NFL Week 11 Picks: You’ll Want To Be Watching These Games

NFL: Preseason-Arizona Cardinals at Minnesota Vikings

Some weeks need no fancy introduction. The promise of what’s to come is so good that a writer simply has to go through the games and then get out of the way. No need for a lengthy monologue about the state of quarterbacks or which conference is more dominant.

If week 9 was the equivalent of striking out at a bar, and week 10 was nothing more than foreplay, then week 11 has a strong possibility of being an incredible love-making session, complete with moves you never even knew existed.

Some are even calling week 11 the NFCpocalypse.

We have six very meaningful games:

  • Buffalo (5-4) at Miami (5-4) – Thursday Night 8:25pm ET
  • Seattle (6-3) at Kansas City (6-3) – Sunday 1pm ET
  • Cincinnati (5-3-1) at New Orleans (4-5) – Sunday 1pm ET
  • Philadelphia (7-2) at Green Bay (6-3) – Sunday 4:25pm ET
  • Detroit (7-2) at Arizona (8-1) – Sunday 4:25pm ET
  • New England (7-2) at Indianapolis (6-3) – Sunday Night 8:30pm ET

And two sort of meaningful games:

  • Houston (4-5) at Cleveland (6-3) – Sunday 1pm ET
  • Atlanta (3-6) at Carolina (3-6-1) – Sunday 1pm ET

It’s nice of the NFL to have all those games spread out pretty evenly in every timeslot throughout week 11. You might say I’m reaching with the two games I tagged as sort of meaningful, but at this point every game’s important for Cleveland while the Texans could still technically be a playoff contender with a win, and in the NFC South, the winner of Atlanta/Carolina would be tied with the Saints for 1st place if the Saints can’t handle Cincinnati.

Other than the fact that no outcome in week 10 was too important to the playoff picture, the other thing that kept it from being a truly entertaining week was that the favorites went 10-3 against the spread. That flies in the face of everything we’ve seen so far this year. Up until week 10, the favorites and underdogs had basically played to a draw. Since that 10-3 outcome seems to be the exception, not the rule, I’d look for the underdogs to cover six or seven of the 14 games this weekend.

Let’s get into it, shall we?

First, an update on the bye teams. After week 12 we’ll be done with byes for the year. Hooray for getting rid of this part of my column and for an easier time comparing teams’ records!

  • Baltimore (6-4): Other than their week 1 loss at home to Cincinnati, which can partly be attributed to the Ray Rice noise, the Ravens have followed a path that was pretty much expected of them. They’ve won all their home games since the opener. They’ve beaten up on bad teams when given the chance (Carolina, Tampa Bay, Atlanta and Tennessee all suffered double-digit losses to the Ravens). But they’ve struggled on the road against above average teams (losses at Indy, Cincy, and Pittsburgh). The good news is they only have two more tough road games this year. The bad news is they play in a division where 10-6 might not be good enough.
  • Dallas (7-3): Those of us who love to hate the Cowboys may not get our 8-8 dream scenario, but 9-7 is definitely in play. And that would be just as disastrous after a 6-1 start. The Cowboys only play two of their final six at home, but interestingly enough, they’re only 3-3 at home this year. They’re actually undefeated on the road. You know what’s especially nauseating about Dallas? Their next four games are all nationally-televised. They have a Sunday nighter at the Giants, then home for Philly on Thanksgiving, then at Chicago the following Thursday and finally at Philly the Sunday night after that. This doesn’t seem fair that I’m forced to watch the Cowboys four weeks in a row.
  • Jacksonville (1-9): It’s not even worth going through their remaining games to see how many more wins they can get. At best they’re a 4-12 team. More interesting is whether or not Blake Bortles can hold off Jay Cutler in the chase for leading the league in turnovers. It would be an extra special accomplishment for Bortles considering he wasn’t playing early in the year.
  • NY Jets (2-8): The Jets bookended eight straight losses from week 2 through week 9 with home wins. Holding the mighty Steelers offense to 13 points was probably their Super Bowl. The rest of their schedule would be pretty easy for a halfway decent team, but they’re looking at 5-11 when it’s all said and done. The only thing they can look forward to is a December 21st game in Foxboro where they could possibly play spoiler to the Patriots’ hopes of a #1 or #2 seed.

And now for the week 11 picks.

Buffalo @ Miami (-4.5)

  • The Pick: Buffalo
  • The Score: Buffalo 26, Miami 23

Wouldn’t it be a nice surprise if these two teams gave us the most exciting Thursday night game of the year? Both the Bills and the Dolphins have been surprising us all season with perfectly competent play. The wildcards in the AFC may still boil down to the North and West runners-up, but at least two teams from the East added some intrigue up to this point.

This is also the most important Thursday night game we’ve seen so far this year, as the loser will likely be a full two games out of a wildcard spot. Wow. Bills and Dolphins in week 11 and it actually has meaning!

I’m all in on a three-point game in this one, possibly an overtime nailbiter to get what should be one of the best weekends on the NFL calendar kicked off.

UPDATE: On Wednesday night, the line was six. When I looked Thursday morning, it was down to 4.5. I can’t find any breaking injury news or extenuating circumstances that would account for this change. All I can think is a TON of money must be coming into the sportsbooks on the Bills. You’ve been warned.

Minnesota @ Chicago (-3.5)

  • The Pick: Minnesota
  • The Score: Minnesota 27, Chicago 20

In what scenario, short of being held at gunpoint, could someone place money on the Bears right now? Marc Trestman probably made a lot more peoples’ Coach of the Year predictions in the preseason than Coaches to be Fired predictions, but if this disaster continues, someone’s gotta take the fall.

I love getting more than a field goal on the team that’s playing relatively well on no expectations with a bunch of young players learning to win. I’d rather that than backing the team that was overly hyped in the preseason and is currently playing for nothing at this point. That team probably can’t help but wonder who’s losing his job over the next two months. Give me the Vikings to win outright in this one.

Houston @ Cleveland (-3)

  • The Pick: Cleveland
  • The Score: Cleveland 23, Houston 14

The “Brady Backup” Bowl!!

What’s nice for Ryan Malett (and every other shaky quarterback) is that Andy Dalton just lowered the bar significantly for the entire position one week ago. No matter how bad Mallett is in his debut, he can’t possibly be worse than the soon-to-be “maligned” Cincinnati QB.

Tempting as it is to be that guy who predicts a huge Cleveland let down, I’m not taking the bait. This line seems exactly right, the Browns should win by a field goal or slightly more.

Atlanta @ Carolina (PICK)

  • The Pick: Carolina
  • The Score: Carolina 30, Atlanta 26

So it turns out Atlanta could be tied for 1st place in the NFC South after this weekend. Words cannot describe how insane that is. I don’t believe either of these teams in this game deserves much of our attention so instead I’d like to discuss, once again, the historic atrociousness that is this division.

  1. The NFC South’s cumulative record is 11-25 (.306 win percentage).
  2. Take away games they’ve played against one another, and the cumulative record drops to 5-19 (.208 win percentage).
  3. Since week 4, this entire division has won five games. Three of those wins have been in games where NFC South teams were facing each other. So in the past six weeks, these teams have combined to win two games against non-division opponents.
  4. According to FooballOutsiders.com, the four teams in this division are all in the bottom seven of overall defensive efficiency in the league.

Anyway, this line is wrong considering these teams might be equal to one another. The Panthers should at least get the respect of being a three-point favorite considering they’re at home.

Cincinnati @ New Orleans (-7.5)

  • The Pick: Cincinnati
  • The Score: New Orleans 31, Cincinnati 27

Whoaaaaaaa! Is this the biggest overreaction line of all time? Or is Cincinnati truly awful and I’m just the last to know it?

My initial instinct was that Vegas set this line knowing Dalton’s infamous showing last Thursday night will be fresh on everyone’s minds going into week 11.

Fair enough. That strategy just may get a lot of people to take the Saints with an unnecessarily high point spread.

Not me though. When the Bengals are off, it’s hard to find a team that looks worse than them. But I still think they have too many good players on both sides of the ball to turn into a weekly punching bag. And yes, Dalton’s performance was historic last Thursday, but he’s not in that Mark Sanchez/Geno Smith territory where every game is a train wreck. If that were the case, even the Bengals wouldn’t have ponied up with the large contract for him over the offseason.

Let’s all just calm down a little and watch the Bengals implode in December or January.

Tampa Bay @ Washington (-7)

  • The Pick: Washington
  • The Score: Washington 34, Tampa Bay 11

If you’re keeping score at home, this is the second consecutive game where a sub-.500 team is giving a touchdown. This one makes a lot more sense than that Bengals/Saints game because at least the team Washington’s facing is in the running for the 1st overall pick in 2015.

I’m not even bothering with much research on this matchup. The PotatoSkins should win by at least 10. Yes, I know they just lost on the road to the Vikings and barely won a home game against Tennessee last month. It doesn’t matter because the Bucs are just that bad. Maybe the worst team in football.

Denver (-10) @ St. Louis

  • The Pick: St. Louis
  • The Score: Denver 32, St. Louis 24

For the most part I’ve been staying away from these huge point spreads. But last week when the favorites were busy going 10-3 against the spread, it would have been a good time to take some of those teams favored by 10 or more.

Denver hasn’t won a game by less than 14 points since week 2. When they’re winning, they’re winning BIG.

And it turns out the Rams are going with Shaun Hill at quarterback this week, a 34-year-old who has thrown 13 passes this season and last played on September 7th.

But we’ve reached that time in the NFL season where no matter how hard I try, I can’t be fully objective to Denver. They’re battling my Patriots for a top seed in the AFC, and every loss counts. Most likely the Patriots need at least one more Denver loss to secure the #1 seed. I will try to be objective, but I can’t promise.

So I’m going with the Rams to make it a game.

San Francisco (-4.5) @ NY Giants

  • The Pick: NY Giants
  • The Score: NY Giants 30, San Francisco 23

Too high. This line feels like what an Arizona, Seattle or Detroit would be giving if they were traveling to the Meadowlands. The 49ers are not of that same ilk. I’m weary of the back-to-back flights to the Eastern Time Zone (they were in New Orleans last week).

The Giants are bad, no doubt about it, but they can absolutely stay with San Francisco at home. I know the 38-17 loss at Seattle last week looks bad, but there was a time in the 4th quarter when it was 17-17. It was a deceivingly decent game out of the Giants in tough road conditions.

Eyeing this as my favorite pick of the week.

Seattle @ Kansas City (-1.5)

  • The Pick: Kansas City
  • The Score: Kansas City 20, Seattle 16

There’s a real chance the Chiefs demolish the Seahawks on Sunday. I can’t make it my favorite pick or say that I’m going to bet everything I’ve got on it because Seattle has earned the right for me to always be weary of picking against them. But they’ve been real bad on the road this year, like really bad. And the Chiefs appear to have one of the true home field advantages in football, backed by a great crowd that’s loving this 6-3 team.

I fully expect the Chiefs to win and fans around the country to continue ignoring what’s going on in Kansas City.

Oakland @ San Diego (-10.5)

  • The Pick: San Diego
  • The Score: San Diego 40, Oakland 13

The last time the Chargers won a game was more than a month ago. It just so happens Oakland was the last team they beat before all the injuries piled up and they lost three in a row before last week’s bye.

They’re not all the way back to good health yet, but they’re getting there. And the Raiders are still bad. Not much has changed with them in the past month so I expect this game will get the Chargers back to winning and putting up lots of points.

Detroit @ Arizona (-1)

  • The Pick: Arizona
  • The Score: Arizona 23, Detroit 16

Here’s the key question for every parent out there: If your wife had a baby on a Monday night, would you be mentally & physically prepared to perform your job at an extremely high level just six days later?

If your answer is no, you might want to pick against Arizona this week because Drew Stanton’s wife gave birth on Monday night.

So Stanton gets thrust into the starting QB role as of Monday morning, has one week to prepare for the best defense in the NFL, and has a new baby daughter during that same week.

The first version I wrote of this pick had me taking Detroit and saying this is a coin flip game where the craziness surrounding Stanton this week is having me lean in Detroit’s direction, but then I realized one matchup that is absolutely not a coin flip: COACHING.

No matter what’s going on with the Cardinals, we know we’re getting a prepared team that’ll do all the little things and take appropriate chances to win the game when it gets them. With Detroit, well, they have this:

caldwell

This game may very well give us another proof point that coaching does indeed make a big difference in the NFL.

Philadelphia @ Green Bay (-6)

  • The Pick: Green Bay
  • The Score: Green Bay 33, Philadelphia 23

A little more thought needs to go into this game than simply penciling in the Packers because they’ve been unstoppable at home. It’s true that their last three home games have seen them win by 32, 21 and 41. But it’s also true that their three opponents in those games were Minnesota, Carolina and Chicago.

It’s very tough to draw conclusions on how Green Bay will perform at home against a fellow playoff contender because they haven’t played any of those kinds of games this year.

As for the Eagles, they’ve won two road games (Indianapolis and Houston) and lost two road games (San Francisco and Arizona).

I guess my pick boils down to the fact that I’m not going against Aaron Rodgers when he’s favored by less than a touchdown at home until further notice.

New England @ Indianapolis (-3)

  • The Pick: New England
  • The Score: Indianapolis 31, New England 29

What a way to end our Sunday! A key battle between two of the AFC’s best, and unlike the Broncos in their week 9 game in New England, the Colts will probably show up for this one.

This feels like an even matchup if the Patriots are merely “one of the better AFC teams.” But if they’ve morphed into that 2003/2004 Patriots mode, they just may dominate the Colts on Sunday night.

I’d like to think that’s what we’re witnessing, but I’m not going to put money on it. One thing that’s easy to forget because of the blowout over Denver two weeks ago is that Chandler Jones is still missing and he was a HUGE part of New England’s success early in the year. I wonder if this is the game when we remember how valuable he is.

I’m thinking the Patriots fall just short as Andrew Luck gets the ball last and Adam Vinatieri hits yet another key field goal over his old team to win the game.

Pittsburgh (-6) @ Tennessee

  • The Pick: Pittsburgh
  • The Score: Pittsburgh 36, Tennessee 13

Normally I wouldn’t hesitate to grab the favorite in a game like this. After all, the Steelers are 6-4 while the Titans are 2-7. The Steelers have an offense that put up 94 points in two weeks against much better teams than Tennessee. This shouldn’t be a problem.

But there’s also Pittsburgh’s 27-24 loss to Tampa Bay in week 4, their 31-10 loss at Cleveland in week 6, and the Steelers’ 20-13 no-show at the Jets just last week. Playing down to their competition seems to be a Pittsburgh staple.

But you know what? I can pick this game without even considering how either of these teams might perform on the field. If you’re like me and you think Thursday’s game is going to be close and entertaining, and you think the same about Sunday night’s game, that means you gotta pick a blowout on Monday night because there’s no way the football gods are giving us three awesome games in the three primetime slots in week 11. Just won’t happen. Steelers roll.

If you needed any more motivation to spend all of your Sunday and part of your Thursday & Monday watching football this weekend, just know that in week 12, we’re looking at only three games at most that warrant our attention. The intrigue of week 11 doesn’t come around that often. Don’t mess this up.

Enjoy the games.

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NFL Week 8 Picks: The Vultures Are Circling Over Many Teams

foles

Last Sunday’s football watching was downright stress-free for me. As I mentioned in my week 7 picks column, my mind had been buried much too deep in picks against the spread, bets, fantasy football and random Pick ‘Em Leagues & Suicide Pools. Last week I went with the strategy of scaling back my bets, expecting to do poorly in my picks and not even bothering to make a Suicide pick (my hand was forced on that one since I lost in week 6).

Basically, I expected to lose. It turns out this mindset is no different than how I approach every trip to a casino these days. I put a certain amount of money in my pocket and fully expect to lose it all by the time I’m done my gambling session. That makes it fun and relieves any pressure from the situation.

The college version of me would stress about having to win money or at least walk away with a certain percentage of the money I came with when I’d go to Foxwoods as a 21 and 22-year-old. Part of that was because I was in college and every penny counted. And part of it was because I didn’t yet understand that the casino’s rigged for you to lose.

Well in football terms, I’ve already paid my money to play fantasy football and make picks in my Pick ‘Em leagues. I’ve also got a small fortune deposited in my semi-legal online gambling account. What’s done is done and if any money comes back to me at the end of the season, that’s a bonus.

With that healthy mentality in mind, let’s talk about what I’m looking forward to this weekend from a pure football standpoint:

  • Three NFC games with huge implications: Seattle at Carolina, Green Bay at New Orleans, Philadelphia at Arizona. Two of those teams—Seattle and New Orleans—may not recover from a loss this week. Out West, the Eagles and Cardinals are trying to see where they stack up among the one-loss teams. And can Green Bay keep things rolling in their first real test in several weeks?
  • In the AFC, here are the big games: San Diego at Denver, Baltimore at Cincinnati, Indianapolis at Pittsburgh. I’m obligated to put Thursday’s AFC West matchup in here even though I’m concerned the Broncos are going to win by 35 (more on that in a minute). Three teams from the AFC North are involved in these marquee games, and that makes sense because it might be the only division where there could still be some shuffling at the top of the standings. Like Green Bay, can the Colts keep rolling in a tough road game?
  • I’m also looking forward to some insane results this weekend. You’ll see throughout my picks that there are several games where the vultures are circling, just waiting for an underperforming team to lose once more, and yet, I think we’re all going to be surprised at how well those teams fend off playoff elimination for one more week (the NFC South dominates these kind of matchups this week). Just remember it wouldn’t be the NFL if chaos didn’t rule the day.

Let’s do the obligatory check-in with the two teams on a bye this week:

  • NY Giants: It’s been a pretty straightforward season so far for the 3-4 Giants. The teams they’ve beaten have a combined record of 7-14, and the teams they’ve lost to are 21-5. If that blueprint holds, they’re likely to go 4-5 the rest of the way and finish at 7-9. That seems about right (though the Victor Cruz injury could cost them one extra game along the way). They were never going to be great this year, and when your schedule consists of two games against the Cowboys, two games against the Eagles and having to face the entire NFC West, you’re pretty much screwed regardless of your talent.
  • San Francisco: Give the 4-3 49ers some credit. They’ve played reasonably well for a team that’s been missing key defensive players all year and reportedly have a disjointed relationship between the coach, players and front office. Unlike the Giants, they’ve actually won against some good teams so a playoff run isn’t out of the question. Ending the season with four out of five games facing Seattle (twice), San Diego and Arizona sounds about as fun as ebola, but they might just be good enough to win some of those.

And now, to the picks, where I’ll try to improve upon my 49-55-2 season record against the spread.

San Diego @ Denver (-9)

  • The Pick: Denver
  • The Score: Denver 34, San Diego 20

Ugh. As someone who wants the Broncos to lose for a number of reasons—I’m a Patriots fan who still has delusions about the #1 seed, I predicted the Chargers to win the AFC West before the season, I don’t like Peyton Manning, I definitely want the mini-trend of competitive Thursday night games to continue—it’s killing me to not only pick Denver to win, but to cover. But how can you not go in that direction when you factor in the combination of short rest for the Chargers + this article on San Diego’s health.

If you’re a Chargers fan, don’t get too down if this is a blowout loss. Most of your team’s injuries sound minor enough that you can still recover in time to make the playoffs and possibly surprise Denver in January. It’s just bad timing in so many ways for San Diego.

Detroit (-3.5) @ Atlanta (in London)

  • The Pick: Atlanta
  • The Score: Atlanta 23, Detroit 16

If you’re picking the Falcons in this game, what the hell are you even grabbing onto for justification? For a minute I thought Wembley Stadium was a dome, but it turns out it has a retractable roof that does NOT completely close. So you can’t even go with the “Matt Ryan and this Atlanta offense plays well indoors” theory.

After losing badly to the Ravens last week, you might want to make the case that Atlanta’s faced tougher-than-expected competition, right? Well, the combined record of the five teams that have beaten them this year (not counting those teams’ games against the Falcons) is 11-17-1. So, nope, that’s not a silver lining either.

You know what my reasoning is for taking them? The NFL is fucking nuts. The Lions needed a miraculous comeback at home against one of Atlanta’s pathetic NFC South compadres, the Saints, and now they have to fly all the way to London and play a game that starts at 9:30am according to their bodies’ natural clocks. Crazy shit happens in the NFL all the time. Why can’t the Falcons win a game in which neither team is firing on all cylinders? It’s a total wildcard prediction so please keep your expectations low.

Side Note: One of the most fun aspects of the weekly football blogs is trying to find pictures on google images to go along with each blog. I always find such random stuff when I google things like “Andrew Luck vs the Steelers.” This week I was hoping to go with a “Lions vs Falcons” theme and looked for a picture of those two animals fighting or something. I didn’t find any of that, but I did find this lovely image that perfectly captures what I was looking for:

lion falcon

And here’s the synopsis of that award-winning (I’m guessing) book: “Given the choice between dealing with a psycho killer, a meddling mother and an all too sexy falcon, this poor doctor does what any sane lion would do—he takes a nice, long nap.”

Minnesota @ Tampa Bay (-3)

  • The Pick: Tampa Bay
  • The Score: Tampa Bay 28, Minnesota 10

You gotta love a 1-5 team giving three points. Your initial thought is probably that the Bucs are horrible and the Vikings did almost pull out the W in Buffalo last week. You’re also probably drawn to Minnesota because you want to root for Teddy Bridgewater.

But I’m going the other way on this one. Tampa Bay is coming off a bye. They also have significantly more talent on both sides of the ball, even if they’ve played like they’ve played like they want their coach fired (again). While the out-of-nowhere Vincent Jackson trade rumors could be viewed as a distraction, there doesn’t seem to be any truth that the Bucs are actually shopping him.

If this line moves to 3.5, I’ll have to think twice, but for now, I’m going with Tampa.

By the way, I read this article about Vincent Jackson throwing a baby shower for 40 expecting mothers over the bye weekend and immediately felt bad for him. Classy move, but no man wants to go to a baby shower when it’s just one expecting mother and her friends, let alone 40 of these baby-crazy ladies. He deserves a big day and a win.

Buffalo @ NY Jets (-3)

  • The Pick: NY Jets
  • The Score: NY Jets 30, Buffalo 7

Wow. Another one-win team giving three points. This time it’s the 1-6 Jets actually favored over the 4-3 Bills. Seems wrong, doesn’t it?

Here’s why the Jets are definitely going to cover: They have a better coach. They have a better running attack (now that the Bills are down to their third & fourth RBs). Their quarterback situation isn’t really worse than the Bills’. They’re at home. And that 1-6 record is deceiving. Rex Ryan isn’t talking crazy when he says they’ve been snakebitten this year. Five of their six losses have been competitive to the very end, with four of those games being decided by a touchdown or less. The combined record of those six teams that have beaten them (again, not including those teams’ games against New York): 22-13.

Chicago @ New England (-7)

  • The Pick: Chicago
  • The Score: New England 37, Chicago 35

No, no, no! This is not happening again! First it was Jerod Mayo, now it’s Chandler Jones. He’s expected to miss a month with a hip injury? Come the fuck on. I’m not exaggerating when I say he’s been the Patriots’ most important player this year. Yes, more important than Tom Brady. I tweeted weeks ago that Jones should have no shame in finishing as the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year (J.J. Watt, of course, will be the winner), and that comment was only slightly tongue-in-cheek.

This week’s game kicks off New England’s stretch of facing Chicago, Denver, Indianapolis, Detroit, Green Bay and San Diego all in a row. You think having the team’s best defender is crucial for that stretch? Me too.

Anyway, I can’t pick the Patriots to cover. And hey, the Bears are 3-1 on the road. Another reason to worry.

Seattle (-6) @ Carolina

  • The Pick: Carolina
  • The Score: Seattle 26, Carolina 23

It’s easy to fixate on the Panthers’ no-shows against Green Bay in week 7 and Baltimore in week 4. Those were pathetic efforts. But they were road games. The Panthers beat the Lions and Bears earlier this year, and they also played the Bengals to a tie. They should absolutely be underdogs to the Seahawks, but it’s not like Carolina’s on the same level as the Raiders or Titans.

I love getting this many points with a 3-3-1 team that’s playing at home. I still think Seattle works out its issues, but it might take some time.

Miami (-6) @ Jacksonville

  • The Pick: Miami
  • The Score: Miami 24, Jacksonville 10

I like Miami a lot in this game. This isn’t really much of a road game for them, and besides, they might be one of those teams that inexplicably plays better on the road than at home. The Jaguars are bad, they lost a couple key players in last week’s win against Cleveland, and they’re facing the 3rd best defense in football. I can’t picture a lot of points for the Jags in this one.

Baltimore @ Cincinnati (-1)

  • The Pick: Cincinnati
  • The Score: Cincinnati 27, Baltimore 21

Continuing with the theme of Vegas daring us to pick teams that have looked terrible, I’m jumping on the Bengals giving less than three points at home. Imagine before the season started if you could have grabbed Cincy in any game this year where they’re at home, giving less than a field goal and not playing Denver or Seattle. You would have done backflips while placing a huge bet on them. I don’t think the Ravens are complete frauds, but their last three wins have come against the NFC South.

Baltimore’s good, probably a playoff team, but this is another one of those games where everyone wants to bury the home team (kind of like the games featuring Carolina and Tampa this week) a bit too soon.

Houston (-2) @ Tennessee

  • The Pick: Tennessee
  • The Score: Tennessee 24, Houston 20

OK, I’ll take the bait with the Titans here. Home underdog in a division game against an opponent that might be a lot worse than their record shows? I’m in.

Besides, this was easy. I swore off the Texans for all gambling purposes after they scammed their owner out of hundreds of thousands of dollars when they didn’t bother showing up to play football in Pittsburgh on Monday night but still collected their paychecks.

I realize Zach Mettenberger is making his NFL debut at quarterback for Tennessee, but that won’t deter me. The Texans remain dead to me.

St. Louis @ Kansas City (-7)

  • The Pick: St. Louis
  • The Score: Kansas City 28, St. Louis 24

I’m picking the Rams distinctly for the backdoor cover. I think the Chiefs are a much better team, and the only game they haven’t come close to winning this year was their opener against Tennessee (and that one’s really inexplicable). On top of their three wins—at Miami, vs New England, at San Diego—they’ve almost knocked off the Broncos in Denver and the 49ers in San Francisco.

But they’re not an offensive juggernaut so it wouldn’t surprise me if the Rams are able to stay close-ish and only lose by four or six.

Philadelphia @ Arizona (-3)

  • The Pick: Philadelphia   
  • The Score: Philadelphia 31, Arizona 27

One of these teams is going to be 6-1 after this game! No one could have seen that coming.

Maybe I’m a sucker for taking the Eagles in this game, but I feel like their hot start is realer than the Cardinals’ hot start. Arizona’s only had to deal with two offenses this season that have been competent. One was Denver, who they gave up 41 points to. The other was San Diego. They beat the Chargers but it was a one-point game in Arizona.

I like the Eagles because they’re coming off a bye week, and more importantly, they might be as healthy as they’ve been all season.

Indianapolis (-3) @ Pittsburgh

  • The Pick: Indianapolis
  • The Score: Indianapolis 38, Pittsburgh 24

This line has slowly gone up all week. No one is taking the Steelers seriously, nor should they be. If you didn’t watch the Steelers play the Texans on Monday night, I can tell you that Houston would have won by at least a touchdown had they just held onto the ball. Pittsburgh’s other wins have been at Jacksonville (a game in which they struggled to put away the Jaguars), at Carolina (looking less impressive by the week) and home against Cleveland (ditto).

But here’s the intriguing thing: The Steelers only do one thing well: Run the ball. The Colts only struggle in one area: Run defense. On the flip side, the Steelers’ main issues are around pass defense. As you might guess, the Colts have one of the best passing offenses in the league.

The Colts offense has reached that “Manning & Brady in their prime” state: Even if the Colts’ run defense is horrible, it doesn’t really matter because their opponent is going to feel pressured into matching Andrew Luck point for point so they abandon the run early and everything falls apart from there.

Bonus bet: Pick the over in this game. It’s currently 49 points. The Colts’ offense is awesome, and the Steelers have Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and LeVeon Bell. That’s enough talent to put up points if needed.

Oakland @ Cleveland (-7)

  • The Pick: Oakland
  • The Score: Cleveland 26, Oakland 20

I’m not in the business of backing mediocre teams that are giving a touchdown. For what it’s worth, the Raiders have made two trips to the East Coast this year. They lost one of those games by five points and the other by seven. And they’ve been downright competitive against some of the better teams in the league since they swapped out coaches and came back from London. So there ya go. Two reasons to pick the Raiders.

Green Bay @ New Orleans (-1)

  • The Pick: New Orleans
  • The Score: New Orleans 30, Green Bay 24

The Saints have done nothing to change my mind that they’ll probably go 8-0 at home. If they are going to lose in Louisiana this year, this would be the game, facing an on-fire Packers team. So do yourself a favor and make this a low confidence pick.

Green Bay still doesn’t seem like a fantastic road team. They won via sorcery at Miami a couple weeks ago, and their two losses on the year have been away from Lambeau.

New Orleans will still bring a pumped up crowd because by the time this game kicks off, the Saints might only be a half game out of first place in the NFC South.

Washington @ Dallas (-9.5)

  • The Pick: Dallas
  • The Score: Dallas 42, Washington 6

That line is simply not high enough for me. Look what the Cowboys have done to teams that are significantly better than Washington: 10-point win over the Giants, 7-point win at Seattle, 21 points over the Saints.

And Colt McCoy is starting for the PotatoSkins for Chrissakes!

Just like the rest of you, I want to predict the Cowboys’ demise to begin on national TV against the least talented of their division rivals. But it’s just foolish. DeMarco Murray is a beast. Yes, the ‘Skins’ run defense has been solid this year, but that was before they lost Brian Orakpo for the season. And with the Saints/Packers game likely to be close, we need this to be a blowout to fulfill the NFL’s mandated quota of at least two nationally-televised games per week being unwatchable.

I don’t say this often, but I’m pretty sure I nailed my picks this week. I’m thinking 11-4. For those of you who are invited to my wedding next summer, I’m giving you permission to bet that $500 you would have given me for a wedding gift on this weekend’s games. If you don’t make a profit, you don’t owe me a gift.

Enjoy week 8!

Week 8 NFL Picks (And Ranking Each Team’s “Degree of Screwed” At QB)

old-man-crystal-ball

After last week’s injuries to Jay Cutler, Sam Bradford, Nick Foles and Josh Freeman (a true murderers’ row of quarterbacks), there’s been a ton of emphasis on the state of QBs in the NFL. And rightfully so. A good quarterback can hide a lot of deficiencies for a team, and you pretty much need someone at least at Joe Flacco’s level of competence to win a Super Bowl.

So for this week’s intro to my picks, let’s stick with the quarterback topic. I split all 32 teams into groups based on one piece of data: What degree of screwed is this team when it comes to the quarterback position over the next 3-5 years. Of course things can change quickly in the “please target players’ knees, not their heads” NFL. But assuming reasonable health for all parties involved, this is what the list looks like:

We’re Not Even Remotely Screwed

Green Bay (Aaron Rodgers)

New Orleans (Drew Brees)

Atlanta (Matt Ryan)

Seattle (Russell Wilson)

Carolina (Cam Newton)

San Francisco (Colin Kaepernick)

Washington (Robert Griffin III)

Indianapolis (Andrew Luck)

I dare someone to argue that one of these teams should be concerned about their QB over the next five years. As far as age goes, Drew Brees is the oldest and I think he’ll be just fine for several seasons to come. RGIII feels like the biggest injury risk, but he’s already showing this season that we shouldn’t really be too concerned. What’s scary is that seven of the eight teams in this group are in the NFC. The AFC should be very very nervous about that.

We’re Not Even Remotely Screwed For Now, But In A Couple Years…

Denver (Peyton Manning)

Peyton’s having a better season than anyone in that first group, but the reason he gets his own section is because of his age and his surgery history. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he plays at a high level for three more years after this season, but it also wouldn’t surprise me if Bernard Pollard ends his career with a borderline legal hit in week 14. Denver probably doesn’t spend a high draft pick on a quarterback in 2014, but it wouldn’t be the worst idea.

We’re Normally In The “Not Even Remotely Screwed” Group But There’s Suddenly Some Concern

NY Giants (Eli Manning)

New England (Tom Brady)

Pittsburgh (Ben Roethlisberger)

The concern? Eli’s trying to set the single-season interceptions record, Brady’s completion percentage is making New England fans long for the glory days of preseason when Tim Tebow was connecting on about 50% of his pass attempts, and Roethlisberger might be the oldest 31-year-old in the history of mankind. There’s plenty of time for these guys to turn things around. I highly doubt we’ll see any of them lose their jobs over the next two seasons, but I don’t think you can pencil any of them in as their team’s starting QB for the next three years without giving it some major thought first.

We’re Not Screwed, But We’d Prefer To Have A Guy From That First List

Dallas (Tony Romo)

Detroit (Matthew Stafford)

Miami (Ryan Tannehill)

Kansas City (Alex Smith)

Baltimore (Joe Flacco)

In this group you’ve got a couple fantasy all-stars (Romo, Stafford), a young guy who his team feels really good about (Tannehill), the definition of a game manager (Smith) and a Super Bowl winner who’s probably worth closer to 120 bucks than 120 MILLION bucks (Flacco). The common thread is that their teams are at least satisfied with their body of work so far, but more importantly, those teams know there probably aren’t any better QB options out there. So these are the teams that are “stuck” with 2nd tier QBs.

Thought We Were Screwed, But Now We’re Not…How ‘Bout That

San Diego (Philip Rivers)

Tennessee (Jake Locker)

We all wrote Rivers off after last year. At the same time, none of us have ever given Locker much of a chance. Both are proving us wrong in 2013. Locker still has room to be demoted to the “we’re screwed” group, and Rivers may not have 3-5 years left, but this feels like the right spot for now.

We’re Confused By The Question, Can’t Our Defense Just Keep Scoring Touchdowns?

Chicago (Jay Cutler, Josh McCown, Jordan Palmer)

There’s no doubt who the starter is when he’s healthy, but what about beyond this season? Cutler is a free agent after 2013, and many people think this year was supposed to be his tryout for the new coaching staff. What if he doesn’t come back this season or doesn’t look the same when he does come back? He was on pace to have one of his best seasons and the Chicago offense looked better than ever. But this is his 2nd major injury in two years. And he’ll be 31 years old next season. Is his time in Chicago up? My money’s on him getting resigned mostly because when the Bears look out at the QB landscape, how can they see themselves upgrading over Cutler in the near term? But because of the injury and contract situation, things are suddenly in doubt.

It’s Way Too Soon To Know If We’re Screwed Or Not

Philadelphia (Michael Vick, Nick Foles, Matt Barkley)

Buffalo (EJ Manuel)

NY Jets (Geno Smith)

Of course the Bills and Jets would land in this group…they’ve got rookie starters who have both showed some promise, but by no means has either Manuel or Smith replicated the amazing rookie QB class from 2012. Comparing the two of them to the guys they replaced (Ryan Fitzpatrick in Buffalo, Mark Sanchez in New York) should have fans feeling optimistic. They’re not sniffing the Pro Bowl yet, but things are looking up. And while you could describe Philly’s situation as a mess, we don’t know enough yet about Foles and Barkley to say the Eagles are totally fucked. Vick is not a long term answer, Foles probably isn’t either, but who knows about the rookie?

We’re Probably Screwed But We’re Not Willing To Admit It

Cincinnati (Andy Dalton, Josh Johnson)

Oakland (Terrelle Pryor, Matthew McGloin)

With their current rosters, both teams are stuck with their starting QBs no matter what. There’s no viable option on Cincinnati or Oakland to take over if the starter should slip up or get injured. But these are two teams who could look for a QB in the 2014 draft (which is rumored to be a QB-rich draft by the way). The Raiders are the more obvious team when it comes to looking for their next QB. Pryor has been good this season, but I doubt the team’s ready to give him a franchise contract just yet. If you need an example of the Bengals’ monk-like patience, look no further than Marvin Lewis. He’s in his 11th year as head coach even though they’ve only made the playoffs four times, losing in the first round each of those years. So they may have that same level of patience when it comes to Dalton. But I wouldn’t. You’ve got an all-world receiver in A.J. Green, a solid running back duo (including a rookie in Giovani Bernard who could be a star), and a top-5 defense. If Dalton continues to be Dalton, your ceiling will always be Dalton. At some point they might have to admit that they’re screwed with him.

We’re Fucked

St. Louis (Sam Bradford, Kellen Clemens…Brett Favre?)

Tampa Bay (Mike Glennon, TBD #1 overall draft pick in 2014?)

Arizona (Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton, TBD draft pick)

Minnesota (Josh Free…no, wait, Christian Pon..no, that’s not right, Matt Cass…nope, that can’t be right either)

Houston (Matt Schaub, Case Keenum, T.J. Yates)

Jacksonville (Chad Henne, Blaine Gabbert, TBD draft pick)

Cleveland (Jason Campbell, Brandon Weeden, Brian Hoyer on 1 good knee)

Anyone surprised that these seven teams are in this particular group? Just look over those names and options next to each team. They really are all fucked in so many ways. The Rams seemed like they were in the best shape just one week ago, but Bradford’s injury messes all of that up. I can’t get over the fact that they actually inquired about Brett Favre’s availability. That doesn’t seem like real life. Maybe the Texans will come out of this group looking the best if Keenum can be decent? I dunno. This group is just depressing and they should each be doing everything in their power to position themselves for the best possible QB in the 2014 draft. But I’m sure at least one of these teams will fuck it up and take a wide receiver in the 1st round instead.

 

Let’s move on to the week 8 picks:

Carolina (-7) @ Tampa Bay

Cleveland @ Kansas City (-9)

I’m grouping these two games together for several reasons. The Panthers and Chiefs are very, very similar teams. I know the Chiefs are 7-0 and have been talked about as one of the best teams in the NFL for the past few weeks. And at 3-3, no one’s talking about Carolina in that same context. But I’ve got news for you. They’re almost identical. Both teams have excellent defenses (the Chiefs are 1st in the NFL in points allowed per game, the Panthers are 2nd) to go along with their iffy offenses. Football Outsiders has Kansas City as the 4th best team in the league. Carolina comes in at #6. And I want so badly to pick each of them this week. But can those sketchy offenses score enough to win by more than a touchdown? That’s the key question here.

I told someone on Monday that if the Chiefs were favored by less than 13 against Cleveland, I’d put my life savings on them. But I also decided two weeks ago that the Chiefs were not nearly as good as their record, and until Vegas gives them spreads that reflect their talent instead of that record, I was going to pick against them. And as a bonus the more competent Jason Campbell is starting for the Browns this week. You know what? I’m taking the Browns to win outright with a 24-17 shocker (which will lead to the entire world wondering why it took Cleveland so long to replace Brandon Weeden).

Meanwhile I’m a little uneasy about Carolina on the road, but I did say in my week 7 recap column that the final straw in Greg Schiano’s head coaching career would be an embarrassing home loss on national TV to a division rival. So let’s stick with that. Carolina wins easily, 23-6.

San Francisco (-17) @ Jacksonville (but really @London)

Since losing back-to-back games to Seattle and Indianapolis, all the 49ers have done is win four straight games by an average margin of 20 points. And none of those games were against the consensus worst team in football, who they just so happen to be facing this weekend. But there’s no predicting how smoothly a team will operate after dealing with the travel to London. And 17 points is just so much. I think I’ve gotten my pick wrong on every Jacksonville game this year. My instinct says to take the points so let’s roll the dice and go the opposite way. I’ll take a 49er win, 31-10.

Dallas @ Detroit (-3)

Per the agreement that all four NFC East teams apparently made before the start of the season, none of them are allowed to be two games above .500 at any time. So the Cowboys are losing. And what’s it been, like three weeks since Tony Romo had a game-losing drive? This is probably a coin flip of a game, but I’ll take the Lions to win 27-21.

NY Giants @ Philadelphia (-6)

After picking three favorites in the first four games, I’m almost obligated to take an underdog. That’s fine. I’ll take the bait. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if these two teams have very similar records by the end of the year. Give me the Giants to upset the Eagles, 26-21, causing a very small tremor across the NFL as a few misguided media types hypothesize that the Giants are about to go on a run and make a playoff push.

Buffalo @ New Orleans (-11.5)

Sean Payton against Buffalo with two weeks’ preparation. Rob Ryan’s defense against Thad Lewis. Drew Brees at home against anyone. Normally those three sentences are enough to talk me into taking such a heavy favorite, but hearing that Jimmy Graham might not play? That changes everything. The Bills are tough to get a read on, but if nothing more, I think they’ll be able to give us the backdoor cover in garbage time. In Thad Lewis I trust. The Saints win but don’t cover, 31-23.

Miami @ New England (-7)

Every time we think the Patriots are going to zig, they zag. No consistency from week to week. This would be frustrating enough if they were a random team I was trying to pin down for betting purposes, but it’s even worse when they’re YOUR team. The consensus this week is that the Pats are in trouble following that ugly loss to the Jets in week 7. But I’m going the opposite way. It sounds like Danny Amendola is practicing this week. What if the Pats have Amendola, Edelman, Gronk and the Ridley/Blount/Bolden trio at RB on Sunday? We could see their best offensive output of the season. And if Aqib Talib comes back to shut down Mike Wallace…the Dolphins aren’t that scary on offense. There’s probably a chance Tom Brady comes out and plays another atrocious game on Sunday, but I’m going against the grain on this one. Patriots win and cover, 34-23.

NY Jets @ Cincinnati (-7)

Part of me thinks the Jets spent the entire week circle jerking in their locker room because of their Super Bowl win over the Patriots last weekend. Usually a team that spends its practice time giving each other reacharounds and having spontaneous orgasms over a regular season win isn’t very prepared to play the following week. But I’m going to base this pick on the fact that New York’s pass rush might actually be legit, and if there’s a QB for a contending team that looks worse than Brady does under pressure, it’s the Ginger Prince Andy Dalton. And the Bengals lost their best cornerback for the year in Leon Hall last week so their defense takes a major hit. I’ve got the Jets covering, but the Bengals winning 23-18.

Pittsburgh (-3) @ Oakland

Vegas set this line knowing plenty of idiots would see that the Steelers have won two in a row and simultaneously associate the Raiders with being one of the worst teams in football. But the Raiders are frisky, at home, coming off a bye and have a QB who can make things happen. That’s enough for me to take the points. I like the Raiders to win an ugly game, 15-12.

Washington @ Denver (-14)

I should hit up my friends who are Washington fans for some cash in exchange for picking against the Redskins this week. Because believe it or not, every single prediction I’ve made about Washington this year—the preseason projections, the weekly picks, you name it—the exact opposite has happened. I feel that if I’m a true friend, I’ll keep picking against them until the Redskins find themselves in the Super Bowl. So, fine, I’ll use that as my reasoning. I’m taking the Broncos to bounce back from their Sunday night loss in a big way. They torch the Redskins 48-27.

Atlanta @ Arizona (-2.5)

This is a game tailor-made for the Cardinals. They got some extra rest after their Thursday night loss to Seattle, their defense is healthy and legitimately good, and their main weakness on offense (blocking/protecting the QB) is an area the Falcons probably won’t be able to expose. Atlanta has no pass rush, evidenced by the fact that Brady and the Patriots’ offensive line had their one fantastic showing of the year in Atlanta a few weeks back. If you need any more convincing on this game, just remember that Atlanta had to sweat out a win at home against the Bucs last week. The Cardinals have a good shot to go on a three-game win streak starting with this one. They get a week 9 bye then they’re home against Houston and @ Jacksonville. Arizona could somehow be 6-4 going into week 12. I say they at least start that stretch off on the right foot with a 27-17 win over Atlanta.

Green Bay (-10) @ Minnesota

I found a line on this game on Monday afternoon and the Packers were only favored by 6.5. Obviously the current line is a pretty big jump. A couple things have happened since that opening line: The Vikings looked like the worst football team to ever play football on Monday night against the Giants, not exactly a juggernaut in their own right; The Vikings announced that Josh Freeman was concussed so Christian Ponder would be starting at QB this weekend; Adrian Peterson continued to not practice this week because of a hamstring injury. Needless to say they’re heading towards a Jacksonville or Tampa Bay level of pathetic at this point.

But Green Bay has been downright bad on the road this year. They’ve lost to San Francisco and Cincinnati while barely beating Baltimore. And all three of those games happened when they were mostly healthy (they’re no longer mostly healthy).

Peterson is the swing vote for me. If he was 100% healthy, I’d be taking the points because he’s had some big games at home against the Packers. But if he’s hobbled, and that might be the reason the Vikings decided to throw the ball an absurd 53 times with Freeman on Monday night, the Packers are going to win big. Remember that there’s some bad blood here…the Vikings employed Brett Favre for a while and Greg Jennings has been doing some trash-talking ever since he left Green Bay for Minnesota in the offseason. I can see an extra score or two by Green Bay if they are controlling the game in the 4th quarter. Let’s go with a Packers win, 33-14.

Seattle (-11) @ St. Louis

Poor Kellen Clemens. His first start in almost two years and it’s against Seattle. We’re talking about a guy who has thrown exactly 100 passes in the last four years. And if you think the Rams’ running game might take some of the pressure off Clemens, well I just checked and it turns out they have the 2nd worst running game in all of football. Seattle on the road doesn’t bother me when their opponent probably won’t put up a single point. Give me the Seahawks winning a lousy game, 23-0.

For those of you keeping score at home, in week 8 I’m taking:

  • 8 Favorites & 5 Underdogs
  • Of those Underdogs, 1 is a Home Dog and 4 are Road Dogs

Enjoy week 8.

Week 1 Picks Against The Spread

Everyone, relax. That tingling feeling you’re experiencing throughout your entire body is perfectly normal. It just means that football is officially back and you’re a little overstimulated. Happens to me every year.

FOOTBALL IS BACK!

That feels good to write. Even better is the feeling of writing my weekly picks column again. Seven months is a long time to wait.

Before you decide to simply skim this article and not give it your full attention (Mike, I’m looking at you, serial skimmer), I’ll reiterate one final time that if you followed my lead last year, you became a very rich person by season’s end (you know, assuming you were throwing a cool $10K on each of my weekly picks).

If you’re new to this, here’s how it works: I’ll list each matchup including where the game’s being played and how many points the favorite is giving. Then I’ll write a blurb that may include objective statistical analysis, or it may include subjective emotional analysis. And then I’ll make my pick. This year I’m going with the gimmick of picking the exact score of the game, but the important part from a betting standpoint is just which team I’m picking to cover the spread.

If you’re confused by any of that, I’ll be happy to forward along my girlfriend’s blog, which details all the going-ons of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills/Orange County/Atlanta/New Jersey/Haiti. I’m sure you’ll enjoy her fantastic observations.

Some weeks I may not post the picks until Friday, but for week 1 I think we know everything we need to know, and nothing drastic’s going to change over the next 24 hours.

Enough with the foreplay. Let’s get to the main event (27 seconds of missionary position with lots of sweating, coughing and (sometimes) farting is usually the main event for me):

Baltimore @ Denver (-7.5)

We have the Super Bowl hangover vs the suddenly neutered Super Bowl favorites. If the Broncos were playing with Von Miller and Champ Bailey, this game’s not close. Baltimore can’t keep up with a fully functioning Denver team (not sure anyone in the AFC can), but they get some breaks with the aforementioned weakened defense. My biggest question for the Ravens this year is how are they going to sustain long drives. I know they’ll score on some long Torrey Smith touchdowns, but they don’t have an offense that can keep Peyton Manning off the field and methodically put up points. Denver’s still good enough to hold off the Ravens, but just barely. Something like 27-24 with the Ravens failing on a late game drive.

(Side Note: Guest blogger Neil pointed out to me the other day that “Super Bowl hangover” is usually a term reserved for the team that lost the Super Bowl. I disagree. I think the winning team has a hangover in the sense that they partied the entire month of February, got a late start on offseason work/scouting/planning, and they lost several key players to retirement or free agency. They walk into the season slightly groggy, crushing fistfuls of Advil and telling everyone to talk quieter and turn the lights down.)

New England (-10) @ Buffalo

The Patriots have won 10 straight season-opening games. They are 23-2 against Buffalo over the past 12 years. Tom Brady is healthy. His Buffalo counterpart is E.J. Manuel, a player with exactly 0 NFL starts. The Patriots are going to get their 35 points so the only question here is whether Buffalo gets 4 touchdowns or more. The Pats have a knack for letting up late garbage touchdowns when the game’s on ice, so that worries me a little, but…I think New England rolls 38-17.

Tennessee @ Pittsburgh (-7)

Overall Pittsburgh was a big disappointment in 2012, but make no mistake, their defense was still solid. Not great, but good enough. It was their offense that abandoned them last year. But did they address that over the past eight months? It feels like they’re just hoping a full Ben Roethlisberger season will solve all those problems. Unfortunately for them he won’t be healthy for 16 games. Fortunately for us he’s healthy for week 1. And no reason that Steelers D can’t marginalize Tennessee’s only offensive weapon, Chris Johnson. I’ll take Pittsburgh to cover with a 24-10 win.

Atlanta @ New Orleans (-3)

If you’re convinced Sean Payton’s presence alone turns the Saints back into a 12 or 13-win contender, I understand giving three here. I’m not one who buys into that theory so I’m obviously taking Atlanta with the three. I think there’s still a big enough talent gap between these division rivals that Atlanta wins outright, 28-24. You can make the argument that the Saints will be in F U mode, the crowd will be going crazy, all that jazz. But my counterargument is “Saints defense.” You can’t argue your way out of that defense being terrible again. Enjoy the nightmares of Julie Jones running wild untouched for multiple touchdowns if you’re betting on the Saints.

Tampa Bay (-3) @ NY Jets

This is a great example of not over-thinking things. We know the Jets are bad, but not horrible. They’ll be good enough defensively to slow down teams that lack multiple weapons. And maybe they’ll run the ball decently. But Tampa has multiple weapons on offense, a defense that was outstanding against the run last year, and their one major weakness—pass defense—is the one thing no one has to worry about when facing Mark San….Geno Smi…Brady Quinn? Tampa wins comfortably 23-9.

Kansas City (-4) @ Jacksonville

Everyone who argues for the Chiefs to automatically get better because Andy Reid is a major upgrade from Romeo Crennel, I get the sentiment. But here’s my counterpoint: Alex Smith and his 70% completion rate/104 passer rating goes from coaching genius Jim Harbaugh to Andy Reid, a guy who thought Kevin Kolb was the answer just three years ago. I think Kansas City is improved and beats teams like Jacksonville at home, but on the road I’m taking Jacksonville to win 24-23.

Cincinnati @ Chicago (-3)

I’m naming this the “Aaron Memorial Pick” in honor of my brother. When Aaron played in Pick ‘Em leagues with me over the years, he’d inevitably go through a rough stretch where almost every pick he made over a three-week period would be wrong. So in the 4th week, he’d pull a reversal and pick the opposite of what his instincts told him for every game. Sometimes it worked.

My instincts in this game tell me Chicago at home can handle Cincinnati. So I’m pulling the Aaron reversal and picking the Bengals to win outright 24-20. Chicago in September isn’t intimidating. The Bears defense won’t be as good as last year. Maybe Cincy’s defense is as good as people are saying. It’s not a slamdunk for Chicago, that’s for sure.

(Side note: A possibly pertinent piece of info for you: My brother Aaron is not dead.)

Miami @ Cleveland (-1)

Considering I guaranteed Cleveland would win their division in my preview column, this is pretty much a must-win for that to have any chance. The Browns have weapons, with Trent Richardson looming as a possible Doug Martin or Alfred Morris game-changer type. Ryan Tannehill needs to throw more than 12 touchdowns in a full football season before I buy into this team at all. Joe Haden can handle Mike Wallace, right? If so, what do the Dolphins have left in the offensive weapons department? Brian Hartline? Thought so. Cleveland 27-3.

Seattle (-3.5) @ Carolina

This line was 3 earlier in the week and I was excited to take Seattle and expect no worse than a push. This extra half point honestly scares me. Or it would have scared me last year, I should say. The Seahawks proved they can win on the road in 2012, while the Panthers were proving they really hate September football. I’m picturing a Cam Newton with no WRs open all day. Does the running attack get it done? Doubt it. Seahawks take it 27-19.

Minnesota @ Detroit (-5.5)

This line feels two points too high. My gut’s telling me Detroit isn’t as good as people are projecting and Minnesota’s not as bad as the consensus says. Detroit doesn’t seem like that team that’s going to come out of the gate firing on all cylinders. Part of me also thinks we might be underestimating how much Adrian Peterson can control a game if he’s as good as last year. I’m going with a Detroit win, 27-24, but a Minnesota cover.

Oakland @ Indianapolis (-10)

Toss aside your feelings on Indy for a second—you may think they’re due for a huge regression, or maybe you think they can sustain last year’s magic, it doesn’t matter—and think about the distinct possibility that Oakland loses the majority of their games this year by more than 10 points. You’re really going to project this game as one of the few where the Raiders keep it close? Indianapolis wins 31-7.

Bonus Note: This is my suicide pool pick for week 1. Assuming I stay alive in this pool for at least a handful of weeks, you’re going to see me picking the opponent of Oakland, Jacksonville and Arizona a lot.

Arizona @ St. Louis (-4.5)

I learned my lesson last year with this type of line. The oddsmakers clearly don’t have a clue how this one’s going to play out. And do you really feel confident claiming you know which team will have the better season? In such an unknown game where the two teams could sneaky be a more even matchup than the public thinks, always take the points. In this case I’m saying the Rams win, but not by enough, 17-13.

Green Bay @ San Francisco (-4.5)

How about that? Another game where Vegas doesn’t seem to know what to make of the matchup. Is San Francisco so good that they should be favored by a touchdown? Or is Green Bay closer to the 49ers’ level, and really the 9ers should be giving 3 points only because they’re at home? And since these two teams might belong in the same tier when ranking the best teams in the league, it’s safe to say taking the underdog with the points makes sense. If Colin Kaepernick has a huge day again, we should all be scared because no team has spent more time this offseason preparing for the 49ers’ offense. I’m saying the Packers upset the 49ers 30-28.

NY Giants @ Dallas (-3)

The Giants typically start fast most seasons because that’s when they’re healthiest. And somehow, like clockwork, the wheels tend to fall off after a 6-2 start. They’ve also beat the Cowboys in Dallas each of the past four years. A healthy Giants team is still better than Dallas. Giants pull off the road win 27-21.

Philadelphia @ Washington (-3.5)

Listen, if the Redskins were facing a big intimidating shutdown defense, I could see the argument about RGIII not being himself in week 1. But I don’t think the Eagles inspire that type of fear. I actually like the ‘Skins offensive weapons more than Philly’s, and their defenses are at least equal, if not slightly tilted towards Washington. The only hesitation to pick the Redskins is the complete unknown of Chip Kelly’s offense. Doesn’t matter. The RGIII return at home in the opening game of the year will push this team in a huge way at least for one week. The Redskins win 34-24.

Houston (-4) @ San Diego

Houston is very similar to the team they were last year. And when it comes to losing, they have a type. They’re going to lose games to teams with offensive firepower. The Texans aren’t built to win shootouts or play catch up if they fall behind by two scores. They’ll lose games to Seattle, San Francisco, New England and Denver this year. That’s a near certainty. San Diego has about 1/100th of the firepower that those other teams have. Houston covers with a 23-16 win.

For those of you keeping score at home, in week 1 I’m taking:

  • 8 Favorites & 8 Underdogs
  • Of those 8 Underdogs, I’m taking 1 Home Dog and 7 Road Dogs

Shit, seven underdogs to cover on the road seems outrageous. I’m chalking it up to Vegas not having a clue during the first few weeks of the season.

And by the way, I’m being greedy in week 1. I don’t want to finish 9-7 against the spread. I want 13-3. That’s my goal for the week.

Enjoy week 1, everyone.