Congratulations to everyone who loves football and actually made it through the “offseason” with your sanity. This was not an easy seven months to keep the faith. But you made it, and your reward is 21 weeks of football (followed immediately by Valentine’s Day so you have a built-in holiday to make up the next 21 weeks of neglect to your significant other).
As I’ve done the last three years, I’ll be giving you my picks from a gambling standpoint towards the end of every week. Take my advice or leave it (almost definitely leave it).
And hey, if you need to waste a whole lot of time today before the Patriots-Steelers game, feel free to read all of our preseason predictions and picks by going HERE.
Let’s dive into week 1:
Pittsburgh at New England (-7)
The Pick: Pittsburgh
The Score: New England 24, Pittsburgh 20
With Tom Brady under center, the Patriots are 7-1 against the Steelers since 2001. And in the Mike Tomlin era (2007-Present), Brady’s Patriots are 3-0 against Pittsburgh and have outscored them by 24, 13 and 21 points. This has not been a team that gives New England problems over the years. Interestingly enough, both teams are missing their starting running backs (Bell & Blount), starting centers (Pouncey & Stork) and one of their top receivers (Bryant & LaFell). I’m not expecting a very crisp offensive performance from either side. While the Steelers’ defense will almost definitely suck in 2015, the jury is very much out on the Patriots. Will their defense fall all the way back to the 2011/2012 days? I’d like to think the Pats will go “scorched earth” from the start, but I can’t help think this is going to be a sloppy, lower-scoring-than-you’d-expect type of game.
Miami (-4) at Washington
The Pick: Miami
The Score: Miami 23, Washington 16
Hey, look! It’s a matchup of the two coaches I thought had the best chance to get fired during the season (as written in one of my NFL predictions blogs earlier this week: which you can read HERE). In reality I don’t think Joe Philbin will get fired in-season because the Dolphins’ schedule is just so damn easy to start the year. I certainly think Jay Gruden will get fired, or quit, or end up in jail when Dan Snyder’s body turns up in the Potomac. There’s disrespect, and then there’s being a 4-point underdog at home to the mediocre Dolphins. The Redskins are not going to get any benefit of the doubt this year. The trash is piled high in the dumpster; several bottles of lighter fluid have been poured onto that pile; we’re just waiting for that first spark to turn Washington into a full scale dumpster fire. Will it be a Jay Gruden press conference sound byte? Will it be a RG3 tweet? Will it be an embarrassing off-field scandal? Can’t wait to find out! All I know is Kirk Cousins probably isn’t ready for Ndamukong Suh, Cameron Wake and the rest of the Miami pass rush.
Indianapolis (-2.5) at Buffalo
The Pick: Buffalo
The Score: Buffalo 24, Indianapolis 20
My instinct is to jump on Indy because that’s a small amount of points for a presumed Super Bowl contender to be favored over a team that’ll probably be just OK, even though it’s a road game for the Colts. But I don’t know for sure whether the Colts practiced during training camp & preseason or if they simply met from 8am-5pm everyday to brainstorm new excuses & accusations for when the Patriots demolish them in five weeks. That’s a key piece of information I need before making this pick. I’m actually going to call this as a surprise upset in week 1. Rex Ryan held Andrew Luck to nine points three years ago in the only meeting between them so far (Rex was with the Jets). I could see his new defense doing something similar on Sunday.
Cleveland at NY Jets (-3)
The Pick: NY Jets
The Score: NY Jets 20, Cleveland 6
This one’s so easy. If Geno Smith was starting for the Jets, it wouldn’t be as easy of a decision. But Ryan Fitzpatrick is a known commodity. He will beat the very worst teams, and he almost always starts the season off by going 2-1 or 3-1 before the implosion begins. Keep in mind that since the Jets have a solid run defense, Josh McCown is going to have to make plays against Revis, Cromartie and the rest of that rebuilt secondary. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if Johnny Manziel is in the game by the time the 2nd half starts.
Kansas City at Houston (-1)
The Pick: Kansas City
The Score: Kansas City 27, Houston 17
Andy Reid gets a lot of crap from the public because of his well-documented clock management problems and because the Eagles came up just short so many times during his run there. But he’s actually a pretty good coach (when the pressure’s not on). The offensive-minded Reid was in Philly for 14 years. His teams ranked in the top 10 in offensive DVOA (FootballOutsiders’ efficiency stat) seven times and they ranked 11th-15th in the league 4 times. When Reid took over in Kansas City, the team was coming off the 2012 season where they ranked 31st in offensive efficiency. In 2013, he brought them up to 15th in the league, and last year they ranked 12th. With an in-his-prime Jamaal Charles, newly acquired #1 receiver Jeremy Maclin and a guy who could turn out to be the next Gronk in Travis Kelce at tight end, Reid has the pieces to set up shop as a top 10 offense for the next few years. Now if that Alex Smith fella could just learn to throw the ball…
Carolina (-3) at Jacksonville
The Pick: Jacksonville
The Score: Jacksonville 21, Carolina 17
I think Jacksonville shows signs of life this season. But even if you don’t think that, how can you be comfortable taking the Panthers as a road favorite in week 1? This team could be less talented than the Jaguars when it’s all said and done. It seems crazy to back a road favorite in the season’s opening week when we really know nothing about these teams, unless that road team is a perennial Super Bowl contender.
Seattle (-4) at St. Louis
The Pick: St. Louis
The Score: St. Louis 19, Seattle 13
This might be a game to avoid the point spread and bet the Under on the point total of 41. The games between these two teams are always so ugly. The Seahawks have lost two of three in St. Louis in the Russell Wilson era. And they still might be scrambling a bit to replace Kam Chancellor. And it’s week 1 and we just don’t know what these teams will become. So again, it’s time to take the home underdog (turning out to be a theme this week).
Green Bay (-7) at Chicago
The Pick: Chicago
The Score: Green Bay 28, Chicago 23
There are a couple teams I need to be careful with because I’ve been so down on them this summer that I’m probably overselling how terrible they’re going to be. Chicago is one of those teams (It’s possible that San Francisco and New Orleans are also in that category for me). We know what we’re getting with the Packers: 12-4 record, beating all the teams they should, Mike McCarthy subtly fucking major things up, and losing once again to Seattle. But the Bears are a mystery. It’s week 1, it’s a division game, it’s a new coach in Chicago. I like the Bears to keep it closer than you might think.
Detroit at San Diego (-3)
The Pick: San Diego
The Score: San Diego 27, Detroit 17
This is exactly what the line should be between two teams that are expected to compete for playoff spots. I just happen to think the Lions are going to suck and the Chargers will be one of the five or six best teams in the AFC. By the way, isn’t there a chance Chargers head coach Mike McCoy is sneaky on the hot seat? They’ve put up back-to-back 9-7 records in his two years in San Diego. What if they go 9-7 again, or 8-8, and miss the playoffs? Is 9-7 every season good enough considering Philip Rivers probably only has a handful of effective years left? Keep an eye on that one.
New Orleans at Arizona (-2.5)
The Pick: Arizona
The Score: Arizona 33, New Orleans 20
The Cardinals are going to lose plenty of games this year, but I don’t think this is one of them. They’ll lose when the other team’s defense can shut them down and get pressure on Carson Palmer. The Saints don’t seem to be that kind of opponent. Speaking of Palmer, I’m still shocked at how healthy he looks. If he stays on the field for 16 games, he’s going to make a lot of pessimistic Arizona predictions look bad.
Also, I don’t necessarily expect New Orleans’ transition from pass-first offense to run-first offense to go smoothly right off the bat.
Baltimore at Denver (-5)
The Pick: Baltimore
The Score: Baltimore 28, Denver 25
Since I’m a Patriots fan who enjoys the feeling of self-inflicted pain, I happened to have the NFL Network on last night. On one of the few non-Patriots segments, an analyst was breaking down Peyton Manning and the difference between his arm strength when he was healthy last year and his arm strength now. The bottomline was: He has no arm strength right now. I couldn’t believe the throws Manning was missing in preseason. And I also couldn’t believe how this wasn’t more of a major story in August. Until further notice, I am not giving Manning the benefit of the doubt. He’s going to have to show me he’s still a good QB before I bet on him. And the Ravens seem like they’d be a particularly tough defense to face if you happen not to be able to throw the ball accurately more than five yards in the air.
Cincinnati (-3.5) at Oakland
The Pick: Cincinnati
The Score: Cincinnati 31, Oakland 17
I went back & forth on this pick 100 times. That’s usually a good indication that I have zero confidence in it. On the one hand, the Bengals probably aren’t getting the point spread respect that a team of their caliber facing Oakland deserves because all we can think about is Andy Dalton’s suckiness. But there’s a lot more to them than that, otherwise they wouldn’t make the playoffs every year. On the other hand, wouldn’t it be so much more fun to root for Oakland? To see Amari Cooper lighting up the Bengals defense while Khalil Mack buys a mansion inside Dalton’s head? Instead I think Dalton will have a big day as the Raiders struggle to keep up.
Tennessee at Tampa Bay (-3)
The Pick: Tampa Bay
The Score: Tampa Bay 24, Tennessee 17
It’s amazing how much intrigue just two new players can add to a matchup. Jameis Winston for the Bucs. Marcus Mariota for the Titans. These teams were unwatchable last year (and most of the past decade actually), but they immediately take a huge jump in watchability because of the mystery and potential at quarterback. And that’s why the NFL’s system is so perfect, and it’s also why they own us. Last year’s two worst teams are suddenly must-see TV.
Even if it’s by the smallest amount, I think the Titans are worse than the Bucs. And it’s a home game for Tampa. Yeah, let’s just take the home team in this matchup until we really know a little bit about these QBs.
NY Giants at Dallas (-6)
The Pick: Dallas
The Score: Dallas 29, NY Giants 18
This is one of only 42 times the Cowboys are featured on national TV this year so make sure you don’t miss it!
I might be in the minority on this, but I think the Cowboys’ floor this year is the same as the Giants’ ceiling. And Dallas seems like a team that’s a lot more settled at the moment, meaning they don’t have a ton of roster question marks or guys they’re waiting for to come back. The Giants look like a team in disarray to start the season, with questions about Jason Pierre-Paul, Victor Cruz, and most of the defensive backfield. For the time being, I think the Cowboys are a full touchdown better than the Giants.
Philadelphia (-3) at Atlanta
The Pick: Atlanta
The Score: Atlanta 33, Philadelphia 27
This one feels backwards to me. The Falcons should be favored by three. I understand why they’re not: They were awful last year, they have an unknown new head coach, and the general public is all lathered up over the Eagles. If my preseason prediction of the Falcons being a playoff team and the Eagles missing the playoffs is going to be true, I guess Atlanta has to start by winning this game. Most importantly, Vegas has the point total for this game at 55, easily the highest of the week. If nothing more, this should be a fun matchup for us fans.
Minnesota (-3) at San Franisco
The Pick: San Francisco
The Score: San Francisco 17, Minnesota 8
Not so fast, Minnesota. The 49ers might stink in 2015, but the Vikings went 2-6 on the road last year and one of those wins was an overtime squeaker against Tampa Bay. Maybe the Vikings will go 7-1 at home this year and do enough on the road to make the playoffs, but they are certainly not going to turn into road warriors over night. Congrats to San Francisco for getting what will be their only win in the first two months of the season.
The weekly tally looks like this:
- 7 Favorites, 9 Underdogs
- 6 Home Underdogs, 3 Road Underdogs
- 11 Home Teams, 5 Road Teams
Enjoy week 1.