Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Week One Picks

First, a quick history of what this is.

I began making NFL picks on this site back in 2009, when I wanted a place to keep track of my picks over the course of a season.  I've now picked every single game for the past 4 seasons, and am glad to say I have eclipsed 50% each year.  However, I barely stayed above .500 last year, and need to have a good 2013 to prove I am better at this than a retarded monkey flipping a coin a few hundred times.

2009 - Just picked the games straight up, went 67.3%
2010 - Straight-up was way too easy; I began picking against the spread, and went 51.7%
2011 - A career-high 54.3% ATS.  That will be hard to ever beat.
2012 - 50.4% ATS and 61.5% straight up.  Terrible start but strong finish to get above .500.

Let's begin the 2013 picks:

Baltimore Ravens @ Denver Broncos 
Predicted Spread:  DEN by 5.5
Actual Spread:  DEN by 7.5 

Baltimore has got to be one of the least respected defending Super Bowl champs of all time.  They are only being given 8.5 wins by Vegas (same as Cincinnati) and you can get +225 odds on them winning the AFC North, which really isn't a great division.  And perhaps the biggest slap in the face is starting their season on the road, because the stupid Baltimore Orioles have a home game.  Really?  Out of 162 games, the MLB couldn't figure out how to adjust the schedule so the defending football champs could begin the season at home?  What a joke.   Sorry baseball, but your season is 30 games too long, and nobody cares about the Orioles or stupid Chris Davis and his home runs.

Everyone is freaking out about the retirement of Ray Lewis and the departure of Ed Reed (two Hall of Famers, for sure), but the astute analysts realize that Baltimore's defense actually improved.  Torrey Smith thinks so.  So does Joe Flacco.  And they aren't just talking up their teammates out of some delusional empty hype (ahem, like the Lions).  They see the additions of Elvis Dumervil, Chris Canty, Michael Huff, and Daryl Smith, which is four excellent starters to replace two very old guys who were at the ends of their careers.  What they've lost in leadership and experience, they've more than made up for with talent.  That's not to mention Lardarius Webb, who is a top 5 cornerback in the league, and missed the second half of 2012 with an ACL injury.  He's back, though perhaps not 100%.

Balitmore's concern should be the offense.  Matt Birk (6-time Pro Bowl center) retired,  Anquan Boldin went to San Fran, and Dennis Pitta (61 catches, 7 TDs) is on IR.  Yeah, they still have Flacco, Rice and a good offensive line, and yes, I am a believer in both Torrey Smith and Tandon Doss as up-and-coming receivers.  But, Pitta was Flacco's security blanket in the middle of the field, and backup tight end Ed Dickson cannot replace Pitta adequately.

Denver is the best team in the league if you ask Vegas, and after going 13-3 they probably earned that distinction.  Plus, anyone who saw Denver against Baltimore in the playoffs knows Denver was the better team by far, and Baltimore got horribly lucky on a bomb.  But that's history.  The Broncos lost Dumervil (to Baltimore) because of some fiasco with a fax machine (I still can't figure out that story) and they'll also be without their two best defenders in this game (Champ Bailey has a foot injury, Von Miller is suspended).  That is certainly a big edge for Baltimore, and makes this spread seem a little too high.

But, Peyton Manning stole Wes Welker from Tom Brady, and that's all anyone cares about.  With Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Some Random Tight End, and a bunch of running backs, along with the minty new Welker, Peyton will be read to destroy everyone with precision throws and superior intelligence.  Ray Lewis may have been past his prime, and possibly a murderer, but he was the best at countering Peyton's audibles and keeping the defense ready for each play.  In this particular game, Lewis will be greatly missed, because Peyton's greatest strength has always been more mental than physical.  

I'll give Baltimore the coaching edge, but Denver's homefield advantage cancels that out and then some.  If Ray Rice can control the game and keep Peyton on the sidelines, the Ravens have a great chance.  But Denver's front 7 is very good, even without Miller, and when Denver has the ball, they'll be able to score quickly and easily.  That's not to disrespect Baltimore's defense - which, as I mentioned, is very good and extremely underrated.  But Denver's offense is superior.  Peyton has too many weapons.   Broncos win 31-23.  

Minnesota Vikings @ Detroit Lions
Predicted Line:  DET by 4.5
Actual Line:  DET by 5.5

Let's see ... 48 carries, 273 yards, 5.6 YPC ...  that was Peterson against the Lions last year.

And ....  17 catches, 261 yards, 15.3 per catch ... was Calvin against the Vikings.

One of my favorite prop bets this year is:   Who will have more total yards, Adrian Peterson or Calvin Johnson?    I didn't make a pick because I can't pick against either guy.  They combined for 4,278 yards last season.   I don't have to do any research to say confidently that no RB and WR have ever combined for more yardage in a single season.  It's history in the making.  And these guys are in the same division.  Pretty stinkin awesome.

So, as for the rest of these teams, you have a very lousy arm in Ponder, who lost the speedy Harvin and replaced him with the slower Jennings.  Chris Houston can contain Jennings for the most part, which is great, because the safeties and linebackers will be zeroed in on Peterson the entire game.  Kyle Rudolph is the one Viking that worries me, because he can outrun linebackers and outmuscle safeties.    If Ponder can get him the ball (that's a big "if"), Rudolph could kill us.  But for the most part, it's all about putting 9 guys in the box and trying to slow down AP.  With Suh and Fairley in the middle of the trench, I should feel good about our chances.  But I don't.  At all.  

While Minnesota is running like crazy, the Lions will be throwing early and often, and the biggest concern by far is Riley Reiff against Jared Allen.  That's a recipe for disaster, and gives Detroit no choice but to give Reiff help.  Not sure what that looks like - Pettigrew next to Reiff? Leshoure in the backfield? Rob Sims doing the double-team? - but it definitely throws a tangle in the Lions' gameplan.  Sadly, Stafford just doesn't have the pocket presence or internal clock to get rid of the ball quickly and accurately.  That's the best way to neutralize a guy like Jared Allen: you throw the ball before he gets to you.  We saw that Stafford a lot in 2011;  he was awesome.  But he drank a bunch of beer in the offseason or something, because in 2012 he was back to being confused and sloppy.  If he hasn't improved in the offseason, it'll be another shitty year.  

One other possible solution is Reiff being way better than we expect and shutting down Allen single-handedly.  That would be cool.  But let's not expect it.

Outside of Allen, the Vikings defense is not scary.  Their secondary sucks.  Calvin should put up 100 yards by halftime and will put a quick end to his reputation as a guy who doesn't score enough.  He'll definitely score once, probably twice, and maybe thrice.  As Minnesota tries all kinds of double and triple teams on him, it'll open up Broyles, Burleson, Shithead (Pettigrew) and I'm kinda hoping Patrick Edwards gets to play.  And, we'll certainly see about 10 dump-offs to Reggie Bush, and let's hope he turns a couple of those into 20 yard gains.  My feeling is, Bush, Bell and Leshoure each get about 7 carries, but none of them do anything on the ground.   I'd like to see the Lions trade Leshoure while he still has some semblance of value (maybe we could get a 5th rounder for him), rather than cut him prior to the '14 season.

While AP and Calvin dominate this game, it'll be up to the quarterbacks to not turn the ball over.  Stafford will throw at least twice as many passes as Ponder, but it's likely Ponder has more interceptions, which could be the main difference in the game.  The Lions need to make a statement early that they won't be losing to inferior opponents this season.  I think they'll win the opener, but I think 5.5 points is too much to ask.   Lions 28-23.

Patriots @ Bills
Predicted Line:  NE by 9.5
Actual Line:  NE by 9.5

It's never smart to bet against a double-digit home-dog, but look at the facts:
--Buffalo's starting QB will be a rookie. Not sure if that's EJ Manuel or Jeff Tuel, but either way, a rookie.
--Tom Brady is in a hurry to prove that he doesn't need Welker, Hernandez, or Gronk.
--The Patriots always destroy the Bills.   They absolutely own them.
--Buffalo's homefield advantage doesn't mean much because everybody knows they're moving to Toronto.
--New England scored 34.8 per game last year;  Buffalo scored 21.5  
--Brady has scored 52, 37, 49, 31, 34, and 38 in his last six games against Buffalo
--Buffalo's two best DBs are out (Gilmore and Byrd)
--Doug Marrone has never coached an NFL game; neither has his offensive coordinator
--Did I mention it's Tom Brady against a rookie?

So let's do it.  Pats 49-0.

Titans @ Steelers
Predicted Line:  PIT by 6.5
Actual Line:  PIT by 7 

Tennessee has always had good tackles (Roos and Stewart), but this year they added a couple of excellent guards (Levitre and Warmack) to give them one of the league's best offensive lines.  Chris Johnson could run right through the ancient Steelers, a defense that is now living solely on reputation.  But if Sonic struggles, Jake Locker will have to carry the team, and I don't see that happening.  He seems like a very confused quarterback, and if the Steelers D can still do anything, it's take advantage of unsure quarterbacks.

On the flip side, Pittsburgh's offensive line looks really bad.  Pouncey is a great center, and the right side of the line has youth and potential, but the left side is awful.  That's a bad combination for a fearless, idiotic quarterback who thinks he is immune to tacklers.  But fortunately for the Steelers, the Titans' defense is so bad, particularly in the secondary, that Ben can get away with all kinds of sloppy crap.  As they continue to morph into a pass-first team, and as they quickly move past the drama-filled Mike Wallace era, I expect Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders to both see a ton of action.

Steelers will win, but I don't think they make it look good.  17-13.

Falcons @ Saints
Predicted Line:  NO by 3
Actual Line:  NO by 3

This is clearly the game of the week in my book.  Sean Payton is back, the Saints are pissed about what happened last year, Drew Brees still thinks this is his division, and this is the best homefield advantage in football.  Atlanta, who lost a lot of talent in the offseason, has won 36 games in the last 3 regular seasons, so they are clearly doing something right and I should probably respect them more than I do.   Great coaches, great quarterbacks, lousy defenses, on turf.  Should be a ton of points, real life and fantasy.   I'll go with Saints based solely on homefield.  34-30.

Bucs @ Jets
Predicted Line:  TB by 3
Actual Line:  TB by 3

The Revis Bowl comes early!   Too bad the Jets don't have any receivers for him to match up against ...

But it will be fun to see how Geno Smith fares in his first game.  Tampa's defense has a lot of big-name talent, though not a lot of pass-rushing power and a weakened run defense after losing Michael Bennett to Seattle.  The Jets - who America agrees are the worst team ever - actually have a good offensive line, including an All Pro center, and should be able to run the ball with some success.  They'll have to if they want to keep Geno Smith from making a fool of himself.

But defensively, the Jets are not strong.  They still have the big mouth Rex Ryan calling the shots, and they still have a couple good players in Cromartie, David Harris, and Wilkerson.  But they lost a ton when Revis left.  Young CB Dee Milliner will be a stud someday, but he's a long way from replacing Revis.  I don't see any way the Jets can stop Doug Martin without putting 9 in the box and letting Josh Freeman pick them apart.   Could be a long day for the Jets' defense.  Bucs 34-13.

Chiefs @ Jaguars
Predicted Line:  Pick Em
Actual Line:  KC by 3.5

I don't like the prospect of picking the Chiefs on the road, but I can't side with Blaine Gabbert.  This will be a battle of running backs, and KC has the better defense by far.  Let's say Chiefs 16-10.

Bengals @ Bears
Predicted Line:  CHI by 3
Actual Line:  CHI by 3

There's a lot going on in this matchup, I don't know where to begin.

Both QBs have limited skills (Dalton's limitations are physical, Cutler's are mental) but both have excellent options to work with, including dominant receivers and shifty running backs who can catch the ball.  Cincy has the better O-line by far, but Chicago has the better defense.  Probably the biggest difference is the secondaries; Chicago's is far better and will do a decent job of slowing down AJ Green. Maybe.

The key is, Andy Dalton is 1-11 against playoff teams, and while Chicago may not be a playoff team, they're close. Dalton just flat-out stinks against good defenses.  Let's go with the Bears, 27-23.

Dolphins @ Browns
Predicted Line:  Pick Em
Actual Line:  CLE by 1

The more I read about Cleveland, the more I become almost convinced that they'll be competitive this year. Improved D-line, improved O-line, studs in Haden and Richardson.  I have even heard rumors that Branden Weeden is looking functional under the tutelage of Norv Turner.  It's going to take a couple weeks to convince me.

Miami is the better team, but the matchups bode strongly in Cleveland's favor.  Mike Wallace will be neutralized by Haden, and stud OLB Cameron Wake will be matched up against even bigger stud LT Joe Thomas.  Cleveland has a big edge in those two matchups, and as a result the game should stay competitive and low-scoring.  Which means, Trent Richardson is probably the difference maker.  Let's take the Browns I guess.  17-14.

Seahawks @ Panthers
Predicted Line:  SEA by 3.5
Actual Line:  SEA by 3

It's strength against strength, as the highly improved Panthers' front 7 goes up against Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks excellent O-line.   Seattle has no downfield threats (unless you count Golden tate) and Carolina doesn't have much of a secondary.  On the flip side, Carolina's offense might not be able to move the ball at all, with Richard Sherman shutting down Steve Smith and the psychotically good Seattle secondary eliminating all of Newton's other weapons.  I don't think much of DeAngelo Williams anymore.  Plus, Seattle can stuff the run.  Their defense is just way too good.   Both of these QBs are notorious for making crazy plays at crazy times and keeping games close, but the Seattle defense is a huge edge.  I like the Seahawks to cover, 20-14.

Raiders @ Colts
Predicted Line:  IND by 9.5
Actual Line:  IND by 10

I've taken too many favorites and probably should lay the points here, but I keep hearing that Oakland has one of the worst rosters in the history of the NFL.  Apparently they have guys starting on both sides of the ball that wouldn't even make the roster of other teams.  I believe it; they are the Raiders, and they do define ineptitude.  Plus, how much do I love Andrew Luck.  Way too much.  Screw it - Colts 28-10.

Cardinals @ Rams
Predicted Line:  STL by 4.5
Actual Line:  STL by 4.5

The Rams are better, but the Cards match up well.  St. Louis doesn't have anyone who can stop Fitzgerald, while Cards' CB Patrick Peterson can take away Sam Bradford's only downfield option in Chris Givens.  Neither team has a running game, except for the Rams having Jake Long, which could turn into some decent plays for Richardson and/or Pead.  The key to the game though is the Rams good pass rush against the Cardinals atrocious offensive line.  Carson Palmer running for his life has never worked out great.  Let's go Rams 24-20.

Packers @ 49ers
Predicted Line:  SF by 4.5
Actual Line:  SF by 4.5

Yeah I could go on and on about how awesome Rodgers and Kaepernick are, but let's just say it's a field-goal game and I like the Packers by 3.

Giants @ Cowboys
Predicted Line:  DAL by 2.5
Actual Line:  DAL by 3.5

Another toss-up which could be a field goal game.  I'll take the points and say Cowboys 30-27 in OT.

Eagles @ Redskins

Predicted Line:  WAS by 6.5
Actual Line:  WAS by 3.5

I hear a lot of people calling for the Philly upset, but I'm leaning the other way.  I'm thinking RG3 shows the world that he's 100% and wins this game by double digits.  Philly's defense is gruesome; remember, their secondary has 4 new starters, none of whom are good.  I'm going to go ahead and say Redskins get up 21-0 early and then Alfred Morris takes over.  Skins end up winning 31-14.

Texans @ Chargers
Predicted Line:  HOU by 4.5

Actual Line:  HOU by 4

Just read a pretty convincing piece by Bill Barnwell explaining why the Chargers aren't as bad as everyone thinks they are.  I also keep hearing that Antonio Gates is finally, really, actually healthy. I don't believe the part about Gates, but I am almost convinced about the Chargers.  Maybe now that Norv Turner is gone, they can finally regroup and stop shooting themselves in the foot.  They probably deserve more respect than being 4 point underdogs at home to Matt Schaub.  Plus, doesn't Arian Foster have a back injury?  Let's say Texans 26-24.

Go Lions.

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