What a strange Week 1 slate with no line bigger than 6.5 and eight home dogs. Picking in Week 1 is a combination of embracing uncertainty, i.e., taking points and home field advantage because those are known quantities over assumptions about teams based on data that's nine months old, and not jumping the gun on teams trending upwards like the Lions, Packers and 49ers. As the season goes on, and I watch teams play, I'll have a feel for which ones might be on the cusp of significant growth or regression, and those observations will also factor in. But early on, I think it's best to be as agnostic as possible, doubting almost everything until we have the only hard data that really matters - recent regular season games.
Vikings +5.5 at Saints
Adrian Peterson essentially guaranteed a cover this week, so I'm assuming that means he won't fumble. (He actually went so far as to promise an outright win, but since the Vikings are dogs, the cover's implicit). Seriously though, this is an awfully big line for a rematch of last year's NFC title game in which the Vikings outplayed the Saints, and if anything I'd expect Minnesota to be the hungrier team. Back the Vikings.
Vikings 27 - 24
Broncos +2.5 at Jaguars
These teams are rough equals, especially with the Broncos losing Elvis Dumervil for the season (and Brandon Marshall to free agency), and the line isn't giving the Jaguars full three-point credit for home field advantage. Back Jacksonville who covers.
Jaguars 20 - 17
Raiders +6 at Titans
The Titans played like a playoff team during the season's final 10 games, and the Raiders were roughly league average once they turned to anyone but JaMarcus Russell. This is probably a fair line, but I'll back Tennessee as the Raiders are dealing with injuries to their quarterback, starting tailback and would-be No. 1 wide receiver.
Titans 23 - 16
Bengals +4.5 at Patriots
These were both playoff teams a year ago, and both bowed out quietly in the Wild Card round. You'd think this line would be only three, but a fully healthy Tom Brady and Randy Moss justifiably inflate the number a good deal further. Unless the Bengals open up the offense and use their new passing game weapons (something they've gone away from in recent seasons), I like the Patriots to pull away. Back New England.
Patriots 27 - 16
Browns +3 at Buccaneers
I love the opportunity to take the Bucs as a favorite - when else will I get the chance? Josh Freeman's finger injury is a cause for some concern, but it looks like he'll play, and I'd bet in Year 2 he's already a better quarterback than a steeply declining Jake Delhomme. Back the Bucs who also have a climate advantage in what should be 92 degree heat with plenty of humidity.
Buccaneers 20 - 10
Colts -2 at Texans
The Colts never seem to lose early in the year, while the Texans are perennially that breakout team that never gets over the hump. I don't see how there can possibly be value on Indy here, but maybe the Texans qualify as a kind of post-hype sleeper. Back Houston who wins outright.
Texans 27 - 23
Lions +6.5 at Bears
The Lions seem to be a team on the rise - they've got lots of dynamic skill players on offense and one of the best defensive prospects to come out of the draft in the last decade. But expecting them to come together in Week 1 is probably premature, especially on the road. Moreover, their defense was so terrible last season, even a significant improvement might not get them to league average. Back the Bears.
Bears 28 - 20
Falcons -2 at Steelers
The Falcons look like a good team on paper, while the Steelers are missing their franchise quarterback. But Pittsburgh always has a good defense, and in Week 1 the offenses usually aren't quite in sync yet. Back Pittsburgh as a home dog.
Steelers 19 - 17
Dolphins -3 at Bills
Given all the uncertainty heading into the season, it's hard to turn down Week 1 home dogs. The Bills offense should open up with the long overdue removal of Dick Jauron, the arrival of new head coach Chan Gailey and presence of C.J. Spiller. Moreover, the Bills pass defense was excellent last year (6.0 YPA allowed, 2nd), and wideout Lee Evans has lit up the Dolphins several times in recent seasons. Expect the Bills to keep pace and cover.
Dolphins 21 - 20
Panthers +6.5 at Giants
The Panthers destroyed the Giants a year ago - and everyone else down the stretch for that matter - but the Giants were in the midst of a full-scale collapse, so we don't want to read too much into that game. New York will be opening its new stadium, and some of its key players are finally healthy - like Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, Ahmad Bradshaw and Michael Boley. Even so, this line strikes me as too big as it presumes a disparity between these teams that there just isn't much evidence for yet. Back the Panthers.
Giants 24 - 21
Packers -3 at Eagles
The Packers are a trendy team, given their defensive playmakers, star quarterback and deep receiving corps - hence their three-point, road-favorite status. While Kevin Kolb may or may not be able to fill Donovan McNabb's shoes right away, the value here has to be with the Eagles. Back Philly.
Eagles 24 - 23
Cardinals -4 at Rams
Again, I find it hard to take the road favorite here - especially with Derek Anderson at quarterback and Beanie Wells and Larry Fitzgerald possibly at less than 100 percent. But the Rams were almost historically awful a year ago, and even a significant improvement would leave them below league average. I'm holding my nose and laying the wood.
Cardinals 21 - 14
49ers -3 at Seahawks
The Niners are another trendy team I'd simply fade out of principle - they were 2-6 on the road last year, but they open as three-point road favorites. Maybe Seattle's still terrible, but Pete Carroll can't but be an upgrade over last year's inept regime, and Matt Hasselbeck is at least healthy for now and probably still a better quarterback than Alex Smith at this stage of their respective careers. Back the Seahawks.
Seahawks 20 - 17
Cowboys -3.5 at Redskins
I'd take the home dog in this rivalry almost regardless of the circumstances, and given Washington's huge upgrade at quarterback and head coach, getting more than a field goal seems especially generous. Dallas is the better team on paper, of course, but I expect this to be a close, hard-fought game. Back the Redskins.
Redskins 20 - 19
Ravens +2.5 at Jets
For all the Rex Ryan/"Hard Knocks" hype, it's odd to see the Jets as only 2.5-point home favorites, especially after Darrelle Revis signed. I like the Ravens diversity of weapons a little better (especially Ray Rice) in what should be a tight, hard-fought defensive struggle. Back Baltimore who wins outright.
Ravens 10 - 9
Chargers -4.5 at Chiefs
The Chargers are missing their starting left tackle and top wideout, playing on the road and laying more than a field goal against a division rival. Moreover, the Chargers have struggled under Norv Turner early in the year of late. Back the Chiefs.
Chargers 24 - 23
We were 131-122 last year against the spread. From 1999-2009 we've gone 1439-1262 (53.3%, not including ties)