Saints @ Packers
Predicted Line: GB by 4.5
Actual Line: GB by 4
Over the last eight years, defending Super Bowl champs are 8-0 in week one, with all of those games being played on Thursdays. This year, that could finally change. I've got the Packers going 14-2, but I've got the Saints winning it all ... so I am torn.
I see Green Bay getting off to an early lead, the crowd getting crazy, and the Saints comeback effort falling just short. Should be sloppier than expected, as the lockout ramifications are made evident. But both quarterbacks are elite, both offenses can score easily, and this will be one heck of a season opener.
It will be interesting to see who carries the ball for Green Bay; they've said Grant and Starks will split the carries 50/50, but I'll believe that when I see it. Also, will the Saints use rookie Mark Ingram much, or allow Pierre Thomas/Chris Ivory/Darren Sproles to handle the running back duties and give Ingram just a few touches? A lot of intrigue from a fantasy perspective.
Obviously Rodgers and Brees are must-starts, as are Jennings and Finley. I like Jimmy Graham to have a big game, maybe 8 or 9 catches and a score. The key storyline to this game will be how the Saints offensive line protects Brees; the tackles should have plenty of trouble with Clay Matthews and company.
I'm going with Green Bay and the over, 34-27.
Lions @ Bucs
Predicted Line: TB by 2
Actual Line: TB by 1
In honor of Tom Kowalski, I'll try to keep this as brief and impartial as I can.
I hate to say this, but I think Detroit might be the most overrated team in the NFL right now. That doesn't mean they aren't good or aren't capable of making the playoffs. It just means they are getting way too much hype for having accomplished nothing. On the other hand, Tampa is getting no hype, and went 10-6 last year in a brutal division.
The Lions near-flawless preseason gave the players tons of confidence and swagger, which is good. It also made them feel unbeatable, which is bad, especially on the road. When Tampa makes a big play (and they will), Detroit needs to respond on the field, not with stupid violence or tomfoolery, but with great execution of their gameplan. I love everything about Ndamukong Suh's vicious attitude, but I don't like when the rest of the defense initiates fights just because they want to be tough like Suh. That's what I saw this preseason.
The other aspect of overratedness is Stafford, who played a pristine preseason against some terrible defenses that weren't trying. Now it gets real. Tampa has a good secondary, they'll be doubling Calvin and forcing Stafford to think, and he hasn't shown an ability to make quick decisions yet in his career. I've no doubt he'll put up good yardage numbers and make a few good deep throws, but I'm more interested in his completion percentage this year, because that's how you sustain drives and move the chains. Pettigrew and Burleson are going to be key in this game.
I hate opening the year against Tampa, a talent-laden young team with a lot of continuity and confidence and a great young quarterback. But like Detroit, they have weaknesses that can be exposed.
The interior of the O-line is Tampa's only weakness on offense, particularly at center and right guard. This works perfectly for Detroit, as Suh will be unleashed, even against double-teams. Corey Williams and Cliff Avril will battle with LG Ted Larson and RT Jeremy Trueblood, and Detroit owns a slight edge in both matchups. VandenBosch will have plenty of trouble against Pro Bowl LT Donald Penn, but overall our D-line should dominate the line of scrimmage.
Josh Freeman is one of the best quarterbacks at avoiding the pass rush and buying time with his feet, but with Suh chasing him all day it might be his worst nightmare. It's up to Detroit's secondary to keep the receivers from breaking free. We could rack up 5 or 6 coverage sacks in this game if the corners do a great job.
Against LeGarrette Blount, Detroit should be fine. He's a two-down back who runs through the tackles, and with MLB Stephen Tulloch watching him all day, I feel good about our chances. We just have to avoid the one killer 70-yard run that Detroit typically allows. Hopefully the OLBs will be able to play the entire game in short coverage against slants and curls, keeping Freeman from checking down. This will work if Suh and Williams dominate their matchups, which they likely will.
Nick Fairley is doubtful for the opener. but frankly I'm okay with that. Corey Williams is a better player right now anyway.
Unless the Lions defense gives up huge plays, we should be able to hold Freeman to a minimal game and give our offense a chance to win. All the pressure for this game falls on Stafford, and surprisingly, I think he'll come through.
Not so much because Stafford is the great quarterback everyone thinks he is, but moreso because this matchup is favorable. With safety Tanard Jackson out with a suspension, it'll be Sean Jones who assists CB Aqib Talib with the double-coverage of Calvin Johnson. Despite the fact that Talib is a very talented corner and strong enough to jam Calvin at the line, he doesn't have the speed to chase Calvin on deep routes, and will get burned at least once. Expect Calvin to have only 4 or 5 receptions, but to make them count for about 80 yards and a score. Of course he'll be the primary target in the red zone too, so he might have a monster game.
Tampa's weakness on defense is the pass-rush, which is excellent news for Detroit. Jeff Backus will be just fine against rookie DE Adrian Clayborn, and might actually dominate that matchup. DT Gerald McCoy is stout against the run and will manhandle Raiola and Peterman, but Detroit isn't looking to run much through the tackles anyway. Jahvid Best will do most of his work on stretch plays and counters, and of course screen passes. We'll probably look to plow through the middle a bit on short-yardage situations, but not much on first and 10.
I'm not sure if it'll be Harrison or Morris or newcomer Keiland Williams who handles the short-yardage stuff. Probably a combination of all three. Each guy should get 3-4 carries, and Best will have 15 carries and 5 catches. Detroit's running game will be mostly a nonfactor in this game, as it should be all season.
As I said earlier, the key for Stafford will be accuracy and decision-making. If he isn't under pressure from the ends, and I don't think he will be, he just needs to make good passes and avoid interceptions. He can't put the defense in bad situations by throwing picks; this is a game where it's better to punt than to try to squeeze a pass into triple coverage.
Despite the fact that the Lions are overrated and Tampa is underrated, I still have the Lions winning outright, and thus against the spread. Detroit may not be the better team overall, but I like the way we match up with them, especially on the D-line. Lions 27, Tampa 13.
Falcons @ Bears
Predicted Line: CHI by 1
Actual Line: ATL by 3
I don't know what's more shocking, the fact that Chicago is a home underdog, or the fact that 81% of bettors are backing Atlanta. America is smarter than I thought!
These are two teams that I think will decline in 2011, but Atlanta is still far better than Chicago. Roddy White will be unguardable, and I think it'll be Harry Douglas, not Julio Jones, who steps up as the #2 WR. In fact, I don't think Jones will be Atlanta's most productive rookie in this game; RB Jacquizz Rodgers has been named the third-down back, and should get 3 or 4 catches in this game.
Atlanta won't be able to run whatsoever in this game, and Julius Peppers is going to destroy LT Sam Baker. But on the other side of the ball, Chicago will execute a typical Cutler/Martz mess: 40 passing attempts, 2 TDs, 3 turnovers, 5 sacks ...
I'm expecting an ugly, turnover-filled game, lots of sacks on both sides, and plenty of punts. But Atlanta has the superior offense and will make big plays when needed. I'm determined to pick against the Bears as much as possible this year. Falcons 24, Bears 14.
Bills @ Chiefs
Predicted Line: KC by 4 (Cassel is questionable)
Actual Line: KC by 5.5
It's starting to seem like Cassel will play, though still not 100%. If he's out, the line probably drops to KC by 3 with left-handed Tyler Palko under center.
I like this as my Upset of the Week. Everything stacks up well for the Bills.
For starters, KC is the league's most run-heavy team, and Buffalo specializes in run-stuffing defense. Jamaal Charles might break free for a big gain, but should be held in check most of the day. The Bills defense overall is vastly underrated, and should create a few turnovers against whichever lousy QB plays for the Chiefs.
It won't be spectacular for Buffalo's offense either, but I think we'll see the best game of CJ Spiller's career and another efficient effort from Fitzpatrick. Even with Cassel, it'll only take the Bills about 20points to win this one, and I think they can muster that.
Bills 20, Chiefs 16.
Colts @ Texans
Predicted Line: HOU by 7.5 (Manning is officially out)
Actual Line: HOU by 9
Holy crap. Is there any other player who could make a Vegas line swing by 10 points? The line was IND by 1 just two weeks ago.
People have been saying for years that Indy is a bottom-five team without their quarterback. Now it's up to Kerry Collins to prove them wrong. The 38-year old has only been with the Colts for about 2 weeks, and has pretty much lost any arm strength he used to have. He's never been particularly accurate. Plus, he'll have a crappy O-line in front of him trying to keep Mario Williams out of the backfield.
On the other side of the ball, Houston will have their way against the Colts, like they always do. The more I look at this game, the more I see a blowout, and a sign of things to come. The shift of power in the AFC South is upon us.
Texans 41, Colts 7.
Eagles @ Rams
Predicted Line: PHI by 5.5
Actual Line: PHI by 4.5
This is actually a tough matchup for Philly, pitting the Rams' strengths against the Eagles weaknesses, and vice versa.
Steve Spagnuolo is very familiar with Andy Reid's offense, and will be capable of harassing Vick and creating sacks and turnovers. I'm sure Vick manages a good fantasy day, but maybe not a real-life day. It would be wise for Reid to run the ball conservatively with McCoy and Ronnie Brown, but that's not his style.
The Eagles excel in pass coverage, with three Pro Bowl CBs on the roster. Unfortunately, the Rams don't really have a #1 receiver. Putting Nnamdi Asomugha on Mike Sims-Walker is like buying a pack of gum with a $50 dollar bill and not getting any change. Bradford is superb at reading defenses and making smart passes, thus I think he'll take advantage of mismatches with slow linebackers and complete passes to guys we've never heard of.
Steven Jackson should be able to run against the Eagles questionable linebackers and safeties, while the Rams try to keep Vick off the field by controlling the clock. Also, St. Louis doesn't want to get Bradford killed by the trio of excellent pass-rushers, so they'll try to keep him out of 3rd and longs by running the ball early and often. If the run gets stuffed, the Rams are dead, but I don't think it will get stuffed.
I like to bet on home underdogs, especially when the home team is good. Philly will need a few weeks to gel together and start playing as a team. They'll still get the win, but it will be extremely close. Eagles 24, Rams 23.
Steelers @ Ravens
Predicted Line: BAL by 3
Acual Line: BAL by 2.5
No surprises here. These teams play each other twice a year plus once in the playoffs. It's always a deathmatch. The Steelers have won 6 of the last 8, but each game has been decided by 4 points or less except the 2010 playoff game in which the Ravens blew a double-digit lead and lost by 7. I think it's safe to say Baltimore is the better team on paper, while Pittsburgh is the better team on the field.
If the line were 3, I'd take Pittsburgh. But since it's less than a field goal, this is basically a straight-up pick, and I am leaning towards Baltimore for a few reasons:
-Pittsburgh lost the Super Bowl. Teams that lost the Super Bowl are typically bad in season-openers the next year. For example, Indy got steamrolled last year in their week 1 loss to Houston.
-Baltimore outplayed the Steelers in the AFC Championship but lost because of some crappy luck. They'll be out for vengeance.
-Pittsburgh had a terrible offseason in terms of dealing with the lockout; James Harrison said some evil things about the Commish, Hines Ward celebrated his Dancing with the Stars victory by driving drunk and getting arrested, and Rashard Mendenhall watched his reputation get decimated into a joke. I don't think they'll be entirely focused.
-Nobody can run on the Ravens, but especially not Mendenhall. In three games against them last year, he managed a YPC of about 2.7.
-The Steelers always struggle in pass protection, but currently 3 of their starting offensive linemen (all of whom will play) are nursing injuries, including Pro Bowl center Pouncey.
However, all that being said, this game is going to be a bloodbath and come down to a few key plays late in the game. I think Baltimore pulls it out 24-21.
Bengals @ Browns
Predicted Line: CLE by 5.5
Actual Line: CLE by 6.5
With 86% of the betting on Cleveland to win by a touchdown, it's clear that nobody has any faith in Andy Dalton's first career start. And why should they? His QB rating was about a 63 in the preseason, and he looked absolutely abysmal.
I'm jumping on the Hate Dalton bandwagon. This line should probably be higher. Cleveland is a complete team, only a WR away from being competitive. Cincy is in shambles. Their offense will be lucky to gain 200 yards. I would recommend picking up the Browns defense in any fantasy league where you don't feel good about your starting unit.
Cleveland 29, Cincinnati 10
Titans @ Jaguars
Predicted Line: TEN by 3
Actual Line: No Line. Garrard was just cut yesterday, so no line has been posted yet. I'll just assume it's TEN by 3.
These are two of the most dysfunctional teams right now, with a slight edge to Jacksonville who just cut their starting QB just 5 days before game 1. Now Luke McCown will start under center, which probably isn't a bad thing, but it's still bizarre.
The only winner in that situation is Blaine Gabbert, who is much closer to seeing the field. I'm also pretty glad I pegged the Jaguars for 3-13. They're obviously in a world of trouble.
Tennessee just signed their best player to a long-term deal, and not a moment too soon. Without CJ this might have been a close game. With him, Tennessee will control the clock, Hasselbeck won't be asked to do much at all, and the Titans crappy defense will look respectable against McCown and the injured MJD. This is probably the week 1 game that I'm least interested in watching.
I'll say Titans win on the road, 20-6.
Seahawks @ 49ers
Predicted Line: SF by 5
Actual Line: SF by 5.5
Tavaris Jackson is kind of the Andy Dalton of the NFC. Nobody wants to go anywhere near him, and consequently this line is exaggeratedly high. San Francisco is terrible, their quarterback is abysmal, their defense is mostly terrible, and this is the first pro game of Jim Harbaugh’s coaching career. Meanwhile, the Seahawks are coming off a playoff win against the defending champion Saints.
And the Niners are favored by almost a touchdown?
Of course it doesn’t surprise me, because the national assumption is that Tavaris Jackson is as bad as bad can be. And while that’s partially true, he probably isn’t much worse than Alex Smith. Both QBs have been in the league for about 5 years, their completion percentages and YPAs are nearly identical (Tavaris is actually slightly better in both), and both have a career QB rating in the mid 70s. The only difference is that Smith has played in 18 more games and thrown 900 more passes while TJ has rushed for 100 more yards.
The other difference, of course, is that the Niners actually have weapons on offense. They’ve got a top 10 player at TE and RB, and a trio of underperforming receivers who were drafted in the top 10 (Braylon, Crabtree, Ginn). Seattle has one-year wonder Sidney Rice and former Raider Zach Miller. Both O-lines stink, both secondaries stink, and as mentioned, both quarterbacks really stink.
So that brings me back to the initial reaction … why does San Fran deserve to be 6-point favorites? Is it simply because they have stud linebacker Patrick Willis? Is it because Jim Harbaugh is charming and Pete Carroll is a crook? Is it because everyone in the country likes San Fran and dislikes Seattle? Or let’s be honest, is it just because Tavaris Jackson is black?
I don’t know, but I’ll take the points. San Fran wins a turnover-plagued monstrosity, 21-17.
Panthers @ Cardinals
Predicted Line: ARZ by 5.5
Actual Line: ARZ by 7
Speaking of quarterbacks that nobody likes, 88% of betting is on Arizona to win by a touchdown. What a shock, nobody believes in Cam Newton.
I’m not rushing to pick up the Cardinals DST in this game, but I do have their kicker in most of my leagues. This should be high-scoring, as both defenses are completely awful. Cam Newton will be unspectacular, handing the ball off to DeAngelo at least 25 times and probably only throwing 12 or 15 passes. With their dominant offensive line, Carolina should keep the ball on the ground this entire season. Both DeAngelo and Beanie Wells are obvious fantasy plays on Sunday and both should rack up 100+ yards.
Although Arizona had 5 wins last year and Carolina had 2, the Panthers were probably the better team on paper, especially when you factor in injuries. I don’t get this spread. Is Kevin Kolb worthy of being a 7-point favorite already?
I guess I’ll take the Cardinals at home, but not a touchdown. How about 26-24.
Vikings @ Chargers
Predicted Line: SD by 7.5
Actual Line: SD by 8.5
Future MVP Phillip Rivers is going to get off to a monster start here, facing a barebones Vikings defense that was ravaged by free agency, injuries, and suspensions. If you give Rivers time in the pocket, you pay. Both Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates are bound for monster games. The fantasy rankers at ESPN have V-Jack 6th this week. I have him 2nd, behind only Andre. Gates is easily the #1 tight end, and might have 390 receiving yards.
With the Chargers leading by 28 at halftime, this might be a good game for Ryan Matthews to get going. The Williams Wall is gone (one in free agency, one suspended), so there should be plenty of holes. That is, unless Norv Turner dials up the Belichickian run-up-the-score gameplan and the Chargers win by 60.
I wouldn’t bench Peterson under any circumstances, but don’t expect too much. McNabb won’t do anything except scowl on the sideline. This will be ugly. Chargers win big, 42-13.
Giants @ Redskins
Predicted Line: NYG by 3
Actual Line: NYG 3
While the Lions dominated the preseason like no other, Washington may have been the second best team in the games that didn’t count. Rex Grossman looked pristine, going 34 for 53 for 407 yards. If Rexy maintains a 7.6 YPA and 64% completion percentage all season, I’ll legally change my daughter’s name to Rex Grossman Morgan. Really.
No, all Rex did was beat up some scrubs trying to make the 53-man roster, and now people are predicting a turnaround season for him. A lot of folks are also hyping up Tim Hightower and the vaunted “Mike Shanahan Zone-Blocking Scheme!” but it’s not 1998 anymore. If there’s anything the Giants are good at, it’s stuffing the run and getting after the passer. Rex and his offense are going to be under duress all game, and despite all the injuries in New York’s back 7, Grossman lacks the accuracy to take advantage. Washington’s not going to score much at all this entire year. They just don't have any playmakers.
While Rex looked sparkling in the preseason, Eli Manning looked horrendous. It was bad timing for him to compare himself to Tom Brady, that’s for sure. But against the sorry Redskins defense, Eli will get the job done. It might not be pretty, but it’ll be enough.
Giants 24, Redskins 13.
Cowboys @ Jets
Predicted Line: NYJ by 3.5
Actual Line: NYJ by 4
Oh man. Why don’t Tony Romo and Mark Sanchez just have a whitest-teeth competition instead? Or they could wear backwards hats and see who can look more carefree on the sidelines. This is possibly going to be the most annoying game of all time.
Truth is, both teams struggle in pass protection and both QBs have a lot to prove. Revis will eliminate Miles Austin (I am benching him for Sidney Rice in the Morgan Matrix league), but Dez and Witten should have big games. Whichever team runs the ball better will probably win, and the Jets have a much better O-line and much better linebackers.
I’ll say New York 26-20.
Patriots @ Dolphins
Predicted Line: NE by 6.5
Actual Line: NE by 7
When you’ve got a home underdog giving 7 points and still 85% of the public is betting on New England … that means the line is too low. Either that, or Vegas is going to make a ton of money if Miami keeps this close. More people are betting on this game than any other game, by far.
This line should probably be NE by 12; even then I would have to take the Patriots. There’s just no reason to believe this won’t be a blowout.
Pats 35-6. Dolphins fans chant "We Want Luck" in the second half.
Though the outcome of the game won’t be interesting, some of the play on the field will be. I’m riveted to watch Haynesworth, Ochocinco, Andre Carter, Brian Waters, and all of Belichick’s new toys, not to mention how Brady makes use of his 2-TE sets and 2 rookie running backs. My hunch is that Ocho gets shut down by Vontae Davis and tight end Aaron Hernandez has 10 catches for 150 yards. Glad I own Brady in several leagues.
Raiders @ Broncos
Predicted Line: DEN by 3
Actual Line: DEN by 3
Before we get to the pick, how about a bonus question: how many times will ESPN show Tim Tebow on the sidelines from kickoff to 0:00. I will set the over/under at 16.5.
And the results are in. 97% of the public is betting the over.
As I've said a few times already, nobody is realizing how bad the Raiders will be without Nnamdi. I don't know if they'll even try. Why would they? Denver absolutely crushes them, 52-6, and Knowshon Moreno has 200 total yards and 4 TDs. That's my idiotic prediction of the week.
So to recap, I've got the Lions winning and the Steelers losing, and if that's not wishful thinking I don't know what is. My Upset of the Week is Bills over Chiefs, and the Lock of the Week is Denver -3 against Oakland.
I'm also going to start doing a Survivor pick each week, where I pick one team to win straight-up. The rules are you can't use any team more than once. This week I'm taking the Chargers. I probably should save them, but I don't want to screw up week 1.
That's all I got. GO LIONS!!
PS - I don't think comments work anymore on this site. I don't know what's going on. This site kind of sucks, maybe I should start using a different site?