Friday, September 11, 2015

The Hail Mary - Week 1

The 2015 NFL season is upon us! After an off-season dominated by the size of balls, we can finally get back to worrying about how many times those balls cross the goal line instead of how much they weigh. It seems that most of the recent usual suspects are the main Super Bowl contenders including defending champion New England, and other recent champions Seattle, Green Bay, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore. My favorite team, the 49ers aren't in that conversation as they are coming off one of the most tumultuous off-seasons in sports history. The Miami Dolphins feel that Ryan Tannehill is ready to make the leap to one of the league's best quarterbacks in a make or break season for coach Joe Philbin. The Minnesota Vikings are many people's sleeper to have a strong season with the return of Adrian Peterson and the continued development of Teddy Bridegewater. The Washington Redskins are another team in constant turmoil, where whose sucking who off has gotten just as much talk as how the Redskins might do in 2015. The Philadelphia Eagles made a ton of headlines as Chip Kelly continued his team overhaul, shipping off running back LeSean McCoy and letting Jeremy Maclin go to the Chiefs in free agency. He has put his trust into oft-injured Sam Bradford, who looks to keep his career alive in Philly.

Sunday, September 13

Miami at Washington, Miami favored by 3 1/2

The Dolphins made one of the biggest splashes, pun intended, in free agency by signing Ndamukong Suh. Suh will undoubtedly help a Dolphins run defense that struggled last season but the real difference in whether Miami finally returns to the playoffs or not is how Ryan Tannehill gels with his new look receiving corps. Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline are gone, replaced by Kenny Stills and Greg Jennings. The Redskins have appeared to move on from the Robert Griffin III era with Kirk Cousins being announced as the starter for the 2015 season. Now knowing how things go for Washington, Cousins will probably get hurt this game, lost for the season and Griffin will end up starting again. The Skins added some new pieces on the defensive side include Terrence "Pot Roast" Knighton and former 49er castoffs S Dashon Goldson and CB Chris Culliver. They also finally got rid of Jim Haslett as defensive coordinator, replacing him with Joe Barry, a guy who coordinated the 0-16 Lions defense. I expect a competitive, back and forth game, but for Tannehill to lead a game winning field goal drive, giving the Dolphins the victory.

Prediction: Miami 26, Washington 23

Green Bay at Chicago, Green Bay favored by 7

The Packers are my pick to take home the Lombardi trophy this year, even after losing WR Jordy Nelson for the season. When you have the best quarterback in football, those types of losses can be overcome. The loss of Nelson did help James Jones find his way back to Green Bay. Since leaving the Packers Jones has become a nobody but if he gets some decent playing time, I wouldn't be surprised to see him putting up strong numbers again. The Bears are starting the John Fox era as the fanbase grows more and more restless with Jay Cutler. The only emotion that Cutler can seem to put forth is general disinterest, so its understandable that Bears fans aren't sold on him being the guy to lead them to glory. The Packers haven't lost in Chicago since 2010 and that streak will hold up after Sunday's game.

Prediction: Green Bay 28, Chicago 17

Kansas City at Houston, Houston favored by 1

I'm high on the Chiefs and think that year three of the Big Red era of Andy Reid will be the one to give Kansas City the AFC West title. I like the addition of Jeremy Maclin to the receiving corps and think it guarantees that at least the Chiefs will have a receiver catch a touchdown this year. Alex Smith has proven that on teams that are good enough he can effectively manage them to success. Houston is strong on defense but aside from WR DeAndre Hopkins they have a ton of questions on the offensive side. Former Browns starter Brian Hoyer is now the Texans starter and Houston will also have to do without RB Arian Foster for quite some time as he injured his groin in training camp. Houston managed to win 9 games last year playing Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Mallett and Case Keenum, so J.J. Watt and that defense, especially with Jadaveon Clowney back from injury may be enough for Houston to make the playoffs this year. However, it won't be enough for them to open the season with a victory.

Prediction: Kansas City 21, Houston 20

Cleveland at New York Jets, New York Jets favored by 3

Josh McCown versus Ryan Fitzpatrick, feel the excitement! I expect this game to receive the least amount of attention on Red Zone, because very little scoring will be happening. The Jets made headlines by finally firing Rex Ryan and replacing him with Todd Bowles. They then made more headlines when their starting quarterback Geno Smith got his jaw broken by a now ex-teammate named IK. The Browns had their fans excited last season as they entered playoff contention going into December., but in typical Browns fashion they collapsed. They changed up their uniforms but they are still the same old poopy Browns.

Prediction: New York Jets 9, Cleveland 3

Indianapolis at Buffalo, Indianapolis favored by 2 1/2

Bills fans seem irrationally excited about the 2015 season. Sure they did pick up LeSean McCoy from the Eagles, but unless Richie Incognito taking a year off from football made him better, their offensive line is still not very good. They also have Tyrod Taylor as their quarterback, a guy who has never started an NFL game in his life and has zero career touchdown passes. Rex Ryan is back to his blustery ways, even though he hasn't been a winning coach since 2011. The Colts have Super Bowl aspirations and it would seem to be the natural progression for them under Andrew Luck. In his first three seasons they have gone Wild Card exit, Divisional Round exit and last season the AFC Championship. They have some new weapons on offense in RB Frank Gore and WR Andre Johnson, though both are pretty old, so it is clearly a win now scenario for Indy. Defensively, the Colts still appear to be mediocre, but if Gore can give them a more consistent running game to go with the lethalness of Luck it may not matter.

Prediction: Indianapolis 27, Buffalo 20

Carolina at Jacksonville, Carolina favored by 3

For the second straight year Bloof Borkles played pretty well in the preseason, making some people start saying how good he can be. Now those people are all on Twitter, which has the tendency to jump the gun on everything so maybe most football fans hold sane opinions on Borkles. Cam Newton lost his best offensive weapon, Kelvin Benjamin to the meaningless preseason which means more pressure on Luke Kuechly and the defense to drive any success the Panthers might have. Starting your season against Jacksonville is one way to at least ensure you start off the season on a high.

Prediction: Carolina 20, Jacksonville 14

Seattle at St. Louis, Seattle favored by 4

All offseason Seattle has felt the need to tell everyone that there will be no lingering effects from their crushing Super Bowl loss to the Patriots. Usually when someone has to keep telling everyone something over and over, they are overcompensating for the truth. I don't think the Seahawks will miss the playoffs or fall off a cliff but I do expect to see more of the turmoil that plagued them throughout parts of the 2014 season. For Jeff Fisher it has to be a make or break season as you would think the Rams are starting to get hip to the fact that mostly produces mediocrity. Fisher gave up on Sam Bradford and is now hopeful that Nick Foles can lead the team to glory, along with new running back Todd Gurley. The Rams boast one of the best defenses in football, so if they can get even the faint of a pulse from their offense they could be a team to contend with.

Prediction: Seattle 19, St. Louis 14

New Orleans at Arizona, Arizona favored by 2 1/2

The Saints used to never win on the road but dominated at home, then at the end of last season, they couldn't even win at home anymore, dropping five straight at the Superdome. Arizona saw a promising season go down the tubes when Carson Palmer was injured and they had no viable backup behind him. They better hope that Palmer, who is OLD, doesn't get hurt this year, as Drew Stanton is their backup. Arizona is hard to beat home and the Saints are easy to beat when they play on the road. Seems like a pretty clear cut pick to me.

Prediction: Arizona 31, New Orleans 21

Detroit at San Diego, San Diego favored by 3

The Chargers off-season was spent talking about a potential future move to Los Angeles and also signing Philip Rivers to an extension. Their team remains largely the same from last year as they were playing for the playoffs until the last game of the season but came up short. The Lions had a referee's decision go against them in a Wild Card game against Dallas, and then saw the departure of their best defensive player Ndamukong Suh. Suh and Nick Fairley were supposed to be the monsters of the defensive line for years to come and now neither player is on the roster. Their quarterback Matt Stafford had an underwhelming year last season, as did "Megatron" Calvin Johnson. Without Golden Tate's contributions the Lions could have been almost putrid on offense. I think their offense will more resemble the unit that we saw in 2011 and that will begin this weekend. However, I think their defense will also start to more likely resemble that 2011 unit, leading to a lot of high scoring losses.

Prediction: San Diego 35, Detroit 31

Tennessee at Tampa Bay, Tampa Bay favored by 3

An otherwise underwhelming matchup between the Titans and Bucs will be slightly more interesting as it pits number one pick of the Bucs QB Jameis Winston, against number two pick of the Titans QB Marcus Mariota. People have been down on Winston because of his uneven performances in preseason but then were high on Mariota for not throwing interceptions in practice. At least starting Sunday, we will have some real evidence to judge these guys on versus meaningless games and practices. I expect both players to show flashes but also make many, many mistakes, leading to a pretty ugly game.

Prediction: Tampa Bay 17, Tennessee 16

Cincinnati at Oakland, Cincinnati favored by 3 1/2

Another meaningless Bengals regular season begins. I say that because the last few years they will look good in the regular season and then look absolutely putrid in their Wild Card game, rendering the four months before that irrelevant. The Raiders would love to just be able to look putrid in a Wild Card game, having not made the playoffs in over a decade. Derek Carr had a pretty good rookie season and the Raiders are hopeful that Jack Del Rio is finally the coach to lead them back to the playoffs. I think the Raiders have some solid young pieces but are still a year or two away from being real contenders. I expect the Bengals to regress this season but at least start the season on the right note.

Prediction: Cincinnati 24, Oakland 20

Baltimore at Denver, Denver favored by 4 1/2

Probably my boldest prediction is the fall of the Denver Broncos. I picked them to go 6-10, mostly because I am not confident in Peyton Manning staying healthy this season. He didn't miss any games last season but he saw his performance dip considerably towards the end of the season. I expect that to happen early this season. I am not confident that the Broncos have the pieces in their run game or defense to pick up the slack for a less than optimal Manning. The Ravens have questions around their depth as a whole and also about some pieces on their offense. Can Justin Forsett recreate the magic of his 2014 season? How much will Joe Flacco miss the deep threat that Torrey Smith afforded him and does Steve Smith have one last strong season left in him? I think the answers to most of those questions will end up in a positive fashion for Baltimore which is why I picked them to win the AFC North. When they go to Denver and win on Sunday, many will point to it as an upset, but I will have told you the future.

Prediction: Baltimore 26, Denver 21

New York Giants at Dallas, Dallas favored by 6

NBC loves them some Giants at Cowboys to open up their Sunday night football slate. The Giants have been largely irrelevant the last few seasons, which is what the Cowboys mostly were until last year's run to an NFC East title. This year, we figure to find out the answer to the question of just how much that Cowboys offensive line was responsible for DeMarco Murray's career year last season. Murry went to Philadelphia and has been replaced by underwear and cologne thief Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden. If those guys end up having big years, then that Cowboys offensive line may be just as good as the ones from their Super Bowl years in the 90s. Neither of these teams is impressive defensively, so I expect a lot of fireworks in this game, and for Eli Manning to bust out Eli face a few times. I think Tony Romo will pick up from where he left off last season and get off to a strong start to this season, helping Dallas earn the win.

Prediction: Dallas 35, New York Giants 30

Monday, September 14

Philadelphia at Atlanta, Philadelphia favored by 3

No team is harder to predict this season than the Philadelphia Eagles. Chip Kelly made so many roster changes and definitely some questionable ones, that no one is quite sure how it will come together. My thought is there won't be mediocrity in Philadelphia this year. They will either be really good or really bad. If anyone can revive Sam Bradford's career it would probably be Chip Kelly. But while Kelly can give Bradford all the tools he needs to be successful on the field, he can't protect his ACLs which seem to be torn apart quite often. DeMarco Murray had a monster season last year, but the question is how much did the workload the Cowboys give him last year going to affect his durability in future seasons? The Eagles do have plenty of depth at running back with Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles backing Murray up. The Falcons have a new head coach in former Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and he will need to impart some of his wisdom to that defense quickly as they have been atrocious the last few seasons. Offense hasn't really been a problem for Atlanta and with Kyle Shanahan aboard as offensive coordinator, I think Matt Ryan and especially Julio Jones could be in for monster seasons. The Falcons running game is more of a question mark as Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman have not just been battling each other, but injuries as well. I think the Monday night performance we get from Philly will be similar to the one we saw two years ago when Kelly made his debut as coach. At least for one game, Kelly will again be lauded as a genius by all the football pundits.

Prediction: Philadelphia 35, Atlanta 21

Minnesota at San Francisco, Minnesota favored by 2 1/2

The Vikings and the 49ers couldn't be headed in any more of a different direction if they tried. Minnesota is filled with optimism. QB Teddy Bridgewater had a promising rookie season, Adrian Peterson is back and perhaps even better after having a year off and Mike Zimmer is considered an up and coming elite head coach. The 49ers on the other hand had an insanely turbulent offseason. It started the day after their disappointing 2014 season ended, when Jim Harbaugh was fired, resigned, whoever you believe. Then throughout the off-season the 49ers saw Anthony Davis, Patrick Willis,  Chris Borland and Justin Smith all retire and the departures through free agency of Frank Gore and Michael Crabtree. Jim Tomsula, a loyal, longtime defensive line coach with San Francisco is now the head coach. I still have hope that the 49ers can be respectable this season, which might be blind homer optimism. The 49ers defense looks almost completely different from the group that started the season a year ago. One positive will be the return of LB NaVarro Bowman, who sat out the 2014 season due to injury. He has looked really strong in preseason play and with Willis and Smith retiring he steps in as the veteran leader on that side of the ball. The 49ers season will mostly hinge on the development of Colin Kaepernick. Kap regressed badly last season and the 49ers offense was mediocre at best. Geep Chryst takes over for Greg Roman, and Roman had definitely worn out his welcome in San Francisco. Chryst will be judged on how much better he can have Kap play this year. While Crabtree is now a Raider, it could be argued that his replacement, Torrey Smith is a better player anyway. Another player that needs to return to from is TE Vernon Davis, who was clearly not on the same page as Kap last season. The 49ers also have high hopes for Gore's replacement, second year player Carlos Hyde, who only saw limited action last year behind Gore. I think at least for one night, in front of their home fans, the 49ers will be able to put aside their terrible off-season and give us fans hope that they could make a playoff push in 2015.

Prediction: San Francisco 24, Minnesota 20

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