John Canton: Welcome to week one of our NFL picks column. These will come at you every Friday as we look at the games played on Sunday and Monday. Joining me for this preview are my very knowledgeable friends Bret Clev and Mike Maloney. Most weeks they won't take part in the intro, but this week I asked them to talk about their love of the NFL among other things. So here they are.
Bret Clev: You're probably asking, why does this shmuck get to make picks with the likes of the famous John C. and not me? It's simple really. I watch more football than you. The reason I do? I don't live in the United States...or anywhere close to the United States.
I live on the other side of the world in South Korea - hard to get a job in North Korean human rights in Chicago! Believe it or not, this actually allows me to watch more football than anyone in America outside of the professional analyst though. For about $250 a year, I get every NFL game - live and on demand - along with the Red Zone (also on demand), condensed games, coaches film, and archives of all games from this year and last (and maybe 2010), along with the NFL Network and all their old documentaries.
Granted, I have to wake up at 2 AM (before Daylight Savings, 3 AM after) to watch a live kickoff (and I do every week), but I still watch every snap of every game every week. And that makes me uniquely qualified for this....ok, even people who watch every game have no idea with the NFL. It's just a big friggin' coin flip that gets more random every year, but I tend to do a little better than 53% ATS every year, and that's all you need to make money! Go Broncos!
Mike Maloney: I’ve been brought in as the ringer of the group if Wednesday's picks are any indication. (C’mon, Eli at home in a game everyone’s picking him to win and play well in? Always a stay away!) Actually, given this is the first weekend of the season I expect to be thoroughly crushed. I guess with a Canadian and a wannabe South Korean making picks John figured he should actually get someone who lives in the United States to help make picks.
I’m one of those weird people that was raised in Chicago but am a diehard Packers fan. The gist of it is, my grandparents are from Green Bay, they influenced all their kids to be Packers fans, and my dad influenced us to be Packers fans. However, he only really cares about football, so I back Chicago teams in every other sport. I’d say it worked out pretty nicely (except the whole part about being a Cubs fan) as now I don’t have to try and justify rooting for someone as unlikable as Jay Cutler, although I’m sure Bret did a great job of talking himself into it when he was in Denver.
I’m probably not as scientific as some when it comes to making my picks, and I haven’t yet delved into the world of betting on any of my picks, mostly because it seems like a bit of a hassle here in the US, but I feel like I usually do okay for myself. Just remember, if I pick one team and John picks the other, he’s a Rams fan, so you’re probably better off going with my pick.
John: You should know me by now since I've posted my very long NFL preview already. In short, I'm a long suffering 31 year old St. Louis Rams fan that has loved the team since I was about 6 years old. I live in between Detroit and Buffalo in southern Ontario, but I don't care about either one of those teams. I have seven fantasy teams (four for money), I play various other online fantasy games and I wager regularly on the NFL. I get Sunday Ticket every year, I watch all of the primetime games and everybody in my life knows I'm a NFL junkie. Does that mean I'm going to win every pick 'em pool I'm in or make money betting? I hope so, but there are no guarantees. I'll just do my best to predict these games to the best of my ability and hopefully beat Bret and Mike while I do it.
When we write about these games we do it for the hardcore NFL fans. That's what we are. Sometimes we'll mention the position of players, other times we won't. We assume you know quite a bit about the NFL too and we're going to write in that way.
At the end of our predictions for the games, each of us will offer up five of our best bets for the week as well. Because we're degenerates. And that's what we do.
Standings Straight Up:
Mike was the only one to pick Dallas. Early lead. Good luck keeping it.
All game times are Eastern.
Philadelphia @ Cleveland (1:00pm)
Bret: At first glance, this has the feel to me of 'Team I expect to be good inexplicably losing to a terrible team on the road.' However the match-ups don't really bear that out. A rookie, spread style, QB against one of the most professional secondaries, with only a knicked up rookie running back to help him? A Cleveland D-Line left with serious holes in the middle to stop McCoy and Vick? I don't see how Cleveland can pull off this upset. Philadelphia 28 - Cleveland 20
Mike: You know what I thought was a great sign for Philly this preseason? Michael Vick coming out of two separate games due to injury, then reading discussion of him potentially wearing a flak jacket for the regular season. I like the idea of Philly’s offense more than I actually like it, and I just have no faith in Vick’s ability to be a great QB anymore. That being said, I like him more than the 35-year old rookie QB the Browns are rolling out (On a side note, I still find it incredibly bizarre that a guy can go play professional baseball and still somehow be eligible to play college sports afterwards). I’m a big fan of their offensive line, and I expect Trent Richardson to do big things eventually, but those receivers are weak weak weak (Not on the Greg Little bandwagon), and I just see them struggling to put points on the board against a potentially tough Philly D. Philly 20 Cleveland 9
John: I really don't think the Browns are very good this year. The key to their offense will likely be the stud rookie Trent Richardson, but he is banged up a little bit. My concern with the Browns is can they score enough? I'm not sure. When Mike Vick is healthy, the Eagles are tough to beat no matter where they play. Vick gets a lot of the attention, but I think LeSean McCoy will be big for Philly in this one. Eagles 24-14
Washington @ New Orleans (1:00pm)
Bret: This is a sexier pick as we move in search of our Week 1 upset. Again though, I just don't see it. The New Orleans' defense should be improved by subtraction in the loss of Greg Williams. Less blitzing against RGIII is probably a good thing. Again, I think we'll see a sophisticated and well organized defense give a young QB and new offense a lesson in the speed and sophistication of an NFL defense. On the other side of the ball, I just don't think Washington has, well, any weapons to stop the New Orleans passing game. Not enough speed to keep up with Sproles, not enough athleticism to jump with Graham. New Orleans should handle this game well. New Orleans 31 - Washington 24 (Washington scores 10 late to make the game close.)
Mike: I’m excited for the Robert Griffin era in Washington. I’m a big college football fan, and often times have irrational biases towards players based on how well (or poorly) they do against my team (TCU) in college. So I have some serious respect for Robert Griffin after he absolutely torched TCU last year to the tune of 359 passing yards, 5 TDs, and 38 yards on the ground. His ability to throw the deep ball is a thing of beauty. And the dude can run. And he’s smart (He actually had one more year of eligibility at Baylor but would have had to enroll in law school to play since he already got his masters degree). Honestly, the only way I don’t see him having a successful NFL career is because of injuries due to his rushing nature and his size (6’2” 215). I expect New Orleans to take this game because it’s in the Superdome, and regardless of all the suspensions, Drew Brees is still playing, and that’s really as far as I need to go with that. But still, RGIII! New Orleans 35 Washington 17
John: I'm a huge RG3 fan already. I have in the keeper league I'm in with Bret and Mike, so I hope he has an impressive rookie season. With that said, this is a tough place to make your debut because the Saints have one of the best home field advantages in the league. I expect a huge game from Drew Brees. I think they may go out to a big lead, the Redskins will fight back because they do have some talent and the Saints will pull away late. Lots of point here, I suspect. Saints 37-21
Indianapolis @ Chicago (1:00pm)
Bret: Three games in, 3 rookie QBs against above average defenses. Like fish in a barrel! Except this game won't be about Luck. It'll be about his lack of an O-line in the face of the Bears pass rush. It'll be about Indianapolis' lack of depth defensively. It'll be about special teams play. I do think Chicago will struggle offensively as they adjust to a full game with a new offensive coordinator, but with a couple of Indy turnovers and a solid running game, they'll do enough to win this one. Chicago 21 - Indianapolis 10
Mike: I like Andrew Luck, I do. I like Reggie Wayne, and feel he’s not getting talked about enough. And Coby Fleener might be a nice addition due to the Stanford connection. But I hate Indy’s offensive line. I’m worried Austin Collie is going to die from head trauma every play. And their backfield is terrible. Oh, and they’re in the first year of transitioning from a 4-3 to a 3-4. They’ll improve upon their 2-14 record from last year, but yikes, this is not a good football team. And the Bears are. Chicago 34 Indianapolis 6
John: Much like the game above, this is a bad place for a rookie QB to make his debut. I know that Andrew Luck impressed a lot of people in the preseason, but I also think too many people overrate the preseason. The issues with the Colts are that their defense is awful. Just because you have a defensive head coach now doesn't mean your lack of talent on defense is going to be much better. I think the Bears will run all over them with their Matt Forte/Michael Bush RB combo and when the time is right look for Jay Cutler to hook with Brandon Marshall for a score too. The Colts won't be as bad as their 2-14 season a year ago, but the Bears are the superior team here. Bears 28-10
Jacksonville @ Minnesota (1:00pm)
Bret: Probably the least interesting game of the weekend - and yet, I'd still totally watch! I like Minnesota going forward the next few weeks, and I think they'll hover around .500 until mid-season, but I'm having a hard time finding a reason to pick them in this one. I've come around a bit on the Jacksonville offense, and I think Gabbert might get off on the right foot in this one. Not so much because he's going to be great, but Minnesota doesn't have a secondary. It's going to take a lot of Jarred Allen sacks for them to win this game. Minnesota will struggle offensively as well. Missing Simpson and a healthy Adrian Peterson this week will leave them too short handed. Jacksonville 13 - Minnesota 9
Mike: It’s unfortunate that people in Minnesota have to be subjected to this game. It’s also unfortunate that the games in Jacksonville are only blacked out when they’re playing at home. I hated the Jaguars taking Blaine Gabbert in the draft (And I really don’t like Tebow as an NFL QB, but really, Gabbert was a better option than taking Tebow the hometown hero? Really??), and seeing him actually play in the NFL doesn’t make me feel any better. I only feel slightly better about Christian Ponder for that matter. Two bottom tier teams facing each other in week 1, should be awesome. Minnesota 13 Jacksonville 7
John: This is the least interesting game of the week and the one that I probably won't be flipping to on Sunday Ticket very much unless there's somebody close to a score. Both QBs are in year two. I like Christian Ponder a bit more than Blaine Gabbert and I think Ponder's got the best weapon in this game with Percy Harvin on his team. Throw in a few key sacks by Jared Allen late and all of this amounts to a Vikings win in a low scoring game. Vikings 17-13
St. Louis @ Detroit (1:00pm)
Bret: Detroit is not as good as most people make them out to be. St. Louis is better than most people think. But. Always a but. Detroit's defensive front line is going to maul the right side of the St. Louis offensive line, making it difficult for St. Louis to run or pass. Detroit, offensively, may not be able to put up quite as many points as people think they will either. St. Louis is going to have a quality defense - in the front and back - and Detroit may be the easiest team to game plan for right now - permanent dime package? Detroit 24 - St. Louis 13
Mike: I don’t know much about the Rams. I know that John is super excited about them every year, and then they manage to suck every year. I expect their defense to be good every year, but I think this year they might actually pull through with the talent they have in place. Their o-line scares me a bit, Sam Bradford scares me a bit, and the odds of Danny Amendola going out for the season within the first two games scares me a bit. As for Detroit, Stafford and Megatron are both healthy at the moment, Ndamukong (Totally spelled that right without looking it up first!) Suh isn’t suspended yet, that’s good enough for me. Detroit 17 St. Louis 10
John: I live about 2.5 hours from the Lions stadium. The Rams are my team. I'm not going to the game partly because of a commitment on the Saturday night that would have cut into my Sunday travel time and also because I believe my Rams are going to get destroyed in this game. I think over the course of the year the Rams will show they are better than last season, but it's going to take time. This is not the kind of environment that's good for the team. I expect Matt Stafford to find Calvin Johnson a lot even though the Rams are improved at corner with Cortland Finnegan. Johnson may not catch 15 balls, but he will have an impact and I also think Lions TE Brandon Pettigrew will have a monster game since the Rams OLBs and safeties are a liability. I don't think the Rams offense will hit their stride for a few weeks too. Lions 33-17
Atlanta @ Kansas City (1:00pm)
Bret: Everyone loves Atlanta in this game. I'm not so sure. Atlanta's offense has looked great in the preseason, but Kansas City has a well thought out offense as well. I like them to control the ball in this game, harass Ryan enough to cause some turnovers, and win in a well played, tightly contested, game. Kansas City 28 - Atlanta 27
Mike: Couple of tough teams to figure out. Romeo Crenel is so meh. Matt Cassel is so meh. Jamaal Charles is so awesome but he’s coming off a torn ACL. Dwayne Bowe is so awesome when he feels like giving a crap. Matt Ryan is great, except when he’s not. Tony Gonzalez keeps catching TDs even though he’s approaching mandatory retirement age in the NFL. The Falcons defense is still…not so good? I could really see this one going either way, I’ll give it to the Chiefs since they’re at home and seems like Atlanta’s too popular for their own good. Kansas City 28 Atlanta 27
John: This is tough. The Chiefs are one of the best home teams in the league historically because their fans are so good they make it extremely tough on their opponent. I'm leaning towards the Falcons. I think their offensive weapons will put up the points to get the job done. The Chiefs will likely try to run the ball 70% of the time and if they get a lead they will likely keep it, but I think the Falcons will find ways to get the job done. I think this is the year Matt Ryan goes from very good QB to superstar QB and it's a game like this that he needs to win. Yes, even in week one. They all count, after all. Falcons 27-23
New England @ Tennessee (1:00pm)
Bret: Tennessee isn't a terrible team, and Jake Locker may have a decent year. But a rookie QB playing the Patriots after they've had all summer to prepare? I'll take the Pats thanks. New England 38 - Tennessee 14
Mike: Oddly enough, despite my dislike for mediocre young QBs, I don’t hate Jake Locker. I like Tennessee more than some I feel like. There’s no chance they’re winning this game, but I think they’ve got a decent shot at fighting for the playoffs by the end of the season. New England 31 Tennessee 14
John: For the Titans to win, RB Chris Johnson needs to have a 200 yard game with three touchdowns and the Titans need to have the ball for about 35-40 minutes of the 60 minute game. Do I think that's likely? No. Pats are too good. They are too loaded on offense and as Bret said with so much time to prepare I think they will have an effective game plan that gets the job done. Patriots 34-17
Miami @ Houston (1:00pm)
Bret: There needs to be a league investigation into anti-competitive practices in Miami. Why are they intentionally blowing up their team? I thought they were a potential 6 win team this year, and yet they seem to be finding ways to mess up their team daily. Houston, I think has more question marks than most people realize right now. I worry about depth on defense, and especially the all new right side of their line. Fortunately for them, none of that much matters in this game. Houston 24 - Miami 6
Mike: Ryan Tannehill is starting for the Miami Dolphins. Let that sink in for a moment. Did you know that Matt Moore had a 60.5% completion percentage, threw for 16 TDs with 9 INTs and an 87.1 QB rating last year? And instead of going with a competent NFL QB, the Dolphins are going with Ryan Tannehill. Maybe his wife sweet talked the head coach. Either way, enjoy the Mike Sherman era! Houston 20 Miami 10
John: This is my Survivor/Eliminator pick of the week. The Texans should destroy the Dolphins from the opening whistle until the fourth quarter. I don't see how the Dolphins offense will do much with a rookie QB, probably the worst WR group in football and a new system that they're trying to learn. Texans will dominate by running the ball with Arian Foster, who is the best RB in the NFL right now. Texans 35-7
Buffalo @ N.Y. Jets (1:00pm)
Bret: I wish so many people weren't agreeing with me on this one, just so I could put even more money on Buffalo +3.5. Buffalo is a good team this year. They're going to have, maybe, the best front 7 in the AFC and a secondary that can make plays. That's all they need for this one. I think the Buffalo defense beats up on the 2nd worst line in the NFL, and dominates this game. Buffalo 20 - New York Jets 3
Mike: Can you bet on the over/under for number of snaps that Tim Tebow plays in this game? I feel like that should be a weekly prop bet. I’m a fan of Buffalo this year, I know their passing game stalled in the second half of the season, but for now I choose to believe that Fitzpatrick was hurt like Buffalo claims, and I expect their defense to be improved. As for the Jets…eh. I mean what can you say? Did any other team other than Miami have its first receiver drafted later in a fantasy draft than the New York Jets? Is their running game any good? I could see the Jets taking this on their defense alone, but I like the Bills here. Buffalo 17 New York 10
John: I absolutely do not believe in the Jets at all this year. Maybe their awful preseason and their lack of obvious talent is all a smokescreen, but I think they have legit problems. The Bills defense should be pretty good this year. Offensively they can do enough to get the win. Bills 20-7
Carolina @ Tampa Bay (4:25pm)
Bret: Finally, a hard one! The Carolina bandwagon more crowded than a 3rd class Chinese train from Beijing to Shanghai. While I certainly agree they have some interesting tools that make scheming for them offensively very difficult, I'm not sure people are paying just enough attention to the problems Carolina has defensively. They're like a 65% quality version of last year's Lions.
Tampa on the other hand - I don't think we've gotten any sense yet of what they're going to be. Some people think they'll be at 5 wins. Some think they could have 10. And that I think fair considering their roster. I see a team filled with 'Best case scenario - he's awesome' guys, but no one who is quite there yet. I think this game will be a little sloppy, and feature a ton of running from both teams. I like the Tampa defense to be a little more coordinated, and play a little faster. Tampa Bay 20 - Carolina 17
Mike: A battle between two-teams-who-should-be-better-but-we’re-not-sure-how-much-better. I think Vincent Jackson is a somewhat underrated addition to the Bucs this year, taking the pressure off of Mike Williams to be “the guy” at WR, and assuming Josh Freeman has the year that people expect him to have, I really like Tampa’s offense this year. As for the Panthers, Newton is now in his second year, I don’t expect him to have 17 rushing TDs again, but I expect his passing numbers to improve some. They were also hit with some tough defensive injuries last year, and I think they’ll be stronger there as well. Another game I could see going either way, so I think I’ll go with the home team. Tampa Bay 27 Carolina 24
John: I don't think the Bucs are as bad as they were last year, but it may take them some time to get to where they were two years ago when they won 10 games. The Panthers offense is built to run the ball. I think they'll have success doing that in this game. I also think the Bucs will be able to run the ball on the Panthers very questionable defense. Once you get the run established early, the passing game opens. I'm sensing a high scoring game here. I'll go with the Panthers for the road win. Cam Newton wins it with a late scoring drive. Superman pose. Game over. Panthers 33-27
Seattle @ Arizona (4:25pm)
Bret: I've totally come around on Seattle. After investigating just how their pieces on defense fit together, I like them a lot more. They're a smartly built team that will find success...especially against Arizona and what may be the worst offensive line in a generation. Without the Cardinals, this group of guys would be populating the ranks of bar bounces and truck drivers around the country. I'm not sure Skelton makes it through this game. (And Red Bryant destroys any hope of running on this team either.) Russell Wilson has to do just enough to score a couple field goals in a really basic offense. Turbin manages 75 yards and a TD. Seattle coasts. Seattle 10 - Arizona 0
Mike: Right now I’ve got Arizona and Jacksonville on my short list for worst teams in the NFL. I also thought Arizona was terrible last year and they ended up going 8-8, so there’s that for you as well. I’m still not totally comfortable with the idea of Russell Wilson leading the Seahawks this year. I like his game, I think he’s a good decision maker, and his skills are adequate. But he’s a rookie, he’s 5’11”, and he has a good, but not great receiver corp to throw to. He could end up surprising me and having an Andy Dalton type season, although I question what Dalton’s numbers would have looked like if he didn’t have an absolute stud in AJ Green to throw to. Just seems to me the smart play is to let Flynn play, and have Wilson learn and develop on the bench. Seattle 17 Arizona 3
John: I like home underdogs. In this case the Cardinals are only one point underdogs (on Pinnaclesports.com), but that still counts! I'm leaning towards them. I know there's a lot of love for the Seahawks heading into the season, but they're not a good road team usually. I think taking a rookie QB like Russell Wilson on the road in week one is a bit risky. Plus, their star RB Marshawn Lynch is banged up and if he does play with his wonky (fun word) back how effective will he be? Basically I think they will have trouble scoring. I think the Cardinals have issues of course, but they did play well at home last year and they ended last year strong. I'll go with the Cardinals winning an ugly game. Cardinals 16-14
San Francisco @ Green Bay (4:25pm)
Bret: This is the game I'm going to struggle the most with this week. Green Bay is definitely the favorite pick, but I'm not totally sold that they win this game. A well oiled timing offense like this sometimes takes a week or two of live games to get tuned up, but San Francisco is not the team to be tuning up the band against. Their opportunistic corners could put them in position to go up early on a couple of Green Bay offensive miscues, and that could be enough to let San Francisco use their stable of backs to run down the clock for the 2nd half and hold off the Green Bay onslaught just enough. I give that a 45% chance of happening.
More likely, the Packers come out of the gate firing, using all 4 healthy targets to create mismatches, even against the deepest defense in the league. They score too many points for Alex Smith to plod along against, and - while the 9ers look good - they simply can't keep up with the sprint to 30 and lose this one. I'll go with that scenario as being slightly more likely. Green Bay 31 San Francisco 26
Mike: I think this game plays out one of two ways. One, Green Bay comes out, offensive line gives Rodgers time and space to throw, the offense is flowing, and whatever shortcomings the Packers have on defense are irrelevant as the Niners have to chase all game and end up losing. Two, San Fran’s defense is able to be disruptive and/or the timing of Green Bay’s offense isn’t there, and we end up with a lower scoring game with the Niners controlling the clock on the ground, making things much closer and probably getting San Fran the win.
I hate saying this because it’s so cliché, I know it’s just the preseason, but I thought the Packers offense looked pretty gelled and together towards the end of the preseason, whereas they looked pretty out of sync in the beginning. The offensive line is healthy, Marshall Newhouse isn’t a great left tackle yet but he’s good enough to get the job done, I think they have a solid if unspectacular option in Cedric Benson at running back, and I’m really looking forward to Alex Green as a change of pace back. The defense is still concerning, losing Desmond Bishop for the year was a big blow, and I don’t think the team is still totally sure who’s going to step up in that other CB spot opposite Tramon Williams.
Fortunately San Francisco is probably not the team that’s going to punish you for not having two great cornerbacks. I don’t see much difference in this team from last year, viciously strong on defense, able to get by on offense but struggles to punch it in for TDs. Randy Moss is a nice asset and he’ll have his moments, but with Alex Smith throwing to him I just don’t see him being a disruptive force like he was in New England. And I do expect the Packers to be more effective in the pass rush than they were last year. If this was in San Francisco, I’d seriously think about taking the Niners, but I just think at home Green Bay’s offense will be too much. Green Bay 27 San Francisco 20
John: Game of the week. I can't go against the Packers here. I think they're the best team in the NFL, they are angry over the playoff loss to the Giants (so are the Niners) and they have the reigning league MVP QB Aaron Rodgers leading the charge. Sorry Niners fans, but I just don't have the same faith in the Niners QB Alex Smith. I know he had the best year of his life last year. Can he do it again? Maybe, but it's tough to do it in the land of the Packers. The Niners will try to run more than pass while the Packers will barely run because they pass it so well. While I think the Niners can slow down the Packers at times, I don't see it being a sustained thing. I like the Packers to win and cover the 5 points too. Packers 31-20
Pittsburgh @ Denver (8:20pm)
Bret: First off, let me say, I am not a homer. I never bet on the Broncos, and usually undersell their talents - no one knows the flaws of the Broncos better than I do. That said, I think Pittsburgh has more flaws than a healthy Broncos team.
The rookie influx on the offensive line for Pittsburgh hasn't panned out. They're just as hole and questionable there as they've always been. Denver still has an A level pass rush (possibly A+ if Wolfe shows up like I think he might.). Roethlisberger gets harrased all night. Denver's defensive weakness is glaringly stopping the run, but there isn't a running back on the Steelers who can take advantage of that either. I think it's a rough first night offensively for the Steelers.
Defensively, I think too many Steelers fans are counting on "One hit and Manning's off the field." Medically speaking, that's no more likely to happen to Manning than any other QB at this point. The question isn't about whether or not he'll re-injure it, it's simply whether he has the arm strength left. Frankly, I don't think he needs it. There are enough question marks about speed and age on the Pittsburgh defense for Manning to exploit, and much like Bellichick, given an entire off season to prepare for this game, I think he'll come up with the right game plan to get ahead and set the Denver running dogs on defense loose. Denver 30 - Pittsburgh 24
Mike: Not gonna lie, I’m a little down on Pittsburgh this year. Their offensive line still seems to be a mess, to say their backfield situation is a question mark would be an understatement, and it just seems like we’re destined to have another year of Ben playing hurt because he’s taking so many hits. I still think they’re a playoff team, but I don’t think they’re a 12-4 team this year. And then there’s the Denver Mannings. They managed to luck their way into an 8-8 season last year (That’s right Bret, I said it) with Tim Tebow throwing passes at the ground all year. Now they get a huge upgrade in a not-quite-100% Peyton Manning. The years of Peyton being the best QB in the league are probably over, but he is far too smart and far too good at what he does to not have some clear success in Denver. I think that team will be fired up on both sides of the ball coming out of the gate this year, and I think it will be too much for an already banged up Steelers team. Denver 35 Pittsburgh 24
John: I'm going Steelers here. I think the Broncos will have a winning record by the end of the year, but I think it's going to take time for them to develop the chemistry needed to win games against quality opponents like the Steelers. You know the Steelers are going to be mad after losing in Denver in the playoffs one year ago. While the QB has changed on the Broncos to that Peyton Manning guy (he's pretty good huh?), I wonder if they can move the ball enough to put up the points necessary to win. Where Denver can win is in their pass rush. I think with Von Miller and Elvis Dumervill they can get some pressure against the Steelers notoriously below average offensive line. However, I like Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger to make enough plays to win. It will be tough for the Broncos to stop both of the Steelers talented WRs Mike Wallace and Antonio, so I expect one of them to be the difference maker. Steelers 27-24
Cincinnati at Baltimore (Mon 7:00pm)
Bret: This game is closer than a 7 point line, but I don't trust Dalton and company enough just yet to go into Baltimore and win a season opener - and I worry what injuries along the lines can do to Cincy. Here's a detailed prediction: Cincinnati leads for something like 54 minutes in this game, but Baltimore takes the lead late in the 4th. Baltimore 24 - Cincinnati 21
Mike: I believe that at some point Andy Dalton will figure out the Baltimore Ravens. I don’t think this game will be that point. The Ravens will continue to eat Dalton’s lunch, and that’s really all that matters in this game. Baltimore will be able to score points with Flacco and Ray Rice, but Cincy can’t score until Dalton has the time and the ability to make good, quality passes for the full 60 minutes. Baltimore 20 Cincinnati 10
John: I like when good teams from the AFC North play because they always have physical games. While Cincy isn't as accomplished as the Steelers or Ravens yet, they are certainly getting there. I think RB Ray Rice will have a huge game for the Ravens. Their offense is receiving a lot of attention in the preseason because they are supposedly going to be faster paced and QB Joe Flacco is going to be improved. That may be true, but Rice is their best player and the Bengals will have a tough time slowing him down. The Ravens are still the better team. Being at home for the opener certainly helps too. Ravens 28-17
San Diego at Oakland (Mon 10:15pm)
Bret: I'm as tired as you're all going to be watching this game at 2 AM. (Welcome to my world!) Still, I'll pull through on this one and nail it. San Diego is the more talented team, but these AFC West games. (One of the rare times I won't be a sucker for stats.) I think a fired up "Win one for Al" and "Woo we're on TV!" crowd pushes a young and loose Oakland team over a rigid San Diego team that will have yet another rough start this year. (Almost exact same scenario as SD @ KC in 2012 - plus a deceased owner.) Oakland 21 - San Diego 14
Mike: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOORV! He’s officially passed Marvin Lewis as the head coach that makes you go “Wait, they haven’t fired him yet?” I could see both of these teams going 10-6 and both of these teams going 6-10. Will San Diego’s defense be any good this year? Is Philip Rivers back this year, or is he going to crash out of the gates again this year? Speaking of Gates, is he healthy and ready to be productive this year? (Because it’s not like they have many other people to throw to) How many games will Ryan Mathews actually play this year? For that matter how many games will Darren McFadden play this year? Carson Palmer threw more INTs than TDs for the first time in his career (Aside from 2008 when he only played 4 games), are we going to see more of the same? Oh, and NOOOOOOOOOOOORV. I’m not looking forward to this game at all, I appreciate ESPN putting it on late on Monday night. Oakland 17 San Diego 13
John: I understand why the NFL has two Monday night games on opening night. I usually fall asleep during this second game, though. Hopefully this one is entertaining enough to keep me up past midnight here in the Eastern time zone. This is the hardest division in football to forecast because all four teams are so even. Does home field advantage matter? I think it does for the Chiefs and Broncos more than it does for these two. I think the Chargers might be the better team, but without starting RB Ryan Mathews in the lineup the offense may be too one dimensional. Also I like Raiders RB Darren McFadden quite a bit. I think he'll have a huge game and be the reason why the Raiders win this game. Raiders 24-20
The Degenerates Dungeon
This is where we give you some picks for our best bets of the week. Some would call us degenerate gamblers. We call ourselves smart! Note that lines moves from the time we write this (Thursday night for me) to the time the games kickoff. We keep track of the odds and we'll use that to write down our records too.
Week 1 is the hardest week. If I go 50% on these, I'm on my way to a winning year!
New England -5. I'm always cautious of big lines in Week 1, but only 5 points for the best team in the AFC East vs. a young Titans team? I'll take that.
Buffalo Money Line. Take the best deal you can get. Buffalo is winning this game.
Seattle -2.5. Better when I got them at +2.5. They should still cover. (Pro Tip: Buffalo +1 and Seattle - 2.5 make a nice 6 point tease that puts Buffalo over the important 6 and Seattle over the more important +3. If you can get that at -110, I'd take it.)
Chicago/Indianapolis Under 42.5. I just don't see this as a very exciting game.
Outside Shot: Cincinnati ML. They have a shot at this game. +248 is solid value. (Requires 28% confidence to be a good bet. I'd say I'm 25% confident Cincy can win this game.)
New England -5.5 @ Tennessee – I don’t care that this is on the road, Patriots are giving less than a TD against the Titans? Sold.
Seattle -1 @ Arizona – As I said, I think Arizona is awful. Even if Russell Wilson struggles out of the gate, I love Seattle here.
Miami @ Houston under 42.5 – I just feel like this is going to be an ugly game, and even if Houston’s offense looks better than I expect, I don’t think Miami scores enough to get the game to 43 points.
St. Louis +9 @ Detroit – The Lions are getting too much respect here. I think they win but it should be a single digit game.
Buffalo +2.5 @ NY Jets – Don’t love this pick, as I could see the Jets winning by a FG, but I feel pretty good about Buffalo here.
I'm only going with point spread and over/under for this section.
@ Bears -9.5 over Colts - Tough game for a rebuilding Colts team. They will have problems early in the year. Line moved to 10 as of Friday AM. I got it at -9.5 though.
@ Lions/Rams over 46 - Rams will be in it early, but Lions will dominate in second half.
@ Broncos/Steelers over 44.5 - Both offenses are better than most people think.
Patriots -6 over @ Titans - Home field doesn't matter too much against a Pats team that can score so much.
Bills +2.5 over @ Jets - I look forward to betting against the Jets a lot this year.
That's it for this week. Will we write this much every week? Maybe not. Week one is like Christmas Day for us, though, so we're all excited as you could probably tell.
The three of us will see ya again on Thursday for the Packers/Bears preview and then next Friday for the rest of the games in week two. Good luck!
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You can also email John Canton at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or comments.