Friday, September 6, 2013

The Hail Mary - Week 1

The first Sunday of the NFL season is my new Christmas morning. Remember that feeling of anticipation and excitement you would get as a child that morning? That is what I have been feeling for weeks and finally, this Sunday, I get to open my presents. Except now my presents aren't video games, or toys, it is sitting down and watching football for ten hours straight Sunday. Then getting home Monday night and watching six more hours of football. So glorious.

Sunday, September 8

Miami at Cleveland, Line is Pick Em'   

These are two teams that I think will have better seasons than their fans have seen from them in a while. I like the Dolphins to make the playoffs, and the Browns to be right there on the precipice of .500. Brandon Weeden showed some promise in the preseason, and I think new coach Rob Chudzinski could have a really positive effect on him. Like Weeden, Ryan Tannehill is in his second season and for the Dolphins to finally get back into the playoffs, he will need to take huge strides. These teams will show some improvement in Week 1, with a hard fought, down to the wire finish.

Prediction: Cleveland 20, Miami 17 

Minnesota at Detroit, Detroit favored by 4 1/2

Almost no one seems to have faith that the Vikings can follow up last season's surprising 10-6 finish with another playoff berth. There is no doubting that Adrian Peterson gives them a chance to win every game. However, their quarterback and receiver situations leave a ton to be desired. The Lions are a popular pick to be a turnaround team, with people hyping the addition of Reggie Bush like it was 2005 or something. The Lions need to find ways to get in the end zone and cut down on turnovers. Matt Stafford was paid top 5 quarterback money this off-season, so the pressure is on him to live up to it. It certainly helps that he has Megatron, Calvin Johnson to throw to.

Prediction: Detroit 28, Minnesota 24

New England at Buffalo, New England favored by 9 1/2

This game might have been worth watching if something called a Jeff Tuel would have ended up starting for Buffalo. Instead, EJ Manuel receives the start for the Bills, and Buffalo will probably be killed. I guess it would be interesting to watch if Tom Brady continues to be as good as ever with a depleted receiving corps. Can Danny Amendola really be his new Wes Welker? Will he miss Gronk?

Prediction: New England 31, Buffalo 17

Cincinnati at Chicago, Chicago favored by 3

This could be one of the better games of the weekend. The Bears will be putting out their new look offense with new head coach Marc Trestman. I expect them to be much less of a boring, plodding team that they often were with the offensive coordinators Lovie Smith saddled them with. They will be tested right out of the gates by one of the fastest rising defenses in football in the Bengals. If you haven't heard of Geno Atkins yet, you will this season. Andy Dalton needs to answer some questions this season. He has gotten the Bengals into the playoffs his first two seasons, but expectations are much higher this year. We will also get a clearer picture of the Bengals running game and whether or not Giovanni Bernard will start to take carries away from the Law Firm.

Prediction: Cincinnati 21, Chicago 16

Oakland at Indianapolis, Indianapolis favored by 9 1/2

It looks like I might have been too generous when I predicted the Raiders would win six games. Almost everyone else thinks they will be one of the worst teams in football. Poor Matt Flynn just can't catch a break. For the second straight season he has gone somewhere, presumably to be the stater and then come Week 1 he is the backup. The Raiders can only dream that Terrell Pryor turns out the way Russell Wilson did last season. Andrew Luck is one of the most overhyped players in the game right now. Don't get me wrong, I think he is good, but the media is tripping over each other to talk about how great this guy is. Let him cut down on the interceptions and actually become somewhat accurate and maybe I'll believe the hype. At least in Week 1, he shouldn't have any problems showing out against an awful Raiders defense.

Prediction: Indianapolis 35, Oakland 14

Atlanta at New Orleans, New Orleans favored by 3

The NFC South is expected to be a battle between these two teams. Last year the Saints were without their general, head coach Sean Payton, but this season he is back, and I expect him to make a significant difference. Offense wasn't really the problem for the Saints last year, it was their historically bad defense. Their new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is wildly overrated but he has nowhere to go but up with that unit. The Falcons were able to convince TE Tony Gonzalez to come back for one more season and one more run at a Super Bowl. They also hope to have improved their run game with the addition of Steven Jackson. Where I have questions is their defense, which lost one of their better pass rushers in John Abraham, weakening a unit that wasn't very good at rushing the passer to begin with. Games between these teams usually come down to the wire and are high scoring, I expect that script to be followed Sunday.

Prediction: New Orleans 34, Atlanta 30

Tampa Bay at New York Jets, Tampa Bay favored by 3

Geno Smith will start for the Jets, as he won the quarterback battle over Mark Sanchez by default with Sanchez's shoulder being hurt. Josh Freeman didn't have to compete for his job yet, but if he struggles this season, Bucs fans, all 5 of them will be shouting for Mike Glennon to take over. This game is mostly notable for the return of Revis Island to New York, but this time as a Buc. It would be pretty funny if he ends up with a pick six.

Prediction: Tampa Bay 21, New York Jets 13

Tennessee at Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh favored by 7

The Steelers have some question marks entering the season, especially when it comes to their offense. I have faith they will work those issues out and I still consider their defense one of the best in the league. I expect them to hit Jake Locker early and often on Sunday, as this game smells like a Steelers blowout.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 30, Tennessee 10

Seattle at Carolina, Seattle favored by 3

The Seahawks are getting way too much love. All of the sudden I am reading idiots like Bill Barnwell speaking as if a receiving corps of Doug Baldwin, Sidney Rice, and some other bum I can't even think of right now is something teams should be afraid of. Teams should be afraid of Marshawn Lynch, the rest of the Seahawks offense, and I include Russell Wilson, not so much. Ron Rivera is coaching for his job this season, as the Panthers got off to an awful start to the season in 2012 and never recovered. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has sort of disappeared from the young quarterbacks discussion. If he can play well against Seattle, it will remind a lot of people of his existence. This is the type of game the Seahawks should win if they are going to be a Super Bowl team like so many believe.

Prediction: Seattle 27, Carolina 21

Kansas City at Jacksonville, Kansas City favored by 3 1/2

The most boring game of the week goes to this matchup between the Chiefs and Jaguars. That is mostly the fault of the Jaguars, as the Chiefs will be interesting to watch with new coach Andy Reid and new quarterback Alex Smith. I really want to see how well Alex Smith performs when he isn't surrounded by a beast team like he had in San Francisco the last two seasons. Playing against the Jaguars will certainly inspire confidence for both him and Reid. I also want to see how Reid uses Jamaal Charles, and if he remembers that he has one of the best running backs in football.

Prediction: Kansas City 22, Jacksonville 13

Green Bay at San Francisco, San Francisco favored by 4 1/2 

The Packers and their fans have been counting down the days to this playoff rematch ever since it was announced in April. The Packers were embarrassed by the 49ers in that game, especially their defense as Colin Kaepernick ran past them, behind them and around them. But Kap didn't just beat Green Bay with his legs, he killed them with that beautiful ball he throws. The Packers are talking a lot about how they are going to hit Kap often in this game, and make him scared to run. They think they have solved the read option, but what if the Niners don't even try to run the read option. People see highlights of Kap running and think that's his game. What really is his game is the accuracy with which he throws. His legs are a threat and certainly opens things up for him, but to call him a running quarterback is the wrong characterization. I am intersted in seeing how the 49ers defense plays. They have some new starters and also have something to prove after not playing well at all in the playoffs. I hope that Aldon Smith finds his sacking ways again now that Justin Smith is healthy. There is no greater quarterback to go up against to try to make a statement than Aaron Rodgers. He may leave a lot of former, bitter teammates in his wake, but not many people would argue with you if you told them he was the best quarterback in football. We will also start to find out if drafting Eddie Lacy will finally give Green Bay a rushing attack, that could make Rodgers even more lethal. This is going to be a hell of a game to watch and to me is a matchup of the two best teams in the NFC. Both offenses are premiere, so the winner will be which defense can get the most stops and force turnovers.

Prediction: San Francisco 28, Green Bay 23

Arizona at St. Louis, St. Louis favored by 4 1/2

Actually, this game might be even more boring than Kansas City/Jacksonville will be. What is most funny is people still talking about Carson Palmer like he will be a major difference maker in Arizona. I mean of course he will be better than freaking John Skelton, but that's a backhanded compliment at best. At least Palmer should make Larry Fitzgerald relevant again, and maybe even help Michael Floyd break out. The Rams took some major strides in Jeff Fisher's first season but no one is talking about this year. Mostly because the majority of fans probably couldn't name the Rams running backs or receivers. The Rams do have a stout, young defense, and that will be the difference in this game.

Prediction: St. Louis 24, Arizona 17

New York Giants at Dallas, Dallas favored by 3 

The Cowboys will be trying to finally beat the Giants at their new stadium, now christened as AT&T Stadium. Thoughts on the Cowboys are mixed. If you are like me you think the offensive line is still terrible, they are still poorly coached and once again will miss the playoffs. Others think that Monte Kiffin will maximize his personnel on defense, Romo is one of the best quarterbacks in the league and that Dallas is a sleeper Super Bowl team. Not many are talking about the Giants, which is sort of strange for a team that has won two Super Bowls in the past 6 seasons. However, that tends to happen when during those six years you miss the playoffs three times. The Giants defense has been steadily declining, and Eli Manning's play fell off a cliff in the second half of 2012. One thing that could really help is a motivated, healthy Hakeem Nicks. Nicks is going to be trying to get paid, like his cohort Victor Cruz was. If Nicks can find his form from a few years ago, I will feel much better about my Giants to win the NFC East pick. This will be a close game as most Cowboys/Giants match ups are, but I have to go with history. Dallas hasn't proven they can beat New York at home, no reason to think they will start now.

Prediction: New York Giants 26, Dallas 20

Monday, September 9

Philadelphia at Washington, Washington favored by 3 1/2

So many storylines heading into this one. For the Eagles, what will the Chip Kelly era look like? How will his fast paced, gimmicky offense translate to the NFL. Will Michael Vick be resurrected in this offense? For the Redskins, it is all about Robert Griffin III. He returns from his massive knee injury in Week 1, just as he said he would. Will will see a different Griffin? One that runs less and passes more. You would have to think so, but you know his adrenaline will be pumping during this game. Much like the NFC East a whole, trying to predict this game is just blindly throwing darts. The Eagles are switching to a new defense and have a new set of cornerbacks. It will take time for the defense to gel to the system and to playing with each other. The Redskins have continuity on offense, and that is why they will defeat Philly on Monday.

Prediction: Washington 28, Philadelphia 21

Houston at San Diego, Houston favored by 3 1/2 

I think I am the only person in the world, besides Texans fans of course, picking them to reach the Super Bowl out of the AFC. People forget that Houston was the best team in football for the first twelve games of the 2012 season. I do agree with those that question whether Matt Schaub is the guy to lead them to a championship. He mostly remained under the radar being good but not great. However, as the Texans expectations have grown, so has the scrutiny he feels. I also think I am the only person in the world, including even Chargers fans, that has San Diego making the playoffs. I don't think the difference it will make in no longer having bumbling Norv Turner as a head coach is being taken into account. Finally, with Mike McCoy, they will have a coach that will hold them accountable for their mistakes. Philip Rivers needs that more than anyone as he has fallen off badly the last few seasons. With a new coach comes growing pains, and those will come to the forefront having to face a dangerous Texans defense. I expect Rivers to be on his rear end early and often.

Prediction: Houston 23, San Diego 16

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