Year 14 of handicapping the 256-game slate, and I haven't lost any enthusiasm for it. One thing I felt I've been missing the past few years is having someone off of whom to bounce the picks before I make them. In the past that was my brother, but after he had his second kid, he got to a point where he simply didn't watch enough football to know what was going on and bowed out as a result. But now that his youngest one is at school, he's back, and we're back. Are we going to reel off the 141-99, 141-108 and 139-108 seasons we had in 2000, 2002 and 2006, respectively? I have no idea. But having a sounding board who knows the way the the lines move and the power dynamics in the NFL shift can only be an asset. We're eager to get started.
Our best bets are the Jets, Chiefs and Raiders.
(Incidentally, Jeff Erickson and I discussed a few of the games on camera last week - see below for the video. If you prefer to read the article in its usual form, just scroll down).
Cowboys +4 at Giants
The Cowboys are probably the smart money here given their rocky preseason which artificially depressed their stock. Moreover, the Giants are starting Michael Coe at cornerback now that Terrell Thomas is on IR, and Prince Amukamara is also out. But the Giants' defensive backs might not be tested that badly if their first-rate pass rush gets to Tony Romo in time. Back the Giants.
Giants 27 - 20
Colts +10 at Bears
Andrew Luck hasn't looked like a rookie this preseason, but going on the road to Chicago is a tall order for his first NFL contest. In addition, the Bears should have a more balanced attack this season, and Jay Cutler will have more time to throw now that Mike Martz is gone. Back the Bears who roll.
Bears 31 - 10
Jaguars +3.5 at Vikings
The Jaguars are past the MJD drama, but the bigger story is Blaine Gabbert's apparent improvement and the team's above average defense. The Vikings should also be better with Christian Ponder having a good camp, but they'll have to show it before we can back them laying more than a field goal. Take the Jaguars.
Jaguars 17 - 16
Bills +3 at Jets
This line started as high as six in some places, but the Jets have looked like a joke this preseason, while the Bills have reloaded on defense and have their key offensive pieces back to full health. Still, the Jets have the best pass defense in the league, and in the Meadowlands, we'll lay the points. Back the Jets.
Jets 19 - 13
Dolphins +11 at Texans
Ryan Tannehill might be a good quarterback one day, but it's hard to see him doing well on the road in his first start against this defense. Moreover, while Miami's defense isn't bad, it's going up against a veteran offense with excellent balance so long as Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson are healthy. Back Houston who rolls.
Texans 31 - 13
Patriots -6 at Titans
The Pats offense is one of those well-oiled machines that can operate smoothly even after nine months of disuse. But unless their defense shows significant improvement, they could be in for a fight on the road against a Tennessee team with plenty of weapons of its own. We could go either way here, but when in doubt take the home dog. Back the Titans.
Patriots 24 - 23
Rams +9 at Lions
The Lions defense was so bad last year it surrendered six touchdowns to Matt Flynn in a game that had important seeding implications. As a result, the Lions went to New Orleans, arguably the toughest venue in the NFL, in the Wild Card round and got bounced. As it turns out, Flynn couldn't even beat out a rookie QB for the starting job. Moreover, Matt Stafford had just 7.6 YPA, and when he wasn't tossing the ball downfield to Calvin Johnson got very little out of Nate Burleson, Titus Young and Brandon Pettigrew on a per-play basis. Bottom line, we're taking the Rams, who should be better defensively, both personnel and coaching-wise.
Lions 20 - 16
Redskins +9.5 at Saints
The Redskins are an interesting team finally with a dynamic rookie quarterback and some new downfield weapons, but New Orleans was the worst place for opposing teams to play last year, and "Bountygate" or not, the defense wasn't the reason. Back the Saints who pull away.
Saints 35 - 24
Eagles -9 at Browns
The Eagles are a playmaking team on both sides of the ball, but laying nine points in Cleveland whose defense isn't bad (it would be better if Joe Haden winds up not being suspended) is a lot, especially in Week 1 where uncertainty is highest. Back the home dog.
Eagles 20 - 13
Falcons -2 at Chiefs
Matty Ice, darling of the preseason, skyrocketed up draft boards. Ryan does his best work by far against weaker opponents and tends to fade against stiffer challenges. Preseason, in other words, is where someone like Ryan should be expected to shine. Ditto for games against the soft defensive underbelly of the NFC South. The Chiefs in Arrowhead - the team that beat the undefeated Packers last year - might be a different story.
Chiefs 20 - 19
49ers +5 at Packers
The Packers can run anyone out of the building, but the Niners defense should slow them down, and now their offense has the weapons to counterpunch. This should be a good game. Take the points.
49ers 27 - 24
Seahawks -3 at Cardinals
The Seahawks are getting some preseason buzz with Russell Wilson looking like a more mobile Drew Brees and Braylon Edwards, Sidney Rice and Doug Baldwin providing some weapons on a suddenly interesting offense. The defense was already pretty good last year, too. The Cardinals, on the other hand, had major offensive line problems, and settled their quarterback competition like a condemned man choosing between the noose and the guillotine. That's why the line is rookie QB minus three on the road in his first start, probably an overreaction to a bunch of stuff that happened in the preseason. Back Arizona at home.
Cardinals 19 - 16
Panthers -1 at Buccaneers
The Panthers are the buzzier team after Cam Newton's historic debut and the Bucs quitting on last year's coach Raheem Morris. But this is a new year, and we're not going to presume Carolina is good enough to be favored on the road nine months later. Back the Bucs.
Buccaneers 27 - 23
Steelers -1 at Broncos
Both these teams are public-friendly with the Steelers always being a name brand and the Broncos starting Peyton Manning. But we'll take the better-coached, perennially good defensive squad with an elite quarterback of its own in Week 1 in what nearly amounts to a pick 'em. Back the Steelers.
Steelers 23 - 16
Bengals +6 at Ravens
The is the right line between two stout teams, one of which is at home and better established. We could go either way, but when it doubt, we'll take the points. Back the Bengals.
Ravens 17 - 14
Chargers -1 at Raiders
These are roughly equal teams in our opinon, both capable of finishing anywhere between 6-10 and 10-6. As such, we'll take the Monday night home dog. Back the Raiders.
Raiders 28 - 27
We were 124-125-7 last year. From 1999-2011 we've gone 1,689-1,512 (52.8%), not including ties.