Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Week 1 NFL Picks: Back To Failure

Insanity is repeating, yada yada yada
Welcome to the picks column, folks. Here's the deal: I'm going to pick every game this year, just like I've done every year for the past five years, and I'll do it like a man: against the spread. It'll also be, as history shows, a nearly pointless .500 experience, but hey, the advice is entirely free, and seems to irritate Yinzer Fan when I pick his team to win. (Just like I did the last time they won a Super Bowl. Yinzer Fan does not overwhelm with the logic.) They come too early in the week to do real damage or help to your decision making, and I try very hard to pick without any preference for franchises or star players, but, well, a .500 career record is what it is.

(This blog also holds to the conviction that Washington's nickname is a ridiculous and indefensible racial slur that decent people are under no compunction to repeat. If you catch me using that word, please bring it to my attention so that I can make an immediate edit. Calling them by some arbitrary name is tempting but smug, and rewards the franchise in an odd way, so we're just going to hold to the idea that they do not have a nickname. And if this stance offends you, please move on without comment; it's a big Internet, and I'm sure you can find a blog that's more to your tastes.)

Occasionally, the literary spirit will move me, and you'll have to put up with some aside about a trend in the game, something that happened in my personal life. or the perpetual ire that I feel over the terrible brain-damaging experience that is network coverage of the league. You can choose to indulge me in this, or you can slide right on down to the asterisks, where I say the following.

And with that... on to the picks!

* * * * *

BALTIMORE (+7.5) at Denver

Kickoff day in Denver looks for all the world like a set-up for the Ravens, who will enter the first game of the No Ray Or Ed Era against a revenge-thirsty Bronco team when Peyton Manning is at his best -- the regular season. You've also got the NFL doing all they can to make Bronco Fan cheer his big teeth head off, what with the equal signage. But the number is just too high for Baltimore, who are usually solid under the lights, and neither club in this too-early game is usually firing on enough cylinders to cover a big number. I like the Raven defense, led by Elvis Dumervil, to get off the field a few times, the Raven offense to run the ball well enough to take time off the clock, and the game to be close enough that this cover is going to seem like a formality. But not enough for the road team to actually win, potentially with one of those conspiratorial ref calls that Raven Fan can't stop chanting about.

Broncos 27, Ravens 24

New England at BUFFALO (+10.5)


This was looking for all the world like a de facto Patriots homecoming game, where the division bully was going to enjoy the first career start from UDFA QB Jeff Tuel. But first-round pick E.J. Manuel looks like he's going to be able to make the start, and while he's not going to lead the Bills to a .500 season in his first year under center, he is going to provide enough of a threat to get RB C.J. Spiller some lanes, and Spiller's still healthy, it being Week One and everything. So the Patriots are going to win, but it'll be in doubt for a reasonable amount of time, and then they'll lose the cover late. (Oh, and the Pats still won't have TE Rob Gronkowski, which makes them a lot more manageable on defense in the red zone.)

Patriots 30, Bills 27

Cincinnati at CHICAGO (-3)


Two of my favorite surprise teams of 2013 will make each other look good and ugly with their first tier defenses, which will keep their prices low for the future weeks. It's a stern early test for the rebuilt Bear line, as the Bengal defense is among the best they will see this year, but I still like their chances to get a few turnovers of their own, and to make a big play on special teams. But it wouldn't surprise me in the least if this one comes out as a perfect push.

Bears 24, Bengals 20

Miami at CLEVELAND (Pick 'Em)


Is Miami a 1-team town? They might as well be, what with the Marlins continuing to make their annual push to get relegation introduced into MLB, and the Dolphins making the critical mistake of not just being bad, but also being boring. In a city where plastic surgery seems to be required to graduate high school, you'd think the franchise would load up on shiny toy offensive players in the draft and free agency and let the defense go to hell, but that's not what they've done. On the road in Cleveland, where the offense looks suddenly competent, they'll lose and become immediately forgotten by their fan base. NBA season starts in just eight weeks, folks.

Browns 23, Dolphins 13

Minnesota at DETROIT (-5)


Not a fan of either of these clubs this year, but the Lions are going to look a lot better in the home opener. Count on RB Reggie Bush to crush because it's September and that's what he does, and the guy that drafted him in your fantasy league to be utterly insufferable. (Save all of that smack talk to re-post for the inevitable Week Six injury.) As for the Vikings, we're going to get to see that annual comedy jam, Christian Ponder Tries To Lead A Comeback Attempt. This is a limited run engagement, so set your DVRs, folks.

Lions 31, Vikings 20

Oakland at INDIANAPOLIS (-10)


This might be the smallest road line for a Raider game this year, so by all means, get in now; if there were a prop bet house within driving distance, I'd be thinking hard about a winless parley with this collection of misfit toys, even in the perpetually giving environment that is the AFC West. You also have to love how those dastardly Raiders aren't going to make it easy for their opponent in preparation by not revealing if they are going to play accurate but gimp-armed and mobility challenged QB Matt Flynn, or inexperienced, inaccurate and turnover-tastic mobile QB Terrelle Pryor. (Seems like it's going to be Pryor.) In either event, they are going down, and they are going down hard, and people are going to seriously overrate the Colts afterward. Don't fall into that trap; the Raiders are just a tire fire.

Colts 34, Raiders 13

Atlanta at NEW ORLEANS (-3)


My pick for the best game of the weekend, especially if you like your football to be more like tennis, where last serve wins. This is actually one of the more contentious rivalries in the NFL right now, what with Falcons WR Roddy White fanning the flames and the Saints crowd giving back equal amounts of abuse. It's dangerous to feel very confident about a winner here, since Last Serve games usually turn on stuff like a WR fumble, but that's why I get paid generic cereal money. Give me the home dome team, especially in Sean Payton's first game back on the sidelines.

Saints 34, Falcons 30

TAMPA at NY Jets (+3)


Here is how bad the Jets' franchise is: I don't think it's overstating the case in any way to call this a must-win for them. The preseason QB competition circus, the fact that the WR corps might be the worst in the NFL or many Division I conferences, and the sense that anything up, and including to, chair shots is liable to happen at any moment... well, the plain and ugly truth of it is that football players know their time in the league is finite, and they'll routinely quit on lost causes, so long as they don't stick out too badly while doing so. All of that starts to happen ASAP for the Jets, and Tampa has enough top tier talent to grease the skids a little.

Bucs 26, Jets 16

Tennessee at PITTSBURGH (-7)


Seems like a big number for a home team with as many holes as the Steelers have, but the Titans and QB Jake Locker really don't travel well, and when you've got a defense that's as dependent on as many experienced hands as the Steelers are, September is really not the time to play them on the road. I like the Steelers to find all kind of room in the secondary on offense, and to get good and deluded by how good they look against a nondescript opponent. Oh, and for rookie WR Markus Wheaton to be a prime waiver wire candidate in your fantasy league, only to irritate you senseless with intermittent production.

Steelers 34, Titans 20

SEATTLE (-3) at Carolina


Can the Seahawks shake off the twin historical bogeymen that is my preseason Super Bowl prediction (note: that team never wins the Super Bowl) and their historical sleepy time tea experience of a 1pm EST / 10am PST starting time on a Sunday road game to start the year with a win? Yes, because this is the best secondary in the NFL going up against what might be the worst WR corps, excluding, of course, the fairly miraculous Steve Smith, and QB Cam Newton isn't going to be able to cash in on their opportunities. Look for the Seattle offense to stay patient and productive, and for the defense to get them enough of a lead where the cover is never in question. There's also the fact that this Carolina club has never, truth be told, enjoyed that much of a home-field advantage.

Seahawks 27, Panthers 16

Kansas City at JACKSONVILLE (+4)


Last year's dog game for the ages gets a semblance of intrigue from the new coaching makeovers. I'm not getting the road love here, given the general misery that is playing a game in late summer in northern Florida, let alone Cap'n Andy's Super Bowl ghosts from the building. I'm also looking for RB Maurice Jones-Drew to remind everyone why they shouldn't have passed on him in their fantasy draft, at least for one week, and haven't liked what little I've seen from RB Jamal Charles in the preseason. There's also this: Reid is normally weak in openers, especially when he's got all of this new personnel to sift. In a mild upset, the Jags win a game, and America slowly starts to realize that maybe Eagle Fan had a point with not loving the last few years of playoff-free fail. (There's also this: I like the up-tempo the Jags are running, and slash player Denard Robinson is going to help them a little.)

Jaguars 23, Chiefs 17

Arizona at ST. LOUIS (-4.5)


Is it wrong to consider this game a borderline lock? Arizona has been a bad road club with a worse line for a long time. In preseason, they lost desperately needed first round pick Jonathan Cooper, who could have helped the line get up to horrible, and now the road to statue QB Carson Palmer and Soon Out Of The NFL RB Rashard Mendenhall couldn't be more open. I just see this one getting out of hand fast and rookie WR Tavon Austin getting a big early push for rookie of the year. (It won't last.)

Rams 30, Cardinals 6

Green Bay at SAN FRANCISCO (-4.5)


Another playoff rematch, and if it seems a bit unfair that a game with probable playoff tie-breaker implications happens when neither team is really ready to play their best football, well, that's the way the NFL likes it. I'd have liked the Pack's chances a lot better here if they hadn't suffered OL injury issues in training camp, or if their running attack looked a little more improved, but neither of these things has happened, and we've seen QB Aaron Rodgers struggle mightily against his hometown team before. On the other side of the ball, you'd have to think the Packers will be able to pack the middle to stop the read-option and live with single coverage of the Niners' podunk WRs, but they had no answers for TE Vernon Davis last year, and WR Anquan Boldin is a reasonable swap for injured WR Michael Crabtree. QB Colin Kaepernick won't ruin them by himself, but he will ruin them.

Niners 31, Packers 23

NY Giants at DALLAS (-3)


The Giants look to continue their improbable and definitive ownership of Jerry Jones' Xanadu, and they just might pull it off... but the pass rush is a faint echo of what it used to be, and the secondary can't stay healthy. Which means we're all set up for one of those absurd Tony Romo Hype Club nights, as the national announcer crew speculates as to why a guy with one career playoff win just doesn't get the respect he deserves for leading the Cowboys to paper tiger status every year. It's a mystery! Look for the Giants to make an absolute fool of me for taking any amount of preseason seriously, or wondering why everyone thinks that new TE Brandon Myers is good, when what he was in Oakland was merely highly targeted. (And, well, a Raider. Since when are they any good?) In any event, try not to get too excited by this game: neither team is going to the playoffs.

Cowboys 26, Giants 21

Philadelphia at WASHINGTON (-3.5)


Here is what is going to happen in this game. Washington will win the toss, take the ball, and drive the length of the field for a touchdown. ESPN will cream themselves over Bob Griffin. The Eagles will get the ball, move it a bit, but settle a field goal. Washington will then drive the length again to go up 14-3. And then, we'll have a very telling moment for new Eagles coach Chip Kelly, who will either stick to his guns and keep running the ball at speed, or look to QB Michael Vick to try to save the game while retarding their progress and development.

What happens next is telling, but in the short run of this game, not very relevant. Washington will have home-field, WR/RB1 talent that trumps the defense's ability to get off the field, and a long night of playing with comfort. My Eagles will compete, and hopefully stick to their guns and establish an identity... but they will not cover, and this should be something that Eagle Fan gets used to for 2013. (It's also a major upgrade over 2011 and 2012.) If Philly gets out of this game with some good feelings, no major injuries or QB controversies, and something approaching dignity, it's all a win.

Washington 31, Eagles 24

HOUSTON (-4) at San Diego 

Here's how exciting this matchup is to me; I forgot to include it in the edition of this column. Houston will dominate at the point of attack if and when San Diego has to throw, and while the Chargers will get some yards on the ground, you don't win games on the ground alone. As for the other side of the ball, the Texans will be workmanlike, and it's a little-known law of NFL Kickoff Weekend that you have to regret watching the late game.

Texans 31, Chargers 20


Last year: 125-133-5

Career: 670-662-30

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