Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Week 1 2011 NFL Picks: And So It Begins

Welcome back to the most entertaining coin flip pick'em column on the Web. Just like the last five years (gulp), we'll pick every game on the NFL schedule, and give you some reason why we're throwing our hard-earned money at the continuing pursuit of something less than futility. Besides, the fact that I'm telling you up front that these picks mean nothing should count for something, right?

And with that... on to the picks!

* * * * *

New Orleans at GREEN BAY (-4.5)

The Thursday night kick off game might be one that's remembered all year, as it sets the tie-breaker between the last two Super Bowl champions, and the two presumptive favorites to represent the NFC in this year's event. It's also as good a place as any to bring up a meaningful point: whether or not the NFC has passed the AFC as a superior conference. I think it's highly likely, given the Colts' weakness and the Jaguars tossing their starting QB to the curb. Sure, the AFC East is better, but the South sure isn't, and the West for both sides is pretty meaningless. So it all comes down to the North, and whether the Pack beating the Steelers last year swings things. It just might.

As for this game, they rarely live up to the hype... but it's still hard to see this beyond a 70-point under. I like the Pack to force a turnover or two with their better pass rush, and in a game with this level of offensive skill player, 1 or 2 possessions will be all the difference.

Packers 34, Saints 28

BUFFALO at Kansas City (-5.5)

Do you really want to lay this much for a home favorite that will be lucky to win six games this year, and might be starting an utterly unknown backup QB due to the spectacular braincramp that is playing your starter in the fourth quarter of game four in the exhibition season? Yeah, there's no good way to go on this one, but in a confederation of dunces, just give me the team that's closer to whole. At least to cover, even with the strong Arrowhead help.

Chiefs 20, Bills 17

DETROIT at Tampa (-1)

This year's up and coming love team against last year's. Detroit is rarely good early in the year on the road, but you've got to love the way they've moved the ball in the fake games, looking for all the world like the first good team to come out of Motown in decades. Tampa is a solid club with a do-everything QB in Josh Freeman, and Legarrette Blount could blow this pick out of the water by exploiting the Lions' pass-rush first line. But I think they used up all of their good karma last year.

Lions 24, Bucs 21

ATLANTA at Chicago (+3)

It's hard to remember how this Falcons team was an actual home playoff favorite in the Final 8 stage last year. That was before the Packers eviscerated them for all the world to see, and all of the old doubts about how their talent level really wasn't all that came back to the fore. But if the Falcons have doubts after their playoff expert, it's nothing compared to what the Bears are going through. Special teams have been greatly reduced due to the new rules, the offensive line looks like the old-time turnstile routine, the coaching has purged all TEs, and the WR rotation seems directly opposite to actual talent management. A massive correction is coming, and it starts early.

Falcons 31, Bears 17

Philadelphia at ST. LOUIS (+5.5)

It's not just that I'm going to the game, dear friends, and that my laundry is 0-4 in the time since I've written this blog and attended games, home or road. It's that the Rams are actually kind of good, and all kinds of trouble on the matchup. Offensively, the Rams are going to keep things simple and run Stephen Jackson hard; I still don't know that this defense can do anything with a patient attack. Sam Bradford is smart and mobile enough to pop a seam route or two, and to work his backs and TE and remain patient. The offense hasn't had enough time work together, either at the skill players or especially the line. The special teams are in the feet of untested rookies. They'll be better later in the year, but right now? It's going to be a white-knuckle ride, and a very real upset possibility against a team that's going to have a loud dome and an overconfident opponent. Expect turbulence, rather than flight.

Eagles 24, Rams 20

Indianapolis at HOUSTON (-8.5)

Has any division opened itself up harder, in recent memory, then the AFC South has for Houston? Jacksonville just dumped its starting QB, Tennessee is playing a fossil in a new system, and the Colts have been a smoke and mirrors team for years, only now without the smoke thrower. I don't believe Peyton Manning makes this start, but even if he does, he's not going to be tackling Arian Foster, Ben Tate and Derrick Ward, who will put up 150+ yards easily on the Colts weak defense, en route to a surprisingly easy Week One win that will be the stepping stone for a season of ease. Until the playoffs, of course. Ride your Texans correctly, friends.

Texans 31, Colts 17

Cincinnati at CLEVELAND (-7)

Wow, that's a lot of points for the annual Ohio Toilet Bowl... but the Browns are actually sneaky good, and the Bengals might be the worst club in Christendom. Look for Andy Dalton to struggle mightily in his first game, and the fact that it's in the Dawg Pound isn't going to help matters one bit, either. The Peyton Hillis show gets renewed, but look for sneaky Rookie of the Year pick Greg Little to put up some numbers from the WR spot here, and dominate your league's Week One waiver wire.

Browns 27, Bengals 13

STEELERS at Ravens (-3)

It only seems like these teams play each other four times a year. Normally in this game, it's a simple matter of taking the Steelers to win if Ben Roethlisberger is healthy, and losing your lunch anyway because a 3-point spread is positively nut-breaking to try to achieve with these teams. This time around, the Steelers make a more emphatic statement, if only because it's early enough in the year for the dangerously old defense to still show teeth. In December, these fortunes may finally reverse, but Raven Fan has heard that song before.

Steelers 24, Ravens 16

TENNESSEE at Jacksonville (-3)

Wow, it's usully later in the year that you feel like it's hard to write anything about a matchup, but these two clubs are, how shall we say, advanced. Jacksonville just kicked David Garrard to the curb despite him being the best QB on the roster. Tennessee counters with fossil Matt Hasselbeck, who is trying to learn the metric system and Sanskirt in his spare time, along with a new offense where his only good target, WR Kenny Britt, is as apt to wear handcuffs as dominate a game. Woof, woof, woof. You can't even go with Best Running Back Wins, since Chris Johnson is rusty off a lockout and Maurice Jones-Drew has been hiding injuries.

So if it's a coin toss game -- as that 3-point home favorite BS line shows -- give me the coin toss score. But for the road team, since I don't believe in rust for CJ.

Titans 24, Jaguars 20

Carolina at ARIZONA (-7)

Cam Newton on the road? Gimme, gimme, gimme. Arizona's better on talent, has a QB that will move the sticks right now, and a sneaky good home field. The Larry Fitzgerald Comeback Year starts now, and Kevin Kolb will enjoy this Week One start a lot more than he did last year's.

Cardinals 31, Panthers 16

Seattle at SAN FRANCISCO (-6)

Wow, another big fat number for a home team that's not very good, but the magic that is Tavaris Jackson is that magical, folks. I'd like Seattle to cover here if WR Sidney Rice were healthy, since it's not as if Alex Smith can't botch a cover on his own, but RB Frank Gore won't let that happen, and neither will the home field. Besides, the difference between these teams is that when the Niners' terrible QB throws it to his safety blanket TE, Vernon Davis scores. For the Seahawks, Zach Miller just gets a first down. Something of a difference there.

Niners 24, Seahawks 10

NY GIANTS at Washington (+3)

Anyone willing to believe in John Beck or Sexy Rexy Grossman? How about Tim Hightower? The continuing legendary genius that is Mike Shanahan? No, I didn't think so. These teams always play each other tough and tight, and the Giants aren't going to be world-beaters, but Eli Manning has a way in nice September weather. Besides, as the sudden new Best Available Manning, he's going to step up. Until the winds start up, at least.

Giants 31, Redskins 20

MINNESOTA at San Diego (-9)

OK, this is just one home number too many. The Vikings will keep it close with QB Donovan McNabb not making the big mistake, RB Adrian Peterson reminding people of just how the Chargers lost the division last year, and the Vikings defense making enough plays to stay in it until late. Make sure you get to see this one; there won't be too many better instances of coaching wiping out talent. Also, Percy Harvin could bust a special teams score.

Chargers 24, Vikings 20

Dallas at NEW YORK JETS (-4)

Ah, September... when the leaves start to turn, the heat starts to break, the children go back to school and the nation overrates the Cowboys, because their skill players look purty and no one wants to think about mundane things like line play, coaching or back-end roster infrastructure. Dallas is a bad bit of business on special teams, still trying to convince people that Felix Jones is an actual asset, doesn't have enough in the secondary... and still getting a near neutral line, other than the home field advantage, against one of the Final Four clubs of last year. This might be the biggest bargain on the board in Week One, folks; grab it with both hands and smooch.

As for the New Yorkers, they'll throw it more than you think, make Miles Austin disappear, win handily and use the national spotlight to entertain some of the best brother-on-brother smack talk this side of a wrestling ring. On some level, don't you just have to love them?

Jets 27, Cowboys 16

NEW ENGLAND at Miami (+7)

Ah, the return of one of our favorite Kickoff Weekend pastimes; the dog Monday games that make you vaguely resent the return of football, since you are going to wind up staying up until the wee hours watching spectacularly uncompetitive games. I find it to be a great reminder of how the league isn't all hateful people gouging me blind for access to the game I love; it's also lots of games that no one should love.

New England wrecked Miami last year on special teams. This year, it will be done more with the ground game, the tight ends, and their defense. You'll excuse Miami Fan for not really noticing the difference.

Patriots 27, Dolphins 17

Oakland at DENVER (-3)

Ah, and here's the final fun bit: the return of the traditional Raider Colonic to finish the week. People have been running away in droves from the Bronco skill players for fear of Swiper John Fox stealing their value, but he's a smart enough coach to use his best weapons, especially against a Raiders team that's lost their stabilizing All-World CB. The Broncos got absolutely torched at home last year by the Raider ground game last year; this year, Darren McFadden will still get his, but not nearly enough to ruin the opener for the home fans. It won't be as close as the final score.

Broncos 31, Raiders 20

2011-12 Season: 126-128-15

Super Bowls: 2-3

Career: 407-405-15

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