For the second year in a row, Lucas Mitzel of Confessions of a Sportscaster and I will be picking games against the spread on ESPN’s Pigskin Pick’Em site, with the winner at the end of the season securing bragging rights and the right to post whatever he wants on the loser’s blog (expect something vehemently anti-Packers from me if I should somehow win, like “I hear Aaron Rodgers kills kittens” or something). Last year, Lucas had a big lead for most of the season and it ultimately held up at the end, although I made it close to enough to make the whole thing ride on the Week 17 Cowboys-Redskins game. Unfortunately, I picked the Cowboys. WHO KNEW TONY ROMO WOULD FAIL IN THE CLUTCH?
This year, Week 1 is full of a bevy of interesting games. Ravens-Broncos is probably the best possible way to start things – other than the fact that the game should be played in Baltimore (nice going, White Sox-Orioles!) – but here’s a list of all the good/interesting early afternoon games this week: Falcons-Saints, Seahawks-Panthers, Bengals-Bears, Bucs-Jets and even Vikings-Lions. And that’s before we get to the Packers-49ers death match extraordinaire in the late afternoon slot or Giants-Cowboys Sunday night or the return of RGIII coupled with Chip Kelly’s debut on Monday night. This week is freaking LOADED. Lucas and I disagree on the results of nine games from this loaded week. Hear our rationales below:
Thursday Night: Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos (-8.5)
Lucas: Ravens. Sure, it may not be fair to be breaking a tradition that just started a few years back forcing the Ravens to open on the road, and sure, they lost some of the key pieces of their defense from last year’s Super Bowl run… but this is a huge line for a game like this. I’m taking the points.
Nathaniel: Broncos. When you’re trying to replace roughly half your team from the year before as the Ravens are doing, you figure it’ll take a while for the new pieces to gel, especially defensively. I may be wrong, but I don’t know if I’d really want to face Peyton Manning in the first game of the season if I was going through some defensive upheaval. In true Peyton fashion, the Broncos get revenge for a playoff loss…the following regular season.
Sunday, Early Afternoon: Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints (-2.5)
Lucas: Saints. Give New Orleans a home game and their head coach back against their archrival? I’m in.
Nathaniel: Falcons. Maybe the most important of all the Week 1 games and a good bet to be the most entertaining. These teams are too close to do anything other than take the points.
New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills (+6.5)
Lucas: Patriots. Well, having EJ Manuel back certainly helps, and I’m sure Spiller will do some damage, but do you really want to get into a shootout with Darth Hoodie?
Nathaniel: Bills. Two pieces of wonderful news for the Bills: they don’t have to start Jeff Tuel and Gronk probably won’t be able to play. And I don’t know if you remember this or not, but Gronk’s pretty good.
Cincinnati Bengals at Chicago Bears (-3.5)
Lucas: Bengals. My dad and brother got to visit Bengals camp a month ago. Maybe my dad went as a spy with information on the Bears since we live here and he’s a Vikings fan and it’ll be enough for the Bengals to at least keep it close. Side bet: Over/under on my first tweet of “Lol Bears offense” this year is the 3rd quarter of this game. I’m taking the under.
Nathaniel: Bengals. A defense with a killer pass rush is not exactly what you want to face when you’re breaking FOUR NEW STARTERS on the offensive line. Keep that flask of maple syrup handy, Marc. You’re gonna need it.
Miami Dolphins at Cleveland Browns (+0.5)
Lucas: Dolphins. I know it’s his second year, but I have a feeling Nathaniel and I might be making fun of Brandon Weeden in some capacity this coming week.
Nathaniel: Dolphins. Keep in mind, the above GIF was the best play Brandon Weeden made all day in last year’s season opener…
Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions (-3.5)
Lucas: Vikings. Call it a hunch. I don’t trust Detroit’s secondary even if we’re talking about Christian Ponder. He probably does juuuuussst enough to force them to think pass, then that Peterson guy breaks off a couple big runs.
Nathaniel: Lions. With the corpse of Greg Jennings now taking the place of Percy Harvin, now would be as good a time as ever for the Vikings to start running the single wing offense with AP every play. At least Ponder wouldn’t have to throw, right?
Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh Steelers (-6.5)
Lucas: Steelers. Big Ben is healthy to start the year and Tennessee’s defense is pretty bad. Unless Chris Johnson goes off, Pitt is good to go to start the year.
Nathaniel: Steelers. Here’s your yearly reminder that Bud Adams is still alive and still REALLY crazy!
Oakland Raiders at Indianapolis Colts (-6.5)
Lucas: Colts. Give the Colts the benefit of one game with leftover effects of #Chuckstrong. I guess the fact that they’re playing the Raiders doesn’t hurt either.
Nathaniel: Colts. If their performance in the preseason is any indication, the Raiders should probably be getting double-digit points on the road against every team not named Jacksonville. Regression towards the mean starts a week late for the Colts.
Kansas City Chiefs at Jacksonville Jaguars (+2.5)
Lucas: Chiefs. Kansas City was probably better than their 2-14 mark last year and facing Blaine Gabbert in Week 1 is probably a good way to Alex Smith to recement himself as one of the better quarterbacks in the league.
Nathaniel: Chiefs. Gonna take more than 2.5 points for me to want to take the Jags, ESPN! Try again next week.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New York Jets (+1.5)
Lucas: Buccaneers. Darrelle Revis gets to visit his old stomping grounds, and hopefully the return to his old island home goes better than Jack Sparrow’s did.
Nathaniel: Jets. Welcome to Week 1’s most hilarious crapshow! You already know about Geno Smith and the reasons he’s going to suck, but how do you think Josh Freeman and his 55% completion percentage are going to do against a defense that typically holds the average passer to a 55% completion percentage? There might be more interceptions than completed forward passes at the Meadowlands on Sunday. Which is good, because every week needs its appointed court jester game.
Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers (+2.5)
Lucas: Seahawks. In a battle between great young quarterbacks, give me the guy with the better supporting cast.
Nathaniel: Seahawks. My hunch is we’ll look back on this as a battle of two eventual playoff teams when the season winds to a close. Seattle’s definitively better, though, and the early start for them is balanced out by the fact that Carolina possibly defends their home turf worse than any other team in the league.
Sunday, Late Afternoon: Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers (-4.5)
Lucas: 49ers. I REALLY want to pick the Packers here… but I’m nervous about if the defense can contain Kaepernick this time. For much of the playoff game last year Rodgers did some damage, but with the other factor being San Fran’s defense at full strength and Rodgers’ line being banged up… I just don’t know that I can. I hate this early stretch of the year.
Nathaniel: Packers. Can I just whine one more time about this game being put at the beginning of the schedule again? If there’s two NFC teams that are dead-bang cinches to be good again this year, it’s these two and this game should be played in November or December when a playoff spot or first-round bye is more clearly on the line. THAT’S RIGHT, I CAN WHINE ABOUT FOOTBALL BEING BACK. At any rate, I’m taking the points.
Arizona Cardinals at St. Louis Rams (-5.5)
Lucas: Cardinals. I think Sam Bradford starts slow without Danny Amendola this year and Carson Palmer can do enough against this Rams D that he can keep it close.
Nathaniel: Rams. Jonathan Cooper, the first-round pick who was supposed to save the Cardinals offensive line (or, at least, keep it from being the raging tire fire it was last year), already broke his leg in the preseason and the Rams had the best sack rate of any defense in football last year. WELP.
Sunday Night: New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys (-2.5)
Lucas: Cowboys. I hate this game. I hate this pick. The Giants never do what I pick them to do and the Cowboys are the Cowboys. The Giants have never lost at Jerry World, and I figure that has to end at some point, right? I look forward to your 21 point beatdown of the Cowboys while Jerry Jones scratches his crotch, Tom and Eli.
Nathaniel: Giants. The Giants pretty reliably eke out close victories 75% of the time at Cowboys Stadium (I’m sorry, Jerry, AT&T Stadium now); the other 25% of the time, they break Tony Romo’s collarbone. So either way, history is not on the Cowboys’ side here.
Monday Night: Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins (-4.5)
Lucas: Redskins. RGIII is back. I’m not sure what to expect from the Philly defense. The underrated thing I totally forgot in the preview too was the fact that Brian Orakpo is back for Washington’s defense. Chip Kelly gets a not-so-warm welcome to the NFL.
Nathaniel: Eagles. RGIII is back. The question is how much rust will he have to shake off? More than anything, though, this pick assumes Chip Kelly’s got some crazy wrinkles up his sleeve in his NFL debut. Great Monday Night opener.
Houston Texans at San Diego Chargers (+2.5)
Lucas: Texans. JJ Watt tries to turn into the Incredible Hulk. He doesn’t fully transform, but I’m pretty sure his eyes turn green. Somewhere in there is a monster. Phillip Rivers… you should hide now.
Nathaniel: Texans. I’ll just note that Philip Rivers got sacked 49 times last year and let the above photo do the talking.