Friday, September 5, 2014

The Hail Mary - Week 1

Sunday, September 7

New England at Miami, New England favored by 5 1/2

No better opportunity than the season opener for the Dolphins to try to prove that 2014 will finally be the season that they take a leap forward. They get to open at home with the long standing best team in the division, the Patriots. The Patriots feel confident about their offense, especially with Rob Gronkowski healthy and Brady now having extensive experience with his receivers, something he didn't have last season. For the first time in years they are also excited about the potential of their defense, especially with the addition of longtime foe, CB Darrelle Revis. They also have the gigantic Vince Wilfork back healthy. Miami has proven to be a tough place for Brady to play at times over his career, so I expect a tight one, but hard to pick against the Pats.

Prediction: New England 24, Miami 20

Minnesota at St. Louis, St. Louis favored by 4

Matt Cassel vs. Shaun Hill, exciting!!  This was supposed to be a make or break season for Sam Bradford, but he tore his ACL again and is already out for the season. While the quarterback battle will likely be underwhelming in this game, there will be plenty of playmakers on the field for both sides. Adrian Peterson has expressed his excitement about Norv Turner's new offense and is running behind an offensive line that has remained unchanged for years now. Cordarrelle Patterson looks to be primed for a breakout seasons for the Vikings as well. The Rams are excited for a full season of Zac Stacey as their lead back and want to find more ways to get Tavon Austin the ball. They also still have one of the more talented and young defenses in the league. I think new coach Mike Zimmer was a good hire for the Vikings and the team will see immediate improvement this season.

Prediction: Minnesota 19, St. Louis 14

Jacksonville at Philadelphia, Philadelphia favored by 10

Some people are taking the bold step of proclaiming the Jaguars as a sleeper this season, especially with some of the additions they made on defense, adding Red Bryant and Chris Clemons from Seattle. However, while I think things are looking better for Jacksonville, they are still a year or two away from seeing any change in results on the field. The Eagles are excited to start another year in Chip Kelly's offense, especially RB LaSean McCoy, who is coming off a career season. However, they will be without DaSean Jackson this season, and it remains to be seen if Jeremy Maclin is ready to take on the spot of number one receiver. A player to watch for the Eagles this season is TE Zach Ertz. Ertz showed a ton of potential his rookie year and big things are expected from him this season.

Prediction: Philadelphia 30, Jacksonville 21

Washington at Houston, Houston favored by 1 1/2

These two teams regressed in spectacular fashion last season. They went from division winners to the two worst teams in football.  That means both have new coaches, and the Texans have a new, old quarterback in Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Texans used the number one pick to take Jadaveon Clowney, and just signed another fearsome defensively player, J.J. Watt to a huge contract extension. The Texans chose to not address the quarterback position and because of that are starting the year with Ryan Fitzpatrick as their quarterback and a rookie, Tom Savage as his backup. Idiots like Bill Barnwell seem to think that last year was an aberration and Houston will return to playoff form, but you can't tell me a Ryan Fitzpatrick led team will even sniff the playoffs. The big story in Washington the past few weeks has been how awful RGIII has looked and because of that the less awful looking Kirk Cousins should be the starter. Then you have people like Mike Florio saying the Redskins should trade Cousins because its too much pressure on Robert. Seriously? RGIII can't deal with a little competition? If he can't handle that level of pressure, how the hell is he ever going to lead the Redskins to a Super Bowl? Griffin needs to stop worrying about his Twitter and his logo and blaming others for his failures and start looking in the mirror. He has the support of his coach this year, and he is being given every opportunity to succeed with the additions of Andre Roberts and DaSean Jackson. Lord help those that listen to DC sports talk if the Redskins lose this game because Griffin doesn't play well. Despite having a horrific defense last year, the Redskins chose to pretty much bring everyone back, including their awful coordinator Jim Haslett. Like everything that happened last year according to those in Redskins Park the defense sucking was all Mike Shanahan's fault. Nevermind that Haslett has never coached a good defense in his career. I don't expect the defense to get hit too hard this weekend by the sorry Fitzpatrick but the defense will end up being an issue at some points this year.

Prediction: Washington 23, Houston 20

New Orleans at Atlanta, New Orleans favored by 3

A lot of people like the Saints to reach or even win the Super Bowl this season. The key to the Saints season will likely be whether or not they win the NFC South and can secure homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. New Orleans is near unbeatable at the Super Dome, but is a mediocre team on the road.  Going into Atlanta to open the season is a good chance for the Saints to make a statement that they can be just as good on the road. The Falcons are happy for the season to start, so they can get the disgusting taste of last season out of their mouths. Julio Jones is back healthy and Atlanta is excited about new rookie running back Devonta Freeman and what he might possibly do when Steven Jackson is inevitably injured. The Saints have a new weapon of their own on offense, WR Brandin Cooks. Some people even seem convinced that this will finally be the year RB Mark Ingram puts everything together. I expect this to be a high scoring battle and for Drew Brees and Matt Ryan to both play very well, with the Saints just barely coming out on top.

Prediction: New Orleans 34, Atlanta 30

Cleveland at Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh favored by 6 1/2

This game would be more intriguing if Johnny Manziel had been named the Browns starting quarterback. Instead, Brian Hoyer is the starter until Johnny Football inevitably replaces him at some point this season. It is another new era in Cleveland, as the Rob Chudzinkski era lasted just one season. Now it is the Mike Pettine era but unfortunately for him his first year as coach will be without the Browns best player, WR Josh Gordon. Gordon is serving a year long suspension for multiple violations of the leagues drug policy. So instead of being a beast on the field, Gordon hopes to be a beast as a car salesman. The Steelers have missed the playoffs for two straight seasons, and surprised everyone by starting last year 0-4. The Steelers have some question marks but one of the sure things for them is quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will play well. Another almost sure thing is that they never lose to Cleveland at home.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 24, Cleveland 13

Oakland at New York Jets, New York Jets favored by 5 1/2

The Raiders are the only team starting a rookie quarterback to open the season David Carr's little brother, Derek Carr. Carr impressed enough in the preseason to beat out Matt Schaub, making it two straight seasons that the Raiders have brought someone in to be their quarterback in the off-season and then have them lose the job before the season has even started. The Jets brought in Michael Vick to serve as a big name backup to Geno Smith. If the Jets are to get back to the playoffs Smith will have to learn to be much more careful with the football. The Jets did provide him some new weapons, including WR Eric Decker. However, myself and many others believe that Decker will fall into Smith's level, instead of being able to help Smith become better. These are two franchises that aren't doing anything of note this season but the Jets will at least get to feel good about themselves after Week 1.

Prediction: New York Jets 21, Oakland 13

Buffalo at Chicago, Chicago favored by 7

I am bullish on Chicago this season and feel if their defense can even be mediocre they will win the NFC North. There is no question that they have the horses on offense to put up a ton of points. A couple interesting storylines for the Bears offense will be whether Jay Cutler can finally play all 16 games and beyond that, will he develop the type of chemistry with Alshon Jeffery that Josh McCown did last season? The talk has been mostly negative around Buffalo, which isn't surprising for a franchise that hasn't made the playoffs in this century. Excitement over E.J. Manuel has quickly turned to dread as he looked very unsure and inconsistent in the preseason. Bills fans won't be feeling any better after Sunday.

Prediction: Chicago 35, Buffalo 17

Cincinnati at Baltimore, Baltimore favored by 1 1/2

The Super Bowl hangover is far removed from Baltimore now and the Ravens hope that means a return to the playoffs in 2014. The AFC North figures to be a tight race, and this game could go a long way towards determining the division when all is said and done. The Ravens will be without Ray Rice, serving a 2 game suspension for knocking out his wife. That will give Bernard Pierce an opportunity to be the feature back. The Ravens as a whole couldn't run the ball worth a damn last season, and that exposed Joe Flacco for the slightly above average quarterback that he is. For Cincinnati what they do in the regular season doesn't mean a whole hell of a lot. Of course, they need to win enough games to make the playoffs, but the success of their season, and especially Andy Dalton's will ride on whether or not they finally win a playoff game this year. Even when they struggled last season, winning in Baltimore remained challenging for opponents, so I expect that trend to continue.

Prediction: Baltimore 21, Cincinnati 17

Tennessee at Kansas City, Kansas City favored by 4

The Chiefs have hitched their wagon to Alex Smith, signing him to an extension last week. They could do a lot worse at quarterback but don't expect Smith to bring the best out of guys like Dwayne Bowe and Donnie Avery. Smith is what he is, a decent quarterback that doesn't turn the ball over much but also doesn't throw it more than six yards too often. The Titans are hoping that Ken Whisenhunt can help improve Jake Locker. Whisenhunt has had success with quarterbacks but he can't make Locker stay healthy. CJ2K is also gone now, and the Titans have a plethora of options at running back with Shonn Greene, rookie Bishop Sankey and former Chief Dexter McCluster. Another former Chief playing in this game will be Titans kicker Ryan Succup, who the Titans picked up earlier this week after the Chiefs cut him. The Chiefs better win this game because unlike last season, the early part of the schedule isn't filled with cupcakes.

Prediction: Kansas City 28, Tennessee 17

Carolina at Tampa Bay, Tampa Bay favored by 2

These look like two teams headed in opposite directions. The Panthers had a storybook regular season last year until reality struck and they got beat by a team much better than them in the 49ers. Instead of improving, they ended up completely turning over their entire wide receiver corps and have left Cam Newton with such dung as Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant. When Greg Olsen is probably your #1 option to throw to, you're in trouble. Newton is also dealing with health issues and is questionable for this game with bruised ribs. The Bucs are excited about their new coach Lovie Smith and optimistic about Josh McCown as their starting quarterback. McCown was a journeyman backup until last season, when he shined with the Bears. I thought it was somewhat odd that McCown was given the job instead of having to compete with Mike Glennon. I thought that Glennon played pretty well last season and showed some potential. The Bucs are also excited to have their Muscle Hamster back at running back, Doug Martin. Both of these teams have strong defenses so I am expecting a defensive struggle.

Prediction: Tampa Bay 16, Carolina 10

San Francisco at Dallas, San Francisco favored by 5

I would be lying if I said I wasn't very nervous about the 49ers coming into this season. I am sticking with them as my pick to win the Super Bowl but things that have happened this past off-season and preseason have me concerned. Making headlines for arrests has become the norm for the 49ers and the defense is going to look quite different this season. Aldon Smith has been suspended nine games for various arrests and stud LB NaVarro Bowman will miss at least six games as he recovers from the devastating injury he suffered in the NFC Championship. The offense, despite adding Stevie Johnson, Brandon Lloyd, and Bruce Ellington looked completely listless in the preseason. The 49ers did finally get some good news when RG Alex Boone ended his holdout. I will be even more concerned about the offense if they can't put up points in bunches against the Cowboys putrid defense. Dallas was awful defensively last season and could be even worse this year. They lost their best defensive player, Sean Lee for the season in mini camp, and are also without Orlando Scandrick for four games due to a suspension. They do have a ton of talent offensively, and are happy to have back the criminally underrated Tony Romo at quarterback. Romo and Dez Bryant figure to test the 49ers secondary early and often on Sunday. TE Jason Witten could be in for a big day with the 49ers depleted linebacking corps. This should be a high-scoring shootout, but the team with the better defense will win.

Prediction: San Francisco 38, Dallas 27

Indianapolis at Denver, Denver favored by 7 1/2

Peyton Manning hopes the second time will be the charm as he faces his former team. This game won't be nearly as emotional for Manning as last year's when he returned to Indianapolis. This time the Colts come to Denver and their quarterback Andrew Luck is receiving a ton of hype. I was questioning of the hype put on Luck after his rookie season but have boarded the Luck wagon after the season he had last year. He cut his interceptions way down and looks well on his way to being a superstar in the league. The Broncos will be without Wes Welker for this game after Welker failed a drug test for amphetamines. The rumor was that Welker took Molly, but Welker claimed he had never heard of it. I believe that coming from my Dad, who thought Molly was fake marijuana, but from Welker? Come on, man! Even without Welker, I think the Broncos newest addition, Emmanuel Sanders is primed for a huge season with Manning throwing him the ball. The Colts are clearly the best team in a bad division, but where they will continue to struggle is on defense. Manning and the Broncos should have no problems hanging 30+ on the Colts.

Prediction: Denver 38, Indianapolis 24

Monday, September 8

New York Giants at Detroit, Detroit favored by 5 1/2

I think I have more confidence in the Giants ability to win the NFC East than even their own fans do. I know that Eli Manning is coming off a disastrous season and is learning a new system for the first time in his career. However, I don't think that is a negative. I think Manning had become stale and too comfortable in Kevin Gilbride's offense. Manning will still make a couple throws a game that will leave you shaking your head, but I also know that Manning can be one of the best when he is on. Even if Manning does rebound, the Giants have to hope that Jason Pierre-Paul and the defensive line are able to get some pressure on the quarterback this season. The Lions are filled with talent but can't find the right coach to lead that talent. After letting Jim Schwartz go they had a chance but instead hired the most boring man alive, Jim Caldwell. I mean seriously, my farts have more personality than Caldwell. The Lions problem has been that they always play like a bunch of individuals instead of a cohesive unit. Manning will have plenty of Ndamukong Suh in his face Monday night, especially with a reworked offensive line, but I think Matthew Stafford will make enough mistakes, that the Giants will pull off the road upset. 

Prediction: New York Giants 28, Detroit 27

San Diego at Arizona, Arizona favored by 3

These two teams are looking to build off positive, rebound type seasons in 2013. The Cardinals won 10 games but it wasn't enough to get them to the playoffs. 9 wins was good enough to get the Chargers in the playoffs in the AFC and then they knocked off the Bengals in the Wild Card round. Philip Rivers had a career resurgence with Ken Whisenhunt as his offensive coordinator. Whisenhunt is gone now so it will be interesting to see if Rives can maintain his strong play. One player that will help him is stud receiver Keenan Allen, who had a fantastic rookie season. Ryan Matthews also had his best season as a running back last year and he joins a loaded backfield with Danny Woodhead and Donald Brown. The Cardinals got pretty good play out of Carson Palmer last season and started to see the emergence of RB Andre Ellington and WR Michael Floyd. The Cardinals have some questions on defense. Karlos Dansby left via free agency and Darnell Dockett is out for the season due to injury. San Diego had their share of problems on defense last season as well, but showed positive signs of improvement towards the end of last year. If people on the East Coast can stay up for it, they should be in for an entertaining, and exciting game.

Prediction: Arizona 27, San Diego 20

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