Football season has started again, which means everything that's not gridironny begins to fade into the ether. I won't bother you with a long intro, because you're not here to see how good I am at writing. No, you're here because you're an irreparable gambling degenerate and you're hoping I have some sort of otherworldly insight that will turn that chunk of your kid's college fund that you just withdrew into a pile of ill-gotten gain.
Fortunately for you, I do. In addition to picking the winner of the Kentucky Derby, I also led many a bet-junky to considerable NFL-based winnings. If you followed my advice last year, then you did very well for yourself, as we picked more games correctly than Vegas did and finished in the top 1.8% of ESPN's Pigskin Pick 'Em game.
Many of you are saying to yourself that I just got lucky last year. Perhaps, but that's not going to keep you from reading my picks for this weeks games; so stop warring with yourself, sit back, and send me 5% of your winnings.
Picks are after the jump.
The Cowboys are a top 3 team in the NFL each season, at least in terms of national coverage. Don't mind the fact that they've won a combined 14 games over the last two years and have just one playoff victory in the last 15 seasons. No, these Cowboys are very interesting because of all their very interesting players and if you say it often and loudly enough it just sort of becomes true right?
Look, I like Tony Romo but he's got no protection. The Giants' pass rush is going to do unseemly things to that overmatched Dallas line and without Jason Witten as a check-down, it won't really matter how open Dez Bryant and Miles Austin get because Romo won't be able to get the ball to him with Jason Pierre-Paul's facemask in his throat.
Besides all that, Eli Manning has become one hell of a quarterback and he's got better weapons in the receiving game than ever before, thanks to Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. The Giants will hold serve at home in the opener and we can all brace ourselves for a week and a half of "What's wrong with the Cowboys this year?" and "Is Dallas a Super Bowl contender?" and "How long until Jason Garrett is on the hot seat?" and "Is Jerry Jones still alive or is he the product of some neo-Draconian biological droid reanimation experiment?" from the media.
THE PICK : GIANTS
Indianapolis Colts at Chicago Bears
Vegas is spotting the Colts 9.5 in this one and, if we were betting the spread, I'd pick them to cover. However, there's a gigantic difference between losing by less than 10 and beating a good defensive team with a re-tooled offense on the road when your starting QB is a rookie and your best offensive threat can tell you what it was like to learn route-running from Lance Alworth.
Jay Cutler, while not the most inspiring sideline presence, is still a good QB and his reunition with Brandon Marshall coupled with a fully healthy Matt Forte should exploit an Indy defense that put up less resistance last year than Lindsay Lohan's chastity.
THE PICK: BEARS
I'm pretty sure the Eagles don't have any linebackers on their roster, but that deficiency should be more than negated by the vacuous dearth of talent on Cleveland's team. While it's true that they may have drafted God's perfect running back in Trent Richardson, it's also true that Richardson hasn't done diddly-poo this preseason because of a worrisome leg and their top QB-WR combo is Brandon Weeden to Greg Little. I'm pretty sure my garbage disposal could cover that aerial attack.
Philly's offense struggled at the beginning of last season, but it was clear that they weren't on the same page, or even reading the same book. by the end of last year, though, they were annihilating teams by a combined score of 125-46 over the final quarter of the season. Sure, there are a million Michael Vick injury jokes we can all make, but I think doing so not only sells him short but also loses sight of the fact that the Philadelphia Eagles are playing the Cleveland Browns and all of this is too much analysis for a pick your little sister could make. LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, DeSean Jackson, and Co. will acquit themselves nicely in this one.
THE PICK: EAGLES
The books list the Jets as a 3-point favorite, but I'm convinced that's a sucker's bet that's playing on how much more we all have been collectively forced to care about the Jets than the Bills. Truth is, Rex Ryan's buffoonery is naught more than a bulbous facade over the crumbling remnants of a Jets team that was a legitimate contender just two years ago. Make no mistake, the Jets offense will be awful this year. I mean so awful that if your mom were to walk in on you watching the Jets offense you'd switch the channel to porn in order to not offend her.
Buffalo's defense will be markedly better this year; adding the best defensive end on the planet kind of does that by default. Besides, the Bill's offense was extremely effective last year before injuries derailed the campaigns of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Fred Jackson. A fully healthy Bills team gets this one.
THE PICK: BILLS
Yeah yeah, bounty-gate* and all that. Look, the Saints have Jimmy Graham and until the Redskins can find an answer for The Black Ginger then all the bounty stuff won't matter too much. I'm super excited about Robert Griffin III's pro career and I expect him to have a nice debut in the Superdome, but I just can't see anything about Washington that would suggest even the slightest chance of stopping Drew Brees from doing what Drew Brees does. It'll take damn near 40 to beat the Saints in their home opener, and that's too tall of an order for RGIII and Mike Shanahan's House of 1000 (running back) Corpses.
THE PICK: SAINTS
*Can we please stop adding "-gate" to everything even slightly scandalous? Please? It doesn't make any sense, really. The Watergate scandal was called that because it took place at the Watergate Hotel, not because it was a hydration-related turpitude. Are we really that non-creative?
Don't be surprised if Jake Locker puts up nice numbers in this one. The only reason anyone thinks the Patriot's defense is good is because their training facility is Building C on ESPN's campus, making their defensive back fill-ins bigger news than Pro Bowlers on other teams. The Pats were horrendous against the pass last year and, while I'm not ready to buy Chris Johnson's resurgence just yet, I think Locker will have some time and his receivers will have some space.
All of that is well and good if you're a Titans fan, but there's still that little thing about Tom Brady. Brady was effervescent last season, setting fire to opposing defenders' houses and then eating their dinners on their front lawns while he watched them burn to the ground. He did that last year with Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and Yo Soy Fiesta as his main weapons. This year, in addition to Welker, Hernandez, and Rob Gronkowski, he has Josh McDaniels back as his offensive coordinator. Yep, the same Josh McDaniels that orchestrated New England's record-setting offense in 2007 and who helped (new Patriot) Brandon Lloyd lead the NFL in receiving yards in 2010 with Kyle Orton as his quarterback. What do you think they're gonna do this year?
I'll tell you. They're going to obliterate people. Maybe not all of the people, maybe not even the Titans, but they'll do enough damage to leave Nashville with a win.
THE PICK: PATRIOTS
Both teams are, presumably, bad and both have, more than presumably, over-matched quarterbacks. That said, the Jags will be sans Maurice Jones-Drew in his full capacity and I think Ponder, while far from a star, is further along than Blaine Gabbert is. The Vikings will win this one even though they're own star running back, Adrian Peterson, is also not yet up to speed. Percy Harvin will be the difference here.
THE PICK: VIKINGS
The Texans, behind a tidal wave of an offensive line should have this one in their pockets by the midway point of the third quarter. Houston is primed to be excellent in nearly every phase of the game this year, and Miami is poised to be excellent in exactly zero phases. If they're watchable at all, it will be a small divination. I like Reggie Bush and I think I like Ryan Tannehill, but with no one to throw to (Brian Hartline, anyone?), the Texans should key on Bush and make Tannehill try to win by forcing rushed throws to receivers that have no separation from their defenders.
I haven't even gotten to Arian Foster, Ben Tate, or Andre Johnson yet. And I won't need to. Vegas gives Houston their biggest spread of the week at -12.5 and I won't be surprised if the only reason Miami covers is because Gary Kubiak pulls all his starters in the 4th.
THE PICK: HOUSTON
The most interesting part of this game will be seeing how many way Cortland Finnegan gets whooped by Calvin Johnson. The Rams will be better this year than they were last season, but there's still a big gap between them and the Lions, who are just too dynamic (despite a non-existent running game) to be beaten by St Louis at home.
THE PICK: LIONS
Great googly moogly, this was the toughest game for me to pick this week. I like Kansas City's chances to compete in the watered down AFC West, especially with healthy (we think) stars returning in Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry, and the Chiefs enjoy one of the better home-field advantages in the league. Besides, I'm not crazy about Atlanta's defense.
I am pretty crazy about Atlanta's passing attack though, and I'm not exactly sure how KC's defense is supposed to account for Roddy White and Julio Jones. Plus, Atlanta has the capability to control the clock in addition to airing out the ball, and I see the 4th quarter featuring a lot of Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers grinding down the clock with a slim lead.
THE PICK: FALCONS
This is the game that most of us thought we'd see for the NFC championship last January. In short, I think Aaron Rodgers is every bit as good as he was last season and despite the fact that San Fran is likely to feature the best defense in the league, he should still perform admirably on Sunday.
For what it's worth I don't see any way the Niners only lose 3 games again this season. Last year's +28 turnover margin and literally flawless placekicking is unsustainable and an 11-5 or 10-6 record this year won't mean they're any worse overall than the 2011 version, it'll just mean that things didn't break in their favor as often. Don't get me wrong, the 49ers are the rightful favorite to win the NFC West this year, but they sure as hell won't coast to it like they did in '11.
THE PICK: PACKERS
Tampa Bay was truly wretched last season while Carolina played better than their final record showed. Both teams figure to be improved in 2012, but the Bucs have a lot further to go than the Panthers. I expect the NFL's worst rush defense from last year to get gouged by DeAngelo Williams, Cam Newton, and if healthy, Jonathan Stewart.
Fantasy sleeper alert for this game is Brandon LaFell, if you need him.
THE PICK: PANTHERS
THE PICK: SEAHAWKS
If ATL v KC was the hardest pick, this one is a close second. If I was assured that we'd be seeing at least 80% of the Peyton Manning we saw from 200-2010, I'd take Denver in this one with ease. In fact, between the complete paucity of tailbacks in black and yellow, and the fact that Ryan Clark's health condition will keep him out of the thin air (the same chink in the armor that Tim Tebow, of all quarterbacks, exploited en route to the Broncos playoff win last year), it seems like the deck is stacked in Denver's favor.
Pittsburgh's defense won't be bad this year, not by any stretch, but they're no longer an elite squad. There's still plenty of talent and name recognition (James Harrison, Troy Polamalu, etc), but this D is getting old and Denver's got exciting young weapons in Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas. Perhaps the most overlooked aspect in this game is Ben Roethlisberger's propensity to take soacks, legions more than any other QB in the NFL over the last five years. Couple that with an uncharacteristically porous O-line and the ghoulish prospects of Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller and you've got a game where Roethlisberger spends more time on his back than
girls do in his bathroom a dog getting a tummy rub.
This one stays with the home team.
THE PICK: BRONCOS
The Ravens have found a way to stay good for a very long time, it seems. Nothing about their 2012 roster/outlook gives me any reason to think that this year will be any different. A game as physical as this one promises to be can hinge on any number of things, but I'm going to cast my lot with the team that has this guy on it.
Also, Ray Rice is gonna go bananas this year.
THE PICK: RAVENS
Ooooh, two Monday Night Football games? Will there be enough Jon Gruden to love every guy on four teams? I honestly think the Raiders are a six-win team this season. I love Darren McFadden, but I don't buy Carson Palmer or any of his receivers. And I know Oakland has installed a new defensive scheme, but they flat out couldn't cover anybody last year and they've got a lot of getting better to do.
Vegas actually has Oakland winning this one- largely, I'm guessing, because Ryan Mathews won't be playing for the Chargers. That said, I see this contest being the first step in Philip Rivers' re-emergence as a great NFL quarterback and while not having either of his Vincents (Jackson left to Tampa via free agency and Brown is out with an injury) hurts him, having a healthy Antonio Gates back does.
THE PICK: CHARGERS