It is the most wonderful time of the year. While Hurricane Irma is putting a damper on things and reminding us all that football is secondary, the NFL season kicks off for real tonight. That means another year of picking games against the spread.
My picks are bolded, outright upsets have an asterisk and all lines are from rtsports.com at the time of my writing. Here goes nothing.
Chiefs at Patriots (-9) – Kansas City is extremely well coached. Andy Reid never allows his teams to beat themselves. This is a huge number to swallow in a matchup of two very good teams.
However, no matter the team, the defending champions always play inspired on opening night. Alex Smith and company just do not have the firepower to keep up with a New England offense that somehow got even better by adding Brandin Cooks. No matter how stout the opposing defense is, the Patriots will score lots of points all year long. NE 31 KC 20
Cardinals (-2) at *Lions – Here, we have two teams that must drive their fan bases insane. If last year is any indication, they both have high ceilings, low floors and no one knows what to expect from them week to week. Given that backdrop, I will take the home team with the better quarterback. Det 30 Ari 27
Falcons (-7) at Bears – It remains to be seen how the Falcons franchise will rebound from last year’s Super Bowl collapse. We won’t learn much here. The Bears organization is lost at sea right now and does not have talent on any level that is equal to the Falcons, at least on paper. Paper is really the only thing we have to go on for opening week. Atl 31 Chi 17
Ravens at Bengals (-3) – This game is pretty much a coin flip. If the game were in Baltimore, the line would probably be flipped. With home-field advantage and an offense that should be just a touch more balanced than that of the Ravens, the Bengals are the smart bet. Cin 28 Bal 24
Jags at Texans (-5.5) – This is my favorite pick of the week. Blake Bortles has yet another crack at being the quarterback of the future in Jacksonville. His numbers are always decent thanks to garbage time, but the franchise has won 11 total regular season games since Bortles was drafted. What more needs to be seen?
Houston’s quarterback situation is not much better, but they are playing to lift the spirits of an entire city and have most of last year’s playoff roster intact. Hou 24 Jac 13
Jets at Bills (-9.5) – The Jets are going to stink, Buffalo is probably going to stink a little less. Outside of the defensive line, everything on the Jets’ roster is well below average. Buffalo has made some head scratching roster moves in recent weeks and is clearly hesitant to commit to quarterback Tyrod Taylor long term. This is a value pick more than anything else. Buffalo is not 9.5 points better than anyone in this league. Buf 27 NYJ 20
Raiders at Titans (-2) – These teams handle their business differently, but are pretty evenly matched. The team that does not lead the world in penalties every year and has the better defense is a good bet. Ten 24 Oak 20
Eagles (-1) at *Redskins– Here is another game that could go either way. Carson Wentz exceeded expectations last year and the Eagles have made a lot of new acquisitions that have people excited. But the Redskins are the known commodity here.
Even with the drama that seems to constantly surround the organization, the Redskins offense put up a ton of first downs and yards last year. If they can turn some more of those numbers into points this year, they will be back in the playoffs for the first time in a handful of years. This is a rivalry game, Washington is at home and I know what I am getting with them. That is good enough for me. Was 24 Phi 21
Steelers (-9) at Browns – The Browns will not be a punchline this year. From Jabrill Peppers to Kenny Britt, they have done a fantastic job of adding talent on both sides of the ball. The raw athleticism of DeShone Kizer with Hue Jackson coaching him is intriguing. Keeping up with a Pittsburgh offense that has all of its key contributors on the field at the same time is probably too much to ask, but they can make a statement here, even in defeat. Pit 28 Cle 20
*Colts at Rams (-3.5) – Watch this one at your own risk. The Colts will be led by Scott Tolzien, not Andrew Luck. For the Rams, Jared Goff showed improvement in the preseason, but that only means so much. Even without Luck, Indy’s offensive personnel may still be better. They won’t score much as the Rams front seven is really good, but they won’t need to. Ind 13 LAR 10
Panthers (-5.5) at 49ers- The number here is surprisingly low. Apparently, I am not the only one who likes what the 49ers are doing. Given the vast differences between their last two seasons, Carolina is one of the toughest teams to predict this year, but Christian McCaffrey might be exactly what this offense needs to get back on track. The Panthers should get through this one on talent alone. Car 28 SF 21
*Seahawks at Packers (-3) – Like always, this matchup is about Seattle’s great defense and Green Bay’s great offense. These two teams could very well see each other again in the playoffs. We all have certain theories when we look at these games. One of mine is that great defense usually trumps great offense.
If there were any full proof theories about predicting NFL games, Vegas would be broke and us common folk would be rich. Obviously, it does not work that way. However, I will almost always ride the better defense in a matchup like this. Sea 21 GB 20
*Giants at Cowboys (-4) – Apparently, Ezekiel Elliott will play in this game. However, that did not matter much when these teams got together twice last year. With additions like Brandon Marshall, the Giants only got better in the offseason. Even if Odell Beckham Jr. does not suit up because of his knee injury, New York is well-equipped for that circumstance.
Meanwhile, the rest of the league has now had enough time to figure out how to stop a Cowboys offense that was a young juggernaut last year. Things will not be nearly as easy for Dallas this year. NYG 23 Dal 20
*Saints at Vikings (-3.5) – New Orleans is primed for a big year. The one-two punch of Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson will finally give that offense the balance it so desperately needs. Drew Brees still has a couple years to be his Hall-of-Fame-caliber self. All the defense needs to do is go from atrocious to just plain bad. This is not a very difficult leap to make.
As good as Minnesota’s defense is, their offense simply lacks playmakers. It will not take nearly as long for that to catch up with them this year. Too much is being expected by rookie running back Delvin Cook, Sam Bradford has never led a team to a winning record as a starting quarterback and their receivers max out at about 80 catches.
The Vikings have not managed to put together an offense that has ranked in the top 20 since Mike Zimmer took over as head coach. Unless the defense turns out to be the 1985 bears or 2015 Broncos, this team is going nowhere. NO 24 Min 17
Chargers at Broncos (-3.5) – The Chargers were in almost every game last year, but lost most of them.
The relocated Chargers will win a few more games this year, but this one will follow that familiar script. Philip Rivers is still being asked to do way too much. If the quarterbacks changed teams in this matchup, Denver would make this look like a homecoming game. The Broncos were smart enough to realize that Trevor Siemian was not the problem last year. Denver’s front lines were pushed around on both sides of the ball.
Thus, this year they come back with revamped offensive and defensive lines, as well as a monster of at least three heads in the backfield. The defense remains one of the best on the planet. The Broncos are attempting to take the physical approach to winning football games this year. If done well, it is a tough approach for any opponent to deal with. Den 20 LAC 14
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