good reason. The team has loads of talent -- if Aaron Rodgers, heck maybe even a Joe Flacco type was the quarterback of this team they would be talked about as legitimate Super Bowl contenders. They have maybe the best defensive line in the league, they have exciting play makers in LeSean McCoy, Sammy Watkins and Charles Clay. They have a coach who should maximize the talent in the secondary, they have a lot of young good talent on the offensive line ... they don't have a quarterback. Is Tyrod Taylor really the answer? That is THE question for Buffalo. On the other side are the Colts, who have Andrew Luck and who cares what else. He is terrific and gives the Colts a chance to win 10 to 13 games every year for the next decade regardless of who else is on the roster much like few others do (I'd only put Peyton, Brady, and Rodgers in this category). Can the Bills contain Luck enough to win this game? My mind says, take the Colts minus the spread, but it's early in the season so why not go with the spirit.
Pick: Bills win outright
Miami Dolphins (-3.5) at Washington Redskins
The Dolphins are another rising team. Ryan Tannehill is a rising quarterback. I just think they are better on both sides of the ball then the Redskins and I don't think the addition of Ndamukong Suh can be overstated. He can change entire games by himself. I expect the Dolphins to get out to a good start this season.
The pick: Dolphins win, and cover
Carolina Panthers (+3) at Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars haven't been good in a while, but maybe this is the year? Blake Bortles flashed at times last year and the Jaguars now have some intriguing offensive pieces to help him potentially grow into a franchise quarterback. The Panthers, I think, are a team that could see a slight decline in their record from last year. This is a passing league and the Panthers are passing to Jerrico Cotchery, Ted Ginn, and Devin Funchess. Yeesh. I can see the Jaguars winning this game outright, so I'll definitely take the points.
Pick: Jaguars win outright
Seattle Seahawks (-4) at St. Louis Rams
The Seahawks have had some problems with the Rams at times and Jeff Fisher is a coach I like. With a lot of time to game plan he usually comes up with a few wrinkles. I also like the addition of Nick Foles, who I think is an upgrade for St. Louis. The Seahawks aren't as good on the road as they are at home and even though I would not be at all surprised if the Seahawks ended up winning real big here I'm going to take the points.
New Orleans (+2.5) at Arizona Cardinals
The Saints were kind of a train wreck last year, but I think they'll bounce back in a big way this year. I really think Bruce Arinas is a good coach and has done wonders with the Cardinals, but I like Brees anywhere in a dome and I really like getting points with him. I think the Saints blowing everything up and re-focusing on defense and letting Sean Payton and Brees manufacture enough on offense is a good way to go.
Pick: Saints with the mild upset
Detroit Lions (+3) at San Diego Chargers
The Chargers seemed like a completely forgotten team this offseason, but they are always competitive and have a very fine roster. The Lions lost their best player in free agency and their second-best player is coming off a sub-par season for him. Is Megatron declining ,or should we expect a bounce back this year? That's a huge question. I don't trust Matt Stafford to avoid mistakes and I think the Chargers are a comparable team talent wis,e so I'll take the home team.
Pick: Chargers win by at least 3
Tennessee Titans (+3) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers were one of the most disappointing teams in the league last year. Sure, no one expected them to win a Super Bowl, but who thought they'd be the worst team in the league? I feel kind of the same way about the Titans. I feel like they were a team who should have been closer to average. But luckily for both teams they have new hope with young, talented quarterbacks. I think this game is a toss-up and the biggest intrigue, perhaps only intrigue, is the Marcus Mariota -- Jameis Winston battle.
Pick: I'll take the points, because why not who cares?
Cincinnati Bengals (-3.5) at Oakland Raiders
The Raiders were much better at home last year and seem to be digging themselves a bit out of the cellar. The Bengals are a talented team who just might not have the right quarterback to get them over the top. They are also a team that can come out very flat and uninspired at times. I don't know why, but this is one of those "gut feeling games" and I think the Raiders will win by maybe a touchdown.
Pick: Raiders win outright
Baltimore Ravens (+4.5) at Denver Broncos
Peyton Manning is maybe the greatest regular-season quarterback of all time and a legendary player. The Broncos are Super Bowl contenders as long as Peyton is Peyton. Someday he will no longer be that man and that time is coming soon, but I need to see it first. The opponent doesn't always matter for Peyton -- if he figures you out its game, set match. With a whole offseason to prepare I'd expect a big performance from Peyton this Sunday. I like the Broncos to win this game easy (but I've certainly been wrong plenty of times before)
Pick: Broncos win by more than 4.5
New York Giants (+6) at Dallas Cowboys
The sky is falling, New York Giants fans. All the story lines are old news The teams blindside protector hurts himself lifting weights, their star defensive end blows his finger off celebrating 'Murica. Their star receiver looks somewhat disinterested or distracted spending more time shooting commercials then catching passes. Markus Kuhn is holding the coach hostage and is the starting defensive tackle, on a team that can't stop the run. They have no safeties, they can't block, their coach is senile. This game should be a disaster, but in true homer fashion, I"m taking the Giants to win out-right. I can't start the season on a pessimistic note. This is a game in Eli's stadium and the Cowboys are the Cowboys and they just deserve to lose because they are Satan's cousin. You know if you're taking my betting advice or looking for a logical analysis of this game you should probably ignore everything I just said and stay far away from this game.
Pick: Giants win outright!
Philadelphia (-3) at Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons offensive line has been far from inspiring during the preseason and could be a major problem for them all year. The Eagles are a team I hope loses every game of the year, but I don't think this is one.
Pick: Eagles win by more than 3
Minnesota Vikings (-2.5) at San Francisco 49ers
I like the Vikings roster and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is an ascending young player. Perhaps one of the next great quarterbacks in the league in time. They have nice weapons with Adrian Peterson, Charles Johnson, Mike Wallace and Kyle Rudolph. The 49ers on the other hand have had one of the most brutal offseasons in recent memory with their crazy head-coaching saga and their players just up and retiring, star players even. I think the Vikings overall roster outclasses the 49ers roster, but crazier things have happened with teams and new coaches. I think the Vikings should win this game, but first game of the season, Monday night, new coach team that feels disrepsected I could see a home-dog upset here.
Pick: 49ers win outright
Predict the Giants-Cowboys score