Thursday, September 8, 2011

NFL 2011: Week 1 Picks

Picking games for Week 1 of the NFL season is never easy. All predictions are bound to be based on some ad hoc combination of the previous year's performances, off season moves and speculation on how those moves are going to help or hurt each team. As I have the past couple years, I am going to try give it a shot again this year.

Also this year I'm going to make five "5 STAR" picks; meaning these are the ones I consider locks against the spread.

Pittsburgh Steelers (+1.5) at Baltimore Ravens

As it has been for the better part of the past decade, it's going to be a close, defense dominating, low scoring game. Although the Steelers have a stronger head to head over this matchup the past few years, more often than not, it has come down to a play or two in the 4th quarter. With the core of both teams intact from last year, I expect this game to play out the same way.

I expect Big Ben to have a big year this year, with Emanual Sanders and Antoonio Brown having break out potential ala Mike Wallace last year. Ray Rice is also set to have a monster year, especially with the Ravens signing FB Vonte Leach to block for him.

Outright Win: Steelers
v/s the Spread: Steelers (+1.5)

Detroit Lions (+1.5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Everybody in the whole wide world are expecting the Lions to have that break out year. That makes me doubt if it will happen. No doubt, they will be better than last year and may even be the 2nd best team in the NFC North. But I do not see them making the playoffs with that secondary. Add an injury or two (Hello Stafford! Hello Jahvid Best!) to the mix, its going to make it all the more harder for them.

The Bucs on the other hand might have that let down after a successful 2010 campaign. But I think, with Josh Freeman and Legarette Blount, they will be a force to reckon with in the NFC South again.

Outright Win: Buccaneers
v/s the Spread: Buccaneers (+1.5)

Atlanta Falcons (-3) at Chicago Bears

The Falcons spent a lot (in terms of draft picks) to draft Julio Jones. But I am not sure how an extra wide receiver, as good as he might turn out to be, resolves the issues the Packers seemed to take advantage of in the playoffs last year. And the Bears, as usual, are going to be a tougher out than people initially make them out to be.

Outright Win: Bears
v/s the Spread: Bears (+3)

Buffalo Bills (+6) at Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs were a playoff team last year thanks to some lucky bounces here and there in close games and a rather easy schedule, with the AFC West being weak and drawing the NFC West on their schedule. This year might be a little more bumpy. The Bills are a tough team to gauge at this point. They could end up being a front runner in the Andrew Luck stakes or could surprise a few with a slightly better season than last, especially if they can improve even a tad bit on defense.

Outright Win: Chiefs
v/s the Spread: Bills (+6)

Indianapolis Colts (+9) at Houston Texans

As I am writing this section, news just broke that Peyton Manning had another procedure on his neck and is likely out for the rest of the season. This is bad bad news for the Colts. Manning means so much for their offense, not only because of his QB play, but the play calling, audibles and adjustments he makes at the line of scrimmage. Not to mention his leadership and preparation all-through the year. Todd Kerry Collins could hold his own, but it may take him a week or two to get to know tendencies of his WR and other offensive weapons. Even so, I don't see them making the playoffs, with all those holes in their team that Peyton usually masks with his stellar play.

The one team that will be really happy about this news are the Texans. They are loaded on offense and have a new defensive coordinator in Wade Phillips will improve their defense for sure. If the Texans under Kubiak don't cross the hump here to win this weak AFC South, I don't know if they ever will.

Outright Win: Texans
v/s the Spread: Texans (-9)

Cincinnati Bengals (+6.5) at Cleveland Browns

People are all down on the Bengals this year. Yeah, I know Carson Palmer is not playing. But I am keen to see how big of a step down is Andy Dalton. Of course, there is bound to be the rookie growing pains. But, all he needs to do out there is "manage" the game. The Bengals are going to try run the ball a ton and their good defense will keep them in most games. The Bengals are going to surprise a lot of people this year.

The Browns on the other hand, are one of those teams that are hoping to take the next step and be a possible playoff contender. Pat Shurmur's west coast offense is just what Mike Holmgren wants to establish in that franchise. And from the looks of it, Colt McCoy might just be good enough to do the job. Will their defense compliment theit improvements in offense is the question. And of course they are int he division with the Steelers and the Ravens, which sucks for the Browns.

Outright Win: Browns
v/s the Spread: Bengals (+6.5)

Tennessee Titans (+2.5) at Jacksonville Jaguars

These are the other two AFC South teams that will want to jump in and try steal the division here if the Texans crumble under the pressure of being the favorite. Only problem, they are not so good on paper. The Jaguars do not have a QB who can start (McCown??... puhleez!). The Titans have a new system, with new coaching staffs in town. But I like their chances more than the Jaguars, given that they have Chris Johnson and an old but experienced Matt Hasselbeck to steady the ship.

Outright Win: Titans
v/s the Spread: Titans (+2.5)

New York Giants (-3) at Washington Redskins

The Giants defense have been pillaged with injuries this pre-season. Eli has been erratic. Still, I think they are a force to be reckoned with in the NFC East. The Redskins do not look very intimidating on paper. But, I am going to hold my judgement on the team after I see Mike Shanahan's offense for a couple games.

Outright Win: Giants
v/s the Spread: Giants (-3)
Carolina Panthers (+7) at Arizona Cardinals

The team with the worst record in 2010, the Panthers, have nowhere to go but up. Their QB situation may not be resolved just yet. But they do have a little somehting called continuity in their offense. Deangelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart cannot have as bad a season as last years. And their defense under Ron Rivera will only improve.

The Cardinals were one of the teams that made a big splash this off-season to acquire Kevin Kolb. All they have this year, that they didn't last, is a decent QB. And if Kolb is even half as good as some "experts" make him out to be, they might be contending for the NFC West title. Larry Fitzerald just needed a QB that can throw at least somewhere in his vicinity. and he has it. I think.

Outright Win: Cardinals
v/s the Spread: Cardinals (-7)

Seattle Seahawks (+5.5) at San Francisco 49ers

Do people remember that the Seahawks are reigning NFC West champs? Or have we all blacked it out of our memory. What an ugly ugly division this was in 2010. Now the Seahawks have a platoon of Tavaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst at their QB position. Good luck Pete Caroll.

The 49ers have started the Harbaugh era. It's going to be slow. I think he has taken the right approach of trying to clean up hte roster before rebuilding it. So I do not expect them to show much improvements until later this season, if at all they do. The biggest problem: they still have Alex Smith as their QB.

Outright Win: 49ers
v/s the Spread: 49ers (+5.5)

Minnesota Vikings (+8.5) at San Diego Chargers

The Vikings, as hard as it may to believe, just need a slightly above average Donovan McNabb to be a decent team. They will be in more games than people might expect them to be, just because they have a number of good players at various positions on offense and defense.

There is no doubt that the Chargers are all set for that Super Bowl run that's been evading them. But first things first, they'll want to get off to a fast start and not dig themselves a hole in September as they have been doing in their Norv Turner era. It's general consensus that Philip Rivers will be a MVP candidate. Totally agree.

Outright Win: Chargers
v/s the Spread: Chargers (-8.5)

Dallas Cowboys (+5) at New York Jets

The Cowboys are kind of like the Texans this past decade. Except that they have been to the playoffs a couple times (but no playoff wins). Every year, people proclaim "this is their year". But it never is. Once again, they are loaded with talent. But a lot of their success will be dependent on how well Rob Ryan's scheme suits their player personnel on defense.

The Jets will once again contend for the AFC East with their old school style of "grind it" football. They may not win the AFC East, but definitely have the inside track for at least a wild card spot.

Outright Win: Jets
v/s the Spread: Jets (-5)

New England Patriots (-7) at Miami Dolphins

Bill Belichik just keeps doing his thing. They sign Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynsworth. He then cuts Brandon Tate and Brandon Meriwether. No one can dare question him and they will prove that on the field with their play. I will be shocked if they are not playing the AFC Championship game in January.

The Dolphins are a mess. They unabashedly were on a coach hunt with their current coach on the payroll. Then give an extension to the old coach when Harbaugh bolted them to take the 49ers job. They have Chad Henne at QB and their best WR has a multiple personality disorder. Their No.1 RB is Reggie Bush, who won an Heisman in college... no wait... what? Anyhow.. that's the state of these Dolphins.

Outright Win: Patriots
v/s the Spread: Patriots (-7)

Oakland Raiders (+3) at Denver Broncos

The Raiders once again are featured on opening weekend MNF. It's hard to understand how they think Jason Campbell will be their savior, but it's not that far fetched that this team could be good with the type of RBs they have on their roster.

The Broncos will go back to a "run first" approach under John Fox. They definitely are stout on defense with Dummerville back from his lost 2010 and the rookie Von Miller is touted to be a beast. But will the shadow of Tim Tebow loom over this team if they lose a game or two under Kyle Orton?

Outright Win: Raiders
v/s the Spread: Raiders (+3)

Upset Special of the Week

Philadelphia Eagles (-4.5) at St Louis Rams

The Eagles are "the dream team". There, I said it. Can we please move on and actually look at their team as a whole? They have a potential game breaker in Vick at QB and a bunch of great options on offense. A potentially stud RB in McCoy. But what about their O line, which could have upto 3 rookies starting opening day? They do have three good-to-great DBs and some good pieces on defense. But do they have a potential shutdown defense? I'm thinking no, especially with their O line coach of 2010 taking over as the defensive coordinator. Dream team indeed.

I am legitimately excited about the Rams this year. They could be the break out team that people think the Lions will be. Bradford entering his sophomore season, a healthy Stephen Jackson, Josh McDaniels as the offensive coordinator and the steady head of Steve Spagnolio taking care of the D. What's not to like? And oh, did I mention, they play in the NFC West!

Outright Win: Rams
v/s the Spread: Rams (+4.5)

Homer Pick of the Week

New Orleans Saints (+4.5) at Green Bay Packers

I have previewed the Packers 2011 Season here.

The Saints have made some really strong free agent signings and drafted Ingram as Reggie Bush's replacement to bolster their running game. They clearly are one of the favorites to get to Super Bowl XLIV. Which makes this game an instant classic at more levels than just the meeting of the last two Super Bowl winners.

In terms of match ups in this game, as a Packer fan, I like our defense to stop the Saints running game and out DBs to do good job against the Saints receivers. I want to see how the Packers plan to stop Jimmy Graham. If you remember, the 2010 Packers were very often burned by opposing TEs. The Saints Defense in 2010 was very good at not allowing passing TDs. But I am confident the Packers will find a way against that. I'm curious to also see how the Packers O line holds up against the new big D line of the saints.

Outright Win: Packers
v/s the Spread: Packers (-4.5)

My 5 STAR Picks

Steelers (+1.5) over RAVENS
Titans (+2.5) over JAGUARS
RAMS (+4.5) over Eagles
Patriots (-7) over DOLPHINS
Giants (-3) over REDSKINS

* Home team in CAPS

Last Week:
Outright Win Record: 0-0
v/s the Spread Record: 0-0

Year to Date:
Outright Win Record: 0-0
v/s the Spread Record: 0-0

5 STAR Picks:
Overall Record: 0-0

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