(Updated below with Ravens Broncos, 9-13 3:41 EST)
In honor of the fact that Adrian Peterson is going to rush for 600 yards a game this year, and the Vikings are going to win the Super Bowl, World Series, Indy 500, and Nobel Peace prize, our similarly ambitious goal is to finish a perfect 102-0 (picking roughly 7 games on average each week) against the spread.
So, we’ll blow that “statistically a little less likely than a huge asteroid blowing up the Mojave desert in the next 4 seconds” goal out of the water with our very first pick; which is, naturally, in honor of Adrian Peterson himself:
1. Minnesota Vikings (-2.5) at San Francisco 49ers (MNF)
So, basically, the 49ers are the first new team to enter the NFL since what, the Houston Texans in 2002? But since they get a big edge the Texans never got – they get to keep several of the players, and even some of the office personnel, from the old team in San Francisco prior to this year, they should be a lot better than the Texans were.
So why is Minnesota, a team that along with Jacksonville, Oakland, Tampa Bay and a few others was rumored to be starting a new London Farm League last year (by somebody, somewhere, I’m sure), favored, on the road, against a team whose ghost went to the NFC Championship game three of the last four seasons – losing one on two muffed punts at the end of regulation and in overtime, and winning another -and who even last year with like half its team hurt, or at least the key guys, still had a better record and in a tougher division??
It must be that the old no “one knows about them” sexy pick to surprise this year – the Minnesota Vikings – are no longer the no one knows about them sexy pick to surprise this year.
Or it could be because, as everyone knows, Adrian Peterson is going to rush for 2500 yards this season, and the Vikings are going to win the Super Bowl. (Too bad I didn’t choose them for a wild card, but I did put them very close. Then again, this goofy but popular Harvard Sports Collective study put the Vikings at 12% to make the playoffs – although to be fair it was before AP told us how many yards he was going to get).
Pick: Vikings. But in a suprisingly tough game, as the new 49ers may not be slouches either. And only because Adrian P said they were going to win the Super Bowl. Trouble is a lot of this line may represent early perception that the 49ers are no good. And that perception may be wrong, and to at least some extent, likely is.
2. New York Giants (+6.5) at Dallas Cowboys (SNF)
This is your upset pick of the week. Yes Dallas makes the Super Bowl. And yes Victor Cruz is out. And Jon Beason, who seems to get hurt a lot (hence in part why a then somewhat LB stacked Panthers finally let him go to the great delight of a badly lacking Giants middle a few years ago) is out as well.
And yes now that Eli is rich – 4 more years at another $84 million total plus the rare no trade clause – unless, one presumes, it’s to the Chargers – he has nothing to play for except the only thing he always had. To fool us with that “aw shucks” quiet approach, and slice up defenses just when we don’t expect him to do it. A theory which this high publicity contract just signed Friday somewhat ruins. Still:
Pick: Giants. And as upset of the week, to win outright. Also, as an aside, the player starting in place of Jon Beason at MLB? Uani’ Unga. 27. Undrafted last year. Joined the Giants practice squad two days before Christmas. But if the Giants can’t win with a guy named Uani’ Unga, who can they win with?
3. Philadelphia Eagles (-3) at Atlanta Falcons (+3) (MNF)
I wrote in multiple comparison articles how I expected not just to beat the Harvard study probabilities by season end, but dominate them when all 32 teams are considered; and the study pegged the Falcons at a high 55% chance of making the playoffs, while I gave them a (still high, frankly) 42%.
And, though as but a wild card to make it into the playoffs, I put the Eagles in the NFC championship game this season. So I need them to win this game. And let’s face it, to have a shot at the playoffs they at least need to win a few games before Sam Bradford gets hurt again. (Kidding. Mostly.)
So they’ll probably lose. And traditionally Atlanta has been an extremely tough place to play; and Dan Quinn, at least versus last season, might be an upgrade right now at head coach over the perhaps somewhat burned out Mike Smith, who otherwise did such a solid job prior to last season.
Still, the Eagles are going to the NFC Championship game, and the Falcons are going to be battling it out in a weaker division:
4. Kansas City Chiefs (+1) at Houston Texans
This line is not giving the Texans, who I have as wild card this year, much love at all. But since I have the Chiefs winning the AFC West, I’ll hold my nose and:
5. Seattle Seahawks (-4) at St. Louis Rams
I’m pretending I didn’t watch the Rams in preseason, where at times they still looked like a few of Jeff Fisher’s teams of old: The ones where proper tackling technique – wrapping around the lower midsection, bending slightly at the waist, squaring the shoulders and driving through and backward – seems optional. I’m hoping that was a mirage.
The Rams upset the Seahawks, so take the points:
6. New Orleans Saints (+2.5) at Arizona Cardinals
The team that gets its quarterback back, that still made the playoffs last year from arguably the toughest division in football, facing a team that scraped in at 7-9 last year doesn’t even get favored by the traditional 3 at home, but the sneaky 2.5?
Traditionally, when that happens, uh oh, watch out. Home team is not looking good. And this line is definitely telling us something: Either the Saints are going to win this football game, or well, the Cardinals are the Rodney Dangerfield of the NFL. I’m going with the latter. It could get ugly though:
7. Tennessee Titans (+3) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
In the Marcus v Jameis battle, I’ll go with the Titans, who started off last year practically obliterating the Chiefs in Kansas City, then went 1-15 the rest of the way, getting blown out most games.
This is only on a hunch that Ken Whisenhunt is not as bad of a head coach as he now seems, but only as bad as I argued early last October when I said if the Titans were going to give up on first time head coach Mike Munchak (who had done a solid job over the first three years), it was a mistake to not have gone with someone with a much better winning track record than Whisenhunt or stick with Munchak, who showed upside.
8. Baltimore Ravens (+4.5) at Denver Broncos (update addition)
The Ravens almost beat the Patriots in the second round of the playoffs last season. But they weren’t that impressive during the regular season, and haven’t seemed to improve, at least on paper, since last year.
On the other hand, Broncos new head coach Gary Kubiak was in Houston for a lot of years before that team started winning. Then once they did and were being mentioned as Super Bowl conteners, they managed to go on a 14 game slide to finish up 2-14 in 2013. And the coaching switch from John Fox to Kubiak could be a downgrade.
Peyton Manning is also now 39 1/2 years old, says that though he wears gloves and it doesn’t seem to affect his throwing, he can’t really feel much in the fingertips of his right hand, and did have a bad neck injury a few years ago that seems to have damaged some nerves.
Playoffs aside, for many years Manning was so good that he was almost in a league by himself. (This is often lost, overlooked, or completely missed, since he has frequently returned to earth during the playoffs.) And he carried teams, over and over and over; with great adjustments at the line, unbelievably laser quick reads, accurate decisions, quick releases, and laser accurate throws.
Last year he finally showed signs of struggling, and the consensus is that in preseason, he may still not be quite the same old Peyton Manning. Much of former head coach John Fox’s staff also went with him to Chicago. And defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, a solid defensive coordinator before he came to Denver, and again therein, moved on to become Oakland’s new head coach.
A lot will be told about both Manning and this new coaching staff as the season wears on. But regardless of whether their QB is still the near perfect regular season quarterbacking machine he has usually been or not, this team is good enough to win, and win a lot, with a top notch coaching staff.
Denver has a good defense, possibly an underated one, New defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has a fairly good track record. They have a nice home field advantage in the high atltitude and supportive home crowd, and the Ravens have traditionally been a fairly poor road team. For now the new coaching staff gets the benefit of the doubt, and Denver “should” win this game, hence:
Ender: Really the smart move for those in Vegas or vying for bragging rights, is to stay away from these games week 1. There is not enough information, and most of these games are tossups. And I’d have only picked three games this week – if there was even three to decently pick. Even the Giants game – upset special – is not a super great pick, because the Giants are all over the place when they play the Cowboys (though having lost their last four, and being definitively outplayed despite what you read, the last two); and in fact nearly everyone else. So if it is a close game, great, you win.
Happy viewing. And just in case you haven’t been reminded enough times, remember that three federal judges have now essentially ruled in just the last year or so that Roger Goodell has made his key decisions arbitrarily and capriciously, ostensibly in order to “protect the integrity” of the league; which I suggest if anything slightly undermines the integrity of the league. But then to me so does their sudden recent veritable pimping on many of its flagship shows of online fantasy football gambling sites, so maybe I’m wrong. (It’s not the advertising, it’s the “hard sell” promotion aspect of it that to me – but possibly not to many others – seems a little bit over the top.)