Greenberg’s Sports Book: NFL Pick ‘Em Week 1
It is extremely hard to believe, but the NFL season is just about upon us. How in the world did this happen?
Well, either way, let’s give you loyal readers the rundown of how this bad boy is going to shake out. Each week, Greg Kaplan will sit down and glance over the games on the NFL schedule that week. Each game has a corresponding spread associated with it, or an amount of points the odds-maker feels makes the two teams more even when the talent level isn’t on the same page. If you’re unfamiliar with how a spread works, here’s a very brief explanation:
Say the Chargers go into Denver and Denver is considered the favorite by 3.5 points. If you were to pick the Broncos, that means you think they will win by MORE than 3.5 points (or more than a field goal). If you pick the Chargers, that means you either think they’re going to win the match-up OR they will lose by less than 3.5 points. So, yes, the Chargers can lose the match-up, but win your bet. That’s an important factor to keep in mind. OK, next.
So, with the season set to get started Wednesday at 8:30PM, let’s not waste any more time…
If you listened to the podcast Vinny Ginardi and I did Tuesday regarding this game, you’ll already have an idea of where I’m going with this one. Historically speaking, most Cowboys/Giants games are decided by one possession. When evaluating a close match-up, its important to focus on what you think will become the most critical component of the game and go with whichever team you feel has the advantage in that category.
For me, there will be no bigger match-up than the one between the Cowboys offensive line and the Giants defensive line. And the Giants have a significant advantage in that department. Giants defenders dropped Tony Romo nine times last year for sacks, and have reached him 22 times in their last 13 match-ups. I understand that Romo is a “mobile quarterback” and can extend plays with his movement, but not even he can avoid the rushing Giants for a long enough period of time to get his receivers open. I like the Giants in this one, at home, as defending Super Bowl champions.
The Pick: Giants (-4.5)
Indianapolis Colts @ Chicago Bears (-9.5)
Generally speaking, it is hard to pick against a team that is being given a two-possession advantage before the game even begins. However, the Bears defense will be going up against a rookie quarterback who doesn’t have an elite weapon at his disposal. The Bears have also significantly improved their offense, importing Brandon Marshall, Michael Bush and even Alshon Jeffrey. This is a revamped Bears team that should scare opposing fans throughout the league.
The Pick: Bears (-9.5)
Philadelphia Eagles (-7.5) @ Cleveland Browns
There is generally one match-up to begin the season in which a heavily-favored team goes on the road an inexplicably loses to a lesser opponent. A lot of insiders throughout the league feel like it could be the Eagles more than any other team that is set up for failure.
I just don’t see it. There is uncertainty surrounding Trent Richardson’s availability for Sunday’s game after off-season arthroscopic knee surgery. They will trot out a rookie quarterback (28 year old rookie quarterback, no less) without a significant target of his own (even if you like Greg Little, he isn’t a Pro Bowler). Even if the Eagles play at about 75% of their maximum potential, they should be able to waltz to a victory north of a touchdown.
The Pick: Eagles (-7.5)
New England Patriots (-6.5) @ Tennessee Titans
Have to admit, I was very surprised to see this spread so low. I don’t think these two teams are only a touchdown apart in regards to talent and who they have at their skill positions. Considering Jake Locker will be undertaking his first full season as a starting quarterback in this league, going up against the Patriots and coming away with a victory is a huge order to ask for. New England’s offense is one of the most dynamic in the league, and they drastically improved their defensive unit through the draft. If they don’t win by two touchdowns, I’ll be stunned.
The Pick: Patriots (-6.5)
There are a handful of really difficult games on the schedule this week, and this one fits the bill. On one hand, you have a very dynamic offense with weapons at Matt Ryan’s disposal. There aren’t enough defensive backs in the league to cover Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez all at the same time. Also, while everyone is familiar with Michael Turner and his abilities at this point in his career, more attention needs to be paid to his understudy, Jacquizz Rodgers.
At the same time, there are three stadiums in the NFL that truly maintain a home field advantage to them: Lambeau Field, Qwest Field (Seattle) and Arrowhead. That, and I don’t know if enough people are giving the Chiefs credit for fielding what appears to be a very competitive team. Jamaal Charles is back and healthy, they’ve added Peyton Hillis and the receiving duo of Jon Baldwin and Dwayne Bowe look to bounce back from sluggish seasons. I don’t know if the Chiefs are necessarily a better team, in the long run, than the Falcons, but this has the feel of one of those games the home team wins because they have the early momentum of starting the season on familiar grounds.
The Pick: Chiefs (+2.5)
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Minnesota Vikings (-4.5)
Is there a game this weekend that the world is going to care less about? There is almost no vesting interest for anyone to watch this game unless they own Adrian Peterson or Maurice Jones-Drew on their fantasy teams and want to see if/how much they play this weekend. If I put the over/under at 8.5 combined wins for the two teams, you’d at least stop and think hard about taking that under, right? The Vikings are at home, they have better weapons, and their quarterback looks marginally better right now. Take the Vikings.
The Pick: Vikings (-4.5)
This game is screaming “nobody believes in us, so let’s shut everyone up!” from the Saints perspective. They’re at home, wanting to prove to the world that they can bounce back from Bounty-gate, and they have one of the most loyal fan bases backing them up.
However, if this game was played even three weeks later into the season, I probably wouldn’t take that many points in the Saints favor. It’ll be RGIII’s first start, so I think benefit of the doubt has to be given to Drew Brees and company. They’ll cover.
The Pick: Saints (-7.5)
Buffalo Bills @ New York Jets (-3.5)
I made a comment on our podcast that the pick ‘em pool Vinny and I find ourselves in should reward us for not picking the incorrect team if we choose not to select one like they do on the SAT. There’s just nothing to like right now if you have any vesting interest in the Jets. I don’t think they’re nearly as bad as they looked in the preseason, but still have no idea how well they’re going to play this season. The Bills appear to be a team vastly improved from last year, especially on the defensive end of the ball. But, is this game a trap? Are we too low on the Jets? Do we not fully understand what the Bills offense can do?
Seriously, just let me skip this game. I don’t want to make a pick….
The Pick: Jets (-3.5) (and I hate myself ahead of time for actually picking them)
St. Louis Rams @ Detroit Lions (-7.5)
Again, this spread feels like it should even be a little more in the favor of the Lions. We are yet to see the Rams offense at its peak and totally healthy with Sam Bradford under center, and there are still copious question marks surrounding just about everything from the offensive line to the receivers.
As for the Lions, we know they’re going to get their points. How the defense performs this season will dictate how high this team can rise. For this specific match-up, opening the year at home, I absolutely like the Lions to take this one to the bank by more than the books are giving them.
The Pick: Lions (-7.5)
Miami Dolphins @ Houston Texans (-10.5)
One theme you may pick up from if you read this weekly piece is that I almost never pick a team that is giving double digits. I know that there will be games decided by more than two touchdowns in the NFL this year, but they almost never seem to come from the games we think they’re going to come from. Know what I mean?
I’m not saying the Dolphins are going to win this game. I do think, however, they’ll keep it within 10. At least, I hope they do…
The Pick: Dolphins (+10.5)
Easily, this should be the Game of the Week, or at least the co-Game of the Week if you favor Steelers/Broncos. This game really comes down to your personal philosophies about what wins football games. On one hand, you have one of the most electric and dominate defenses in San Francisco, which boosts stars like Patrick Willis and Justin Smith, along with budding superstars NaVarro Bowman and Aldon Smith. On the other, you may have the best quarterback in the NFL in Aaron Rodgers with the deepest crop of receivers, headlined by Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson.
However, to me, while everyone likes to focus on Alex Smith and what he can or can’t do as a quarterback in regards to the 49ers offense, I feel the offensive line (one of the best in football) and running game (its more than just Frank Gore at this point) is vastly underrated. In fact, I’d take the Niners O-line over the Packers, and the Niners definitely have the edge in regards to the run game. Add in David Akers slight advantage over Mason Crosby, and the Niners will, at the minimum, keep this game within a field goal, which is good enough to at least beat the spread.
The Pick: 49ers (+5.5)
Seattle Seahawks (-2.5) @ Arizona Cardinals
If you told me two months ago that the difference in the opening week’s game between these two teams would be the better abilities of Russell Wilson over John Skelton, I would’ve thought something went terribly wrong in training camp for both teams. For the Cardinals, things actually went pretty bad. The Seahawks, after investing a huge amount of money in Aaron Rodgers’ understudy Matt Flynn, decided third-round draft pick Wilson is the best option to make the most out of their weapons on offense. They may be right. Either way, Wilson trumps Skelton in Week 1.
May be a long year in the NFC West for teams not playing in San Francisco.
The Pick: Seahawks (-2.5)
Carolina Panthers (-2.5) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This is going to be a very interesting match-up, mostly because I think football fans may be in danger of over-valuing the Panthers, while under-valuing the Bucs. Hell, its very possible that I may be guilty of the same. It will be very hard for Cam Newton to replicate the type of season he had his rookie year, a year in which the Panthers as a team only won 6 games. As for the Bucs, its literally nowhere to go but up. New coach, new attitude, new results?
I have to think that the Panthers have a better team right now than the Bucs, but this is a game I’d be worried about if I picked either team. Its close, very close. We’ll know so much more about both squads after Week 1. Too bad they have to play each other before we learn anything…
The Pick: Panthers (-2.5)
This is an interesting match-up of two teams that are considered to be playoff favorites, but both have been getting knocked down a bit heading into the season. It’s as if people are doubting themselves for valuing either team too highly.
For me, the problem with picking Denver in this game is I still don’t know what to properly expect from Peyton Manning at this point in his career. I’m not just talking about his neck injuries. His last healthy season, 2010, was decent, but not at the level we’ve come accustomed to seeing from Manning.
At the same time, the Steelers are a tricky team to rank as well. They already have injury problems to their offensive line (there’s a shocker), their defense is rather old, and we’re still yet to see what type of impact new offensive coordinator Todd Haley will have on Big Ben and the rest of the O. Even with all that said, I’m more comfortable with what the Steelers have as a team compared to the Broncos. There are so many question marks that need to be answered in Denver that I’m OK with picking the Steelers and getting this game wrong. I need to see more of the Broncos before I can put any sort of money on them. That simple.
The Pick: Steelers (+1.5)
Cincinnati Bengals @ Baltimore Ravens (-6.5)
While I’m not jumping on the “this is the year Joe Flacco breaks out!” bandwagon, I will say the Ravens are going to be one of the top 3 teams in the AFC this year. They are too good historically on D and Ray Rice is one of the the best, if not the best, all-around running back the NFL has to offer. If Flacco does break out this year and the offense can match how the other side of the ball plays every week, this team becomes very dangerous.
The Pick: Ravens (-6.5)
San Diego Chargers (-1.5) @ Oakland Raiders
I’m in the camp that believes Phillip Rivers is still an elite-level quarterback. Something funky happened last year, and we saw an impostor Rivers for the first half of the season that effectively derailed the Chargers year. Does the lack of Vincent Jackson or Ryan Mathews scare me to open the season? Not nearly as much as you would think, because I truly believe Rivers has the ability to make the other parts around him better.
As far as the Raiders go, I actually like Carson Palmer and his options on the wing. I love a healthy Darren McFadden. I just don’t believe the Raiders are ready to put it together and they’re still prone to the bone-head mistakes that will cost them ball games.
The Pick: Chargers (-1.5)